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

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.