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Sore Thumbs

1/15/2014

halo1‘HALO: SPARTAN ASSAULT’    (T)

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Microsoft Game Studios

Xbox One

Less than two months after the release of the Xbox One, and we’ve already got a Halo game. Sort of. “Spartan Assault,” swaps out th traditional first-person shooter perspective of “Halo” for a bird’s eye view of the action, kind of like a dual-stick shooter. Then it maps character movement to the left analog stick and direction of fire to the right — exactly like a dual-stick shooter. Taking place between the events of “Halo 3” and “4,” the plot involves a rogue group of Covenant warriors trying to activate a planet-sized, galaxy-threatening forerunner weapon, while your Spartan soldier endeavors to thwart their efforts. It’s a familiar premise to anyone who’s played the core games in the series, and that’s kind of the point — to take the action and aesthetic we’re accustomed to and present them in a novel way. So you’ll pilot the usual UNSC tanks and Covenant Ghosts and fire the standard array of needlers and SMGs. But as nifty as it initially is to see “Halo” from the top down, ultimately this is just another dual-stick shooter, and there’s little to do but shoot, shoot, shoot.

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A handful of co-op missions against the Flood add some much needed variety, often requiring one player to supply cover fire while the other operates machinery. With both players occupying the same screen, this mode would have been ideal for local co-op between too buddies on the same couch. Irritatingly, system link and online play are the only available options. Even more irksome are the game’s micro-transactions. For a few extra bucks, you can purchase various upgrades that would otherwise have to be earned through level grinding. None of these abilities are necessary to complete the game, so the only reason to buy them is to improve your ranking on the online leaderboards, which dooms these rankings to be a nebulous mix of players with genuine skill and players who bought their way to success. Hopefully this trend won’t worm its way into the next true “Halo” sequel, due later this year.

 

drluigibox‘DR. LUIGI’    (E)

***1/2

Nintendo

Nintendo eShop

This sequel to Mario’s classic pill-popping puzzler makes Luigi the new M.D., and he distinguishes himself from his brother with a tendency to overprescribe medication. You still guide pills to viruses to eliminate them, but “Dr. Luigi” adds double-sized, L-shaped pills to the mix, as well as a mode where you have to guide multiple pills at once. For the plumber-turned-doctor, it’s a malpractice lawsuit waiting to happen, but for the rest of us, it’s an entertaining spin on classic gameplay. Although, its disappointing that the three- and four-player modes from the latest version of “Dr. Mario” weren’t carried over.

 

golfbox‘POWERSTAR GOLF’    (E)

***1/2

Microsoft Game Studios

Xbox One

With its cartoonish character design and arcade physics, “Powerstar Golf” could easily be mistaken for the latest installment in Sony’s “Hot Shots” series, which isn’t a bad thing. The simple mechanics and RPG-like progression system make the game easily accessible and weirdly addictive, even if you’re not particularly fond of golf. And character-specific power-ups, like a magician’s ability to turn his one ball into five in mid-air, bring some goofy fun to the fairway. CV

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