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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)

Genre: Action-adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo

The cel-shaded, GameCube entry in the legacy series.

Largely unchanged from previous 3D entries in the series as Link still controls the same with lock-on targeting and auto jump. Combat is slightly tweaked with new options like parrying and taking enemy weapons. Sailing is the new mode of travel with the use of a conductor's baton that controls the wind. Link uses it to sail to a variety of islands on this adventure. Many don't like the sailing, but i found it quite enjoyable as the waves, music and various sea-faring enemies made the ocean feel more alive than the empty fields of other instalments.

Bemoaned at release, the cel-shading art-style has proven one of the game's best features. Characters are more expressive, colors are vibrant and overall very beautiful.

The soundtrack is comprised of mostly wind instruments with an Irish influence that give a relaxed, tropical island feel. Very apropos and a great listen.

Link's sister, Aryll, is kidnapped on his birthday by a giant bird, so he takes to the seas in pursuit to rescue her.

Buyer's Guide:
Easily found, but the Zelda pedigree carries a premium. Even used copies go for around $30 which is twice the going rate for other games.

4 Triumph Forks out of 5

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fable (2004)

Genre: Action RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Lionhead Studios

Found a beat-up copy in a box. Thought I would give it a shot.

Journey across the land fighting monsters and such with a myriad of augment-able weapons and upgradeable spells in a sandbox-type environment. The hook here is the morality system that gives good or evil points based on your actions. Neither path is wrong, but it doesn't really matter since it only affects your appearance and a few alignment-specific spells. Choices that actually affect the story can be chosen either way regardless of alignment. It's a little harder to get laid when your evil, but nothing a new haircut and clothes won't fix. The marriage stuff affects nothing story-wise anyway.

Combat is straightforward. Choose a weapon or spell and press attack. Dodge occasionally to keep up your combo and boom, you win. Simple, but the best part of the game. The system for selecting items and hotkeys is a little unwieldy.

Pretty with some pop-in issues. A few times textures failed to load.

Your hometown is attacked and your family is murdered, so you are taken to train at the Hero's Guild. Then you can journey across Albion to uncover those responsible for the attack and complete quests.

Buyer's Guide:
Easily found since it was a good seller. Can be found for as low as $7 online for Xbox and PC. There is also the expansion The Lost Chapters.

2½ Union Jack underoos out of 5

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Panzer Dragoon Orta (2003)

Genre: Rail Shooter | Players: 1 | Developer: Smilebit

The 4th game of the series, Panzer Dragoon Orta continues the experience of fighting monsters and machines atop a flying dragon in a beautiful, surreal world.

Players defend themselves against enemies with lasers and missiles of the 3 different dragon forms an a 360 degree field of view. Quick transformation and speed adjusting is just as essential as shooting as both defense and offense. Each form has its own strengths and weaknesses and are upgraded separately. While mastery of all these options isn’t essential for story progression, it is for scoring as this is an arcade style shooter. Play is often frantic, but very satisfying. Along with some cool unlockables, this makes for some decent replay value.

The myriad of actions possible can seem daunting, but with a slight learning curve you’ll be using them all in conjunction. Swiveling viewpoint, changing forms and adjusting speed are all one button affairs that blend seamlessly with the action.

Stellar visuals especially for an older title. Everything is beautiful and colorful with a wide variety of landscapes throughout the levels. The creature designs are keeping inline with the series while still improved and visually exciting.

A girl named Orta is rescued from her life-long prison cell by a dragon before she can be killed by agents of the Empire. Now she fights against the Empire as she tries to learn more about herself.

Buyer’s Guide:
The game is rare, but still found easily enough online or occasionally in bargain bins. Can usually be found for between 15 and 40 bucks online or used.

4½ not another faceless imperial empire out of 5

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dragon Force (1996)

Genre: Real-time Strategy | Players: 1 | Developer: Sega

An overlooked title for the US-ignored Sega Saturn that has become a cult classic.

The game takes place on an over world map where players choose one of 8 kingdoms and attack and defend castles to take territory and conquer the other 7 kingdoms. Battles take place from a side view of the battlefield where players control a general and an army. Players choose formations, give commands and use special moves to defeat the opposing army before the timer runs out. Armies can be comprised of up to 100 soldiers on both sides. Troop types range from standard soldiers and cavalry to more mythical ones like harpies and zombies. Each type has strengths and weaknesses versus other types. For example, soldiers are great against beasts, but lose to cavalry and cavalry loses to beasts. Sort of a rock-paper-scissors with more options. Quick and simple, but fun and even addicting.

Sprites are done in a charming cartoon style and the game doesn’t chug even with full 100 man armies on both sides. Quite a feat back then. FMV’s are done in an anime style, but the old video quality doesn’t hold up as well as the sprites.

The soundtrack is quite good with various character themes, relaxing “at rest” melodies and catchy battle tunes. Each troop type has only one death sound which is kind of funny when many die in quick succession, but overall not very noticeable.

The kingdom of Fandaria has declared war on the entire continent of Legendra and the player must unite the kingdoms while searching for the titular Dragon Force.

Buyer’s Guide:
The game is a collector’s item so expect to shell out cash to own it. About $200 will get a mint copy and $50 might get a used one online. Or you can import the PS2 re-release that was only available in Japan.

5 god-fighting holy dragons out of 5

Monday, November 21, 2011

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions (2007)

Genre: Turn-based strategy | Players: 1-2 Vs. or Co-op | Developer: Square Enix

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions brings the Playstation classic to the PSP with new characters, job classes, cut scenes, a new translation and multiplayer.

Battles unfold on isometric battlefields where characters take turns maneuvering and attacking with a variety of weapons, spells, animals and job classes; all with different strengths and weaknesses. Players must also be aware of terrain, height and enemy placement to complete their objective. Battles can be very complex and satisfying for strategy and RPG enthusiasts. New additions now include wireless multiplayer where players can fight versus or co-op to complete missions and earn new weapons and items.

The new FMV cutscenes are beautifully done in a cel-shading art style and the original aesthetic is enhanced by the new widescreen aspect ratio. Unfortunately, almost every action in battle is met with annoying slowdown.

The soundtrack is one of Square Enix’s best and the voice acting for FMV’s is excellent. Sound effects in battle are affected by the slowdown, often finishing long before their respective action.

The end of a 50 year war has left rampant crime and poverty. The king dies and a regent is needed for his infant son to rule. Two candidates emerge; One with the banner of a black lion who is supported by the nobility and the other with the banner of a white lion supported by the poor and disenfranchised. This kicks off the titular conflict wherein you play as idealist knight-in-training Ramza as he and his associates are swept up in these events.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PSP, Playstation Network and iOS. The iOS version omits the multiplayer. The original PS1 version can be found used as well.

4 entitled assholes out of 5

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tekken 6 (2009)

Genre: Fighting | Players: 1-2 Vs. or Co-op | Developer: Namco Bandai

Tekken 6 is the latest in the fighting franchise that has become a staple of the genre with its eclectic ensemble of weird characters and action-packed 3D fights.

The game is packed with a large roster of characters both old and new with all the standard game modes ( Vs., Survival, Team Vs., etc.) plus a new Scenario Campaign that is more akin to old school beat-em-ups. While it is great Namco is trying something different, Scenario is at best amusing and at worst frustrating and unsatisfying. That wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t come at the expense of the classic modes. It has been made the focus of the game. The quickest way to gain unlockables is playing Scenario which is unfortunate if you don’t like it. It gives about 1000 times more cash than the classic modes. Although it is not important if you don’t mind sticking with the default costumes and such. The classic modes are solid if understated and online can be a good time.

Classic fighting is quick and intense with the addition of Bound and Auto-Block. Auto-Block may feel frustrating since it effectively nullifies 50% of your attacks with no effort from your opponent, but it gives its intended effect of making fights more aggressive since you now have to rely more on timing and switching between low and high attacks to start combos rather than just memorizing moves. Bound is just an official version of juggling that allows an extension of combos if you can slam your opponent to the ground. Scenario is hampered by allocating the joystick for movement forcing use of the D-pad for combos and an unreliable targeting system.

Soundtrack is a bit similar at times, but then again how many music genres besides Rock and Metal are really appropriate for bloodsport? Some stand-out tracks I would listen to by themselves.

Jin has taken over the Mishima Zaibatsu and declares war on the world. It is really unimportant and often cheesy.

Buyers Guide:
Available in arcades, PS3, Xbox 360 and PSP. PSP and arcade versions omit the Scenario Campaign.

3.5 Devil Genes out of 5

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time (1992)

Genre: Beat ‘Em Up  |  Players: 1 to 2 co-op  |  Developer: Konami

It’s time to play with power, both the Nintendo and especially the Turtle kind because today we’ve got a brief overview of a fan favorite SNES title.
Did Konami score a 9.95 in a time when most licensed titles kinda totally blew or did they just make a funny?

Walk from the right side of the screen to the left and beat the shit out of everyone. Face off with the boss at the end and then advance to the next level scoring points and grabbing the occasional power up along the way and generally try not to die. Repeat until the end.
Being an arcade title form the 90’s means that the action can get repetitive but I find that the difficulty and length of the game is just right so that if you’re playing with a buddy you’ll beat the game before it gets boring and that while you’re not going to want 2nds right away you might find it fun again later on down the pipe.

D-pad to move around, 1 button for attacking & 1 button form jumping. The move set is both varied and limited in that you have several different jump attacks, rush moves,  & 2 different grab attacks but they’re performed by attacking a foe when stunned and at different angels like the throws or by hitting the jump and attack buttons at different times with one another to high kick, drop kick ett., while pressing both buttons simultaneously unleashes a maximum damage inducing special attack that eats some of your life bar. 

Bright and colorful with a strong comic book or cartoon vibe that when paired with the animations of the characters fills the game with the same spirit that the cartoon or lighter Archie Turtle comics had.

Well suited sound effects coupled with a high energy soundtrack and sound bites; (“My toe, my toe ~weeooweeooweeo”) makes the audio of the game feel ‘Turtley” even when the components used were never implemented in the original cartoon.

The Evil Shredder attacks and the turtle boys don’t cut him no slack. There also might be time travel.

Buyer’s Guide:
I believe there just so happens to be 4 different versions of this game.
  • The original is actually a 4 player arcade cabinet game.
  • The version we’re looking at today is the Super Nintendo port which added a new technodrome level as well as some more enemies and a VS. & Time Trial modes. While all the other versions have 4 player co-op the SNES only has 2 but I think it’s probably the best one.
  • In the game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare a slightly tweaked version of the arcade game was a bonus you could unlock.
  • And in 2009 Ubisoft released an updated remake entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles In Time Re-Shelled with new graphics more akin to the 2007 TMNT movie. It’s based off  the arcade version so sadly all the extras form the SNES aren’t present. It’s available for X-Box 360 & PS3 as a downloadable game and supports 4 players both in real life and online.
4 xenomorhs incubated inside Chucky Cheese pizzas out of 5

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Genre: Role-playing | Players: 1 | Developer: Bethesda

I was not initially very enthusiastic about this game when it first came out. I had never heard of the series and I had watched others play and it seemed less than enthralling. Then I gave it a shot one day because I had already sat down and was too lazy to get up again and change the disc. This spurred me to buy a copy off of Steam.

The action can come in a 1st or 3rd person view as you journey across Tamriel on a great adventure. Or just dick around killing wildlife and completing sidequests. It's your choice.
The environment is huge and full of towns, characters and caves to explore. It can almost be too huge causing over-reliance on the fast travel feature which undermines the adventure feeling a bit.
The choices are also vast. Everything from your stats, leveling and what you wear or use. I spent countless hours just in the character creation messing with all the options for race, hairstyle and facial features. I set out to make the ugliest bastard I could. He ended up looking like Doc Brown. Still satisfying.
This is also where things can get complicated. While there are many choices for stats, there are really only a few ways they can be implemented if you don't want to be screwed by the weird, disjointed leveling system. I recommend choosing a path and sticking with it. Mixing and matching classes will only lead to wasted skills and underpowered characters.
Spells can be bought or you can make your own with some equipment and come in all types. They can be straight up destruction with fire, lightning, etc or They can be used to augment yourself, your weapons, armor or those of your enemy. Melee Combat is just as varied with a wide range of weapons and armor. All this makes the game very customizable and replayable. All this can be used on enemies ranging from wildlife like wolves and bears to bandits and wraiths. Or you can spend your time talking to citizens and taking quests that range from missing persons to dungeon crawling and assassination.
Overall: Great variety, imperfect execution.

The controls can be daunting since the games range of choices necessitates a large menu system to handle all your options. It may require some time to learn. Learning and taking advantage of hotkeys will let you switch and use items on the fly and shorten the amount of time you will spend in menus.
Melee combat I found was better in 3rd person view since it gave a better view of the fight. Better for retreating and such.
Magic and arrows however pretty much require 1st person if you want to actually hit anything. Another reason not to mix classes. Advantage goes to the PC version for this.
Overall the controls could have been a little smoother and more precise. Small things like ending conversation or picking up small items(or dropping items) should be quicker and less of a hassle. Advantage goes to the console version here as some of these tasks can be done with the push of a button.

They may be a bit dated now, but they can still impress with grand vistas and crisp vibrant colors that can really make the landscape look great. This is of course only if you have a system that can handle it which can be a problem as it can still cause computers to chug even after so many years. If you have to compromise too much, it will make everything bland. I only experienced slowdown in one place which made me turn off grass causing everything to be very flat and boring.

Sound effects are clear though they can be irksome sometimes. I don't need to hear the clink of my armor all the time especially since it sounds like the same clink over and over.
This lack of variety is also a problem with the voice acting. What is there is generally OK, but with only a handful of voice actors you find yourself speaking to the same 3 people over and over. Especially takes you out of the experience when a person switches between voices mid-conversation. I can read faster than they talk so turning off subtitles made me actually listen which made the game more engaging.
The music is the stand-out here as it is both epic and mood-enhancing though probably not something you would listen to by itself.

You are inadvertently released from prison as the Emperor flees assassination. You are tasked with finding the forces behind these events along with other major quest-lines.

Buyer's Guide:
The game is widely available on either the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC along with expansions and downloadable content. The Game of the Year Edition contains all of these for only a few bucks more.

3 Looted Bandit Corpses out of 5

Monday, November 14, 2011

[SNES] Super Mario World (1991)

Genre: Platform | Players: 1 or 2 taking turns | Developer: Nintendo

Super Mario World was the very 1st video game I ever played and after all these years it’s still one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of laying hands on.
So pop a mushroom, mount your dinosaur, and swing your arms from side to side ‘cause it’s time to do the Mario!

Game Play:
Start at one end of the screen and work your way to the other before time runs out all the while beating foes and avoiding obstacles.

SMW continues the evolution from the preceding Super Mario Bros. games by adding new skills that complement the already established moves as well as tweaking the already familiar mechanics.

The combination of a decent learning curve and the fact that you can, unlike in previous Mario games revisit older levels for fun and power ups make it so that you aren’t totally overwhelmed by the near impossible stuff that pops up later on. What you will be overwhelmed by is the plethora of levels to explore, with different routes that you can take to the game’s finale and several levels with more than one way to beat it you’re going to have a lot of ground to cover.

There is a 2 player mode which has player 1 as Mario & player 2 as Luigi taking turns clearing levels. You can give and take lives from each other on the over world but other than that there’s not much interaction between the 2 players in terms of co-op and you’ll have to keep track of who has the most points or what have you to add an actual competitive slant on things. Other than that it is kinda nice to have something like it in place but the ability to tag out mid level like in Donkey Kong Country, an overall score system between the two, or just a straight up both run at the same time mode would have been preferable.

Everything feels perfectly natural. Running, jumping, swimming, flying, grabbing, climbing, kicking, & spinning are all handled using the D-pad, A, B, & Y buttons and there’s hardly any learning curve. It’s perfectly intuitive to run, grab a shell, jump up on a platform, toss the shell up knocking a mushroom out of a block, jump on a goomba, catching the falling shell, jumping across a pit to another platform whilst also catching the falling mushroom, kicking the shell into a troop of koopas, & then jumping over the shell as it bounces back all in one broad movement.

I find that while 8-bit era and Playstation/N64 graphics often look far too archaic and like dead building blocks to the modern eye the 16 bit Super Nintendo & Genesis are still visually pleasing to watch for the most part. The 16 bit sprites here are simple yet have a great deal of personality to them.
This game is just pure animated fun with imaginative level and character designs that recall many western cartoons but still has plenty of distinctive Japanese aesthetics as well.  

The sound effects are as cute as they are iconic. The music is very upbeat, catchy, and complements the various environments ranging from an undersea maze to a mountain range at midnight and can incite everything between dreamy lullabies and frenetic races to the finish.

The standard Mario tale of a turtle titian taking the toadstool tart to a terrible tower teaming with traps and the titular toilet technicians trekking treacherous turf to trounce the terrapin traitor.

Buyer’s Guide:
Super Mario World has been released, ported, & remade several times and is easily had for a decent price:
  • The original cartridge in 1991. 
  • The combo Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World that was released in 1994 as a bonus pack in for the SNES. 
  • As Super Mario Advance 2 on the game Boy Advance in 2002. I have had hands on experience with this and can say that while it’s mostly the same game there are some substantial differences that add to the game as well as make it easier like more check points, not turning tiny when getting hit, the ability to save anytime, the fact that you keep all your extra earned lives and coins when you save and turn the game off, and Luigi is not only playable in the solo game but also no longer plays like Mario and instead handles like Luigi does in Super Mario Brothers 2. 
  • It’s also on the virtual Console for the Wii, as well. 
  • It's predictably on the SNES mini.
5 giant turtle football players throwing pink baseballs out of 5.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Flower, Sun and Rain: Murder and Mystery in Paradise (2008)

Genre: Mystery  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture

I'd describe Flower, Sun and Rain as a mystery game, but it’s a mystery game developed by Suda 51, so it’s typically beyond the realms of weird, slithering into bat-shit crazy territory.

You play as Sumio Mondo, a 'searcher' with an ability to find lost things. Aided by a talking suitcase named Catherine you interact with items in the game world that are real and unreal, spiritual or just plain bizarre. You decode puzzles by plugging Catherine into objects, consulting your guide book or talking with the other guests of the Flower, Sun and Rain hotel.

With little instruction or help I found myself wandering around lost a lot of the time; a heck of a lot. Not that I could wander very far, much of the game world is closed off in its own tightly controlled hermetic space, which is very irritating.

It’s populated with a cast of weirdos that speak a mumbling kind of gibberish, much like Suda’s Killer7 (2005) game. There's a non-linear David Lynch sense of time. Sumio exists in a seemingly-endless time loop that adds further mystery to the story. The reason you were summoned to the hotel in the first place is never far away from your mind, but at the same time seems a million miles away.

The most frustrating thing (besides the lack of instruction) is the repetitiveness of the text. You’ll end up talking to the same person a lot and reading the same thing over and over while trying to pinpoint a single word that might hold a clue to the mystery. It gave my head a mini-meltdown.

I'm glossing over a lot of details here because of limited space, so I’ll end by saying if you like Suda 51’s brand of the bizarre, or want to be frustrated to the point of agony with puzzles that initially seem to have nothing in common with their eventual solution, then you may find something of interest in FS+R.

2½ eerie peepholes out of 5

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Flower (2009)

Genre: ??? | Players1 | Developer: thatgamecompany

In flower you play as an air current that exists inside the dream of a potted flower that sits by a window in a city block. I know that sounds kind of weird.

You pick up a single flower petal and by using the PS3 controller's tilt mechanism direct the petal toward unopened flowers, steering by tilting left or right, gaining height or swooping down by tilting forward or back, and accelerating with a button... any button, they're all the same. It’s the only game I've played that’s managed to make proper use of the tilt-sensing aspect of the controller.

Once you've mastered the control system (30 seconds) it’s relatively simple to encourage your petal passenger serenely along your chosen path, and as you brush past other flowers they blossom and add more petals to your cargo.

Get enough of one colour and something wonderful will happen. Get all of every colour and the world comes alive with a vibrant picturesque response, similar to Clover’s Ōkami (2006). The sense of serene, uplifting achievement as the landscape changed because of my actions is hard to express; I felt like Van Gogh, the controller was my brush, the game world my canvas and I was an artist.

Personally, I despise FPS games. I hate the grey and brown shades that accompany the generic bald jarhead thug so popular nowadays. If you feel similarly then flower is a welcome relief and may be the game for you. At heart it’s simple, but is executed with such beauty and passion that it’s easy to lose hours in the poetic unravelling of colour and life.

It's a PSN game, so is available via download only. There’s a demo of the entire first level so it won’t cost anything to try.

5 interactive paintings out of 5

LittleBigPlanet (2008)

Genre: Platform | Players: 1 - 4 | Developer: Media Molecule

LBP is a cutesy platform game. Controls are basic; you run, jump, swing, fall, slide, get set on fire and die the same as all the others. A cursory look on YouTube for a gameplay vid may make you go “Meh!” Look under the bonnet of the level creator, however, and the real magic will jump out and hump your brain. LBP is the best virtual toy box you'll ever have. It’s Lego, Meccano and Stickle Bricks stitched together with an amazingly good physics engine. The only real limitation is your own imagination. When you create a level that doesn't self-destruct the first time you play it, you earn your smug.

My only real criticism is the floaty jumping mechanic; it never really feels like you’re making contact with some of the floors.

The entire One Player element included on the disc was built using the same basic tools that are given to the user, so you can view the One Player game as being essentially a tech demo of what can be achieved.

Once it got into the hands of the bedroom developers the game became something else, something remarkable. It heralded a new community attitude for console games, something the PC market had enjoyed for years. At time of writing there are over one million user-generated levels available, from the most basic empty lot created by a four-year-old to the decades experienced mechanical engineer astrophysicist levels that will leave your jaw on the floor. People did things with the tools that the devs at Media Molecule hadn't considered possible.

The best thing about the LBP toy box is that you can’t stand on a stray brick in the dark at 2 a.m and squeal like a bitch. I played the game for over two years, I only stopped because LBP 2 came out.

5 blank canvases and copyright infringements out of 5

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2004)

Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1 Developer: Capcom

Minish Cap is the 12th LoZ game and it’s another classic.   You play as the green-suited and brown-booted Link but can change his name to whatever you prefer, so if you want to be Mr Big Sword you can do that.

This time he pairs up with a talking hat that grants the fairy-boy beneath it the ability to shrink to a tiny size, which in turn enables him to reach new places and to interact with a race of small people called the Minish.  This is much more useful than it first seems because the Minish are crucial to the hero’s quest to kill the baddie and rescue the princess.

Gameplay follows the usual pattern; if you’re not familiar with the games that means: enter dungeon, obtain an item you can’t advance without, kill the bad guy and then advance to the next dungeon.  Beyond that there are things to do in the world of Hyrule that will extend your life bar or grant you new abilities.  Many of the side-quests will be impossible to complete until you have a specific item or weapon, usually found in the aforementioned dungeons.

Everything is beautifully designed and unfolds at the player's own pace.  If you don’t want to go dungeon diving you can relax in Hyrule, chop down some grass or hunt for Rupees (loot).   There's a mini pairing-up game that is worth taking the time to explore as it will unlock hidden areas.

It’s the inventiveness of the weapons, the puzzles, the numerous side-quests, the endearing characterisation and the satisfaction of taking down a monstrous boss that make a Zelda game so very special.

4 Gorons all in a row out of 5

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

[PS3] Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland (2009)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Gust

I have an odd fascination with alchemy. I think it appeals to the same part of me that loves baking, and that wishes I was good at chemistry. I've enjoyed every game in Gust's Atelier series that I've had the chance to play, but none of them appeal to me the way the Alchemist of Arland trilogy does. The first game in the series, Atelier Rorona, stars Rorolina Frixell, a girl who largely succeeds at alchemy because she's not bright enough to overthink it. In spite of Rorona's ditziness, she's a fun, likable character who plays off the rest of the game's cast nicely.

Most of Rorona's gameplay revolves around completing various alchemy assignments within a specified period of time. It can be challenging to manage your time at first, but once you're really familiar with the game's crafting system and the location of ingredients, you'll have plenty of time to explore the game's world. More than anything else, playing Rorona is relaxing. There are challenging boss fights to be found, but most of the time I've spend in Rorona's world has been calming. The game's graphics are stylized, and while the anime look won't appeal to every gamer, I find them to be quite lovely.

There's the occasional bit of Japan weirdness in character interactions- for some reason, all the adult women of Arland seem to have a thing for Rorona- but in general, the townspeople are sweet, funny, and have their own engaging stories. There is an enormous amount of content for every character. I've beaten the game more than a dozen times and still haven't seen every scene or earned every ending. Atelier Rorona is very much a niche game, but for those who it appeals to, it's a game you can play endlessly.

4.5 pies made with alchemy out of 5

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (2011)

Genre: Action & Adventure | Players: 1 - ? | Developer: Naughty Dog

Following in the tradition of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, the Uncharted series reinvents the old fashioned spirit of fun and adventure for a whole new generation. This latest entry proves to be the greatest one yet, with an epic storyline and expansive set pieces involving ships, aircrafts, vast deserts, and so, so much more. I was blown away how gorgeous and flawless the graphics look; the gameplay feels so polished and ever-changing and never boring; I wonder what it's going to be like looking back on this in 10 years. The larger-than-life quality of the story and the characters makes it feel more like a movie than most movies, if that makes any sense.

If there's one bad thing that could be said about it, it's that it feels short, because you never want to put it down; I completed it in only 2 days of not showering or leaving the house (10 hours total; same as the other two), but I can't wait to play it through another time. Plus there's shitloads of multiplayer content to keep this player busy. Can't say enough about it; it's the best action-adventure game I've experienced since God of War III.

5 Nathan Drakes getting the shit beat out of him out of 5