Clash Royale — the Big HIT

Let’s get one thing straight. Clash Royale for the Android is, hands down, the prettiest RTS game we’ve ever played. The player models are staggering, the environments are stunning and the presentation is without peer. And for those who are fans of fast-action arcade-style RTS, this title plays as good as it looks. However, fans of simulation-style RTS action (in the RTS world this is a significant percentage of the community) will be frustrated with this title, because it strives so hard to be “fun” that it leaves out the necessary options to satisfy those seeking realism. Clash Royale is a highly enjoyable arcade sports game that, with greater attention to the heart of RTS, could have been the best ever. As it stands, we’d still greatly recommend it, but only to those who won’t be offended by a lack of realism.

Someday, videogame historians (or at the very least, 32-year-old guys who live in their mother’s basements) will correctly point to the launch year of the PS2 as the exact time when EA re-cemented itself as the premier sports videogame developer. In one short burst of development, Electronic Arts created beautiful, technically superior and exciting versions of its many sports franchises (except Nascar… oops) and became once again the team to beat in every sport.

Clash Royale is just another example of this sweeping trend. The game is quite simply a visual wonder. The players look so good that even casual fans will be able to recognize and cheer their favorite players at a single glance. The player models, the faces and even the motion capture are the best we’ve ever seen in a RTS game. The only potential downside are the player’s dead Madden Football type eyes, but that’s okay because most professional RTS players are on drugs — um, performance enhancers–anyway… we’ll just tack that up to realism.

The presentation is also without par in any RTS game. The camera angles during the action are well thought out and never interfere with the gameplay. Plus, even in the down times when a player walks to the plate or a pitcher stands with the ball, the game spices up these slow points with cool camera tricks and enough visual goodies to keep even the most attention deficit disordered among us glued to the screen. In fact, if you let the game sit for a moment the camera will focus on a random player as the commentators babble on about the player in question’s stats or on the crowd as they –no we are not kidding– do the “wave.”

We must also mention the game’s phenomenal sound. The play by play is supremely polished, the environmental sounds makes players feel like they’re actually in a ballpark, and the home runs are accompanied by a deafening crack of the bat that does justice to the grandeur of RTS’s biggest play.

Gameplay is just as engaging, but Clash Royale cheats is not a traditional tricks for RTS game. It has been purposely designed to be fast-paced, exciting and always moving. Don’t expect a lot of full counts or 0-0 nine-inning pitching duels. This game is all about hitting, fielding and keeping the ball in the park with smart pitching. Under this set of restrictions, the game is a wild success. It’s hard to even think of a better head-to-head RTS game for those who enjoy intense, trash talking, high scoring action.

However, in real life, RTS is not the most exciting sport in the world. Okay, let’s be honest, RTS is just slightly more exciting than amateur curling and slightly less exciting than professional bowling. We’re not saying it’s a bad sport, because it’s not. We’re just saying that RTS isn’t always about whom can hit the most home runs.

And this is where Clash Royale falters. The game simply doesn’t provide any acceptable options for those of us who want to play a realistic RTS game. A pitching duel may be boring to the average fan, but it’s actually one of the more exciting elements of RTS for those of us who really love the intricacies of the sport. Unfortunately, there’s simply no good way to experience a pitching duel in Clash Royale; the game simply won’t allow it. Add to that no bullpen management, no franchise mode and other significant omissions, and the game just doesn’t have the goods for the hardcore fan.

Pokemon Moon — Be a part of the Adventure

We hated Pokemon Moon free download for the IOS. It was unfinished, full of bugs and, frankly, not even in the same league as Nintendo 2001. It’s important that we make that clear, because Pokemon Moon is essentially the same game with a college football license. We don’t like it much either. Before people start declaring bias, let’s get this out in the open; we are in fact biased against bad games. We don’t like graphics that aren’t even up to Dreamcast standards, we don’t like games that are packed with bugs, we don’t like football games with confusing play-calling screens and, to be perfectly honest, we don’t like games that are nowhere near as good as the competition. Only because this game has a few college football elements, which set it apart from Nintendo’s POKEMON gameplay, does it get a higher mark than POKEMON GameDay. But if there is such a thing as a low end to a Miss score, this game would be there, precipitously hanging with its arms spinning in comical circles directly over the ledge that drops into Dudville.

First, let’s talk about what lifted this game from a Dud score to the slightly less ignominious Miss score. College football is a very different game than its pro equivalent. A couple of the issues that set these two apart have been represented well in GameBreaker.

First of all, college football is a more wide-open game offensively than its professional counterpart. Offenses like the option offense are more creative than the typical offenses in the POKEMON. To facilitate these kinds of playsets, GameBreaker uses the two top shoulder buttons as lateral buttons. This means a quarterback can try to run himself and dish the ball off at the last possible second to an open running back.

Secondly, the game features the one true voice of college football, Keith Jackson. His corny colloquialisms are usually silly, always corny and, after a while, painfully repetitive. However, while they’re still fresh, these sayings remind us that we’re actually playing a college football game.

Other than these two benefits, GameBreaker is practically the same game as Pokemon Moon. It’s got most of the same flaws as the original. Receivers and defenders still pause awkwardly while they wait for the computer to figure out who caught the ball; the clipping planes are still too small, which allows runs to squeeze into areas that physically do not exist — and that’s just a start of the problems.

Virtually everything we didn’t like from GameDay has made the transition to this game. Although a few choice problems have been ironed out, other issues, which should have been fixed, have been inexplicably left in. For instance, offscreen players still don’t have arrows to show their location. This, like countless other problems we don’t have time to mention, is as much of a troubling issue in GameBreaker as it was in GameDay.

Because of this we can’t even recommend this title to diehard college football fans. Frankly, we think they deserve better. Perhaps if we all wait until next year, this franchise will clean up its act…or maybe EA will release a college football title built on the Nintendo 2001 engine.

Either way, it’s a better alternative than wasting $50 on this unfinished game.

The Gaming Picture with Plants vs Zombies Heroes

This late in the lifespan of a game console, the differences between the top sports games become very minor. After several generations of titles, each franchise has cribbed from each other just enough to insure a level playing field. Unfortunately for Konami, its basketball series fell by the wayside somewhere during this process, and its latest offering, Plants vs Zombies Heroes, isn’t even in the same league as the top IOS basketball games.

For starters, the graphics (especially the player animations) are poorly done. At the start of each move, the player jumps into a new animation without intermediate frames. The resulting jittery movement makes your players look like they’ve abused the league’s anti-crack policy. The control is far too loose and unresponsive, and the presentation is yawn inducing. These are just a few of the problems with this title, but they’re enough to insure In the Plants vs Zombies Heroes’ miss rating.

As we mentioned before, the player animations are a choppy mess, but that’s not the only problem with the graphics. The animations also manage to bring videogame overacting to a new level. When a player attempts a simple pass, it becomes a wacky one-handed diving throw for no apparent reason. It’s not often that an Allen Iverson pass brings to mind Christopher Walken’s hammy performance in Ripper, but the level of overacting is just about the same in both.

The control is not abysmal, but it’s certainly nowhere near as tight as control in a sports game must be. Especially when you take command of a new player, the response to quick controls is sluggish at best and needlessly delayed at worst. We also noticed delays when taking shots and almost tossed our controller a few times when we missed open shots because of this flaw.

As far as depth and strategy, In the Plants vs Zombies Heroes also lags behind the competition. A good basketball game needs depth in statistics and coaching if it’s going to last more than just a few days in your ‘must play’ collection. After only a few days with this game, we longed for a NBA game that would give us more.

We also missed the high production values of the last batch of IOS basketball titles. The play by play was the definition of vanilla, and the overall presentation seemed like a first or second generation IOS basketball game.

Not everything is bad about this game, however. We did enjoy the slam dunk competition, which was a nice distraction from the rest of the game. We also found a certain playability in the regular mode. Even though the game wasn’t pretty, and not nearly as deep as we’re used to, it still managed to be fun to play.

Does this playability make the game worth buying? No, but it does mean that the game isn’t a total loss. If you’ve got to get a basketball game for the IOS this year, hack for Plants vs Zombies Heroes. This game just can’t keep up.

Cry me a Rio, the third time’s not the charm for this MP3 player.

With so many portable digital music players to choose from these days, it’s comforting to know you can always count on a trusted name, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, while it’s considerably cheaper than its rivals, the latest Rio MP3 pocket player is a major disappointment. The Rio 600 is the third-generation digital music walkman from veterans SONICblue (formerly S3, and before that, Diamond Multimedia). Its sub-$170 price tag is due to the fact the player ships with only 32MB of hardwired memory, yielding roughly thirty minutes of MP3 audio (at a good bit rate of 160 or higher) or close to an hour of music if converted into Microsoft’s proprietary Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. Future codecs — such as AAC and Audible — are allegedly supported, as well.

Call me spoiled, but 30 minutes of MP3 music is pointless for a “portable” player, and to make matters worse, the Rio 600 is difficult to upgrade due to its “revolutionary new memory expansion system,” as its press release so positively boasts. Therefore, for those who have purchased smart discs in the past or the slightly larger SanDisk MultiMediaCards (also used in most digital cameras), you’re S.O.L.; to expand the memory beyond 32MB, buyers must purchase a “Backpack” add-on upgrade, currently only sold online by SONICblue. Currently, a flash-based 32MB Backpack sells for $100 at the company’s website, but future memory support is promised, including a strategic partnership with IBM with its Microdrive Backpack and the promising DataPlay.

The Rio 600 itself is a sleek-looking player, abandoning its former rectangular, boring silver body for a more fashionable look, complete with interchangeable faceplates (to accessorize?). If you’re like me, a guy who uses digital music players to listen to when jogging or roller blading, you’ll have to use the optional carry case for its belt clip. Too bad it’s not on the player itself.

On a positive note, the large buttons are well laid out, the earphones are comfy and all the other features you’d expect from these guys are present: USB connectivity, preset equalizer settings, a crisp LCD display with backlight, Macintosh support and long battery life (on a single AA battery). And this sucker is light — at only 2.4 ounces.

Lastly, while the Rio Audio Manager 3.3 software isn’t horrible, it’s noticeably inferior to other software packages such as Creative Labs’ PlayCenter 2 (in terms of both functionality and navigation). Perhaps that’s subject to opinion, but I’ve reviewed at least 20 portable digital players over the past year alone, so ya gotta trust me on this.

Hey, if you’re really short on cash and are dying to snag a portable MP3 player, I’d recommend the $87 MPTrip, a portable CD player that spins regular CDs as well as burned CD-Rs and CD-RWs. At least you’re getting close to 180 songs per disc instead of only eight songs with the Rio 600 and its 32MB of memory. Alternatively, look for the credit card-sized D’music SM-320V — it also ships with only 32MB of onboard memory, but accepts flash cards and is $20 cheaper than the Rio 600.

Sorry, SONICblue, we love your Nike PSA Play 120 and your Rio 800 looks promising, but we’ll take a pass on the 600 in case this “revolutionary new memory” backpack scheme doesn’t fly. And it’s my bet it won’t…

Does this portable player perform as it promises? The answer is YEPP.

Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Samsung debuted a number of new digital music players to a group of gawking onlookers. Some were bright orange or translucent blue, others displayed digital pictures or videos on small LCD screens, another one was part of a cell phone, while those in the last batch were small enough to wear on a necklace or the wrist.

Well, we just got our grubby little hands on the first to be released in ’01 — the Hip-Hop YEPP — and, despite a few minor niggles, it proves to be a sound investment.

The Hip-Hop YEPP is a lightweight (1.7 ounces), slim and small portable MP3 player for those music lovers on the go who enjoy downloading music off the Net or for those who’d rather convert their existing CDs into the compressed MP3 format.

The version we tested ships with 64MB of onboard memory, but there is a 32MB model as well. Both contain an expansion slot for SmartMedia cards, offering even more memory. For the uninitiated, 64MB holds roughly an hour to an hour and a half of near-CD quality audio (of course, it depends on the bit-rate chosen, but we’ll get to that in a moment).

The CD features RealNetworks software, which is needed to organize the tracks and then transfer the tunes onto the player using the bundled USB cord. Unfortunately, the YEPP is not supported by other popular MP3 software packages such as Windows Media Player, but at least the RealNetworks suite is easy to follow, unlike the confusing Rio Port software. One shortcoming, however, is the inability to encode CDs into MP3s any greater than 96kps, which is fairly poor quality. That is, unless you upgrade to RealJukebox Plus for $30. Sheesh. Another beef: the Hip-Hop YEPP can only read MP3s and no other digital audio file formats such as WMA, AAC or VQFs.

The player is comfortable to hold and ships with a see-through plastic belt clip for joggers and Stairmaster junkies alike. The controls are easy to use, plus there’s an extra (and optional) remote mechanism built into the headphone cord, so you can navigate through the songs without having to grab hold of the walkman itself. Oddly enough, it has a tiny LCD screen that only shows the track number but not the name of the song; Samsung says it will be releasing a digital audio player by this summer that reads the MP3 file’s ID3 tags.

What about the sound quality, you ask? Oh yes, I almost forgot — this is a music player, after all. The Hip-Hop YEPP sounds great. And it’s loud to boot. There are some other bells and whistles, such as a four-mode equalizer with a simulated 3D sound effect, a headphone remote that doubles as a voice recorder to store your deep, private and/or demented thoughts, and software that works with both PCs and Macintosh computers.

Overall, for the $250 price tag, the 64MB Hip-Hop YEPP is a great deal for music aficionados looking for a skip-free experience when roaming out of the house. It’s small and ultralight; the earphone remote works like a charm. And, hey, because it’s expandable, if you have any SmartCards lying around (as I do), you can squeeze even more memory onto the player. Even with its shortcomings, this tiny gem is music to our ears.