Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Link's Crossbow Training (2007)

Genre: First + Third Person Shooter | Players: 1 - 4
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3

Bundled with the Wii Zapper peripheral, the ‘game’ is more like a Twilight Princess (2006) mini-game that got a separate release. It’s a variation of Duck Hunt without the ducks; instead they're enemies from the Legend of Zelda universe. Environments are similarly themed and will be familiar to anyone that played TP.

The objective is to hit targets with arrows fired from your crossbow. You’re not required to reload the bow, it’s fully automatic, and you won’t run out of arrows, but you will run out of time. Each stage gives you a set amount of time to achieve the minimum score needed to advance. If you fail to achieve it you’ll have to redo that particular level again from the beginning. There are only nine playable levels, divided into three gameplay styles, with each being slightly more interesting than the one that preceded it. I’ll list them in the order they’re presented in the game:

Target Shooting:
The traditional circular Crossbow Target with the bullseye in the centre. They start out stationary, but as you progress they begin to move and/or get further away, making targeting more difficult. Your score increases faster if you hit targets in succession without missing. It’s all very boring.

Defender:
You have to defend Link from advancing enemies by shooting them as hurriedly as possible. You remain rooted to one spot but can swing your POV 360°, so expect to be attacked from all sides.
If you get hit by an enemy, or an enemy projectile, you’ll lose points. There was a sense of immediate danger that the previous mode lacked, and getting to fire upon an actual enemy was slightly less boring. At least it was the first and second time, but not so much the third, fourth, fifth…

Ranger:
The only game mode in which you get to move around as Link. As before, you’ll be shooting enemies, but you’re able to strafe and manoeuvre past obstacles to get a better view. This is where you'll be able to get the really high score multipliers.

Beat all of those (it should take about an hour) and you’ll go up against the game’s only boss battle. Boss battles are traditionally one of the highlights of a Zelda game and the same applies here. Find a weak spot that needs your attention and tear it a new one. And then you’re done. Game over. There’s no replay value unless you like to challenge yourself to beat your own scores and earn worthless medals that don’t do anything.

1 bottomless quiver out of 5

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Max Payne 3 (2012)

Genre: Action / 3rd Person shooter | Players: 1 - 16 (Online)
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver

MP3 is ugly. Really fuckin' ugly. It’s as it was designed by a student of Filmmaking 101 who was eager to use in a game all the filters his DV camera had to offer; all the filters his tutor told him not to use (unless the tutor was JJ Abrams). It’s a neon hell saturated in crap like TV scan lines, colour channels split and offset over the image, distortion, noise, strobes and lens flare. Why? None of it makes any sense aesthetically. I'm not lying when I say there was some FMV I couldn't even bear to watch. I had to close my eyes and just listen.

It’s a good thing it has a story, right? The 'story' (for lack of a better word) is just as bad. Max has grown up, but the writing hasn't. The dialogue is unrealistic, but realism doesn't seem to have been its primary goal, so I guess that’s okay. It seems to have been aiming for something akin to hardboiled noir. Noir is a tough thing to achieve, it requires the proper intonations and a voice that has the correct amount of gravitas. Max doesn't have that. What he does have is a personality that’s pulled out of the Big Book of Clich├ęd Personalities for the First Time Writer: Chapter One: The Washed-up Cop with a Drinking Problem.

Missions involve killing people on rooftops, killing people in nightclubs, killing people in corridors and, just to shake it up a little, killing people during on-rails action scenes; all of which can be done in slow motion.

During missions you have the option to look for clues that make no difference to the outcome whatsoever. All they do is initiate a short V/O from Max about what he thinks is happening or a recollection from his past. It helps give an insight into his tortured mind, but in truth he’s not a character that I wanted to know better.

There are some positives. Max will snap to cover behind a convenient barrier or pillar easily, from which he’s able to shoot bad guys as they run towards him like kamikaze dolls. And the targeting is reasonably accurate.

In short, MP3 is an ugly game that's perfect for people obsessed with guns and killing, but will leave those wanting a more engaging experience unfulfilled.

1½ shit sandwiches out of 5

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Beyond Good and Evil (HD edition) (2011)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: One | Developer: Ubisoft

BG+E was originally released in 2003 for PC and consoles. The 2011 version is an HD release with updated visuals to make it look more attractive on modern TV equipment. Beneath the polish it's the same game with the same aged camera system and inherent game engine limitations. I played through it multiple times back in the day (on PS2), so am in a good position to judge whether the update is successful or not. It is, but it’s not perfect. I encountered some minor glitches that I didn't fall prey to before. It was mostly due to bad luck and my trying to cut corners, but I'd to reload twice because I'd slipped between scenery. Freakish accidents aside, the game has aged beautifully.

You play as Jade, a human female. She's aided by her uncle Pey'j, who's... er... a talking pig. The characterisation is top class, and they exist in a believable world. Environments aren't very large and the boundaries aren't at all far apart, but it never feels too squished or constricting.

Combat is simple. If you’re savvy to what goes on around you then you’ll rarely die during fights. The most danger you’ll encounter will be during stealth sections. I detest stealth in games, but there’s so much else to enjoy that I was able to suffer it. Mercifully, it’s not overly challenging either.

You’ll occasionally be required to solve puzzles, in the style of The Legend of Zelda, but they’re few and far between; I’d have liked more.

Your motivation is the exposure of a political conspiracy. You’ll need to participate in some limited non-story quests and item-hunts if you’re to advance it at specific points. Far from being a distraction, they're a large part of what makes the game interesting. Whilst off the beaten track you’ll be on the lookout for wildlife to photograph. Catalogue enough unique specimens and you’ll be rewarded. You don’t need to find every one if you don’t want to.

Likewise, something the game uses for currency needs to be hunted/earned, but you won’t need to find them all to get to the end - and what an ending it is!

It’s no spoiler to say that a sequel is (maybe) on the way. I've been hungry for it for many years, but it seems as if it’ll skip the current gen entirely and if it ever does appear it’ll likely be on PC, PS4 and XBone. That makes me twitch.

A large part of what makes the game special is the stunning voice work. It has the correct amount of pathos, helping the concern each character feels for the other be also felt by the player. I was compelled to push on and remedy the emotional burden that weighs on Jade’s spirit as the story progressed. Gaming experiences like that don't come along very often.

4 boxes of K-Bups out of 5

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (2013)

Genre: RPG / Action  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Square Enix

HD 1.5 Remix contians two full games and FMV from a third title. The two games are KH: Final Mix (an updated version of KH), KH: Re:Chain of Memories (an updated version of KH:CoM), and the FMV is from KH: 358/2 Days. Rather than deal with what each game is (and isn't), I’ll list the changes that have been made for those that want to decide if it's worth double-dipping.

KH: Final Mix:

  • The camera is now controlled via the right analogue stick, not the shoulder buttons. It feels more natural on a stick but it’s not without problems. It can be a struggle to get it where you want it and not have Goof’s giant head filling the screen. Plus, unless you have a third thumb it’s now no longer moveable when gliding, which is a real problem.
  • There's a handful of new Heartless to wrap your Keyblade around, and many of the usual ones have been recoloured.
  • There’s new weapons (including alternate Ultimate weapons), ten new abilities, over a dozen new accessories, additional Gummi ship missions (*cringe), new Ansem Reports, and even some new FMV both in story mode and related to the new optional bosses.

However, the tweak that'll change your gaming experience the most from how you remember it is the game difficulties, of which there are three:

  • Final Mix Beginner:  You begin with a Ribbon, an EXP Chain, 8 Power Ups, 8 Guard Ups and 4 AP Ups.
  • Final Mix:  I assumed this would be the equivalent of Normal from the original release so I chose it, but it isn't. The Gummi Ship takes twice as much damage and your attack power is cut by one third.
  • Final Mix Proud:  The Gummi Ship's attack is reduced by 1/2, and damage taken is increased by a factor of 4. Yikes.

KH: Re:Chain of Memories:

  • CoM is now in a 3D environment. You can move around as you would in the original KH, but the transition from GBA sprites into PS2 era polygons makes it less enjoyable for a time. It was easier to accept the restrictions/limitations of the card system when it was on a handheld, but seeing it so close to being something it isn't makes those limitations less bearable. I wanted to do away with the cards altogether and gain real control of the battle system.
  • Thankfully, attaining stronger ATK cards means that becomes less of an issue in the second half. The addition of new bosses and some really awesome Sleights (special moves) also helped it eventually surpass the original in many ways.
  • The soundtrack has been improved, there’s new FMV and voice work, but when clown shoes speaks he sounds like he’s in his mid-twenties.

KH: 358/2 Days:

  • The FMV from the DS title is included but contains no actual gameplay. It’s as if Jim Bowen has walked into your room and said, “You’re a loser, but let’s have a look at what you could've won!” I assume its inclusion was to help newcomers get up to speed with the *story* before the inevitable KH 2.5 Remix collection comes out. Prepare to hate Roxas.

4 arrogant dicks in black coats out of 5