Nintendo DS rules all in June

The big N announced today that the DS was the top-selling game console in the U.S. for the month of June, reporting roughly 600,000 in sales. Some credit could definitely given to the release of the DS lite, the original DS’ smaller and more compact sibling, as well as the surge in popularity with games like “Brain Age, Big Brain Academy and “New Super Mario Bros.”

Also keep in mind that early-to-mid summer is typically a slow time for major game releases, so t was only a matter of time before someone capitalizes on the time when everyone is busy loading up for the holidays. With summer movies seemingly not being the gigantic draw it used to me, I wou;dn’t be surprised of more companies tried the same tactic.

God of War 3?

“God of War” creator David Jaffe muses on his blog about the possibility of a third game in the series. Here’s the excerpt:

“I CAN tell you that God of War 2 is shaping up very, very nicely. I played a bunch of levels last week and it’s really, really fun. The art and music is much better than the first game and there is some damn fine level design going on in the new game. As Cory and I have said to the press, this is the second act of a bigger story. And when you are making a game, you never really know if the game will turn out good enough to merit another one in the series. But after last week, I can say I am very confident of our chances to be able to complete the GOD OF WAR trilogy. You never know, but that’s me just putting it out there.”

As much as I have enjoyed the “God of War” concept, it will always feel bittersweet. When I reviewed the game, I had mentioned that Kratos has the chance to be the homegrown iconic franchise character that Sony has lacked since the inception of the PlayStation. This isn’t a knock against Jak, Ratchet and Clank and others, but in terms of status, do they measure up to characters like Mario, Link or Sonic. Kratos had the potential to BE that character for Sony, but I can’t shake the feeling that a window of opportunity was missed. This second chapter — and in a way, even the first — come near the tail end of the PS2′s run. If there is a third one, it could most likely be on the PS3, but it would also be the end of the series. So it would seem that this mega-character gets stuck in between system generations, a victim of circumstance. Doesn’t seem fair.

European PSP White ad is no more

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GamePolitics and Reuters report that Sony has yanked the Dutch billboard campaign advertising the white version of the PlayStation Portable after the ad was raked over the coals by the NAACP, California Assemblyman Leland Yee, and other critics. The GamePolitics entry has quotes from Yee as well as well as Rick Callender, president of the NAACP’s San Jose chapter, both of whom give props to Sony for pulling the ad.

Game criticism in the spotlight

There’s been all manner of buzz regarding Chuck Klosterman’s column about the lack of game criticism in Esquire magazine. The title of the article is “The Lester Bangs of Video Games”. Klosterman compares video games to rock-n-roll in the ’70s, and one line that seems to stand out is the assertion that video game criticism “doesn’t exist.”

On Monday, GameSpot featured a Q&A with Klosterman in an attempt to address the gaming community.

I’m not going to use this space to slam the guy — while saying that game criticism “doesn’t exist” may sound harsh at first, Klosterman’s not ignoring the fact that there are people who write about games, but that from his point of view, it doesn’t seem that many are taking game writing beyond the nuts-and-bolts “yea-or-nay” review or preview. So in a sense, it’s stuck. Is he right? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for — do you want to know if someone liked the game, or are you the kind of reader who likes to “experience” someone’s prose?

I’ve got a few random thoughts on this topic, based on my humble experience in the newspaper biz. I’ve numbered them for the sake of clarity, but that doesn’t mean one is more important than the other. Read on, if you like.
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World Cup fever, and the value of sports games

Thanks to playing some “FIFA World Cup 06″ via an assignment from our sports department, I now have a greater appreciation of what many people call the Beautiful Game.

Because at the beginning for me, it was ugly.

First off, a video game about futbol is a game that really can’t be played like anything else. Most ancient soccer titles focused on just running around, firing the ball at the goal and scoring in bunches (this happened when you had two trigger-happy players with no concept of defense — it was like playing basketball with your feet).

Today’s soccer games won’t let you get away with that stuff — try it and you’re on the business end of a 5-1 smackdown (thanks, Portugal).

I’ll get to the actual review of the game in print and on All Games Interactive, but for me, this assignment also epitomized one of my favorite things about sports games: Educational value. I’m serious. Aside from perhaps playing the sport itself, few things provide as much insight into a sport as a good game. Plus, you don’t get some of the baggage that comes with playing live sports.

First off, let me say that going out and playing something is a unique experience that teaches people of all ages a variety of lessons — some good and some bad. However, simply going out and playing a sport doesn’t mean some of the potential benefits of playing and understanding a sports video game should be ignored.
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‘Prey’ demo: mad icky

The long-awaited 360 demo of “Prey” emerged on Xbox Live yesterday, but today was the first time I was able to truly enjoy it on my own. No designers talking, no noise in the background — just the game. Outstanding.

The game’s tone is set from the opening scene in a reservation dive, when Tommy is having a conversation with himself in the mirror. Stuff about how he wants to get off the reservation and take his girlfriend Jen with him. He’s also no fan of his Cherokee heritage, as evidenced by the nasty tone he takes with his venerable grandfather. Classic reluctant hero, our Tommy.

Anyone’s whose seen trailers and the PC demo knows what happens next. You walk around the bar, grab a wrench, play some of the dinky casino-style games there and eventually hand out a what’s-my-name beating to two scumbags trying to hit on your girl.

After that, the bar gets sucked up by an alien ship. It’s a chilling sequence, with green light pouring down from the freshly torn-off ceiling. You see Jen and her grandfather get pulled up, as well as some other pieces of the bar. This is all best experieced in the dark, with headphones on (or the volume cranked up, which I’m sure the neighbors enjoyed).

Once you get sucked into the ship, it’s all about ratcheting up the “horrible alien” atmosphere. You spend a few minutes strapped to a hanging platform that’s part of an automated conveyor track. You glide this way and that, getting a good look at the innards of the ship and hearing a lot of terrified screams, no doubt from other poor folks pulled in by the ship. Aside from the standard “oh my God!!!” stuff, you’ll also hear some people creepily screaming out the occasional “Our Father” prayer. Jen starts praying to a Cherokee spirit, and Tommy comes up with a great line that sums up the horror of the situation — “If there IS a great spirit, he’s not here.” The whole sequence reminded me of a bloodier version of “Transformers: The Movie,” where you’ll see screaming robots on a similar track system getting dropped into vats of chemicals that “digested” them.

A stranger manages to damage the track and set Tommy free, and this is when you start seeing how truly gross this ship (and the game) is. Organic doors that “peel” back, throbbing spouts that spew out streams of blood and body parts — this is NOT a game for those with weak stomachs. I’m serious.

Two of the freakiest things you’ll see in the demo:

1) The impaler machine: A strapped-down person’s stops in front of some kind of opening, green mist flows from the opening, and then several collapsible spikes fire out and spear the victim in various spots — there’s also one massive spike that hits the person smack in the chest. Blood everywhere. The “spike” end of the machine then closes on the platform, you hear something that sounds like a food processor, and when the machine opens back up, the body is gone. Then you can see it again. It’s at this point where you probably decide these aliens need to get kicked off the universe.

2) Evil children: In a glass-enclosed room, you’ll see young boy and girl scared out of their minds. They’re afraid of something (one of them screams, “It’s right behind us!”). What “it” is is some sort of odd-looking ghost-like creature that floating throught the walls. This thing ends up annihilating the girl and then takes her form (so now there’s a ghost-like girl in the room). Ghost Girl is evil and insane, so she attacks the boy, picks him up and hurls him into a large protruding spike on a machine, killing him instantly. Then Ghost Girl screams and flies out of the room.

I should probably have mentioned somewhere along the way that this game is rated M for Mature. This is not for your 11-year-old son, daughter, grandson, or whatever. Repeat M for Mature — you have been warned.

Besides, the game’s about being taken by aliens — you think you’re not going to see something screwed up?