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A host of all-new modes and features are packed into the first Tetris game to appear on Wii, including support for the Wii Balance Board.  Add to that a budget price, core gameplay refinements, smooth online play and leaderboards and Tetris Party becomes one of the best games to ever be released in the series.

Tetris has seen countless releases and iterations spread amongst just about every platform to exist since its inception in 1985. Hudson Soft. (Bomberman) has taken the best gameplay elements from all of those games and omitted the much maligned “infinite spin” with permission from The Tetris Company. What is left is one of the tightest feeling Tetris games to date.

The default control setup in Tetris Party see a player holding their Wii Remote sideways. The 1 and 2 buttons are used to rotate tetriminoes, the d-pad controls movement and drop speed and the A button toggles the hold queue. A Classic Controller can also be used, providing players with a larger d-pad and shifting the hold queue to the more convenient trigger buttons.

What helps Tetris Party stand out from other games in the series is its impressive list of modes and features. I’ll spend most of my review breaking these down, starting with the single player options.

Here we find the classic Marathon Mode leading the way. Players can choose to play either to 150 lines cleared or test their stamina in endless mode as the tetriminoes fall faster and faster every level.

Next up is CPU Battle Mode. This is a 1-on-1 battle between you and a computer controlled opponent. There are 15 difficulty levels to challenge here. Once you reach level 9 or so, you’ll be playing against AI that is on par with an average player you’d meet online. If you manage to beat level 15, you’re probably ready to take on some of the elite Japanese players that dominate the online leaderboards.

Field Climber is a new and innovative mode in which you are tasked with helping a small man climb the play field, known in Tetris as the matrix. The small man can climb one square in height at a time and will be crushed if more than one square lands on him after clearing a line. There are flags spread around the matrix on the way to the goal line that you must guide the man to as well. This 10 stage mode is scored based on your clear time and gets quite tricky around the halfway mark.

Shadow Mode asks you to cover shapes with tetriminoes to paint a picture. In this mode you are scored based on how much of the picture you are able to fill before a set timer expires. Any squares that land outside of the shadow are counted against your complete percentage. There are 30 stages to complete here. Shadow Mode makes use of new 1, 2 & 3 square tetriminoes to help players fill in pictures with minimal penalization.

Finally we have Stage Racer. In this mode players guide a single tetrimino through a scrolling stage littered with obstacles. Players will have to move and rotate through five beginner and five advanced courses, each 400 lines in length while attempting to avoid getting stuck on a wall.

Tetris Party allows local multi-player for up to 4 people. You can challenge your friends to competitive versions of Battle, Field Climber and Stage Racer Modes. Hot Lines Mode makes a return to the series, tasking players to clear certain lines of the matrix before their competition does. I was surprised that there was no single player version of Hot Lines.

For the first time ever, two players can play Tetris co-operatively. Co-op mode sees players working together to clear lines in a double-wide matrix in a new Marathon Mode. One player is given ”J”,”L” and “O” tetriminoes, while the other uses the “S”, “T” and “Z” tetriminoes. Both players get “I” pieces from time to time. Because of the distribution of the various shaped tetriminoes and the fact that both players share one hold queue, good communication and teamwork must be in place to clear 150 lines or try for a high score in endless mode.

Duel Spaces is another new and unique mode found in Tetris Party. Players take turns placing tetriminoes in an effort to block off the most space. Whoever has the most spaces under their control when the game ends wins the match. This mode is simple, fun and addictive, similar to playing something like Othello.

Beginner’s Tetris doubles the size of the tetriminoes and uses the new 2 & 3 square ones found in Shadow Mode as well, making it easier for newcomers to clear lines. Marathon is the only play mode found in Beginner’s Tetris, however you can still toggle endless mode on or off and there is also an option to include the regular 4 square tetriminoes to provide a nice step into the difficulty of normal Tetris.

Next up we have the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection online mode. Here is where you can test your skill against people in your Wii friends list, or random players from all over the world. Once you enter World Battle mode, you will either end up playing a one-on-one battle if you choose to leave items turned off or a free-for-all for up to six players with battle items.

Battle items create effects like smoke screens, speeding up your opponent’s tetriminoes and wiping out all of the lines of your matrix. Though they add a fun and hectic dynamic, I did have one issue with battle items. When playing with a Classic Controller it was difficult to pick up my Wii Remote and shake it to dissolve a smoke screen or shoot blocks at an opponent’s screen without making several mistakes.

Online rankings are handled in the same way they were in Tetris DS. Everyone starts out with a score of 5000 and points are gained or lost based on wins and losses. In a typical two-player battle I received 25 points for every victory and 22 points were removed from my total when I lost. Players are paired during matchmaking based on their skill score.

A nice touch when playing online is that players are sent into a practise mode while waiting for other players to arrive. It’s a great way to warm up and pass the 15-90 seconds it generally takes to find a match.

I should note that though I was playing primarily on the day Tetris Party was released, the online population seemed sparse. In over 50 online matches I have yet to play one with a full six players. Finding a one-on-one match quickly was never an issue though and most players are willing to play at least 2-3 matches with you in a session.The only thing I found missing was the ability to add someone as a friend. Everything is entirely anonymous, to the point of your opponent being called “P2” instead of their chosen nickname.

Tetris Party includes a robust stat tracking system for both your offline records and worldwide online leaderboards. High scores are kept for every single and local multi-player mode and variation. Players can also view a skill graph that shows how you rate in categories like judgement and reflexes.

Online records appear not only World Battle but for many of the offline modes as well, including Shadow, Stage Racer and Co-op modes. Other records like consecutive or back-to-back Tetrises are also kept.  Accessing and updating the leaderboards is a quick and easy process.

The game also has a built in achievement system that has over 100 goals to complete across all of the modes and variations in Tetris Party. It’s a nice touch, but the game never tells you when you’ve completed a goal, nor does it hint at what any of them are.

Online tournaments promise to play a role in the future of Tetris Party. The first tournament is scheduled to start on December 1, 2008. These events will see players from all over the world competing for real prizes like Wii Points.

Last, but not least we find Balance Board Tetris. This unique mode requires you to lean and squat in order to control the falling tetriminoes. The mode is played using the larger sized tetriminoes found in Beginner’s Tetris. Control is simplified quite a bit here; there is no hold queue, hard drop or counter-clockwise rotation available.
Getting through Marathon mode on the Balance Board proved to be quite a workout for me. By the end of my 15 minute session I had worked up a sweat and a decent heart rate. There is also a 3 minute Ultra mode to play for those looking for a quick fix. Rounding out the variations is Computer Battle, which is essentially the same as the standard controlled version.

Tetris Party uses a simplified, clean look for its visual presentation. The blocks and tetriminoes are crisp, with no added effects or distractions like Tetris Splash or Tetris Evolution. Even the moving backgrounds are subdued, allowing a player to focus on the matrix. Mii integration is present as well, a welcome addition after loosing the heavily Nintendo-styled look and feel of Tetris DS.

The music is of the generic, elevator ride nature. Nothing really stands out, but nothing is grating either even though there are only 7 tracks to choose from during gameplay. Old-school fans need not fear, as the classic “Tetris tune” is among those available.

With the inclusion of 18 different modes, strong online play, leaderboards and even Balance Board support, one could argue that this is the best Tetris ever released. It’s missing some of the flair and online features of Tetris DS, but at a price of $12 Tetris Party is an unbelievable value. Any fan of the series, especially those with friends to play with should consider this title a must-have.


+ Tons of modes, many of which are new
+ Robust stat tracking
+ Solid online play with leaderboards
+ No infinite spin


– Achievement system doesn’t tell you when you’ve completed a goal



In 2005, Namco Bandai brought Mario Superstar Baseball to the GameCube. Now a full three years later a sequel is available on Wii, though not much has changed at all since the last time the all-star plumber and his team took the field.

The bulk of the content in Mario Super Sluggers is found in its single-player Challenge Mode. This four to five hour adventure sees Mario traveling across the worlds of Baseball Kingdom recruiting players for his team in order to challenge Bowser Jr., who has invaded the peaceful kingdom built by Princess Peach.

Mario starts out by recruiting a few Nokis and Piantas, cute folks that inhabit Baseball Kingdom. These generic filler characters will help players through the first couple of challenges, but are soon replaced by familiar faces like Luigi and Baby Mario.

Baseball Island is broken down into five worlds in which to recruit players, one for each team captain in the game. Players will traverse Mario Stadium, Peach Ice Castle, Yoshi Park, Wario City and DK Jungle.

As you adventure through the worlds, you will have to solve light puzzles to either find or recruit some players. Each of the five captains has a special ability that they can use to get past certain obstacles. For example, DK can climb vines to get to otherwise inaccessible places and Wario can open treasure chests found along the way.

When attempting to recruit a player to your team, you will be faced with a challenge. The challenges vary somewhat, but boil down to a few key things. Players will be tasked to “Get a hit to score” or “Strikeout a batter”. The challenges rarely last more than 30-45 seconds and are quite easy using the game’s default Wii Remote control method.

Later in the adventure challenges involve playing a “full” three or five inning game, but for the most part they are all very simple. In order to complete the game and recruit all 71 players to my roster I only had to play three “full” games, two of which were against the same team. Upon completion of Challenge Mode, I found there was very little else to do with Mario Super Sluggers as a single player experience.

Completing Challenge Mode does however unlock a few extra stadiums and alternate night time stadiums for use in Exhibition Mode. This mode allows you to play multiplayer games using customizable parameters like game length and item use. There is also a series of minigames, after all this is a Wii title. The nine games, while baseball themed, feel very much like rejects from a Mario Party game and frankly aren’t very fun at all.

The core baseball gameplay varies quite a bit depending on which control method you choose.  The default Wii Remote only method is, in a word, simplistic. Using this method players have little control over fielding or base running. Players will only need to focus on the timing of their pitching and batting and have access to a couple of special fielding moves.

The default control method would be great for young children or those who get overwhelmed by standard sports game controls. A bit of a letdown though are the actual motions Mario Super Sluggers asks you to make. Instead of pitching overhand like a real fireballer, you are asked to simply make a down swing motion with your arm. Batting only requires a simple side to side motion. For me this led to a lack of immersion and I just ended up playing on the couch using slight wrist motions instead of really getting into it like I was hoping to.

For those looking for a more traditional or advanced baseball game experience, there are several control options available. By simply plugging in a nunchuck or Classic Controller, players will be able to add curve to their pitches with much more reliability than twisting the Wii Remote.

Using a controller attachment will also give players full control of their fielders and allow much more advanced base running techniques. There is also an option to play with the Wii Remote sideways like an old NES controller, perfect for 30-40 something parents that used to play games like Bases Loaded or Bad News Baseball.

The game’s presentation is mediocre at best. While the graphics are bright an colourful, many of the character models look like they were ripped directly from the first Mario Baseball game or a Mario Party iteration. Some of the stadiums look decent but are lacking any real detail and the crowds are downright ugly. The game does however run in 480p & 16:9 for those with HDTV sets.

Aside from a few recognizable themes from the Mario universe, the original music in Mario Super Sluggers is forgettable if not grating. Hearing the theme from Luigi’s Mansion was about the only highlight for me as far as audio goes.

Mario Super Sluggers can certainly be a fun experience. As with the other Mario sports titles the gameplay is fast and accessible, littered with power up items and over the top action and charming. The real problem with the title is a lack of content. There are no season or tournament modes to speak of, so beyond the Challenge Mode there is very little to do at all, especially for traditional sports game fans.

While Mario Super Sluggers is almost ideal for those in a family gaming atmosphere or someone looking for a game for small children, I have a difficult time recommending it to anyone looking for any sort of depth. Those players would be better off trying games in the MLB Power Pros or MLB: The Show series.


+ Accessible play for just about anyone
+ Family friendly


– Sorely lacking content
– No online play
– Motion controls are overly simplistic



The latest title in Big Fish Games’ Mystery Case Files seek-and-solve series, MillionHeir for the Nintendo DS takes you on an absurd yet comical adventure.  Being the first game I played in the series I thought I was going to find an involved mystery-solving game, something like Phoenix Wright. Instead, I found a graphically appealing game with very little substance.

The plot takes you through the mysterious disappearance of Phil T. Rich, an eccentric millionaire. You are responsible for solving the case and to uncover the rightful heir to his fortune. Through a series of clue-hunting and puzzle-solving sequences you must determine who may have a motive to eliminate Phil, from a group of twelve of his acquaintances.

The game initially offers two difficulty levels in its single player story mode. The Rookie level is an untimed mode with hints while the Detective level is timed and offers fewer hints. One more level of difficulty is left to be unlocked after completing the game in Detective mode. MillionHeir also includes a multiplayer option, where you can play Scavenger Hunt and Hot Seat Multiplayer, though I have not been able to test these modes out.

Visually speaking, the game is of astonishing quality even though there are almost no animated graphics. Each scene is a bright and detailed painting. These graphically intricate locations hide hundreds of items in obvious and not so obvious ways.

The controls are simple, with almost everything being done with the DS touch-screen. To scroll around a given location you simply move the image by dragging it with the stylus. You can also use the face buttons or the D-pad to move in one of four directions. To pick up a found item, tap on it with the stylus. Some clues require more than simply being picked up and will have you interact with them by drawing on them while pressing one of the shoulder buttons. The controls are very basic and should make it easy for anyone to pick up the game and play.

Besides the object-seeking aspect of the game there is also a variety of puzzles to solve. These include regular jigsaw puzzles, scrambled images, riddles to be solved by triggering the proper sequence of events and “find the differences” games.

Later on, a DNA analysis mini-game is introduced to determine the rightful heir our millionaire’s fortune. Resembling the mechanics of the popular online game Zuma, you must pop balls of varying colours before they reach the top of the screen. You can do so only when a matching coloured bubble roams over them. This mini-game raises its difficulty and speed after each analysis.

These little puzzles add some much needed variety to the game considering that the main aspect of the game can get quite boring and repetitive after a while. In some cases, the item-seeking itself became literally repetitive. In having to search rooms more than once, some of the items to find were repeated and hidden in the same spots.

The writing in MillionHeir is clever and humorous and is largely based on silly puns. Even the character’s names are plays on words, notably Phil T. Rich, but others like Justine Time, a clock maker and Jim Ferno, a firefighter. The funny nature of the writing helps to create a light-hearted experience.

The game audio is also well designed and relates well to the game play. Mysterious orchestral themes are generally heard during game play; while background sounds specific to each scene help create a rich atmosphere.

Where the game left me most disappointed was its lack of coherence. Mainly, I felt that the game made little sense when it came to the clues to be found and the actual mystery I believed I was trying to solve. For example, you could be asked to find such random items as a fountain pen, a star, a helmet, a stuffed teddy-bear or a golf club. However, once these so-called clues have been located there is no further use for them. In essence, this search is pointless other than to advance the game. At no point are the clues actually used to solve the crime. In the end, I unraveled the mystery though I had very little to do with this outcome.

It is also important to note that while you are able to save during item-seeking chapters, the last few chapters of the game are purely story based and don’t allow you to pause and save. This became a problem for me, as it forced me to keep playing until the end credits rolled by. This was pretty annoying since I had to stop playing and was forced to leave my DS running to finish up later.

While Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir is an amusing and cutesy casual game it did leave much to be desired in terms of depth. It did compensate for this with an attractive visual and audio presentation but the repetitive level design did make the game feel like a chore. If you are already a fan of the game series or are looking for a simple time-killer this 4 to 6 hour game may be right for you. But if you are looking for an immersive crime-solving experience, you will probably want to look elsewhere.


+ Easy to pick up and play
+ Attractive 2D art design
+ Nice audio


– Redundant and shallow gameplay
– Not much of a mystery-solving game



Recently presented at the 2008 Games for Health conference in Baltimore, MindHabits is a game with endless possibilities to help individuals improve their self-esteem and performance. Its purpose is simple: manipulating your perception, training your mind to be aware of positive social responses while ignoring negative ones.

MindHabits was developed by Dr. Mark Baldwin, a psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal. Since 2004, Dr. Baldwin and his team have been working on developing tools that can help people have a better self-esteem. Initially known under the project name “EyeSpy” the focus of the title was to improve abilities by rejecting negative opinions.

“Our studies have shown that people with low self-esteem have an attentional bias for rejection and people with high self-esteem do not. The purpose of the EyeSpy project is to help change people’s attentional biase for rejection, more specifically to teach people with low-self-esteem to ignore rejection information,” explains the project’s early research page.

It is based on three concepts: inhibition, activation and association. Inhibition describes the process by which you stop paying attention to negative responses in your environment and begin to pay attention to positive cues instead. Activation refers to triggering a positive frame of mind. By bringing warm and positive thoughts to mind, you can shape your outlook to seek the positives in yourself and others.

Finally, association creates an optimistic self awareness by associating thoughts of you with positive concepts. This works to retrain the mind, especially if low self-esteem leads you to think of yourself in a poor light. Together, these concepts contribute to improved overall success, thanks to a brighter outlook. The game breaks down and demonstrates in the simplest of ways the power of positive thinking.

MindHabits as a game breaks down into four sections. The first and main mode, ‘Matrix’ improves inhibition, by requiring players to spot smiling faces among a board of frowning or disinterested faces. This mode was the one used in research testing. Secondly, ‘Who Are You’ improves your personal perception by having you pick words corresponding to your profile as quickly as possible. Every time you click correctly, a smiling face briefly appears, improving your self image through positive association.

‘Words’ works by activating positive feelings. The game, a basic word-search game has you finding positive terms like loved, friends, caring, cherish or wanted, which stimulate positive thoughts. In later levels you will also find your name hidden on the board, which also works on creating positive association. Finally, ‘Grow Your Chi’ continues to work on your inhibition, showing faces in a series of clouds. Again, players must spot the smiling ones to gain points and in later levels associate terms related to them, to improve self perception.

First tested last year with telemarketers before a shift, MindHabits showed a 17 per cent reduction in levels of stress-related hormone cortisol in participants. Dr. Baldwin hypothesized that similar results could be seen if applied to athletes, specifically in golf – a sport he practiced himself.

Further research at a Montreal-area golf course evaluated with 26 players, half who played the game on a portable device and the others a placebo. Results showed those who tried the game for only five minutes had a better performance. The tested golfers were better able to ignore mistakes, to move on to the next stroke and in turn stay focused and achieve better overall results.

“Total scores from those who had played the find-the-smile game were on average 5.24 strokes better than those in the control condition,” said Dr. Baldwin to “These findings, while preliminary, are exciting in that they show the potential for significant performance effects as a result of attentional training.”

“Many kinds of performance – whether intellectual, creative or athletic – can be undermined by distracting thoughts about potential social evaluation and criticism,” added Baldwin. “Among golfers, for example, it is understood that when you hit a bad shot, you have to ‘shrug it off’ and shift your focus to the next shot. You can’t get caught up in self-criticism and in worries about what other people might think.”

But the effects are not subliminal, emphasizes Baldwin. “That’s a term I don’t use, because in psychology it means you’re unable to control what’s going on. We use the word ‘automatic.’ It’s like learning a golf swing in terms of physically learning a habit so that it happens automatically,” he said to the Montreal Gazette.

“In this case, it’s a psychological habit, so you’re practising disengaging from thoughts of social threat, rejection, criticism and so on. Those things can go on and sometimes are very conscious, but often they happen when you’re not even aware. If you can develop a habit were you can disengage from them, that can be helpful.”

While preliminary results are very promising, the team plans on continuing research this summer with more experienced players. But the effectiveness of the game is good news for more than just golfers.

“The interesting thing when you play this game and practise the mental habit is that it has nothing to do with golf,” he said. “It’s the general orientation. It’s the issue of self-criticism, social criticism, rejection, judgment, all those things that are core concerns for everybody. Even if you’re not conscious of it, it’s still going on in the back of your mind. So by addressing those things, that can certainly carry over to virtually any domain you might think of.”

MindHabits is available for PC as a 60-minute trial version and the full version costs $19.99 USD. No Macintosh or Linux versions are yet available.

Having tried the game one two occasions, for approximately 30 minutes each time, I feel MindHabits meets expectations. After playing all modes for at least five minutes, I felt relaxed and focused. I felt my mood immediately brighten after trying Matrix, and as I tried to focus on the smiling faces, I saw myself break into a smile as well. I also felt my outlook shift after trying Word, as the positive words effectively influenced my perception. As someone who often struggles with dark or depressive thoughts, I would not hesitate playing the game daily.



You probably wouldn’t know just by looking at me, but I was born with Cerebral Palsy. I had a stroke at birth and ended up with mild spastic hemiparesis. Basically, the left side of my body is weaker than the right and I’m prone to muscle spasms.

My left foot is essentially paralyzed and my left hand’s dexterity is about 50% of that of my right hand. I have trouble with a few minor things as well, like being unable to wink my left eye on its own. I never paid much attention to my condition when I was growing up and lived a relatively normal and active life. I was always a bit smaller and slower than my peers, but it never really bothered me at all and I always considered myself lucky to be able to walk and talk.

I’m 31 now, when I was about 26 I started getting increasing amounts of pain and stiffness in my joints, neck, back, hips and muscles on both sides of my body; most likely from walking around with a limp all those years. It’s not rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune disease; I’ve been tested for all that stuff a few times. Unfortunately, because I’m an otherwise healthy guy, doctors generally don’t have any answers or solutions for me that don’t involve drugs with nasty side effects.

A few winters ago, I was waking up in such pain and stiffness that I started missing work a lot. Eventually I had to quit working all together. I got very depressed at that time. There were weeks that I wouldn’t leave the house and some days I’d mope around in my housecoat all day. I even started having panic attacks because no one could tell me what was wrong with me.

I needed to find a way to pass the long days while my loving and supporting partner Nathalie was at work. It was at this time that I re-discovered my lapsed love of video games. I’ve been gaming off and on since the early 1980s with an Atari 2600 and arcade machines and have had to adapt my play style to many controllers since then.

I pretty much gave up on video games around the time that the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation came out. Trying to use an analog stick with my left hand was very, very frustrating and I just plain sucked at games like Super Mario 64. For most of that generation I was the guy that just watched friends play, only to die or fail quickly if I did take a turn. After a while, I discovered I could play Goldeneye: 007 essentially “left-handed”, using my good hand on the analog stick and using the d-pad with my left hand to strafe.

Once I discovered that I had new hope. I eventually trained my left hand to do more complex tasks like using an analog stick and shoulder buttons. I still have trouble with games that use both shoulder buttons on the left side of a controller, especially on the Wii Nunchuck Controller, but I’ve have managed to adapt to most modern control schemes pretty well. It hurts sometimes, but it’s totally worth it and I’ve actually gained day-to-day mobility because of it.

As I started playing more and more games after I quit working I found myself becoming more analytical of the game playing experience. I started writing user reviews at one of the larger game sites and they were received quite well. Once I saw how my reviews were being received, I decided that I was wasting my writing talent generating traffic for someone else and started thinking about getting my own site off the ground.

I was also frequenting message boards and forums around that time. Sometimes I’d mention that I found a game was difficult because of my disability and I started getting responses and private messages from other gamers living with disabilities saying how they felt like they were the only ones, etc. At this point I knew what I wanted to do; start a site devoted to the issues facing this unique and growing section of the gaming community.

The idea was born as The Able Gamer (not authorized by, associated with or sponsored by AbleGamers Foundation, Inc. or its website in early 2008. Due to a naming conflict with another site & community essentially doing the same thing, I decided to change my site’s name to Game Forward. To know more about the philosophy and mission of Game Forward please read this article.

I’ve learned quite a bit since then, have met some outstanding people and love video games more than I ever have before. I plan to work as a writer and advocate for game accessibility for many more years to come.

I’m the editor-in-chief, administrator, a writer and a few other things around here. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer writer with Game Forward, want to discuss having your software or organization featured, or have questions related to the subject matter we cover.

Access Controller Review

Access Controller Review 150 150 GAMESFWD

Peripheral maker eDimensional and modification expert Benjamin J Heckendorn (BenHeck) have teamed up to bring the Access Controller to mass-market. This modular, one-handed video game controller is compatible with PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 consoles as well as Windows-based PCs.

The first thing I noticed about the Access Controller is its unique form factor. The controller rests comfortably on a flat surface or on the user’s knee or lap area, providing a wide range of positioning options.

The unit is lightweight and just the right size for my 8 inch finger span. I was able to reach all six module areas of the controller without straining or adjusting the position of my hand. The built-in palm/wrist rest not only aided comfort, but helped me to keep my hand in the right position without slipping.

My only real complaint with the casing of the Access Controller is that the designers decided on a glossy finish for it, which meant that it was covered in visible fingerprints after only a few minutes of use. Another annoyance with the case is the battery compartment. The unit is powered by 3 AA batteries, but they are loose in the compartment and can be a pain to line up correctly. This could be an issue for someone suffering from tremors or spasms.

The Access Controller is wireless and functions using standard 2.4 GHz radio signals. A receiver is included and designed to plug directly into a PlayStation 2 console. A PS2 to USB adapter is included so that the controller functions on a PlayStation 3 console and is recognized by Windows as a standard PC game controller.

PlayStation 3 functionality was quite good in my tests and relatively lag-free. I was able to play fast-paced and precision titles like Mirror’s Edge and LittleBigPlanet without issue. I wasn’t able to thoroughly test the unit with PC games, but I can confirm basic functions using Windows XP. I will have a post with detailed testing up in the near future.

Perhaps the greatest appeal of the Access Controller is that the unit is modular. Each component of a regular controller can be moved to one of six positions to accommodate an individual’s needs. The unit includes two analog stick modules, a module containing the familiar PlayStation face buttons, one housing all four shoulder buttons and one containing a d-pad. One module is left open by default and comes with a cover to protect it.

The d-pad included with the Access Controller is quite literally the worst one I have ever laid a thumb on. If you are an avid fighting game player or are looking to speed up your RPG playing, this d-pad will leave you disappointed to say the least.

The d-pad itself is shaped very similarly to that of a standard Xbox 360 controller, but that’s not the issue. The d-pad feels like one solid button instead of a 4-way or 8-way switch. It was very difficult for me to distinguish the pad being pushed in a specific direction. The module did function, but I also had to press quite hard and distinctively to get it to register with any accuracy.

The rest of the modules fare quite a bit better. The two analog sticks feel a bit loose, but they are very responsive. The face buttons are smaller than a standard PlayStation controller and are raised a bit farther too. Whether or not this was intentional, it really helps to distinguish the buttons from each other.

The shoulder buttons are also raised a bit, though having all four on one module feels a bit cramped. It would have been nice to have the left and right buttons on separate modules, especially considering there is room for a sixth module.

The Access Controller also houses start and select buttons, as well as a button that can be used as the home button when playing on a PS3. The home button was hit or miss for me. Whenever I pressed it, it acted as if it were a long press and brought up the menu to turn off the controller or system. I was able to access the in-game XMB only a few times and I’m not sure how to get the unit to think I’m making a soft press every time.

My favourite feature of the Access Controller is that its modules are hot-swappable while playing a game. In order to do so, a player simply turns off the power using a switch on the bottom of the controller and swaps the modules to where they need them. Upon powering the unit back up, play can resume uninterrupted. This feature allows players to find a configuration that’s just right for the game being played.

There are a few core limitations I should point out. The Access Controller has no rumble feature or SIXAXIS functionality in it. Though not much of an issue during my tests, this does mean that some PS3 games will simply not be compatible with it. Also, a very minor point, but you cannot power on your console using the Access Controller.

Despite the glaring flaw of a substandard d-pad, I’d recommend the Access Controller to just about anyone that would benefit from it. There are other one-handed controllers out there, but they are usually quite a bit more expensive and lack the customization options of the Access Controller.

BenHeck has been great with after market support as well, offering a tutorial on his website to help users fix grinding or sticking buttons that were an issue with the first production run. Some of these fixes require precision use of an X-Acto knife though, so users with limited dexterity, spasms or tremors would be advised to have someone help them for safety purposes.

The fact that the Access Controller made it to market is a testament to the growing population of active gamers that live with disabilities. It carries a fairly hefty price, but for the cost of two retail games users otherwise unable to use traditional controllers can play with something made just for them without feeling frustrated or left out.

Do Violent Games Lead to Aggressive Behaviour? Not Really, Researchers Say

Do Violent Games Lead to Aggressive Behaviour? Not Really, Researchers Say 150 150 GAMESFWD

In a study released lin April 2008, researchers try to straighten the facts on the impact violent video games have on youth. Debunking several myths along the way the study, titled Grand Theft Childhood, reveals that playing violent video games does not lead children to become more aggressive.

Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, initiated their research in 2004. Thanks to the $1.5 million in funding provided the U.S. Department of Justice, the study looked at the effects of video games on young teenagers. Unlike previous research, they studied real children and families in real situations. More…

“Our findings are nuanced,” said Dr. Lawrence Kutner, in a Q&A; session with the Globe and Mail. “What’s clear, however, is that the melodramatic claims by some pundits and politicians about violent video games turning typical children and teenagers into violent or antisocial people in the real world simply don’t hold water. We need to get beyond those simplistic statements.”

Grand Theft Childhood sheds light on certain misconceptions adults have about youth who play violent video games. First, the reasons which draw kids to these games are often not what the public perceive.

“Our research found that the preteens and young teenagers we surveyed weren’t interested in violent games per se,” said Kutner. “They were attracted to games because they had complex plots, interesting characters and engaging environments. It just so happens that many of the games that meet those criteria also include violence. But they did not like to play purely violent games like Postal or Manhunt because they found them boring.”

Teenagers are also often aware of the fantastic dimension of video game violence, the study found. However, the researchers emphasize that younger children are likely to miss the point.

“One of the issues with GTA is that much of the content is satire, which is something that young teenagers have difficulty picking up, especially if they don’t have the pop culture references,” indicated Kutner. “Our research found that the 7th and 8th graders we surveyed were acutely aware of the difference between fantasy and reality, and acted accordingly.”

“One of the concerns about violent games is that a child under age 11 or 12, roughly, may not have the context or brain development to know what needs to be left in the game world vs. the real world”, said Dr. Cheryl K. Olson. “They may pick up bad or insulting language, for example, copy it without being clear on what it means, and get in trouble.”

Another one of the study’s surprising findings is the benefits some youth can get from playing games with a violent tone. While some parents are concerned to see their child virtually playing with guns and bombs, they should be encouraged to know their kids can actually learn positive real-world behaviours through these in-game acts.

“The kids we interviewed in focus groups told us that one of the things they learned from playing M-rated violent games was that engaging in criminal activity has bad consequences. They said that they would never engage in these behaviours in the real world because of both what they believed in and the consequences of these actions.”

Finally, the most important conclusion from this study is that it is important to consider a child’s maturity and age before purchasing a game. Some kids will need help understanding certain themes, and others may have no problem with them.

“One of the simplest things that parents can do is not to let their children have a game console or computer in their bedrooms”, encourages Kutner. “Our research found that those kids who had game consoles and/or computers in their bedrooms played more M-rated games and played more hours per week. It’s a much better idea to keep that equipment in a shared, public area of the home.

“Note that our research focused on basically healthy children attending public schools. If your child has developmental delays, a very aggressive temperament, emotional issues or difficulty perceiving context (such as sarcasm), games may affect them differently,” reminded Olson.

“If your child is playing games alone for hours, this could be a sign of problems such as depression — some children ‘self-medicate’ with games to forget their troubles. If your child’s time with games is out of balance with the rest of his/her life, that’s a concern. For most young teens, moderate amount of game play, and occasionally playing violent games, is a normal part of childhood today,” Olson concluded.

A few of the study’s myths and realities:

MYTH: The growth in violent video game sales is linked to the growth in youth violence — especially school violence — throughout the country.

FACT: Video game popularity and real-world youth violence have been moving in opposite directions. Violent juvenile crime in the United States reached a peak in 1993 and has been declining ever since. School violence has also gone down. Between 1994 and 2001, arrests for murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assaults fell 44 percent, resulting in the lowest juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes since 1983. Murder arrests, which reached a high of 3,800 in 1993, plummeted to 1400 by 2001.

MYTH: Girls don’t play violent video games like Grand Theft Auto.

FACT: Our survey of more than 1200 middle school students found that 29 percent of girls who played video games listed at least one M-rated game among the games they’d “played a lot” during the previous six months. One in five specifically listed a Grand Theft Auto game. In fact, among these 12- to 14-year-old girls, the Grand Theft Auto series was second only to The Sims in popularity.

MYTH: In August 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution on violence in video games and interactive media, stating that “perpetrators go unpunished in 73 percent of all violent scenes, and therefore teach that violence is an effective way of resolving conflict.”

FACT: The allegation that “perpetrators go unpunished in 73 percent of all violent scenes” is based on research from the mid-1990s that looked at selected television programs, not video games.

MYTH: School shooters fit a profile that includes a fascination with violent media, especially violent video games.

FACT: The U. S. Secret Service intensely studied each of the 37 non-gang and non-drug-related school shootings and stabbings that were considered “targeted attacks” that took place nationally from 1974 through 2000. (Note how few premeditated school shootings there actually were during that 27-year time period, compared with the public perception of those shootings as relatively common events!) The incidents studied included the most notorious school shootings, such as Columbine, Santee and Paducah, in which the young perpetrators had been linked in the press to violent video games. The Secret Service found that that there was no accurate profile. Only 1 in 8 school shooters showed any interest in violent video games; only 1 in 4 liked violent movies.