Online Chess Kingdoms
Chess players don't have much to choose from on today's portable gaming systems. Konami fixes that with the release of Online Chess Kingdoms for the PSP, a fanciful take on one of the world's oldest games.
Those who crave a quick match can choose from five unique sets — Order, Chaos, Magic, Reason and Spirit — duking it out against the CPU or online on a variety of interesting 3-D boards. Taking an opponent's piece triggers a battle animation, which, while initially interesting, can get tiresome. Fortunately, the animations and battle sounds can be turned off.
Chess purists can choose more traditional pieces and play on a 2-D board similar to versions used in chess publications. Four skill levels will prove challenging to all players except the most advanced. Those who have studied chess will face a wily opponent that does not "stick to the book" in openings. Oddly, there is no clock or in-game chess tutorial, which, combined with the fantasy world pieces and boards, would have been a good way to introduce the game of kings to a child. A story mode expands upon the fantasy world setting by pitting the five fantasy armies against one another on a map divided into a grid. Move an army into an enemy square, and you'll have to win a game of chess to conquer it. Online play brings a world of opponents to the table.
Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
Sony Online Entertainment
The latest in the Untold Legends series makes no attempt to be anything more than a visually upgraded version of its hack-and-slash predecessors. By setting the bar so low, it succeeds. But given the hardware and the game's price tag, it could (and should) have been much more. Those familiar with the "role-playing lite" genre will feel right at home playing hero in this oft-told tale. The king of a mystical land has fallen prey to evil, and it's up to your character to slaughter a few thousand evil creatures to set things aright.
Players can choose one of three vanilla character classes — Mage, Warrior and the nimble Scout. Despite outward appearances, the three are similar enough that, once you learn the simple combat and spell-casting scheme, the same button combos work equally well for each. Combat is fluid, and the controls feel responsive, but battles tend to be a letdown. Loot drops are plentiful and include upgrades to weapons, armor and spells, but there are better game options out there. The graphics are merely passable.
At times, characters can get stuck on objects such as boulders. The biggest drawback, other than the repetitive game play, is camera control. Assigned to the right analog stick, it is too easy to accidentally zoom in and out. Once zoomed out, objects such as trees block the player's view of his character. Co-op and online multiplayer adds real value to those who will share the journey with friends — up to four players can join the slaughter at once.
Star Trek: Legacy
PC, Xbox 360
"Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise?" The words can send chills up the spines of Trekkies throughout the solar system. With each Star Trek game release, these same Trekkies hold their breath and hope the majesty of Gene Roddenberry's classic science fiction TV show can somehow be recaptured.
Exhale Star Trek fans. This is not it.
Legacy is certainly an ambitious saga that spans all five TV series (Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise). As expected, the story behind the game's career mode is good and involves the expected Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons and Borg. Voice acting, featuring series stars such as Scott Bakula and William Shatner, also evokes good times. But this Trek is plagued by a universe of problems.
The graphics look outdated; giant space stations explode in large chunks as though cut apart by giant space scissors rather than photon torpedoes. Sometimes phasers fire but can't be seen. The controls are frustrating on the PC because they were designed for a game controller, not a keyboard and mouse. Thus, there are times in the PC version, such as when allocating energy to different ship systems, when controls do not work reliably.
Players are assigned a fleet of ships, which creates even more problems. There is no "follow me" command. In fact, there is no way to assign fleet-wide commands other than to attack. The player has to micromanage each ship because the other captains are too stupid to order repairs. Battles are too long, and the targeting system has glitches. Missions are pretty long, too — up to 45 minutes. Fail a mission, and you are forced to start again from the beginning because there is no Save option.
As Spock would say, the missions are illogical. In one mission, medical ships need a military escort as they fly from planet to planet curing an outbreak of disease.
When a dozen Romulan ships attack, you would expect the medical ships to pause long enough for the warships to clear the way. Instead, they charge ahead to their doom. Multiplayer does not work unless a patch is downloaded and applied. Star Trek is a great franchise, but this is a flawed game.
WWE SmackSown vs. Raw 2007
Xbox 360, Xbox, Sony PSP, PlayStation 2
This SmackDown update rolls out a few new tricks for its World Wrestling Entertainment stable of stars.
The first noticeable change — other than improved graphics on the series' 360 debut — is the control scheme, which forgoes face buttons in favor of the right analog stick to initiate grapple moves. Once knocked out of the ring, the newfound ability to smack opponents with folding chairs or bash their heads into stairs or tables becomes obvious, too. The ability to fight amid the audience definitely ramps up the immersion factor.
Players enter the "squared circle" as one of dozens of male or female characters, including legends the Rock, Stone Cold or Hulk Hogan. A custom grappler also can be created for a deep Season Mode featuring more than 40 different original story lines. An expanded General Manager Mode allows the creation of a personal stable of bruisers. Wrestlers and arenas look good, but sometimes the animations hiccup. Load times are atrocious, and tag team matches require five interminable waits — four for each wrestler's introduction and one for the actual match.
The artificial intelligence appears buggy at times, with opponents standing immobile waiting for some serious hurt or repeatedly taking an unavoidable beatdown. But the game is at its best when it's mano a mano. Up to four players can beat on one another at the same time in multiplayer. Online play via Xbox Live also provides a bevy of options.
Over a million years in the making, the outdoor playground that is Kaohsiung’s Shoushan (壽山), commonly known as “Monkey Mountain,” is a rich geological and ecological resource that visitors to the city should be sure not to miss. Many are familiar with the area’s hiking trails and resident monkey population, but even locals may be surprised to learn of the extensive system of caves here, full of classic examples of speleothems like stalactites, stalagmites, draperies and flowstones, as well as cave-dwelling fauna. These caves are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of erosion slowly dissolving the mountain’s limestone.
April 12 to April 18 Hsieh Hsueh-hung (謝雪紅) stuffed her suitcase with Japanese toys and celebrity photos as she departed from Tokyo in February 1928. She knew she would be inspected by Japanese custom officials upon arrival in Shanghai, and hoped that the items would distract them from the papers hidden in her clothes. Penned with invisible ink on thin sheets, it was the charter of the Taiwanese Communist Party (台灣共產黨, TCP), which Hsieh and her companions would launch on April 15 under the directive of the Soviet-led Communist International with the support of their Chinese, Japanese
The Brave Girls were losing courage just weeks ago, on the verge of breaking up and abandoning their dreams of K-pop stardom after years of going nowhere. Then a pseudonymous YouTuber called Viditor uploaded a compilation of them performing on South Korean army bases — and saved their careers. Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’/I am waiting for you/Babe just only you, they chant, as wildly enthusiastic uniformed conscripts dance and wave glow-sticks. It went viral and struck millions of chords across the country. Less than a month later the song reached number one in South Korea and topped the Billboard K-pop 100 in
It’s official: Trees are good for the mental health of city dwellers. According to a study published in Scientific Reports at the end of last year, individuals living within 100m of a high density of street trees in Leipzig, Germany, were prescribed antidepressant prescriptions at a lower rate than those who didn’t have many trees in their neighborhood. The study noted that more distant clusters of street trees didn’t appear to have any impact on antidepressant use, and that, even at 100m, the correlation was merely “marginally significant.” However, the researchers found, for individuals with low socio-economic status, trees no more