GUITAR HERO 3
musical game (PlayStation3, Xbox 360, Wii) Rating: NNNN
Guitar Hero 3 came screeching onto the scene at the end of October and has set the bar high for the musical showdown between it and newcomer Rock Band.
Though the original developer behind the Guitar Hero series, Harmonix, is no longer involved, nothing has been lost in this latest edition. The full realm of rock is represented in the track list - everything from classics like Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones to 90s hits like Cherub Rock by the Smashing Pumpkins on through modern tracks like Helicopter by Bloc Party.
Aside from the new tracks, many of which are original recordings, there are a few new features to get your fingers wailing on the fretboard. In career mode, you'll occasionally be challenged to boss battles with the likes of Tom Morello and Slash. They each recorded solos in their classic styles that you play against, really making you feel like a legend when you beat them at their own game.
The wickedest new addition, though, has to be online play. Now you can impress more than just the people in your living room with your hammer-ons: you can go online and try to prove you're the best axe-wielder the Internet has ever seen.
To go along with the new game, Red Octane has also put out a new guitar controller - a slick black Les Paul replica. Not only is this one of the coolest guitars ever, but the new controller has fret buttons that feel much more responsive and is collapsible for portability. It's also the first wireless guitar for the Xbox 360. GH3 is available for the PS3 and Wii, too, so no one is left out this time. Rock on!
THE EYE OF JUDGMENT
strategy/collectible card game (PlayStation 3) Rating: NN
The Eye Of Judgment represents the first attempt to combine two geek passions - video games and collectible card games (think Magic: The Gathering). It does this through a new peripheral called the PlayStation Eye, a camera that "reads" the cards you play and then brings them to life onscreen, where they do battle as devils, goblins or golems.
While the gadget is nice, as a strategy game it lacks the complexity to satisfy hardcore card gamers and is unlikely to appeal to anyone else. Each match plays out like a slightly trickier animated version of tic-tac-toe. Add in a repetitive metal soundtrack and you've got a clunker, which is too bad. There's a great game out there that makes the most of onscreen/real world interaction. This ain't it.
role-playing game (PlayStation 3) Rating: NNN
Japanese-style RPGs meet Western fantasy in Folklore, an adventure that combines the monster-hunting of Pokemon with the atmosphere of Neil Gaiman's Sandman.
Set in the tiny village of Doolin, Ireland, where the borders between our world and the fairy kingdoms are thin, Folklore follows two characters trying to solve the mystery of a murder and a lost mother. Gameplay alternates between unravelling clues in the village and battling in the magical realms, picking up new fairy folk to fight with along the way.
The graphic-novel-style storytelling can be slow-moving at times, but you'll never be at a loss for things to look at. The cliffs of Ireland are captured in all their gloomy glory, nicely complemented by the lush fairy lands and their fantastically original creatures. More whimsical than dark, gothic in a teenage-coven kind of way, Folklore is 20 times prettier than anything else released this year.
FINAL FANTASY TACTICS: the WAR OF the LIONS
tactics/ strategy (PSP) Rating: NNN
Recent remastered re-releases from Square Enix are done well enough, but they only hinted at things to come. Well, wait no longer - The War Of The Lions has arrived. Hailing from the highly regarded Tactics series, this third instalment gives us fabulous animated sequences and highly addictive grid-based play.
It's not without its faults, though. Menus can be atrociously ambiguous, and viewing angles frustrate. Strains of music are pleasing, but the sound effects fall short. Most disappointingly, battle animations bog down the PSP, resulting in sluggish instead of seamless execution. It pulls me out of the gameplay enough to be annoying and will probably keep me from clocking the 200-plus hours that I logged on Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
But with familiar units and abilities and tantalizingly new elements mixed in, this is still a worthy threequel to waste many hours on.
LEGEND OF ZELDA: PHANTOM HOURGLASS
role-playing (Nintendo DS) Rating: NNNNN
Paper-cut Link returns! Taking place after Wind Waker, a host of new characters are introduced as well as a group of returning familiar faces. Intuitive-to-grasp controls get you sailing quickly, and you're off on the high seas to rescue Princess Tetra (again), while battling pirates and land-locked alike.
Character movement is played entirely with the stylus (look for a humorous reference to D-pad play in-game), and menus are simple and well laid out. With a highly satisfying mix of traditional and innovative DS use to solve puzzles, the rewards are liberally littered in this lighter tale of Zelda.
While sad to finish the game, I never felt it was too short - the pacing was perfect. Even after you've vanquished your foe, a multitude of side quests will keep you busy trying to find all those hearts, quivers, bags and maps to complete your various collections. Most certainly, this title is a treasure to keep for your trove.