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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Costume Quest 2 (2014)

Genre: Action / RPG  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Double Fine Productions

The '2' in the title is a clue. Yes, it's a sequel. But didn't costumed twins Wren and Reynold already save Hallowe'en in the original Costume Quest (2010)? Maybe they did, but they need to save it again, this time in the past, because there's some rudimentary timey-wimey shenanigans afoot. Grab your sack and suit up, kids.

CQ 2 doesn't reinvent the gaming wheel, but it makes good use of the one it already had. As before you're completing quests for both XP and candy, but a number of little things have been improved.

You now have access to the speedy-boots regardless of which costume you're wearing, so you'll not have to switch as often for simple level traversing.

However, you will be required to switch during the exploration phase in order to operate or initiate certain things within the colourful world. If you find an inaccessible part of a level, it likely means you don't have the correct costume yet, so find or earn its component parts before returning.

A small number of the new costumes are secret, meaning you won't just find them during the course of a standard play through; you'll have to go off the obvious path a few times in order to discover them.

The turn based combat has also received some minor but welcome tweaks and additions, although it does still feel repetitive after a while. Also, if you just scrape through a fight and are far from a save point, you can scoff a small portion of your candy haul and recover some health that way.

In closing, if you're too lazy, too old, unwilling or unable to role-play within the watered-down farce of a meaningful annual pagan festival that is modern Hallowe'en night, then you can do it from the comfort of your own home in your socks, and you won't get sick from all the sugar and razor blades, either.

3 candy violations out of 5

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 (2002)

If the loud parts of the internet are to be believed, a majority of Tony Hawk game fans consider Tony Hawk's Underground (2003), aka T.H.U.G, to be the turning point for the franchise, the game where it went from strength to shambles. I differ in that I feel THPS 4 was that point; it was the title that changed the core structure upon which all else was built. T.H.U.G just took it to the next (lowest) level.

Gone are the quick, arcade style, individual runs, replaced by a more open-world, free-skate environment in which tasks or goals have to be initiated by speaking to NPCs, and to do that you first have to find the damned NPCs in the now larger environments. Making each area more expansive may sound good in theory, but in practice it means that there are less nearby objects to combo to and you have further to travel to find the next goal each time you complete one. (You can choose goals from a list in the menu once you've discovered them, but why would you want to do that?) Furthermore, having the S-K-A-T-E and C-O-M-B-O letters spread further apart makes gathering them less enjoyable.

Stat Points are now earned from completing the aforementioned tasks, not littered around the environment for you to collect. It's a process that's at odds with the illusion of freedom that the 'open-world' is supposed to give you, and to some degree it dictates the order in which you can do certain things.

The most notable consequence of the change, however, is that the huge sense of pride a player felt when achieving more than one goal in a single run is no longer possible. You have one task and once it's achieved you're returned to the free-skate-esque environment to hunt down the next one. The transition from being 'on a task' to 'off a task' is an ugly, abrupt and jarring one, making the already unfavourable process seem even more poorly considered.

I’ve saved the worst until last. Prepare for eye-twich. There are mini-games.

On a positive note, the customisation options are extensive for a game of the era, and the number of hidden, unlockable skaters is generous, so you can at least look cool in-game while you're wishing you'd picked up the THPS3 disc instead.

2½ flippity-doos out of 5

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry (2014)

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

Our introduction to Freedom Cry’s protagonist Adéwalé was in Ass Creed IV: Black Flag (2013) when he served as quartermaster aboard Captain Kenway's pirate ship, the Jackdaw. FC is set fifteen years after that time, with the former quartermaster now a fully-fledged assassin and Captain of his own vessel.

Things go bad and Adéwalé gets washed ashore after a shipwreck. The place he lands is Saint-Domingue, a French colony on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. In Saint-Domingue black workers are kept as slaves by cruel white masters. Adéwalé empathises with the working men and women, having once been held in similar chains, so he chooses to stay and liberate them using his assassin skills.

Originally a DL-only addition to Black Flag it was subsequently released as a standalone title minus the IV prefix in the title. That means if you own the Ass Creed IV disc you can choose the original partial download. It’s the full FC game but makes use of your existing AC IV install files. If you don’t have the disc you can download a larger file enabling you to play the full FC game in its standalone guise. At full price, when compared to the amount of gameplay that IV gives you, FC is piss-poor value. It doesn't get close to my definition of value for money.

The biggest addition to gameplay is the ability to free slaves from plantations. In fact, it’s your currency while on land. It sounds odd, but (once unlocked) guns and ammunition are free as reward for selfless services rendered. The better items can only be purchased once you've freed enough people.

There’s an important social message at its core that's deserving of wider attention, but everything about the expansion feels rushed, from the story to the poorly thought-out progressions and limited number of upgrades. Whereas IV had more in it than it first appeared, FC has less than it first appears. The majority of the locations are nothing more than a tiny beach area with two or three visible treasure chests. You’ll visit them once, with no need to ever return. Worse still, the sea shanties are absent, meaning sea journeys feel longer and are mirthless.

The few larger areas that make up the bulk of the game are well-designed and would've fit nicely into IV. It's a shame there isn't more to do within them and that the missions on them are so broken. Of the nine memories (missions) available, I had to restart six because of glitches. One in particular had to be restarted four times because the same glitch made it impossible to complete. That's the kind of thing I'd expect in a beta, not a final product. Well, except a Ubisoft product.

2½ changing tides out of 5

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pokémon Y (2013)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1-4 | Developer: Game Freak

The main lineage of Pokémon games all have the same structure; It’s unavoidable. You collect pokemon and grind them up jrpg style to defeat 8 gym leaders, the Elite 4, and then the Champion. The last few generations have all instituted sweeping social gaming innovations, however, and the changes for the 6th gen can be found here (navigate via the right sidebar). I generally avoid that sort of thing, so I won’t mention them further.

The biggest change this generation falls to the graphics. Being able to walk in all directions is cosmetic, admittedly, but the animations for each pokémon and their attacks are a sweeping, legitimate upgrade that drew me in FAR more than I would have ever expected. On top of that, I personally feel that this generation does the best job of providing a cross-section of pokes from the series’ exhaustive history. It’s cool to have an entirely new set, but it also runs the risk of alienating those for whom the majority fail to appeal. I’m looking at you, Gen 5.

There’s also attention paid to providing evolutions in the wild that normally require trades and/or special items. It may take a bit more work to catch them, but it’s worth it for the sense of self-reliance afforded. I’ve heard complaints about the EXP share now leveling all the pokes in your party at the same time, but… Wait, are people actually complaining about not having to grind as much? o_O

In terms of the story, I genuinely like my rival, which is a great change of pace compared to either detesting them or not caring at all. I feel legitimately awful that the items necessary for Mega Evolution can’t be given to them when I don’t care for that mechanic at all and have never used it outside of trying it once for the one pokémon I like that can actually do it. As someone who doesn’t battle other players, it’s a mostly visual change that’s the definition of temporary.

I didn’t foresee my return to the franchise being successful, but it was, as the atmosphere and world are just as charming and the graphics and unique story elements are utilized in the service of that end as opposed to simply providing a new set of pokes and nothing more.

If you play for the journey, don’t skip out on this leg of it. It’s quite possibly the best.

Buyer’s Guide: It’s a 3DS exclusive.

4 Self-spun Tales of a Boy Named Grump 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.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)

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

Pop or feed the disc into your machine, allow it to install, get the huge (over one gig) patch to fix all the things that should’ve been fixed before it was released, sign in or skip the Ubisoft registration and you’ll finally be ready to play Black Flag, a prequel to the previous game, Ass Creed III (2012). It takes the seafaring aspect of III and expands it, giving you full access to your very own upgradable pirate ship and a huge ocean environment in which to jolly and roger around in.

Navigating is as simple as turning the bow of your ship in the direction you want to go and instructing the crew to drop sails. There are occasional hazards and enemy fleets to contend with, but unlike, for example, TLoZ: Wind Waker (2003), the actual journeying from place to place isn't dull. You can pick up flotsam and jetsam, go whaling (nasty, nasty business), engage other ships in combat and even have the crew sing sea shanties to fill the silence. The shanties are excellent.

Once you've discovered a location and synced with it by climbing to specific high points you can fast travel there at any time without having to set sail. Fast travel comes in very handy for side-quests and gathering collectables: Animus fragments, maps, buried treasure, hunting, crafting, upgrading (self and ship) and collecting sea shanty pages are some of what the world offers. The menus are packed with additional info relating to all aspects of the gameworld, from actual historical records of people and locations to transcribed song lyrics.

The story is better than anything Desmond ever had. As Edward Kenway you'll make friends, lose friends and even bury a few. I loved how they deepened the layers of interaction through him. You’re an Abstergo employee playing around inside the genetic memories of someone else who, at one time, is a pirate masquerading as an Assassin who’s masquerading as a Templar. Bravo, team.

The modern day sections of the game are more colourful than usual, but are still generally crap in comparison to the Animus adventures. Searching for sticky notes is a pain in the ass and playing a variation of Frogger to hack a computer is stupid.

The music has always been one of the best things about the series. In that it excels again, this time courtesy of Brian Tyler. It's been in my head for weeks.

I'd rather not end this review on a downer, but Ubisoft leave me little choice because in order to access small but crucial parts of the game—parts that are on the actual disc when you buy it, not DLC—players are required to create an account with their UPlay division. If you want to acquire all ship adornments and completely fill your inventory in the one player game then you need that UPlay account. Consequently, my AC IV inventory remains incomplete.

4 teeth of Neptune out of 5

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Serious Sam - The first Encounter

Genre: FPS | Players: 1-4 | Developer: Croteam

Note: the version reviewed here is the classic PC version, not the HD remake of 2009.

The best way to describe Serious Sam is to say that it is to Quake likes what Duke Nukem was to doom likes: It's his unhinged, degenerate cousin. the one that hops naked on the table at the wedding of your sister. and starts to write his name on the tablecloth with his piss. 

Only he does it with a perfect gothic font, in  ancient Latin, and his piss smells like Channel N°5. this is what Serious Sam amounts to. The game is stupid, linear, doesn't require much strategy (only in how you're going to handle the inhuman mass of enemy he's throwing at you, sometimes up to more than a hundred at a time.), it's obnoxious and quite impossible to take seriously. 

But it's fun, the controls are as good as it was possible back then, and on top of that, for a game of that time, it was beautiful. forget gloomy corridors, even if there are some, you'll spend a lot of time in a gorgeous, colorful recreation of ancient Egypt. At the time, Serious Sam was a breath of fresh air between the corridors of Unreal, Return to castle Wolfenstein or Quake 3. 

All in all Serious Sam is nothing new, but a damned good and well made nothing new. 

Similar games (some are more serious *wink wink*): Serious Sam the Second encounter, Soldier of Fortune, Duke Nukem 3D, Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast.


Buyer's guide : PC/PALM OS/Xbox/Xbox 360. FPS on Console are Heresy.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (2008)

Genre: Tactical FPS | Players:1-2 | Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Vegas 2 puts players in the character of Bishop; A veteran Rainbow commander who is pulled from teaching at the academy to help deal with the terrorists attacking Las Vegas. Players actually customize Bishop themselves for both multi and single player. Not just to look cool, but playing gains XP which unlocks new equipment with different ratings for armor and mobility affecting how durable you are and how fast you can move.

The campaign runs both before, concurrently and after the events of the first game, but the action is mostly the same, even with the same teammates. The AI though is much improved. No longer do they get in each others way and now move more tactically when moving to objectives. They also now have their own inventory unlike the 1st game where players were incentivized to use them because they had an infinite supply of explosives and such. You can now also direct not just their location, but also their fire and the new environments are much more open making the endless clearing of rooms much less repetitive as well as new enemies with new weapons(fuck you shield assholes). As good as the AI has become, Cooperative Multiplayer  is still the most exciting for me. Unlocking new equipment actually forced me into trying new weapons and strategies which I appreciated. Otherwise I would just always use a submachine gun and a sniper rifle. Always.

Everything is better, but the same making this more expansion then sequel. Bishop is a much more fun character, better customization, and better tactical stats that actually affect gameplay make this a much more engaging playthrough than the first.

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

4 Obvious Red shirts and traitors out of 5

Rainbow Six: Vegas (2006)

Genre: FPS, Tactical Shooter | Players: 1-2 | Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Logan Keller is on his first mission as team leader of a Rainbow Six team in Mexico to find a terrorist leader. Things go awry and his two team members are captured, but before he can launch a rescue, he is brought back to help deal with an attack by terrorists in Las Vegas. He joins up with a new squad as team leader to clean up the city and find out what the terrorists objectives are.

Players control Logan directly in a first person view and can order his team around with various commands mostly just by pointing where you want them to go. This being a tactical shooter, it focuses heavily on team tactics and remaining in cover which makes the camera zoom out slightly to a 3rd person view. If you just go in guns blazing like any other FPS, you WILL die pretty instantaneously. There is regenerating health, but it is very limited. Sustained fire will kill you in less than a second. Your teammates are a bit more durable, but they are not invincible. You can get through a good chunk of the single player just ordering your team to clear every single room, but pretty much every encounter has multiple viewpoints from which players can support the team. Using different weapons with different properties is useful, but not entirely necessary. They are still mostly interchangeable unless you try to snipe with a shotgun like an idiot. The main thing is to know when to use silencers. Though there is almost no reason to take them off. You lose some power with it on but not enough to outweigh the advantage stealth can give you.

While certainly more tactical than most other shooters, R6: Vegas is certainly less so than its predecessors. Not bad per se, but it is certainly streamlined. Overcoming a gaggle of enemies quickly and efficiently is the point and can be satisfying. The varied architecture of the various environments makes the possibilities of  encounters like puzzles. It can be hampered somewhat by your teams limited AI that sometimes act like morons. Co-op multiplayer was a better option. Overall a mostly satisfying experience.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and a different version also called R6: Vegas for PSP.

Breach and clear out of 5

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Burnout CRASH! (2011)

Genre: Wreck Your Shit  |  Players: One  |  Developer: Criterion Games

CRASH! is a digital-only title available from PSN, XBL and the Apple store. It has none of the arcade racing elements traditionally associated with the Burnout series. Instead, it takes the Crash Mode, simplifies the visuals and gives it a top down perspective similar to early GTA games. Unlike GTA, however, the active playing area is very small. There’s a brief run-up to the crash zone, but 99.9% of the time you’ll be in a small, self-contained area with one or two intersections and some destructible buildings. Yes, they’re destructible, and in some levels you’re encouraged to do so if you want to hit the high scoring multipliers.

The main objective is to cause as much damage as possible in the allotted time, damage which is then converted into a cash value. Fulfil enough criteria for each level, which includes hitting set targets of cash, and you can move onto the next intersection to do the same thing all over again but with increased difficulty.

Meet specific targets and you can unlock new vehicles. More than just a cosmetic change, they add a further strategic element by having different ratios of Power (damage) to After-touch (ability to control direction of your own vehicle during the post-crash chaos). Some intersections can be beaten with any vehicle, but not all objectives are so easily obtainable - some will require a specific set of wheels.

Special events can be triggered that do massive amounts of damage to the environment, but you'll have to earn them first. They're usually worth the effort.

It’s an enjoyable waste of time that players can drop in and of quickly, but will likely only have lasting appeal to high score junkies who love to cause chaos on busy digital roads. I'm not one for setting and subsequently working my ass off to beat a personal best, so once I'd beaten it I was done with it. For £2.00 (in a PSN sale) it was worth it, though I'd not like to have paid much more than that.

2½ Spandau Ballets out of 5

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright — Rise From the Ashes (2005)

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

Rise From the Ashes exists canonically as the fifth trial of the first Ace Attorney game. It was added retroactively for the DS port, as it incorporates a number of touch-screen dependent elements centering around forensic investigation. This new feature is tightly tied to the debuting companion character, Ema Skye. In the game of archetypes that is Ace Attorney, Ema excels, as she manages to soar past simply being another Maya, even if that was the base intent. Her humor can be similar at times and she is working to prove her sister’s innocence. However, that specific similarity is a table that’s been resoundingly turned and her enthusiasm for her limited area of expertise is adorably infectious and starkly contrasts the gravity surrounding Maya’s gifts.

Ema goes on to appear in Apollo Justice’s game and this raises the most important question regarding this outing: When should you tackle it? I personally choose to play it after completing the Phoenix Arc, as a prequel to Apollo Justice. Ema exists as a perfect link between the two protagonists and arcs. Further, Rise From the Ashes delivers both subtle and blatant references to past cases and to ones yet to come within the Phoenix arc. If you want to appreciate them all, you’ll have to have seen the main thrust of Phoenix’s story to completion. Or, give this a second playthrough, once you have.

If you do wish to experience this case in proper chronological order, I would highly recommend taking a break after case 1-4, as this is equally as lengthy and you’ll be sitting through three long-winded trials in a row, if you drive straight on.

Outside of the new forensic activities (which are easy, but enjoyable) the gameplay, story-elements, and characters are exactly the same in terms of execution and quality compared to the game to which this trial is usually appended. It should be noted that this case saw an individual release as Wii Ware in both Japan and the US, thus justifying a stand-alone nut. Therefore, I’ll argue it’s worth your time regardless of HOW you choose to acquire it, or WHEN you choose to play it.

NOTE: This trial is NOT included in the Japanese PC release as that utilized the original GBA assets.

4 Treacherous Swimming Lessons out of 5

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992)

Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo EAD

A Link to the Past is the game that moved the Zelda franchise beyond the blind experimentation of the original and the mindless back and forth of its sequel. The upgrades in graphics and gameplay work in unison to finally crystalize what became the series’ keystones: exploration and puzzle-solving. It’s presented from a top-down perspective, like the first game, but secrets are marked clearly in both the overworld and dungeons. Emphasis is instead often placed on finding alternate entrances once one has been tantalized and stymied by what lies behind the easily visible ones. Also, navigating complex cave systems in order to mine them of all their treasures. Dungeons are composed of visually distinct wings and floors and maps make a return. Puzzles that span multiple floors replace exhaustive marches to elevators.

This is also the game that introduces the basic framework of the series: three dungeon items, Master Sword, more dungeon items, light arrows, Ganon(dorf). Though, the arrows are still silver, here. While it may have appeared in other games prior, for me LttP is the origin of the mechanic whereby one moves between two worlds in order to solve puzzles and progress. This went on to appear in Silent Hill Origins and the Constantine licensed game.

The second part of the game takes place primarily in the Dark World where you must retrieve nameless maidens from each of the dungeons before rescuing Zelda and scaling Ganon’s Tower. A Link Between Worlds replaces these maidens with a new generation of sages who are actually given dialogue and interactions with Link prior to them being kidnapped. This is the one true weakness of LttP, in my opinion. There’s a serviceable amount of lore on display, but there is virtually nothing in the way of character and story. I'm content with the level present in the 3D Zelda games, so I don't need MUCH, but I need SOME. Look, I don’t need or want story in Mega Man games, so you have my empathy and respect, even if I don’t have yours in this particular case.

If all you're looking for is solid 2D gameplay, though, you won't find much better on the SNES, or anywhere else, really.

Buyer’s Guide: Originally an SNES game, it’s also available on Game Boy Advance, the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles, and the SNES mini. The viewable area is somewhat cropped on GBA, however, so I’d recommend not seeking out that version unless it’s truly your only viable option. Several altered versions of the game were broadcast on Satellaview, but just wiki that yourself or check out Clan of the Grey Wolf’s retrospective if you’re curious from a historical perspective.

3 Catfishes 4x weak to Grass out of 5

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fahrenheit 451 (1984)

Genre: Text Input / Strategy  |  Players: 1  |  Developers: Byron Preiss Video Productions, Inc / Trillium Corp.

Some games are too damn hard. It makes conquering them all the sweeter, but sometimes the elevated difficulty is in place simply to give the illusion of longevity. Fahrenheit 451 is difficult for a different reason. It's a text-based adventure/strategy game that puts you in the shoes of someone from Ray Bradbury’s novel (1953) of the same name. Now an established member of the underground, returned to the city five years after the novel's end, you must circumvent the book-burning populace as you try to set right past wrongs.

Being set after the novel means if you've not read it prior to playing then you'll have a portion of it spoiled for you, so a reading is advised. I'd encourage every fan of sci-fi to read the actual book regardless of whether or not they’ll ever play the game because it's a classic of the genre. If you need more convincing I've a review of the novel HERE on a sister site that's free of plot spoilers.

In-game you’ll be reading text (ironic, isn't it?) and responding by typing instructions, such as ‘S’ when you want to go South. However, the instructions must be VERY specific. If it tells you there’s an item in front of you, e.g. a lighter, what do you instruct the game to do? Lift lighter? Pick up lighter? Take lighter? Obtain lighter? No; after an agonisingly high number of tries I discovered that ‘Get lighter’ is the one that works. That’s an early and easy example. It gets more gruelling as you get deeper into the game. Every puzzle halts progress until you eliminate all other logical options before stumbling upon the accepted one. (I'm guessing such actions were explained in the game's inlay or manual, but it's now 30+ years after it was released and I don't have the luxury of owning such a thing.)

That's infuriating enough, but speaking to people is pure hell. The game needs to know that you aren't issuing a simple command, so dialogue must be set within quotation marks. So far so good; it's 1984 after all. But unless you tell people exactly what they want to hear then you might as well be talking to a wall, while repeatedly being wrong is like banging your head against one.

YES or NO responses are fine, but you need to also use literary quotations at opportune times, which means you'll have to have found them and recorded them verbatim. It's an interesting mechanic and very in keeping with how the fictional society is split, but it's a pain in the ass in a practical sense.

Bradbury fans will of course be curious to try it for themselves, but be prepared to reach levels of frustration that you may not have hitherto known existed.

2 burned eyes out of 5

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day (2013)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developers: Grasshopper Manufacture, Crispy's Inc.

RTLD is a side-scrolling platformer written by Suda 51 and directed by Yohei Kataoka. It’s available on the Short Peace bluray (see above box art), a disc that contains four short anime films and one PS3 game. It’s a hybrid disc that’ll play the anime portion in any bluray player and the game in a PS3. You can view the anime section in your PS3, too, if you scroll to the video section on the XMB.

Each portion takes ‘Japan’ as its inspiration. The animes took a refined approach to the subject matter, but the game went tits-out and packed in a plethora of references from past and present; it’s a smörgåsbord of Japanese culture that'll have weaboos pissing themselves in excitement. There’s panties, guns, schoolgirls, costumes, a flying dragon, wrestlers, swords and Akira references presented as either pixels, anime, manga or visual novel-esque cut scenes.

It looks beautiful, filled with colour and oozing visual creativity, but you’ll be too busy hurrying though each short level to be able to appreciate it fully. You can’t stop and explore the environment because you’re being pursued from the left of the screen by something. Yes, something. I've no clue what it actually was, except for the time it was a giant, hungry Pomeranian. The only levels you'll have time to enjoy are the boss levels, but they’re even less fun to play. They can be frustrating until you figure out what the hell you're supposed to be doing.

Another aspect of Japanese media carried through into the game is that it makes very little sense. It's like a late 80s OVA. It's tongue-in-cheek about it, though.

As one-fifth of the Short Peace experience it’s a welcome addition, but as a game it’s more of a visual treat than a gamer-treat. Even factoring in the time taken to fail and repeat stages (from the beginning of each one, every time!) it'll take approximately one hour to get from beginning to end. A Let’s Play might be more fun than an actual play; you’d at least be able to appreciate how pretty it all is.

2 unmaskings out of 5

NOTE: A short review of the films can be read on our sister site, In a Nutshell. I found it more rewarding (and less confusing) than the game portion. See HERE.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rainslick Precipice Of Darkness: Episode 2 (2008)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Hothead Games

Part 2 begins hilariously similar to the 1st as the PA protagonists, Gabe and Tycho, accidentally wreck the new abode of the player character that had just been rebuilt. The player character is pretty chill about it this time around and is recruited to continue the search for the creator of the ongoing miniature robot menace as well as the giant robot responsible for his house's first destruction which has still evaded sweet vengeance. The same aesthetics and atmosphere are intact with slightly less an air of mystery and a bit more horror, though still mostly rooted in the original comic's sense of humor.

Nothing much has changed, only minor details like Tycho switching out a machine gun for a shotgun and the player character using a hoe as a weapon rather than his original rake. There are new enemies and new special attacks, but it all works the same way with an active time battle system that can be enhanced with good blocking by pressing the spacebar with correct timing. The battles are, like the first game, all substantial as they all have the potential to be dangerous unlike other RPGs. Learning correct blocking and the enemies' weaknesses is key to advancing. The learning curve might be a little steeper this time around as the latter half of the game pretty much requires learning the ins and outs of the battle system. In the first episode, a player could probably squeak by to the final boss having not mastered most of the battle system, but this time around the enemies can wreck you in seconds later on without some semblance of gained skill.

While it is more of the same, that doesn't always have to be a bad thing. The new enemies and continued absurdist steampunk narrative were still engaging. The same problem still applies in that only existing fans of Penny Arcade will get the most out of it or just a connoisseur of RPGs looking for something a little different. Casual players will get little out of the distinct humor if not even a little turned off by it. I think having some experience with it made me enjoy this one perhaps a little bit more.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for digital download on PC, Mac, XBLA and PSN.

4 cock fighting robot monkeys out of 5

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dune 2000 (1999)

Genre: Real-time Strategy (RTS)  |  Players: 1 or Multi (link)  |  Developer: Westwood Studios / Intelligent Games

NOTE: I'll mention the PC version (1998) briefly at the end, but I want to cover the PS1 port in some detail because console versions of RTS games are often frowned upon by PC aficionados and I feel that the PS1 version deserves actual praise.

Dune 2000 is a remake/update of Dune II: Battle for Arrakis (1992), originally developed by Westwood Studios, creators of Command and Conquer. Dune was first, though, so in a way it's Westwood's RTS granddaddy. (Wiki states that II was based on David Lynch's filmed version (1984) of Frank Herbert's seminal sci-fi novel Dune (1965), but you can make the transition to 2000 from the novel without needing to have seen the film, and vice-versa.)

You first choose an allegiance to one of three Great Houses: the 'noble' Atreides, the 'evil' Harkonnen, or the 'insidious' Ordos. Each campaign has ten missions, so that's thirty in all if you decide to replay as the others afterwards. Most missions will have you trying desperately to utterly obliterate the enemy or enemies and/or take control of their resources. It's far from easy.

Time will be split between fortifying your base and building an invading army. All of that costs money, and like the real world you make more money by having a stock sum to begin with. Money is attained by spice mining, so at least one harvester is essential - more if you can afford it because there are worms!

With money being tight, you'll be forced to choose what's best to build while mitigating the damage taken from the attacking enemy forces. If your forces drop below a certain level then coming back is almost impossible and it’s the slow death for you. You may just as well walk into a coriolis storm.

The DualShock does a decent job of translating the actions of a PC mouse. Both sticks move the camera over the entirety of the map while the four face buttons perform other important functions. Jumping into and out of the sidebar menu is achieved by a simple button-press. While there the left stick becomes your means of selecting what to build or upgrade. What's beneficial about the set-up is that while in the menu the right stick is then able to move the camera, effectively letting you attend to two tasks at once. You can even assign the face buttons to specific troops (up to four legions) for quick selections on the field.

Before I end I have to mention the live-action cut scenes—they're obviously green-screen, but they add much to the experience—and the excellent music that oozes the perfect atmosphere. What's more, with it being a PS1 disc you can pop it into your PC drive and play the music without needing to boot up the game!

4 deadly spice blows out of 5

The PC version will of course provide the ultimate Dune 2000 experience. Consider the GruntMods Edition. It has higher textures, supports HD up to 1080p and will run flawlessly on most Windows platforms and on Mac. The game speed can be tweaked and you can even design your own levels. Hooray for mods.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Chrono Trigger (1995)

Genre: RPG  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Squaresoft

Chrono Trigger is arguably one of, if not the most, refined and polished RPGs ever released by Square Ltd. in the 16-bit era.  A game so perfect for its time that it gave the impression Final Fantasy VI was made years before, while in reality only a mere eleven months stand between both releases.

The game puts you in the shoes of Chrono, a young boy from the town of Truce, in the quiet kingdom of Gardia.  On the first day of the millennial fair that commemorates the thousand years of the kingdom he will encounter Marle and start a journey across time to save both the past and the future, making new friends on the way, among which are a frog-knight, a robot from a post-apocalyptic future, and others...

The technical aspect of the game is really great: the graphics make use of all the abilities of the SNES, giving us the abilities to explore a vast and colourful world, and the chara-designs by Toriyama Akira, full of mirth and winks to his career, are very well-rendered on screen.

The music (always one major cool point for Square's SNES games) is very impressive.  Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu outdid themselves, as it may well be the best SNES soundtrack by Square's team.

Gameplay-wise, the game is excellent; putting you at the head of a team of three that you can select more or less freely, the difficulty is well-balanced, the combat system is an evolved version of the Active Time Battle system that allows for a bit more strategy in using zone attacks and offers the possibility of making collective attacks.  The gameplay also uses the time-travel aspect of the game, requiring you to sometimes perform an action in the past to unblock something in the future.

Finally, the story is exceptionally well-written, full of humour, and explores quite nicely the various aspects and implications of time travel, both good and bad, in a very intelligent and coherent manner.  It's also, at times, pretty emotional and will make you feel involved in the story and the characters' destiny, which is the mark of great RPGs.

If you have to have only ONE RPG on SNES, get this one.

If you liked it you might enjoy: Final Fantasy VI, Lufia II, Dragon Quest VI.

5 luminaire followed by Dark Matter out of 5.

Nutted by Docrate1.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ratchet: Gladiator (2005 / 2013 in HD)

Genre: Platformer  |  Players: 1 or 2 co-op  |  Developer: Insomniac Games (original PS2 edition) / Idol Minds (PS3 port)

Prior to Gladiator (aka Ratchet: Deadlocked (NA) / Ratchet and Clank 4 (JP)), all of the HD updates I’d played had been successful, but it’s impossible to outrun the law of averages forever. It had to happen eventually. I got a shitty one.

If you received the game free because of the QForce/Full Frontal Assault (2012) delay then you can offset the cheapness somewhat, but if you bought it as a standalone entry then there’s every reason to expect a product that’s worth the price paid, particularly when Idol Minds did such a sterling job on the previous collection. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that the lack of care and respect that went into the conversion makes me hesitant to trust them in future.

FMV scenes are repeatedly jerky and there are times when the foreground textures go inexplicably transparent, enabling the backgrounds to be visible through them. Is the jerkiness a PAL thing? Is the NTSC version the same? I don't know. All I know is that interactions between characters during those times are an important part of the R+C experience, and they've been treated badly.

Mercifully, once you gain control of Ratchet the game works. There’s still slowdown during heated moments, but it's easy to adjust to. The only notable exception is when the game pauses you in mid-swing over a bottomless death-gap so that it can load the platform on which you're planning to land.

The arena challenges that were a small part of the previous games are the sole aspect of Gladiator. It’s not always confined to a small area, but it is essentially a series of bouts/ battles that get increasingly more challenging and frustratingly hectic as you progress. I acknowledge that a large number of people will feel the direct opposite, but I need more than just shooting/ advancing toward endless waves; the balance that was achieved in previous games was sorely missed.

Gun-fans may feel equally short-changed when it comes to the limited array of weapons available. They can level up to insane proportions but there's a lesser number to play around with than long-time players will be used to.

In a series known for OTT weaponry and ballsy humour, being underwhelming hurts more than it would otherwise; it means that it failed to do its job as well as it should have, and will hold the interest of only the most ardent or forgiving fan.

2½ ratings wars out of 5

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy: Classics HD (2012)

Genre: Platformer  |  Players: 1 / Up to 8 Online (R+C 3 only)  |  Developer: Insomniac Games (original PS2 editions) / Idol Minds (PS3 port) / Mass Media Inc. (PSV port)

Replaying the first three R+C games was even more fun than I'd expected it to be, and my hopes were pretty high to begin with.  The revisit brought to light something that can be viewed primarily in one of two ways: it either shows how little the series changed over a short number of years (2002-04), or it highlights how spot-on the devs at Insomniac got the formula on their first try.  I sit firmly in the latter camp while acknowledging the former from afar.

I'm not implying that the first game is perfect.  It clearly isn't.  It’s the only one of the three without a strafe manoeuvre, making it a lot harder than it could've been otherwise.  There’s a workaround but it’s not ideal.  On the plus side, Clank’s first words are of the series-defining innuendo variety.

The second game, known as R+C: Locked and Loaded (EU); R+C: Going Commando (US); or simply as R+C 2 (JP), remedied the lack of strafe and nailed the voices that we've come to know and instantly recognise.  The platforming and guns were better, and there are more forgiving checkpoints throughout.
For my money the only stains on an otherwise perfect gaming experience are the frustrating glider sections that require a lot of patience and more than a little trial and error, and the awful Clank on the Moon missions.  In fact, in all three games the Clank parts are more of a necessary chore than an enjoyable break.  They were included to offer gamers variety, but if they could be removed it would make R+C 2 a strong contender for the best 3D platformer on a Sony machine.

R+C 3 (EU + JP), known as R+C: Up Your Arsenal in the US, tweaked the formula a little more, but with R+C 2 being so good there wasn't a lot they could do besides add more inventive weapons and not cock-up anything that already worked perfectly.  To that end, they cranked the innuendo lever even harder.

The replay value of each game is more than generous.  If it takes X amount of time to finish, it’ll take at least 2X to mop up the bonus stuff.  You've access to even more destructive weapons on your second playthrough, known as Challenge Mode.  During C Mode you keep the majority of your inventory and every bolt you've earned.  Being fully armed from the start means it’s easier to progress, but the enemies are more dangerous so it’s not completely effortless.

The port from PS2 to PS3 by Idol Minds doesn't harm the games in any way.  They even kept the multi-player aspect of R+C 3 intact, making it fully playable over PSN.  I didn't care to try it, but it's a notable addition, nonetheless.

It's one of Sony's 'Cross Buy' titles, but I can't comment on the PSV versions.  I'm not one of the half-dozen people in the UK that actually own a PSV.

4 socioeconomic disparities out of 5

Friday, February 27, 2015

Final Fantasy — 20th Anniversary Edition (2007)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Tose

The first game in this (what came to be) ironically titled series is without question the most basic console RPG experience I’ve ever encountered. Yes, I do believe Mystic Quest is more complex than this is, in any of its iterations. Explore, talk to townsfolk, buy items, exchange items, fight baddies, and grind. That’s it. It’s quaint, almost painfully so.

You’re free to make a party of four, from six classes (Warrior, Thief, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage) and name them after you and your friends or other characters (oh hai Vivi~). The grinding could be considered severe depending on your history and personal tolerances, but it is structured to match the regimented story, at the very least. Gain ten levels to be comfortable in the introductory dungeon and ten more for each subsequent. Level 60 is where you’ll want to be for a winnable final encounter that will still elicit slight fears of failure.

In the original NES release, a pointedly dated/annoying mechanic was the system’s inability to automatically switch your aim to another enemy if the one you originally targeted was defeated by another party member. It’s been fixed in every other version, but it’s not a ‘smart’ system and you’ll still want to be careful about your assignments as you’ll often find your warrior suddenly attacking a smaller enemy that your mages could have taken out either alone, or in tandem, to save you a round of combat.

That’s another thinly veiled tip. Bring more than one mage if you aren’t doing a challenge run, of which there are MANY flavors. Of course, I have to admit that outside of those popular challenges and nostalgia for its own sake, there is NO reason to play this game, today. If you want to experience a standard, classic Final Fantasy, play IV or VI.

This version contains all of the bonus dungeons from the GBA version as well as an exclusive that utilizes a mechanic similar to VIII’s endgame. You’ll be repeatedly handicapping yourself in order to progress. For me, getting extra gear and fighting bosses from the later games is silly, but it’s extra content if you want it.

If you have a PSP and are absolutely sure you want to play it, this IS the version I recommend. All PSP owners need more games and it’s bright, crisp, colorful, and in widescreen here. Win.

Buyer’s Guide: Here we go. /takes deep breath: NES, MSX2 (what?), WonderSwan Color, Playstation (as part of FF Origins, in the west), GBA (as part of Dawn of Souls with II—fuck you II, die in a hole), iOS, PSP, Windows Phone, Android, Wii and Wii U Virtual Console, 3DS eshop, and the NES mini.

3 Parts of Neg Still Love To Name Nameless Characters out of 5

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1988)

Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo R&D4

I respect franchises that are brave enough to change much of their formula, especially early on. Accordingly, Zelda II’s change to a side-scrolling POV for interiors, random enemy encounters, and hidden overworld areas is not something I classify as a problem. It’s a decision; one that I have no qualms with, in a vacuum. The same is true for the brutal difficulty. There are magic drops in carefully doled out supply that will make progression exceedingly possible, if not delectably care-free.

There are RPG elements in play and while you are welcome to grind your heart out there are measures in place to facilitate a relatively swift adventure. You’ll be given a free level-up for completing each temple. If you use the experience-heavy enemies inside them to level just prior to placing the jewel at the end, you’ll be able to make the most out of this boon.

Regardless of my tolerance for these changes, there is a major problem: those very temples. Much like the original Metroid, there is a sameness to each area. Colors change from place to place, but within each temple it’s the same, from the floors to the walls to the bots drop from….the ceilings…The dungeons in the first game are equally guilty, but being presented top-down with a map system forewent the left-right, up-down experimentation necessary to complete these temples. “I went left last time, but I didn’t go up and then right at that elevator I found when I did, right?” is a conversation no one should have to have with themselves. EVER.

As tedious as one of the main focuses of the series is here, there are a few positives: Ocarina’s sages find their origin in the town names of this version of Hyrule. It’s Error and Bagu’s 'hood, yo. Yet most importantly, to me, is the music. There’s something about the tone that makes it haunting, perched on the precipice of madness. I love it. It should also be noted that a New Game+ exists that allows you to keep your levels and spells.

I can’t in good conscience implore anyone to play this in any serious capacity. If someone you know has it, give it a few minutes. Completing the first temple gives a representative enough feel of the experience.

Buyer’s Guide: Originally an NES game, it’s been ported to the GameCube (on the Zelda Collector’s Edition), the GBA, and every version of the Virtual Console currently in existence. It has also been included on the NES mini.

2 Sides of Yourself Enter, One Leaves out of 5

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000)

Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo EAD

As with Zelda II before, Nintendo saw fit to make their second N64 console entry radically different from its predecessor. Virtually all of Ocarina’s assets are present, but they are turned on their head to create as new an experience as this franchise has ever mustered. Most importantly, the characters—and some NPCs who were originally not much more than character models—are given entirely new roles. It is the exact methodology exhibited in Stephen King’s Desperation and The Regulators (1996, both), with equally effective results.

Young Link is put in a position where he has the option to help as few or as many of these unfortunate souls as you deem fit. Gameplay revolves around a three day cycle that can be reset at will once the Song of Time is recalled. Link gets to keep the items, heart pieces and masks that he earns in each cycle, but the characters' memories and all events reset along with the time. This leads to repetition, but it is thought-driven, unlike the mindless variety I personally find to be in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. To further aid in this, people’s schedules are automatically recorded in a notebook the moment they open up to you with their problems.

The above mentioned masks have grown from a side-quest in Ocarina to being the main focus here. A few are transformative in nature, granting new powers. Others function in more limited ways or aid entry into the four dungeons, the process of which is now, also puzzle-driven in nature.

Frankly, there are aspects of MM that made my soul sing and others that I absolutely fucking loathed. I had problems solving certain things on my own, but when I retroactively looked at each case, I had to admit that the game indeed provided the means to resolve those issues. At a different time in my life, I probably would have been more patient and capable of doing everything independently.

In the end, this is the kind of game that teaches you things about yourself and life in general, if you’re willing to listen: when to ask for and provide help, when to accept things, and when things just have to be let go. I can’t claim to prefer it to Ocarina, though I can absolutely respect those who do because they are as equal as they are unique from one another.

Buyer’s Guide: It is of utmost importance to know that if you want the original 64 cart you’ll also need to procure an expansion pack as it is one of the few games that require it. It’s also available in the LoZ Collector’s Edition on the Game Cube and on the virtual console. The 3DS remake will be available the month of this writing (February 2015).

4½ Distraught Goatse Shields out of 5

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (2001)

Genre: Sport  |  Players: 1-2  / Up to 4 online (PS2 only)  |  Developer: Neversoft

THPS 1 and 2 were both fun games but in truth they weren't quite as sophisticated as some of us would've liked. Sometimes even the simplest thing was more difficult than it ought to have been, and the frame rate was inconsistent on the larger levels. On the surface THPS 3 doesn't do much radically different from its predecessors, but to play it is to discover that Neversoft successfully honed the formula to perfection; everything, that is, except the tricky frame rate.

The new revert manoeuvre effectively balances gameplay for people who prefer ramps to street, enabling combos to be continued while tricking on vert. Do it successfully and you can even ease into a manual, hop off the vert and transition to the nearest street obstacle or rail for the best of both worlds with your score multiplier unbroken. Keep the balance meter from tipping over and you can chalk up massive scores. (Combine with Gaps for more impressive numbers.)

The character customisation isn't extensive but nor is it lacking too much. Hats, hairstyles, glasses, tees, etc, can be unlocked and worn. The same applies to hardware, new decks, wheels, etc. None of it makes a damn bit of difference to how your skater performs, but it’s a nice touch, nonetheless.

Once you've chosen your preferred style it’s onto career mode with your custom skater. There are only eight levels, which doesn't sound very much, but there are multiple goals to achieve within each one. If you only achieve one goal per run, save it and try for something else on subsequent runs; they carry over so you don't need to do them all in one try. It’s the usual TH procedure.

There’s incentive to replay each level with the Pros, provided you enjoy watching unlockable skate videos. If you’re playing a skating game then you’re probably going to enjoy skate videos. Rodney Mullen’s is mind-blowing. I strongly suspect he’s an actual wizard, unbearded and in disguise.

Perhaps the most enduring aspect for me personally is that I can no longer hear Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ without thinking of the game’s opening credits. The two things are forever wedded in my mind.

5 crucial stat points out of 5

Note: originally on PS1 (developed by Shaba Games and a lot less technically advanced), PS2, GameCube and GBC, it was ported to other formats by various devs: N64 (Edge of Reality); PC + Mac (Gearbox Software); GBA (Vicarious Visions). Obviously the GBC and GBA versions will be radically different than even the PS1 version, but I should also mention that while the GC version looks prettier than the PS2 it has major problems in other areas. In short, consider anything written above this Note to apply ONLY to PS2, PC and Xbox.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Donkey Kong Country (1994)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1-2 | Developer: Rare

While DK was launched into the star-studded realm of playable characters with this sub-franchise….it didn’t last very long. His little buddy Diddy stole the spotlight almost instantaneously. That Rare saw it fit to cave to ease of use and genericism as soon as the first sequel is ridiculously disappointing. Donkey Kong himself is quite unique in his platforming because of his immense weight. You have to play smarter and more carefully to compensate for his decreased jumping ability and sluggishness. Diddy does have a weakness (bigger enemies will bounce him backwards while taking no damage) but he can still take them out assuming he has the room necessary to roll into them.

Having since played DKC Returns, this game is far easier and less ambitious in terms of secrets and level design than I remembered, but that’s to be expected given that it’s the first game in the series and an SNES release from 1994. It isn’t fair of me to make this comparison outside of stating my preference for the rebooted franchise, I acknowledge. In a vacuum, OG DKC is a fairly difficult endeavor, but for whatever reason I’ve always had near-infinite patience for it. It may simply be because it never feels particularly cheap. If you screw up it’s because you don’t know what’s coming (alternately, don’t remember) or you simply haven’t played it enough. It’s challenging and it’s on you to step up.

That said, you will have to rest your entire enjoyment on the development of that skill if you aren’t the type who is willing to check video walkthroughs to locate some of the bonus rooms that count towards your completion total. The vast majority can be found with eagle eyes and a knowledge of what types of walls are usually breakable, but a few are impossible to find without help or some incredibly serendipitous screw ups. You can achieve 101% and the game IS nice enough to indicate on the map screen when you’ve found all of the bonus rooms in a given level. As far as I can tell the only reward is a slight change to Cranky’s dialogue. Lame.

It may show signs of age and use too many boss re-colors (i.e., any at all), but if you’re visiting for the right reasons this is more than smooth enough to still warrant your time in 2015.

Buyer’s Guide: It was originally on SNES, but it’s since been ported to the GBA and the SNES mini. It WAS on the Virtual Console, but apparently Nintendo (or some legal remnant of Rare) doesn’t like to make free money. You know what to dooooo~

3½ Friendly Acts of Violence out of 5