Posts by Ben Silverman

  • Review: ‘Rock Band 4’ puts on a good show

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 2 days ago

    I’m not sure if we’re billing our forthcoming jaunt across the continental U.S. (sorry, Honolulu!) as a “Comeback Tour,” because we’ve only been out of commission for about five years. But it’s clear our (twelve) fans are excited that Karianne, Joe, Paul and I will once again wield plastic for a genre-redefining journey to rock 'n' roll Valhalla. Or at least Detroit.

    After breaking up back in 2011, the surviving members of Spacepunch (R.I.P., former drummer Derp McBlunty) went their separate ways. Joe’s been busy with some data analysis gig, Paul went back to school, Karianne’s been doing hair, and I, of course, returned to my lowly gig as a video game critic. But we missed each other so much that we couldn’t resist cramming back into the van for one more ride.

    At least that’s what we’ve been telling the press.

    But we did it, and it was surprisingly fun. Rock Band 4 channels all the positive vibes and camaraderie of past music games, and while it’s short on new ideas, it manages to retain the most important one: making geeks with plastic trinkets genuinely feel like rock stars.

    What’s Not : Lacks innovation; weak on-disc track list; Career mode isn’t great

  • Review: ‘Skylanders’ spins its wheels with ‘SuperChargers’

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 17 days ago

    And where there’s money, there’s competition. Disney overhauled its gaming division to focus entirely on Disney Infinity . Lego is hoping its ironclad brand will yield big returns with the upcoming Lego Dimensions . Skylanders might be the first big toys-to-life game, but it’s hardly the only one in town.

    [Related: Review: After sophomore slump, ‘Disney Infinity 3.0’ strikes back]

    So to stay ahead, they have to develop compelling new ideas. Last year’s Trap Team did just that by turning the tables and letting players ‘capture’ villains inside small crystal toys. It worked. Whisking characters from screen to toy was an effective gimmick that injected some magic into the series.

    [Related: Donkey Kong and Bowser are the first ever Skylanders-amiibo hybrid toys]

    What’s Hot: Cool new toys; Online play; Less punitive gating than past games; Typically sharp writing and delivery

  • Review: Rebuild the classics in superb ‘Super Mario Maker’

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 1 mth ago

    It begins at, well, the beginning.

    Turn on Super Mario Maker (releasing September 11 for the Wii U), and you’re greeted with the ubiquitous World 1-1 from the 1985 NES classic, Super Mario Bros.  The music kicks in. You stomp the first Goomba, bump the Question Block with the mushroom in it, and sidle up to the warp pipe. This is mother’s milk. You are home.

    And then, without warning, Mario is staring at a massive chasm. It shouldn’t be there. Three decades of innate video game know-how vanish. You can’t make this jump.

    But you can fix it.  One tutorial later, and you’ve learned how to build the Super Mario level of your dreams. Or at least to fix a gaping hole in the floor.

    This is a big deal. Nintendo traditionally guards its secret sauce like Willy Wonka, but here in Super Mario Maker , the company has unlocked the DNA powering the most influential video game of all time. This is the formula for Coca-Cola, just sitting there on a shelf. At once nostalgic and new, Super Mario Maker hands you the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom and lets you go nuts.

    What’s Hot: Intuitive editor; limitless levels; beautiful presentation; fantastic control

  • The world's largest arcade machine is taller than an elephant

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 1 mth ago

    Though, technically, you don’t actually have to pay to play this insane Franken-machine built by Jason Camberis, a network engineer from Chicago. You just need to wait your turn, because we’re guessing the line to play what is now officially the World’s Largest Arcade Machine is going to grow. Guinness World Records has verified that the rig is indeed a record setter.

    It took Camberis, 44, two years to build this beast of an arcade cabinet. Standing 14 feet, 5 inches tall and over 6 feet wide, the supersized machine is, as Guinness points out in in classic Guinness fashion, "taller than a fully grown African elephant." Baby African elephants? It's WAY taller than them.

    More importantly, it boasts enormous joysticks and buttons that all work as they should. Camberis further commissioned a glass company to create an epic, 16-inch light-up trackball. Over 250 playable classic games are available, including Pac-Man, Rampage, and Robotron , Camberis’s favorite.

    "Everything is getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller," Camberis says. "I'm bringing big back."

  • Review: Gritty 'Mad Max' burns brightly, but flames out

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 1 mth ago

    It is impossible to experience the new   Mad Max   video game without constantly thinking about George Miller’s spectacular   Mad Max: Fury Road .

    The game is not specifically based on the movie — it’s more of a canonical homage — but it’s clear that the developers were anxious to duplicate the wild, chaotic blend of gutsy realism and cartoonish excess that made   Fury Road   the best action film in recent memory.

    They only partially succeed. An open-world romp through the blasted, post-apocalyptic wastelands popularized in Miller’s big-screen quartet,   Mad Max   is filled with unflinching violence, high-speed high jinks, and enough gas fires to give Al Gore a coronary. But it also falls in lockstep with fellow open-world games, eschewing a coherent plot for a sprawling map littered with repetitive, grinding quests. At times it shines bright as chrome, but it also flirts dangerously with a word you won’t find in Max’s limited vocabulary: boredom.

    What’s Hot: Fire, obviously; brawny melee combat; gorgeous, gritty look; plenty to do

    What’s Not: Thin story; grows repetitive; derivative; odd control choices

  • Review: Nostalgic ‘Rare Replay’ is an uncommonly great deal

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 2 mths ago

    You’ll want to start at the beginning, though you probably won’t stay there for long. Built to run on the 8-bit ZX Spectrum computer that was all the rage in the UK in the early ‘80s, the old-school games are fascinating, if a little short on fun. The company's first game, 1983’s Jetpac , is a simple platform shooter where you must rebuild a rocket while blasting and dodging aliens. The clever little action-RPG Atic Atac is probably the best of the bunch, while a few oddball games like Sabre Wulf and Knight’s Lore suffer from bad controls and confusing gameplay. Things pick up significantly when you move to Rare’s NES and SNES games. The racing game R.C. Pro Am is a genuine classic and still holds up, as does its less popular sequel. I completely forgot that the fighter Killer Instinct was a Rare game until I bumped into the N64 version included here (not as good as the coin-op take, but happy to see it). Most gamers will probably zip immediately to Battletoads , often considered one of the hardest games ever made. It’s also really good, however, and it looks and plays great here.

  • Time Magazine’s VR cover is so horrible it almost ruins VR

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 2 mths ago

    Virtual reality is coming — and it’s coming fast — but there are still plenty of barriers holding it back from mainstream acceptance. No matter how many breathless stories we post about the awesome experiences delivered by the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, or Microsoft Hololens, writers never do the tech justice. To really get this new wave of VR, to truly appreciate it, you need to strap a headset on your face, open your eyes, and see what it’s all about.

    But if this image pops up, flush your eyes out with water and run to the nearest E.R.

    That’s the August 17 cover of Time Magazine. Inside this issue are a handful of stories about VR, interviews with the big creative names, and insight into how it all works.

    But you won’t get that far, because unless you’re related to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey (he’s the guy in the blue shirt), you will see this cover and be overcome with an upsetting blend of sadness, anger, amusement, confusion, and disgust. Also maybe you’ll be relaxed, because that looks like a nice beach.

  • Hands-on: 'Dark Souls III' is faster (and deadlier) than you might think

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 2 mths ago

    But the reason they’ll very likely love Dark Souls III is that the game's learned a thing or two, too.

    The next entry in From Software’s chart-topping, critic-pleasing, controller-smashing role-playing series is just as infuriatingly difficult as you’d expect, throwing tons of absurdly overpowered enemies at underequipped players. But it’s a different Dark Souls this time out, a quicker one, thanks in large part to the success of the spectacular spiritual successor, Bloodborne.

    I spent an hour getting skewered, clawed, chomped, and eviscerated by a variety of ghastly things in Dark Souls III at a recent hands-on event, and while I saw about a dozen YOU DIED screens, I also saw some interesting changes to the formula.

    [Related: Diabolically difficult 'Bloodborne' is among the PS4's best]

    Of course, you still have that trusty shield, and when you remember to use it, the game feels decidedly more like Dark Souls again. It strikes a good balance between the offensive nature of Bloodborne and the defensive posturing of earlier Dark Souls .

  • Review: Ridiculously fun ‘Rocket League’ gasses up, shoots, and scores

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 2 mths ago

    It’s soccer with cars.

    That’s both the elevator pitch and a near-complete description of Rocket League . Built by small independent studio Psyonix and fast becoming a sensation on the PS4 (it’s available for PC as well), the competitive vehicular sports game is, when you boil it down, exactly as straightforward as it sounds.

    It’s soccer with cars.

    Maybe that doesn’t sound interesting to you. It didn’t to me, but the more time I spent hurling my car into a giant ball in an effort to push it into the opponent’s goal, the more I realized that it’s not just interesting, it’s amazing. Despite its limited scope and the occasional connection issue, Rocket League is one of the year’s best online games.

    Why are you smashing your car into a ball? Is it a toy? Life-sized? Is there a driver? Is it a drone car? Is car soccer some sort of futuristic bloodsport for a totalitarian regime?

    But when controls work in perfect harmony with the game? Now we’re cooking with grease. And gasoline. And soccer balls. Rocket League ’s precise, responsive, instantly comfortable controls elevate it from a solid competitive car soccer game into a totally awesome car soccer game.

    That’s exactly as hard as it looks.

  • Review: ‘Rory McIlroy PGA Tour’ misses the cut

    Ben Silverman at Plugged In 2 mths ago

    Move over, Madden Curse. Tiger Woods wields some dark magic, too.

    What else can explain the drama surrounding Rory McIlroy PGA Tour ? After spending well over a decade slapping Tiger’s mug on the cover of PGA Tour games, EA Sports decided to switch it up and distance themselves from the ailing pro. I suppose you can’t really blame them. EA’s in the business of selling golf games, so swapping the troubled Tiger for the top-ranked player in the world was a no-brainer. There is no fairer weather fan than a video game sports publisher.

    But a mere ten days before EA Sports released their new golf game, McIlroy severely injured his ankle while playing soccer with his pals. It’s bad enough to keep him out of the British Open and possibly impact his ability to contend at the PGA Championship in August, a terrible break for both the young pro and the company hoping his popularity will help sell some golf video games.