By Matthew Scott Hunter
‘Assassin’s Creed II’ (M)
Enter the Italian Renaissance
Say goodbye to the sprawling cities of Jerusalem and Damascus, and say bon giorno to the even larger metropolises of Florence and Venice. “Assassin’s Creed II” leaves behind the crusades-ravaged Holy Land and takes us a few hundred years forward to the Italian Renaissance, where there are even more sinister characters in need of some low-key killin’. Ezio is the new assassin whose history-shaping exploits you’ll perform, in a story that’s a bit more linear than the last game, but with a significantly less convoluted plot. You’ll explore underground tombs, paddle through gorgeous canals and even take to the sky with a little help from your own personal gadget man: Leonardo DaVinci.
Amazingly, the world of “Assassin’s Creed II” feels even more alive than it did in the first entry. It raises the bar for open-world, sandbox environments. The massive cities never feel like they were built with your adventures in mind, so there are countless paths to each grisly execution, and an even larger number of organic and highly variable obstacles to overcome on the way there. But your skillset has been greatly expanded as well. You can pull unaware guards off of rooftops or take down two enemies simultaneously with hidden blades. Or you can simply scale the highest tower and admire a bird-of-prey’s-eye-view of one of the most beautiful games ever made, while pondering the untold wonders that still await in “Assassin’s Creed III.”
The best thing about the creativity-inspiring “LittleBigPlanet” concept is that even if the platforming levels weren’t ingeniously designed, you can always just build your own. But the best thing about “LittleBigPlanet” on PSP is that you don’t have to. The game is readymade to genius standards right out of the box. Some of the artistic flourishes have been lost in the transition to the smaller screen, but SackBoy still looks cute as hell, and it’s an absolute delight guiding him through every clever puzzle.
No amount of Western localization could rob “Kenka Bancho” of its distinct Japanese flavor. This is a game where a kid on a high school field trip instigates fights with his laser eyes, all so he can beat up every similarly testosterone-driven character in the area, thus proving his ultimate badass-ness and impressing all the girls. It’s completely hilarious. Alas, the quirky originality ends with the story. The brawling itself is stiff, clunky and depressingly repetitive. If only the fights were as wild as the circumstances leading to them, this could be a cult classic.
“Phantasy Star Online” acolytes who haven’t yet forgotten their Dreamcast days will know exactly what they’re in for here, and they’re probably the only ones who will enjoy it. Fans of the multiplayer RPG will be happy to team up and battle absurd monsters for even more absurd loot. But anyone who hasn’t already fallen in love with “Phantasy Star” will be frustrated with the awkward interface and a truly idiotic lack of online options. It’s a shame the gameplay hasn’t been modernized to suit some of the best graphics on DS.