Your Xbox is about to get a strong dose of sports programming. Scheduled to launch on November 4, a new ESPN channel in the XBL video marketplace will include access to more than 3,500 On Demand sporting events and hundreds of daily clips from ESPN.com including highlights, show clips, interviews and more. All video plays in HD (720p) and features full DVR functionality, including the ability to restart a live event from the beginning. During live games you'll also be able to predict the winner of a matchup and create a party chat with up to seven of your friends. Overall, the channel features very intuitive navigation, allowing users to view upcoming programming and jump directly from one live game to another via an on-screen scoreboard. When Kinect launches in early November, users will also be able to use voice and gesture commands to navigate the service. (Voice commands are initiated by saying "XBOX," then issuing contextual commands from options that appear on the screen.) Other options within the ESPN service will allow users to filter content by sport and set favorite sports to customize their experience. The ESPN channel will be available for free to Xbox Live Gold members, but your ISP must be affiliated or you'll only get the daily clips. Without a doubt, pairing the ESPN channel with updates to Netflix and Zune Music really ups the entertainment heft of Xbox Live. Score: 9.5/10
2 of 13John Iacono/SI, Mario (Nintendo)
25 Years Later
What do Pete Rose and Mario have in common? Well, September 2010 marked notable 25th anniversaries for both. Pete Rose broke baseball's all-time hits record on Sept. 11, 1985, wrapping a single off San Diego's Eric Show for hit number 4,192. Two days later, Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in Japan. Rose and Mario took very different paths after that. Rose finished his illustrious playing career with 4,256 hits and went on to manage the Cincinnati Reds for several years before being forced out of major league baseball after denying he had bet on games as a manager. Rose eventually admitted to betting on games, but his MLB-sanctioned lifetime ban from baseball still stands. Meanwhile, Super Mario Bros. went on to sell over 40 million copies and became Nintendo's signature character and leading man for its biggest releases.
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Michael Jordan is back, and he takes over 2K11 the same way he took over the NBA's spotlight in the `90s. You can play as MJ in ten of his most memorable games, including the Flu Game, The Shrug and a couple of 60-point explosions. Controlling Jordan as he re-makes history is genuinely goose bump-inducing. You can also rewrite Jordan's career, starting out as a rookie in Chicago and taking it from there. Or just drop Jordan on a new team and see what happens. (This feature will probably be very popular with Portland fans.) Tweaks to the gameplay engine make this the most realistic looking basketball game ever, with players now falling naturally after drives and fadeaways and the ball bouncing around the rim realistically for suspenseful "and one" foul calls. Score: 9.5/10 Game Room Video Review: NBA 2K11
4 of 13EA Sports
FIFA Soccer 11
Fans of footie will tell you that the Beautiful Game is the ultimate team sport. Now EA challenges gamers to prove it online, where you can play full 11-on-11 matches -- goalie included. Hardcore soccer nuts will love the new Personality feature, which captures soccer's biggest stars acting like the real thing all over the field, from running to shooting to diving. The Pro Passing System ups the re-playability of FIFA 11 by demanding a refined sense of the control pad. Even if you wipe away all the new feature upgrades, the action on the field looks smoother than ever, including another year with the 360 degree Fight for Possession feature that accurately portrays jostling for loose balls and fights for header position. Score: 8.5/10
5 of 13EA Sports
Most sports games can consume your life with one deep dynasty mode. Well, NHL 11 has four. In addition to standbys like Be a Pro, Be a GM and EA UHL, NHL 11 busts out the new Ultimate Team mode. Start with a pack of player cards, then keep playing in any of ten leagues to collect more cards. You can't just collect superstars, skill sets and chemistry issues play a factor in developing the best team. Of course, what's an Ultimate Hockey Team without an Ultimate Hockey League to play in? EA's new massive online league holds monthly competitions for league supremacy at three different levels. New passing and checking engines help spice up the action on the ice while you're developing your myriad dynasties, making for a game that won't be easy to shut down. Score: 9/10
6 of 13Microsoft
Halo Reach is a prequel and a bittersweet one at that -- it's the last edition of the franchise created by Bungie, the original developer. Reach takes place prior to the events of the first Halo and offers a fairly engaging storyline. Of course, Halo has never been about plot. It's about silky smooth frame rates amid chaos. Reach delivers there, although the campaign itself could offer just a bit more mayhem. Overall, Reach does a lot of things very well and serves as a fitting coda to the series. If you've been frustrated at times with the quality and variety of the weapons offered, you will find satisfaction here. The ballistic (human) weapons have never been better; you'll find yourself preferring them over the Covenant plasma rifles more often than not. Even the much-maligned assault rifle packs a real punch this time around. Multiplayer options are myriad, very deep and wonderful (firefight!), including team co-op play throughout the campaign. Score: 9/10
7 of 13Sony
In Sports Champions, Sony's PlayStation Move gets its own version of Wii Sports, and the game shows off the best qualities of the new motion controller. Sure, the high definition graphics look better than the Wii's blocky games, but the bigger upgrade is the Move's sensitivity. All of your movements are picked up in 3D, which makes depth perception a bigger factor. You'll also notice more control over your character's movements because the Move tracks the angles and the force with which you swing your controller. When you don't stay level on a frisbee throw until the release, your disc goes careening off course. When you drop some top spin on your ping pong backhand, your opponent has to adjust to the knuckle ball effect. The games aren't too deep and the system works best when you play with your friends. Still, the Move represents a new phase for motion controllers. Sports Champions is the best of the Move launch titles, but kids might enjoy the mini-games in Start the Party and the virtual pet in Eye Pet. Scores: Playstation Move 9/10, Sports Champions 8/10 GAME ROOM VIDEO REVIEW: Playstation Move
8 of 13NAMCO
We recently got to spend some time with some upcoming NAMCO titles including, Enslaved (October 5), Time Crisis: Razing Storm (October 19) and Splatter House (November 23). Enslaved is a third-person sci-fi adventure game that we'll have more on next month. Time Crisis features a two-player Move-compatible arcade mode where you shoot pretty much everything in sight. It's already one of the most promising Move games we've seen as it captures the glory of the arcade plastic gun shooter very well. Splatter House is a very bloody, very violent third-person smash and upgrade game that looks like it will satisfy the genre nicely.
9 of 13Kevin Parry/Getty
So Long Kong
Last month we wondered if former Donkey Kong scoring champion Steve Wiebe would answer rival Billy Mitchell's world record score . The wait proved short, as Wiebe reclaimed the Donkey Kong arcade record this month with a score of 1,064,500 points. This marks the third time the record has changed hands this year. Take that, next generation console games!
10 of 13Activision
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Spidey is back, and this time he's brought some friends. In Shattered Dimensions you get to play as four different Spider-Man as you chase down a tablet that's been well, shattered into different dimensions. Each of the four; Amazing, Ultimate, 2099 and Noir have different abilities and powers. The levels in the game are linear and all of them end with a boss battle. Along the way you'll use kicks, punches and web slinging to pummel many minions and you'll be asked to save many civilians. It's a little repetitive, but switching Spider-Man for each level helps a lot. As you progress through the game you'll accumulate credits used to purchase character upgrades, which become essential as your foes get progressively more powerful. The graphics in the game are very well done, with each Spidey getting a unique world. The first-person combat moments detract from the game as do some poor camera movements, but overall the presentation is pretty solid. Score: 8/10
11 of 13Disney
Hands-on: Tron Evolution & Battlegrids
The return of the Tron franchise to the big screen this winter will be accompanied by game titles across all platforms. For the hardcore gamers, Tron Evolution is in the vein of the Mass Effect-saga type game. The plot serves as complementary to the new movie; it fills in the game between the original Tron and Tron Legacy. Casual Wii gamers will enjoy the multiplayer-friendly Tron Battlegrids, which may remind you of Combat on the original Atari: lots of different vehicles and maps in which to destroy your buddies.
12 of 13Disney
Hands-on: Epic Mickey
Disney is getting serious about putting out quality games and this is a prime example. Epic Mickey is worth checking out if for no other reason than the tons of new original animation featuring Mickey Mouse himself. The game play is quite innovative as well. The story takes place in a sort of pseudo-Fantasia universe where Mickey navigates through a celluloid world. He can advance either by painting in missing objects such as bridges or removing obstacles. This should prove a hit with the kids as well as the nostalgic adult gamer.
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Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock seems, at first blush, like an effort by Activision to back to the basics. The game still supports vocals and drums, and Guitar Hero 5's Party Play mode is there if you know where to look, but the core game is all about guitars and rock music: the harder the better. It's a departure from last year's game, and certainly Rock Band, which offer a wider, more inclusive, variety of song genres as well as career modes for singers and drummers. Warriors of Rock's generous 90-song set list focuses narrowly on hard rock and metal from the past three decades. Whether that's a positive or not is up to individual taste, but it suggests that Activision is concerned less with providing something for everyone and more with catering to the old-school Guitar Hero player. Happily, downloaded content for the previous two games imports easily into Warriors of Rock, and, for a small fee, users can export some of the disc-based songs from Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero 5 as well as Guitar Hero: Metallica. Owners of previous games in the franchise can quickly build a great library of songs, although it's annoying that many of the disc-based songs aren't exportable. The story mode, hosted by Gene Simmons, is amusingly ludicrous, though it's not nearly as flexible as Rock Band's more conventional career mode. Warriors of Rock certainly doesn't advance the franchise, but it doesn't do anything horribly wrong either. If you like playing plastic guitar, you'll probably find a lot to like here. Score: 7/10
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