Link will play a harp in Skyward Sword

Eiji Aonuma has announced that Link will have the chance to play a musical harp in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The Zelda producer told Nintendo Power that the harp will almost identical to the one played by Sheik in Ocarina of Time. Players will use the harp to find “something important” and will be controlled by rhythmic strumming (via MotionPlus).

Aonuma said: “The harp is sort of the central instrument that you’ll see this time. With a lot of previous Zelda games it has been about inputting specific notes to compose things. Given the nature of what a harp is, and the fact that it’s an instrument that one strums, this time we’re using the Wii MotionPlus to really make it based on the rhythm of strumming to get across the musical element.”

Other details leaked in the interview include:
– The game is now nearing the final stages of development.
Shigeru Miyamoto is helping on the game’s finishing touches.
– The localization of Skyward Sword will begin shortly.
– The plot has a large focus on the creation and forging of the Master Sword.
– Skyward Sword will feature a handful of full orchestrated songs.
– In The Legend of Zelda timeline, Skyward Sword is set directly before Ocarina of Time.

Review: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

Ezio Auditore da Firenze is summoned into battle once again as he aims to liberate Rome from the influence of the Borgia family. Small improvements to the campaign and a fresh multiplayer mode ensure that fans of the Assassin’s Creed franchise have plenty of content to get excited about.

Developing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood couldn’t have been easy. The last iteration (AC:II) shipped only twelve months previous and was applauded for fixing many of the jarring flaws in the original Assassin’s Creed. Many writers such as myself were worried that the short development cycle of Brotherhood would force Ubisoft to shrug off the single player experience as an after thought. We needn’t had worried. If you liked Assassin’s Creed II, you’ll almost certainly like what’s on offer here.

Nurturing a brotherhood of assassins is no doubt one of the largest additions to the game. Ezio can approach unruly citizens and enlist them to his cause, sending them out on missions and levelling them up with experience points. These can then be summoned into battle with a tap of the shoulder button, attacking large numbers of enemies or serving as a distraction as you drive toward your objective. The system isn’t forced upon you, as utilising them is only crucial to a handful of missions later in the game. I never felt an emotional tie or sense of personality from any of my members, so as a result I used them sparingly throughout the campaign.

Once Monteriggioni is all but destroyed, Ezio and his assassin chums head to Rome for the remainder of the game. The city is astoundingly huge and offers a wealth of districts, back alleys and landmarks to explore. The parkour controls make it incredibly easy to traverse the open world, again making brilliant use of rooftops, window sills and suspended signs. The setting does reuse many of the objects and textures found in Assassin’s Creed II though, surmounting in a location that lacks quite the same visual impact as Venice.

Players continue to explore Ezio’s memories so that Desmond Miles (a chap from present day) can learn of a political conspiracy. This section has a much larger prominence than previous games in the franchise, giving Desmond the chance to leave the animus and do a little free running of his own. There’s not an awful lot to discover here, but it’s a crucial reminder that what is happening to Ezio in the Renaissance period has implications for the future. A startling end sequence creates further questions for Desmond’s role and the motives of the Templars. Oh, and Shaun Hastings is just as annoying and idiotic as before.

The core missions have a nice amount of variety, including tailing enemies, infiltrating hideouts and performing covert assassinations. These can often require a great deal of stealth to complete, forcing players to pick specific routes or combinations of kills. Unfortunately this can sometimes lead to ‘trial and error’ scenarios, which is frustrating if you want to be creative and use a route that the developers didn’t intend. Nevertheless the campaign is paced well and consistently offers unique and enjoyable missions.

Just like in Assassin’s Creed II, there is a heap of side missions for Ezio to delve into. Players can help renovate Rome by purchasing buildings, receive upgrades by destroying war machines for Leonardo De Vinci and traverse tombs for a special armour set. The single player is already reasonably lengthy, but these additions mean that enthusiasts will be going after achievements and trophies for many weeks.

The multiplayer is a vital component of Brotherhood, but one that I can admit to not testing for this review. I’ve never been much of the online type and as a result, the new mode simply doesn’t interest me. From what I hear the experience is a unique take on cat and mouse, forcing players to hunt a target whilst they in turn are hunted by someone else. They are keeping the multiplayer for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, so presumably it has been a success and maintained an active community.

The engine has started to date a little bit in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, with occasional texture drop in and objects sporadically appearing in the distance. This is also apparent in some of the facial animations, which have since been eclipsed by titles such as L.A Noire or Heavy Rain. Despite these flaws the game has a massive attention to detail, realistically representing Rome in a stunningly historical fashion. Character animations continue to be a highlight, with Ezio leaping between rooftops and rolling across the floor with surprising fluidity and velocity.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise continues to refine its unique blend of stealth combat and period setting. Brotherhood does enough to justify itself and differentiate from the previous game, teasing players with further questions for Ezio’s final chapter, Revelations. If you’re interested in multiplayer this is a fantastic adventure game with great value both online and off.

The narrative impact of Heavy Rain

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Heavy Rain, the adventure video game on PlayStation 3.

When I finished Heavy Rain, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. A moment to be able to take in what I had just experienced and digest some of the finer plot points. Regardless of the choices, mistakes or revelations that you make in the game, it is undeniably an emotional roller coaster.

I should probably provide a brief summary of my personal path in Heavy Rain. As Ethan Mars I managed to find and save the child – this was achieved by cutting off Ethan’s little finger and choosing to take the poison at the final trial. By refusing to shoot the drug dealer, I was left with three possible choices for the location of Shaun. Luckily, by listening to the mobile phone and deducing that some kind of ship(?) was nearby, I chose to drive to the warehouse closest to the river.

As FBI profiler Norman Jayden, I didn’t find out that the killer was Scott Shelby. Despite finding the gold watch in the clip of the origami killer, I didn’t want to accuse Blake and didn’t think of geo-analysing it for further evidence. As I rooted through the rest of Blake’s evidence, I was aware that Norman would soon die from the ARI and chose to log out. This meant that I ended his scenario with a rather unimpressive resignation.

Regrettably I left Lauren to die in the car, allowing Scott Shelby to escape to the surface. I felt a little tricked by this section; the buttons didn’t seem to correspond to their contextual counterparts and what I thought would wake Lauren up actually resulted in Scott leaving. Out of frustration I left Charles Kramer to die in the mansion (the man deserved it in my opinion) and I also missed cleaning the telephone in the typewriter store.

Although I was never particularly sold on the quick-time controls, the intriguing plot and deep characters really pulled me in. It was a great piece of storytelling and up there with some of my favourite crime novels. To make the experience ‘pure’ I never turned off the console to retry a section, nor did I spoil the story by looking it up in advance. As a result Ethan’s final choice was a very difficult decision for me. The revelation that Scott Shelby was the origami killer was also completely unexpected.

Hopefully Heavy Rain will spawn more video games with this type of mature, intelligent narrative. Although I was confused with a few of the minor plot points (what was Ethan’s blackouts really about?) these were addressed in some of the ‘Making Of’ videos and I agree with their decision to make the game less supernatural. Although I always felt a twinge of the fantastical in Heavy Rain (Norman’s glasses were always a little far-fetched) maintaining a sense of realism helped to focus my own personal theories throughout the game.

I’m not usually one to advocate video games as an art form, but Heavy Rain certainly fits into this category. The narrative is engrossing and will likely stay with me for many months to come. If you own a PlayStation 3 and haven’t played it yet, I heartily recommend checking it out.

What a decent Harry Potter video game would look like

The Harry Potter video games have been, for the most part, distinctly average. Far too preoccupied with mimicking key moments from the films, or trying to force game mechanics that have been successful in other franchises. It’s all been a bit of a mess, accumulating in a final instalment which many consider to the be the worst of the lot.

Although it’s easy to blame short development cycles or inexperienced teams, Electronic Arts should really know better. They’ve been in the business a long time and were entrusted with a brand that has millions of fans around the world. Surely they could have done a little more with the Harry Potter video games?

The concept for this piece was inspired by a recent post on Kotaku. They ask a simple question: If you could create a perfect Harry Potter video game, what would it be like? Both Jen and Sam bring up some interesting (and hilarious) ideas for their own prospective works, but what I really took away from the article was the need to go beyond the original source material.

From a business point of view, each Harry Potter game was designed to coincide with the films. That’s fine. Once a child leaves the cinema, they’re likely to spot the game in a shop and then want to do a little magic conjuring of their own. The difference is that these games don’t have to be a scene by scene representation of the films. They could be about an entirely different part of the Harry Potter franchise. Simply call them ‘Harry Potter 7′ and slap Daniel Radcliffe’s absurd face on the front cover. It’ll have the exact same effect on sales, regardless of the content inside.

Sam mentioned a prequel game, similar to what The Force Unleashed did with the Star Wars license. I think this is a fantastic idea, introducing characters who were mentioned in the books/ films, but never given the chance to be explored fully. I would consider taking this one step further – how about a game documenting each stage of a particular character’s life, such as in Assassin’s Creed? Let’s take James Potter for example.


James Potter started out as a pupil in Hogwarts. This chapter could be presented in a similar fashion to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with an open world school and classes to attend at your leisure. Small cut scenes could tie it into the original literature, such as meeting Lily Potter and making friends with Sirius, Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. Otherwise it could deviate into new territory, using platforming and dialogue trees to show how the school once operated.

Upon graduation, James then fought in The First Wizarding War as a member of the Order of the Pheonix. Marking the original reign of Lord Voldemort, this section could show Potter senior in a new, older light. Upgraded powers could be used to take on missions from either the Ministry of Magic, distressed muggles or the Order directly. This would provide the opportunity to explore previously unseen locations from the books and films, allowing level designers to create worlds that actively benefit the gameplay.

Each console offers a wealth of opportunity for controls and input. Motion controls are an obvious place to start, but should be handled delicately and intelligently. No waggle Wii mote flailing, please. Using the Wii U as the Marauder’s Map is a great idea offered by Sam, allowing players to design their own routes or track important enemies. Taken one step further, the map could be used in game to offer online player hints and tips in a similar fashion to Demon’s Souls.

Most importantly, put the franchise in the hands of a capable developer. Bioware is already doing a fantastic job with Star Wars: The Old Republic Republic and shows the quality that can be produced with a little creative freedom. Perhaps it’s too late for a decent movie tie-in, but it’s certainly not too late for a decent Harry Potter video game.

Tetsuya Nomura reveals new Kingdom Hearts III details

Square Enix legend Tetsuya Nomura (Director of the Kingdom Hearts franchise and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, among others) has leaked a few more tentative details about Kingdom Hearts III in Famitsu magazine.

Nomura is said to have confirmed that Kingdom Hearts III will be the last instalment featuring the series’ iconic villain Xehanort. This doesn’t mean that the franchise is set to end though, as Nomura later added that a structure has already been created for future sequels with Sora.

It’s important to remember that Kingdom Hearts III is a long way from realisation. The team is currently developing Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3DS, which is reported to be at about 40-50% completion. Although Kingdom Hearts III has been rumoured for many years, there has been no confirmation that title has made it to production or planning.

Fans can find answers to some of their questions regarding Kingdom Hearts III in the aforementioned KH3D, according to Nomura. He also mentioned that Square Enix were looking into the technology that could render older titles in high definition. Is this a hint that we could soon see HD remakes/ collections for Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts or Dragon Quest?

It’s an attractive prospect, but one that I hope they don’t undertake. The team has already spent far too much time in side projects and now need to refocus their efforts on Kingdom Hearts III. Although fans are enjoying some of the recent portable outings, I can’t help but feel that they are growing more and more restless for a sequel on home consoles.

Riddle me this in new Batman: Arkham City trailer

Move over Jim Carrey – there’s a new demonic Riddler in Gotham City. A new teaser from Rocksteady Studios shows Mr. Edward Nigma taking on a much more formidable role in the upcoming Arkham City, this time threatening to kill innocent citizens if Batman fails some of his puzzles.

Joystiq likened the new Riddler role to that of Jigsaw in the horrific Saw franchise. You can easily see where they’re coming from, what with the creepy mind games and sinister accent. Yes it certainly has a tint of the iconic film villain, no doubt staking a claim for Edward Nigma as the number one baddie in the Batman video games.

Viewers with a keen eye will spot a glimpse of a holographic Riddler, as well as a password device and plenty of rotary blades. Although there’s not much else to see besides ambiguous dialogue and algebra equations, it’s refreshing to see some attention for the man in green.

Bioshock Infinite demo looks very impressive

Bioshock Infinite is going to be phenomenal. Don’t believe me? Watch the 20 minutes of gameplay footage put up by GameTrailers right here.

The location of Columbia looks stunning. I wasn’t sure that Irrational Games could top the artistic marvel that was Rapture, but this new floating dystopia has proven me wrong. Each island is filled with a scale that is almost breath taking to look at. American patriotism is everywhere, tarnished by greed and corrupt ideals. Every street has a dark edge to it; giant posters quickly go up in flames and horses are found dying on the streets. Skylines litter the world like one giant suspended roller-coaster ride, weaving in and out of skyscrapers, streets and recreational parks. Columbia feels much more organic than Rapture, free from the restrictions of glass corridors and one way trams.

There is also the possibility of other settings. Through Elizabeth’s ability to create ‘tears’, the demo revealed a glimpse of down town New York. Who knows, perhaps the player will be able to explore this at greater length, alongside any other areas that Elizabeth can summon with this potentially limitless ability.

Elizabeth’s ability to manipulate tears also applies to combat. Throughout the demo it was obvious that Booker could call upon her powers to summon a variety of objects, such as carriages for cover or doorways for alternate routes. She acts as a simple support character that players control directly, eliminating the need for sublime A.I or complex commands. The demo showed a tendency to rely on traditional weaponry rather than ‘vigors’, the equivalent of plasmids that have been designed specifically for Bioshock Infinite. This might be due to the location of the demo in the overall campaign, or a desire to hide some of the more extravagant ‘vigors’ for a later date.

Elizabeth has an interesting personality and relationship with both Booker and the Songbird. At times she appears naive, believing plastic gold to be real and trying on a novelty Lincoln headpiece. At others she seems incredibly serious and determined, asking Booker to swear that he will never let the Songbird take her back. The dynamic between these characters looks to be at the core of the plot, offering a personal and believable take on the Bioshock Infinite world.

Although the Songbird looks pretty menacing, in my eyes it doesn’t quite have the same edge or iconic appeal as the Big Daddy. Perhaps this particular enemy will warm to me over time, but it still has a long way to go before it’s scaring me half to death with a pneumatic drill.

I came away from the Bioshock Infinite demo feeling very impressed. The scope and artistic direction of the game is like nothing else on the market, offering frantic combat and an original plot line. I can hardly wait for when this is released next year.