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.

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…

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Snoopy vs. The Red Baron (2006)

Genre: Action, Flight Simulator | Players: 1-6 | Developer: Smart Bomb Interactive

I bought this on a whim because it was less than 5 dollars and I like Snoopy. Still a surprise that I had such a good time with it anyway. The Schulz estate is very picky with licensing out the Peanuts characters, but they apparently made the right choice by allowing this one.

Players play as Snoopy's alter ego of a World War 1 flying ace as he completes missions for the Royal Flying Corps with it's various officers played by the various Peanuts characters as he strafes bases, sinks ships and of course dogfights with various fighters. The controls are very simple and responsive and there are numerous side-weapons besides the standard machine gun that are all comical and silly since it is only cartoon violence like potato guns, water balloon launchers and firework missiles each with different advantages. There are also a few maneuvers that Snoopy can pull with his stunt meter for getting the advantage in dogfights. The objectives vary, but will mostly be variations of destroy a certain number of enemies or collect such and such item. The game is far on the easy side of the difficulty spectrum unless one is trying to get the highest rank for each mission and even then you might get it without trying unless you are younger than 10 years or have a severe disability, but it is overall quite enjoyable.

The graphics are crisp and clean and despite this being a rare 3D appearance for these characters, they are rendered very similarly to their comic counterparts. The PSP version has been downgraded a bit with certain animations missing like cartoony explosions and a few graphics here and there, but nothing noticeable unless one is looking for it. The biggest problem is with the audio which is often out of sync in cutscenes and the endless looping of the limited soundtrack. The menus and compatibility with the PSP could have used some smoothing over like how using the PSP's sleep function might cause the autosave to throw a hissy fit, but it never went anywhere terrible like erasing saves. There is also frequent loading even in places where it seemed unnecessary like how the game loads and autosaves when you leave the store even if you didn't buy anything, but these are mostly nitpicks. The one advantage the PSP has is the up to 6 players in ad-hoc multiplayer over the 4 on the PS2 and only AI opponents on the PC, though, given the game's age, good luck finding anyone to play with.
Overall, exceptional with rough edges made better if one is familiar with the characters.

Buyer's Guide:
Available used on PSP, PS2 and PC. Probably really cheap.

Only a few sinful "fly through the rings" missions out of 5

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Silent Hill Downpour (2012)

Genre: Survival-Horror, Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Vatra Games

As scary as it is, I have a needlessly long history with this game. A history characterized by allegations about the mechanics and dread regarding the future of the franchise. I finally faced those fears, however.

The new, titular mechanic is the rain cycle. Stay outside long enough and it will begin to storm. This is positively correlated with enemy spawns. Escaping into buildings will usually reset the weather and elicit an auto-save. I would complain, but we’ve always been at the mercy of save points, so it isn’t a huge deal. Side-quest accomplishments also grant saves, keeping this new “open world” take on the town tolerable.

Only one such quest requires you to have previously cleared the story, but there is no New Game+ feature to help you if you missed any others. The nature of Silent Hill would have easily justified spitting you back out just before the point of no return.

Several saves are held in memory and load easily for scumming purposes, as this isn’t Homecoming. No auto-circling, no dodge rolls. Your melee weapons can break, but it’s only noteworthy on higher difficulties. It should also be said that the method of choosing what guns to stash can be a little obtuse.

In general, Murphy needs to run to both fight effectively and advance the plot. Yes, Shattered Memories’ chase mechanic returns. The paths are much tighter and require both trial & error and observation to overcome being lost in a loop. I found it simply different, not better or worse.

Its return is actually telling of the game’s intentional design. This, and the lack of traditional boss battles, facilitate an optional mode of play that is appropriate for Murphy’s character. In the end, that’s a huge part of what a successful Silent Hill game needs to do: Atmosphere must be married to gameplay decisions that inform and correctly suit the protagonist.

Ultimately, Downpour’s only great crime is its tendency to stutter briefly on occasion. This can occur when the game is trying to micro-load, is preparing to award a trophy, or is switching to a rare, fixed camera angle. It’s a legitimate problem, but it never happened as I was fighting or during the chase sequences; it never got me hurt.

I’m playing apologist. I love this series. I might eventually need a PS4. Fuck.

Welcome to the fold, Murphy.

Buyer's Guide: Cheaply available on both PS3 and Xbox 360.

3½ Todd Manning Scars out of 5

Monday, November 18, 2013

Final Fantasy IX (2000)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: SquareSoft

The ninth installment of Square's flagship series is a return to its roots, ditching the cyberpunk and sci-fi trappings of VII and VIII and returning to a more classical medieval fantasy setting with a generally more lighthearted tone in both plot and character design. The main protagonist Zidane is a thief whose group of thieves/theater actors has been hired to kidnap Princess Garnet of the Alexandria kingdom. He is surprised when she actually wants to be kidnapped, but Queen Brahne of course isn't happy about it. After their airship crashes during the escape an adventure begins at first to get Garnet to safety and then to explore the reasons for the Queen's increasingly aggressive actions that threaten to plunge the whole of the known world into war.

The return to roots in setting is also in the gameplay mechanics such as the return to a 4 member party limit and exclusive classes between characters as well as numerous callbacks and references to the series as a whole. The leveling and abilities have been simplified and the whole game is much more accessible and user-friendly, making this a good entry point for new players. Though the game feels much shorter than other installments and it actually is since it is possible to complete the game in less than 20 hours which is a fraction of most JRPGs. One sidequest even requires a time limit to the endgame of 12 hours. Of course how much the player chooses to indulge in the leveling, minigames and sidequests will affect how much time and joy they get out of the gameplay which is good for experienced players.

The aesthetics are very well-designed with the bright and slighty cartoony backgrounds as well as the more stylized and deformed characters ranging from standard humans to anthropomorphized hippos and anteaters. This is only hampered by the limits of the console it was designed for as the PlayStation was on its last legs at the time of this release. The pixels on top of polygons effect that was used does squeeze more detail out of the hardware, but adds to it sometimes grainy and muddled visuals. Whatever that lacks in visuals though is made up in story and characters. The 8 main characters are all likeable and relatable with each trying to overcome their own problems ranging from existential crisis, the nature of duty and honor, love and loss and loneliness, etc.  The adventure is not only a quest for a goal, but also a personal growth journey for each of them. My personal favorite of the series as well as that of the series' creator as it represents everything that the series was envisioned to be.

Buyer's Guide:
Can be found for the original PlayStation in both the original and Greatest Hits releases and as a PSone Classic on PlayStation Network.

Surprisingly no palette swaps of enemies out of 5

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Grand Theft Auto Online (2013)

Genre: Sandbox  |  Players: 1 - 16  |  Developer: Rockstar North

I’ll begin with a confession: I'm not a fan of online gaming. There are some exceptions, but primarily I play a game to be immersed in story, not for social interaction. I’d much rather someone who cares about online gaming review this, but unfortunately you’re stuck with me.

I'm not being puerile when I say I agree with RS that GTA Online is a separate game; albeit one that uses the same resources and game mechanics as the one player aspect. It has its own levelling-up system, its own monetary system, its own property market and, most importantly, its own unique missions.

It’s set two months before GTA V, so people you may have assassinated there are still available here to offer you jobs. Complete jobs or activities and you’ll earn Reputation Points (RP). Get enough RP and you’ll level-up.

Working your way up the ranks unlocks new items that you can purchase from the in-game stores; things like silencers for guns, engine and transmission upgrades for your personal vehicle, or new clothes.

Jobs also earn you money. Everything revolves around money and not having enough of it. You’ll work your ass off just to afford a new engine. Acquiring enough for an entire car will take a long time.

You could steal a flash car but the mod-shops will refuse to respray it and the cops will have such a hard-on for you that it’s not worth the hassle. Losing your wanted level only stops them for a short time. That means you’re either stuck with a shitbox or you buy your own and upgrade it; and don’t forget to insure it or you’ll have wasted your cash when it eventually gets blown to pieces.

At time of writing, the Heists aren't yet playable, but are promised as FREE DLC in the not-too-distant future. It’s a shame.becuase they are the only part of the online experience that I was genuinely interested in.

Similarly, the Content Creator is still forthcoming.  he official word from RS is that it'll be initially limited to Death Matches and Races (yawn). Perhaps in the future there'll be an option to create custom jobs and rewards.

The potential to add to the game-world over time is reportedly “endless”, which is overly optimistic in my opinion, but admittedly there's scope for a large number of variations on a theme. If they can keep those variations fresh and interesting it'll help distract from the repetitious nature of the theme.

3½ fetch and carry missions out of 5

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shadowgate (1989)

Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: ICOM Simulations Inc.

In this Kemco point and click adventure the player finds themselves abruptly thrown into a high-fantasy yarn where the goal is to stop a nefarious wizard from summoning the ultimate beast: the mighty behemoth! Isn’t there a million of those running around in the Final Fantasy universe? Oh well, this one is special, I guess~

Thankfully, I was never actively mislead or berated by this game and I had a relatively pain free experience as a result. I did have a few conversations about it with a friend who also played these games years ago, however, and I’d recommend you to do much the same. You don’t need to be so specifically fortunate, though, since you can always try to convince someone else to take these journeys with you right now. Checking a FAQ will usually feel like cheating but playing concurrently with someone else is a shared experience, in my opinion.

Returning to the specifics of gameplay, Shadowgate’s defining feature is its torch system. This game revels in its hyper-specific causes of instant death, so never let your torches go out. There are quite a few available but I would still recommend save scumming like a boss. Do something significant? Save. Work your way through as usual and as soon as you figure something else out, reset and do it again as fast as you possible can. Rinse and repeat. It should be noted that the cursor even moves at a speedier clip to accommodate this de facto time limit.

There are also a number of respawning instances that require resources of limited quantity. Scumming helps in this regard as well, cutting down on backtracking which could get you stranded if you do it too many times. I never did come across a place to pare down my inventory like in the other games, but I didn’t have too much trouble without it, to be honest.

Ultimately, alongside Uninvited, Shadowgate is very much worth your time if you can get behind the genre and setting and have the patience befitting.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on Apple IIGS, Mac, Atari ST, Amiga, DOS, NES, Windows (Pocket PC), Palm OS, and Game Boy Color.

4 Deadly Renaissance Faires out of 5

Deja Vu (1990)

Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: ICOM Simulations Inc.

This entry in the NES Kemco-Seika trilogy finds you passed out in a seedy bathroom stall with no memory of who you are and very few clues to go on. They roll in at a fast enough pace, however, and before you know it you’re at the center of a small detective tale.

Compared to the mostly straight forward gameplay of Uninvited, Deja Vu opts to include several random elements in its narrative. These are ultimately harmless and can be worked around if you have the patience to abuse the save system and your reset button. On top of that, you will be gambling for cab fare and the math can work out such that you could be left stranded. I didn’t bother to find out what happens if you are, but you’re more than welcome to experiment on your own.

Again, the music falls equally into the discrete categories of awesome, okay, and ear-wrecking. Thankfully, I can only think of one screen where the last is an issue. I would also like to note that if you rapidly skip text on the final screen of the game it will happily erase your file. I was able to replicate this several times and I have no idea why it happens. The option to continue is the default on the game over splash and even then selecting end doesn’t erase your file any other time. It is a mystery.

Okay, I’m going to save you a LOT of frustration by sharing this game’s biggest fault: You’re going to face an obstacle detectives come across repeatedly in their work. You’re going to want to use a logical solution for the ones that cannot be circumvented by the standard means. It won’t work most of the time and the game will actually mock you for trying at one point. The problem is it does work a small number of times, and for me these instances came up after I had been chastised. My inclination to continue trying had been brought to zero. In short, keep trying solutions every time they are applicable.

In the end, the game can become an exercise in trial and error, with the final failure screens guiding you on how to fully prepare yourself. The process of how this is done left a bad taste in my mouth and I can’t help but feel Phoenix Wright would be ashamed.

I still have a fondness for Deja Vu but it is assuredly the annoying-ass little brother of this family of games.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on Apple IIGS, Mac, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amiga, DOS, NES, Game Boy Color, and Microsoft WIndows (Pocket PC). The GBC version includes its sequel.

2 Really Bad Tacos out of 5

Uninvited (1991)

Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: ICOM Simulations Inc.

Through the late 80s and early 90s, Kemco-Seika were kind enough to port three of their notable point and click adventures to the NES. Uninvited was my favorite as a child and I’d argue that it remains the best realized of the lot. Modern gamers may find adventure games of this vintage to be incredibly hokey and/or frustrating but this one still oozes atmosphere if you can let yourself succumb to its charms. The potential for dead stops is certainly present, but I have to give Uninvited credit for its non-damning drop system. Attempting to drop items in the designated locations allows you to pare down your inventory to only the most essential items.

In veeeery loose terms, Uninvited is the Resident Evil of this trilogy. You’re trying to find your sister after crashing your car in front of a foreboding mansion. That’s all you’re getting out of me. The presentation is competent, if bare-bones, and is carried along by a wonderful sense of humor that is present not only in flavor text but also some of the puzzle solutions and item placements. There’s even an easter egg for another Kemco game!

On the music front, two of the tracks are among the funkiest and best I’ve heard on the NES. Mega Man caliber. The nothing’s-going-on tunes are perfectly serviceable, but some of the danger cues can be annoying as fuck if you let them grate on long enough.

There was one major thing that impeded my enjoyment of the second half of the game. I’m not going to tell you what it is, though, because upon completion I discovered it was a result of my own stupidity. The great thing is that the problem in question was made tolerable by the game’s insanely convenient continue mechanic. You will always continue one screen back from where you met your untimely demise. Nothing is lost beyond a few clicks worth of work, no matter what befalls you. You only need worry about saving when you want to end a session.

I can’t recommend this game to everyone, but I can absolutely recommend it to anyone with the patience and imagination this genre necessitated at the time. Kemco’s works may not be as beloved as many of Sierra’s ambitious endeavors, but they have a very special place in my heart (and on my wall), regardless.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on Apple IIGS, Mac, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amiga, NES, Famicom, PC (DOS and WIndows), and Windows Mobile (Pocket PC).

4 Seemingly Useful Fruit Bowls out of 5

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Constantine (2005)

Genre: Action/3rd Person Shooter | Players: 1 | Developer: Bits Studios/SCi Games

In terms of gameplay, while almost every individual mechanic here is executed competently, the collective simply cannot rise above being blatantly run-of-the-mill. The camera rarely fights you, melee combat has satisfying rumble support, aiming is responsive, and you can even snipe pretty well from great distances. The magic is varied and every spell has a solid purpose either in terms of combat effectiveness or simply traversing the environment.

In fact, some of these spells are given more time to shine compared to their brief appearances in the movie. Most of the areas you’ll explore expand greatly on the ones visited by Keanu and co., as well. The remainder are new, insanely logical choices. These two aspects are representative of this game’s biggest strength: world building. I so rarely see expansions and continuations of fictional universes that are worthwhile and not just cash grabs. The movieverse of Constantine is not complete for me with the movie alone. Even if the storyline here is modified and not as tightly wound, everything about the mythos and world itself is ridiculously top-notch.

Constantine must travel through this plane and hell itself in a manner similar to the dark and light world mechanic of A Link to the Past. Instead of a mirror, puddles of water and holy water ampules ferry you between worlds to solve puzzles and generally progress. Some levels even take place entirely in hell and can become unsettling in the best ways. The requisite collection system has you searching for 12 tarot cards in each level. These yield concept art and some cool interview clips with Gaven Rossdale and Max Baker. For me, the main benefit is being given an excuse to explore the world thoroughly.

While a few actors reprise their roles, Keanu does not. I’m not going to say unfortunately, however, because frankly Bill Hope often out-Keanus Keanu.


This was one of the two games I first bought for the PS2 and I’m still playing it all these years later. That says it all.

Buyer’s Guide: It’s on the PS2 and Xbox. It does work on the 360, but that version has a sloppier HUD, if that sort of thing matters to you. Wiki says it’s on PC. Hmm. News to me.

3½ Above-Average Licensed Games out of 5

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Genre: Sandbox  |  Players: One  |  Developer: Rockstar North

Note: This is for the single player aspect only. GTA Online is included on the disc but is essentially a separate game, so is reviewed HERE.

GTA IV was a depressing game. I would go into it for escapism and come out feeling worse. TLaD is hardly worth mentioning, but TBoGT proved that Rockstar could do better if they tried. With V, they tried and they succeeded. Hell, they excelled. It’s still minus some key elements from the series past that I suspect were held back perhaps for future DLC episodes, or maybe even for GTA Online, but what’s included on the disc is a vast improvement over the miserable fourth numbered entry in every way. Nico is just a bad memory; that pleases me.

How is V better? There are too many reasons to list them all, but here’s a few: the driving is fixed (motorbikes are again the best way to travel); the targeting is fixed; saving your game is simpler; mission structures are more varied; the protagonists are more entertaining; the humour is back; and the radio stations are more interesting. RS learned a lot from the success of Red Dead Redemption, and quite rightly they've included the best bits of it in GTA.

Contrary to what the tabloids claim, it's not just a senseless murder simulator. I'm not trying to pretend it’s high art, it’s not, it’s just a game, but it’s a game that takes a long, hard look at the world in which we live and dares to make a statement about why it’s a complicated mess of selfish ideals, political chicanery and social stratification. It’s a game that takes the American dream and holds it up to a filthy mirror. It’s coloured with biting satire and pop culture spoofs while being critical of television, radio and newspapers, and that most abhorrent of control mechanisms: the opiate of the masses. And that’s just scratching the surface of what you can find within.

The amount of small detail that RS have included is staggering; I've never seen anything like it. I’d occasionally just stop and listen to NPC’s, drink in the ambience and exist for a short time in the game world.  Check out this time lapse video and see for yourself just how alive the City seems to be: CLICK ME.

My only criticism is that the game world is too big. That may seem an odd thing to say, but the scale of it makes it impossible to take in and less intuitive to navigate.
You should also be aware that while it’s bigger geographically, it's also shorter in length than previous games and the difficulty level is lower. I've played all entries since III and this one is by far the easiest of them all.

5 carefully planned heists out of 5

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mega Man 7 (1995)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

This is pretty much going to cement that I have a hard-on for SNES-era Mega Man. No, I’m not counting Soccer -_-  When the classic series FINALLY debuted in the 16-bit arena, the Blue Bomber hit it out of the park with his first and (sadly) last at bat (in the NA region).

The sprites grew to monstrous sizes, the backgrounds vividly brought each level to life, and a greater emphasis was placed on searching for upgrades and secrets. Sure, you could buy all of them in the shop, but why spend bolts on things you can get for free if you’re a thorough enough player? You can save your money for the extra lives needed to tackle Wily IMMEDIATELY after the boss rush. I don’t much appreciate marathon battles (I’m looking at you 1) but I persevered here because I just like this entry THAT much.

There are a few elemental bosses, but one has a neat design, one’s a transformer, and one is an incredibly cool customer with an involved pattern you will love to chase him through once you’ve figured it out. Beyond that we’ve got a vampire, an improvised munitions specialist, Wolverine and.....a pile of junk and a walking spring.....

Shut up, they’re cool.

A new antagonist and his dog debut here and are able to combine just as you were in 6. To counter this, you again don Rush as armor allowing flight and rocket punching action. Honestly, ancillary Mega Man characters outside of Protoman don’t do much for me, but he’s here too so who am I to complain? He’s even got a special upgrade for you.

It sucks pretty hard that this was the only classic game on the SNES (in NA) and even more that both series lost a lot aesthetically and gameplay-wise for me when they jumped into the Playstation era. As such, for me, this stands alone as a special entry that feels packed to the brim with great ideas and a satisfying sense of completeness.

Buyer's Guide: Originally on the SNES, but don't you dare spend over $100 to get the cart. Mega Man Anniversary Collection: PS2, PS4, Xbox, Xbox One, GameCube, Switch, you know the drill by now~

4 Energy Tanks are Barely Enough out of 5

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mega Man X3 (1996)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom/ Minakuchi Engineering

We’re going to springboard from the few pros to the associated cons. Ikuze.

Some of the Maverick choices are clever (specifically crawfish and seahorse), but we all knew a hercules beetle was inevitable after Kuwanger. Their arsenal isn’t overly inspired or effectively utilized in the requisite collect-a-thon, though. There’s much more to discover than in the first two games, but accessing most of it isn’t very satisfying. The one fully useful upgrade shows where everything is located and this would be great if you were challenged once you found the right areas. Instead, you’re often left drilling walls or busting them open with the new, summonable ride armors. Worst, too many of the items are just sitting in the open  -_-

There are three extra Mavericks that can be run off or completely destroyed for different outcomes, and while the challenge rooms for two of them are directly in the main path of each level this isn’t as inconvenient as it could be. If you fail enough, they’ll sometimes not show up, out of mercy. While that dick move was side-stepped, there are about 3 blind jumps into spikes. Thanks guys. 

The game’s ultimate weapon hinges on how you handle that third maverick. Sadly, this weapon is almost mandatory given the hitbox of the final boss. This brings up a large contention with this series moving forward: upgrades can now actively hinder you. With the buster upgrade, you fire two charged shots and they can combine. However, 99% of the time you want to fire normal, fully charged shots, on the fly. This upgrade makes it so your first shot is smaller and slower. Further, the upward dash is a great idea, but is often picky on which input it wants to follow in the heat of the moment. You want to go horizontal? You might go up, and vice versa.

As a final quibble, the music has discrete looping points where it actually stops momentarily. This has gotten me hurt because I associate the ceasing of the music with the defeat of an enemy. Think the mini-boss is dead? Nope, someone just utterly failed at Looping 101.

This game still has the trappings of the first game (it even has stage changes based on the order you defeat Mavericks!) and is playable, but it's ultimately dominated by problems that would only grow worse as the series went on.

Buyer's Guide: Originally available on SNES and later the PS1, Saturn, and PC. The 32-bit iterations have additional animated cutscenes and it is this version that was ported to the PC and included in the Mega Man X Collection on PS2, PS4, Game Cube, and Switch. Don't go looking for the original cart. It's obscenely expensive.

2 Cheese Pizzas Hidden by Assholes out of 5

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (2009)

Genre: RPG / Action | Players: One / Multi | Developer: Square Enix

358/2 Days is an interquel that begins around the time of the first game’s end, runs parallel with KH: Chain of Memories, and ends a short time before the beginning of KH II. It’s advisable to have played both KH and KH II if you’re to have any hope of following the half-assed story. If you bypass the others and pick this as your first KH experience you’ll be very, very confused. I've played both of them more than once and I was still confused.

Tetsuya Nomura was quoted as saying that if you want to know what the 358/2 means, you’ll need to finish the game. I did, and I still don’t know what it means. Finishing the game didn't answer many questions, it raised more. KH was already a convoluted mess, it didn't need this shit.

The biggest problem with the game is that it’s about Roxas. No one cares about Roxas. I'm aware that he’s supposed to be defined by his lack of personality, but that doesn't give the player anything to connect with. Being Roxas is as dull as licking magnolia paint... in the dark.

You’ll visit familiar worlds and see familiar faces, but once there missions are tedious. Kill Heartless. Collect hearts. Kill Heartless. Collect hearts.

Happily, there are some positives. The gameplay is polished and the controls are responsive. There are a lot of different moves mapped to the DS’s limited number of buttons. There’s even some doubling-up, so it’ll take a while to be able to effectively replenish your Limit (powerful attack), use items or cast magic if you haven’t got what you need assigned to a short-cut.

There’s something called a Panel System that lets you customise your weapon, armour, magic, items, abilities and character level if you have the appropriate slot filler. During missions you can use only the items, spells, etc, that you equipped on your panels prior to setting out. You’ll have to think carefully about what to position where, because things are shaped like Tetris blocks.
As you progress your panel will get larger enabling more items to be attached. It’s an interesting if occasionally frustrating system.

I'm constantly amazed at the visual splendour that devs like Ninty and Square are able to squeeze into such a small screen; it really is beautiful to look at, but I see no reason why it was exclusive to the DS. I didn't use the stylus once. It could easily have been ported to the PSP.

One tip: Before you go for the final boss battle, make sure you've plenty of battery power, because it’ll be a long time before you can save your game.

2½ ice creams out of 5

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Resident Evil 5 (2009)

Genre: Action/3rd Person Shooter | Players: 1-4 | Developer: Capcom

I acknowledge that RE5 is not a survival-horror game. It’s a buttery-smooth 3rd-person shooter set in sun-baked Africa. When you’re in Spain, you kill zombie Spaniards. When you’re in Africa, you kill zombie Africans. Fuck you, Adam Sessler.

To get it out of the way, the story is pretty by-the-numbers, but tends to play like a buddy cop film that’s in on the joke, using hokey meta-dialogue to its utmost advantage. Unfortunately, some important details are relegated to text files. 2018 Update: Chris is a cynical—but, resolute—bastard and I find legitimate sentimentality in his journey as it plays out in 'full' across the Lost in Nightmares campaign and the game proper. I believe that the details of the classic games are best relegated to those files, which now exist simply to explain why the antagonist is the way he is.

Ultimately, RE5 succeeds entirely because of the gameplay, which improves greatly upon the engine debuted in 4. Weapons and items can now be mapped to the d-pad, and the menu has been shrunk drastically. Pausing is for sissies. Infinite ammo is available for all weapons, even if you initially have to dig through menus to turn the option on in TWO SEPARATE PLACES. You can personalize your arsenal quickly through regular playthroughs or grind in levels designed for amassing money and the points necessary to unlock each weapon’s infinite ammo, additional costumes, visual filters, and collectible figurines. Your arsenal carries across into the Veteran and Professional modes and you’ll need it. You’re dead in 1-2 hits on Professional.

The biggest addition, of course, is the co-op. My online experiences with friends were the best I’ve had to date. Playing with strangers comes with all the usual pitfalls and it should be noted that if you’re thinking of using cheats, a person with a cleared save file will have to host any online sessions. In terms of playing alone, I found the AI to be incredibly helpful on my first playthrough. After that, Sheva became incompetent in equal measure to my mastery. Her biggest flaw is her propensity to use healing items the second she gets her hands on them. 2018 UPDATE: I believe there is a reason for this, which I will relate, here.

In addition to co-op, the kill-streak-for-points fan favorite Mercenaries mode returns with both co-op and a competitive iteration in the form of Versus. Characters can be unlocked via earned points on each map or purchased with bonus points. The Gold variant of the game comes with all DLC released up to that point, including two new scenarios giving over control of notable NPCs and providing an immense amount of fanwank for fans of the first Resident Evil.

If you want a big, knowingly dumb, but superbly executed action-shooter with Resident Evil trappings, don’t pass this by. 2018 Update: If you want a slick, playable action-movie with nuanced protagonists who are emotionally resonant, and an appropriately imposing and infuriating villain, cherish this.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on the PS3 and Xbox 360. The entirety of the extra content of the Gold version of the game is provided via dlc codes for the 360, because of the size-limitations of its discs. If you want to permanently have the additional content available to you, get Gold on PS3, PS4, or Xbox One. This vanilla iteration appears to have been on PC, as well.

3½ ‘Ikuze, aibou’s out of 5
With properly functioning AI, it's 4½ Guttural Screams out of 5

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (2010)

Genre: Action RPG | Players: 1 - 6 | Developer: Square Enix

The Kingdom Hearts series has what many thought would be a ridiculous premise; A crossover mash-up of Disney characters and those of Final Fantasy. It is in some ways very ridiculous, but it works if the player just lets it play out. Birth By Sleep is the prequel entry in the series, taking place 10 years prior to the first game. It follows the 3 main protagonists in separate, but concurrent journeys going through different Disney worlds to battle the forces of darkness which manifests as varying monsters called the Unversed.

The combat is smooth action with a touch of RPG leveling that is very satisfying at times, but may be a little daunting for new players as there are a myriad of options and menus to navigate to make the combat effective. There is the command deck that must be stocked with commands akin to the card system of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (slightly streamlined), the action commands that are used outside of battle and the shotlock command which can only be used with the focus gauge. Players have up to 3 decks that can be modified to suit different situations. All these commands also themselves level up and can be melded together to form new commands and modified with crystals to give various equip-able abilities. There is also the Dimension Link which allows players to use the commands of various characters they encounter along their journey as well as the command board which is a minigame that lets players level up their commands in a monopoly-type board game. It's a lot to take in, but with practice the battles become even more exciting and engaging.

Cons are a somewhat easy difficulty even on the harder settings since it is very easy to spam all the options listed above until they recharge which works even on bosses. This entry hardly features any Final Fantasy characters and despite 3 different character stories to go through, is rather short. But a lot is packed into such a small portable package with some excellent animation and voice work (mostly) as I suppose it should be given Disney is an animation studio. The multiplayer is ad-hoc wireless only, but has both competitive and co-op modes and can support up to six players. A wonderful entry in the series that shows the series' progression and yet is still familiar.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PSP on both UMD and PSN.

4 spoilers given away in the opening animation out of 5

Friday, May 31, 2013

Broforce (Brototype version) (2013)

Genre: Platformer / 3rd Person Shooter |  Players: One or 2 player Bro-op
Developer: Freelives

Broforce is, as the developers say, "a ridiculously violent platform game about being awesome action heroes from the 80s and 90s while slaying satanic terrorists and aliens while unravelling an evil plot to destroy the planet while dealing with being awesome action heroes from the 80s and 90s."

Imagine Metal Slug with destructible terrains as in Worms, minimalist graphics, a very precise maniability and instinctive handling (one button to fire, one to fire a special weapon, one to use a close combat weapon, and press UP to jump).  Then add lots of explosions, and an insane amount of enemies who are sure to end up as meat pieces sprinkled all around.

And then add the characters. no, sorry, the Bros. Brominator. Rambro. Bro Norris. Mister Bro. Bro in Black. Bro Hard. McBrowen. Robrocop. Bro Dredd. Bro Plissken. Indiana Bro; all of whom are unlockable as you progress through the game.
It's still just a prototype, no sorry, a brototype, but it's fun as hell, addictive, and, in a strange way, very soothing.  If you like it, don't forget support them in the Steam greenlight.

4½ nothing soothes me more than blowing shit up out of 5.

You can play online HERE or download a standalone build HERE (Direct DL).

Nutted by Docrate1 (He's a Bro: First Class).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers (2013)

Genre: Strategy  |  Players: 1 - 4  |  Developer: Stainless Games

If you’re considering buying DotP then you probably already have a fair idea of what MTG is. That’s good, because I don’t have the space to explain fully.

In brief, it’s a Collectible Card Game (CCG) in which you play as a Wizard (beard is optional) who uses spells and summons in the form of cards to fight an opposing wizard (or multiple fake wizards). You each begin with 20 HP, and have to chop your opponent’s level to 0 before the same happens to you.

The game will explain the rules, but may also make head will spin. The core rules and general strategies required of you are straightforward enough, but the modifiers and exclusions make things overly-complicated.

Once you've grasped most of what you need to know, you can take it to the field and engage an opponent. The first battle is hard! Your deck is piss-poor, so you’ll have to struggle, strategise and pray to any God of luck that may be listening to help you triumph. Kick ass and you’ll be able to tackle the next opponent.

Each successive opponent is designed to teach you something about the intricacies of gameplay. Some are hateful. If I ever come up against a real life player that uses the kind of cheap win tactics on display here, I’ll be tempted to take the fight across the table and shove the deck up his/her ass – sideways. If you’re going to play a game, play it fair.

You’ll eventually be required to use all you've learned in the tutorial phase to combat a less predictable opponent; they’re essentially Boss Battles that force you to call upon all your resources. You’ll get hammered a lot until you can unlock some better cards for your chosen deck; or even a better deck. There are lots of unlockable cards across all decks to encourage repeated playthroughs.

There's no excuse for the length of time it takes an A.I. opponent to make his/her/it’s move. It even goes through the combat phase when there’s NO CREATURES TO FIGHT WITH! The waiting has no practical purpose, it’s simply bad design. As is the absence of fully customizable decks; you have to use what you’re given in each of the five basic deck colours. You can modify them to a certain degree, but it’s limiting and frustrating to long-time players.

MTG: DotP should've been great, but translating a CCG to a PC/Console experience sucked much the fun out of it. It’s largely due to the absence of real people and real interactions. Meeting with friends, rigging a makeshift table from a milk crate and some plywood, getting rat-ass drunk and making Goblin jokes is what makes MTG so much fun; that experience just can’t be recreated online.

Buyer's Guide:
Not available on disc. It's a download only title.

2½ unfair advantages out of 5

Monday, May 6, 2013

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (2013)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 - 4 (local and online multi)
Developer: Next Level Games

How do you follow up Luigi's Mansion?  Throw in more mansions!
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (known outside America as Luigi's Mansion 2) is a pretty neat game starring everybody's favorite Player 2, Luigi.  It’s part of Nintendo's ‘Year of Luigi’ that currently consists of a grand total of one game; it seems like he’ll be a supporting cast member in the rest.  Yeah, totally seeing a lot of green this year Nintendo…

Since his last adventure Luigi has settled into his home, enjoying a nice sit down, when suddenly some asshole "Professor" pixelizes him and sends him to his laboratory.  There he tells Luigi that he NEEDS to retrieve six pieces of the Dark Moon, because it being broken is what’s causing ghosts to go berserk.  And so Luigi reluctantly re-enters the ghost hunting business.  Luigi is sent to his first mansion with nothing but a flashlight.  Gee, thanks, E. Gadd, for forgetting to grab the damn vacuum while you ran away from your home like a girl.

As you progress through the game the mansions seem to get shorter and shorter.  I felt like the first was very fleshed out, had pretty cool puzzle ideas and a very awesome boss fight, but after that it seems like something was missing, or the game was hurried for the schedule release.
You can add to your playtime if you spend time grabbing the emeralds from each mansion.  No, I think I know what you're thinking, you don't turn into Super Luigi.

The multiplayer is a great way to pass the time if you have a couple of buddies that want to go ghost hunting while you have the Ghostbusters theme blasting in the back.  ScareScraper (Thrill Towers as it's known in different parts of the world) can be unlocked as soon as you complete a couple of chapters from the first mansion.  In ScareScraper you can have up to 4 players at a time.  Various modes and difficulties can be set, including how many rooms you want to scale; or if you’re feeling a little ballsy, infinite rooms.  I played a couple of rooms with random players.  I found it fun but very time consuming.  Definitely play when you have extra time in your hands.

Controls are pretty cool; every button has a function and it doesn't feel overwhelming.
The 3D looks awesome.  If you've played Super Mario Land 3D then you’ll know that it was done correct.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is all about the right lighting, which is excellent; from small shadows to a single candle it looks great.
Though not a perfect game it is a very good game for our green overall wearing friend.  I enjoyed my time as Player Two.  If you liked the first game, then I’d recommend giving this one a try too.

Buyers Guide:For the 3DS. It’s still pretty new at time of writing, and being a Nintendo game you’ll probably see it stay a steady $35-$40.

4 big fat vomiting ghosts out of 5

Nutted by ASH

Friday, May 3, 2013

Silent Hill Homecoming (2008)

Genre: Survival Horror | Players: 1 | Developer: Double Helix Games

Silent Hill, whoever came up with the name is ok in my book; the title always sends chills down my ass crack. Homecoming was not developed by Team Silent but by Double Helix, and I think they did a pretty good job with handling the game. It certainly had the Silent Hill feel to it but at the same time it didn't.

The game stars Alex Sheperd, a soldier, coming back to his lovely home in Shepherd's Glen. We hereby crown Alex the first protagonist with combat experience, but how hard is it to swing a steel pipe or shoot a gun, right?

Upon arriving things aren't really what they seem to be. It’s pretty much deserted. He discovers that his younger brother, Josh, has gone missing. So we now have something to look for!  Oh, and other people in the village have gone missing but who cares, Josh is what Alex is really after.

The puzzles are very simplistic at first but get a bit tedious later on when you pretty much have to put the right item in the right spot, and in the right location.
Pyramid Head, or Boogeyman as he is called in this game, makes an appearance, looking a lot like how he looked in the Silent Hill movie. Silent Hill Homecoming takes more from the movie as far as look, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. I thought the change to the dark or rust world animation was pretty cool.

The controls in this game are far better (but not the best) than in previous instalments. I have been known to accidentally use first aids because I was trying to back out of the menu.
Changing weapons can be done quickly by pressing right or left on the D-pad; it helps a lot when you have a couple of enemies in sight that you need to clear out.

Homecoming is neither the best nor the worst in the series for me, but everything works. If you are picky with "lore" this might not be the game you are looking for.

Buyer's Guide:
You can find the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions for about $15-$20, maybe even less. PC is going to cost you a bit more, ranging in the $20-$40 mark but if you have a Steam account you'll probably see it on sale for dirt cheap.

3½ warm welcomes out of 5

Nutted by ASH

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tales of Graces f (2010)

Genre: JRPG | Players: 1-4
Developer: Namco Tales Studio

The Tales series is famous for not trying to reinvent the wheel. While other famous franchises go through makeover after makeover, the Tales series strives to offer gamers the same experience with each outing. Even if you've never played a Tales game, you've probably seen a story or characters like the ones in Graces f before. The plot relies heavily on tropes, and makes no real attempts to subvert or deconstruct them. There's a girl with amnesia, a fairly generic hero, and a cute healer with a crush on the protagonist.

That's not to say there's no originality in Tales at all. You follow the cast from childhood to adulthood, an element I've seen in surprisingly few games. Some of the dungeons are wonderfully inventive, and the ones that aren't are livened up with hilarious skits. The cast may look like it's assembled from a list of JRPG stereotypes, but they manage to make themselves stand out in their own way, from Hubert's secret love of tokusatsu to Malik's hidden calling as a bartender.

But this isn't the sort of game you play for the story, or even the fun but cliched characters. It's a game you play for the gameplay. Graces f hands down has the best action RPG combat I've ever experienced. The game slowly eases you into things, introducing new mechanics right around the time you've mastered the previous stuff, and the result is something that's consistently engaging even in lengthy dungeons. I almost felt like I was playing a fighting game as I mastered combos and worked on perfecting the play styles of various characters. Characters learn additional skills from titles they unlock, giving you another reason to fight as many baddies as you can.

The sheer amount of content in this game is mind boggling. There's a cooking and crafting system, a card game, and unlockable contents. There are hours worth of sidequests and an entire story arc that takes place after the main story is concluded. There's a colosseum, massive optional dungeons, and a hidden city populated entirely by cats. I have well over 80 hours into this game, and I still don't feel like I've come close to seeing everything it has to offer. It's incredible.

Graces' biggest flaw isn't its lack of originality, but how easy it is to miss its best content. There are fairly major plot points that are only resolved in side quests, and much of the character development comes from easy to miss skits. If you blitz through the game without fulfilling requests or making sure you watch all the skits you can, you'll miss the game's funniest, most charming moments, and many plot points will appear to come out of nowhere. I like that the title gives you reasons to go back and replay, but I hate to think that people beat the game without seeing the play or the running gag about the Rockagong's butt.

Tales of Graces f certainly isn't for everybody, but if you're able to look past its weakest points, you're in for a wonderfully rewarding experience. I've put a tremendous amount of time into this game, and I don't feel like I wasted a single minute of it. I am working my way up to New Game +, and can't wait to play this game again. It may not be a classic, but it's consistently, constantly fun, and that's all I can really ask from a game. If you're put off by anime tropes and stereotypes, be sure to deduct a point to a half a point from my score.

4.5 older brothers named Tiger Festival out of 5

Buyer's Guide: Japan got this game for both the Wii and the PS3, but in the western world, it's PS3 only. The title is also available on the PSN. Currently, prices for a physical copy and a digital download run pretty close, and it may be worth checking both to see what option is the cheapest.

If you decide to invest in DLC, I recommend picking up the school uniforms. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but you'll be treated to something besides a costume change when you wear these duds into battle.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (2009)

Genre: Action / 3rd person shooter | Players: 1 - 4
Developers: PS3, Xbox 360, PC: Terminal Reality (single), Threewave Software (multi) / PS2, Wii, PSP: Red Fly Studio / DS: Zen Studios

Your childhood dreams have come true—you’re a Ghostbuster! You're so new that you don't even make it onto the cover of the box. Nevertheless, you fight alongside the main cast members, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, all of whom return to voice their CGI counterparts. Annie Potts is back, too, but she doesn't leave the office. The writers tried their best to play to the strengths of the team dynamic and give each member something noteworthy to do, but it’s no surprise that Bill Murray gets most of the best lines.

Gameplay is split between both Third Person Shooter and First Person Shooter Scanner. You enter First Person to scan your surroundings with the PKE meter. When it peaks, you've found a nasty. Unfortunately, it’s during those times that the game is extra clunky. Your character slows to a crawl and the game world feels empty. Being in Third Person is much better because it’s then that you can shoot, trap ghosts, dodge slime and run for a short time.

As you progresses you’re given the chance to upgrade and harness new weaponry. Being the new kid means you're guinea pig for the new tech that magically appears during missions. It’s supposed to add a tactical element, but in reality you can take down almost everything with the proton stream once you've levelled it up enough. I say ‘almost’ because you'll still need to shift to one of the other weapon categories occasionally to seal portals and stop the flow of spirits.

It’s not as bad as most movie tie-in games, but it’s a little too rough around the edges to recommend and it’s very short. Some levels even feel tacked on in an attempt to give it extra length. Without the original cast it would definitely struggle to hold the attention of all but the most die-hard Ghostbusting fanatic.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360 and DS. I’ve not played the DS version but it’s not going to be the same, so consider it excluded from all I've said.

2½ crossed streams out of 5

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Batman: Arkham City (2011)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Rocksteady Studios

Holy handbags! Playing as Batman! Best thing ever! Right? Right? Wrong. I can’t be the only person that disliked this game, can I?

The ‘City’ of the title is a large sealed off section of Gotham, in which regular villains and the more aggressive criminally insane are allowed to roam free. It’s John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A in all but name.

Controlling the Dark Knight is simple. You run, glide and grapple hook from rooftop to rooftop with ease, similar to Assassin’s Creed, but that’s where the fun ends. The environment is a gloomy, depressing sprawl of buildings and streets with none of the art deco beauty of The Animated Series (TAS).

Batman has an ability called Detective Vision that lets him see the world in a unique way. It throws a kind of dark hue over everything while simultaneously highlighting points of interest such as hiding spots, collectibles and hidden doorways. It also gives him x-ray vision!? I'm not kidding. He can see through walls, for fucks sake.

Combat is well implemented; when you punch or kick it feels weighty and solid. I avoided fights as much as possible, not because they were hard but because they were so tedious. Bursting into a room like a badass to then be confronted by a dozen bad guys made my heart sink every time. Attack, dodge, attack, dodge, etc, for five minutes until they’re all dead... and then a second wave comes in. Yawn.

You can shake up combat with gadgets and combos but the core experience remains weak and soul-destroying, and there’s so much of it... so, so much.

You’ll earn XP in fights and by completing side missions. The side missions are often multi-part, and in contrast to the story missions are well-paced. I spent most of my time on those, only returning to story missions out of necessity.

Get enough XP and you can level Batsy up. Upgrades are either gadget based or combat based. I like to hold my upgrades until I know which will be best suited to a difficult part of the game, but you can’t do that here. It’ll harass you with a prompt until you pick one, and until you do pick it’ll remove access to your map.

If you’re a fan of TAS you’ll be pleased to hear that both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their respective roles. In my opinion, Conroy is the best Batman ever and Hamill is without a doubt the best Joker. It’s because of those two voice actors that I continued playing. I'm glad I did because the ending is superb. In all honesty, my excitement level for 99% of the game averaged about 1½ out of 5, but the ending raised it to a resounding 5 out of 5.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Wii U, Cloud (OnLive).

2½ bat boots to the face out of 5

Saturday, April 20, 2013

SHIFT extended (2010)

Genre: Puzzle | Players: 1 | Developer: Zallag

This hidden gem is one of the ‘minis’ available from that desolate section of PSN that no one ever goes to because of Sony’s ridiculous pricing.

Playing the game is simple. Describing it will be less so. You play as a Test Subject in what is essentially a rat in a maze scenario. Mr Test Subject is a silhouette of a man in a black and white world. You’re either a black man on a white background, or a white man on a black background. When you’re black you can interact with the black obstacles that exist as part of the black environment. Conversely, when you’re white you can interact with white obstacles of the white environment.

You’re able to ‘SHIFT’ the word 180° on an axis, changing which of the two colours you can interact with. Imagine there’s a large box blocking your way that's much too high to jump. If you flip the environment, the ground becomes the ceiling and the box becomes a large hole that you can now skip over. You’ll need to initiate that ‘SHIFT’ in environment multiple times to progress to the exit in each stage. If you go to YouTube you’ll see it in action and it’ll absolutely make a hell of a lot more sense than I'm doing right now.

It gets progressively harder, adding spikes (ie. Death), floating platforms, gate triggers, etc, all of which force you to use your brain a little more each time.

There are 120 levels to test you. If you die at any point you get put back at the start of that same level, which can be frustrating,  but they’re so short that it’s not a major problem. It can be played on both PS3 and PSP.

Buyer's Guide:
PSN only.

4 racist jokes waiting to happen out of 5

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Final Fantasy VI / III (1994)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Squaresoft
Credit to Dr Faustus, fellow Nut author, for this wonderfully altered artwork.

I don’t believe it’s entirely possible to be unbiased when talking about your favorite game. That’s sort of the consequence of playing it countless times over the course of 19 years.

In essence, this is an ensemble cast game done right. There are 14 main playable characters in addition to the handful who’ll join your party temporarily. As daunting as that may seem, from a narrative perspective, the story does rest on set pieces crucial to the lives of the most central personalities. Still, even the most peripheral have heartbreaking and poignant experiences. Hell, there’s even a very plausible storyline hinted at for one of the optional members!

This small army is put up against one of the most demented and successful villains in the history of fiction. To save the world, they will have to be ground a fair deal. Here, the name of the game is magic. Its resurrection in a time of high technology is the impetus for the conflict at hand and you would do well to teach most of the spells to at least 6 or 7 characters to compensate for the multiple party mechanic utilized throughout the game. There is hope for speedy completion in the form of the Vanish glitch. But, it has been patched in almost every subsequent port of the game. Boo.

The music is stirring and highly memorable and the graphics stand as some of the greatest sprite work ever produced. While there are MANY highlights, the brightest is still capable of bringing grown men to tears, to this day.

More than a SNES turn-based RPG, more than just a Final Fantasy, VI is a masterpiece that should be at least tried by all.

Buyer’s Guide: In the end, the original SNES and VC releases are the way to go. The PS1 port should be avoided at all costs because of the lag to opening the menu. That version on PSN? Exactly the same. It appears to be a straight disc rip. The GameBoy Advance overhaul has a completely retranslated script, additional Espers, and extra dungeons. I imagine this will be fine for anyone who won’t get mental hiccups from the changes. The SNES Mini has the Woolsey translation and I'd wager it's the ROM from the VC.

5 Promises to Find One Another out of 5
A review of Peter Olafson's Players Guide can be found here.