Keep in mind please that I give these *as a gamer*, not speaking for any, ah, particular companies or anything like that. And no, I had nothing to do with any of these games for work, in any way shape or form. Just as a disclaimer.
Lost in Blue
This game is... er... frankly it's freaking addictive.
Okay, easiest way to describe it is to say, if you've ever played Survival Kids for the... ah.. Gameboy Color I guess it was (wow, was it that long ago?), this is the third game in the series, so it's like an updated and slightly different version. Of course, that's probably not going to help many people, given the sadly small number of gamers who seem to have played that tres cool game.
For the rest of the people, this is a survival game. (Well, duh.) You play (first) as a high school boy (senior, 18, so technically an adult) named Keith, who is swept out to sea during a very bad storm while on a ship, and is wrecked on a probably-deserted island. The next day he finds Skye, female, 17, who also was swept out (although this time on a liferaft), and who having lost her vital glasses is pretty much helpless and can do nothing. The idea of the game is to first have both characters survive - you have to bring food back to Skye, make sure they both keep hydrated, make sure they rest, keep up a stock of firewood and keep the fire going, etc etc etc. Second is to explore the island, and third - to eventually escape without dying.
Now, it sounds like this might devolve into rote chores, and to a certain extent it does - you have to gather certain supplies all the time, the number of areas is limited, and so on. But there's enough variety in the way that you do things that it takes a while to really get old, and by that time you may well be about to get yourself off the island anyhow. Take food for example - after you find the right items, you can create a spear and use it to catch yourself some fish, until it breaks. Fish of course tend to give you more nutrition than the coconuts and clams you can scrounge up just on the beach. As you explore further you can also start to get different fruits and vegetables, and once you get even further you can find the items to make a bow and arrow, and traps, and start pulling in some of the really big animals for their meat, and so on.
It's pretty fun as well trying to find every single item, and figure out different ways to make various tools to keep you alive. That said, this part of the game isn't quite as fun as the original Survival Kids IIRC (it has been a while), since there you could pretty much experiment freely and come up with just different small things that are useful (like a broom to sweep out the cave). Here you're fairly rigidly kept to a handful of categories, with only a few different "makes" of item within each.
There are a few downsides though. First off there are a few things that are either bad game designs or downright glitches that make things not quite as fun as they could be. You can find and domesticate a chicken or goat, for example, but for some reason you can only have one at a time, never both. It's also next to impossible to keep a chicken or goat alive in Keith's mode, where you have to rely on Skye to take care of them, and I'm not sure why. And the bow and arrow, which should be used in bringing down different game, takes multiple shots for the large animals like deer, but you can only get off one shot before the thing runs away, unless you trap it first. Which means you *must* rely on one wandering into one of your large traps to kill it, which is extremely annoying, since they're not all that eager to get trapped. Not to mention that game footage from different places seems to imply that you're supposed to be able to fell one of the large critters with one shot.
Aside from those annoyances, there's also the fact that Skye just plain gets annoying. They at least try to make a token attempt to explain her uselessness as the fact that she's lost her glasses, rather than because she's a poor widdle feeble girl, but it still gets old. Especially when you can unlock a playthrough from Skye's perspective later on, during which she can do practically *nothing* - not even make and check small traps, and certainly not climb up little knee-high ledges to gather things on slightly higher levels. Just basically sit in the cave and cook. Yergh.
Oh, and the end-game? Difficult. There are some annoying puzzles you have to solve to progress to the end-game, and after that it is still challenging to figure out just what to do to get off the island, although at least there are multiple ways to go about it.
Still, even with the faults, the game is addictive as hell. I've done a full playthrough as both Keith and Skye, and even with Castlevania about halfway finished I'm still finding myself going back and starting up new playthroughs with each, to try to get some last pieces for the scrapbook, figure a few more things out, etc. I don't know what it is - the joy of exploration, the rush of managing to trap and kill one of the rarer animals on the island, whatever.
It's just... fun. But I guess it's probably not for everyone. But if you like Harvest Moon style games, or if the concept just sounds really neat to you, you might want to give it a try even with the different foibles.
Trauma Center: Under the Knife
This is another game that I had fun with, but I wouldn't recommend *quite* as readily.
First things first. Yes, this blood has icky surgery type stuff in it. That said, I myself have a fairly weak stomach with blood and guts and that sort of thing, but this didn't squick me. I guess the organs and so on are just unrealistic enough that it doesn't really trigger that "ick" reflex. So if that's one of your main hangups about getting the game, I wouldn't worry too much. Although I guess it's possible that different people might still have negative reactions to it.
As for the game itself, the one word I'd come up with would be "challenging." Seriously, I expected the game to be more like a string of puzzles, where you had to figure out the best way to proceed and the right tools to use for the job, but instead you are more or less told what to do, and you then have to basically just try to do it just the right way, accurately and quickly, with maybe a little extra problem-solving on the side.
I'm also not completely fond of the approach they took for the game. Instead of going with straightforward diseases, injuries, etc., they only used these for a short while then went off into a more sci-fi feel with these man-made "parasites" that infest people, different strains doing different things to the internal organs, and you have to more or less battle these through most of the game during your surgeries. This is also a bit annoying because some of the strains appear about 3 or so times during the game, which is good because it lets you see how you've improved against the strain, but it gets a bit repetetive after a while and you'd like to do something else, k' thanks.
The game is also frankly short. The most time-extending thing I think for me was the challenge itself, where I found myself having to repeat a stage ten times to be able to win my way past it - I knew what I needed to do, but it was just a matter of keeping all of the balls juggled in mid-air, and being quick enough about the work, or what have you. But all told, if you do even reasonable well with the operations and defeat each one after only a couple tries, you should be able to finish it in, say, one evening or so. You can get a little more bang for your buck by challenging different surgeries again and trying to get the highest ranking, but really... it gets old, IMHO.
That all said (and it sounds pretty negative all laid out at once), I did have some fun with it while it lasted, and it was rewarding to be able to finally win past a tough challenge. It's also really nice to see some of the more "different" titles coming to these shores and getting a warm reception. But out of the three titles I'm reviewing today, I'd probably put this one on the bottom of the list (not that that's saying much, given the company). Just too many little annoyances and the shortness work against the enjoyment factor. I wouldn't say that you shouldn't buy the game, just make sure it's what you're looking for first.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Who decided to put out all the good DS games all at once? Seriously! The only reason I've been getting through them as quickly as I have is that I've been sick, and more or less confined to bed anyhow.
This is the latest of the three games, just having come out last week (with Trauma Center and Castlevania (not reviewed here) coming out the week before, and Lost in Blue coming out the week before that). And it's frankly a damn good one.
Phoenix Wright is at the start of the game a rookie defense attorney, taking on his first case in court. The first episode is more of a tutorial, letting you get the hang of cross-examining, looking for contradictions in the testimony, and trying to press the witness into giving more info than he should, and maybe slipping up. From there you develop through a series of five cases total (including the first), becoming a better attorney and taking on tougher challenges.
The first episode is pretty short, maybe half an hour long at best, which sounds bad considering there are five episodes total, and especially considering there aren't multiple paths or anything, and once you play through the game once you've seen what there is to see. It's not as bad as it sounds though - the episodes get progressively longer (or at least the next couple do - the latter ones are all pretty long and involved), and even with limited replayability you get a good bit of bang for your buck, maybe fifteen hours or so of gameplay before you reach the end.
And of course the key here is not quantity but quality, which IMHO the game has in spades. The cases are dramtic, sometimes just downright moving and emotional, but there's also great humor. I was afraid it might be a bit childish at first, given the convention of "funny names" that are plays on words or what have you ("April May," "Sal Monella," and the old lady security guard "Wendy Oldbag" for instance). As the game goes on though it becomes obvious that it's just genuinely funny, with a well-done translation - maybe not completely accurate to the Japanese (I honestly don't know), but very funny and engaging nonetheless. And the characters are great as well, with even the one-shot ones being entertaining, and the more central characters growing and developing as the game progresses. (Dude. I totally <3 Miles Edgeworth.) And even just the depiction of the lawyers gets a laugh - the waaaay-dramatic "OBJECTIONS" and "HOLD ITS!" and banging on desks. The game definitely does not take itself too seriously.
There are of course drawbacks, for the nitpicky. The game ain't exactly all that accurate in some respects - using things for convenience of plot, like introducing the theory of Evidence Law in the last episode, but mostly only using it where convenient, having the attorneys more or less purloin the evidence to use it in the case, without letting the police see it, having practically every witness perjure him or herself, etc... but if you can let that sort of thing slide for the sake of the gameplay and story, you get a lot of fun from it all.
(Edit: I meant to also mention the annoying gap in difficulty sometimes. There are some things that a first-grader could see, that when you point them out get gasps and shock as if you'd just revealed the Holy Grail. Then at other points it can be annoyingly hard to try to figure out just what the game wants at a given time, or something quite subtle - the latter I rather enjoy for the challenge, while the former is just annoying, especially if I'm "wrong" because I'm basically looking way further ahead than the game expects. Still, while this was a bit annoying, it wasn't enough to break the game for me.)
So long story short - the game's not spotless. It'll probably drive the especially nitpicky insane with its fast-and-loose playing of the court system, and it doesn't have a lot of replayability, at least not immediately. But if you don't mind shelling out for the time you *do* get out of it, you could definitely go far worse than in picking this gem up off the shelves. If you can find it at this point, of course.
And for those wondering, yes I have Castlevania: Dawn of Souls. I've just been taking my time with it, and haven't finished it yet. (Plus some of the areas are owning me, yowch). It's definitely Good Stuff though, if you're interested. ^^