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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mega Man (1987)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

What are we looking at up there? Bloody hell. Look to the Japanese box art if you want something accurate. Look somewhere else entirely if you want a cushy, enjoyable time with this series. That’s harsh, but it’s true. That isn’t to say that this isn’t worth playing. For a sense of history and perspective, I think anyone who has enjoyed a classic Mega Man game should give this a shot. It’s weird saying this seven nuts in, but this is a platforming series with a heavy emphasis on ranged combat, characterized by a multitude of projectile types derived from the powers of a set of enemy bosses. You can tackle their stages and steal these rock/paper/scissors-esque powers in any order you choose before heading to the final levels comprising Dr. Wily’s fortress.

Dr. Wily is a serial villain with a fetish for Guts Man (one of the bosses debuting here) and eyebrow wiggling. There’s no story beyond a modicum of rudimentary exposition, in the manual. Good. Mega Man isn’t War and Peace.

Why is this so ball-bustingly difficult? Well, movement is stiff and it randomly seems like there’s ice physics in play EVERYWHERE, not just Ice Man’s stage. There are no E-tanks. When you fight a boss, you’ve got one life bar and that’s assuming you show up with full health to begin with. There’s a swift, movement puzzle of a beast that most people can only take down using a glitch. Oh, and you have to re-fight the bosses. That’s not strange, though. That’s both a general Capcom and a Mega Man specific tradition. No, the rub is you have to fight four of them in a row with no health items immediately before the two-part battle with Wily.

Hey, guess what? Their projectiles don’t disappear and you can die because of this AFTER THEY’RE DEAD.

You can’t fudge this game with E-tanks and be awarded a victory and gooey feelings that’ll encourage you to get better, more elegant, over time. In this game, and the first sequel, you have to get better NOW. You stay in the trenches and do it OVER and OVER and OVER until you throw your controller just to pick it back up again, like a machine.

Play it. You don’t need to beat it, you don’t even have to enjoy it. Knowing the pain is something I think is beneficial, though. History and perspective.

Buyer’s Guide: NES game. Mega Man Anniversary Collection (PS2, PS4, Xbox, Xbox One, GC, Switch). Virtual Console. PSN. Cell phones. The usual.

2 Victories of My Own Choosing out of 5

Monday, November 24, 2014

Front Mission 4 (2004)

Genre: Turn-based Strategy | Players: 1 | Developer: Square Enix Product Development Division 6

An assault is undertaken on a series of German military bases by an unknown and powerful wanzer force that all but cripples the German military's capabilities. As quickly as they appeared, they disappear into the night. The collective European allied nations known as the European Community (E.C.) send in the Durandal, a team of pilots and researchers specializing in wanzer combat including new recruit and protagonist Elsa Elaine, to help with the investigation and uncover who is behind the attack. Meanwhile, a half a world away, Venezuela declares independence from the United Continental States (U.C.S.) and is now embroiled in a conflict between UCS troops and the state army forces. 2nd protagonist UCS sergeant Darril Traubel and his 3-man wanzer squad are slacking off on their rear guard duties as usual when a state army plane is shot down and they are the first to the crash. The plane's only cargo is a crate filled with gold; the funds embezzled by the corrupt Venezuelan governor from the people. Darril and the squad, unhappy with their career trajectories decide to steal the gold, go AWOL and make plans to abscond with the cash out of the country which proves much more difficult than expected.

Gameplay takes place on some rather large battlefields with possibly daunting tactical depth. There are many stats to be aware of for both the pilots and the wanzers and also how they interact with each other. There are prebuilt wanzer models for players who don't get off on all that number crunching, but deep customization is the only way to get the most out of your units. There are AP points that dictate how many actions a pilot can take in a turn, EP that can be spent to learn skills and boost stats and Link points that can be assigned to friendly pilots so they can act in tandem providing they have enough AP and are in range.

Weapons are in 1 of 3 categories of Melee, Ranged and Long Range. Melee weapons only hit once and can only be used adjacent to an enemy, but only cost 1 AP. Ranged weapons cost more AP to use and are limited by ammo and accuracy, but hit multiple wanzer parts. Long Range weapons have huge attack range and power, but cost large amouns of AP to use, have very limited ammo, and are extremely heavy so only large, slow wanzers can carry them. There are also 3 different types of armor; Impact, Piercing and Fire. Only 1 type can be used at a time (at first), but if it is the counter to the enemies' weapon then damage will be cut by a third. There are also support abilities with new backpacks that can be used to carry items, inflict status ailments, extend missile range and call in air support. Using all of these factors in tandem along with optimizing wanzer parts will let players tear through the opposition. The only problem with it besides its daunting depth is it isn't entirely necessary until later in the plot because of enemy A.I. that is pretty unchallenging. Enemies don't often work together, leaving damaged easy kills to attack another pilot that they have a fixation on and also not using Links effectively, often being linked with a unit on the other side of the map. Although once enemies figure that out later, it is a whole different ballgame.

The graphics are pretty, though bland. Colors are washed out and lots of textures are flat and uninteresting which might at least be in theme with a mech game I suppose. The cinematics are top notch as is expected from Squeenix. There isn't a whole lot of replayability. You can start a new game with all your EP and money from a previous game, but only the hardcore will care to use that boost to try different setups and unlock all the hidden Simulator battles which are the only way of grinding.
For those who like it, incredible depth of tactics and a suspenseful political plot with some decent voice acting outweighs the easy difficulty curve and serviceable, but bland visuals.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for the PS2.

4 Everything explodes out of 5

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shadow of the Colossus (2005 / 2011 in HD)

Genre: Action / Adventure  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Team Ico

Team Ico’s follow-up to ICO (2001) is a very different kind of game. Nevertheless, there’s the feeling that they both exist within the same fictional universe, making SotC a spiritual sequel.* It’s the story of a boy and his horse. There’s also the matter of a dead girlfriend. Wander (the boy) will do whatever's required to bring her back from beyond the veil, even kill at the behest of a mysterious voice.

Combat is essentially a series of boss battles. The Colossi are the kind of thing you’d face at the end of a Legend of Zelda dungeon. Many are so large that they need to be climbed so that you can attack their vulnerable spot, but just finding the Colossi can be a challenge in itself because the game world is vast.

Your only companions are your horse Agro and your conscience. As you traverse deserts and plains you’ll see man-made structures reclaimed by nature, signs of a once-great civilisation. The loneliness gives you time to reflect on your deeds but will likely bore anyone seeking a quick fix. Seriously, there's almost nothing to do outside of the core objective. Some side-missions would've been nice, but I can understand why they weren't included. The ambitious, uncompromising vision of the game designers is clear to see but will be the very thing that alienates people the most. If possible, trying before buying is definitely recommended.

Most of the story doesn't happen until the last quarter. Until then you’re the principal part of a mystery, required to repeatedly take a life in the hope that aggressive single-mindedness will result in your wish being granted.

The colossi will defend themselves like any animal would and should, but that doesn't change the fact that you‘re the trespasser. You’re the greater evil. The sadness and silent cries of ‘Why?’ on the faces of the victims cuts deep.

Like ICO did, it forces you to ask questions as you play. Why does the game try so very hard to instil a sense of guilt in the player? Are Wander's actions selfless or the product of a beleaguered conscience? How exactly did the girl die? We can take nothing for granted. We can only hope that the end justifies the means. In essence, it's like acting out a Greek myth.

New players will likely have trouble with the horse. Keep in mind that he isn't a car, so don’t try to control him as such. Spur him on, use the reins to direct him and leave him to it. He can be an idiot at times, but mostly you won’t need to negotiate every turn or corner because he’s quite capable of doing that himself.

4½ surmountable bods out of 5

*There’s evidence within SotC to suggest that it may actually be the second part of a trilogy being told in reverse. If so, that would make it a prequel to ICO. The theory will remain just that unless the third game, The Last Guardian, sheds new light. I don’t expect it’ll confirm either way, but I live in hope.

Note: SotC was re-released in 2011 as one half of The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection HD. For more info on ICO, stab right about HERE.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

ICO (2001 / 2011 in HD)

Genre: Adventure / Puzzle / 3D Platformer  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Team Ico

ICO is an adventure game unlike any that the PS2 had seen before. You play as the titular character (pronounced Eee-co), a young lad with horns on his head. His adventure begins in a large room inside a larger castle. You'll have a fair idea why he’s there, but won’t know why he was chosen. Was it because of the horns or some other reason? We also don’t know why there’s a second individual, a caged female, perhaps a little older than Ico, who doesn't speak the same language as the boy. If they’re to escape before whatever it is they've been offered up to comes for them they must somehow overcome barriers and work together.

Unable to communicate verbally the pair exchange meaning via gestures, inflections and discernible emotions. If you want her to follow you the best way is to grab her hand and lead her. United by circumstance you become guide and protector. The bond that develops between them is all important, and mostly it’s up to you to create and sustain it. Is it a love story? Perhaps. It’s certainly a story of chivalry and mutual respect. If you fail to take an interest in that aspect of it then you may as well quit playing before you've even begun.

There’s no tutorial, no HUD and no objectives other than escape. To do that you’ll be required to solve puzzles and overcome challenges, including avoiding the clutches of the creepy shadow people that rise from the ground, determined to drag the girl into their shadowy existence.

As you progress though the castle you’ll catch glimpses of areas you've been and areas you've yet to reach. You know walls are basically just textures arranged at right angles, but it feels solid. The higher you go the more the defiant wind howls, carrying with it the call of the raging sea and the occasional bird. The prevalent atmosphere is one of wonder coupled with unknowable dangers.

The camera is a point of contention for some people. It’s fixed like a movie camera, but you can pivot and zoom at any time, even during cut scenes, and it’ll swing or pan as you run by to encompass the enormity of the environment. If you had complete freedom to move it wherever you liked then the puzzling aspect would be less effective and it would be arguably less dramatic visually.

Combat is simplistic. You hit things with a stick. You might be lucky and have something other than a stick, but the available actions never change. It doesn't matter. Like everything else in the game, it gives you only what you need. Even Michiru Ōshima's beautifully evocative music is minimal. The ambient sounds of the castle are the soundtrack the majority of the time.

I've maybe made it sound less than perfect in some ways but only because I don’t want to give a false allusion. It’s a game that doesn't rely on gimmicks. It uses emotion as a narrative device, wherein a small person can make a big difference, and for which an understanding of friendship is a key requirement.

5 flights to freedom (and stairs) out of 5

Note: ICO was re-released in 2011 as one half of The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection HD. For more info on SotC, click HERE.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Assassin's Creed II (2009)

Genre: Action  / Adventure  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Ubisoft

I was disappointed we didn't get the historical Japanese setting that was hinted at in the previous game, but that was softened by Ass Creed II outperforming its predecessor in every way. I replayed it recently and can confidently say that it’s still my favourite of the entire series so far. I don’t have first-hand experience of any version other than the PS3, but as far as it goes it works straight out of the box, without the need for patches or updates and it was glitch free. The only reset I was forced to perform was when I had more than a dozen enemies pursuing me simultaneously over a large distance and got overly-happy with the smoke bombs, the PS3 RAM didn't like that much, but that’s what I get for pissing about; none of the mission objectives will ask that kind of activity of you.

Ezio’s training in the past, sometime around the second half of fifteenth century Renaissance Italy, is a crucial element in Desmond’s education and evolution as an assassin in the present. It’s a small link between the two eras, but at least it’s something. Bless them for trying. The story even has a go at addressing the reason everyone speaks fluent English (except when it’s more dramatic for them to revert to their native Italian); it made me chuckle.

If you want to take the experience further there are many database entries filled with facts about the era and a large dollop of supposition about the people featured in the story. It's entirely optional, but it's a nice addition.

Surely there are some down sides? Of course, there’s a few. The frame rate isn't perfect, but that’s likely the trade-off for the world being so open and the draw distance. Secondly, there’s historian Shaun Hastings, an NPC that you’re forced to interact with more than once in order to advance the story. He looks like a git, he sounds like a git and he behaves like a git, ergo, he's a contemptible git.

Note: The missing/corrupt memories you encounter are filled in via DLC. It’s Ubisoft, after all, and that’s how they roll. They claim the levels just weren't ready in time, but I don’t believe that for a second. They just wanted more of your cash. They didn't get mine. The eventual GOTY edition has it all in one place.

A direct sequel to the story, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, was released on November 2010 for PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Mac. Milk that titty, Ubisoft.

4 beneficial bleedings out of 5

Monday, October 6, 2014

Front Mission Evolved (2010)

Genre: 3rd Person Shooter | Players: 1 - 8 | Developer: Double Helix Games

Dylan Ramsey is on the job testing his company's new wanzer (aka mech) prototype in New York when a mysterious force invades and destroys the city's orbital elevator as well as the building where Dylan's father works as a wanzer scientist. Dylan then takes a special commission in the army to avenge his father and take down the soldiers responsible which will set him into a larger geopolitical quagmire (as it always does in this series).

The latest and most likely last entry in the Front Mission series ditches the turn-based tactical gameplay for a more traditional 3rd person action experience. Traditional being the key word as the gameplay is pretty standard. Despite being in mechs, there isn't a whole lot that distinguishes it from any other 3rd person shooter or even the sections outside of the wanzers. The wanzers can feel lumbering, but it is mostly tedious when you just want to skate to get around faster, but can't because the gauge needs to refill. Shooting outside of wanzers is even more generic as now the fleeting feeling of piloting a mech is gone and all the player is left with is a cookie cutter shooter. Not to mention these on-foot sections are so incredibly piss-easy that they feel like padding just to add a "feature" to the back of the box. You rarely encounter a handful of enemies at a time and there is spare ammo everywhere. The auto aim is also broken if the target is moving at all. Turning it off actually made the shooting much better since I could shoot while they were moving instead of endless cover-based pop-up potshots.

Customizing the wanzer for different objectives can be great fun, but the generic action doesn't really lend itself to anything other than the standard mid-range weapons outside of plot specific events where the game forces you to play differently. Sure there is limb specific damage, but it doesn't really matter since enemies and yourself can still use them, just less effectively. Destroying legs does make enemies and the player move slower, but in the space of 20 second battles, the same amount of time and effort could just be used killing most enemies. The boss battles are a different beast and are where actually knowing the advantages of different setups is actually helpful as well as all the piloting controls since if you don't the battle will literally be over in 3 seconds. This can be problematic if your setup isn't up to the task and you don't have any cash to switch loadouts forcing you to switch to weaker and cheaper parts to change weapons. This is a crack in the difficulty curve, but the battles are exciting and really the highlight of the game. The feeling of piloting was less fleeting while skating to avoid missiles while simultaneously firing a machine gun, locking on missile targets and avoiding EMP bombs. There is also the E.D.G.E. system which is just another name for bullet-time which works fine, but I went most of the game without using.

The story is serviceable, though simplified. The intricate political plots of past entries are mostly gone, for better or worse. In its place is a much more generic revenge plot with an unnecessary romantic subplot that the game doesn't even take the time to earn any emotional investment in as well as other opportunities involving changing loyalties and deaths of characters. Despite the balance issues and the overall generic gameplay, there are some shining bits of entertainment to be found.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC

3 insane bands of mercenaries out of 5

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo EAD, Monolith Soft

It’s important to know what this game is, and what it isn’t. It isn’t a DS Zelda game starring Toon Link. It doesn’t bother with any stylus or badly executed split-screen shenanigans. I use my thumb to access the menus and I hold the 3DS like a handheld is intended to be for action-adventure games.

It isn’t a remake of A Link to the Past. It’s far more accurate to say that this shares the general maps of that game to create an experience that both rewards you for your intimate knowledge of them and consistently challenges your expectations in the same satisfying way as Maverick Hunter X.

The main gimmick on display is the ability to merge into walls, making Link 2D while the camera rotates down and to the side, presenting the world in 3D. Popping in and out can be disorienting but my adjustment period was remarkably brief. Thank goodness, as the mechanic is used EXTENSIVELY and never grows stale.

Outside of one dungeon, the ones on display can legitimately be tackled in any order. You could play the Dark World somewhat out of order in LttP, and if you were alright with finding out halfway through one that you were missing an essential item you were free to do so in the original game, as well. Here, however, the dungeons are marked with runes at their entrances denoting which items are required for successful completion. You can first rent and then later buy many of the series’ staple items at a central shop and this is what makes true freedom of play possible.

I’m always going to tackle the Swamp Palace second, but in both of my playthroughs I’ve gone wildly out of order, otherwise. The biggest boon of A Link Between Worlds is manifest here: instead of literal carbon-copy maidens, the sages are legitimate characters a la the 3D Zelda games. I care about saving them and the order in which I will.

There are a few negatives, however. The analog stick makes aiming the hookshot a bit hairy, but that very imprecision is harnessed for appropriate balancing sections, to compensate. The game tells you that you should take a break occasionally when you save, too.

Petty bullshit complaints, I know. Bottom line: LBW remixes and updates LttP while introducing the most crucial element of 3D Zeldas to the 2D plane. The best 2D Zelda by countless miles, sanjou~

Buyer’s Guide: It’s a 3DS exclusive.

4 Tsundere Witches Stole My Heart out of 5

I do not have binocular fusion and are thus incapable of experiencing 3D. 
Don't ask me how it looks here, or in any other 3DS game.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mega Man 5 (1992)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

Since I haven’t covered the fourth entry in the classic series, I’ll briefly list the things introduced there that carry over to this game:

***You can charge your regular shots for larger and more powerful blasts.

***Rush Jet now starts moving forward uncontrollably the moment even a sub-pixel of your foot hits it and will get you killed most of the time because of it.

I’ll also list the “features” that are new to it:

***You’ll be collecting letters (and a number) in each level to spell ‘Mega Man 5,’ which will unlock your new bird companion, Beat. He relentlessly circles enemies and WRECKS most of the bosses in Proto Man’s castle.

***Yes, Proto Man is the fake villain this time. Ooooooh SPOILER -_-

***You must now allow the Rush Coil to jump off the ground with you before jumping off it at its apex. It’s really weird, yes, but once you know how it works it’s worlds less dangerous than Rush Jet.

Outside of some kick-ass music (Wave Man’s theme may be my favorite piece of music on the NES), that’s most of what’s worth noting. Why bother writing this, then? Simple, I want to convey that to me Mega Man 5 is a rare kind of nostalgic that teleports me back to my days in front of the NES, on the floor, after school. This is even more astounding considering I maybe rented it once, ever, if at all.

Other than Rush’s tragic downfall, it’s sublimely playable and if critics want to say that’s because it’s overly easy (extra men DO drop like flies), they aren’t going to offend me. But, they also aren’t going to change my mind, either. I’ll likely be too busy completely unplugging to care.

Buyer’s Guide: It’s an NES game, but get the Mega Man Anniversary Collection (PS2, PS4, Xbox, Xbox One, Game Cube, Switch). If you’re feeling contrarian or want it on the go you can find it on mobile phones, the Wii VC, and PSN.

3½ Train Men Cometh out of 5

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright — Trials and Tribulations (2007)

Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

Trials and Tribulations concludes the Phoenix Arc of the Ace Attorney series with aplomb and miles of grace to spare. In terms of gameplay, it is as similar to Justice For All as Silent Hill 2 is to Silent Hill 3. I.e., completely, functionally identical. It is worth noting that the introductory trial is actually part of the main storyline this time and the two stand-alone trials organically contain elements and themes present in that central narrative. They also house what are without question my two favorite one-off characters in the franchise. On top of all that, you actually get to play as two attorneys whose names aren’t Phoenix Wright, in three of the five(!) trials.

Because more of the Fey family’s story is presented in Justice than the first game, T&T works in a number of brief flashback-esque monologues about those events, throughout the proceedings. I have been told by a fellow Nut author—who has only played T&T—that this summarizing is effective and didn’t make him feel chided for not having experienced the other games. Good show.

Looking back on Justice For All from the finish line, this time, it’s clear that it derives its unique personality in the canon from a profound sense of tragedy. There’s nothing wrong with that. This game, however, is imbued with something outreaching of the humor to counterbalance the damage it wreaks upon its cast. There’s an almost shining aura of joy and life surrounding all involved, even the ancillary villain characters. For the central cast, redemption and release radiate beyond even the deepest shadows cast.

Trials and Tribulations simply feels like the most complete package of the trilogy in terms of presentation, content, and resolution. Like Final Fantasy VI, it exists in a space transcendent of its genre and overarching lineage of games. It is one of the most resoundingly successful, humanity-affirming pieces of fiction I have personally experienced and I unabashedly adore it.

Buyer's Guide: As usual, it was originally a Japanese GBA game that was ported to the DS, PC, and eventually the Wii (as WiiWare). It's also on iOS and the 3DS eShop.

5 Refreshingly Bitter Blends out of 5

Monday, August 18, 2014

Deep Sleep (2012) / Deeper Sleep (2013) / The Deepest Sleep (2014)

Genre: Adventure / Survival-Horror | Players: 1 | Developer: scriptwelder

The Deep Sleep flash games are a free-to-play survival-horror trilogy created by scriptwelder and currently hosted on several online gaming sites, including Armor Games and Newgrounds. The basic premise is that you’re an individual interested in lucid dreaming who never bothered to consider the consequences of your rabid curiosity. 

The first game is the only flawless entry in my opinion, as it sets up the world and atmosphere exquisitely. It aims to be unsettling without depending on overt jump-scares, and succeeds. The second chapter has the best interconnected string of puzzles in the series as well as a collection mechanic that results in a more satisfying glimpse at the overall plot. It does ape something from a popular movie series, but having a laugh and a bit of an eye-roll over one thing isn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm, in this case. While all three are short, the final installment is almost disappointing in its brevity. However, the environments and story reveals make it entirely worthwhile.

A staggering amount of interconnectivity is displayed across all three games and something seemingly random in the first game actually allows you to achieve the full ending of the second. There’s even two endings to the finale and the menu provides you quick access to see the one you didn’t choose initially. There are several points in each game where you can “die” and doing so only puts you back a screen, a la the Kemco-Seika trilogy. You can also quit and save at almost any time, but don’t clear your browser history or cookies after doing so, because, well, that’s how it’s accomplished.

While it will help to keep your expectations in check, I still genuinely feel that these are handily the best flash games I’ve experienced. The care that has gone into crafting the stellar atmosphere, paired with the references made to other games, paints this series as a sincere love letter to the genre.

Buyer’s Guide: Click the links just above to play them on Armor Games. They can also be found on NewgroundsKongregateGame Jolt, and Crazy Games.

3½ Delinquent Hotel Receptionists out of 5

Bastion (2011)

Genre: Action Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Supergiant Games

The protagonist known only as "The Kid" wakes up in his bed to find an apocalyptic event called "The Calamity" has shattered the land and only random pieces of landmass float around as he makes his way to the titular Bastion; an emergency evacuation place for the city of Caelondia. Only one other person survived to make it to the Bastion; An old man known only as "the Stranger" who also provides the wonderful, low growl narration. The Bastion can be enhanced by finding Cores; huge crystals that used to power the city. The more cores that are found makes the Bastion larger and more functional. It also allows the Skyway that shoots him to remaining landmasses to send the Kid to farther landmasses. While exploring the wild, the Kid will fight various monsters with a variety of upgradeable weapons and search for cores and survivors while the Stranger narrates about the background of the places visited and sometimes snarks about what the Kid is doing (usually something the player did).

The Kid runs around in an isometric environment with the maps revealing themselves as the player explores in a beautifully rendered, highly colorized artstyle that somewhat contrasts with the downer scenario. The combat follows the old adage of "easy to pick up, difficult to master". It is fairly straightforward, but with nuance and the various weapon combinations add more as players progress. The Bastion can also be upgraded to add a forge for weapon upgrading, a distillery that allows for equip-able potions that offer a variety of passive buffs, and a shrine that adds more challenges when the various gods are invoked. The soundtrack is a wonderful new mix of old time western tunes with some more modern electronic and heavy bass. The controls were at first obtuse and janky on the PC since aiming with the mouse made a weird disconnect with attacks especially with melee weapons were The Kid would attack where the  cursor was instead of the direction he is facing which feels unnatural and is probably different with a joystick. Having gotten used to it though it still worked pretty good and eventually I couldn't put it down. With the great story, wonderful fresh genre soundtrack, and a fair amount of replayabilty with different weapons, modes and New Game Plus makes this one an easy recommendation.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, iOS, OnLive and as a browser game for Google Chrome.

Level-starting Faceplants out of 5

Friday, August 8, 2014

Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD (2014)

Genre: Action / Adventure  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Ubisoft

Ass Creed got its first playable female protagonist in AC: Lib. The creation of Aveline de Grandpré, an assassin of African and French heritage, may well have been to address criticisms from gamers up to that point, but to Ubisoft's credit both aspects play a key role in the game. It's not just a cheap cosmetic change.

It uses the AC III game engine but does interesting things with it. Aveline can change her clothes to best suit the task at hand. Hold back the cries of Women + Video Game + Clothes = Sexism for a second because there's a good reason for her frequent visits to the clothing store. The 'guise' she wears gives her a persona that makes it easier to infiltrate certain areas and affords to her a level of camouflage; e.g. few people will look twice at a slave carrying a box into the servant's entrance of a rich Lord's house. But once in the house the box can be dropped and the hidden blades revealed.

The same applies to the opposite end of the societal spectrum. When dressed as a lady of leisure Aveline can gather information from people in power during their rich-folks garden party, etc. It enables the player to get right into the heart of the action instead of having to constantly hide some place and eavesdrop like a creep.

It takes place in America during the second half of the 18th Century. The astute among you will notice that that's the same era that AC III is set. Indeed, while Ratonhnhaké:ton was fighting Templar control in the colonies, Aveline was doing her part in New Orleans amid the transition from French to Spanish control of the city. However, while AC III was from the perspective of Desmond and his useless cohorts, AC: Lib is a virtual environment provided by Abstergo Industries, so the legitimacy of events is questionable - the assassin might not be perceived as the good guy (or gal) all the time. Is it enemy propaganda?

Some good: being on the HDD means it loads quickly. Aveline is a better thief than anyone that preceded her. Play the trading game properly and money will roll in easily. It's much easier to avoid detection from enemies; it's arguably too easy. Chain-kills are fun. Another returning feature from previous games is the glitches. I had to reboot the game four times, which was the second-lowest ever (hey, it's a kind of improvement). And best of all, there's no Desmond!

Some bad: you can’t skip FMV if you restart a Memory. The emptiness of many handheld games is carried over. The autosave sometimes doesn't work. It feels short in comparison to the others in the series. It tempts you with the idea that missions can be approached differently depending on which guise you adopt, but that rarely happens; it more often than not restricts you to one specific persona, even going so far as to automatically change it at mission start, meaning the game has a lot less freedom and certainly less replay value than it could've had.

3 unwashed scabs out of 5

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright — Justice For All (2007)

Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

As with most sequels, Justice for All throws a few new gameplay mechanics into the mix. The majority increase ease of use and make things more interesting. The rest fail to detract in any overly significant way.

This time around you can present character profiles as well as evidence, making some exchanges simpler to navigate without obtuse reasoning. This plays greatly into the biggest addition: the challenge of undoing individuals’ Psyche-Locks. People have reasons to hide things from you and you’re tasked with finding the keys in the form of evidence and character relationships. The strike system has also been replaced with a health bar that can be depleted in varying amounts depending on the importance of the action in question. This gets replenished between trials and when you successfully remove Psyche-Locks.

Of final note on the gameplay side is the fact that the game has become a bit more strict when it comes to cross-examinations. Sometimes you’ll have to press statements in a certain order or even re-press earlier ones just to move forward. YOU might jump a few steps ahead logically, but some trains of thought must be established step-by-step in court. I’ve heard this be described as game breaking, but frankly, if this momentary stymying ruins a game for you, then you probably don’t have the patience necessary to enjoy this genre.

From a story standpoint, this entry officially walks through the door of allowing mystical happenings to stand in a court of law. I don't mind it, but I can understand (and respect) why some people do not care for it.

As for Phoenix himself, he delivers some killer lines that speak beautifully to his growing confidence. The humor is ramped up and serves to further endear the already established characters. To balance this, the drama has been turned up to eleven in the cases directly composing the main storyline.

Finally, as someone who has become a fan of tokusatsu since the last time I played this series, I can now fully appreciate how much of a deep-seated effect it has on Maya’s resiliency and strength as a person. I always loved how she was able to snare so many of those around her into its web, but now I understand WHY.

If you’re willing to walk the path now laid out for the series by the Fey family, then there’s little chance you’ll find disappointment here.

Buyer’s Guide: Like the first game, it was originally a Japanese GBA game that was ported to the DS. It’s also available on PC, on the Wii (as WiiWare), cell phones, and the 3DS eShop.

4 Saddest Text Screens In The History of Gaming out of 5

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Assassin's Creed III (2012)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 / Multi | Developer: Ubisoft

Ass Creed III is the (third) (fourth) fifth home console entry in the protracted series, and is a direct sequel to Ass Creed: Revelations (2011).  Desmond continues his attempt to avert the apocalypse by connecting to the memories of his ancestors in the deux ex machina known as the Animus.  This time he’s freeloading in the mind of his half-English, half-Mohawk ancestor, Ratonhnhaké:ton, helpfully also known as Connor, during the American Revolution.

It was released just under a year after Revelations.  Was it rushed?  The brokenness of the experience answers that question.  In just three sessions (on PS3)  I experienced such delights as doors refusing to open, doors that are open but impassable, mission objectives disappearing the instant I reached them, people stuck inside walls and floors, sound effects happening a week after the event they’re designed to accompany, slowdown during FMV and three freezes requiring a console reset.  (It went into meltdown once.  The picture faded to the colour of winter slush and was followed by some kind of demonic voice, as if Pazuzu was in my TV; it boomed from the amp at least three times louder than anything else.)  A patch was released that fixes some of those bugs but introduces others.  If you're not in a position to patch it, it'll be frustrating.

Ironically, there’s a hell of a good game beneath it all.  The new additions are broken but the concept behind them is to be applauded.  Some of the ideas are pilfered from Red Dead Redemption (2010) but having them in the Glitch Creed series offsets the tired formula with something that seems fresh.  If more time had been allowed for coding and Beta testing, then Ass Glitch could've been even better than it managed to be in its patched state!  When it works, it’s a definite series highlight and a genuinely thrilling experience.

Patched: 3½ poxy blankets out of 5  /  Unpatched: 2 master baiters out of 5

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ōkami (2006) / Ōkami HD (2012)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Clover Studio (PS2) / HexaDrive (PS3 Conversion) / Ready at Dawn (Wii Conversion)

Ōkami is a strong contender for the finest Legend of Zelda game that Nintendo never made. I don’t use the comparison lightly. LoZ is one of my most treasured game franchises, so for anything to come even remotely close to it is an accolade in itself. It’ll draw comparisons with Twilight Princess mostly, principally because of the use of a wolf as protagonist, but TP didn't hit the shelves until over half a year afterwards; that they both involve a wolf is an unlucky coincidence.

Visually it's exquisite. As Ammy runs, flowers shoot up and blossom in her wake, similar to the Forest Spirit's passing in Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke (1997). (In the NA version of the game Ammy was genderless. A wolf god is okay but a female god isn't, eh?) The painterly quality is inspired by traditional Japanese watercolours and Ukiyo-e wood carving art. The beguiling nature of that style is even more magnificent when backlit. No words can do it justice.

When combat is initiated a wall springs up surrounding you and your quarry. Far from being limiting, it’s useful in that it keeps flying enemies enclosed. You can escape if you want (never!), but combat, while being frantic and highly enjoyable, isn't particularly difficult. If you exploit enemy weaknesses effectively you’ll rarely die. You attack with what’s known as Celestial Brush techniques. You can attack repeatedly, as often as you like with as many techniques as you've learned, until your Ink Pot runs dry. If that happens you’re weakened until it replenishes.

The HD release renders everything in 1080p. It makes the lines sharper and the colours more vibrant. It also added Move support (chuckle) and trophies (yawn).

The one thing that I found annoying about the game is the slow-moving text, particularly during the introduction when all you want to do is get on with the action. I adore a game with a lot of story but I dislike that I couldn't hurry its pace to my preferred reading speed. On second viewing you can often do just that but not skip it entirely; that could've been easily remedied in the update but wasn't.

The music is as alluring as the visuals. It’s inspired by traditional Japanese instrumentation and captures perfectly the majesty and beauty of nature. It got a release on CD. There were five discs; that’s how much of it there is.

5 leaps before thinking out of 5

Monday, July 7, 2014

Daxter (2006)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1-2 | Developer: Ready at Dawn

This PSP entry in the Jak and Daxter series stars the titular sidekick in this interlude between the 1st and 2nd games as he tries to free the imprisoned Jak who was captured at the end of the first game, but since he is both a screw-up and a 2 foot tall ottsel (combo of otter and weasel) he just meanders around for 2 years until he accidentally gets a job as an exterminator since the owner is in desperate need of one and will take anybody. Daxter will fight metallic insects for their golden core while maybe, occasionally finding out some new information about Jak's whereabouts.

The gameplay is a solid platformer as it comes out of a series of them, with a few added moves from Daxters exterminator gun that he can use not only to stun bugs, but also use to hover and set things on fire. There are also dream sequences that can teach Daxter new combat moves by doing the same minigame inside of various movie parodies. Though they are hardly necessary since I went the whole game without using any of the moves. The difficulty curve is barely even there. It is less of a curve and more of a brisk walk up a diagonal street. If players have a passing familiarity with the series or even platformers in general the game will be mostly a cakewalk. Not that it is bad, but almost generic.

What sets the series apart as a whole is the characters and in that the game fares better with good voice acting, smooth animation and while Daxter is somewhat obnoxious at least he has a personality. Everything is solid , but nothing really stands out. Fans of the series won't have any problems, but it is barely above average.

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

3 could have just walked in the back door out of 5

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy (2012)

Genre: Rhythm / Music | Players: 1-2 | 
Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Dept. / indieszero

Theatrhythm plays similarly to Elite Beat Agents and other stylus-controlled rhythm games on the DS. However, the notes appear on the top screen while you react on the bottom. This is strange, but serviceable. Gameplay is divided into 4 styles, across 3 modes. In all of these you tap notes, hold notes, and slide the stylus in various directions.

The Series mode has song sets for each of the games, I through XIII. The opening and ending songs are simply bonus stages where you tap the screen as notes pass over a crystal. Relevant dialogue from the games scrolls on top. This is entirely inappropriate as each song deserved to be fully playable. The other three songs in each set are a Field theme, an Event theme, and a Battle theme. Notes in Field themes move across the screen horizontally over animated backgrounds of game locations. Event theme notes dance around the screen in patterns, while gameplay footage plays behind it. Finally, Battle theme notes come across in four rows simultaneously.

It should be noted that you aren’t playing the full songs and this is jarring and inexcusable for Event themes, especially those with lyrics.

The Challenge mode allows you to play songs on higher difficulties. The Chaos Shrine mode is mostly where you amass items and the crystals needed to unlock characters. Speaking of characters, it’s worth noting that each game’s lead (as [sometimes incorrectly] designated by Squeenix) is available from the start so you can construct a party of four. At least one additional character from each game is unlockable.

Here’s the rub: unlocking them takes a decent amount of effort and they start at LEVEL 1. It was bullshit in Tactics and it’s bullshit here. I wanted two additional characters. I threw the first into my party as I started to work on getting the second and it ruined me. So, I would have been stuck with the party I leveled (to 50, mind you) until Snow arrived. Then what? I’d be burnt out and have no desire to play casually using those characters, negating the point of busting my ass entirely.

There’s a multiplayer function to the Chaos Shrine, but there was no reason for me to check it out. If you really like Elite Beat Agents and the lead Final Fantasy characters, give it a shot. USED.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on 3DS and iOS. There’s an expanded version coming soon, but it adds music from XIII-3 and XIV. Who needs that? I don’t. There’s a decent list of downloadable songs on the e-shop, too.

2 Shafted Pasty Dudes out of 5

I do not have binocular fusion and are thus incapable of experiencing 3D. 
Don't ask me how it looks here, or in any other 3DS game.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD (2012)

Genre: Sport  |  Players: 1 - 4  |  Developer: Robomodo

It’s sad when the most you can hope for from a beloved game franchise is that the next entry isn't as weak as the previous one you played. The joy that’s associated with a purchase is replaced by fragile hope or, in the case of THPS, an expectation of disappointment. Having played the game I'm left with the paradoxical feeling that lingers when you expect disappointment and you get disappointment.

It begins in the Warehouse, the first level in the first ever THPS game. It was and still is the perfect place to start for new players and it presented an equally perfect opportunity for developer Robomodo to introduce seasoned pros to any tweaks made to the game’s control style. But right from the off it’s clear that more time was spent making the levels look a little prettier than was spent on bringing a very old control method up to date. I read some place that they had full access to Neversoft’s code, but you’d never know it.

It’s an amalgamation of the first and second games only, so the moves available to the player are limited, but that’s no excuse for the arbitrary way something will work one minute and fail the next. Take Venice, for example; you don’t need to be near the spray cans to pick them up, but jump directly through the middle of the secret DVD and it’ll not even register. Collecting S-K-A-T-E is a game of chance based more on luck than skill. Doing what’s required to perform a specific trick will either do what's expected or do something completely different. And those green fences are the work of Satan; they're so broken.

Subsequent DLC added the ability to revert and offered up three levels from THPS 3 (Canada, Airport, Los Angeles), but my love for THPS 3 keeps me from buying it.

There’s no two player split screen (why the hell not?), but there are online modes (not on PC) for up to four players, including Graffiti, Hawkman, Trick Attack and a new mode called Big Head Elimination.

I sincerely hope that if there's ever another home console Hawk game it manages to capture what made the pre-T.H.U.G games so appealing, so that I can once more give the series the praise it used to deserve.

2 face-plants out of 5

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright (2005)

Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

If stepping into the shoes of a defense attorney doesn’t sound entirely appealing to you, you aren’t alone. I wasn’t enamored with the idea at first, either. The large cast of quirky, slightly over-the-top, but infinitely endearing characters will see you through this trepidation but they will not make you enjoy wading through seas of text anymore than you already do. An appreciation of old-school point-and-click adventures and visual novels is indeed the most important prerequisite to enjoying this series.

To that end, and this game’s credit, a number of improvements have been implemented that greatly decrease the probability of experiencing DEAD STOPs. Gameplay is divided into two discrete modes: investigation and trial proceedings. On trial days, you will cross-examine witnesses and attempt to expose the real criminals (usually murderers) by pointing out contradictions using evidence you gather while investigating. To relieve the strain on the legal system, trials in this world have been capped at three days. To relieve the strain on your sanity, investigation segments will not end until you’ve found everything the script deems necessary. If you present incorrect evidence or choose a wrong dialogue option, you are given a strike. Five strikes and you’re out. However, you can save at any time and scum like a boss.

This is not a particularly damning game.

As mentioned, while the characters can be cartoony at times, they are obscenely memorable and painfully relatable. Few things in this world (not just games) have as much heart as the Ace Attorney series. This derives significantly from the cast, which tent-poles a plot that ultimately and masterfully pulls the strings tight on what can initially seem like unconnected trials and events. Don’t get me wrong, the sleuthing and intuiting gameplay is well-executed and leads to some jaw-dropping moments, but it is not the keystone of the series. This is why adventure game fans should give it a shot, even if they don’t have any great interest in the legal system.

Buyer’s Guide: This was originally on the GBA in Japan, if you’re so inclined and linguistically equipped. The DS version contains an extra trial that is covered in full, here.

It has also appeared on PC, Wii (as WiiWare), iOS, and mobile phones (partially).

4½ Well-Deserved Burgers out of 5

Monday, May 12, 2014

Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1-2 | Developer: Retro Studios, Monster Games (3DS)

Donkey Kong’s return to ridiculously difficult platforming brings with it a number of changes that vary in degrees of contentiousness. King K. Rool and his goons are nowhere to be seen and the Kong family has been reduced to Donkey, Diddy, and Cranky. Further, your friends are limited to Rambi and Squawks.

Diddy, for his part, is no longer an independent playable character, if you go it alone. Instead, he acts as two additional hit points, a jet-pack that allows you to slow your descent, and the means to access an infinite roll. A second player can take control of him, however, while still being able to attach themselves to Donkey when they’re feeling generous.

These changes don’t bother me as I’ve always liked Donkey’s lumbering platforming abilities and was bothered by his disappearance from his own series so quickly in the original trilogy. I know many people enjoy the lighter characters, but this is DONKEY KONG Country, after all. The other playable Kongs can take a permanent vacation with Zero as far as I’m concerned.

The change I predictably take issue with is the motion controls. The ground pounding and blowing mechanics are fine and add to the variety of collecting activities but having rolling mapped to a flick of the wiimote is borderline inexcusable. This is notably remedied in the 3DS port. I will admit that it is impressive to see Donkey piloted by the competent hands of speedrunners, though.

Still, I can just BARELY excuse it as the time trials don’t count towards your completion percentage. Collecting the KONG letters in every level is the only thing that matters. Doing so unlocks the challenge levels in each world which, in turn, allow you to gain access to the final area. Clearing it will unlock mirror mode where you will complete the levels backwards, without Diddy, using a single hit point. This allows your percentage to climb to 200%.

There are also 5 to 9 puzzle pieces hidden in each level. I collect them because it allows me to explore the world. The rewards (images and songs) are NOT worth it. You can lease Squawks from Cranky if you have trouble in this endeavor. And, you will.

Overall, if you can live with Diddy’s new, reduced role and the lack of the extended DK and Krool crews this is a fresh but still very challenging adventure worth tackling.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on the Wii and 3DS. If you feel the need for speed--and can suffer a graphical hit--go with the 3DS version.

4 Barrel-Chested Banana Hoarders out of 5

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (2006)

Genre: Action RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Nihon Falcom Corporation

 Ys is a long running series and this installment picks up from a previous game. The main hero is Adol; a red haired, do-gooder pirate who was thrown from his ship in a storm and has now washed ashore on the Canaan Islands which are home to a mystical race of people called Rehda. Now he must figure out how to leave the island which is no easy feat as the storm that brought him here is actually a never-ending vortex surrounding the whole island that has a reputation for stranding lost travelers, so he must instead try to keep peace between the native Rehda villagers and the settlement of stranded humans.

Gameplay is a standard action-RPG variety. Adol can attack in real time with various upgrade-able swords and can boost his stats with new equipment. There are also a small selection of special moves and a magic spell that changes depending on what weapon is currently being used which must be charged by giving or receiving damage. The enemies are surprisingly varied and the action is quick and simple, but still satisfying. The art and music are top notch though the PSP version was downgraded to sprites from the PS2/PC version with full polygons that change based on Adol's equipment. The only thing really wrong is the loading times. They are far too long and far too frequent. The game loads after exiting EVERY. DAMN. ROOM and can take up to 20 seconds which is sometimes longer than the time that will even be spent in said room. It is massively annoying to load and enter an empty room for that long and then it takes 3 seconds to turn left and boom there is another loading screen. The game was good enough to force my way through it, but it was still problematic. One more nitpick is I had to turn down the SFX volume because the sound of Adol's footsteps were loud as fuck and sounded like he had hooves.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PC, PS2 and PSP. Go for the PS2 version if you can for full polygons, voice acting and to avoid the chronic load times. The only thing the PSP version has going for it is a few added fetch quests and an unlockable media database.

3 Anti-hero assholes in all black out of 5

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bully / Canis Canem Edit (2006)

Genre: Sandbox | Players: 1 | Developer: Rockstar Vancouver (PS2) / Rockstar Toronto (Wii) / Rockstar New England (Xbox 360, PC)

Authority figures: pricks. We all know one. Some of you may even want to be one. For those of us that don’t, Rockstar provides.

The game takes place at Bullworth Academy, a fictional boarding school in New England. It’s similar to the Grand Theft Auto games in that you play a role and have a sandbox environment to kick around in, but it’s not just GTA: School. The scholastic setting is more than just a cosmetic change, and the satire reflects that.

You play as fifteen-year-old Jimmy Hopkins, a troubled youth from an equally troubled home environment. From the beginning it’s clear that Bullworth is as fucked-up as all the other schools that Jimmy has been expelled from, which leaves him with two options: keep his head down and hope the bullies leave him alone, or stand up to them using the kind of methods they understand.

The world may seem small to begin with because you’re confined to school grounds, but progression through the story opens up additional areas to explore and new tasks to undertake.

Between missions you’ll have the opportunity to attend classes that take the form of mini-games. They’re all very simple except for Shop, which is infuriating. It’s not essential to complete all classes, but the rewards for doing so tend to help make progress easier in the missions, so they’re definitely worthwhile.*

Weapons become available (*see above) and fit with the school aesthetic (slingshot, fire crackers, stink bombs, etc), but their use will have consequences.

There’s a lot of stuff to do outside of missions and classes, such as races, shopping and gathering collectibles. They’re not all signposted, so often the onus is on you to explore and find them for yourself. If you've played a Rockstar game before, you'll know how much fun that can be and how much time it can take.

Originally only on PS2, it was later ported to Wii, Xbox 360 and PC as Bully: Scholarship Edition (2008) with additional content. The PS2 version was renamed 'Canis Canem Edit' in PAL territories, a title that more accurately describes the nature of the game world into which Jimmy is unceremoniously thrust.

5 detentions out of 5

Sunday, February 9, 2014

LittleBigPlanet (2009)

Genre: Puzzle, Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Cambridge Studio

The full PS3 nut is here. This is for the PSP version that is slightly different and developed mostly by a different studio. The main idea is basically the same as players control Sackboy in a cute little ethereal world made up of the unused ideas of humans or something from the opening animation with a wonderful narration by Stephen Fry. Sackboy can traverse the multiple levels with themes ranging from Australian outback and oriental China to ancient Persia and modern Hollywood with fun little physics based puzzles on multiple 3D planes. However, the PSP version necessitated some trimming so there is now only 2 planes to switch between rather than the original 3 and no multiplayer.

The physics are generally fun if a little wonky, but most troubling is when it affects jumping. Just a simple jump, which is about 90% of gameplay given that this is a platformer, is often unreliable and unresponsive. This can make or break the game whether it decides to be floaty cartoon magic or a frustrating slog as you continuously murder Sackboy on electric panels and fire pits because the jump decided you were a little off or worse made you switch planes unwillingly because reasons. This can taint the whole experience, but when it is working perfectly it is still quite a joy with very interesting puzzles with levers, jetpacks, sleds, etc. and a wonderful aesthetic and soundtrack.

The story is barely there both in length and as a motivation for Sackboy to traverse the levels with the only real incentive being the puzzles and the various costumes and stickers to collect. Too bad the small PSP screen makes it very hard to discern what the costume pieces look like, unless they are particularly over-the-top. I ended up with a dino costume and pretty much stuck with that the whole time. The stickers I actually never used outside of what the story required and there was no detriment, so take that for what it's worth. The multiplayer is gone, but the level designer and DLC is still there, but there was a limited selection so many years later and on a less than super popular console.

Overall, not as good as it's full PS3 version, but you might stay for the whimsy and soundtrack. What story that is there is actually different too if that matters to you.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on UMD and PSN.

At least the shared energy bar won't ruin any friendships now out of 5

Xenogears (1998)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Squaresoft

I missed this one the first time around, but being an avid fan of all things Square I pulled it off PSN. The game starts with our protagonist Fei Fong Wong who has been brought to a small town with a bad case of that ever-so-useful amnesia. After a few years of peaceful living, a centuries long conflict between the 2 nations of Aveh and Kislev spill over into town and the town is destroyed in the battle between the armies' huge mechs called "gears". Now Fei must travel the continent with the town doctor Citan and discover the origins of the conflict and the forces behind it that may go back even farther.

Gameplay is a fairly standard RPG model with a twist on the turn based battles. During each character's turn, they are assigned attack points that can be used for either low, medium or high powered attacks that are mapped to the triangle, square and X buttons respectively. Using different combinations will allow the use of special deathblow combos that can be learned with experience. Unused AP can also be saved and then used for a long string of deathblows for devastating damage. There is also ether points (EP) that are this universe's form of magic which acts in an identical way to most other RPGs, but the main draw for most is probably the battles inside of the gears. Gear battles are pretty much the same except AP is replaced with fuel which every attack consumes as well as any special abilities the gear might have like healing. Woe be to the player who gets stuck fighting a gear sized enemy without their own gear.

The story starts out almost cliche, but gets more interesting as more subplots and characters are added. Then it goes too far in the opposite direction with so much going on that the whole narrative becomes muddled and confusing. The majority of the subplots are never resolved and it comes to a head on disc 2 when they are all mostly dropped completely as is most of the actual game.The story becomes a long slog of characters narrating events to the player instead of actually playing it out. Only sparse scenarios interrupt this shift with things like the world map and visiting towns and such disappearing completely until the endgame. This fault line was so bleh that I almost stopped playing, especially when I sat for over an hour reading narration with no gameplay. Whatever the reasons for the rift, it mars the game and it took considerable effort to maintain the motivation to keep going which I did mostly to justify the hours already spent. The themes based off of different psychological practices were interesting until they became overblown like everything else. There is a bunch of stuff ranging from reincarnation and gene manipulation to nano machines and living gods when just picking one would have made a much more cohesive experience. It feels like a bad case of spectacle creep and a nasty extension of the weird habit Japan has of giving divine qualities to large robots that I am rarely willing to accept. They can never just be weapons.

Otherwise the game held up better than most of the time even if the sparse anime cutscenes are nowadays nothing special and the voice-overs for them are laughably out of synch and there are way too many random battles, often within a few seconds of the previous one ending. Altogether, an interesting experience if not always an enjoyable one.

Buyer's Guide:
The original PS1 release is a collectors item, so expect to pay a premium for it even though it is now available for download on PSN.

But at least there was kung-fu and gun-slinging priests out of 5

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3

The first full Legend of Zelda game built exclusively from the ground up to work with the Wii controller gives you all combat abilities from the beginning. It's perhaps by way of an apology for the actual fighting being so damn awkward.
Over time you’ll learn to compensate for the impreciseness, but there’s nothing in Link’s repertoire of moves that couldn't have been successfully mapped to a conventional controller; a Game Cube controller, for example.

There are one or two minor things that do actually benefit from onscreen action mimicking physical motion but I’d have traded them in an instant, because the sheer number of things that don’t work, that feel like a second-rate compromise, far outnumber them and it needs CONSTANT recalibrating.

There’s an obvious attempt at expanding the scope of the usual gameplay while simultaneously keeping it faithful to the core experience. Consequently, it’s a game with two distinct identities: 50% of it is wonderful, even the overly-familiar stuff, and the other 50% is a depressing chore. It holds the dubious honour of being the only proper LoZ title that I will never, ever want to play again.

There’s a hub world and three main areas with a Dungeon on each. There’s often a lot to do before you reach the actual Dungeon entrance, but once inside it’s business as usual, with some new additions, of course, because each new entry in the series introduces something new.

That’s the mechanics and map, but what of Link’s motivations? He’s searching for one person. He doesn't enter dungeons to rid them of evil or to cleanse the world for the greater good. He enters dungeons to find his friend. It’s a small scale noble endeavour, but he’s essentially trespassing. He helps people along the way but not for what you’d typically call selfless reasons.

I found myself unable to connect with Link emotionally, which is something I've not had issue with in the past. In the end my persistence came down to ‘I want to get through this because it’s a LoZ game and I'm invested in the franchise,’ and not the more enjoyable ‘I want to get through this to save X from Y and restore peace to the land.’ I just wanted closure, not to be a legendary hero. That realisation saddened me deeply, but was a completely inescapable factor.

Scoring is difficult. Compared to regular adventure games it stands apart, but when compared solely to other Legend of Zelda titles it's a disappointing:

3½ grabitude crackles out of 5

NOTE: If you're considering playing the game, FIRST READ the entry titled Song of the Hero Game Ending Error on the Zelda Wiki or you'll run the risk of activating a programming error that'll break your game midway through.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tony Hawk's Proving Ground (2007)

Genre: Sport | Players: 1 or Online Multi
Developer: Neversoft (Xbox 360 + PS3) / Page 44 Studios (PS2 + Wii)

I consider myself a veteran when it comes to the Tony Hawk games. I’ve played Pro Skater 1, 2, 3 and 4, Underground 1 and 2, American Wasteland and this. That’s eight games in all. I've seen the series climb from humble but hopeful beginnings to the spectacular heights of THPS3, and then subsequently fall hard on its ass, clutching at wild ideas that have little to do with skating. Proving Ground was a new low. There’s not enough room here to list everything that’s wrong with it.

There’s a story of sorts. You’re a noob, barely able to ollie a pebble. With help from the Pros you’ll learn new tricks, new skills, a new way of looking at things and, like the series itself in the early days, climb the ladder of success.

There are three environments: Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington. They exist as one large open-world area. There’s no loading as you traverse from one to the other, but there’s loading at other times to make up for it, like when you cock-up a task for the twentieth time because they’re so fucking difficult.

A number of in-game arcade machines are littered around the environment that, once unlocked, will allow you to play something called Tony Hawk 2000. The score targets, the goals, the collect S-K-A-T-E and C-O-M-B-O tasks are recreated as they were in the early games. It’s a game within a game, so you’re still in the same environment, but it’s a lot more fun than the main game. They should have dispensed with all that other crap and made TH2000 the focus.

Extras include short promos (i.e. adverts) and, for some reason, a Rolling Stones video, Sympathy for the devil. Best Stones song ever! Wait… it’s a Fatboy Slim remix. Bloody Hell. The disappointment never ends.

Amazingly, the multiplayer aspect is still available at time of writing. Game modes are: Graffiti, Trick Attack, H.O.R.S.E and Free Skate. You should be able to figure out what they entail by the names.

2 sketchy reverts out of 5