Marble Blast Ultra (+)

Control your marble through a series of different mazes while collecting gems and competing for the high score.

Written by: Andrew Cefalo

While searching for free demo’s on the Xbox 360 Marketplace and in the arcade I stumbled upon this little beauty. Marble Blast Ultra is a great party game that even the StuffWeLike team has gotten together several times to play and naturally Spencer usually gets the high score.

The gameplay is easy to pick up but takes a little more effort to master. You play as a marble and you can control any direction the marble moves. Unlike other marble games, you can defy gravity and often do. Maps start off simple with ramps, walls, and cliffs to navigate around and/or over. Naturally as the game progresses they start implementing other tools you need to use for navigation. Objects include:

Super Speed – A rocket propelled power up
Super Jump – A spring jump power up
Ultra Blast – A quicker way to power up the turbo boost
Mega Marble – Makes the marble giant
Time Travel – Stops the clock for a couple seconds
Gyro Copter – Makes the marble a helicopter

One key element becomes the gravity modifiers you can pick up. While the mazes are for the most part one directional, you can use the gravity modifiers along with the checkpoints to do free falls through the open space. The game requires you to pick up gems on a quest to the finish while racing a clock.

Overall, there are 60 levels to be unlocked and 10 additional multiplayer levels. Multiplayer levels are rather flat and are races to random locations for gems. I found these a little less exciting than the single player because it did not offer the same challenging experience that the single player levels did.

I highly recommend downloading the demo from Xbox Live Arcade, if you just want to check this game out. It provides hours of fun for a low cost ($10).

Viva Pinata (+)

Grow and harvest your very own garden to attract all different species of Piñata’s. Work hard and you will be rewarded with ways to make your job easier. Viva Piñata is a must have for kids of all ages.

Written by: Andrew Cefalo

I would consider it rare that we stumble across a game rated E that really is for EVERYONE. Games for kids are usually too simple for teen and/or adult audiences.

The concept behind Viva Pinata is ridiculous; the developers agree that it sounds silly. Growing a garden to attract pinatas that are supposed to be reproduced, not broken open. Sounds like a kid’s game. The game is completely addicting and is really hard to put down. It has frequently been compared to Animal Crossing as it revolves around similar principals.

Game play is intriguing; I have never been left with a ‘now what’ feeling and there are even times when I feel like I have way too much to take care of. Pinatas that I do not want are entering my garden and are fighting with my residents. Usually a quick whack of my shovel gets them to leave but sometimes I need to clean up the mess they leave me with. There is a background storyline that occurs in your game storybook, yet as the developers pointed out it is not really necessary to follow. I got bored with it and rarely pay attention as it progresses. This is a very open ended Sims-like game yet it maintains structure that keeps gamers focused on a goal. There are several restrictions (such as land space) that keep you working to remove; things like money (chocolate coins in the game) motivate you to start harvesting. Of course, even growing these plants can be a challenge and you must first ask Seedos for some seeds. The game moves at your own speed as you only advance when you have completed enough tasks. Attracting new pinata works almost as a timeline for your progress through the game (we found out at the game release that there are a total of 68 different pinatas).

Not all pinata’s get along (the bees and the ants hate each other), and they will fight to the death. Obviously, when a pinata kills another pinata it explodes, and candy comes out. The interesting part is that when this happens a faint cheer comes from little kids, which we found to be a little disturbing. Once we were able to move past that sick and twisted element of game play we loved the concept.

We tried to play multiplayer as it says there is online play as well as up to 4 local players. Multiplayer is weird though as you both control the same game. It works well for taking turns but do not be mislead, there is no verses mode.

Viva Pinata has now become my motivator to complete homework. That is correct, I set boundaries to keep myself from playing. I am very much looking forward to winter break when I can play this all day without worrying about how much time it is consuming. And no, I am not embarrassed to admit that I own both Gears of War and Viva Pinata but elect (from time to time) to play the latter over the former.

Gears of War (+)

PLAY THIS GAME. That said, I thought I may have been a little behind the curve, as I assumed most people would have already played through it.

Though you, loyal readership, may have, I was alarmingly surprised to find that many of my friends have not yet even seen it. If you don’t have an Xbox 360, you better make friends who do, even if its just to check it out. This game is pretty high up there.

Thinking back, Halo, and then Halo 2, have pretty much been the guys-hanging-out games to play. For a brief time it was Super Smash Brothers, yet somehow we played less and less and more and more Halo. Here’s a whole new animal for you to sink your teeth into.

The first thing that catches your eye, quite literally, is the amazing visual quality of the game. It uses the Unreal Engine 3, and takes full advantage of the amazing power of the 360. Seemed like Microsoft bashers were fine in saying that Halo was the only reason that the Xbox was close to good; well, in this generation, I would say that at the moment, Gears of War is keeping the 360 buoyant as ever I haven’t heard much bashing whatsoever. Graphically, its outstanding the level of detail, grime, and gore is amazing. Whether you’re sawing through someone with the chainsaw bayonet (Yes, its better even than you would imagine!) or curb-stomping a felled enemy, the game is greasy and gritty. And bloody. Deliciously so, especially if you’re into blood and gore, and amazing graphics.

Gameplay is quite satisfying. Teamwork is a big part, whether you’re working cooperatively with another player, or just with the AI. The enemies are pretty clever, and I think the games success is due in large part to the difficulty of the campaign they were very right in making the normal or medium setting hardcore. Insane is a step up, but both settings test your skill throughout each area. Casual is nice too, if you want to sit down with your dad and play for a bit.

The element of third-person agility moves isn’t new, but its pretty darn great in this game. Using the a-button, you can duck behind cover, jump over barricades, charge, and perform dives and rolls. One difficulty in it is that it’s the same button to run as it is to grab cover, which can be irritating when it comes to close combat, but hey. I guess I don’t have anything else to say about that.

There is some great online play, but you may run into trouble if you’re used to fielding a team of 8 or so playing Halo online. Gears of War only supports up to 8 players max in a game, meaning 4 on 4 action. The multiplayer levels aren’t really big enough to support more, but so far I’ve been pretty satisfied. It supports voice chat, individualized matchmaking, recorded statistics, earn achievements, and personalize gamer profiles.

The music of the game is pretty good too. Sometimes this can really drag down games, but with a healthy mix of orchestral space-opera type music and heavy lead guitar, one might be reminded of the effectiveness of the Halo theme, later featured on guitar in the second installment.

This is the only console game I’ve ever played that made me actually consider purchasing a console for the express purpose of playing this single game. The only other game that came close was Doom 3, on the Xbox. Seriously guys if you hate on Xbox, this might change your mind; if you have an Xbox 360, this is WORTH the 60 bucks; if your buddy has a 360, you know what he’s getting for the holidays. You might consider handing it over to him as an early gift, though, and GET YOUR GEAR ON.

Superman Returns: The Video Game (+)

Based loosely upon the Superman Returns movie. Play as Superman the most powerful man in the DC Universe.

What comes to mind when you hear the name Superman Returns: The Video Game? It should be the term ‘movie based game.’ Movie based video games are some of the worst known to man. Extra Terrestrial (E.T.) screwed the genre over, but thankfully it has gotten better overtime, mainly due to the Spiderman movie based video game series.

In that regards I wasn’t expecting much from Superman Returns. I hated the Superman Returns movie. Smallville is one of the worst shows on television now. And so a video game based on the Superman franchise well those are the horrible. Superman 64 was unplayable. To my surprise Superman Returns The Video Game, is the most amazing game that I have played on my 360 and it could very well be one of the best super hero games out there along with movie to video adaption!

Yes I know that that seems impossible but Superman Returns is like Grand Theft Auto, but without the hookers. Flying around Metropolis is some of the most satisfying gameplay experience that I’ve had in a long time. As you fly at super speed the controller rumbles, making the experience all that greater. Fly into the skies of Metropolis and see the city from miles high. The invisible barriers that usually plague games are few to be found here. For the first time ever I feel like a bird in the sky.

Pick up any object around you: cars, robots, street lamps, etc. Smash them into your enemies. Use your blowing power, laser eye beam, or your icy breath to attack your enemies. Punch your enemies into the sky. Run at super speed. Fly into buildings and see the walls crumble from the force of the impact! Seriously the list of awesome gameplay goes on and on!

The power of the 360 is fully shown in this game as there are no load times. Fly from point A to point B without any hesitations. The graphics are crystal clear and obviously take full advantage of the system’s high definition capabilities.

If you ever wanted to fly, if you ever wanted to be Superman, if you ever wanted to play a good movie based video game Superman Returns is it! Sure it has its problems such as repetitive gameplay, but seriously what game doesn’t get repetitive at points?! Superman Returns: The Video Game is definitely a game that I’d be proud to show off in my 360 game collection.