Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley is a strange game. It’s apparent after playing that Twisted Pixel, the developers behind this and other XBLA oddities, The Maw and ‘Splosion Man, crafted this title with their own ridiculous sensibilities in mind. What resulted is an often hilarious, always absurd ride through four worlds of comic madness that should be experienced in one form or another. It’s a shame that the only sin Comic Jumper commits is a grave one; it is rarely compelling to play.

The story here revolves around the exploits of Captain Smiley and his conjoined companion, Star, comic book characters whose series gets cancelled after the opening level. Luckily, Twisted Pixel (yes, the developers have inserted themselves into the game as actual characters) like Captain Smiley so much they’re willing to donate their technological prowess to get the defunct series back on its feet. Becoming a hero for hire, Captain Smiley takes on jobs from other comic characters for cash, leading him to appear in a dark fantasy, a Silver Age storyline, and a manga throughout the game’s 6 hour campaign. It’s a pretty clever idea, actually, and the execution is filled with ridiculous non-sequiters, in-jokes, movie references, and tons of humor that pushes the game’s T rating to its limit. Not all the humor works, but it is by far the best aspect of Comic Jumper and one that it is almost worth the price of admission on its own.

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This is partly because there just isn’t a ton of content in Comic Jumper. From the start, you’re embedded in Captain Smiley’s headquarters where you’ll accept missions and challenges from throughout the four comic worlds you’ll visit. Each world has approximately three missions or “issues” to complete in order to unlock further issues and challenges from the hub world. Completing these earns Smiley money that can be used to not only upgrade his stats in battle, but to unlock the myriad of concept art, comic book covers, video and audio clips from the game’s merchant. There are tons of unlockables and, normally, this kind of secondary stuff wouldn’t concern me. However, whether it’s because there isn’t anything else to Comic Jumper or whether this stuff is genuinely interesting, the auxiliary content is actually pretty neat.

Where the game starts to fall apart is ironically with the game itself. Comic Jumper is, for all intents and purposes, a dual-stick shooter. There are some relatively dull and simplistic melee sections and occasionally the context and style of the dual-stick shooting will change, but that doesn’t alter what the game is. Although the backdrop and enemies fought might change, repetitiveness eventually sets in as you gun down seemingly endless waves of foes level after level after level. It isn’t for lack of difficulty. In fact, with some of the mechanical limitations of Captain Smiley’s abilities, this can be one doozy of a tough game especially if you’re aiming for higher scores for more cash. The fact of the matter is that the lack of variety in Comic Jumper is just punctuated by its often unfair and tedious challenge, making the continuation of Captain Smiley’s saga the sole motivation to keep slogging through.

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What really sells Comic Jumper as a great story is the quality of its voice-acting and the distinctiveness of its visuals. Captain Smiley and Star get the most dialogue here, and although they can both come off as a tad annoying on occasion, they play off one another very well and you can tell the voice actors were really having fun with the script. The rest of the actors provide a positively manic supporting cast that fit right in with their respective settings; from the campy Silver Age styling of Mistress Ropes, to the too cute to not be evil characters of the manga issues. These settings look great for the most part as Captain Smiley changes to fit each of the various comic styles he’s featured in. Apart from the manga level in which the black and white aesthetic is a bit rough on the eyes, each of these is a joy to look at. A genuinely funny soundtrack rounds out the presentation package. Trust me, you’ll want to check your stats in Captain Smiley’s headquarters just to hear the goofy song that goes along with it.

This odd combination of the excellent and the mediocre make Comic Jumper pretty difficult to recommend whole-heartedly. The gameplay difficulty combined with the tedium that eventually sets in may just be too much for some people. However, if you love games with comedic elements and have a soft spot for comic books, you can more easily forget its inherent gameplay faults. Comic Jumper is worth experiencing, but perhaps by a smaller audience than old Captain Smiley was hoping for.

It’s easy to say that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is pandering to a gullible gaming audience. Video gamers have high regard for the classics, and any mention or reference to them can stir up a great amount of enthusiasm with minimal effort. However, there is a fine line between pandering and genuine affection. Through sheer craftsmanship and infectious charm, Scott Pilgrim comes off as a genuinely heartfelt tribute to the games of yore and a great companion-piece to the film. More so, it is an extremely fun brawler which emphasizes the genre’s strengths, and still avoids various problems that plague the many beat ‘em ups that give it its inspiration.

Much like the old games it tries so hard to emulate, the story in Scott Pilgrim is explicitly stated in the opening. The titular character is in love with Ramona Flowers, a girl with quite a lot of baggage. This baggage comes in the form of seven evil ex-boyfriends, each with their own individual powers and unique levels to traverse. Now it’s up to Scott, his band mates, and even Ramona herself to take down the exes and live happily ever after.

This seven stage story should last you anywhere between 4-5 hours if playing solo and about 2-3 if playing with a group of competent buddies. The game features four playable characters, each with their own list of moves and specialties. Each of them also levels up individually (yes, this game has RPG elements), and adding this to the game’s three difficulty settings, hidden characters, and hidden game modes, there’s actually a bit more to Scott Pilgrim than first meets the eye. The one fault in Scott Pilgrim’s suite exists in the absence of online multiplayer. Although I am of the opinion that these types of games benefit more from being in the same room with the individuals you’re playing, it should be obvious not everybody has such ready access to live bodies. It makes this oversight seem kind of major, but early indications are pointing towards a possibility of online co-op being patched into the game at a later date.

This problem, however, doesn’t figure into the gameplay, which is as fun, frantic, and frustrating as you’d expect from a beat ‘em up. Scott Pilgrim makes no illusions about its similarities to games such as River City Ransom, Double Dragon, and Final Fight, and for those who have played those games, you’ll know just what to do. Move from left to right and beat up dudes, only occasionally stopping to purchase health and stat-buffing items from in-game shops to stay in the fight. Playing the game solo puts more emphasis on building up your chosen character, and frustration will inevitably set in with some rather hectic fights, but playing with friends means you can make the most of the game’s mechanics and brute force your way through the majority of the game. In short, you move from left to right and beat up dudes. Sure, there’s a lot more to it than that, as Scott Pilgrim throws in some modern elements like air juggles alongside the classic clear-out moves and assists that have been with the genre since Streets of Rage.

This might seem like Scott Pilgrim is just a re-hashed version of these classics, but its uniqueness really comes through in its various boss fights, enemy types, and mini games. Ironically, these ALSO play into the game’s reverence for video games. Kim Pine flies on a star like Kirby, wolverines attack like their name-sake from the Marvel vs. Capcom series, a Guitar Hero inspired bass guitar battle takes place, and you’ll even bust up a car like you were playing Street Fighter II. I won’t spoil the multitude of other references in the game, but if you’re a video game fan, you’ll eat up all the lovingly placed homages found within.

Perhaps the most delectable part of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is its presentation. The 2D sprites and backgrounds look phenomenally detailed and ooze charm and character from every pixel. In a generation that seems to value the grey and brown color-scheme above vivid coloration, it’s refreshing to see a game looking so lively. Speaking of lively, the soundtrack (handled entirely by the band Anamanaguchi) is absolutely fantastic. It bursts with the hooks and high-level energy of the most classic gaming soundtracks and fits in perfectly with the game’s old-school sensibilities.

Brawlers are known for a relatively short shelf-life and while Scott Pilgrim isn’t the longest or deepest game, it has plenty to love. For ten dollars, there doesn’t exist a brawler with more charm and fun packed in. It doesn’t avoid every pitfall that the genre is known for, and it is far from a perfect game, but for fans of the movie, of classic brawlers, and of punching things (and why wouldn’t you be?) this game is a relative no-brainer. Grab some friends and prepare to take on the world.

It’s summer time again and, as is the yearly trend, that means Xbox LIVE Arcade will soon be barraged by a torrent of titles.  Some of these will undoubtedly be better than others.  Out of this year’s pile comes Ancients of Ooga, a unique take on the platforming and puzzle game genres which sadly falls in the category of one of those “others”.  While there is charm and character in this hard to define title, it is squashed by poor controls and repetition which makes the relatively short campaign feel like a never-ending grind.

The plot of Ancients of Ooga revolves around the seven tribes of the Oogani: Gremlin-like creatures endowed with various mystical powers.  The Oogani have fallen on hard times as the barbaric tribe known as the Boolis have tricked the hapless Oogani using psychedelic slugs into capturing their tribal chiefs (yes, I said psychedelic slugs).  Before the Oogani can snap out of their slug-induced stupor, the Boolis burned their chiefs to death and left the tribes scattered and clueless.  The player takes the role of the Great Spirit of Ooga, an entity that can possess the bodies of Oogani tribe members, and is tasked with resurrecting each of the seven tribal chiefs, reuniting the tribes, and driving the Boolis from their lands once and for all.  The quirky story premise, accompanied by some humorous writing, is perhaps the greatest strength of Ancients of Ooga.

That being said, the modes offered here are slim.  In fact, the 50 plus levels of the campaign are all that you’ll find in Ancients of Ooga.  The campaign can be played cooperatively with a friend on the same TV, but there are no online features aside from Leaderboards.  Players can go back and select any chapter they’ve already finished from the campaign menu, and the game also hints at downloadable content in the future.  However, chances are that after finishing the 5-6 hours of gameplay included, you’ll have just about had your fill of Ooganis and Boolis.

Ancients of Ooga has a likable sense of humor

As far as gameplay is concerned, it’s actually somewhat difficult to pin down what Ancients of Ooga is trying to be.  At first glance, it seems very much a standard side-scrolling platform game.  Although the game uses 3D models and environments with the illusion of depth of movement, the game progresses in a strictly two-dimensional manner.  However, after a few levels, it becomes apparent that Ancients of Ooga is just as much a puzzler as a platformer.  Each level progresses more or less the same as you are tasked with collecting specific items throughout the stage and taking them to important Oogani, sacrificial altars, or other specified areas of the stage.

If this sounds like just about every level deteriorates into a repetitive fetch quest, then you would be partially correct.  What makes the game unique is that each Oogani tribe has distinct abilities that aid in traversing various hazards.  For example, the Harvest tribe can walk unharmed through dangerous brambles while the Stone tribe can use their hard heads to bust through rock barriers.  Also, seeing as you play as the Spirit of Ooga, you will be jumping from one Oogani to another as you work out how to best traverse each of the stage’s puzzles.  Often, you will use one Oogani to work a lever or other mechanism and then switch to another available character to get on a catapult, sneak through a hatch, or jump on a moving platform.  These two elements of gameplay, combined with the way Oogani can “chew” and swallow items for maximum item-carrying efficiency or for unique effects, could have resulted in a fun and varied gaming experience.  Unfortunately, Ancients of Ooga is rarely either.

The main problems stem from the controls and repetition involved in the game.  As was stated earlier, each level is essentially a puzzle-based fetch quest.  While these could have increased steadily in difficulty across the 50 something levels in the campaign which would have given the game a solid driving force, instead they deteriorate into the same mindless process for each of the game’s seven tribes.

The Ogaani have some skills so of their own, including horrible breath

There are some levels that deviate from this template, but they are neither numerous nor interesting enough to save this game from monotony.  It also doesn’t help that the controls feel terribly slippery at times, and it can be a pain making even basic jumps.  What little in the way of combat that is presented here also suffers from an extremely spastic nature; neither of these spells fun.  Playing as the more powerful chiefs of each respective tribe alleviates most of the flaws Ancients of Ooga presents, but it doesn’t help the fact that the game itself just isn’t that entertaining.

Interesting is certainly one way to describe Ancients of Ooga’s presentation.  The game’s character models ooze with spastic charm much like the Gremlins they so closely resemble.  The basic animations and emotes of the Oogani are actually quite good even if they might not have the highest polygon count.  The stages, on the other hand, don’t hold up quite as well.  The repetition one feels from the gameplay is only exacerbated when each and every single level in the game’s seven chapters looks so darn similar.  The sound is similarly bare bones, with the Oogani’s grunts and squawks the only notable sound effects among the myriad stock sounds of bashing, flames, and belching.  The soundtrack is made up of tribal tunes which can be catchy, but are overall forgettable.

Therein lays the problem with Ancients of Ooga.  Despite its attempts to stand up above the crowd and be unique, it’s just a forgettable experience that just isn’t much fun.  It isn’t a bad game at ten dollars by any stretch of the word, some enjoyment can be squeezed from it if you play it in short bursts, but with other XBLA titles coming down the pipeline, the Ancients of Ooga should pardon you if you give this game a pass.

Alan Wake, the first game from developer Remedy Entertainment since 2003’s Max Payne 2, has quite a lineage to live up to.  Whenever a game under development experiences the level of delays that Alan Wake has, there is always a level of expectation of what the final product will be.  After five years of development, Alan Wake is finally here, and although you might not find anything you haven’t seen before in this third-person shooter, that doesn’t stop it from being an extremely satisfying game that will likely stick with you long after its short campaign is over.

The story of Alan Wake puts you in the role of the titular character, a crime novelist with a serious case of writer’s block.  He and his wife, Alice, take a vacation to the sleepy Pacific North-Western town of Bright Falls in hopes that Alan will find the creative spark to reboot his floundering career.  However, just one night in the seemingly normal town leaves Alan in a serious car wreck with a missing wife, a missing cabin, and a missing week.  To make matters worse, he has shadowy figures called the Taken dogging his every steps, and continually finds pages of a manuscript he does not recall writing.  From there, the story only gets crazier, and just when you believe you’ve figured it all out, the game throws a twist that changes your entire perception on what is really going on in Bright Falls.  It all leads up to a conclusion that will likely leave you scratching your head, but also explicitly promises more Alan Wake adventures in the future.

Alan Wake is an acclaimed writer who’s imagination stretches further than the pages of his books

But therein lies the problem with Alan Wake, there just isn’t a lot on offer with the overall package.  The single-player campaign has three difficulty settings, and you can return to any of its six episodes after you’ve completed them, but that’s it.  The campaign itself should only take you about 6-8 hours to complete, and its impeccable pacing and story-telling through the use of its episodic progression makes this number seem even smaller.  Aside from a few other add-ons such as stat tracking and the game’s soundtrack to listen to, there just isn’t anything else in Alan Wake to experience besides its story.  That isn’t the game’s fault, obviously, as the campaign it does provide is fantastic, but for those who like to squeeze every last penny out of your game purchases, Alan Wake’s options might leave you feeling a bit short-changed.

The gameplay of Alan Wake has a similar level of well-crafted simplicity that can feel a bit shallow in places.  For all intents and purposes, Alan Wake is a third-person shooter with some adventure and survival/horror elements.  You will face off against your shadowy foes using two primary sources of weaponry: conventional weapons and light.  Light in Alan Wake is essential to your survival, as the only way to harm enemies is to first burn away their dark shielding using a light source.  To aid you in this, Alan is almost always carrying his trusty flashlight.  Not only will it light your way through the darkness, but you can boost its power to break through your opponents’ defenses and leave them vulnerable to your more conventional weapons.  Your flashlight has limited batteries for boosting, however, so you must learn to manage a slowly regenerating battery life with your sparse supply of disposable batteries.

Light plays a big part in Alan Wake’s visual design and core gameplay

Luckily, you’ll eventually find better versions of this flashlight along with flares and environmental light sources such as floodlights and lampposts which serve the dual purpose of offensive weapon and shield.  The idea of light as a weapon plays into the game’s two most devastating weapons, the flashbang grenade and the flare gun.  Both of these are non-lethal weapons to Alan, but when used against the shambling hordes of Taken, they become as good as frag grenades or rocket launchers.

Alan Wake will also wield conventional weapons, such as a trusty revolver, a pair of shotguns, and a hunting rifle, all of which do lethal damage once you break your foes’ defenses.  The game does a good job of feeding you just enough ammunition to survive, or to escape each fight by the skin your proverbial teeth.  However, all this hardware would be meaningless if Alan Wake didn’t play well.  Luckily, Alan Wake provides a smooth and simple take on third-person shooting.  You’ll rarely feel like you’re struggling against the controls, and this is especially evident in the Wake’s dodge maneuver.

Alan always wanted to bully the kids in the red sweatshirts during school

When in trouble, a simple tap of the left bumper executes a dodge move that gets Wake out of the way and, if executed timely, slows time down for a few valuable seconds.  This is essential in the tense battles you’ll face throughout.  It’s just a shame that in these battles, you’ll usually face the same brace of standard possessed villagers, poltergeists, or flocks of dread birds for the full 6-8 hours.  Considering how well the game is paced, the lack of enemies, some awkward platforming, and a few forgettable driving sections standout as the only things from a gameplay standpoint that hold back what is otherwise the epitome of the perfect third-person shooter.

If there was one aspect that makes Alan Wake stand above its contemporaries, it would be its presentation.  Now don’t misread me, from a sheer graphically powerful standpoint, Alan Wake is just average.  However, it’s the game’s use of lighting and atmosphere that sets it apart.  The character models look great, but it’s the way they’re placed against shadows and light sources that make the ghostly denizens that you combat truly frightening.  Bright Falls goes from being an idyllically beautiful scene of nature and simplicity during the daylight hours, to a colorless and horrifying nightmare where the next light source off in the distance looks like an unreachable heaven.

The car sequences have an empowering effect on your moral

To truly complete the mood, Alan Wake has a fantastic soundtrack that uses both unique orchestral scoring and licensed music.  It cannot be stressed enough how important music and sound design can be, especially in a game that relies on suspense, but Alan Wake certainly sets a new standard.  Whether it’s the creeping shadows among the trees or the perfect musical cue that makes your hair stand up, Alan Wake has one of the best overall presentations I have seen in a game in years.

Whether you are aware of it or not, it has been a long time coming with Alan Wake.  Had it been released several years ago, it would no doubt be considered a pioneer in all fields, but in the year 2010, it stands as just very good.  Indeed, between its short length and somewhat derivative gameplay choices, many of Alan Wake’s problems cannot truly be faulted.  If you want an extremely beautiful game with an intriguing story and a solid mix of action and suspense, Alan Wake is perfect.  Even if you’re unsure whether or not to spend your $60 on a weekend in Bright Falls, just an hour with the locals may be enough to book an extended stay.

It’s been just over a year since the original Street Fighter IV hit shelves and, for the months that followed its release, fighting games were back on center stage.  All it took was a little graphical polish and some modern modes and features for Capcom to lure gamers back into a Street Fighter state of mind.  Naturally, with the release of bigger and bigger games and the strict learning curve that came from playing the game against skilled human opponents, only a few stalwart veterans continued to play the game into 2010.  Nevertheless, Street Fighter IV returns this year with Super Street Fighter IV.  More like an entire renovation than an update, this discounted game gives fighting game fans everything they’d want (and more) in an update to this millennium’s biggest 2D fighter, and gives newcomers one more chance at becoming indestructible.

The most obvious change between Super Street Fighter IV and its vanilla counterpart is the roster update.  SSFIV adds 10 new fighters, bringing the game’s roster up to a hearty 35 characters.  All previous characters from Street Fighter IV return alongside three new fighters from the Alpha series, including Final Fight favorites Guy and Cody, as well three characters from the neglected Street Fighter III series.  T. Hawk and Dee Jay return to fill out the Street Fighter II roster, and Super Street Fighter IV brings in two brand new combatants with their own wholly unique fighting styles.  The Tae Kwon Do practitioner Juri is a lightening fast trickster with a mean streak, and Hakan, a Turkish oil wrestler whose goofy style revolves around applying oil to his bright red skin, round out the eclectic cast.  All in all, these new inclusions not only succeed in making the breadth of characters more diverse aesthetically, but in giving gamers almost limitless options for experimentation.

The original roster is now joined with a new cast of characters

Speaking of options, Super Street Fighter IV provides a slew of new modes.  The standard Arcade mode returns, which has players picking a fighter and completing a series of fights before taking on one of the game’s bosses.  New this year is the inclusion of Bonus Stages interspersed in Arcade mode.  These are throwbacks to the classic car-crushing and barrel-breaking stages in Street Fighter II, and although their inclusion is neat, there’s little reason to come back and play these stages solo.  Versus and Trials also make a comeback, with the latter being stream-lined to provide a smoother and more rewarding experience.

Now, players only need to complete one unique combo or move-set to complete a trial, and they can skip trials that are giving them issues without penalty.  The Trials mode remains a good way to show players the capabilities of each fighter in THEORY, but in practice, the mode still fails to give clear explanation as to why each move is useful.  This is a missed opportunity to draw in newcomers. Time Trials and Survival modes are nixed this year, which is either distressing or a non-factor depending on your mindset, and a standard Training mode completes the single-player suite.

Significant attention was given to the game’s multiplayer online.  It should be noted that, given the single-player options, if you don’t think you’ll be playing Super Street Fighter IV online, it becomes significantly harder to recommend.  This is truly where the meat of the game lies and, if you have the friends list to fill out many of these modes, this is going to become extremely obvious.

If you’re not interested in mutliplayer, Super Street Fighter IV might not be for you

At the top of the list is the standard Ranked match, which matches you up against an opponent in a three round fight.  The victor receives Player Points, which reflect an overall skill level, as well as Battle Points, which reflects a player’s success with an individual character.  For example, if someone were to be doing extremely well in Ranked matches, they may have a large PP rating, but if they are using a character they don’t normally use, their BP may be lower.  It’s a useful mechanic to track progression, and one that competitive players will always be obsessing about.

New to SSFIV is an Endless Battle mode which pits you in a lobby with up to eight friends or Xbox LIVE users in what is essentially an arcade style round table.  Two people in the lobby will fight while the rest spectate.  When the match is over, the winner stays and the next player in line takes them on, and the process continues in, ironically, what can be an Endless Battle.  Go figure.  Finally, there’s Team Battle, which is a mode I’ve yet to wrap my head around.  Ostensibly, up to four friends can take on another four people in a team-style match, but at the time of this review, I haven’t had much time with it due to the game’s awkward style of setting up lobbies in Team Battle.  A Replay Channel stores your own replays as well as those of skilled players, and tracking Leaderboards round out the package.  Strangely, there is no standard Player match option.

Hakan confesses his love for Crimson Viper

The gameplay in Super Street Fighter IV remains unchanged from its predecessor.  This game is still quick and responsive 2D fighting at its best.  Learning to play each fighter, utilizing special attacks in tandem with normal attacks can be a daunting task for a beginner, but when the veritable light bulb finally goes on, one can truly appreciate how smooth and fast-paced SSFIV really plays.  Most characters have received tweaks in the interest of fairness, but the rookie player is probably not going to notice them.  Something that’s easily noticeable is the fact that each character has now received a second Ultra Combo, which were the huge show-stopping counterattacks introduced in the first Street Fighter IV.  Essentially, as your fighter takes damage during a fight, their Ultra meter goes up and, when it is half full, they can unleash a devastating move that can easily turn the tide of battle.

This mechanic introduces a level of strategy, as some Ultras are more versatile, but lack the amount of stopping power that choosing another might provide.  Combined with the depth of the fighting engine, Super Street Fighter IV is an easy game to pick up and mess around with, but can take countless hours to master.  Of note is that the online plays extremely well, with most matches boasting little to no lag or latency.  However, as was mentioned about Team Battle, the game does have a strange way of generating lobbies and setting up matches is a little difficult.  It can take a while to find a Ranked match.  Although this is nothing new to those who played the original Street Fighter IV, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating, and the fact that this wasn’t fixed or improved in this new installment is more than a little puzzling.

T.Hawk is, and always will be, annoying

On the presentation front, Super Street Fighter IV doesn’t really make any changes, but remains a gorgeous game.  The bright and stylized look of the characters and stages still look fantastic, and all new characters and stages received just as much, if not more of this love and attention.  The animation of the characters are all fantastic, especially the goofy facial expressions that the fighters go through when enduring the game’s more painful moves.  A highlight would have to be the remixed character themes, which sound great for the most part and truly tickle that nostalgic nerve.  The sound effects (once again predominately on the new Ultra Combos) are lively and brutal.  The voice-acting of each character is hammy and could potentially drive some people crazy, but there’s an option to turn on Japanese voice-acting if it truly bothers you.  Now, if someone could just spruce up those anime cutscenes that appear before and after a fighter’s Arcade mode, there would be realistically no faults with the way Super Street Fighter IV looks or sounds.

It’s an odd thing to try and recommend or not recommend a game that is really just a bigger version of a previous installment.  If you are a fighting game fan or a fan of the first game, Super Street Fighter IV is a no-brainer.  If you are a newcomer, it definitely does take some dedication to get into and enjoy this game on a competitive level, but it does provide a level of viscerally rewarding gameplay that can inspire even the lowliest of Ken players to become superstars.  Even if you don’t know what a “cross-up” is, or how to “Focus Attack dash cancel”, the meaty package that this beautiful game serves up for the price of $40 is well worth sampling.