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Nintendo 2DS Hardware Review

Nintendo 2DS Hardware Review 150 150 GAMESFWD
Though it lacks the ability to display 3D content and makes some minor hardware concessions, the Nintendo 2DS is a great option for budget-minded gamers or parents of young children wanting to enter the world of 3DS software.
The first thing you will notice about Nintendo 2DS is that is eschews the clamshell design introduced by the original DS in favour of a wedge-shaped, tablet style format. The unit is 14.5 cm wide, 12.7 cm in length, 2 cm at its thickest point and weighs in at a svelte 260 grams.
The singular screen of the Nintendo 2DS is segmented to match the dimensions of the original 3DS, with the top widescreen section covered and measuring 3.5 inches diagonally and the bottom touchscreen area at 3.03 inches. The screen has a larger pixel density than the screens found on the 3DS XL and produces crisper images in both sections compared to its big brother.
Software designed for the original DS and DSiWare titles tend to look a bit blurry when scaled to fit the screen of the 2DS. As far as sound, the Nintendo 2DS sports a monaural speaker that is louder than the 3DS and 3DS XL and still provides stereo output via a standard headphone jack.
The biggest revision found on the Nintendo 2DS is neither the form factor or screen design, but to physical input. The unit’s right and left bumper buttons are larger than even those found on the Wii U gamepad and feature a concave design that cradles your index finger. The bumpers are comfortable, responsive and a welcome change from the cramped ones found on the 3DS and 3DS XL.
Concessions, likely put in place to keep costs down have been made to the d-pad and face buttons, though in practical terms only players seeking ultra-precise input will notice.
The d-pad is a fair amount smaller than the ones found on the 3DS XL and Wii U GamePad and feels much softer and squishy compared to its tight and clicky cousins. The face buttons are also slightly smaller and softer feeling than those of the 3DS XL in addition to rising a millimetre or two higher from the case.
I won’t lie, the d-pad and face buttons do have a distinctively cheap feel to them, but they are well-placed and have not caused me any issues or frustration during my testing. As far as I can tell, the circle pad is identical to previous iterations.
You will find the Start and Select buttons on the right of the unit underneath the face buttons and a small concave home button underneath the centre of the bottom screen section. The sleep function that is toggled by closing other DS family hardware is handled by a sliding switch on the bottom of the Nintendo 2DS and reminds me of the hold switches that used to be on portable CD players.
Instead of a physical switch, turning wireless communication on and off is handled by a software solution that is located with the system’s brightness setting and can be accessed via the home button without disturbing any software running.
The Nintendo 2DS gets an average of 4.5 hours battery life while playing 3DS software, can theoretically remain in sleep mode for up to three days and takes about 3.5 hours to fully recharge its built in lithium ion battery. Of course battery life is dependent on factors like screen brightness, volume level and wireless communication and though the battery life is a bit shorter than that of the 3DS XL, it’s on par with the original 3DS and acceptable for practical use.
One change of note regarding battery life is the omission of a power saving mode like that found in the other 3DS hardware, though if a player is concerned, they can always check the battery level and adjust volume or brightness manually if need be.
One thing that surprised me about the Nintendo 2DS was the inclusion of the stereoscopic 3D camera found in its cousins. Not being able to take or view 3D photos on the device, it seems counterintuitive to include the hardware in a device designed to reduce cost both at the manufacturing and consumer level. The only reason I can see it being there is to provide software compatibility for the extremely short list of software that requires the 3D camera.
I bought the Nintendo 2DS as a budget-friendly secondary system for retail cartridges when my wife started playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf on my 3DS XL. Though the picture on the 3DS XL is more pixelated and the unit is markedly heavier, I do prefer the luxury of the larger screens and comfort in my hands I am not contemplating the transfer of my digital library.
That said, the Nintendo 2DS is a perfectly capable iteration of the successful 3DS family and definitely worth a look if you are in the market for a secondary system or looking for a more durable option for a young child’s use with popular game series like Skylanders or Pokémon.
+ Wedge Design is Comfortable and Durable
+ Screen Solution Looks Great
+ Full-Sized Shoulder Buttons are a Welcome Addition
– D-Pad and Face Buttons Have a Cheap, Squishy Feel
– Monaural Speaker



Designed as a more traditional input method that the Wii U GamePad or the Wii Remote, the Wii U Pro Controller from Nintendo is both comfortable and responsive, but also lacks some of the functionality that its intended audience tends to look for.

The Wii U Pro Controller weighs in at about eight ounces (227 grams), measures about 6.25 inches (15.9 cm) across at its widest point, about 4.75 inches (12 cm) tall and about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) thick including the analog sticks. For a frame of reference, it is slightly thinner than the Xbox 360 Controller, particularly in the grips, though it carries the same basic size and shape.

The face of the Wii U Pro Controller contains four digital action buttons (A,B,X,Y), four function buttons (start, select, power and home), a d-pad larger than the one found on the Wii Remote and two symmetrical analog sticks that for the first time on a Nintendo console include clickable buttons and are not limited by octagonal gating.

On the top of the controller, you will find two bumper buttons (R, L) and two triggers (ZR, ZL). Unfortunately, these triggers are digital rather than analog. Though this omission admittedly won’t affect everyone, those with a penchant for racing games (such as myself) will likely miss the precision in acceleration and braking that analog triggers provide.

The Wii U Pro Controller also has a rumble feature and houses a battery that charges via a standard USB cable and can reportedly last up to 80 hours on a single charge. Another notable omission however is the lack of a headphone jack, meaning that if you want to chat with your buddies while you play, you will need your Wii U GamePad nearby with your headset connected to it. I should also note that the controller lacks any sort of motion functionality, though I doubt many people will actively miss it.

The most important thing in a controller is comfort and ease of use and the Wii U Pro Controller succeeds at both. Though the right analog stick and button placement take some time to get used to I had no issues beyond that, even during long play sessions, which can be hellish for someone with arthritic hands.

One of the best things about the Wii U Pro Controller is that it helps break down some of the barriers to accessibility inherent in both the Wii U and its predecessor’s standard control schemes, specifically for one-handed players.

Though this is a bit of a generalization on my part, one-handed players that are able to use a DualShock 3 or Xbox 360 Controller should be able to adapt to a Wii U Pro Controller with relative ease.

Unfortunately one of the biggest downfalls is that the controller is not supported as standard across all software and is so far relegated to use with a select group of mostly multiplatform retail games, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and a few titles from the eShop.

For me, the biggest flaw of the Wii U Pro Controller is that it cannot be operated independently without having the Wii U GamePad powered on and connected to the console. Though some games, namely Call of Duty: Black Ops II can take advantage of using both controllers at once during single player gameplay, most do not and simply cause needless battery drain to your Wii U GamePad, even with the display turned off.

As far as my own gameplay experience with the Wii U Pro Controller, I’ve tested it with Nano Assault NeoNeed for Speed Most Wanted UCall of Duty: Black Ops II and The Cave.

Save for Nano Assault Neo, these are all multiplatform games that were originally designed around traditional controls and I had no issue playing any of them. The only game I found to have a real advantage with while using the Wii U Pro Controller was Need for Speed Most Wanted U, which had as much to do with the low screen resolution of the Wii U GamePad as its bulk.

It is quite unfortunate that Nintendo has chosen not to implement Wii U Pro Controller support in first party games like New! Super Mario Bros. U and LEGO City Undercover. While these games do take advantage of the Wii U GamePad, they don’t do so in any way that could not be emulated with a traditional controller.

For example, when using the scanning function in LEGO City Undercover, the action on your TV is essentially non-existent and could easily be switched to what is displayed on the Wii U GamePad with functions executed by the buttons and sticks on your controller.

Though a lack of software support hinders the overall usefulness of the Wii U Pro Controller and online gamers may be annoyed by its lack of a headphone jack, from a technical and comfort standpoint it is a very capable piece of hardware.

If the Wii U is your only console and you are interested in some of the games I’ve mentioned I would highly recommend this controller, but if you already have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, chances are you can find 95% of the games it supports elsewhere at a lower cost.


+ Very Comfortable and Well-Weighted
+ Internal Battery Charged via Standard USB Port
+ Battery Can Last Up To 80 Hours
+ Allows for One-Handed Play More easily


– Limited Software Support
– No Motion Capabilities
– No Analog Triggers or Headphone Jack
– Cannot Operate Without Wii U GamePad On



Yes, love. It’s a powerful word usually reserved for people or maybe pets that are closest to you and not inanimate objects, however I have grown very attached to my 3DS XL in the relatively short time I’ve had it and, at this point in my gaming life, I simply cannot live without it.

I’ve probably logged more hours on the solidly-built revision in the six weeks since I bought it than I did in the 20 or so months I owned the original 3DS. The bigger screens and more comfortable to hold form factor are large reasons for that of course, however it’s the software that keeps me spending what little playtime I have these days with it in favour of my consoles or other mobile devices.

Much like its prececessor, the 3DS took a while to hit its stride when it comes to compelling software, particularly if you like Japanese-developed titles. The past few months have seen me purchase Professor Layton and the Miracle MaskPaper Mario Sticker StarHarvest Moon: A New BeginningFire Emblem: AwakeningCrimson ShroudUnchained Blades and Etrian Odyssy IV: Legends of the Titan, all without leaving my house. I could conceivably just stop buying games now and play this group until the end of the year. At least.

The immediate future looks pretty bright as well though, with games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of FateMonster Hunter 3 UltimateLuigi’s Mansion 2: Dark MoonPokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to InfinityLEGO City UndercoverShin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner – Soul Hackers and Animal Crossing: New Leaf all out or due before fall. No other gaming platform has ever had this many games release within roughly a calendar year that I’m interested in enough to consider buying a digital version of that’s tied to a device that could conceivably fail, be dropped or end up soaked in beer at any given moment.

For some reason, Nintendo just doesn’t want its consumers to have their purchases tied to an account like Sony, Microsoft and Apple all do, but insists your digital purchases be tied to the device you first download them to.

For myself, it hasn’t been a hindrance at all as I’ve never had a piece of Nintendo hardware fail on me, but I can see how the policy would deter many people from going all digital with their 3DS or Wii U.

That said, being able to store 50 or so retail titles on a single SDHC card is hugely convenient and practical for me right now. I never know when my daughter will sleep or for how long, nor can I be sure of what I may feel like playing during my sporadic and often brief free time.

Getting back to the hardware, I was immediately impressed with the build quality of the 3DS XL when I unboxed it. It is very solid, just the right size and thickness to be comfortable in my hands and it’s weight is quite well-balanced. The larger screens make playing easier on the eyes during longer play sessions, but at the same time they highlight the relatively weak graphics capabilities of the system and simply aren’t in the same league as the displays of my phone, iPod or PlayStation Vita.

Despite its weaknesses however, the quality of software and convenience of having my library in one place have vaulted the 3DS XL to the top of my gaming platforms of choice. I like my consoles, mobile devices and PlayStation Vita, but I really do love my 3DS XL.



LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes from Traveller’s Tales and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment brings open world gameplay and a fully voice-acted story to the long-running LEGO series for the first time, giving it a much needed injection of freshness.

You can unlock and play as more than 40 DC Comics characters and there are hundreds of collectables to uncover, however the basic formula and engine are starting to show their age, which causes the game to become a bit of a slog and creates some needlessly frustrating gameplay moments.

The plot of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes revolves around The Joker helping Lex Luthor to rig the presidential election after he is bested by Bruce Wayne at the annual “Man of the Year” awards.

The story is told across 15 levels, which stay true to the formula laid out by the original LEGO Star Wars back in 2005. You assume control of Batman, Robin, Superman, along with a few of their allies and traverse levels peppered with light puzzle solving and boss fights using various suits and superpowers, all while destroying tons of objects that yield Studs, the LEGO series’ basic currency.

The gameplay is rarely any sort of challenge and usually comes down to a “smash everything then move on” formula. There are also a few rail shooting segments and levels thrown in to break things up a bit. The story will take you anywhere from six to ten hours to finish, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall completion percentage.

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes literally has over 500 collectables to obtain, including defeatable boss characters like Catwoman and purchasable characters found at gates throughout the city. There are 50 playable characters in all, with 10 more available through DLC and a further 10 slots for custom-made characters. Unfortunately, many of these are generic goons or relatively useless characters like Commissioner Gordon and Vicki Vale.

250 Gold Bricks are the game’s main collectible and obtained through means such as amassing a certain amounts of studs in a level, rescuing citizens in peril, completing vehicle-based challenges or finding each level’s set of ten Mini Kits.

Collecting all 150 Mini Kits will require you to play through each story level at least twice and sometimes the use of a half dozen different characters. Thankfully when revisiting a level in Free Play mode, you can swap to any unlocked character on the fly, though any suit currently equipped by Batman or Robin will be removed.

There are also Gold Bricks scattered throughout Gotham City, and while some are fun to seek out thanks to elaborate platforming puzzles that often require the use of multiple suits or powers, most can be had through simple and repetitive acts like smashing a set number of objects in the environment.

Another thing that took away from the Gold Brick collection process was the ability to circumvent many of the Batman or Robin-specific courses by simply flying to the brick as Superman and swapping to another character to complete the “puzzle”. There are only a few Batman or Robin-specific actions in the game that aren’t replicated in the abilities of other characters.

By the time I reached about 70% completion, I felt as though I was just going through the motions and tedium really set in. This was alleviated somewhat by unlocking red bricks through a series of simplistic mini games. Red Bricks act as cheats and allow you to do things like become invincible, multiply the amount of Studs you pick up and even locate collectables with ease.

The open world LEGO rendition of Gotham City was a big draw for me, but this ambitious addition that you can explore between levels and after the story is completed does have some drawbacks related to an aging game engine and some poor, often sloppy design decisions.

First and foremost is a problem that’s always appeared in the LEGO series. The camera is often at an awkward angle behind your character, making missed jumps and falling off ledges all to easy. This is exacerbated by set pieces you can fall through and the limitation of merely being able to nudge the camera in most situations, instead of being given full control.

Completing a five to ten minute obstacle course in pursuit of a Gold Brick, only to fall off of a skyscraper because a key wall was haphazardly placed or the camera went jerky was an extremely frustrating experience.

The open world section also suffers from pop-in, frame rate drops, tearing and generally looks muddy and lo-fi compared to the more polished story levels. The streets of Gotham City are filled with erratic-behaving NPCs and for some reason the developers chose to have it raining constantly. I can’t help but feel that the game would run better if these last two elements were toned down.

Both in the open world and in the compartmentalized story levels, I also experienced characters—particularly those that can fly—getting stuck in level geometry or an animation quite often, had the game freeze my Xbox 360 a few times and experienced one of the oddest glitches I’ve ever seen.

When the download of completely unrelated Xbox LIVE Arcade games completed during gameplay, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes would pause itself and tell me that new content for the game was available. It’s bizarre that these types of issues can make it through the QA process of a well-established developer like Traveller’s Tales and they really mar an otherwise winning presentation.

I was afraid that adding voice acting would take away from the light hearted and charming presentation the LEGO games are known for, but in fact the opposite is true. The game’s script is witty and well-written, with generally great delivery from both main and ancillary characters. Character interaction, particularly that between Batman, Robin and Superman and scenes that feature The Joker and Lex Luthor are enjoyable highlights.

The rest of the sound design also fares well, with the familiar LEGO game sound effects being backed by a fantastic score that includes pieces from the Batman and Superman film franchises composed by Danny Elfman and John Williams respectively.

The control scheme for LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is relatively simple and should be accessible to most players capable of using an Xbox 360 (or PlayStation 3) controller. Two face buttons, either tapped or held to toggle are primarily used to do everything from a basic attack, to launching grappling hooks and free selecting characters. One button is dedicated to jump and another is mostly used for building LEGO objects. Use of the triggers and right analog stick are essentially optional is most situations during the story.

You can also traverse Gotham City in myriad of water, air and land-based vehicles. The Water and land vehicles utilize standard gas and brake controls with either triggers or face buttons. Controlling flying vehicles and super heroes took me some getting used to and can feel quite clunky at times.

The addition of free-roaming gameplay and a fully-voiced story help to inject new life into the franchise, but the technical drawbacks of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes are hard to ignore and gamers who have played other LEGO games will likely get the feeling of running on a treadmill by the time they’re halfway through.

Issues aside, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is in many ways the best LEGO game yet and lays the groundwork for future iterations, particularly Lego City: Undercover, a title scheduled to be available at the Wii U launch later in 2012.


+ Well-Written and Well-Acted Story
+ Plenty to Do and Unlock
+ Classic LEGO Game Charm



– Moderate to Severe Bugs
– Performance Problems in the Open World
– Often Sloppy Level Design in Open World
– Basic Formula has not Changed Since 2005



The Circle Pad Pro peripheral for the Nintendo 3DS adds a second analog slide pad and two trigger buttons to the system’s core functionality. However, it blocks access to the cartridge and stylus slots, as well as the wireless switch, and vastly decreases the portability of the 3DS.

Installing the Circle Pad Pro is fairly simple. You need to open the battery cover using a coin, insert the included AAA battery, close the cover, secure an included wrist strap and snap your 3DS into the peripheral.

The Circle Pad Pro communicates with the 3DS via the handheld’s IR port. Because it blocks access to the stylus and cartridge slots as well as the wireless switch, any insertion, removal or switching should be done before launching a game to ensure proper calibration. If the analog slide pad of the Circle Pad Pro feels off, you can calibrate it in game in the same manner you would in the 3DS system options.

The Circle Pad Pro increases the total size of the 3DS to 7 by 4 by 2 ½ inches (17.8 by 10.2 by 6.4 cm) from 5 ¼ by 3 by 1 inches (13.4 by 7.6 by 2.5 cm). While this added bulk can make the unit more comfortable to hold for those with larger hands or a condition like arthritis, it takes away from the portability of the handheld.

Aside from the obvious addition of a second analog slide pad, the Circle Pad Pro gives the 3DS two extra trigger buttons that feel snappy and responsive. The system’s R button is duplicated on the peripheral however players are left using the stock 3DS L button, which feels a bit small and sunken in with the peripheral attached.

The Circle Pad Pro is Quite Bulky and Rather Needless

Considering the bulk of the Circle Pad Pro, it seems as though much of the internal space is unused. It would have been nice to see a feature such as rumble added to the unit, though battery life would undoubtedly take a hit.

The biggest drawback of the Circle Pad Pro is a lack of compatible software. At the time of this review, only two titles—Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D and Resident Evil: Revelations—make use of it, with only two more titles—Kid Icarus: Uprising and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance—officially announced to have support in the future.

The value of purchasing a Circle Pad Pro is directly related to one’s interest in these four titles and even then, it is not required to play any of them. In my experience, Resident Evil: Revelations did benefit greatly from the use of the Circle Pad Pro and felt more like a console experience, but the game was perfectly playable without it.

Had more software compatible with the Circle Pad Pro been released or announced at the time of this review, I would recommend it without question. However, it feels like a stop gap solution to a problem that never really existed. Because the peripheral is not standard, it is destined to be underused and games will continue to be designed to be played primarily without it. The Circle Pad Pro is available in North America exclusively at GameStop/EB Games and at Nintendo’s online store, which may also hinder its adoption.


+ Functions as Advertised
+ Bigger Grip is more Comfortable for Large or Arthritic Hands



– Very Little Compatible Software
– Blocks Access to Stylus, Cartridge and Wireless Switch
– Left Trigger can be Awkward to Press
– Takes Away Portability of the 3DS



The latest iteration of the venerable Tetris series finds its home on the Nintendo 3DS in the form of Tetris Axis. This version, developed by Hudson Soft, offers 15 single player modes that include favourites like Marathon and Tower Climber in addition to two AR modes and the all-new Fever mode.

The game brings a fair amount of new content to the table, some of which is good, but the AR modes are downright terrible. Tetris Axis also offers a host of local and online multiplayer options, but it falls short in its presentation and suffers from surprising performance issues.

Designed with portability in mind, Tetris Axis lets you jump into Marathon, Fever and the AR modes straight from the title screen. From the main menu you can select from a number of categories: Featured, Party, AR, Local Play, Download Play and Internet.

The Featured modes include the classic Marathon that allows you to play to 150 lines or try your hand at an endless variation. Computer Battle pits you against 10 computer-controlled opponents from the Bomberman universe in succession. This mode is a great way to practise for online play and learn the effects of the various in-game items, but it’s surprising that there aren’t Nintendo-themed opponents.

Fever mode is a new addition that gives you 60 seconds to score as many points as possible using a narrow Matrix (playfield). Playing Fever mode earn you coins that you can then spend on in-game items when starting a round which can assist you in getting high scores.

Survival mode also employs a narrow Matrix and tasks you with surviving as long as possible while lines periodically appear from the bottom and push their way to the top.

The Party category features three new modes to play. Jigsaw mode asks you to recreate an image using Tetriminos made up of a single block. Fit mode utilizes 3D space and requires you to shoot Tetriminos through holes of the same shape on an approaching plane, similar to Hole in the Wall. In Capture mode, you must cover stars on the Matrix and your score is based on how much time it takes you to collect them all.

You will also find variations on modes introduced in previous Tetris titles under the Party category. Shadow Wide mode tasks you with placing Tetriminos in line with the shadow on the background to complete a picture. In Tower Climber mode, you help a stick man climber reach the top of the Matrix by stacking Tetriminos into stair-like structures. Bombliss Plus mode asks players to clear lines with bomb pieces in them in order to destroy a chunk of blocks.

Stage Racer Plus is a vertically-scrolling mode in which you must fit a single Tetrimino through a “race course”. Master Mode asks you to clear as many lines as you can while Tetriminos fall at their fastest speed from the get-go. Sprint Mode is all about clearing 40 lines in the fastest time possible.

The new modes, returning modes and variations on past ones add up to a good amount of content and mostly hit the mark; however the two new AR modes do not mesh well with the traditionally fast-paced, precision nature of Tetris at all and amount to a poorly executed gimmick.

The AR modes require you to place the “?” AR card that comes with your 3DS system on a flat surface and have room to move around the card. After a brief calibration, a Matrix will appear to pop out of your table and you can begin play.

AR Marathon mode uses a narrow Matrix and over-sized Tetriminos and ends after 50 lines. AR Tower Climber mode has you guiding the climber up a tower, this time in 3D space.

The real problem with the AR modes is that they require you to stand and move around the AR card as you play in order to keep the Matrix in a playable view. It’s next to impossible to keep the 3DS steady while playing, especially while moving around the card. This not only hinders the gameplay experience, but also breaks the 3D effect.

The multiplayer component of Tetris Axis includes five modes playable in Local Play; VS Battle, VS Stage Racer, VS Shadow Wide, VS Capture, and Co-op Tower Climber. Local Play requires each player to have a 3DS and a copy of the game. Download play lets up to eight players share one copy of the game and play Marathon with Everyone, Fever with Everyone, and VS Battle.

Fit Mode Makes Good Use of the 3D EffectInternet play lets you choose between Friend Battle and World Battle. When choosing World Battle, the system will wait for up to eight players to join and toggle their ready status. The system will start the match after 60 seconds and the timer resets every time a new player joins the match. During this time, or once you’ve been eliminated from a match, the game will put you into Practise mode.

The system matches players based on their skill level, similar to Tetris DS. In my experience, finding someone to play a simple 1-on-1 match has been tough outside of Friend Battle and I haven’t found much to enjoy in frantic, item-laden matches with 5-8 random people.

The presentation of Tetris Axis is lacklustre compared to previous entries in the series and eshcews the heavy Nintendo-themed presentation that made Tetris DS so popular. Outside of the AR modes and Fit mode, the 3D effect in Tetris Axis is barely relevant at all. In most modes, it simply pushes HUD elements to the forefront.

Generic animated themes populate the background on both screens while in most single player modes your Mii dances on the bottom screen and reacts to the gameplay somewhat. CPU Batle mode features a Bomberman chacter on the bottom screen and multiplayer modes have the Matrixes of other players.

I’m not sure if it was poor optimization of these background elements on the part of HudsonSoft  or if hardware limitations of the 3DS are to blame, but Tetris Axis suffers from noticeable, at times extreme slowdown when your stack reaches the top of the Matrix, both in single player and multiplayer modes, which can impact the gameplay significantly and is something I haven’t encountered since Tetrisphere on the Nintendo 64.

The core gameplay is as simple as ever and employs elements like the hold queue and ghost piece that have been present in the series for the last decade or so. The only thing that bothers me about the gameplay is that you are forced to use the d-pad to move and hard drop Tetriminos with no option to use the analog slider; which is used as a camera control that allows you to adjust the angle of the Matrix.

While the core gameplay of Tetris Axis is competent, the overall package is a bit of a letdown. The unexplained performance problems, stifled presentation and laughably bad AR modes add up to a game that is eclipsed in almost every way by past entries in the series like Tetris DSTetris Party and even the PSN version of Tetris.


+ Offers A Lot of Content for the Asking Price
+ Most New Modes are Good
+ Up to Eight Plays can Share One Game Card



– Unexplained Performance Issues
– Bland Presentation that Lacks Personality
– AR Modes are Quite Bad and Break the Gameplay

FWD News: Engaged Learning through STEM Games

FWD News: Engaged Learning through STEM Games 150 150 GAMESFWD

Games that challenge students in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM games, are finding a growing place in the curriculum and classrooms of educators across North America. Whether through the efforts of individual teachers or with the support of national education initiatives, creative games are showing kids of all ages that math and science can be exciting.

Such examples include two games developed by Salt Lake City educator Scott Laidlaw. Initially developing on his own, Laidlaw ended up giving up his teaching job to start Imagine Education, a game company dedicated to creating educational games that have given students a new outlook on applying their math knowledge.

Through his first game, entitled Empires, Laidlaw had his students build virtual ancient empires using math. Set in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, the game brings students together to build an economic community that builds on fundamental math skills and sets a foundation for financial literacy.

“By engaging them in a story, you’ve engaged the imagination,” explains Laidlaw. “If you can imagine math in one context, that gives you the power to imagine math in a different context.” Though the game was not for sale, educators who heard of its concept were eager to use it in their own classrooms. The game is set for commercial release in fall 2012.

The second game, Ko’s Journey, was released in the summer of 2010, building on the demand for and enthusiasm toward Empires. This story-based math game is designed for both home and classroom use, as a support curriculum to teach early middle-school math concepts such as multiplication and division to calculating area, understanding graphs to pre-algebra basics.

“It’s a game you actually have to use your mind for,” said Conner Cattoway, a 7th grade student from Ogden, UT. “It’s pretty fun to be able to do these things during math class instead of just getting a worksheet.”

The game tells the story of Ko, an teenage girl who finds herself alone after her village is attacked. Travelling through the wilderness, she faces challenges and tasks solved through middle-school math concepts, such as ratios, graphs and geometry. Ko’s Journey was created to provide a motivating and effective learning environment for 5th to 8th grade students.

“As a teacher I always wanted a curriculum like this,” adds Laidlaw. “It’s engaging because the kids see and become involved in a story.”

And data shows that students benefit from the format as well. Middle schoolers who played the game scored on average 50 percent higher on standardized tests. Educators who would like to introduce the game in their classroom can learn more here.

Also making the most of a compelling narrative is Geckoman!, a game developed by researchers at the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

Designed with the goal of teaching middle-school students about nanoscience and technology, the game tells the story of Harold Biggums. He finds himself transformed into a tiny superhero while working on a science fair project with his partner Nikki, and suddenly in the middle of an alien plot to take over the world. Together they must stop the aliens by defying gravity, walking on water and charging across electric fields.

Geckoman! is both engaging and challenging, and along the way, students pick up a lot of nanoscience fundamentals,” said Ahmed Busnaina, director of the Center and professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern.

“We had excellent teachers working with us to develop four lesson plans that guide student learning,” added Jacqueline Isaacs, associate director of the CHN. “The results of student play tests indicate that students are learning new concepts.”

Video games that explore the Moon are aiming to give students the chance to conduct their own scientific experiments and encouraging them to pursue careers in the field of science. Created by the Center for Education Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University, WV, MoonWorld makes players work independently or in groups to explore and conduct their own research as astronauts.

“The idea of this is not to have students learn so much about the moon, but to learn how to observe, to learn how to make deductions from their observations, to learn to work in teams. … [It] has strong educational goals and methodology to help the students achieve them,” said Chuck Wood, lunar scientist and director of the Center.

Funded by NASA, the game is based in Second Life and features virtual scenery that includes different types of craters as well as a lava flow and a volcanic dome. There, players get to explore the lunar surface, closely observing the terrain, collecting samples, and making measurements to piece together the history of one part of the Moon, known as the Timocharis region. MoonWorld has been available online for over a year, but a more recent version targets young children.

“The goal of this is to make it so realistic and the astronauts outfits and the rovers so realistic that the kids completely get engaged in it and then one of the benefits of this is because it is so realistic you can go outside with binoculars or a telescope in the evening and actually see that same crater on the moon that you were driving a rover around on the simulation,” said Wood.

The Center has developed other games including Selene, named after the Greek Goddess of the Moon. It uses familiar experiences, analogies and metaphors to help children ages 9 and up understand challenging science concepts.

“Selene starts out as a cinematic view of how the solar system formed and that is the concept of accretion and then how the early Earth formed and then how the giant impact happened that created the particles that created the proto moon,” said Debbie Denise Reese, senior researcher for the Center.

The decisions students make while playing MoonWorld and Selene are recorded and stored in a database, giving the researchers the ability to track learning patterns and develop profiles of what students know as well as what they are prepared to learn.

“I’m learning a lot about the space, and about the moon, and the density, and the heat and the radiation of the moon and it is fun to play and you do learn a lot about it so. You get to fling asteroids to make your own moon and that is pretty fun,” said Carla Nelson, a 7th grade student in Wheeling, who tested the game.



Designed for use with racing games, the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel from Microsoft offers a lightweight, motion-controlled alternative to a traditional controller or bulky steering wheel setup.

The Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel provides surprisingly precise and accurate control, a comfortable grip and rumble feedback; however it does have its share of problems that limit practical functionality, most notably a lack of shoulder buttons.

At roughly 7 and a half inches (19 cm) in diameter, the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel looks a bit small, however it feels quite natural to hold, even during longer play sessions. The peripheral houses two oversized analog triggers that serve as the accelerator and brake. The triggers are best operated with your index fingers and are extremely responsive.

On the left side of the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel you will find a d-pad and on the right are four face buttons that are about half the size of those on a standard Xbox 360 controller. Two lighted rings are on the top of the wheel and serve to indicate functions like gas, brake and shifting.

In the centre of the wheel you will find your start and back buttons, as well as the Xbox 360 guide button and the “ring of light”. Notably absent are the LB and RB shoulder buttons, which limits the functions available in certain games and will result in some not being able to be played with the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel at all.

The Motion Control and Triggers are Responsive and AccurateFor example, in Forza Motorsport 4 you cannot access a number of ancillary menus like those in the decal editor and profile settings. In Daytona USA you can’t cycle through leaderboards and in the case of Blur you are unable to select weapons. In my opinion, the omission of shoulder buttons is a glaring oversight that detracts from the overall appeal of the peripheral.

In my testing the sensitivity and accuracy of the motion-controlled steering has been surprisingly great, particularly in Forza Motorsport 4, in which I’ve completed over a dozen career mode races without ever using a standard controller. Of course, some games will feel better than others and newer titles are more likely to be optimized for the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel.

The peripheral is powered by two AA batteries and while having a cord attached to the wheel would be awkward for some players, having an internal rechargeable battery would be nice.

Rumble feedback is technically present in the wheel, but its effect is quite weak even compared to a standard controller and is implemented sparingly. While too much rumble could potentially affect the gyroscope, it would be nice to have more feedback when hitting an opponent or gliding over speed ridges on a tight corner.

If purchased as part of $100 a bundle that includes Forza Motorsport 4 the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel represents a good value, however it’s a bit overpriced on its own, particularly here in Canada where a $10 premium is attached to the cost.

The Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel won’t replace a dedicated racing wheel setup, but it creates a much more immersive and oftentimes more accurate experience than the Xbox 360 standard controller that will undoubtedly improve as developers include sensitivity and calibration options for the peripheral in new racing games.


+ Accurate and Responsive Motion Control and Triggers
+ Comfortable to Hold
+ Light and Rumble Feedback


– Lack of Shoulder Buttons Limits Functionality
– Rumble Feedback is Quite Weak
– Slightly Overpriced



The Nyko Zoom for Kinect peripheral promises to reduce the required play space of Kinect for Xbox for 360 titles, allowing those with smaller or narrow living rooms to play most games as intended by developers. Though some rearrangement and recalibration will be needed by most, the peripheral does deliver on its promise, maybe even a little too well.

Installing the Nyko Zoom for Kinect is an extremely simple process. After making sure your Kinect sensor is free of dust and hairs, you simply line up the Nyko Zoom for Kinect with the recessed “eyes” of the sensor and slide it into place. There are no physical modifications, tools or external power source required.

The Nyko Zoom for Kinect peripheral does not only reduce the space required to use the Kinect sensor, it effectively limits the space to about six feet (two metres) in single player mode and to roughly eight feet (2.4 metres) in two player mode.

I had to rearrange my Kinect for Xbox 360 setup a bit and go through the sensor’s calibration to get it to work properly. It feels a bit weird playing closer to the television, in some cases as close as four feet (1.2 metres), but the peripheral does indeed work and in most cases has improved my Kinect experience.

It’s not perfect however and I’ve had to remove the Nyko Zoom for Kinect to make certain games like Rise of Nightmares feel right, but conversely I was able to play The Gunstringer seated with the peripheral on; something that didn’t work very well at all without it.

I also tested the peripheral with Xbox LIVE Arcade titles like Hole in the Wall, Leedmees, Fruit Ninja Kinect and Burnout Crash and had mostly positive results while standing in the five to six foot (1.5 to 1.8 metre) range.

If there is ever another iteration of the Nyko Zoom for Kinect, I’d love to see an option to fine tune the glass lenses like you would a pair of binoculars and tailor the sensor’s range to your exact play space, which in my case is about 7.5 feet (2.3 metres). Nyko did a good job making the peripheral integrate with the look of the sensor, but it does add a fair amount of bulk and is about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimetres) thick.

Everyone’s play space is different, so your mileage may vary, but I feel that the Nyko Zoom for Kinect is a worthy, if not slightly overpriced investment for those with small or narrow rooms. Being able to effectively play more Kinect for Xbox 360 titles in a small space far outweighs the minor inconvenience of having to remove it for certain games or rearranging my setup.


+ Works as Advertised
+ Improves Kinect for Xbox 360 Experience in Small Spaces
+ Easy to Install


– Effectively Limits Play Space
– No Ability to Fine Tune the Peripheral



Based on a popular TV game show, Hole in the Wall requires players to line up their on-screen silhouette with various shapes cut out of an approaching wall. This downloadable Kinect for Xbox 360 title is often frustrating because of sketchy controls, input lag and obtuse use of angles and 3D space.

There are ten “shows” that make up Hole in the Wall, each with four rounds of eight holes. If you take too long and fail a hole you are given a strike. If you get three strikes in any given round you take a dip in the pool and the show ends, requiring you to restart the show from round one.

You need to complete all four rounds a show in order to unlock the next one. There is no option to continue from the round you failed and the game doesn’t seem to mix up the order of the holes, so replaying a show can become quite tedious if you fail a couple times, especially during the last round.

This round is played with the studio lights off and you only see a brief flash of light on the hole, which can make it very difficult to line up your silhouette and often leads to frustration.

Hole in the Wall has one simple gameplay mechanic of lining up your silhouette with the approaching hole while standing in the play area and holding the pose for a few seconds until a gauge fills up. You are scored based on how quickly you can complete the pose and your silhouette will turn yellow and green as you get into the correct position.

There is an oddity in the gameplay mechanic that seems almost broken. When the hole first appears it is often too small to fit your silhouette in. I’m only 5’6″, I can only imagine it’s worse with taller people. As the hole approaches and gets larger, it becomes difficult to fill enough of the hole to score while standing in the play area. It’s as though there is a very brief window to hit the “sweet spot” and succeed.

Another frustrating detail of the gameplay relates to 3D space. As you proceed, so holes will require you to lean in and out of the play area, twist your torso or fold your arms to fit. This in itself is not so much an issue as the fact that the game doesn’t provide you with any indication of how deep body parts need to be on the approaching flat plane, meaning players often have to resort to trial and error.

The fact that it requires players to conform to a 3D shape (think gliding on figure skates) at all goes against the very nature of the real world game in which players must fit through an essentially flat cutout at a specific moment.

In addition to these problems, there is a noticeable input lag in the controls and some sketchy silhouette behaviour, particularly when kneeling or squatting and an odd flickering that occurs as the wall becomes close. Having a second player join is also a chore.

Hole in the Wall has very strict space limitations, requiring you to be eight to ten feet from your Kinect sensor and able to move across a horizontal plane of about eight feet. It requires full body movement including kneeling, the ability to lift your legs, twist your torso or arch your back into some really awkward positions, as well as a keen sense of balance.

Because you often have to twist your neck to see the screen while holding a pose, there is a significant risk of straining and cramping and the potential for serious injury, particularly when taking part in multiplayer modes.

I’d advise players to stretch thoroughly, pay attention to your body and to not overwork yourself for the sake of a high score.

The Show mode of Hole in the Wall can be played with one, two or four players, either cooperatively or competitively. When playing alone, the game is in solo mode and you are simply competing against the wall. When playing against another team, the best score at the end of the show wins. You can also play an endless Quick Survival mode to see how long you can last before getting three strikes.

Hole in the Wall has a very basic, spartan presentation including a sluggish, muddy looking main menu. For the most part, players only see an off-white wall with a hole cut out of it and the conveyor belt that moves it towards you, as well as a HUD that displays your score and the gauge that fills as you hold a pose.

There are also a few scenes with your Xbox LIVE Avatar in the dark studio environment the TV game show takes place in. The only real positive thing about the presentation is that you can save photos taken while you play Show mode.

The sound is forgettable at best. Generic “intense” game show music plays in the background and there is an announcer that provides simple comments on your performance.

If you get more than a couple hours of enjoyment out of Hole in the Wall, you’ve done better than me. After a few hours I was ready to delete the game from my hard drive. I spent far more time being frustrated with the gameplay mechanics and design choices than I did actually having fun and would have difficulty recommending this game to anyone, even a fan of the TV show.


+ Players can Save Pictures


– Sketchy Controls, Input Lag
– Oddly Small Holes are Hard to Fit Your Body Into
– Use of 3D Space is Awkward
– “Pose and Hold” Gameplay is Vastly Different than the Real World Game