Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Previewing games can be a funny business. You’re either under the watchful gaze of the developers themselves as they unveil their progeny for the very first time or part of a scrum of people keeping one eye on the game at hand and the other scoping out to see if the lady with the tray of tiny burgers is coming any nearer. In the best case we get to play in the office, although that’s with the constant interruptions of the phone and under the guilt of leaving an untended inbox.

It’s all a far cry from games’ natural habitat – a room full of friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon, everyone feet up and juggling slices of pizza, cans of beer and controllers – but that’s how we got to enjoy the near-final code of FIFA 11 this weekend.

Away from the din of developers reciting feature lists and the overpowering stench of excitement from a convention’s show-floor, it’s possible at last to really see how a game is shaping up and coming together. We’ve already been through what’s new, but this, at last, was a chance to see what really works.

FIFA 11’s not got the benefit of one big new feature to wow people with – there’s no game changer like the 360 degree dribbling that was introduced last year, nor the myriad headline improvements of 09 that helped establish FIFA as the premier football game series. What it does have is refinement and polish alongside countless little advances that do their very best to eradicate any of the faults of FIFA’s past.

There’s none of the dumb-headed positioning from your A.I partners, none of the moments of crass stupidity from your keeper as he lays the ball off into the path of the opposition and none of the frustrations from another cheap chipped goal. Instead, there’s a whole load of quality. Passes are now more technical, requiring a little more thought and a lot more care before spreading the ball around the field, and wide play is now more likely to be rewarded with a crisply met header than before. The result is a game that’s much more reliable than before, and one that steps even closer to aping the flow of the real thing.

It’s got a lot more character than before too. Part of that’s from the new suite of animations as players stumble and falter in their pursuit of the ball, and part of it’s from the improved likenesses across the board. “But Phil Neville looks grotesque” protested a friend. Yes. Yes he does.

The way the personality of each player is reflected in how they play is the most impressive thing, however. On the squad selection screen players have symbols by their names signifying their special attributes; Torres, for example, is both a Speedster and an Acrobat, meaning he’s more likely to perform the spectacular in the box and can sprint with gusto. Gerrard, meanwhile, is a Crosser, Playmaker and Engine among other things, a complete midfielder who can perform at his best for almost the entire 90 minutes. Learn a team well enough and you’ll soon know who can do what and tailor your play accordingly. It’s all the more gratifying when you know the team from what’s just happened on Saturday afternoon.

There’s some more surprising ways that the personality plays out on the pitch. Different referees now officiate the action, each one with their own character; some will reach for their top pocket if you so much as glare at an opposition player, while others will happily let everyone kick seven shades out of each other before so much as awarding a free kick.

Some additions aren’t as welcome though. For the first time handballs are introduced, and it’s unsurprisingly infuriating especially given the frequency with which it occurs. Penalties are often given against you through no fault of your own, and if we weren’t so placid (or, more truthfully, sedated by the blend of warm beer and mounds of melted cheese we’d just imbibed) we’d have destroyed a controller or two. Thankfully it’s optional and defaulted off. We’d recommend you leave it that way.

Otherwise it’s looking like another exceptional outing for FIFA. There’s a lot more to discuss – we’ve yet to scratch the surface of either the new career modes or put a serious spell between the sticks – but all that will come in the full review in the next few weeks. (ign)

  • Published by: Electronic Arts
  • Developed by: EA Canada
  • Genre: Sports
  • Release Date:
    US: September 28, 2010
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • RP for Rating Pending
  • Also Available On: Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation Portable, Wii, Xbox 360, iPhone, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3
  • Also known as: FIFA 11


Top Spin 3 (Xbox 360)

Posted: September 8, 2010 in Playstation 3, Wii, XBOX 360
Tags: , , ,

Top Spin 3 was one of the best tennis simulations ever made. It delivered tough-to-learn control mechanics that did a good job of conveying the complexities and general difficulty of the sport. WithTop Spin 42K Sports is peeling a few layers of difficulty off of the sim tennis game in hopes of bringing in a new audience while still retaining the gameplay that tennis aficionados have come to expect. Top Spin 4 isn’t launching until 2011 so the version I played in New York last week was admittedly early, but it still had some serious promise in both the visual and gameplay departments.

2K kicked off the demo with a look at the introductory video to the game, which showcased many of the athletes who will make up “the largest lineup ever in a tennis game” according to 2K Sports. Among the most notable players in the trailer were Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. While Pistol Pete appeared in the first Top Spin, this is the first time that the two greatest American tennis players in history will be able to compete against each other in the same game. As an added bonus, if you pre-order the game at GameStop you’ll be treated to a downloadable Retro Agassi, long hair and all. No news yet on if his hair will be a removable wig.

The early demo that I got to play featured only Roger Federer and Andy Murray as playable characters on the very Arthur Ashe Stadium court where our demo took place. Ironically enough, Federer was actually wearing the same shirt in the game as he was in his match that day at the US Open, so it goes without saying that the look of the players is fairly accurate to the way they look in real life.

The same thinking applies to the player’s movement as well. At least for most of the animations. 2K is bringing the same signature style moves that give life to its NBA 2K series to Top Spin 4, so if you’re like me and know Federer’s backhand from Sampras’s, the game should show those differences. There were a few occasions in my time with Top Spin 4 when a forehand or backhand groundstroke would look more generic than it should’ve, but those instances were few in number.

Top Spin 4’s gameplay is taking a slightly different approach than in previous years. For starters, there is now a three-tiered meter underneath your player that builds as you wind up for a shot. The more the meter builds, the harder and more accurate your shot will be. Of course, the pace and placement is also dependent on your ability to release the shot button (A for flat spin, B for top spin, X for slice and Y for lob) at the proper time in the animation. Failing to do so will yield a limp return and an easy put-away for your opponent.

The depth of this control mechanic was revealed the more I played. As in real tennis, if you hit a hard shot at your opponent, he’s going to have less time to respond with a hard shot of his own. That translates in-game to your opponent having to hold their shot button as soon as you hit your aggressive shot to even have a prayer of reaching the third tier of power. It might sound a bit frustrating, but that’s the nature of the game. The server has an instant advantage if he’s able to slam a 130 mile per hour serve at you because you simply won’t be able to react fast enough to fire an aggressive return back. Of course, if you’re feeling daring you can always hold the right trigger during one of your shots to go for a risk shot or hold the left trigger to hit an inside out forehand or backhand. These different modifiers up the difficulty of the shot but can really help you get back in a point if you’re scrambling. Oh, and Federer’s ‘tweener is definitely in Top Spin 4.

Other nuances include a turbo button, which helps you serve and volley and sprint for tough-to-reach shots, and a stamina gauge that depletes significantly through the course of a point. It also gradually loses pieces of its maximum allotment if you repeatedly run your player into the ground point after point.

One issue that I did have with the gameplay was that the speed of professional tennis wasn’t quite present yet. My average serve speed when playing with Federer had to be just over 100, a far cry from his first serve speeds in real life despite me maxing out his meter every time. I’d like the developers to ship Top Spin 4 with one difficulty setting for amateur players where ball speeds are lessened and player movements are a bit more forgiving, and one mode for veterans where it’s possible to crank the 130 mile per hour serves and thunderous groundstrokes that some of these players are known to hit.

Top Spin 4 is looking like a faithful addition to the sim series. It adds some nice wrinkles to the gameplay formula that lend themselves to the realistic nature of the franchise while making it a bit easier to simply pick up a controller and get into a match. Now if only they could provide two separate gameplay experiences – one for the hardcore and one for the mainstream fan – then Top Spin 4 would have all its bases covered. (ign)

Sports Champions (PS3)

Posted: September 4, 2010 in Playstation 3
Tags: , ,

Sports Champions PictureAfter what seemed like months of waiting and dreaming of glowing balls, PlayStation Move is upon us, and leading the charge on the software side of things is Sports Champions, a mini-game collection of six different sports. Sony thinks so highly of this title that it’s packed in the official PlayStation Move starter pack and the official Move/PS3 bundle. And after playing with it for a little bit, it’s easy to see why, thanks to its accessibility and controls – although it might not be the home run some sports fans were looking for.

Buy Sports Champions, and you’re getting volleyball, table tennis, disc golf, gladiator duel, bocce and archery in one package. Each game can be played with one PlayStation move controller, but a few (volleyball, gladiator and archery) support two PlayStation Move controllers per player for an even more realistic feel. Overall, the Move controls work well.

Sports Champions PictureArchery seems to be the universal favorite with everyone I’ve played with. The act of holding the bow steady with one Move controller and pulling the other back like your arrow is simple and fun. It’s easy to track where the arrow will go on the screen, so just about anyone can feel like Green Arrow after getting the hang of the control scheme. Sweetening the pot is a bunch of variations to play. There’s a tic-tac-toe board where you’re trying to mark your spots before your opponent can, one where you have to shove a sled across a field with your arrows, and so on. This keeps the sport from being a one-trick pony.

Sadly, that isn’t the case for all the games on this disc. I actually really dig bocce ball in Sports Champions, but there are no crazy cool variations for it. Every time I sit down to play, I’m just tossing balls. Similarly, disc golf is fun, but you’re strutting your stuff on the same courses over and over again. Don’t get me wrong; the controls work well here in these games – I throw a Frisbee far better in this virtual world a than I do in real life – but the experience starts to feel like the same-old-same-old pretty quick.

Sports Champions’ volleyball match is an interesting idea that doesn’t provide for the most exciting time, at least in my matches. Here, you use the controller or controllers to spike, dig, set and so on, but the computer automatically moves your player around. You just stab or swing the controller when a circle goes green around the ball. It’s a bit ho-hum. Meanwhile, table tennis provides plenty of opportunity to slam flaming ping pong balls back at your opponents, but I had a lot of trouble returning balls that were hit to the center of my side as I couldn’t seem to get the PlayStation Move in the sweet spot and couldn’t get power behind it.

Sports Champions PictureRounding out the pack is gladiator duel. Here, one controller is your shield and another is your sword or mace. One controller can function as both if that’s all you have, but having to share control of two things with one controller can be a pain. Anyway, you slash with your weapon, slam people with your shield, and try to be the last one standing in the end. The system’s OK and sometimes the slashing feels great, but the stiffness of the characters and the super-simple visuals make this feel like a really basic arcade game rather than a full-fledged PS3 game.

Each of these sports has three ladder trees to play through on your own, challenges to play, and multiplayer to tackle. I didn’t have any issues with the game not reading multiple controllers, so feel free to get out there and play with pals – but beware of barbs. Even though the most fun I had in Sports Champions was playing with other people, I had to put up with the understandable comments of “This is so empty – it looks like an MMO.”

You see, the biggest issue with Sports Champions is that everything feels rather bland. There are a bunch of characters to play as, but they’re all just athletic stereotypes. End-of-game stats are just plain text on the screen without any flair. The environments – especially the table tennis arenas – are empty and feel barren. The world just doesn’t feel alive, and it hurts the experience.

Of course, perhaps this was the plan. Sony wants you to jump in and be the star of Sports Champions, so giving you some average characters, super-simple stat screens and empty places leaves you to fill the game with your personality and multiplayer fun. However, the game’s so generic that it’s actually sinks itself. If I don’t care about any of these characters. Why would I care about unlocking new outfits for them? Sports Champions doesn’t have that polish you’d expect for a big launch title. It feels stiff and sterile. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, but it certainly means that it’s not revolutionary. (ign)

Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developed by: Zindagi Games
Genre: Sports Action
Number of Players: 1-4
Release Date: US: September 7, 2010 , Japan: TBA 2010
MSRP: $39.99
E10+ for Everyone 10+: Violence

Racquet Sports

Posted: September 4, 2010 in Playstation 3, Wii
Tags: , ,

Racquet Sports ScreenshotSports are a natural fit for motion-sensitive controls, so I fully understand the inclination for developers to dive in headfirst with a sports title as one of their first efforts with the new PlayStation Move hardware. Racquet Sports, however, is a game that should’ve been left on the drawing board. It offers five different racquet-based activities, none of which are much fun, no matter if you’re playing by yourself or with up to three friends.

My issues with Racquet Sports don’t have anything to do with the visual presentation of the characters or the many different courts that each activity offers. While there’s no doubt that an avatar or Mii-like system would benefit the title greatly, the roster of characters offers different looks and personalities which can be accentuated by some of the modest character customization options that open up through the course of play. The one issue I had with the characters is that their performance attributes are all identical, so beyond the surface-level visual differences each character feels the same as the next in practice.

But the real problem with Racquet Sports isn’t with its lack of an attribute system. It’s the game’s insistence on delivering gameplay that feels like a step in the wrong direction, even when compared against the tennis alternative in Wii Sports from two years ago.

No matter if you’re playing table tennis, beach tennis or squash, the lack of control is present in every activity. Raquet Sports strips one-to-one movement when you’re mid-point, turning your swings into what feels like simple button presses for different shot types. Swinging the Move controller should never feel like hitting a button, but the delay between swinging in a forehand slice motion and seeing the animation play out on-screen breaks the illusion that Move brings something unique to the experience.

The developers tried their best to offer an experience that’s different and at least somewhat functional in terms of leveraging the motion-sensitive technology by adding in some slightly different control mechanics. By tilting the Move controller in the direction of your opponent’s shot your player will get a little pep in his step.

Racquet Sports ScreenshotAlternatively, you can also put a little more juice on your shot by holding the T trigger during your swinging motion. Those two subtle additions have the potential to spice up the experience, but even the hardest shot can always be returned if you point your Move controller in the right direction. The only time a point ends is if there’s some sort of user error; it’s never because one player out-duels another.

As you peruse the main menu of Racquet Sports, the many items probably make you feel like you’re in for a lengthy experience with such names as “Career” and “Championship” popping up as you scroll through. Sadly playing hour after hour of your player’s career doesn’t amount to much more than trudging through match after match just as you would in exhibition events. The only real difference is that you might be presented with a trophy if you can win enough matches in a row, but the gameplay and presentation elements don’t change much.

My biggest problem with Racquet Sports isn’t its lack of innovation or the absence of a fun and varied career mode. It’s the fact that each one of its five activities feels identical to the next. For some reason playing squash feels very similar to playing table tennis which feels all-too-similar to playing beach tennis. There are very slight mechanical differences (like the fact that you can do a smashing motion in badminton) but for the most part it’s the same experience no matter which sport you choose.

Multiplayer is usually a saving grace for games of this sort, but that’s not the case with Racquet Sports. Playing online with others does nothing for the excitement level. The delay that’s experienced in solo play is accentuated a bit online and it comes with a few more annoyances for good measure. (ign)

  • Release Date: US: September 2010

  • E for Everyone: Mild Suggestive Themes

  • Also Available On: Wii

NHL 11

Posted: September 4, 2010 in Playstation 3, XBOX 360
Tags: , ,

Hockey doesn’t get a lot of love in the United States. I have no idea why, but that’s the way it’s been for ages. Still, that hasn’t stopped EA Sports from churning out one of the most consistently great sports franchises around with its NHL line of games. If you’re a hockey nut, rest assured that NHL 11 is no slouch. It packs a cool, super-deep dynasty mode in the form of Ultimate Team, it adds some great gameplay tweaks and refinements and delivers all of this with a layer of polish that has been missing from past games.

For those unfamiliar with the NHL series, the franchise has hinged on delivering a true-to-life hockey experience for the past few years. It was one of the first games to develop a control scheme that used the right analog for stick controls like dekeing and shooting, it pioneered Be A Pro where you command a single player throughout his entire career, and its online hockey leagues were some of the first of their kind.

For hardcore gamers, there’s the new EA Sports Ultimate Hockey League (EAUHL) which uses the Ultimate Team trading card system (each player card is a player on the ice) to deliver its team building mechanic. Players are dealt a pack of starter cards and are sent to build up their fledgling team of all-stars from there by either earning in-game currency through their play on the ice or by purchasing them with real world money. The setup is pretty dense and shouldn’t be traversed by those not willing to delve into some seriously minute details, but hardcore hockey fans are going to get a kick out of it.

The depth of Ultimate Team and EAUHL is exhaustive. If the community catches on, it could actually be the largest and most expansive dynasty mode ever seen in a game. Player cards are taken from the list of leagues (there are more than 10 total) that have been added to this year’s game, and you’ll also have to contend with managing coaching cards, training cards and contract cards (which govern how many games a given player can be used), not to mention making sure your team’s chemistry is kept at a high level. It’s probably a little too dense for its own good, but those who can get their heads around it could have a long, fun experience, especially when taking the game online and competing for supremacy against the masses in the EAUHL.

Of course, there’s also the standard Be A GM (single-player franchise mode), Be A Pro (single-player career mode), Playoff Mode, Tournament Mode, and Practice Mode which haven’t been touched up all that much. That doesn’t mean that they don’t still deliver their content at a very high level (they do), but they clearly haven’t seen the attention that I expect. Be A Pro still has those annoying framerate hitches that pop up whenever the puck is fed into the corners, and Be A GM still has that strange cell phone system during the draft that rewards or takes away your phones (which translates into the number of trade offers you’ll receive) depending on your reputation.

It’s a disappointment that so much attention went to Ultimate Team, a game mode that has been seen in FIFA and Madden over the last few years, when hallmark modes such as Be A Pro and Be A GM went relatively untouched. Thankfully EA Sports also invested in some great gameplay tweaks that push the package in the right direction.

NHL 11 ScreenshotEA claims that the most requested feature coming off of last year’s game was the inclusion of broken sticks, and it’s a big part ofNHL 11. They might happen just a bit too often, but the result is cool. Seeing a guy snap his stick mid-shot and then make a perfect pass with his skate is very cool–and pulling it off is just as hard as it should be. Likewise, skating around stick-less just looking for someone’s face to wreck with a bone crushing hit is also great fun. Sort of like being a hockey mercenary.

Speaking of checks, EA Sports has installed a new realtime physics engine that does a nice job of emulating real world physical interactions. It isn’t perfect as sometimes player models are a little slow to react to hits, but when it works properly the results can be awesome with both vicious hits and the little ones that are just enough to dislodge players from the puck.

There have also been some smaller, more under-the-hood, changes made to NHL 11. First, the speed has been ratcheted back a few notches from last year. I think it’s a little unrealistic and could deter some true hockey aficionados, but it does a lot in the way of allowing players to have the time to pull off cool looking dekes and precision passes.

Making those tough passes requires a bit more strategy in NHL 11 than it has in past games. This year, in order to whip a pass at the feet of your target with any kind of speed, you’re going to have to hold the pass button for a half-second longer than normal. The result is a passing system that demands a bit of foresight to make fast, accurate passes. It definitely takes getting used to, but the end result is a system that feels more authentic than in past NHL games. I just wish that they had delivered a new passing tutorial to teach you the new system instead of hiding the instructions in the settings menu.
NHL 11 Screenshot
All-in-all the gameplay in NHL 11 is the most fun I’ve experienced from the series. Strategy and planning play a larger role in this year’s game which makes for a different experience than has been afforded in the past. Some might be perturbed by the lack of speed and new passing system, but I think both lend themselves to delivering the NHL experience to a wider audience of fans.

As always, one area where NHL excels is the presentation of the sport. The atmosphere in the different arenas in the game is great and making it to the playoffs only accentuates the excitement level. It’s also cool to watch how the electricity in the arena dissipates when you venture down to one of the many lesser (non-NHL) leagues in the game. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement deliver another great performance, even if a few of their lines were heard in last year’s game. It’s great to hear a sports game with actual interaction between the commentators, something that is missing in other EA Sports titles. Their excitement really comes through when you score an impressive goal. And while I appreciate the notion of user-controlled celebrations after a score, they were clearly an after-thought in NHL 11 and don’t add much to the experience.

Visually this year’s installment performs better than NHL 10 on the ice with great player details that don’t take a knock despite the improved physics. In fact, the entire package actually runs better than it has in recent years with a framerate that doesn’t falter during simple cutscenes as they did in NHL 10. Still, it’s a shame to see framerate issues pop up inexplicably in Be A Pro mode.

The amount of gameplay in NHL 11 is staggering when looked at as a full package. There are essentially two franchise modes – Be A GM and Ultimate Team – and a single-player career mode in the form of Be A Pro. Most of the modes are pulled from NHL games of the past, and that’s a real bummer, but that doesn’t mean that the content isn’t still fun. When you factor in the huge amount of depth offered by the EA Sports Ultimate Hockey League and the other online features, like Online Team Play, NHL 11 becomes an even more attractive package. (ign)

Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: EA Canada
Genre: Sports
Release Date: US: September 7, 2010
MSRP: $59.99
E10+ for Everyone 10+: Mild Violence
Also Available On: PlayStation 3

Little League World Series Baseball 2010 Screenshot

There’s no doubt that sports games have lost the simplicity that made them so accessible back in the days of the Genesis and Super Nintendo, when player models were nothing more than 2D sprites on the screen. In those days the expectation for a realistic depiction of the sport was minimal. That has changed recently and has sadly left the younger generation of gamers without much of a footing in the sports world. That’s where Little League World Series 2010 (LLWS 2010) comes into the picture with its simple gameplay and easy-to-learn feature set. There’s no doubt that it’s lacking in many of the hardcore baseball areas, but as a casual title meant for newcomers to the sport, I think there just might be enough to warrant your time.

The two most complicated elements for the MLB 2K series – hitting and pitching – have been simplified significantly in LLWS 2010. They both hinge on you holding and releasing the right trigger at a certain time. For hitting, holding the right trigger starts a simple power meter that, if timed just right, will get you maximum power when you release the trigger. Pitching works in an almost identical way, but has been handcuffed further by the fact that every pitcher has the same offering of three pitches and you can only move the pitch’s location right or left. Fielding is automated, your only worry being to throw the ball to the correct base and making sure to wiggle the right analog stick to light a fire under your players’ butts (read: make them run faster). If you can’t tell by now, the gameplay in Little League World Series is extraordinarily simple with only the most basic of actions left up to the player. In other words, if you’ve never touched a baseball game before, this one is for you.

Little League World Series Baseball 2010 Screenshot

Adding a bit of spice to the mix is the inclusion of power ups and talent cards. Talent cards can be played at any time during the game to give your players certain abilities or detracting from the abilities of the opposing team. You can earn a binder full of more than 50 cards, five of which can be assigned to any one game. These cards do things like lessen the speed of the other team, increase your hitting power, and make your team run faster as well as other abilities. You can see that the development team knew that the gameplay needed some spicing up, but the talent cards don’t quite take the step needed to keep things feeling fresh after several hours of play.

The artificial intelligence could also use a bit of work, especially since the game relies on the AI of your teammates for so many crucial actions. Too often players will make bad decisions when running the bases and there’s an interesting issue when the opposing team hits the ball slowly down the first base line and pulls the first baseman from his post.

Another downer is the general lack of innovation since the game launched on Wii back in 2008. Many of the same mechanics make their way into the Xbox 360 version with little changes to speak of. At the very least the developers should have added online multiplayer support. Sadly all you get is leaderboard integration and the same offering of mini-games to play locally that we saw on Wii. That doesn’t take away from the fact that kids will find something to enjoy, but they could’ve done more to differentiate the two packages.

The only area that has seen a bump when making the transition to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is the visuals. They’ve been nicely bumped up into the HD era and enjoy more detail, brighter colors and a framerate that holds strong throughout. Granted, nothing you’re going to see should push the system, but that hasn’t stopped other games in the past from experiencing technical issues for no real reason. (ign)

  • Published by: Activision
  • Developed by: Now Production
  • Genre: Sports
  • Release Date: US: July 20, 2010
  • MSRP: $39.99
  • E for Everyone
  • Also Available On: Xbox 360, PS 3
  • Also known as: Little League World Series 2010

    Madden NFL 11 (Xbox 360)

    Posted: August 11, 2010 in XBOX 360
    Tags: , , , , , , ,

    For years Madden has been building features, gameplay modes and control mechanics for the hardcore football fans of the world. It was trying to emulate even the smallest details of NFL football and EA Sports enjoyed lots of success with its endeavors. But in recent years many newcomers were turned off by the complexities that Madden brought to the table. With that in mind EA created Madden NFL 11, an iteration of the series that is built more with the mainstream fan in mind, while still not losing any of the hardcore-focused accoutrements that have made their way into the package in past years.

    My biggest concern I have with Madden each and every year is the gameplay. Is it really going to feel and look like the NFL that I know and love? Well, this year’s game comes as close as ever to bringing you every spin move and sternum-rupturing tackle that you see on Sundays. Little touches like deemphasizing the suction of the hit stick so that landing big hits actually feels special are great. As is the dual analog stick control scheme which allows you to perform all the jukes, spin moves and stutter steps you could ask for. It also gives players the ability to pivot their upper-body to guard the ball from incoming tacklers. It all looks cool and works well on the field.

    While using the right analog stick for more than simple juking is great, the biggest departure for this year’s Madden in terms of control is the elimination of turbo (on default settings). At first, it’s weird, yes. But before long you’ll forget what using a turbo button felt like. Now your player just adjusts his speed accordingly. Rarely did I find myself outrunning my blockers as the AI was usually sharp enough to make its own changes in speed.

    Another great addition in this year’s gameplay is the ability for your AI teammates to actually land successful blocks and hold them long enough for you to utilize them if you can read the defense correctly. You might notice this working almost too well in conjunction with the new right analog control scheme. I had no problems breaking off multiple 300+ yard games on the ground in route to a 15-1 season on the All-Pro difficulty that used to give me trouble in past Madden games.

    On the defensive side of the ball, EA Sports tried to turn all of the hot routing and assignment changing functionality you’re used to into something called the Strategy Pad, but the results are a bit frustrating. You navigate through options with the D-Pad, adding one extra button press to access the aforementioned functions. Anyone playing against a fast-paced offense is going to be a bit handcuffed to make their adjustments in time before the snap.

    Madden NFL 11 Screenshot

    All-in-all the core gameplay on the field is great and looks fantastic in motion. The players have a nice level of polish and they move with the elegance and power you’d expect from top NFL talent. There are still moments when it’s clear that you’re playing a videogame, but mentioning them in a negative light would feel almost nitpicky. The replay system has also been re-crafted to better articulate all of the cool animations on the field. Now if only I could save a replay and share it with my friends (or put it on YouTube), then I’d be truly happy. The fact that so much cool stuff happens is great, but I really want to be able to show non-Madden players what I’m yelling about without having to call someone over to my desk or record something on my cell phone.

    For all of the cool gameplay features that have been developed for this year’s game, the most debated will likely be a huge departure for the series called GameFlow. It’s an automated play calling feature that shortens a typical gameplay experience to about 30 minutes (where it used be closer to an hour) by theoretically cutting the amount plays from more than 300 to one. I think if you’re someone who’s new to Madden or if the complexities of figuring out formation types was too much for you in the past, you’re going to enjoy the bulk of what GameFlow does for you. On the flipside, if you’re a hardcore football fan like me who really knows their X’s and O’s, chances are you aren’t going to use the feature all that much. The AI makes some bone-headed play calls that, while they won’t be noticed by casual players looking for a quick game, will likely be lamented by hardcore veterans of the series.

    Combating the flaws in your team’s default play selections is a feature called  Gameplanning which lets you assign up to 20 plays to different situations on  both offense and defense and then weight them by preference (sort of like  how iTunes lets you rate songs). Oddly enough I still found that the artificial  intelligence would make a few strange decisions, like picking the deep pass  play All Streaks while my team was on the 15 yard line despite it being  nowhere in my red zone gameplan. It’s these sorts of missteps that will drive  football fanatics up the wall, even if they don’t happen all that often.

    So while GameFlow and gameplanning bring both good and bad to the table,  I can happily say that Online Team Play is one of the best gameplay modes to make it into a Madden game in a long time. It allows for up to six players (three on one team, three on another or any permutation therein) to link up online and compete against each other or against the CPU. One person assumes the role of the quarterback, another plays the running backs and the third mans the receivers (one player can also decide to roam to any vacant position) with a similar combination being used on defense. The mode does the unthinkable and actually makes playing on a team with your buddies fun. It’s unabashed couch play at its finest and lends itself very nicely to smack talking friends on your team.

    The only negative I can say is that the boosts that are in Online Team Play should have been kept to a simple experience point leveling system. Boosts give veteran players significant attribute boosts which can really ruin the gameplay in my experience. Thankfully a player with a boost looks different than players without a boost in the lobby system, so you can steer clear of them if needed.

    Online Team Play is a wonderfully fun and addictive casual mode, but it seems to have come at the expense of any innovations to the two franchise modes (online and offline) and the Be An NFL Superstar Mode. Being a lover of Franchise Mode, it really hurts me to have to suffer through the same exact package that was in last year’s game. Especially since that was a barebones offering to begin with.

    EA Sports did take the time to beef up a few of the presentation elements that were missing from last year’s game. Gus Johnson has replaced Tom Hammond in the commentator’s booth and provides easily the best voice I’ve ever heard in a Madden game. His intensity brings a lot to the experience, even if the technology running under the hood leaves something to be desired. His speech is still too fragmented, which is probably a symptom of this being his first year on the job. I’m sure they’ll expand and give him different ways to describe the same event so you don’t get an identical piece of dialogue on every long run. This is certainly an impressive start to Gus’s tenure in Madden, I just want more of his awesome intensity.

    The other big addition in the way of presentation elements is new Super Bowl celebrations that do a great job of delivering the weight of the event. Winning the biggest game in football no longer feels like any other Sunday. Now Gus delivers team-specific commentary to let you know that what you just accomplished is something special. Oh, and Obama makes an appearance. How cool is that?

    • Published by: Electronic Arts
    • Developed by: Tiburon
    • Genre: Sports
    • Release Date:US: August 10, 2010
    • MSRP: $59.99
    • E for Everyone
    • Also Available On:Playstation 3, PSP, Wii, PlayStation 2, iPhone, iPad, Xbox 360
    • Also known as: Madden 2011

    (via ign)

    NFL 2011

    Posted: August 10, 2010 in iPhone/iPad/iPod
    Tags: , ,

    Wisely getting out front of Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL juggernaut, Gameloft’s NFL 2011 offers a football sim that takes advantage of a complete NFL license — every single pro team and player is in here. NFL 2011 also aims to compete with improved intelligence (something lacking in last year’s edition), a larger playbook, and enhanced visuals. If you have an iPhone 4, you’ll simply be stunned by the detail of the players, the field, and the well-produced animation.

    You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, aren’t you? Well, not everything in NFL 2011 is cookies and cream. There are some strange control issues that mar your passing game – tapping a receiver doesn’t always do the trick. You are supposed to tap and hold onto a receiver to adjust the power of the pass, but on too many occasions, nothing happened right away. My throw was delayed, often to

    thedetriment of the play. By the time my quarterback threw the damn ball, my previously open receiver was boxed in. If I did complete the pass, I got very little yardage out of it. But the worst is when nothing happens at all and your QB just stands there, waiting to get sacked while you frantically touch receivers.

    It didn’t stop there. Tapping a player to select him during a play is effective, although he wouldn’t necessarily follow the direction of my virtual stick right away. I missed too many tackles because a selected player just did not react to my input. And then there’s the seeming inability to block an incoming pass while on defense. While I liked many of Gameloft’s ideas, such as tilting the device to juke and the use of a truck button to lower into a hard charge, these other issues really spoiled a few games.

    Choosing plays from the playbook – which uses a number system to rate the potential effectiveness of a play – is simple. Once you have selected a play, though, you may call an audible and designate/draw hot routes. These are useful to hardcore football fans that really want to dig in and do more with NFL 2011 than just play an exhibition game.

    The intelligence in NFL 2011 is improved over last year’s outing. Interceptions on boneheaded plays are much more commonplace, which kept me on my toes during passing plays – and cursing a lot. Seeing how aggressive the computer rival was at pass blocking (something woefully under-represented for the player in NFL 2011), I found myself relying more on running to advance the ball. That slows the game down a bit, but doesn’t necessarily rob a match of excitement. Still, I miss being able to reliably bust out a hail mary for a fourth down. And when I say “reliable,” I mean I felt comfortable enough using it that if the pass was blown, it was because I was in the wrong, not because my confidence in the passing controls was shaken.

    As I mentioned up top, NFL 2011 is a looker. I primarily played it on an iPhone 4 and was immediately impressed by the visuals. The player models are not crude or sharp. Their uniforms look great and the motion captured animation really adds a layer of realism to the plays. I did check out NFL 2011 on a 3GS for comparison and though it didn’t look as good without the Retina display (duh), it still moved smoothly and looked good.

    There is one notable omission in NFL 2011: no multiplayer. Though it is not something everybody would use, it is a strange thing to lack – especially for a sports game. Perhaps it will appear in an update.

    • Published by: Gameloft
    • Developed by: Gameloft
    • Genre: Sports
    • Number of Players: 1-2
    • Release Date: US: August 2010
    • Also available on : iPhone, iPad

    (via ign)

    I-play Bowling HD Android

    Posted: August 9, 2010 in Android
    Tags: , , ,

    Wii Sports is not just a videogame. It is a phenomenon. As such, dozens of imitators  followed in its wake on the Wii, trying to replicate the magic of its accessible  motion-controlled sports minigames. Few succeeded. That’s why it is so cool to see  a smart take on Wii Sports bowling on an entirely different platform. I-play Bowling  HD uses the Android device’s accelerometer to translate the arm motion of rolling a  bowling ball. It’s not a tricky system. It works.

    I-play Bowling 3D is a port of a mobile game. The mobile edition used the handset’s  camera to mimic motion controls. That version worked exceptionally well, too. (In  fact, I-play Bowling for mobile won the Best Sports Game in the Wireless category of  our 2008 Game of the Year awards.) The extra screen real estate makes this edition  the superior offering, though. With a larger display, you have an easier time  watching the trajectory of your ball which helps with course correction, activated  by tilting the device left or right. A little nudge at just the right time is all it takes to  turn a nasty split into a strike.

    To roll the ball in I-play Bowling, you first slide your finger across the lane to determine your starting position. Then, you slide an arrow to select the angle of your throw. Once you lift your finger from the screen, you’re ready to roll. Just draw your device back and then arc it forward like rolling a real bowling ball. You need to keep the forward motion as straight as possible to get a good roll or else you’ll hook it right into the gutter. Use the practice mode to get the hang of the controls before jumping into a tournament.

    You do not need to make giant gestures. I-play Bowling HD is a little more subtle than real bowling, so if you have little space to move, that’s cool. Just moving the device about a foot or so back and then pushing it forward is enough to register the roll. Despite the fact you are making smaller movements, this still feels much like actual bowling — certainly more than just swiping your finger up the screen.

    I-play Bowling HD includes a pretty limited avatar system that lets you craft a bowler out of a handful of face parts and hairstyles. The art for the avatars is not going to wow anybody. After creating a bowler, you can enter a series of tournaments and unlock awards, trophies, and secret bowling balls. The computer opponents are fair at first, but admittedly become merciless by the time you reach the gold tournament. They can be beaten, but you better bring your A-game.

    I-play Bowling 3D delivers a good to-go bowling experience; it really is pretty close to having Wii Sports bowling in your pocket.

    • Published by: I-play
    • Developed by: Super Happy Fun Fun, Inc.
    • Genre: Sports
    • Release Date:US: Released
    • MSRP: $2.99
    • Also Available On: iPhone, iPad

    (via ign)

    NBA Jam Makes Its High-Def Debut

    Posted: August 7, 2010 in Wii
    Tags: , , ,

    If you’ve been following over the last week (and I hope you have), then you know that NBA Jam is coming to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the form of a one-time free download packaged with NBA Elite 11, EA Sports’ simulation basketball title. Recently I got the chance to head up to Vancouver for a day in EA’s studio. During my time I was lucky enough to get the first-ever hands-on with NBA Jam on high-definition systems.

    It’s tough for a downloadable game to get me as excited as I was to get my hands on NBA Jam on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for the very first time. Not to diss the Wii version or anything, but the amount of visual flair that NBA Jam brings was clearly meant for high-def screens once you see it in action. The facial expressions that you’ll see when players go for dunks or get stripped of the ball are pretty hilarious and the fact that every team has a different set of players means you’ll have plenty to laugh at.

    The game I played featured the Lakers against the Celtics. That meant it was Kobe and Pau Gasol for the Lakers and Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo for the Celtics. The guards played as you’d expect, with Kobe having the expected ability of slamming the ball home unless the big guys on the court timed their jump just right. As our direct-feed gameplay clips show, there’s the potential for a good amount of blocks in NBA Jam if players continually try to go inside for the dunk.

    Don’t get me wrong, there were still enough dunks and alley-oops for me to be able to break the backboard (an insanely rewarding experience), but I never felt totally safe from getting blocked and totally embarrassed. That, in turn, only upped the satisfaction I felt when I successfully stuffed one in the face of my opponent.

    The gameplay is pretty much identical to what you’ll find in the new Wii version of Jam. You can still alter your dunk in mid-air and turn it into a layup, and the ability to break your opponent’s ankles with a dribbling move is still very much intact. In fact, there are no gameplay mechanics exclusive to either version. The experience is the same throughout, less the enhanced graphics on the high-def systems.

    That’s not to say that the feature set is identical. Those playing on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 won’t get any of the 91 challenges that Wii players will enjoy. Instead they’ll get the more straightforward Play Now and Classic Campaign (a ladder tournament) to go along with online and local multiplayer. Online multiplayer could be a point of contention for those planning to purchase the Wii version as the feature has yet to be confirmed for Nintendo’s system.

    Well, that’s about all there is to say about NBA Jam on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It’s fast, it’s seriously fun, and the enhanced visuals really bring out the detail in each player and coach. Now the only thing left to do is feast your eyes on the first three direct-feed clips and wait for NBA Elite 11 to release on October 5.

    • Published by: Electronic Arts
    • Genre:  Sports
    • Release Date:US: October 2010
    • E for Everyone
    • Also Available On:Wii, PS3, XBox360

    (via ign)