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Reviews of software, hardware and everything in-between.
Matt Barton's picture

Review: Kheops Studio's "Voyage: Inspired by Jules Verne" (2005)

Voyage: Lush graphics, awesome story, great puzzles, witty dialog...Bon voyage!Voyage: Lush graphics, awesome story, great puzzles, witty dialog...Bon voyage!Kheops Studio's "Voyage: Insired by Jules Verne," published in the US by the Adventure Company in 2005, is one of the best graphical adventure games I've seen in recent years. It features compelling gameplay, multiple ways to solve puzzles, and a good, solid story based on the works of celebrated French author Jules Verne (one of the true godfathers of science fiction). The puzzles are clever, the script is fun--in short, it's worth checking out, even if you aren't normally a fan of Myst-style games.

Percepts (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

1972 Percepts Überlay: Not the most attractive of the lot, but hey, it was FREE!1972 Percepts Überlay: Not the most attractive of the lot, but hey, it was FREE!

Percepts is the free Odyssey game you get for registering your Odyssey. You know the drill: you fill out a little slip of paper and mail it in to Magnavox; they get your personal information for nefarious marketing purposes and you get a free game. Not a bad deal!

Quick FYI. For some reason I've heard (or I've imagined I've heard) this game misnamed as "Precepts". For those of you who care to know: it's Percepts, as in perception. This isn't an outright tip, but let's just say it's a lot easier to find one of these on eBay if you're allowing for the probability that many non-gamer-sellers misspell the title as Precepts.

This game falls into the "seek and go to" category of Odyssey games in that a player must determine where to go on the screen and get there before their opponent does. Percepts comes with two decks (Purple and Green) of 15 cards each, an Überlay (both sizes) and a set of instructions. There are two Percepts games described in the instructions, but you can have fun coming up with your own variations if the mood hits you.

Simon Says (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Simon Says: Their ubiquitous gaze haunts me to this day . . .Simon Says: Their ubiquitous gaze haunts me to this day . . .I was unable to cajole my son into playing this game with me, but since there is a kitty cat on the Überlay I was able to lure my three year old daughter into playing it. She enjoyed it so much, that she requested to play it again on three separate occasions since.

Simon Says is best played with three people. Two people each handling a controller and a third person who plays the role of Simon. Simon draws one of the provided off-screen accessory cards, reads it and says aloud: "Simon Says: fine the (body part indicated on card)". The players have to move their PlayerSpots from their starting square to the corresponding body-part on one of the colorful Überlay children or one of their strangely legless pets. The person who gets their PlayerSpot to the correct spot first, gets to keep the card. The person with the most cards wins the game.

If the person playing Simon chooses to make it so, then the role of Simon can be played as a crafty trickster, sometimes omitting the words "Simon Says" from the command phrase. The rule being, of course, that if Simon doesn’t say “Simon says” than nobody is supposed to move their PlayerSpot at all or suffer terrible consequences, such as the loss of a card. Being the playful, tormenting father that I am, I tried it that way but quickly discovered that I should probably wait until she turns four before trying to “fake out” my daughter. It just pissed her off in a very, “Why must you cause me such pain, Daddy?” kind of way. I changed the rule to Simon having to say “please” for a command to be followed. This was more easily understood by my daughter because it’s something my wife and I are drilling into her in real life. She enjoyed chirping back at me "You didn't say 'please'!" whenever I tried to trick her.

States (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

The States Overlay: Alternative solution to the immigration issue; move Alaska and Hawaii into Mexico!The States Overlay: Alternative solution to the immigration issue; move Alaska and Hawaii into Mexico!This title is purely and quite overtly an edutainment title making its debut long before the term was ever coined. Analogic may have concealed its arithmetic stylings in a sci-fi envelope, but nobody would mistake States as being anything but an enthusiastic attempt to capture the hearts and wallets of America's education-minded parents.

The overlay is a map of the good 'ol United States of America, which wouldn't be complete if they didn't have the Alaska/Hawaii combo scaled-to-fit and hovering over a vanished Mexico. The off-screen props consist of 50 cards, an answer brochure entitled “Affairs of States” and a “study map”. The 50 cards each highlight a specific state with three questions about the state. The answer brochure is exactly what it sounds like, and is handier than dragging out an encyclopedia. The "study map" is a paper version of the overlay, and reminds me of the type of placemat they give kids to color while waiting for their order at a Denny's(tm) or an IHoP(tm).

Roulette (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Just to clarify, this is the Odyssey's version of the casino favorite, Roulette, and it's not the relatively fun, Russian variety of Roulette, where you risk embedding bullets deep inside your head.

Like a few of the Odyssey's games, Roulette is supported by the use of "off-screen" technology: betting chips, a betting board and a huge wad of fake cash. Roulette also uses one of the nicest looking overlays for the system. It's clearly a roulette wheel and they don't dumb it down by doing anything so pedestrian as turning the numbers right-side up just to make it easier to read. The player is given the illusion that they could be looking at a genuine, roulette wheel, albeit, a non-spinning, vertical, silent roulette wheel . . .

The smart kid in the audience asks, "If the wheel doesn't spin, how is a random number generated?"

Matt Barton's picture

Sam and Max Season One: Some Reflections

You may have noticed (hopefully with some sadness!) that I haven't been posting as much as I usually do here on Armchair Arcade. Part of the reason is that I've been overloaded with school work (this is finals week), but the true reason is that I've become a GameTapaholic. Don't get me wrong--the system is not without its faults, and is not available in Europe. However, it's far too easy to get sucked into games like Baldur's Gate again and end up losing days and even weeks of productivity. It's really hard to believe how much is available! Nevertheless, while there are plenty of classic games to keep you busy, we can't ignore the Sam & Max series. As far as I know, these are only available on GameTap, and well worth the price of admission.

Action Button features Intelligent Ultra Negative Reviews

Action Button is a recent video game review blog that reminds one of Howard Beale from the 1976 flick Network-- they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore! The reviews are honest, harsh, and to the point, if a bit full of florid vocabulary.

Their modus operandi, according to their "about" page, is rather lengthy, but it boils down to being rather refreshing-- "We're going to play games for a bare minimum of two hours each and we'll let you know when, where, and why we stop playing; a great game should make us forget our day job."

Let's take a look at a few excerpts from some of Action Button's reviews. One thing I appreciate about them is that they don't give a good review unless they mean it.

Cooking Mama (Nintendo DS, 2006)

Cooking Mama: Cook without burning down the kitchen with Cooking Mama!Cooking Mama: Cook without burning down the kitchen with Cooking Mama! Cooking and gaming have some similarities-- there are multiple steps to complete before finishing them, they require a wide variety of "moves" to be successful, and they are best served when piping hot. OK, scratch that last one. Majesco's Cooking Mama is a fun combination of Julia Child and Wario Ware and a must for fans of micro-gaming or kitchen mavens.

Though there are a few different modes, most of the action happens when players select Let's Cook from the main menu. You can unlock recipes as you go and even if you consistently fail each step, you still can complete a recipe. While this eliminates challenge, it also eliminates possible frustration-- players are never stuck on one particular recipe and they can replay them to win bronze, silver, or gold medals to their hearts' content.

Each recipe has several phases, whether it's as simple as measuring water or as tricky as filling dumplings. Controls are fairly responsive, but the goals are somewhat unclear as in Wario Ware. Since each phase only lasts 10 seconds at most, players have a chance to learn from their mistakes, but the lack of any tutorial is interesting.

The majority of cuisine represented is Japanese. They also have some American dishes, but with a Japanese touch (spaghetti cooked in a frying pan with a dash of ketchup?!). Having lived in Japan for a month, I have to attest to the accuracy of the dishes represented here. Gyoza (fried dumplings) and udon (typically soup with thick noodles in a fish-based broth) are more typical of Japanese cuisine than chicken teriyaki and fried ice cream.

Haunted House (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Haunted House Overlay: Even the translucent areas retain their spookiness.Haunted House Overlay: Even the translucent areas retain their spookiness.I love the Überlay for this game. It's a silhouette of a stereotypical haunted house. The house is three stories tall and filled with items such as bats, cats, skulls and candelabra. You play the game by moving your Detective through the house and "lighting" each item one at a time, in order, as specified by numbered, drawn cards. (For those just tuning in, "Lighting" involves moving your TV square behind an on-screen area, causing it to glow.) If you successfully light the item, you collect the card for that item.

Capcom Classics Mini Mix (GBA, 2006)

Capcom Classics Mini Mix Box: Despite having 3 great games, this compilation is still a mixed bag.Capcom Classics Mini Mix Box: Despite having 3 great games, this compilation is still a mixed bag.After trading in a few games, I had some credit at the local Gamestop available. In an attempt to beef up my GBA/DS game collection, I got Capcom Classics Mini Mix for only $1! Is this fairly recent collection of retro games for the GBA worth it?

The games are good, but a few niggling presentation issues keep it from what is should be.

To be fair, the games included here are oldies but goodies and are were originally NES ports of arcade games that are heavily changed from the originals in effective ways. Strider adds some RPG elements, a plot hampered by a laughable translation, and Mega Man style stage selection to what originally was a fairly generic, but cool, side scroller. Bionic Commando is arguably the best of the bunch here with several levels, some lite RPG elements, and a plot that some how works in spite of censorship (the original villains in the Japanese versions were Nazis; for the American version, all swastikas were removed and the villains are now a generic evil army). Mighty Final Fight takes an ultra-cute kiddy approach to a remake of the first game of the series with a superfluous addition of having your characters level up.

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