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Jason Evangelho

Playstation Vita Review: Lumines: Electronic Symphony

It’s not for everyone, but this hypnotic puzzler is a great reason to own a PS Vita

We heard a great quote on the Vita Voices podcast last month: “The original Gameboy release of ‘Tetris’ doomed all future handhelds to including a puzzle game at launch.” Q Entertainment rose to the challenge admirably with “Lumines” for the PSP in 2005, and now they’re back with “Lumines: Electronic Symphony” for the PS Vita.

The “Lumines” series’ signature is a tripped-out combination of dynamic electronic music and strategic block dropping. Like “Bejeweled” and “Tetris,” it takes an ultra-simple mechanic — in this case, creating 2×2 squares of the same color — and makes it progressively more difficult and addictive while layering in subtle changes to the core gameplay.

Even though it arrives 7 years after its portable debut, the overall package feels less complete than the PSP original. Gone is the diabolical puzzle mode. Gone is the Vs. CPU mode. And the lack of any online matches is baffling. Instead, duels are limited to the “Ad-Hoc” (local) mode.

Where the package doesn’t skimp is in the music department. 34 songs ranging from mellow lounge beats to intense techno scorchers like “Hey Boy Hey Girl” by The Chemical Brothers are included.  The music engages you, and combined with the visuals, puts you in a hypnotic state of cerebral enjoyment. It is quite simply puzzle nirvana, especially with the dynamic music shifting and tweaking based on your block movements.

While the suite of features is leaner than expected, what’s here is honed to perfection. A total of 10 distinct Avatar abilities infuse another layer of strategy into the block building, allowing players to conjure up Chain Reaction blocks (erasing all adjacent, similarly-colored blocks) and a Shuffle Mode that can get you out of a game-ending jam by rearranging your block colors. Giant Steps will change your next 3 blocks into single colors, and Hold the Line will stop the time line for a few seconds, allowing you to build a huge multiplier before your blocks are erased.

A playlist mode allows you to zone out with your favorite skins and tracks, and Master Mode pushes your reflexes and ability to think a few moves ahead with five increasingly difficult trials. But it’s the Voyage Mode which is the meat of “Electronic Symphony”, flowing endlessly from song to song, marathon-style, for as long as you can stay alive. Since the order of the skins is predetermined, though, you’ll be tempted to design your own playlists once enough tracks have been unlocked. Which is just fine, since the entire collection of goodies is obtained simply by erasing blocks, trying new modes, and gaining XP.

Instead of being required to reach skins to unlock them during your playthrough, a persistent XP system rewards you with new avatars, skins and songs based on your cumulative score. It’s another nod to newcomers without dumbing things down for talented “Lumines” players.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony” is one of the best puzzle games around, and a terrific Vita launch title. If you even remotely enjoy puzzle games, pick this one up. That said, it doesn’t mean the game is worthy of a $40 price-tag for everyone, but “Lumines” fans will be utterly satisfied.

Got the New iPad? Grab some free SEGA games

SEGA offering 2 of their iOS games for free

Even if you’re still perplexed over Apple simply calling it “The New iPad,” diehard iPad fans are, regardless, anxiously awaiting their delivery man or woman of choice to deliver their new tablet. Once you get your hands on it, you can download a couple classic SEGA games for free today and tomorrow. 

The quirky Dreamcast puzzler “ChuChu Rocket” (from the same developers behind “Sonic the Hedgehog”) is free, as well as “Brick People,” another cool puzzle title with single player and competitive multiplayer. 

Both games are free on the iTunes App Store through March 17th, 2012, so act fast. Note, however, that they are only free if browsing the iTunes store from any iPad. 

STORE LINKS: ChuChu Rocket | Brick People

Free 'Angry Birds Space' content coming for Samsung Galaxy owners

Samsung offers up 30 ‘Danger Zone’ levels for all Samsung Galaxy users

It’s safe to say that everyone — from grandmothers to hardcore gamers — has some level of anticipation for “Angry Birds Space,” the next entry in Rovio’s ridiculously popular franchise. At SXSW, Samsung recently announced a partnership with the game developers to offer up a ton of free content to all Samsung GALAXY users. 

The promotion is in conjunction with the launch of Samsung’s hybrid phone/tablet the GALAXY Note, which sports a gorgeous 5.3″ screen and dual-core processor. 

According to our contact at Samsung, owners of any GALAXY product will receive an exclusive level inside “Angry Birds Space,” in addition to the “Danger Zone” content pack — 30 challenging levels which would normally be an in-app purchase — for free. The content will become available automatically when “Angry Birds Space” launches (pun intended) on March 22, 2012. 

Stay tuned to College News Magazine for our hands-on impressions of the Samsung GALAXY Note, and best of luck smashing up those space pigs!


Would you buy a $1500 Apple iTV?

Best Buy’s ‘hypothetical’ survey to customers give clues to new Apple Smart TV

Before Steve Jobs passed away, he was quoted multiple times as wanting to “crack the TV nut.” Though Apple has tried, their Apple TV device has existed on the outskirts of mainstream adoption, even as their iPods, iPads and iPhone continue to explode with success. But what if Apple delivered a Smart TV that ran on iOS, could play a wide variety of games and apps, and used your iPhone or iPad as a remote control?

Best Buy recently surveyed their customers about a $1,499 Apple TV that doesn’t yet exist — but they seem to know quite a bit about it.

“Apple finally reinvents what a TV can do.” That was the messaging included in the survey, distributed by Best Buy to select customers. Accompanying the questionnaire were details of a 1080p LED flat-panel, a built in iSight camera and microphone, and a full range of bundled apps like Apple’s iCloud, Netflix, and YouTube.  The electronics retailer was also curious if you’d like to use your iPhone or iPad as a remote control for the mystical set-top box. In short, a lot of very specific speculation for a non-existent product.

According to Wired, Best Buy says the survey is strictly “hypothetical,” and Apple is refusing to comment. They went on to state that “any brand reference was hypothetical. The survey is no longer available.”

They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and today Canada’s largest newspaper – The Globe and Mail – reports that two of Canada’s largest telecoms are already testing prototypes of the iTV. The report mentions a larger range of features than previously imagined: Voice control with Siri integration, gesture recognition (similar to the Xbox 360’s Kinect), and a screen size of 42”.

Apple already has the ecosystem they need to launch a killer TV. For many, iTunes is the hub for TV shows, movies, music, apps, and games. Millions of iPhones and iPads could serve as remote controls and secondary devices for the television, much like Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U console. Should Apple actually deliver the “iTV” to living rooms, it could serve as the mythical “all in one” box that does everything, including becoming your next video game console.

Reviewed: Sony's Playstation 3D Display

Is Sony’s slick new display right for you?

Sony’s persistent mission to capture a larger 3D audience continues with the recent release of the Playstation 3D Display, but don’t let the name mislead you. Sony’s new 24” display is compatible with your Xbox 360 or PC, and serves up a few unique features worthy of your attention.

In fact, “display” is an important word to consider before purchasing. Sony is marketing the hardware as more of a secondary TV than a desktop monitor, and indeed it treads the line between both. It offers a barebones array of inputs by modern standards, outfitted with one component input, two HDMI ports, and a headphone jack. In our office environment it’s a perfect fit, with PC and PS3 connected via HDMI and Xbox 360 connected through component cables – though it warrants mention that there are no VGA or DVI options. It may present restrictions in a living room setup, however, as it lacks a digital tuner and a traditional cable input. For a dorm environment, though, it’s perfect.

3D Display Inputs

The designers at Sony are known for producing sleek, sexy hardware, and the Playstation 3D Display is no exception. It’s probably no accident that its rounded edges and general form factor will immediately remind you of a PSP, and the build quality is fantastic; its first impression on you will produce a wide smile.

Setup is a breeze, with a wide, sturdy stand that locks into place and provides 10 degrees of rotation for finding that sweet 3D spot. Speaking of 3D, the only barriers to diving in are a 30 minute wait for the included 3D glasses to fully charge, and a quick tweak to your XMB display settings. Sony has included an HDMI cable (something a default PS3 doesn’t even ship with) and a copy of the thrilling Motorstorm Apocalypse, so it’s a complete 3D-ready package out of the box.

The 24” 240 Hz LCD display itself is stunning at 1920×1080, with true 1080p output. The color balance is exceptional, and the picture is so crisp and lifelike that all of our current flatscreen and laptop monitors look dully and dingy by comparison. Viewing is less ideal near sunlight or in brightly list rooms due to the glossy screen, but it has officially become our main viewing preference for both work and play.

Sony's Active Shutter 3D Glasses

Of course, a large percentage of what you’re paying for is the 3D experience, and we tested Sony’s display with a variety of products, including the “Motorstorm Apocalypse” pack-in, “Uncharted 3,” “Gran Turismo 5,” “Killzone 3,” and “Tekken Hybrid,” as well as various 3D films. As a product designed to further evangelize 3D, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the results were mostly excellent; subpar experiences should be chalked up to the software programmers and not to this display. We were least underwhelmed with “Gran Turismo 5,” as it exhibited a bit of ghosting and the 3D effect seemed artificial. The included Motorstorm Apocalypse is plenty entertaining, especially with the destruction spitting out of the screen. But if Sony wants to preach the gospel of 3D, they should have included “Uncharted 3” in the box; it is a stunner in the 3D realm and a showcase for how to properly experience a 3D game – the effect is non-intrusive, and done in such a way that the technology takes a back seat to immersion.

How SimulView works

Sadly, “Uncharted 3” lacks support for SimulView, one of the display’s distinguishing features. In a nutshell, SimulView allows 2 players who are wearing 3D glasses to enjoy a full-screen experience while playing in split-screen mode, but only a handful of PS3 titles utilize it. This wouldn’t be so disappointing if SimulView didn’t work like magic. Certainly no one wants to share half of a 24” screen, but it’s a killer feature for students in college dorms, or people using this in their primary play space. Here’s to hoping Sony continues to support this option in their first-party games.

When 3D works best, it’s unobtrusive and augments your viewing experience. In that best-case scenario, the only thing serving as a reminder is Sony’s included 3D glasses (MSRP $69.99). On the plus side, they’re mostly universal and work with a slew of other 3D-compatible televisions. On the negative side, they aren’t adjustable and folks with larger heads may feel some discomfort. Their sturdiness also means that earbuds are preferable to full-sized headphones.

Speaking of sound, Sony boasts the inclusion of a subwoofer, but its impact is negligible and doesn’t add a significant amount of bass. At lower levels the volume is crisp and sounds are crystal clear, but it distorts quickly at higher volumes. The overall audio quality is certainly acceptable and better than most monitors, but when consumers hear “subwoofer” they’re probably inclined to think of the exceptional Bravia subwoofer, not the underwhelming one present here.

The following may seem nitpicky, but this unit should ship with a discrete remote control. The menu buttons are on the back right side of the display, and while we appreciate that they’re not visible, it’s also difficult to manage switching inputs and various settings without memorizing where the buttons are. Onscreen cues are visible when they’re activated, but at a $499 price-point, we expect convenience and ease of use.

All told, Sony’s Playstation 3D Display is an outstanding piece of tech, versatile enough for a variety of uses, sized just right for a college dorm, and certainly dazzling enough to make a positive impression. Its price point, however, (currently $499) demands adoption only by a niche audience – 3D enthusiasts – but that audience shouldn’t hesitate to pick it up if they want a small form-factor 3D solution, and a stunning monitor.

SCORE: 4 out of 5

This hardware was provided by Sony for the purpose of this review

The “Halo” Interviews: From Birth to Rebirth

We interview Ed Fries and Frank O’Connor about the 10th anniversary of “Halo”

“Microsoft is building the biggest cannon in the world, and they’re pointing it right at Sony. And [Halo] can be the bullet in that cannon.” – Jason Jones, Bungie co-founder

An unlikely thing happened in 2001. Microsoft fearlessly released a video game console called the Xbox, mere months after SEGA’s Dreamcast failed and Sony’s über-popular Playstation 2 was claiming massive success. Despite years of experience in the world of PCs and Windows Operating Systems, executives at Microsoft were confident they could break into an industry dominated for years by Nintendo and Sony.

While the hardware itself boasted revolutionary features for a home gaming console at the time, the original Xbox was also called “Blunder of the Year” by Game Informer magazine in 2001, and countless media outlets criticized its massive controller and Microsoft’s inexperience in the console arena, prematurely dooming it to failure. Microsoft, however, is a shrewd business, and had two very powerful bullets in that proverbial cannon: A former Macintosh game developer called Bungie, and a little game called “Halo.”

Flash forward 10 years: The “Halo” franchise has sold over 42 million copies, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is a resounding success, a staple of dorm rooms and living rooms alike. A new “Halo” trilogy has been announced featuring the venerable Master Chief, and Microsoft is releasing “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary,” a painstakingly re-mastered HD version of the original Xbox classic shooter.

“Halo Anniversary” represents an important passing of the torch for the iconic franchise. Following Bungie’s departure to develop games for Activision, Microsoft assembled 343 Industries, a company whose only purpose is shepherding the Halo universe into the future.

College News had the unique opportunity to interview not only 343 Industries’ Franchise Director Frank O’Connor, but also Ed Fries, a former Microsoft VP who championed the original Xbox console and was instrumental in bringing Halo to the masses.

What was the first influential game you ever played?

My favorite game from the early days is called “M.U.L.E.” It’s a great multiplayer game that runs on some of the first home computers such as the Atari 800 and Commodore 64.

 What attracted you to Halo originally? What was the single strongest thing that convinced Microsoft to acquire Bungie and hedge their bets on a space marine shooter for the launch of the new Xbox gaming platform?

It wasn’t so much Halo that I was attracted to, but Bungie. I had played their previous games and was a fan. At the time I was trying to pull together a set of launch titles for the Xbox so when I got the opportunity to work with Bungie I jumped at it. Halo just happened to be the project they were working on at the time.

CN: A decade is undeniably an eternity in the games industry, but do you feel “Halo: Combat Evolved” needed an “anniversary” edition? Will gamers raised on “Gears of War” and “Call of Duty” be able to appreciate the experience “Halo: CE” offered?

 I’m not involved with it, but I like the idea of updating the original “Halo.” I look forward to playing through the game again. There seems to be more interest lately in looking back at the great games of the past and “Halo” has such a large fan base that I expect the game will do very well.

CN: What was your biggest surprise (or fondest memory) during your involvement with the “Halo” franchise?

Maybe not my fondest memory but my strongest memory of “Halo” comes from the press conference at the E3 show in LA when we first announced “Halo 2.” We had been practicing for the event all day in which we would be standing in front of more than 5,000 partners and press and announcing our new game lineup. “Halo 2” was the big finish for the event. Just before we let everyone in, we did a final run-through. When it was time for the “Halo” demo, Master Chief appeared on the big screen and then immediately froze. The technical guys scrambled to fix the problem while we let everyone into the arena. Then we got on stage and did the live presentation. When it came time for the “Halo 2” demonstration, everything went perfectly. What a relief!

CN: In your opinion, have any other shooters, past or present, managed to capture that same addictive essence of “Halo’s” multiplayer?

 Multiplayer was always an important part of the “Halo” series, going all the way back to the first version where you had to create your own LAN party if you wanted to play with friends, but for me what makes “Halo” special isn’t that. It’s really the tone of the game that sets it apart: the quiet moments between battles, the haunting soundtrack, the views of the Halo ring disappearing away and above you in the distance. It’s the struggle of fighting a hopeless battle against overwhelming odds. Kind of like we were doing trying to enter the console business against the giants of Sony and Nintendo. That’s what will always make it special for me.

On the other side of the timeline is 343 Industries, a company hand-assembled by Microsoft to resume control of all things “Halo” — whether it’s comics, novels, games, films, or industry events. Diehard fans of the series wouldn’t be out of place expressing their doubts. Picking up where Bungie left off is a monumental task, if only because Bungie established such a high benchmark for quality, fun, and replayability in all of their “Halo” titles.

From what we’ve seen of 343’s work remastering 2001’s “Halo,” there is plenty to be optimistic about. Just to be sure, we also had a chat with Frank O’Connor, the man now effectively in charge of guiding “Halo” into the future.

CN: What is the single biggest challenge you face in assuming control of the “Halo” franchise?

I think the single biggest challenge is yet to come – and that is living up to fan expectations of a game and a franchise that has been with us for 10 years. People have very specific likes and dislikes in the series and trying to create something new and fresh, while still respecting what it is that made the game great in the first place, is no easy challenge. The main thing we have in our favor in even attempting this is people and passion. Sure, we have the engine, the tools and the tech, but we also have a legion of developers, designers and artists who love the game and the universe and will pour their hearts and talent into making sure it’s right.

How will 343 make its own unique stamp on the “Halo” series after Bungie shepherding it for most of the last 10 years?

Innovation and evolution have been keystones of “Halo’s” growth over the years. We will double down on those aspects, even as we work hard to ensure this feels like a core part of the Halo franchise.

With the fast-rising popularity of “realistic” war shooters, why will people keep coming back to “Halo?”

I think you encapsulate the answer in your question. Forgetting for a moment that “Halo” is a very different game – an explorative sandbox FPS where you do a lot more than simply shoot the bad guys – it’s also set in a sci-fi universe with the scale, scope and variety that entails. You’re not stuck in the real world and there’s this real feeling that anything could happen and it often does.

Any favorite moments from your experience re-mastering “Halo: Combat Evolved?”

Honestly the best moment for me was playing through the game, ostensibly in test mode, and realizing that I’d forgotten I was supposed to be taking notes and looking for specific issues, and that I was just playing, lost in the fun. The game hasn’t dated and the core experience has aged beautifully.

“Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary” is out now, and Master Chief’s triumphant return happens Holiday 2012.

Five reasons to buy "Gears of War 3" and play it forever

Not just an awesome conclusion; the best Xbox exclusive available

In a matter of hours, the highly-anticipated conclusion to the “Gears of War” trilogy will land on store shelves worldwide. The game that redefined third-person shooters on the Xbox 360 and spawned countless imitators is back, but is “Gears of War 3” a sequel worthy of your hard-earned cash? The answer to that question is an emphatic “YES!” We were fortunate enough to receive an early press copy from Microsoft, and have been shoving every other responsibility to the side to experience more and more of the addictive digital candy that is “Gears of War 3.”

To whet your appetite, we’ve compiled five solid reasons why this game will suck away your time and consume your every thought.

#1: Glowy Bits, Carnage and Color
The Lambent are more than just a new breed of enemy; they’re an ample source of gold, glowy explosions adding to a color palette that goes way beyond the familiar, drab browns and grays found in the prior two games. Epic has introduced an array of color which propels the graphical fidelity forward and, at times, will force you to admire the vibrant vistas, ornate buildings and mammoth setpieces at the risk of being obliterated by the Locust and Lambent hordes. Speaking of hordes…

#2: Horde Mode 2.0
The original Horde Mode from “Gears of War 2” ushered in a wave of imitators. After Epic pioneered this unique brand of co-op survival, tons of developers followed suit. Instead of simply iterating on its success, the designers have reinvented Horde Mode, adding in-game currency and an addictive tower defense element to what was already an insanely time-sucking mode of play. Build laser fences, construct decoys, erect auto-turrets and squash bad guys in the Silverback mech suit. We would honestly pay full price for this mode alone, it’s just that fantastic.

#3: Karen Traviss Wrote It
Just because the “Gears of War” series contains the highest concentrated dosage of testosterone available on a console, doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from an injection of emotion into its story of desperate times and human survival. In fact, when Epic Games realized they had an unexpected number of female gamers playing “Gears of War,” they not only introduced several female characters in the main storyline of “Gears of War 3,” but also signed on Karen Traviss to pen the script. Traviss has crafted five novels in the Gears universe, and her intimate familiarity with the lore, coupled with her talented writing, results in this conclusion of the trilogy having a cohesive, logical and surprisingly emotional undertone throughout; something the series has desperately needed.

#4: The Fate of Carmine
Just like the poor redshirts in Star Trek, destined to die during an away-party excursion, Carmine is the poor rookie in “Gears of War” who provided brief comic relief, and then is killed in a blaze of heroic glory. This time around, the fate of Carmine (there are four Carmine brothers in total) was left in gamer’s hands, as Epic decided to allow players to vote on the fate of Carmine in “Gears of War 3.” While we can’t divulge his actual fate (seriously, we legally can’t tell you), we can say that the developers repeatedly play with your expectations, and the results add a layer of comedic enjoyment to an already fantastic experience.

#5: Pretty Much Everything Else
If we were just faced with an outstanding single player experience and finely tuned competitive multiplayer, perhaps we wouldn’t gush so enthusiastically about “Gears of War 3.” Add in the addictive Horde Mode 2.0, plus Beast Mode which turns the tables and lets you invade the human survivors as the vicious Locust and Lambent, plus the opportunity to play through the campaign in smooth four-player co-op, plus the arcade twist which brings competitive action to the storyline…well, you get the idea. Epic Games and Microsoft haven’t just delivered a quality sequel, they’ve delivered a satisfying conclusion to a genre-defining franchise. To put it another way, “Gears of War 3” is, as of this writing, the best experience you can have on an Xbox 360, and one you’ll likely be playing for years to come.

Writer’s Note: A press copy of “Gears of War 3” was provided to the author by Microsoft. The game releases to retail on September 20, 2011.

Financial papers

What financial papers you should keep and what you should toss

Are you the type of person to hold onto every last receipt until you’re drowning in papers? Or are you the type to throw everything away only to realize that maybe you should have saved those bank statements? 

Whether you’re a paper hoarder or take a more passive approach to organizing your financial documents, College News now presents a guide on what papers to keep–and what you need to toss:

Short Term Files (0-3 Years)

ATM receipts–Simple enough: You can review these after any transaction for accuracy.  Once an accurate transaction reflected on your bank statement, shred.

Bank statements – Keep for at least a year. You can usually download them online but most banks won’t keep statements longer than 6 months to a year.

Credit card statements – Keep them if they list tax deductible expenses or charitable gifts.  If not, shred them once they’re paid.

Utility bills – Shred once they are paid, or keep them for future financial records. If you’re thinking about renting an apartment or opening up a new bank account, you may be asked to provide recent utility bills as proof that you can pay you bills dependably and on time.

Pay stubs – Keep pay stubs until the end of the year when you get your W-2, then shred.

W-2s – Keep for at least three years.

Medical bills – Hang onto these for at least year, in case you have to dispute an error in billing. It’s been known to happen, so be extra careful.

Papers regarding stocks or bonds – Once you receive your year end statement you can shred your quarterly statements.

Long-Term Files (Minimum 7 years):

Tax returns – Tax returns will be audited within 3 years. In some cases, an audit may be held 6 years after the return is filed. To be safe, keep tax returns for at least seven years.

Canceled checks – Keep on file in case you need to show proof of payment. 

Savings account records – Keep your quarterly statements until you receive your annual then toss.  Keep the annual statements until you decide to close the account.

Keep these papers permanently:

Birth Certificate – Store in a safe deposit box

Social Security Card – The Social Security Administration advises you not carry the card with you unless you are using it to fill out necessary paperwork.  Store this together with your birth certificate

Passport – Keep safely until replaced.  Don’t use this as an ID card.

Medical History File – Keep filed at home and update as necessary.  It’s always a good idea to have the most up-to-date medical records.

Be sure that the documents you are tossing away are properly shredded to avoid a potential identity theft.  Identity thieves are able to get important information about you just by rummaging through your trash and mail. Make it a habit to shred unnecessary documents so that you don’t fall victim to someone who is hoping you’ll be careless with them.

There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with a shiny “must-have” file cabinet and a color-coded filing statement.  Find a simple system that works for you and that helps you keep your papers  in order.  Following this guide will ensure that your important papers are easily stored for when you need them.  It’ll also help you eliminate any junk that’s no longer needed and any confusion you may have in knowing what papers to keep.

E3 Preview: Reality Fighters

Hands-on with the Playstation Vita and its augmented reality fighting game

Novarama is a small indie developer based in Spain, responsible for the PSP augmented reality game “Invizimals.” Despite not leaving a gigantic footprint in the game development landscape, the company wants to redefine the fighting game genre with “Reality Fighters,” and they’re counting on the new Playstation Vita hardware to make that ambition a reality.

During our Sony booth tour at E3 2011, we took a few minutes to chat with Novarama and put our likeness right into the PS Vita launch title.

One of Novarama’s key arguments is that fighting games haven’t evolved much in the last decade. While Capcom has added accessibility to releases like “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” and the 3DS version of “Super Street Fighter IV,” the genre is still largely relegated to hardcore players who can only succeed with persistent study of the strategic nuances and mastery of the move lists. With “Reality Fighters,” the team wants to create a fighter that is approachable for new players, and just deep enough for veterans. (And let’s be honest, Sony wants to sell hardware.)

The first order of business was to create a customized character based on my likeness. We snapped a picture of my face with the Vita camera, and the speed at which it processed the image into a digital avatar was stunning. Consider, for example, how long it takes the Playstation Eye and PS3 hardware to process your mug into a digital incarnation for an EA Sports title like “Tiger Woods ’12.” In “Reality Fighters” it takes about 5 seconds.

In the next step, we picked out one of over 300 costume items. But before we settled on that illustrious Pirate coat, we tried on a dozen alternate outfits which rendered near-instantaneously onto our character. (There were also some neat touch sliders to adjust height and weight.) That’s another point in favor of the Vita, especially when considering that current-generation console games with similar customization features sometimes take several seconds to render clothing and body type changes.

When it came time to choose our fighting style, we buckled to peer pressure and chose Zombie. Thus, your friendly neighborhood Pirate Zombie College News writer was born, with over 35 moves to master. (I could have chosen from an additional 15 fighting styles, all with unique moves and animations.) With our demo time quickly expiring and an overwhelming choice of over 200 weapons, I settled on a garden gnome – and a shopping cart as my vehicular attachment (really).

So there I was, a garden-gnome-wielding Zombie Pirate avatar, rendered perfectly onto the demo table in front of me with the use of an AR marker, laying down some fluid attacks on my AI opponent. You can also strip away the AR Marker (which at this point was merely a printed item; surely it will change as the release approaches) and select one of many pre-rendered backgrounds, utilizing a full 360 degree range of movement using the Vita’s gyroscope and camera functionality. It all worked as advertised and definitely one-upped the same features present on 3DS.

It’s too early to pass judgment on the fighting mechanics themselves since this takes time and experience with each fighter and style. But the moves were fluid, solid, and fun to pull off; the unique animations for each fighting style will add to the replay value.

In terms of marketing bullet points, “Reality Fighters” should ship with training mode, story mode, and survival modes under the single player banner, and both ad hoc and local multiplayer modes. The game will also take advantage of NEAR (an online social network for the Vita) to coordinate tournaments and region-specific goodies. For example, if you live in Las Vegas, NEAR might alert you that an exclusive costume is available at Caesar’s Palace.

What we saw was an impressive demonstration of the Playstation Vita hardware, and while “Reality Fighters” may appeal to a decidedly more “casual” crowd, the Facebook integration, approachability, and – most importantly – fun factor has me looking forward to this one at the Vita launch. If only to duke it out against friends and photographed celebrities as a Zombie Pirate brawler.

E3 Preview: Sonic Generations

Sonic’s newest adventure combines retro nostalgia with imagination

When I walked into my closed-door preview of “Sonic Generations” in SEGA’s quiet upstairs meeting room, something Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said earlier reverberated in my head, “you want what you’ve always wanted, but you also want something new.” In a nutshell, that’s both the promise and the overwhelming appeal of Sonic’s upcoming adventure, which reinvents levels from Sonic’s 20-year history and lets you play through them as two distinct Sonics: classic and modern.

On the show floor the SEGA team was showing the iconic Green Hill, but in our private demo we were treated to a playthrough of City Escape (for the console version of “Sonic Generations), the frantic level that opens “Sonic Adventure 2.” In Act 1 of City Escape, the level is run through the “classic gameplay” filter, turning it into a speedy 2D platformer.

With the catchy “Follow Me” tune blasting out of the speakers and the Hedgehog Engine (from “Sonic Unleashed”) adding significant pop to the graphics, the momentum-based gameplay takes center stage. Sonic jams through the level using only his spin-dash and jump as the GUN truck relentlessly chases him down. True to Sonic’s Genesis-era roots, the hedgehog uses multiple paths throughout the level. He dashes up and down with blistering speed, but also weaves into the foreground and background. A dynamic camera stays locked onto Sonic, but also shifts to show us the GUN truck, which isn’t just trying to damage Sonic, but now is a threat to the environment as it destroys platforms and ledges.

This is still an unfinished version and the textures are in need of definition, but that’s the only complaint we can throw at Sonic Team’s latest based on our preview. Thus far, “Sonic Generations” accomplishes precisely what it has set out to do: It has concocted the perfect blend of nostalgia and newness to bring an exciting Sonic experience that is familiar, fast, and fun.

Next, we switch over to Act 2, the “modern” iteration of City Escape with its 3D-modeled landscape inspired by San Francisco. At first we couldn’t picture how this modern spin would differ from the relatively recent 3D level design present on the Dreamcast. The difference was stunning, since the entire cityscape is now full drawn in the background, and helps add a sense of speed and immersion to an already exhilarating stage. Additionally, Sonic has a few more tricks now, such as homing attacks and boost.

The developers have new tricks as well. Taking cues from “Sonic Unleashed” and “Sonic Colors,” the frantic chase frequently shifts from 3D to 2.5D, keeping you on your toes and offering some new gameplay twists – especially when the GUN truck takes flight and a giant buzzsaw materializes on its chassis. Now, instead of being merely an annoyance, the GUN truck is a constant, menacing threat that feels alive and incredibly dangerous.

These “modern” takes on the level design feel more subtle, but still serve to breathe fresh life into Sonic’s best moments.

During a brief Q&A following the demonstration, I learned that Green Hill is the only level present on both console and 3DS versions. One journalist raised the inevitable question of which levels would be on which version, and Iizuka smirked knowingly, reciting a much-rehearsed PR line to politely block the question. However, a recently released interview at SonicStadium has given us a gigantic clue, as Producer Takashi Iizuka said the following:


The 3DS version is a celebration of Sonic’s portable history. As such it only makes sense that we keep that history on a portable system.


Aside from being a brilliant marketing move which will surely bolster sales, expect to see classic levels from titles like “Sonic Advance” and maybe even “Sonic Rush.”

And what about bringing it to the new Playstation Vita? I asked the SEGA team and was greeted with another knowing smirk (and in response, knowing laughs from my fellow journalists) despite the answer: “We’re talking about the PS3, 3DS and 360 versions for the time being. Any new platform we currently can’t tell you what our plan is.”

Overall it left this Sonic fan, raised on retro 2D levels and classic speed — soured by Sonic’s recent outings (rife with experimental storylines, uninteresting characters and slow gameplay) — genuinely thrilled for “Sonic Generations.” It looks sharp, fast, and incredibly inspired. Then again, when you’re working with 20 years of Sonic’s greatest hits, we expect nothing less.

Sonic Generations represents yet another reason to drain your wallet this November.