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.

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Bargain gaming at ‘The Steam Summer Camp Sale’

Summer is a notoriously bad season for video games. Although this year has a few exceptions (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Last Story and Bodycount) the next couple of months are inevitably going to drag. Luckily Steam has got your back, discounting dozens of titles in a rather special summer event.

The Steam Summer Camp Sale started yesterday and will run until July 10th. In the meantime you can purchase a selection games at startlingly low prices, emphasised by daily deals that aim to be knock off even more dosh.

Steam users can also participate in camp ‘activities’, a special set of achievements that can be traded in for in-game items. It all sounds rather exciting and encourages players (especially school kids that will soon be on holiday) to purchase and play a variety of games.

Some of my highlights include:
* Borderlands (Game of the Year Edition): £7.50 (-75%)
* Medal of Honor: £6.79 (-66%)
* BIT. TRIP RUNNER: £1.75 (-75%)
* Recettear, An Item Shop’s Tale: £3.25 (-75%)

So what are you waiting for? Check out the sale here.

London MCM Expo (May 2011) – Most anticipated

This weekend the London Excel Centre is taken over by MCM Expo, a bi-annual celebration of comics, movies and video games. I’ve been lucky enough to win a weekend pass courtesy of GameSpot UK (thank you very much!), so I thought I better jot down some of the games that I’m most excited about seeing.

Okabu:
Before GameSpot UK announced their stage schedule for the show, I’d never heard of Okabu. This delightful little puzzle adventurer allows players to take control of various clouds, directing local tribesmen in a bid to save their land from industrialists.

The cel-shaded visuals take inspiration from Wind Waker, combining them with tribal music to create a fun, original presentation style. Set for release some time in 2011, HandCircus will be at the MCM Expo for a Q&A session on Friday afternoon.


Child of Eden:

Child of Eden is the most anticipated title for Kinect. Period. The blend of direct cursor control, eclectic music and vibrant visuals has grabbed the attention of gamers worldwide. Designed by the creator of Rez and Lumines (Tetsuya Mizuguchi), there are understandably high expectations for this intriguing hybrid of rhythm and action game. If you’ve got plenty of questions, ask them at the Q&A session on Saturday afternoon. Oh, and you can also go hands on with it at the GameSpot stall.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution:

I love cyberpunk. I also love most of Square Enix’s output. Therefore Deus Ex seems like my perfect release, throwing a hero with prosthetic arms into a world on the brink of nanotechnological breakthrough.

Players can upgrade their mechanical implants to improve their combat, stealth and social skills, thereby allowing multiple approaches to a single level. Impressively, it is said that these alterations can even allow a player to finish the game by killing only the boss characters. The art direction looks stunning on this title, but I’m sceptical to see if the gameplay can match it. Look out for the Q&A sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

Shadows of the Damned:
Anything that Suda 51 is involved in is mental. Absolutely and unashamedly mental. This latest concoction pairs the creative genius with Shinji Mikami (the guy behind Resident Evil) in a demon hunting action thriller. The dialogue is hilarious, the graphics are vulgar and the gameplay outright violent.

Expect doors to be barred by demons’ pubic hair, a giant Minotaur to fire his number two’s all over you and a barbaric main character. I’m almost certain I’m not going to like this game, but feel it needs to be experienced all the same. Expect to go hands on with it at the GameSpot stall.


So that’s pretty much it for me. What are you most looking forward to seeing and playing? Drop your comments below!

Unboxing inFamous 2: Hero Edition

Remember that preview of inFamous 2: Hero Edition that I was drooling over a couple of weeks back? Well, Sucker Punch has been kind enough to shoot some photographs that show all of those goodies in meticulous detail. You can find a full set of images here, but below I’ll show some of the most interesting ones:

This is a group shot showing all of the items together. There’s a whole lot of content on offer here, designed to please every comic book geek and inFamous addict.

First up is the replica sling pack. This is the exact same bag that Cole wears in the game, built to size and offering a considerable amount of room for all of your daily essentials. I absolutely love the attention to detail, especially the Sly Cooper patch knitted onto the main strap. I’m still a little dubious about the quality of this item, but it’s unquestionably a great way of showing off your love for the game.

Figurines rarely excite me. Still, at least this one does a good job of standing guard on your desk. The roof stand makes Cole look particularly bad ass, standing tall at an impressive 8.5 inches. It’s unlikely to persuade gamers to purchase the Hero Edition, but it’s a nice bonus all the same.

InFamous 2 is a story about superheroes. So why not create a comic out of it? DC has jumped on board and bundled in the first issue of the InFamous comic, offering a brief insight into the events that followed the previous game. The artwork looks simply stunning, so I think this is a worthy possession for any fan of the game.

The Hero Edition also includes a download code for the InFamous 2 Red Soundtrack and in game items such as character skins, power ups and amp variants. Sold yet? I’m drooling at the mouth.

(Aside: All images are owned by Sucker Punch and Sony Computer Entertainment)

New trailer and screens for Sonic Generations

The blue blur is celebrating his twentieth birthday at Sega. What better way to mark the occasion than reuniting him with his pudgier Genesis sibling? Check out the new trailer below:

Sonic Generations has two main characters; classic Sonic and modern Sonic. Together they’ll be revisiting the best levels from the Mega Drive, Dreamcast and other home consoles, such as Green Hill Zone shown above.

The new trailer shows that each level will be re-imagined twice. Starting with the classic first stage from Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis), it looks like players can pick and choose how they tackle each level. Prefer lanky Sonic’s homing attacks and mid-air tricks? Throw yourself into modern Sonic’s exhilarating 3D rollercoaster. Want to spin dash your way through Robotonik’s baddies instead? Classic Sonic has you covered.

This could potentially be the perfect game to please both veterans and newcomers to the Sonic franchise. I stress that it could be. I was a Sonic fan up until the current generation of consoles, but threw my loyalty aside after the monstrosity that was Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Although I’ve read a considerable amount of positive feedback about Sonic Colours, it would take a lot to truly win over my admiration and trust.

So far there are no annoying side characters, towns, NPCs or gimmicks to speak of. Let’s hope and pray that it stays that way. I’ve dropped a few images unveiled by CVG below (all copyright and kudos is owned by them). Sonic Generations will be out on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 later this year.

Review: Enslaved (360/PS3)

Monkey is a man that you don’t mess around with. His vibrant white hair and red face dye will do little to distract you from his tree trunk arms and monster abdominals. Controlled by a ferocious girl with a knack for technology, they’re an unlikely pair with both brains and brawn. Together they explore a post-apocalyptic wasteland overthrown by mother nature, whereby skyscrapers are decaying under the pressure of twisting vines and roads are concealed under beds of crimson poppies.

This isn’t a haven though. Mechs are everywhere, patrolling the rooftops or waiting in dormant groups. Alex Garland has taken a few cues from his previous work 28 Days Later, concocting a powerful story based on the survival of humanity and the attraction of a few isolated survivors. There are less than a dozen characters in Enslaved, but each is crafted with a personality and believability that really binds the game together.

The campaign starts with the best tutorial that I can remember in recent years. Monkey escapes from a slave ship that is crashing into the heart of New York city, only to awake with a headband that forces him to obey Trip’s every demand. By threatening to administer pain (that could eventually lead to death) she forces Monkey to help take her home.

Players control Monkey in two distinct ways; fighting swarms of mechs, or traversing the beautifully crafted environments. Each level is varied in style and filled with detail and life, but actually moving through them is mind numbingly simple. Akin to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, gamers simply have to point Monkey at the next foothold and press A or X to proceed. And that’s pretty much all there is to it. The occasional block will fall under your feet or a particular gap might need a timed jump, but by and large it’s incredibly easy.

Combat uses a joypad mashing two button set up, allowing Monkey to combine light and heavy attacks. The shield and counter moves are surprisingly responsive, but it quickly boils down to a generic ‘stun, heavy attack, shield’ formula. Collectible energy orbs allow you to upgrade your abilities, but most of them are optional and provide only minor improvements. Enemy AI is predictable (although perhaps this is how mechs are supposed to behave?) and provide minimal opportunities for strategy. Surprisingly, some of the best tactical moments come in the earlier parts of the game. Distant enemy outposts force you to judge the duration of a limited shield and destructible cover, encouraging the use of Trip’s minimal distractions. It’s a shame that these thoughtful segments are lost in favour of scale and numbers in the latter half of the campaign.

Objectives are tied to the narrative and varied in design. There are no fetch quests here – instead you’ll be breaking into a survivor’s camp, outrunning a mechanical dog and unshackling a behemoth sized mech. This helps to build a pace that will keep you driving forward relentlessly from start to finish. A few unexpected hoverboard sections (using a ‘cloud’ stolen by Monkey) are highly polished and utilise tight controls. Boss battles are thrilling and offer a much needed challenge, but are spaced out a little too far apart for my liking.

The sound design is excellent and the motion capturing from Andy Serkis is remarkably natural. Unfortunately the overall presentation is let down somewhat by the ageing unreal engine – character models look a little last generation and texture pop up occurs a little too often. The ending was also a little sudden, fitting the game thematically but breaking away dramatically from the small scale drama before it.

Conclusion:
Enslaved is an impressive experience. The narrative is immersive and the environments offer a breath taking sense of scale. As a game though, it’s very uninspired and lacks a challenge either responsively or intellectually.

Review for The Force Unleashed II

Stepping into the persona of a dual lightsaber wielding Sith should feel utterly compelling. After a distinctly average original, this sequel was a good chance for LucasArts to fix many of the franchise’s problems and capitalise on an immensely popular license. Although the Force Unleashed II looks and sounds as good as the classic trilogy, an incredibly short campaign and monotonous gameplay drags it down into the realm of uninspired cash-in.

I worshipped Star Wars as a child… and by that I mean really, really worshipped it. So upon entering this game I was prepared to forgive many of its shortcomings, provided it dealt a healthy dose of nostalgia and challenge. Players follow the life of Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice and all round hyper-powerful Jedi. After an ambiguous death in the first outing, Darth Vader claims that this new Starkiller is a clone, albeit a more powerful one with the destiny of crushing the last of the rebel alliance. Questioning Vader’s interpretation of his origins, Starkiller escapes from the planet Kamino and tries to become reunited with his lost love, Juno Eclipse.

The CG cutscenes and voicework are very impressive. Sam Witwer does a good job of portraying the confusion and anger of Starkiller, whilst cameo appearances from Bobba Fett and Yoda help reel the plot into some sense of context. The soundtrack often reworks many of the Star Wars’ most iconic scores, emphasising the sense of a modernised re-conception.

The core of the game is a typical hack and slash, with all of the films’ force powers dramatised to their full advantage. Each face button can deliver either a devastating web of lightning from your finger tips, crush tie fighters to a cube like pulp or mind trick swarms of stormtroopers into battling one another. All of these can be upgraded and strung together into elaborate combos. The visual spectacle of destruction is initially awe inspiring, but quickly becomes replaced with a sense of complacency.

Unfortunately, dismembering your opponents is just far too easy. Starkiller is overpowered to the point that you can simply hold forward, press any combination of buttons and then sit back with your eyes closed, comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll reach the next stage in about five minutes. A few enemies can only be defeated by certain types of force powers and admittedly this does help to provide a sense of strategy and challenge – but players will quickly store these variations in their muscle memory. Each wave of enemies feels like a chore and can easily be sprinted past – a viable option if you’re not interested in picking up the force points needed to upgrade your abilities.

After the opening sequence, the plot almost immediately runs out of steam. Rather than unravel the mystery of his ‘cloning’ origins, Starkiller spends most of his time taking orders from Kota, an annoying Jedi pilot who repeatedly stops you from finding the second most interesting character in the game; Juno. The Force Unleashed II is like a poor piece of fan fiction, never once adding anything relevant or interesting to the Star Wars narrative. Both endings provide a glimpse of an interesting plot development, but they’re so far removed from the Star Wars canon that they feel completely irrelevant.

The worlds that you explore are interesting enough, with some fantastic weather effects (the rain in Kamino is stunning) and an above average sense of architectural grandeur. The little touches, such as paintings of familiar Neimodians and holograms of speeders are both fitting and convincing. However, behind this visual veil is the disappointing realisation that each level is merely a corridor. There are few deviating paths available and very little exploration involved. As long as you run towards the sound of blaster fire, you can be almost certain that you’re slogging in the right direction.

The adventure also feels remarkably short. Less than six hours on the normal difficulty setting simply isn’t good value money. Perhaps it could have been justified with an increasingly remarkable and inventive experience, but The Force Unleashed II simply isn’t it either of these. Apart from the desire to unlock the alternate ending (which can be found fairly easily on YouTube) or play on a higher difficulty setting, there is little incentive for a second playthrough. Those who paid full price for this title will likely be left feeling cheated or disappointed.

It’s hard to recommend this game unless you’re obsessed with Star Wars like I once was. An unremarkable tale and dreary combat surmounts to a single player title that is average at best. Hopefully Star Wars: The Old Republic will provide fans with the game that they’ve deserved for almost half a decade.

(Note: The Xbox 360 version of this title was used for review)