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



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



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



Developed by Arika, 3D Classics: Urban Champion is a revamped version of a fighting game originally released for the NES in 1984. Though the action is rudimentary and crude by today’s standards, this two button brawler has a good presentation and can be entertaining in short bursts.

In 3D Classics: Urban Champion, you play as a blue-haired combatant trying to rise the ranks of the local underground fighting scene. Starting out as the “Lonely Champion”, you must survive 99 rounds of bare knuckle boxing to become the undisputed Urban Champion.

The combat in 3D Classics: Urban Champion is essentially a tug-of-war. You can defeat your green-haired opponent by knocking him off of the right side of the screen or by being on his side of the fighting area when time runs out; at which point as police car arrives to make an arrest. The police car also passes by from time to time, sending both fighters to their respective “corners” and resetting the balance of the fight.

Conversely, you are defeated when knocked off of the left side of the screen or caught on your side when time runs out. You only get three chances at making your way through round 99, with no opportunity to get more along the way.

Fights take place outside of four businesses: a snack bar, a discount store, a book store and a barber shop. Aside from signifying progression down the street, the areas are functionally identical. Each business has five windows above it from which an angry business owner will occasionally drop a flower pot. If you or your opponent are caught in its path you will be momentarily stunned, giving the other fighter a chance to land an uncontested blow.

An Isometric View adds DepthEvery three rounds you will knock your opponent into an open manhole and be showered with confetti by the business owner’s daughter. After six rounds you receive a new grade, though in subsequent playthroughs you start with your highest-achieved grade and won’t get a new one until you surpass your old record. Should you complete 99 rounds and become the Urban Champion, you can keep playing, though the round counter and grades will no longer change.

The actual fighting mechanics in 3D Classics: Urban Champion are quite simple. You are armed with a light punch that is quick but weak and a heavy punch that is very strong, but quite slow. You can aim high or low using the d-pad or analog slider and can also block and dodge incoming punches.

The default control scheme has your punches mapped to the A and B buttons of the 3DS, though you can map punches to any of the available buttons.

You start each round with 200 stamina points that get used by throwing and landing punches, getting hit by your opponent or a flower pot. Should you run out of stamina, you will be momentarily winded and will resume the fight with low stamina if you aren’t knocked out first.

The presentation of 3D Classics: Urban Champion is understandably simple, but has some nice touches and uses bright colours. In addition to an option to adjust the depth of the 3D effect in-game, you can turn on an isometric camera angle that gives the game an even greater sense of depth. The sounds and music are typical of early-era NES titles, with no noticeable enhancements.

My main issue with 3D Classics: Urban Champion is that it never really gets harder as you go. Once you learn the timing, you can easily land uncontested heavy blows ad nauseum and the game becomes more about endurance than honing your skills.

Though it’s simple, shallow and repetitive, 3D Classics: Urban Champion can still be fun, especially in short burst play sessions. There isn’t a lot of replay value to be had once you’ve become the Urban Champion, but there is a two player mode playable via local wireless connection.


+ Charming, Colorful Presentation with Lots of Display Options
+ Customizable Controls



– Shallow Gameplay
– No Variety in Opponents or Locations
– Little Replay Value



Fruit Ninja Kinect from Halfbrick Studios is a high energy game that has you slicing a veritable supermarket of fruit while challenging your dexterity and hand-eye coordination. This title features precise and accurate control that is among the best on Kinect, but suffers from calibration and usability issues inherent to the platform.

The premise of Fruit Ninja Kinect is simple: slice fruits lobbed from the bottom of the screen with virtual swords using your hands and/or feet to score points. Though a bit short on content, the game offers three single player modes, two local multiplayer modes for two players and an addictive challenge mode.

Classic Mode begins with a single piece of fruit being launched onto the playfield and quickly ramps up. If you let a piece of fruit fall back off of the playfield you are given a strike. Three strikes and you’re out. This mode will also launch bombs onto the screen, which will end the game if sliced.

Should a Pomegranate—a fruit not present in the iOS version—appear, you can frantically slice it more than 60 times to score a huge point bonus and it will negate one strike should you have any. Occasionally a rare fruit, like dragon fruit will appear and slicing it will be worth 50 points. While most fruits are worth a single point, hitting combos of three or more with one blade slice will award bonus points and randomly occurring critical hits are worth ten points.

Arcade Mode is a score attack mode with a 60 second time limit. There are three power up bananas that will appear from all sides of the screen in this mode. Freeze will slow everything down, Frenzy will launch a thick stream of fruits from the sides of the screen and Double Score is self-explanatory.

Bombs in Arcade Mode do not end the game, but detract ten points from your score and will cancel any active power ups. You can really boost your score by stringing combos together in a “Super Combo Blitz” and maximizing the hits of a pomegranate that appears at the end of every round. A final tally also awards bonus points for the number of combos you get, hitting power up bananas and even for hitting a certain number of bombs.

Zen Mode has no strikes, power ups or bombs, only a 90 second time limit. This mode is all about waiting for the perfect time to strike and maximizing your combos.

The Challenge mode of Fruit Ninja Kinect is my favourite way to play. Here you are given challenges in all three main modes based on the scores of those on your friends leaderboard. If you don’t have any friends playing the game, it will assign challenges based on score plateaus and does a great job of incrementally making you a better player and working towards the high scores needed to unlock some of the achievements. It also creates a sense of variety by mixing up the modes.

Fruit Ninja Kinect also offers two local two-player varieties under Party Mode. You can play Co-Op Arcade that tallies your collective score or a competitive Battle mode. In Battle, fruits are colour-coded in red and blue. Players must slice their own fruits while avoiding the other player’s. Slicing the other player’s fruit will detract from your own score.

As you play, you will unlock “Sensei’s Shwag” from the Dojo menu such as new effects for your blade swipes, backgrounds and player shadows. Unfortunately these unlockables are merely cosmetic and have no effect on gameplay.

What makes or breaks any Kinect title is its controls and the team at Halfbrick Studios did an excellent job adapting the frantic, touch-based swiping gameplay of the original iOS version to a hands-free motion control system. Slices with both hands (or feet if you’re brave) are extremely precise and accurate at a level well above the majority of software for the platform and there is little to no input lag.

A shadow of the player is projected on the background, allowing you to easily tell where your hands are and aim your slices. Should you swipe too frantically, your shadow will turn into a puff of smoke and you won’t be able to slice for a few seconds unless you stop.

Unfortunately, a calibration problem sometimes prevents your shadow from returning for 10-15 seconds, which in a one minute game ruins your play session. The game will also recalibrate if you change positions, remove a hat or even when you sit down to take a break. This constant calibration was likely a choice to allow players to drop in and out in a party or family situation, but in practice it can be quite frustrating as a single player.

Fruit Ninja Kinect also tends to act funny when first starting up the game and even moreso when trying to start a two player session. This sort of thing is common among Kinect titles and will generally be accepted by most players, but it can hurt the overall experience.

The menu system in Fruit Ninja Kinect is intuitive and uses the same slicing mechanic as the gameplay, but icons are bunched together in a way that makes it easy to make a wrong selection because the game recognises even the slightest up or down swing of either hand. The Dojo menu is also a mess.

This long list can only be navigated by swiping and it can be difficult to stop on what you want with any sort of accuracy. Toning down the sensitivity in the menus and adding up and down keys to the Dojo menu would make for a huge improvement in the UI experience.

Fruit Ninja Kinect is one of the more accessible titles available on the platform, in that you can play effectively while seated. I wasn’t able to play from my couch, but got the game to calibrate properly by setting up a dining room chair a bit closer than I would normally play and was able to reach all corners of the screen.

Your mileage may vary depending on your play area, location of the Kinect sensor and height of your chair, but it is possible.

The game could technically be played with one arm, but achieving high scores is virtually impossible without the use of two. The game also uses a distinct audio cue to tell you when a bomb is launched onto the playfield, which leaves deaf players at a disadvantage. An option for a screen flash could help with this a lot.

On the plus side, those that have use of both arms, but limited manual dexterity like me should be able to play Fruit Ninja Kinect at a high level. I’ve played with open hands, closed fists and with wrist weights without any detection issues.

Fruit Ninja Kinect benefits from a nice presentation that features clean and colourful graphics. Each fruit makes a distinct squishing or splatter sound when sliced and the remnants behave realistically when they fall.

There is no music outside of the main menu, but the sound effects including sword swings and bomb explosions are well done. The sensei will appear on your post-play results screen and offer facts about the fruit you’ve been slicing, which gives the game some personality.

While it does have a few issues and will essentially be relegated to party game status once I’ve unlocked the achievements, I would consider Fruit Ninja Kinect a must-buy for any content-starved Kinect owner. The Challenge mode offers some replay value, the controls are a showcase for what the Kinect sensor can do and it’s a great way to get your heart going and work up a sweat in a few minutes.


+ Precise, Accurate Controls
+ High Activity Gameplay Works up a Sweat
+ Accessible to Seated Players
+ Challenge Mode Creates Variety and Pushes You to Get Better



– Menus, Especially in the Dojo are Sketchy
– Some Calibration Issues, Particularly with Two Players
– A Bit Light on Content



Available through Steam and playable on both PC and Mac, Dungeons of Dredmor from Gaslamp Games is an addictive and accessible entry in the dungeon-crawling Roguelike genre that features many player customization options, a robust crafting system, high replay value and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.

In Dungeons of Dredmor you play as a hero with abnormally large eyebrows summoned by the king to defeat the evil Lord Dredmor, who is freeing himself after being bound in the depths of the earth long ago and must be stopped before he can destroy the world.

When you start Dungeons of Dredmor, you are allotted seven skill points to customize your character with and can choose from 34 different skills such as weapon and magic proficiencies, vampirism, master of arms and fungal arts, to name a few. You can also have the game randomly assign skill points to your character or choose the skill set you started the previous game with.

Once you’ve created your character, you are dropped into a dungeon that is randomly generated from a pool of pre-made room layouts every time you start a new game.

For those unfamiliar with Roguelikes, the basic premise is that when your character moves or performs an attack action, every monster in the dungeon will make a move or attack as well. It’s part turn-based, part real time and often requires strategic thinking.

There are ten floors in Dungeons of Dredmor, each littered with monsters, traps, chests and loot like weapons, potions and armour. Each floor is quite large: it took me over three hours just to fully map the first one, though multiple staircases allow you to move on whenever you feel your character is strong enough. Floors often have side quests that can be triggered by praying to a statue as well, though your primary goal is to simply survive until you meet Lord Dredmor.

Of course, to survive you need weaponry and Dungeons of Dredmor has a large variety that includes axes, swords and wands, as well as less traditional weapons like softballs and IEDs. Your character can generally use any weapon he finds, though bonuses and passive skills come with using equipment geared towards his proficiency.

Armour is also a must and you can outfit the hero in a number of items like helmets, greaves and rings of all kinds. If you don’t find what you’re after while traversing the dungeons, you can always try to make it yourself.

What sets Dungeons of Dredmor apart is a robust crafting system that allows for alchemy, distilling, smelting and refining of metals, blacksmithing and tinkering. Using equipment that you either find or begin the game with based on your chosen skills and recipes, you can craft weapons, armour, potions and stronger raw materials.

Should you find yourself over-encumbered, you can visit a merchant to unload your unwanted goods and bank some zorkmids, the in-game currency. The merchant will often have better weapons and armour than what you currently have, so it’s advisable to explore each floor and locate the shops, which also act as safe zones.

Roguelikes are often quite challenging and Dungeons of Dredmor certainly can be as well, though some difficulty options allow for accessible experience. By default, the game has a “permadeath” feature that does not allow you to reload your game session and character when you die.

With this turned off, you have more freedom to explore and can get the jump on (or avoid) a room full of enemies that may have dispatched you before; provided you remember to save often. For a truly hardcore experience, you can play on the “Going Rogue” difficulty with permadeath turned on.

You can control Dungeons of Dredmor with a mouse alone, or use your keyboard for hotkeys and quick use of inventory items. The left side of the screen holds a “belt menu” and you will find your spells and skills on the right hand side. You can expand the size of the map or move your main inventory around, but these settings are not saved after you quit a game session.

Dungeons of Dredmor looks like a PC game from the Windows 95 era or something put together with RPG Maker. The tile-based graphics aren’t much to look at, but everything is drawn with great detail, information is clearly displayed and the game has a certain old school charm to it. Status effects are displayed in the upper left of the screen, along with a turn by turn recount of the action. There is a smooth scaling option, but I prefer to play with it off.

A great deal of charm can also be found in the humour of Dungeons of Dredmor and it’s clear it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game over screen reads “Congratulatons, You Died!”, enemies will taunt you as they approach, each area is named in a silly manner and items are named things like “Togzar, the Exultation of Foes”, which happens to be one of the worst items in the game.

Dungeons of Dredmor has some great, catchy music in it that ranges from fantasy-esque to loungy jazz and thumping industrial beats. The squishing and screaming of enemies dying can be a bit grating, and there is also a crude-sounding announcer that tells you when you’ve scored a critical hit or your health is low.

There are a few kinks in the presentation and gameplay of Dungeons of Dredmor, but these usually amount to no more than a small nuisance. For example: your character’s pathfinding isn’t perfect, which leads to some inadvertent trap triggering. The door system creates an odd void of space that you can’t walk on, but enemies can and golems that you can summon often behave erratically, get in your way or stop following you all together.

It should also be noted that even though you can play the game on PC or Mac, it does not make use of the Steam Cloud save game feature, so you can’t just swap devices at will without having to start a new game.

Problems aside, Dungeons of Dredmor is a shining example in its genre that can be both beginner-friendly and an extremely hardcore gaming experience. It should take most players at least 20 hours to complete the game on the medium difficulty and thanks to randomly generated floors and the extreme variation found in the skill tree, it can be replayed multiple times and represents excellent value at a mere five dollars.


+ Varied, Customizable Skill System
+ Robust Crafting System
+ Scalable Difficulty
+ Lighthearted Sense of Humour



– Some Gameplay Kinks and Quirks
– Sound Effects can be Grating
– No Steam Cloud Support



I can’t think of another iOS game that has chewed up as much time or battery life as Tiny Tower, and frankly I have no idea why. This free-to-play title from NimbleBit tasks you with managing a tower by building businesses, staffing them with residents called “bitizens” and maintaining stock levels. It’s simplistic and shallow, pointless and seemingly endless, yet I just can’t stop playing it.

A brief tutorial starts you off with a business floor and a residential floor to house your first bitizens. Each residential floor can hold up to five bitizens and each business can be staffed with three workers. One item can be stocked for each worker you have in a business.

Each item in a business costs progressively more coins and time to stock, but also yields a higher sale price. Successfully stocking a business with all three items will earn you a cash bonus or a Tower Buck. Tower Bux can be used to speed up stocking, to move bitizens into residences or speed up the construction of a new floor. Every floor you build costs both more time and coins than the one before it.

Businesses are placed in five categories: Food, Service, Recreation, Retail and Creative, each with a demand level based on the number of bitizens you have in your tower. Each bitizen has a proficiency rating from 0-9 for each type of business. The higher the rating of your employees, the more of a discount you get on the cost of restocking items. bitizens also have dream jobs and matching them will yield a large stock bonus and earn you a few bux.

You can also earn bux by manually operating your tower’s elevator and receiving tips and you get two coins for each floor your passenger travels. There are several elevator upgrades available, allowing you to move more bitizens per minute or simply save some time as your tower grows.

Occasionally VIPs will arrive at the elevator. These bitizens will increase the customers on a floor, buy out one type of item from a store, move a bitizen into an apartment or knock a few hours off of the construction of a new floor.

Detailed Pixel Art Gives Tiny Tower CharmFinally, you can earn bux by playing a Where’s Waldo type mini game that simply asks you to locate a bitizen. As your population grows this becomes more tedious and often devolves into simply tapping on each floor until you find who you’re looking for.

Though they’re all the same size, bitizens have unique names and physical traits, which lends to the charm of Tiny Tower. They will even update their “Bitbook” social network statuses with funny quips or how they feel about their assigned job.

Each business and residence is unique as well and the game’s pixel art look manages to pack a ton of detail onto your screen without being cluttered or unusable. There isn’t much to the sound, but there are distinct alerts to tell you when to stock a store, what type of store you’ve tapped on or when someone is waiting for an elevator ride.

You can set the game to notify you when to restock a store when you aren’t playing Tiny Tower. The game world is persistent and your bitizens continue to live and work when you aren’t around, earning you coins. For the sake of real life productivity, I find it best to leave these notifications off. Unfortunately, the game won’t notify you when a business is completely out of stock or closed.

Tiny Tower has Game Center support for achievements and leaderboards and you can also view friends’ tower progress in relation to your own.

Unlike other games of this nature such as FarmVille or Animal Crossing, there is no real penalty to leaving your tower unattended for some time. Shops will simply close when out of stock and your income will stop. You can jump back in and get everything humming again within minutes, even after a day or two away.

Like most free-to-play games, you can gain an advantage or speed up wait times in Tiny Tower by purchasing bux in-game with real world money. However, unlike typical “freemium” games, there isn’t a feeling of needing to pay to win or progress and you can get a lot of enjoyment out of the base package.

I spent $0.99 on a few bux at the very beginning to give me a head start, but have put at least 10-15 hours into the game since then without spending another dime, though you can really only “play” for 5-20 minutes at a time without running out of things to do.

Tiny Tower is a great quick fix game and despite its simplicity manages to create an addictive experience that has had me saying “just one more floor” since I downloaded it. I’ve played it while watching TV, in the bathroom, while playing other games and even while eating. In fact, I should probably check on my tower now.


+ Charming Pixel Art Presentation
+ Can Get a Lot out of Free Base Package
+ Checking on Your Tower can be Addictive
+ Achievements, Leaderboards and Viewing Friends’ Towers



– Shallow, Simplistic Gameplay is Relegated to Short Bursts
– Person-Finding Mini Game becomes Tedious