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The 90s: different consoles, different experiences

In today's gaming world, when you compare games to each other across multiple platforms, you focus on big things such as resolution, frame rate, and "HDR". One thing is solid and certain, regardless of the modern system you buy a game on, you will be playing the same thing as everyone else...
It wasn't always this way though! In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the console wars from the 90's is how a game might be a different experience on another console. While one expects slight changes in visual fidelity, musical production, or even a few small features slightly altered, the differences we are talking about here are far more special. 

The following list represents a gone-by game development practice of designing titles based on the differences in hardware, resulting in 2 or more unique titles using the same name. 

Beavis & Butt-Head

Systems: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
Year: 1994

A great example of this category is the oft-overlooked Beavis & Butt-head game. The first of this pair that we will take a look at is the Super Nintendo version. Developed by Realtime Associates, this version of the game is a side-scrolling platformer with a fairly linear progression. The game is fun but quite difficult, and it does a fair job of re-creating some of the show's locations as levels. It also has some odd, but entertaining features such as posing the characters for a photo at the end of every level.

Moving onto the Genesis version, as soon as you start playing you can immediately notice this is a different game. While still following the same overall plot of getting into the Gwar concert, this game is structured much more like an adventure title. Developed by Radical Entertainment, this game shows a far greater love for the source material. In fact, if you find yourself stuck on a certain part, watching the first few seasons of the show is sure to give you the solution in some form. The difficulty is steep, but the game design is solid and makes a great addition to any Mega-Drive collection. 
Play Sega Genesis Version
Play Super Nintendo Version


Systems: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
Year: 1994
If you've never played the Genesis classic "Rocket Knight Adventures", we highly recommend it. It's a great Genesis exclusive where you get to play as an anthropomorphic opossum geared up with a suit of armor, a sword, and a totally radical jetpack. Following the success of this title, Konami developed another entry titled "Sparkster" for the Mega-Drive. Serving as a follow-up, and a direct sequel, to the original title, this title gives you more of the fast-paced jetpack action from the original, but with a much more user-friendly boost mechanic.

Not wanting to leave sales for Nintendo's system to the side, Konami also developed another game. Using the same title and art as the Genesis sequel, this deceptive package actually contains an entirely separate plot from the other 2 games. With some slightly altered mechanics and the higher-resolution graphics of the Super Nintendo, this is another great example of 2 games that are completely different. The interesting thing here though is that both were developed by the same company; Konami.
Play Sega Genesis Version
Play Super Nintendo Version

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters

Systems: Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
Year: 1993 (SNES & GEN) & 1994 (NES)

Another example from Konami, a 3-way comparison this time, comes to us in the form of a Ninja Turtles fighting game. The developers really knew what they were doing with this style of cross-platform development here, and it shows. Each game not only has its own story, but the content is so different that even the levels, fighting system, and art style are completely unique to each version. In addition, each one of these game's rosters boasts one or more characters that neither of the other 2 have. So whether you prefer the cartoony style of the SNES version, the darker and grittier Mega-Drive version, or the rare example of an NES fighting game, there is certainly enough here to engage you in all 3 versions of the title.
Play Nintendo Entertainment System Version
Play Sega Genesis Version
Play Super Nintendo Version


Systems: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
Year: 1993 (SNES) & 1994 (GEN)

In 1993 Beam Software developed an isometric action-RPG based on the "Shadowrun" property. The game's plot follows an amnesiac named Jake who is struggling to figure out who he is, and why someone wants him dead. For many, this would be the first time they would experience the world of Shadowrun which is a unique mixture of cyber-punk and fantasy.

The following year, the developers at BlueSky Software produced another game in the series also titled "Shadowrun" but this time for the Sega Genesis. In this version, the view is top-down rather than isometric, and the battles happen in real-time. The non-linear plot also differs, now revolving around a man named Joshua who arrives in Seattle seeking answers and vengeance for his brother's death. 
Play Sega Genesis Version
Play Super Nintendo Version

Fantasy Life

Fantasy Life, Level-5 and Brownie Brown's life sim and action RPG, is a game with a long and storied history. Originally announced in Japan for the Nintendo DS/DSi generation of consoles back in 2009, it spent three years in development, seeing a platform upgrade to the Nintendo 3DS, finally releasing in Japan-only on 27th December, 2012.

Fantasy Life was closely watched by the western gaming press as the companies and staff involved in its production reads like a who's who of Japanese games industry RPG notables. In addition to Level-5, legendary character artist Yoshitaka Amano and early Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu are also credited on Fantasy Life. Most notably, Fantasy Life is the final game developed by Brownie Brown — before a restructuring and name change to 1-UP Studios — a company that holds a special place in JRPG fans' hearts for, among other things, its involvement with Mother 3, a game that was never officially released in the West. Now that Fantasy Life is finally arriving on western shores, does it deliver on the promise of its formidable creative staff? Absolutely.

At first blush the action RPG elements of Fantasy Life seem almost par for the course — the medieval fantasy setting, a dragon threatening the land, a race of cuddly creatures called the Plushies who haven't yet grasped that their name doesn't form the basis of the Queen's English; but the game excels by expanding the scope of the adventurer's journey by integrating it with the game's life sim features. In addition to gaining XP and earning Dosh (the in-game currency) for littering the landscape with creature corpses, each Life has its own series of challenges which award stars.
When enough stars are earned, the player ranks up in the Life they are currently living and gains access to new skills or recipes that also mostly remain usable when a character switches Lives, with one exception. Special Skills, unusually powerful or useful techniques, can only be used as part of the character's current Life. While the game certainly supports focusing exclusively on picking up a sword and going to town on the local wildlife or just hanging around the city selling handmade furniture, the full experience of Fantasy Life lies in developing a well-rounded character that can craft his or her own armour and weapons, potions, stat-boosting foods, and more.

All of this may sound like you're building a personal mobile weapons platform that can knit its own ammunition during recoil phases, but the game's difficulty is handled surprisingly well. You won't find yourself switching Lives and single-shot killing everything in sight, and the monsters of new kingdoms feel appropriately challenging once the areas become available. Combat is centred around using special button presses to execute certain moves, requiring a bit of timing to master but certainly not especially difficult, even to action RPG newcomers.
Fantasy Life isn't a game of statistics, gear dependence, and power grubbing, and this is evident in its somewhat eccentric user interface. While the screens are beautifully laid out and clean, this forces some useful information off of the top-level screens. It takes a few button presses to check out an item's statistics, and while shopping there's no immediately visible comparison between currently equipped gear and the selected item in the shop, again taking a few button presses to access. Fantasy Life is obviously not a title for people in a hurry.

Several of Fantasy Life's Lives involve producing goods, such as armour, clothing, and furniture by means of a short minigame. The crafting process is straightforward, requiring changing your character's position at the workbench and then performing the related task at that station in time with the indicator using the A button, and activating special skills once available. The difficulty is noticeable but not punishingly so — it's possible to miss a few taps or launch your character to the wrong place at the workbench and still make the item in the allotted time. Should you fail, your crafting materials will not be consumed, leaving you free to try again with no penalty; another example of design generous to less experienced players.
In addition to XP for character level gains and and stars for Life ranks, there's a third system, called Bliss, that awards points for other life sim related tasks like exploration, making in-game allies and decorating or buying new homes. As you increase your Bliss, you are awarded things like bigger bags, the ability to utilize mounts from different kingdoms and enhanced shopping experiences. Bliss is administered by Flutter, a talking butterfly that becomes your constant companion and neck piece early on in the game.

Fantasy Life's art is superb, with a beautifully colourful palette and cartoony, stylised graphics that are just unrealistic enough to avoid looking ridiculous; the 3D effect works consistently and adds even more richness to the already pleasing graphics. Unfortunately, it does suffer from some minor visual issues. The perspective, which is midway between a top-down and a side view — combined with the relatively low resolution of the 3DS — means that details get somewhat crunched to fit the available pixels or lost entirely, an issue which mostly affects in-game characters — the environment art is consistently fantastic. There was some obvious slowdown in the main cities at times, but this didn't occur frequently enough to be a major concern while playing. If you're looking for pure graphical heft Fantasy Life won't satisfy, but the art definitely supports and enhances the game world's presentation.
Brownie Brown has created a game world suitable for all ages, but mature enough in its presentation that it won't turn off the legal-to-drive crowd. The game's main story addresses themes of acceptance and cooperation in a way that any pro-social parent would be proud to hector their children with. The in-game cinematics that advance the main story, of which there are sadly few, are every bit as delightful as what we've already seen in the game's many trailers, and the 3D effect makes them feel that much more vivid. The music also supports Fantasy Life's light-hearted and humorous tone, but it's not all kazoos and glockenspiels — the bell and violin theme that plays in Castele's city at night is simply and gorgeously haunting.

It should also be noted, though its level of attraction will vary, that this isn't an exclusively single-player adventure. Fantasy Life's multiplayer allows players to get together locally or online in groups of up to three and accomplish the same tasks and challenges as in single-player mode (although it is not possible to advance the main story in multiplayer). With the variety of Lives to live and the range of tasks to perform, any trip to any kingdom with just about anyone is sure to be productive in some way — and you might just get the right help to finally defeat that challenge monster that's spent far too long in your Life list.
Link mode also allows you to send your online friends messages (both group-wide and private), notifications and applause without actually playing together. The onscreen keyboard is alphabetical and not QWERTY, so expect a learning curve when trying to stylus- or fingernail-tap out a message. Using StreetPass, tagged players' Fantasy Life avatars can appear as residents in your main town of Castele; speak with them enough to become friends and eventually they may reward you with gifts. These are welcome touches that will add a great deal to the experience for some, or at the very least offer a fun diversion.


Given the game's relative age, Fantasy Life isn't going to be the shiniest toy on the 3DS' shelf this year, but it just may be the happiest. Providing quality gameplay in both its life sim and action RPG aspects, served up with all of the colourful wit and charm anyone could ask for, it serves as a jewel in the crown of memory of a games studio that helped create some of the most memorable role-playing video games that ever graced the medium. It may now be 1-UP Studios, but Brownie Brown hit its marks with Level 5 in this game. As a farewell for the company in its old guise this is an excellent game for the occasion. So long Brownie Brown, and thanks for all the fun.

Suikoden 2 review: The greatest RPG ever made

Suikoden 2 is the greatest RPG ever made. 

If you have not played the first Suikoden then please check out the review for it here due to the similarities between the two games. A lot of what is said in that review about the gameplay basics can be carried over to here. It should also be mentioned again that as a PlayStation One classic, there is nothing new or changed to the game. It is a strict port of the PS1 original.

You take over the role of a young teenager named Riou, and along with his best friend Jowy, are caught up in a plot to create a new war between the Highland Empire and the City-States of Jowston. Rising from refugee to leader of the rebel forces against the Highland Empire, the player is caught up in political intrigue, friendship, and betrayal. The story is a lot darker and serious. While the first game made the motives of the hero easier to digest, Suikoden 2 puts the world in a layer of grey, making morality not as clear cut a choice. This is helped by there being multiple endings throughout the game.
As discussed in the Suikoden 1 review, that human tragedy element is an even bigger focus in Suikoden 2 because of the obfuscation of morality. Playing through the game, I had mixed emotions over events that happened because it takes you through a different path through the valley of death and human nature. The first game, overall, gives you a clear-cut choice of you're fighting the good fight against something evil. While Prince Luca Blight is one of the most extreme, sadistic villains in any RPG, events that transpire make you question who is right, and who is wrong in the conflict. So for the gamer who wants to think deep about what is presented to him, you're given lots of philosophical material to work with. At the same time, you still have a tale of good vs. evil that flows off the TV screen for gamers wanting to just read and enjoy the surface.

Konami also improved the amount of purpose and storyline integration of the 108 Stars of Destiny. A good amount have a role to play in progressing the narrative before, and after, joining the cast. There are still characters with little interaction outside of clicking circle, they say they are an aspiring merchant, and you offer to recruit them. This is offset by Richmond, the private detective, who can research the backstory of all of the 108 characters. Some RPGs have a hard enough time weaving together a dozen characters, let alone a cast that rivaled Dynasty Warriors before Dynasty Warriors even existed.
While this is a sequel, any knowledge of the first game only helps the player with their appreciation of the world, and understating some background material, especially with some of the returning characters. If you did not play the first you lose nothing in terms of the story though. Save data from the first game can be transferred over to give the player added benefits, like certain cameos I won't mention due to spoilers.

One change was made to the equipment system which will be a bother to people depending on the style they enjoy. Instead of having an inventory the character can just use items from; all items need to be equipped. The catch is it takes away a slot for a piece of miscellaneous equipment. You can either go all equipment, which is what I do, all items or a mixture. I can understand why they did it that way, as the magic item system could be greatly abused as it allows non-magically skilled character access to powerful spells.
The combat system is almost unchanged from the first game. Unite attacks are still around, and so is the 6-man team. The one small addition is sometimes characters will perform double or triple attacks, meaning they will attack more than one enemy even though it is a basic attack. Duels have also returned, and are just as fun.

The strategy combat system has changed. Not every one of the 108 stars is included. Instead it has become a mini-version of a tactics style game. Certain characters are leaders which give you a new unit on the field. This is pre-determined and cannot be changed. But the others will give that unit bonuses, like extra attack or defense, or a powerful ability.
Suikoden 2 is twice the length of Suikoden 1, for those looking for the most bang for your buck. The amount of extras they added into the game help improves it over the original. One in particular is the Iron Chef mini-game which has its own unique storyline, and gives the player a reason to go collecting all the recipes around the world. There are other secondary storylines that help enrich the world that can be found if searched for carefully enough.

Suikoden 2 takes the foundation provided from Suikoden 1 and improves it. The foundation did not have any cracks, much like the lauded movies I used in the opening; it merely needed a couple tweaks. Those adjustments have created the best RPG ever made, in this writer's opinion. Everything it does is done without fault, and can appeal to any kind of fan of the genre from the casual to the most hardcore. There is something in it for everyone. Above all else, RPGs are made or broken by their story, and this has a story that will keep you coming back again and again. Even if you disagree it is the greatest, it is still one of the best RPGs from the PS1 era and well worth your time and money to pick up if you missed it back then.

Murdered: Soul Suspect

Murdered: Soul Suspect plays like a great B-movie.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is the best old-fashioned ghost story I've watched or played in years.
Airtight's third person horror game takes inspiration from folk mythology about ghosts and spirits, as well as the mystery genre. That marriage — and the game itself — works much better than Soul Suspect's jokey title led me to believe. While it treads familiar territory for both genres, it feels fresh in its approach and assured, crafted seemingly with a keen sense of what makes each kind of story tick.

The game begins with protagonist Ronan O'Connor's dramatic death — he's thrown out a window and shot with his own gun. Ronan's a gifted detective and prototypical tough guy with a checkered past. In death, he's determined to solve his own murder at the hands of the mysterious Bell Killer — a serial murderer that is terrorizing Salem, Massachusetts — and stop them once and for all.
The plot plays out like hardboiled detective fiction steeped in horror tropes. Ronan monologues like a disembodied Philip Marlowe, but he also passes through walls, possesses the living and talks to mediums (people who can communicate with the spirit world). While the narrative doesn't break new ground for either genre, it's well-paced and stocked with characters that I immediately cared about, including Joy, a sassy young medium, and surprisingly, Ronan himself. I was invested in Ronan's story from the first moments of the game, despite the tired "tattooed antihero" archetype he appears to represent. There's pathos in his story, lent from a difficult upbringing and the losses he's suffered. He's a criminal-turned-cop trying to atone for his past, and he shows real empathy and even tenderness in the way he deals with others — living or dead.
As a ghostly Ronan, it was my job to play detective. For the most part, investigations are straightforward. I would walk around a crime scene or room, examining objects of relevance, occasionally possessing living bystanders or witnesses to read their minds, peek through their eyes, or influence their memory to find further clues. In one early scene, I needed to break into the Bell Killer "war room" at the police precinct and check for leads on the case. I possessed one cop sitting at a computer so I could look through his eyes and get crucial details about a person of interest.
Once I examined all of the evidence in a scene, I had to choose from a visual list of clues to solve the present mystery. Often, I had to pick the three most relevant details that directly addressed a question — "what was the killer doing in the room," for example. I could click on an image depicting a memory I triggered in a possessed witness, or a picture that showed a murder weapon. Finding the right clues was a matter of simple logic, and Soul Suspect didn't punish me for guessing wrong on occasion. The system let me get inside Ronan's head, and I enjoyed playing amatuer detective. I found myself talking to the screen, puzzling out the various clues and getting excited when I nailed the solution on my first try.
I found the most satisfaction in helping other ghosts resolve their pasts and "cross over" to the afterlife. These took the form of side quests where I'd use Ronan's detective skills to look for clues about their death, then report back and allow them to move on. One ghost appeared on the beach near a capsized ship — I investigated and found that she was a hero who saved people from drowning during a cataclysmic sinking. Another ghost was tormented by the thought that he was driving drunk and had killed his friends. These were tiny stories, completely optional, but they added a great deal to Soul Suspect's fiction. I sought out as many as I could find.
In between investigations, I used my ghostly powers to get around. I possessed cats to get into tight spots and climb up ledges, and teleported short distances. Occasionally, I was tasked with guiding a living companion through a high security area. In order to get her through, I had to posses ("poltergeist") inanimate objects to distract guards so she could slip by unnoticed. These areas were always exciting — there's a simple joy in freaking people out by, say, making a copier start bursting paper from its tray, or turning a TV on and off.

Scoping Salem

Airtight's loving rendition of Salem is a chief reason that Soul Suspect works so well. Salem is a real-life harbor city famous for the witch trials that gripped the populace in the 1600s, as depicted in The Crucible. Airtight built a ghostly version that looks and sounds like the real thing — complete with nods to the town's maritime history, countless seafood houses, and grisly tourist attractions — like witch museums and graveyard tours. The only thing missing? Almost none of the locals in the game sport the signature New England accent.
All of the funhouse antics died down when the stealth situation involved demons. Demons are the only enemies that can "kill" Ronan, so I needed to teleport from shadow to shadow to avoid getting my soul sucked. I could execute demons by sneaking up on them, but they had the nasty habit of turning their ghostly backs the moment I wanted to do them in, which led to frustrating deaths. The whole demon enterprise felt like padding — I was invested enough in the story and the detective mechanics, and certainly didn't need a slow stealth puzzle after every major investigation scene.
Soul Suspect is also held back by a few aggravating technical glitches. On the lower end, these issues were merely annoying. For example, the voiceover audio almost never matched up with the subtitles. But occasionally, a game-breaking glitch would ruin the flow. In my very first investigation, the buttons for examining a clue malfunctioned, prompting a restart. And the game crashed on me once during my playthrough. None of this happened often enough to ruin my experience, but it took me out of the game when it did.
Soul Suspect's narrative and world kept me going despite these irritations. Like any great detective story, Soul Suspect is linear, but that was never a problem for me. In between story sections, I was free to wander about Salem, discover hidden stories, chat with other ghosts and solve side quests. I could possess almost every living person and read their mind, eavesdrop on conversations, and generally take in the rich world Airtight built.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is awash in tropes, but somehow, that's part of the charm. It's a pulpy detective tale remixed as a classic ghost story, and it works as a sort of playable B-movie. It's linear and mechanically simple, but it flows well and keeps a fast pace, at least as long as I wasn't chasing down demons. Supernatural Salem was a rich, sad, beautiful place to visit, and as it turned out, Ronan was the perfect tour guide.

Fire Emblem Heroes

Fire Emblem Heroes, as an idea, doesn't seem to match Nintendo's efforts in the mobile space so far.
Pokémon Go removed much of the base series' depth for location-based social activity. Super Mario Run relegated the sophistication of Mario platforming to button taps. Fire Emblem as a series is resistant to that kind of reduction. The strategy role-playing game series is all about lengthy battles, challenging maps and memorable characters whose stories play out over several chapters.
Yet with Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo seems to finally have perfected translating the console experience to smartphones. Heroes is an excellent example of how to make an RPG work on smartphones, optimized for the platform without sacrificing the most important and appealing parts of the genre.

Fire Emblem Heroes is optimized for mobile without making too many sacrifices
Fire Emblem Heroes manages to do this by turning the franchise's wide-ranging cast into its biggest gimmick. A story mode has the unseen player character command a team of up to four units traverse the various worlds of Fire Emblem. Each one is based on a different game in the series, from 1990's Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light to last year's Fire Emblem Fates.
Hopping around from setting to setting involves some nonsensical bits of explanation, but it was a treat seeing dozens of familiar faces team up and take on my own carefully constructed group of fighters. It's not just the characters that are recognizable, though. Nintendo and Intelligent Systems also preserved the series' battle system and core mechanics for Heroes. Memorizing the weapon triangle — swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords — is still required for making it out of those turn-based battles with all units still intact.
The battle system may not be as complex as it is on consoles, but it's not watered down. It remains nuanced enough for me to get lost in, having played several Fire Emblem games in the past. At the same time, removing some of the more intense elements — like permadeath and weapon durability — also makes Fire Emblem Heroes accessible and appealing to newcomers. Map design, on the other hand, is lacking in comparison to the main series, but limiting the number of fighters that can enter into battle helps to provide a new kind of strategizing in place of traps and danger zones usually found on maps.
Most importantly, the battle system highlights the diversity of Fire Emblem's characters. That rings true in all of Fire Emblem Heroes' modes, which are varied and bountiful. After racing through the story, I've spent time sharpening my favorite fighters' skills in the Arena mode, which pits your team against those of other players worldwide to rack up chain bonuses and rewards; the Training Tower, where you can collect items and experience and level up new recruits; and the recently introduced Paralogues, which are like story mode side quests that rotate out on a recurring basis.
All of these modes give the characters room to shine and endear themselves to players, which is evident in the gorgeous character art and self-deprecating level up dialogue each one has. With modes like Paralogues, I got to meet and fall in love with new characters beyond my pre-existing favorites, which isn't just fun for me, it feeds directly into the free-to-play element.
For all of its traditional Fire Emblem conceits, Heroes is still a mobile game with some very recognizable mobile game constraints. All of those characters that I found so endearing in the story chapters? You can't just add them to your party. It costs in-game currency to collect them — it's called Orbs — and that comes at a cost.
Thus far, I've found it easy to play Fire Emblem Heroes without spending a dime. The game hands out Orbs left and right. The trade-off? I have very few of my favorite characters (and anyone who's finished up the entire Story mode will find themselves stuck without a free way to generate more funds).
Fire Emblem Heroes introduces a feature called Summon to build your party. Summon appropriates the Japanese phenomenon of "gachapon," wherein players spend money for a random grab bag of characters. Fire Emblem Heroes lets players spend upward of 20 Orbs at a time for five characters. There are a ton of character variables involved, from which hero you get to their stats.
the barriers to building the best team can be frustrating
As a Fire Emblem fan with some major allegiances, this can be a crapshoot. The probability that I'll get the highest quality version of my favorite characters is extremely low, which means I've amassed a good deal of new characters that I've never seen before and who aren't great in battle. While Fire Emblem Heroes has some wonderful writing and I've come to love some new faces, the barriers to building the best team can be frustrating.
More annoying is the other big free-to-play limitation: energy costs. Every single action I took in Fire Emblem Heroes requires the use of stamina, which dwindles rapidly and takes eons to replenish. There's no way to increase the stamina limit beyond its 50 cap, and when a battle — win or lose — costs upward of 15 stamina points, that means I'm left waiting for hours to play Fire Emblem Heroes again after only playing for five minutes.
I want to play Fire Emblem Heroes as much as possible, which is a testament to its battle system and characters. Whenever I've amassed enough free Orbs and summoned a hero I actually do want to add to my team, I want to use them in battle immediately and often. The stamina costs interrupt what would otherwise be an endless gameplay session, and it's impossible to do anything about this without spending cash.

Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life: Special Edition - IGN

The Harvest Moon series attracts a very specific type of gamer. Like SimCity and the Sims, Harvest Moon takes a bunch of everyday (read: mundane) chores and whips them into a compelling game experience. In Harvest Moon, the objective is to raise a family and run a farm. Both objectives require you to perform a string of tasks, ranging from milking cows and feeding chickens to playing with your kids. Obviously, this kind of thing doesn't appeal to everyone.

The release of Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life, which shipped last year for the Nintendo GameCube, didn't change the formula. To those who loved the series, Another Wonderful Life remained quirky and undeniably charming. That's the way it has always been in the Harvest Moon universe. With Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life: Special Edition, you'll notice a few changes here and there, but primarily it's the same deal. That is to say, it's identical in terms of game mechanics, but you will notice a few dips, especially in terms of visuals and framerate. Not only that, the load times are pretty long. The game even loads considerably when opening and closing the village map. Simply should not happen.
If you've played A Wonderful Life, or the GameCube version of Another Wonderful Life, this PS2 iteration simply doesn't hold much appeal. Technically, the two games are virtually identical. Yes, you do get a broader selection of brides (four in all), but the effects on gameplay are minimal at best. Running the farm and raising a family still form the bulk of the game, with all the chores from A Wonderful Life remaining largely unchanged. Balancing finances, animals, plants and kids remains the key to success. As such, if you liked Harvest Moon and haven't played the Cube version, then Another Wonderful Life: Special Edition serves up a mean dish of, well, farm life.
The game starts with your arrival in Forget-Me-Not-Valley. The first thing you do is tour your new farm. Your guide on the tour, a crabby farm hand by the name of Takakura, gives you the skinny on just about everything, from the local townsfolk to running the farm to purchasing animals from local merchants. After the not-so-brief introduction, Takakura leaves you alone to fend for yourself. Life in, err, Another Wonderful Life splits between a number of chapters, each with its own set of requirements. The first chapter ends when you get married to a lass from town, for example. Having said that, you can spend 100 hours on the first chapter if all you want to do is milk cows.
Before getting hitched (to one of four brides, this time), it's best to learn how to farm. Like previous Harvest Moon games, you receive an initial batch of seeds and equipment, plus a single cow. Success in Harvest Moon depends largely on how well you manage your first cow, as well as your first batch of seeds. Since this is essentially the same game as A Wonderful Life, performing tasks around the farm feels just as fun as before. Planting seeds and watering plants is just as strangely addicting as before, as is taking care of and milking cows.
Of course, there's a lot more to do than raise chickens, milk cows and sow plants. You can also purchase sheep to sell their wool. Raising sheep brings its own set of complications, however. If you want the best wool, you need to bathe the sheep. Plus, you can't sell wool nearly as fast as you can sell milk, but sheep also require less of your attention. It's a decent trade-off. Furthermore, the more animals you have on the farm, the harder it becomes to feed them, wash them, take them outside when weather permits and also sticking them in the barn when it's rainy. Beyond this, you still need to cuddle them and talk to them to make sure they're happy. And as everyone knows, happy cows produce excellent milk.
Fishing and cooking represent major pastimes in the game as well. After purchasing a fishing rod from Van, a roaming merchant, you can set off fishing to make dishes or to sell on the market. Like most aspects of the game, fishing can be as simple or as complex as you want. You can fish only once in the game if you want, for example, or spend hours at a time searching for one specific class of fish. The same goes for cooking dishes. You can simply cook with whatever ingredients you have or you can spend whole days searching for that single, elusive ingredient.
Just as in real life, you'll find there isn't enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. In addition to raising livestock and tending to plants for cash, Forgot-Me-Not-Valley features a cast of oddball characters and locations to explore. Interestingly, you can now choose the gender of your child and guide them through a mini-career path. It's not as complex as it could be, but it does add a little something to the mix. Fans will appreciate it, anyway.
The Verdict
Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life - Special Edition feels very much like the original Cube version. And that&#Array;s because both titles share almost everything. They sound the same and play the same. The differences, including an increase in brides, choosing the gender of your child and the ability to play forever, make little difference. What does make a difference, though, is the drastic drop in framerate, increase in load times and muddy graphics. 

LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (3DS)

Back in 2005, if you would have told someone that six years down the road, LEGO Star Wars would still be one of the most bankable and consistently enjoyable franchise would have been laughed at. Many called the idea a shallow cash grab, yet here we are in 2011 with another instalment in the hugely popular series.
Before the Wii fully tapped into the casual gaming crowd, the idea of making any game (other than maybe Mario Party) primarily for a family audience was still not widely considered to be a wise or potentially profitable business plan.

But LEGO Star Wars wasn't a lazy cash-in. It was an incredibly fun and whimsical action-platformer whose unique sense of humor and charm captivated everyone from LEGO-loving kids to old-school Star Wars fans who had grown disillusioned with the recent, melodramatic prequels.
Things are a little different now.
Not much has changed in the ol' LEGO formula since the first game came out, and if you've enjoyed previous entries in the series, there's little reason to suspect you wouldn't enjoy LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars as well. Sadly, some surprising omissions, a few gameplay issues and technical problems make it the closest the series has come to that first feared lazy cash grab.
Of course the tricky thing right off the bat is that of all sagas in the Star Wars universe, the Clone Wars is by far the least familiar, mostly because it's so new and primarily relegated to an animated television series. As a result, the nostalgia/familiarity factor is lost almost immediately for the Average Joe. This isn't a problem while playing the levels themselves, but the cutscenes and story sequences, all of which are silently acted, are more confusing than they ought to be.

It's a testament to the gameplay, then, that the title remains mostly enjoyable despite this. As in the other LEGO Star Wars games, you'll be gallivanting across various planets and galaxies while using a mixture of platforming, exploration and character-based puzzle-solving to pass each story level. Unlike some of the other entries in the series, The Clone Wars wisely focuses on these gameplay staples for the most part, rather than repetitious combat; in fact there are several clever instances where the combat is a puzzle in and of itself. It's also worth noting that although you'll still be using multiple characters to complete each level, the character-swapping mechanics have been significantly streamlined. Instead of having your entire party following you around at all times, there's now only ever one player on the screen, meaning you simply switch characters with the R and L triggers. The developers put this to fairly good use as well, as certain enemies require the participation of multiple party members in quick succession to be destroyed.
Your party members aren't just aesthetically different, however — as series vets know, every character has their own special ability that can be used to complete specific puzzles or grant them certain advantages in combat. Yoda, for example, as a short little guy can fit in small nooks and crannies that a larger character might not be able to access. The levels, which are some of the best the series has seen, have a certain amount of depth to them as well: you might see a ledge with a special object on it that you can't reach with your current party, for example, meaning you'll have to come back later with a different character or two to reach it. You see, for the uninitiated, LEGO Star Wars is quite reminiscent of the platformers of the N64/PS1 era in that it's very much about collecting things. Completionists are definitely going to get the most mileage out of this one, as all the collectables, combined with the branching level designs, give the player plenty of reasons to go back and visit the story missions multiple times.

If there's one thing that has really made the series popular, though, it's the great co-operative multiplayer, which is why it's such a shame that this game doesn't have any.
It's a pretty baffling omission, quite frankly. Even some of the DS iterations of the LEGO games, such as LEGO Indiana Jones, had a full fledged co-op mode. Given the 3DS's significantly greater horsepower, its omission is both strange and hugely disappointing. It doesn't do the minigames any favours either: these unlockable extras feel like little more than pointless distractions without a friend to play them with. The StreetPass feature doesn't make up for the loss at all, as all it does is grant you a few extra studs (the game's currency), though considering the number of these you need to unlock all the characters, every little helps.

Of course as you probably expected, most of the 3DS' extra power is used on the visuals, which are undeniably mesmerising. Whether you have the 3D turned on or off, LEGO Star Wars III is one great looking game, with incredible texture work, sharp lighting effects and beautiful environments. The 3D is, as expected, a double-edged sword — the frame rate takes a hit if you have it turned on, but it also adds a surprising amount of depth to the environments, and makes the otherwise jagged character models appear much smoother. It's not the best showcase of the system's graphical prowess on the launch lineup, but it's a visual treat nonetheless.
The one area that not even the 3D visuals can save, however, is the dogfight missions, which are just short of unbearable. They don't control well (even with the usually-excellent Circle Pad), they're a bummer to look at, and to top it off they're simply not fun. Mercifully, these missions are infrequent, and are usually backed up by a strong traditional mission-type or two.
During our play through the game froze on at least five occasions, and it doesn't appear to be at all related to the most recent 3DS update (which has been causing similar problems) as no error message occurs during freezing. There were also some instances during cutscenes where characters would just completely fail to animate. These issues don't seem to be affecting everyone's copy of the game, but having to replay a level three times simply because it keeps freezing on you is an inexcusable issue in any game, and a particularly shocking one from this typically well-polished series.


LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is a tough one to pin down. Its single player mode is just as fun as previous entries in the series, if not more so; its puzzles and level designs are wonderfully clever, if not particularly challenging, and new abilities like wall-jumping add even more variety to the already solid experience. Fans of exploration will have an even better time with the game, as there are numerous, tough-to-find collectables in each level. On the other hand, you're going to have to put up with some seriously mediocre flight missions, potentially game-ending bugs, and there's no multiplayer to speak of.
In a word: disappointing. What we have here is a fun game that, with a bit of polish and a few extra features could have been something truly special.
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