Sunday, July 27, 2014

Triple Bummer!!! The Swapper, State of Decay: Lifeline and Abyss Odyssey  

*

Games: It's been a disappointing week for games. Three releases that I've been stoked for have all been letdowns, and none of them are on the ‘will definitely finish this’ track.




The first was The Swapper. I heard nothing but kudos for this game since it hit PC last year, and I was pretty psyched when I heard it was coming to consoles. (Played it on PS4.)


Honestly, the story is a great sci-fi tale of switching bodies and existential questions, but the story feels totally disconnected from the gameplay. The Swapper’s puzzles feel so artificial and gamey to me that I quickly lost patience for them, and I couldn’t immerse myself in the world because it just felt so contrived. At no point did I ever feel like my character was in a believable world, or that the environment made any sense.

Apparently it's a very short game but I only got about halfway because I found myself going to GameFAQs too often to get past the puzzles, and that's just not a good experience. If the devs had made just a little more effort in integrating the puzzles with the environments, or making the environments more logical in terms of the game’s world, I probably would've hung in there.




The next bummer is the Lifeline DLC expansion for State of Decay. I reviewed the base game for 360 back in 2013, and I still stand by it as one of the best zombie titles ever made. With the release of Lifeline, the core game received some fixes, additions, and patches that fans have been requesting, so it's even better than it was. If you've never played the original, I absolutely recommend it. However, I can’t say the same for this DLC.

In the add-on, the player takes control of a small group of soldiers sent to rescue targets from an overrun city. They quickly establish a small base, and then it's up to them to perform supply and rescue runs while waiting for the chopper to come back at various intervals. It's a great idea and since it offers all-new characters and an all- new map, I couldn't have been more excited. However, it was incredibly frustrating and unpleasant for a number of reasons.


The first is that the AI is pretty terrible, and directly led to a number of situations turning out to be disasters. For instance, one of the earliest missions has players rescuing a doctor, and on the way to recover notes from her overrun house, she charges headlong into a swarm despite the fact that she's only got a screwdriver. There's no way to make her hang back or to stay in the car that brought you there, and when trying to get all of my troops back in the car so that we could run over the zombies rather than fight them, she refused to comply. As such, she got killed in that mission three separate times, and I kept restarting until I was able to save her because it was just too stupid to lose her there.

Speaking of stupid, the soldiers on your team are little better. At one point I was being chased and ran back inside my base. I was low on health and out of ammo, and I ran inside thinking that the rest of my troops would come to my aid, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The zombies chased me inside the gates with none of the guards stopping them, and as I was getting torn apart in the middle of my encampment, two guards stood watching without lifting a finger.


This moronic AI wouldn't be so bad if the difficulty wasn't so high, but compared to the base game, it's a lot tougher, and it doesn't often feel very fair or sensible. For instance, I was searching a small warehouse, and after sweeping the area to pick off a few stray zombies, the coast was clear. I went inside to search for goods, and five seconds after I started searching, a horde of zombies flooded in through the back door.  My partner and I took them out, but just as we were finishing the first group, a second wave came in. We polished those off, and then a third group came in. Keep in mind, this area had been totally clear before we started our search, so the zombies were appearing out of nowhere. We got overrun and both of my characters died despite taking measures to prevent such a thing from happening. Similar events are quite common, with waves of zombies appearing at high frequency and in great numbers. I get that there are some SoD fans who constantly want the game to be harder, but honestly... fuck them. In my opinion, it's already tough to deal with, and as it stands, it's scaled too high.

There are other things that are problems like not being able to bring more than one soldier for backup despite the fact that the game can easily handle friendly groups of 3/4, or the absurd length of time it takes to reload a gun. I'm no soldier myself, but Lifeline has the longest reloads I've seen in any game in recent memory, and losing characters because they’re taking an hour to pop in a clip is rubbish. I still love the base game and I'm absolutely still a fan of Undead Labs, but this Lifeline expansion was entirely too frustrating, and I hope that they patch it to a place where ridiculous zombie spawning and brain-dead AI doesn't kill the fun.




The final made-me-frown game is Abyss Odyssey, recently released by Atlus. Like the other two, it’s so close to being something quite cool, but it just doesn’t quite get there.

To give it credit where it’s due, the visual style is great, I like the character design, and the idea of a combat-heavy platforming roguelike where the player must go deeper and deeper into a pit is a good one – It’s all solid here.


Issues arise early on, though. One thing is that the procedurally-generated levels feel quite boring and samey, so that's a bit of a problem. However, a bigger issue is the controls. I played it on 360 and I found that in addition to occasional frame-rate lag, the character feels far too sluggish -- it takes a fraction of a second too long for the character to turn around, and since the devs are keen on ambush encounters and throwing multiple enemies at the player, it’s not a good experience.

I really dig the things that it gets right, and I'm going to try this one on PS3 to see if the controls are any better, but I suspect that they probably won't be… I really wish it felt better to play.




Don’t want to leave you on a down note, so just a quick word about The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 4: Amid The Ruins… Although The first three eps of the new series have been pretty terrible, the latest one really got the Walking Dead mojo back.


My review is in the can and it’ll be up soon, but if you’re like me and have been feeling less-than-jazzed about The New Further Adventures of Clementine, Episode 4 might change your opinion. 

Cheers to @Boiteabebelles for convincing me to give it a try, because I was honestly thisclose to outright quitting after Ep.3…




********************PR/NEWS/INFO********************




Deadpool is coming to Marvel Puzzle Quest!  Starting on August 1st in the upcoming Episode titledDeadpool vs. Marvel Puzzle Quest, Deadpool will star in his very own episode and be available for player’s roster at the conclusion of the event.

Also, a new gameplay feature to be introduced on July 29th called Team-Up.  Team-Up brings heroes into battle that aren’t in your roster.  It will add huge amounts of tactical flexibility for players looking to take down their opponents by providing a larger selection of Marvel characters for their squad.

And finally, the Dark Reign subtitle of the game has been removed as the game in the coming months will be branching into other realms in the Marvel Universe.

See the brand-new trailer here.

*

Metrico is coming to Vita! The new gameplay trailer, including the most gameplay you’ve probably ever seen in one video, can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ltwWj46jL4

*

Defense Grid 2, the sequel to the hit 2008 tower defense game, today kicked off its Steam pre-order in advance of the game’s September 2014 launch. In addition to receiving ten percent off of the launch price, consumers who pre-purchase Defense Grid 2 now will receive immediate access to the beta (currently only for Windows users). As more people pre-order, additional incentive tiers will be unlocked, including the original Defense Grid digital art book, a free copy of the Containment expansion to Defense Grid: The Awakening*, and much more.

A special edition of Defense Grid 2 will be available for purchase that includes all unlocked pre-order incentive items, an exclusive digital Defense Grid 2 art book and the e-book, The Making of Defense Grid 2: The Complete Story Behind the Game, by Russ Pitts.

Pre-order Defense Grid 2 here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/221540

Defense Grid 2 (DG2) features stunning landscapes as players fight for the survival of human civilization. With single-player, co-op and competitive multiplayer modes in levels that change dynamically, DG2 offers endless ways to tap into resources and build towers in order to defend against waves of incoming enemies. The controls are intuitive while the gameplay is deep. Consumers have already demonstrated their high level of excitement for DG2, with 10,000 beta keys claimed in just fifteen hours through a Destructoid.com giveaway. Defense Grid 2 will be released this fall for digital download on PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For more information on the game, please visit: http://www.hiddenpath.com/games/defense-grid-2/

*

XSEED Games, the independent-minded console publishing brand of Marvelous USA, Inc., today announced that the company will launch the over-the-top action RPG title, AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed, on the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system on August 12, 2014. XSEED Games has also revealed that the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system version of the game is scheduled to make its English-language debut later this holiday season. In addition, the official AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressedwebsite launched today and can be found at: www.akibastrip.com.

In AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed, players must repel a brooding malevolence that has fallen over Tokyo’s popular Akihabara (Akiba for short) electronics district. Akiba has been invaded by creatures known as “Synthisters” who prey on the anime- and game-obsessed patrons of Akihabara like vampires, but feast on their social energy and will to live rather than their blood. Only direct exposure to sunlight can stop this menace.

 AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed is developed by ACQUIRE and published by XSEED Games in North America and will be available both physically for the PlayStation®3 and PlayStation®Vita systems at participating retailers, as well as digitally on both systems via PlayStation®Store, on August 12, 2014 for $39.99. Details about the PlayStation®4 system version will be revealed at a later date.
The PlayStation®3 system and PlayStation®Vita system editions of this title have been rated Mature by the ESRB. The PlayStation®4 system edition is Rating Pending.

More information on the game can be found via the newly launched product website at www.akibastrip.com. For information on XSEED Games products, please visit www.xseedgames.com. Fans can also follow XSEED Games on Facebook at www.facebook.com/XSEEDGames and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/XSEEDGames

*

Turn-based strategy fans, rejoice! ATLUS will be bringing over the cult hit SRPG (that's strategy role-playing game) Tears to Tiara 2 to North America and NIS America will be releasing the game in Europe. ATLUS is handling the localization of text into English, and the game's original Japanese audio will be left intact.

It will be exclusive to the PS3 and release Oct. 14 for $39.99, and will be an 80+ hour experience that combines strategic turn-based gameplay with an exciting story that unfolds like a visual novel. 

The Tears to Tiara 2 Opening Movie is Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgkRLTXfS7A 

And you can check out the official website here:http://www.atlus.com/tears2

*



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Retro Review: Strider 2 - PlayStation  

*
RetroReviews
*
Strider 2 – Second Opinion
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Sony PlayStation

Originally reviewed at @GameCritics on August 14, 2000

(The main review by Ben Hopper can be found here.)

   


Like Ben, I enjoyed growing up in the golden age of arcades, and have many fond memories of riding to my local 7-11 to play the latest cabinet, and many evenings spent trying to connive my dad into taking me to Chuck E. Cheese, only to spend three hours there without touching the pizza.

However, the good feelings of those golden years don't carry over to the current incarnation of Strider 2. Based on my memories of the original arcade release and the nearly flawless Genesis port of the first Strider, I was ready to put my money down sight unseen and trust in Capcom to produce something as solid and fun to play as the first. However, I was quite disappointed.


For starters, I found the graphics to be unappealing, lacking the character and personality I expect from Capcom. The studio usually turns out above-average (if not outstanding) sprite graphics. Instead of the big, bright rendering found in the first game or in the Vs. series, the main character is tragically small, and things are rather pixelly in general. The focus on showing larger portions of the levels and having the character in a smaller scale definitely takes away from the appearance of the game. There are a few choice areas such as a battle which takes place on top of a row of floating cars, or in the polar laboratory area when a giant cyborg mammoth lumbers forth for battle, but such memorable moments are few and far between. Also, as a side note to purists, the clean "ching!" sound of Hiryu's blade from the original game was mysteriously omitted. It's missed.

I also concur with Ben regarding the "quick cuts" the game makes. After clearing a section of level, the player is mysteriously whisked to another area with no segue whatsoever. One moment I was in a strange, techno-gravity chamber, and the next I was on top of an icecap attacking a huge mutant crab with nothing but "loading" taking me from one area to another. It absolutely kills any pretense of plot the game may have had, and only serves to destroy immersion with abrupt loads three or four times per level. While the plot or story segments may not matter much in arcades, in this day and age I definitely expect more than the few crumbs that were tossed in.


As far as the quality of the platforming goes, it seems like it might be extremely difficult and probably would be except for the fact that the game provides unlimited continues, which kills any challenge. There's really no need or incentive to play the game with skill since you can continue exactly where you died with no penalty. As a consequence, what could have been an enjoyable workout of manual dexterity and skill devolves into a mindless affair which consists of walking from the left to the right and holding down the attack button, jumping sporadically. There's no reason to even try and dodge incoming damage -- just hit the "start" button when you die and you'll finish the game in approximately thirty minutes. In comparison, the old Strider sent you back to checkpoints, so there definitely was a necessity to master certain sections in order to progress. Why Capcom didn't keep that system I can't imagine.

Due to the extremely short playtime, Capcom did add a bit of replay by being able to start a game with a different character after beating the game once, though the second character has no story segments and uses homing blades as a weapon, which means that you have to work even less to beat the game. There's also one hidden level which becomes accessible after playing through classic Strider and using the save, but it makes as much sense as the other levels do and is just as appealing, which is to say… not much. 


While it's great that Capcom included the original version of Strider (and I'd definitely like to see more arcade or orginal versions packaged with newer sequels) with the limited replay and general disinterest Strider 2 generates, I can't recommend it. There is the core of a good game here, but it needs polish and fleshing out in so many areas that it feels a lot rougher than the average Capcom release. I'd suggest it only as a purchase to people who are huge Strider fans or those who want a copy of the original Strider for archival purposes. For others, it's a rental at best and a substandard offering in general. 

Rating: 5 out of 10

*

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Iron Brigade, Towerfall, State of Decay: Lifeline, Hellraid: The Escape, and Plundernauts!  

*

Links: Up first tonight, we had a whole slew of content go up at @Gamecritics over the last week. In case you missed any of it, they're right here for your convenience! Handy, yes?

Go! Go! Nippon! By @KayinAmoh


1001 Spikes by me!

Monster Monpiece (Second Opinion) by me!




Final Fantasy X/X-2 by @Gelles22

Also, for those who listen, we just recorded a new episode of the GC podcast last night. Sorry to keep you waiting for so long, but it's coming soon! Promise!!

*

Games: It's been a bit scattershot lately… Between work and hanging out with the kids this summer, there hasn't been a lot of dedicated game time. I thought I'd be able to start blowing through some of my backlog, but that hasn't exactly happened. Still, I've been playing a bit, for sure.



Since my oldest has been here for the summer, I've been looking for good co-op games to play with him that are also appropriate when my 5yo is looking over our shoulders, and I randomly remembered that I downloaded a demo for Double Fine's Iron Brigade (360) back in 2011 and never actually tried it. 



I'm not the biggest fan of Double Fine (you might even say that I don't care for their work) which is probably why I never started the demo, but I figured "hey, it's got robots and we can play together, so why not?" To my immediate surprise, it's pretty freaking fantastic. It doesn't feel at all like the rest of their recent works, and in this case, that's a great thing.



Basically, the player takes control of a big walking gun platform in a quasi-World War II-ish setting where the enemies aren't Nazis, but crazed television monsters created by a guy who hears signals coming from somewhere. The customization of these mechs is quite deep, the graphics and style are totally on-point, and I've been playing co-op the entire campaign and it's been a hell of a lot of fun. I couldn't be more surprised – it's a really, really big thumbs up.



On PS4, my son and I got in some local-co-op with Towerfall, formerly of Ouya fame. It's not something I would've ever paid for but it was free on PS Plus, so it was no skin off my nose to DL it.


As a local game cooperatively, it's pretty fun. Basically, each screen is one whole level, and if a player falls down a pit, they simply circle around and reappear at the top. The same goes for moving left to right. Players fire arrows at enemies, but the hook is that you need to go and actually get the arrow after you fire it, so it becomes a bit of a balancing act between how much you want to fire and how defensive you need to be. Players can also catch arrows (which is important because you can shoot each other) and the action gets very, very hectic.

We're a bit stalled out on the final level of the game since it's pure chaos and we need to practice a bit more. In terms of the versus, we haven't tried it and I have to say that I don't have any interest. It's chaotic enough as it is, and going head-to-head with my own family members rarely ends well.



When the little one's in bed, I've been putting some time into the new expansion for the 360's State of Decay, titled Lifeline. It's an add-on so it's essentiallly the same game, but there are some really awesome improvements like the ability to load multiple pieces of gear into a car, and ordering teammates to accompany you at any time is a huge plus. It's also set in a whole new map, and the story of a group of soldiers trying to hold it down is solid.


On the other hand, there are still a few things that need tweaking, and the inability to give someone orders (Stay here! Carry that bag!) still seems like a really big thing that needs to be added. Also, I'm finding it to be pretty freaking hard – although to be fair, after talking with @GC_Danny, I think I've been taking the wrong approach. Rather than going with the quiet sneaky-sneak of the core game, he suggests going balls-out assault at all times. It's hard to break the habit of being ultra-conserative in a survival-horror-ish game like SoD, but he may have a point. Gonna restart and see what happens.



Mobile-wise... Well, look, I'm not going to lie. I'm still putting quite a bit of time into Marvel Puzzle Quest


The mechanics are constantly improving, new content keeps coming, and it's great to get 5 or 10 minutes here and there. However, I have been dabbling in other things on the go.



Firstly, my spider senses have been tingling about Hellraid from Techland, which is coming to PS4, XBO, etc. later this year or perhaps 2015. On the surface it doesn't seem particularly special, but there's just something about it… I have a feeling it's going to be a good one. As such, I was pretty interested in the new quasi-prequel that just hit iOS titled Hellraid: The Escape.


It's got totally different gameplay (it's a point and clicker, not a real-time dungeon-crawl hack-n'-slash) but apparently it takes place in the same setting as the main game, so I thought it was worth a look. I'm really early, but from what I can gather, your character is killed in the first scene and is reincarnated as a corpse. He's trying to make his way out of a dungeon where the sorcerer in charge saps everyone's soul energy to feed his own desires, so it's in your interest to GTFO. The graphics are great and it runs pretty nicely on my iPhone 4S, although I compared it on my wife's iPad, and it looks pretty fantastic there.



In other iOS news, I took a quick stab at Plundernauts. It's a small ship-to-ship space combat game where the player is after a pirate treasure IN SPACE, and must fight in tons of ship-to-ship battles along the way. 


Each craft has little hardpoints where guns and different accessories can be swapped in and out, and the real-time combat using a fingertip to trace flightpaths is actually pretty good. I'm not sure this one has enough substance for me to stick with it for the distance, but I've been enjoying it in quick bursts here and there.



********************PR/NEWS/INFO********************



Deconstructeam and Devolver Digital announced that upcoming indie thriller 
Gods Will Be Watching will arrive on July 24 for PC, Mac, and Linux via Steam, Humble, and GOG. The breakout debut game from the pensive minds at Deconstructeam is now available for pre-order through both a standard edition ($9.99) and a collector’s edition ($19.99) that includes the original soundtrack, a digital art book, and a digital comic that serves as the prologue to the haunting events ofGods Will Be Watching (godswillbewatching.com and http://store.steampowered.com/app/274290/)Gods Will Be Watching is a minimalistic “point and click thriller” centered on despair, commitment, and sacrifice as players face intriguing puzzles and tough decisions that will affect their entire crew’s wellbeing. Set against the backdrop of an interstellar struggle, Gods Will Be Watching follows Sgt. Burden and his crew in six tense chapters that examine a multitude of mature themes ranging from hostage situations and wilderness survival to biological weapon prevention and agonizing torture scenarios. Players are faced with incredibly difficult ethical and moral choices as their mental fortitude and personal limits are tested in every scenario. Each decision is crucial and players will need to choose between the lives of their team and the saving the world from genocide.

The 
Gods Will Be Watching Collector’s Edition includes:

• Gods Will Be Watching Official Soundtrack – More than 20 mesmerizing tracks by composer Fingerspit in high-quality MP3 files.
• Digital Art Book – 50-page of concept art, digital paintings, and design illustrations from the production and development of Gods Will Be Watching.
• Digital Comic Book – 40-page comic from Dayjob Studio that serves as a prologue to events of Gods Will Be Watching detailing the backstory of Sgt. Burden and Xenolifer.
Gods Will Be Watching is now available for pre-order with a 10% off discount on the standard game and the Collector’s Edition. For more information on Gods Will Be Watching or to try the original prototype, visit godswillbewatching.com
*

Following last month's release on Wii U™, The Game Bakers' popular SQUIDS franchise is now on Nintendo 3DS™ in SQUIDS Odyssey, a tactical RPG available for download in the Nintendo eShop. Designed specifically for handheld devices, SQUIDS Odyssey has casual combat with quick levels that can easily be enjoyed on the go, alongside an epic adventure storyline reminiscent of old-school JRPGs.

When a mysterious black ooze seeps into the sea and disturbs the Squids' peaceful kingdom, a scrappy shoal of heroes must fight back. During turn-based combat against ooze-infected crab and shrimp, the Squids' springy tentacles become their best weapons: stretch them with your finger or the stylus, aim, and release to shoot your Squid toward its target. Four hero classes, stat-boosting helmets, and power-ups add a strategic element to the role-playing gameplay.

SQUIDS Odyssey for Nintendo 3DS includes all the same content as on Wii U, with gorgeous artwork thanks to a 3D-layered effect that shows off the Squids' lush kingdom like never before. Game features include:
  • Build your party from 15 different Squids in four classes -- shooters, scouts, troopers, and healers
  • Win turn-based battles with strategy and skill, using the environment and your party's strengths to your advantage
  • Lose yourself in an epic story across four exotic underwater kingdoms
  • Engage in 90+ missions for more than 15 hours of gameplay in the main storyline, plus an expert Pro Mode that doubles the game length and provides extra challenge
  • Boost your heroes' abilities with 65+ fun and funky-looking helmets
In their positive review of the Wii U version, The Official Nintendo Magazine called SQUIDS Odyssey "difficult, but charming ... a fun and unique, turn-based action game that's worth spending a few squid on." NintendoLife praised its "beautiful world and a good sense of humour," and Nintendo World Report concluded, "In terms of Nintendo eShop titles, you won't find many others that offer the long hours of gameplay that SQUIDS Odyssey provides."

The Game Bakers' SQUIDS games have had more than two million downloads since their 2011 debut on mobile. As the franchise's first appearance on consoles, SQUIDS Odyssey is the ultimate SQUIDS compilation that includes all content previously released, with tons of improvement and tweaks. Content exclusive to SQUIDS Odyssey includes a new campaign that continues the adventure in the never-before-seen kingdom of Wakame, a new Squid warrior named Oktoku, and four new helmets.

SQUIDS Odyssey can be downloaded for 12.99€ / $14.99 (or equivalent in local currency) from the Nintendo eShop. For more game details, visit:
*

Just days after their successful launch on Android, White Wizard Games LLC, the company created by Magic: The Gathering Hall of Famers Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty (developer and co-founder of the Ascension deckbuilding game), today announced that they will be releasing the explosively popular 
Star Realms Deckbuilding Game on iOS, with PC and Mac version to follow shortly.

The base game including a tutorial, unlimited solo play and a six mission campaign is FREE. With a $5 in app purchase, players can unlock harder AIs, nine additional campaign missions, pass and play, online play and more.

*

Defiant Development sees days of gaming in the cards for action RPG and collectible card game fans, as the Kickstarter-funded title Hand of Fate is now available on Steam Early Access. The finished game will be coming to PS4 in Q4 2014 and PS Vita in Q1 2015. 

In Hand of Fate, players collect equipment, items, artifacts and enemies as in-game collectible cards in a card based RPG; then play their deck, bringing to video game life a beautiful 3D world in which gamers make difficult decisions.  Sometimes their choices have unexpected consequences and players must crush their foes utilizing a third person action-adventure combat system. The more bosses a player defeats, the more cards they obtain. 

Players must tread with caution as Hand of Fate incorporates rogue-like elements.  If a gamer dies before defeating a level's boss the player must start from the beginning of that stage in their next play through.  Each subsequent play through is unique as levels are procedurally generated via luck of the dealer's draw. Inspired by tarot cards and fantasy games, Defiant Development seamlessly blends tabletop card gaming with their favorite videogame genres.

"Hand of Fate combines the furious fast-paced action of button mashers with fantasy and role-playing elements that anyone who has ever picked up a 20 sided die will recognize," Morgan Jaffit, Director, Defiant Development, explains.  "Anyone who falls in the cross section of PC gamer and board or card game enthusiast will have more fun playing
Hand of Fate than a Game of Thrones fan reading the manuscripts of the two unreleased books."  

The Early Access build of Hand of Fate is now available for PC, Mac and Linux on Steam at a discounted price of $25 USD, with the final release planned for Q4.   


*

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Retro Review: Tech Romancer - Sega Dreamcast  

*

RetroReviews: After being at @GameCritics for the last fourteen years or so, I’ve built up a pretty good backlog of write-ups and reviews.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of republishing some of that old stuff for a while now… Partly because later-era retro gaming is gaining steam* and partly because it might be interesting (to me, anyway) to look back at how my writing has changed, and to compare what I thought of these titles then to how I look at things now.  If nothing else, you may come across something I reviewed that you didn’t even know existed!

I’ll republish these in the chronological order that I wrote them, I’ll add any extra notes or info that I might have, and I’ll only do minimal edits, leaving them more or less identical to their original state – sometimes that extra comma has just gotta go, though.

I hope you enjoy, and any comments are most definitely welcome.

*

Tech Romancer
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Sega Dreamcast

Originally reviewed at @GameCritics on August 9, 2000




Capcom.

Any gamer worth their salt will be familiar with the efforts of the company that practically defined fighting games with their breakthrough Street Fighter series, and made fighters the force in gaming they are today. Capcom is known for their colorful characters and hand-drawn art which is intimately familiar to gamers across the world, and now Capcom strikes out in a bit of a departure from the norm to introduce an all-new, 3D cast of giant robots and pilots in place of the usual assortment of martial artists, mythical monsters or super heroes. These new characters are featured in the recently released Dreamcast game Tech Romancer.

Tech Romancer is a fast-paced, 3D robot fighting game for the Dreamcast in the same vein as its close competition, Virtual On. The battles take place in fully 3D arenas, but true to Capcom's roots, most of the action takes place on a 2D plane (i.e. face-to-face similar to SF).


In addition to the frenetic battles full of laser blasts and explosions, Capcom adds a new twist. Rather than relying on a simple formula of action, they have included a heavily anime-influenced system of storytelling with multiple paths, and a wealth of secrets and extras to unlock through a points system similar to their recent efforts in Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.

The combat system is elegant and easy to learn, while having a reasonable amount of depth mostly consisting of simple direction-plus-button commands. It features most of the attacks you'd expect from hundred-foot robots -- an incredible abundance of rockets, lasers, satellite attack systems, detachable projectile fists and giant swords being the order of the day. It’s not as combo-heavy as the Vs series, but with enough there to satisfy people who love a good juggle.


During play, the combatants are free to move into and out of the background and foreground at will, with the side view of battle shifting accordingly. This works well by allowing the freedom to dodge and parry using the entire arena for movement, but keeps the simplicity and effectiveness of a classic 2D matchup.

Scattered about the areas are power-ups hidden in houses, bunkers, radio towers and other breakable structures. The power-ups include extra weapons which deal out much more damage than the standard attacks, and various health, speed and armor-ups as well. This makes paying attention the surroundings important -- instead of simply ignoring the backgrounds as in most fighting games, one or two found items can turn the tide of battle quite easily.

Another feature which hasn't seen much use in fighters is the "Final Attack." After accumulating a certain amount of damage in the deciding round, each robot can activate their Final Attack which will end the match instantly if it hits. Visually impressive and generally hard to connect with, the Final Attack adds a nice level of tension since it means that the player who has the upper hand in a match can quickly find themselves on their face if they get careless and let their guard down before they see the smoking wreck of their enemy.


Unlike the competition, Capcom wasn't content to rely solely upon the game's enjoyable fighting engine to induce replays. The programmers have also included other tangible incentives and extras such as a sound test with a huge amount of voice samples, extra characters, a two-minute long hand-drawn anime film, as well as a selection of shorter CG movies featuring the robots launching into battle -- a nod to virtually every robot series in movies or TV. All of these are unlocked by earning points in battles or in the three downloadable VMU minigames.

As if these extras weren't enough, the branching storyline system is an excellent addition which offers significantly different plots for each character, most of whom are based on instantly recognizable anime influences.

In the roster of available fighters, there are characters designed to give props to famous Japanese influences such as Ultraman, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, Macross (and yes, the faux Valkyrie does transform), Great Mazinger and even Virtual On. The only common thread between all the plots is the battle against the final boss, who happens to be a friendly swipe from Power Rangers


The tone of each plot is wildly different. From a serious wartime mood in one, to the wacky "too many lovestruck girls" shtick in another, there's definitely a lot here for even a casual anime fan to enjoy. And, according to which story requirements you fulfill during gameplay, it's possible to unlock between one to nine different branches and endings depending on the robot and pilot selected.

As a total package, Capcom beats Sega at Sega's own game with a title that is not only more accessible, but easier to get into. It also offers a higher level of personality and flair, as well as having a healthy dose of extras for gamers who like to have objectives in their fighters. It’s a solid purchase definitely recommended for fans of Virtual On, mecha or anime, and another great addition to an already strong library. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

*

Notes: This was the tryout piece I sent to @GameCritics back when I was just a random dude playing games, and I saw that they were looking for writers. It was written when I was living in Honolulu, and had a lot of free time on my hands – you can only go to the beach so much, amirite? I bought my copy at the Ala Moana mall, and plowed through it pretty quickly… I had no idea how to write a review but I copied some styles that I saw and gave it my best shot, and the owner of the site, @ChiKongLui brought me aboard soon after. It must have been okay, because GC has been my online home ever since.

*

* I’m old enough to remember when these ‘retro’ games were just ‘games’, soooo…  Kind of a weird feeling.  ^_^


*

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The 2014 Seattle Retro Games Expo, and Three Wrongs Lead To a Right - Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes  

*

Events: This past weekend was the 2014 Seattle Retro Game Expo, put on at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. (the same place where PAX Prime happens.)


 This local gathering has been growing by leaps and bounds, and the turnout this year was quite healthy, from when I could tell.   The console free-play room was constantly packed, and the vendor area had quite a few things for sale. Some of the arts and crafts were pretty amazing, and I was quite happy to take home a shirt commemorating the TurboGrafx 16. My kids also got the chance to see a Virtual Boy up close and personal… They couldn’t believe such a wonky relic even existed!


The highlight of the day?  Probably getting both of my kids to play Steel Battalion in the giant system-link room. My oldest came in second a few times, and my youngest got an incredible kick out of flipping all the switches and especially from hitting the eject button. Honestly, I think that was his favorite part.



If you've never been, you should make it a priority to hit the SRGE next year to support the local scene and celebrate gaming history at the same time. It's a great show, has a great vibe, and it's awesome to have something as cool is this taking place right here in the Emerald City.


Big props to the Seattle Retro Game Expo organizers for putting the show on, and double big props (and a gyro) to @KinsZilla for her stellar PR work.

FYI - crepes here are the best part of any show that happens at the WSCTC. DO NOT MISS. 


*


Games: In terms of what I've been playing, not a whole lot. Work has been eating up my free time like damn, but I have managed to touch base with a few things here and there.

Nope.

Over the last few weeks, I've seen tons of my Twitter people talking about Transistor, Shovel Knight, and Valiant Hearts, and after trying each one, I was a little surprised that none of them suited my fancy. It's not that I had any criticisms or complaints about the games (only spent about an hour on each) but when sitting down to play, I just didn't feel any desire to keep playing.

Nope.

Transistor looked pretty, but messing with the combat customization didn’t feel very satisfying. Shovel Knight felt like a mishmash of various NES games without any unique hook, and I played NES games back in the day, so I'm not sure why I’d want to play something like that again. Valiant Hearts lost me pretty quickly with its puzzle-oriented gameplay. Not sure what I was expecting with that one, but what I got wasn’t it.

Nope.

  
After checking out these seemingly-popular games and not finding any of them to be interesting enough, I was thinking maybe I was suffering from burnout and needed a break, but I decided to put in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes on PS4 thanks to a nudging from @PstiDrdn, and it was like a switch got flipped. 

Yesssssssssss.

The graphics were amazing, the open-world sandbox felt ripe with possibilities, and the amount of things Snake/Boss (whoever!) can do felt deep and satisfying. It hooked me right away, and all of the feelings I’d been missing with the other games came happily bubbling up to the surface.

I realize I'm pretty late to the party on this one, but if you haven't gotten around to Ground Zeroes yet, it's pretty fantastic. It’s also really whetted my appetite for the full-length follow-up, Phantom Pain. I have to be honest and say that I don't have much hope for the story side of things, but if PP’s gameplay is along similar lines, that will be more than enough to keep me happy.

ALSO, getting around to the Lifeline expansion to State of Decay is really high up on my list, but I haven't gotten to it quite yet. BUT SOON!




********************PR/NEWS/INFO********************




I don’t have an official press release, but @AtlusUSA has said that the character of Adachi will be a free DLC character for ONE WEEK ONLY following the release of Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax later this year. If you plan on getting the game, this might be something you wanna jump on ASAP…

*

NIS America is extremely excited to announce that that our official NISA EU Online Store is now live and running, dood! All of our fans in Europe will now have the opportunity to preorder and purchase the same limited editions that are released in North America.

The following limited editions are now available to preorder on the NISA Europe Online Store:
Disgaea® 4: A Promise Revisited, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, and Fairy Fencer F.

The following will be available to preorder on July 14 on the NISA Europe Online Store:
Persona® Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: The Wild Cards Premium Edition.

Please feel free to visit the NISA Europe Online Store here: http://store.nisaeurope.com/

*

Explore the quarantined island of Narapela and get to the bottom of the sinister zombie virus plaguing humanity this fall as publisher Deep Silver revealed Escape Dead Island today - the brand new survival mystery game taking place in the Dead Island universe, coming this fall to the PlayStation®3, Microsoft Xbox 360™ and PC for $39.99. In this single-player experience, fans will take on the role of ambitious Cliff Calo, son of a wealthy media empire mogul with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, as he traverses across the globe to Banoi after hearing about the gruesome events that took place in the original global best-seller, Dead Island. Can Cliff uncover the clandestine origins of the virus and get out before it’s too late?

With an exceptionally striking comic-vignette art style, Escape Dead Island emphasizes a story driven plot which pits players against their own psyche as they try to escape the island and the cryptic, looping horrors that lurk there. Penned by Emmy® award-winning author Anne Toole, Escape Dead Island catapults Dead Island fans onto a lush tropical island infested with brutal zombies where only cunning stealth can help players retain their sanity.

Fans who purchase Escape Dead Island via GameStop will have exclusive, guaranteed access to the Dead Island 2 beta event next year. GameStop Rewards members will be automatically entered into the July Epic Reward promotion. One winner will be selected and flown to Berlin, Germany, to get digitally scanned and placed as an in-game zombie character in the upcoming Dead Island 2 developed by Yager. Dead Island 2 is currently under development and scheduled for release in 2015.

To learn more about Escape Dead Island, please visit www.gamestop.com/escapedeadisland.

*

Deep Silver and Piranha Bytes unveiled details and the first screenshots surrounding the Guardians Guild in the upcoming and anticipated role playing game, Risen 3: Titan Lords, coming later this year to  PC, the Xbox 360 games and entertainment system from Microsoft and the PlayStation®3. Showcased via a series of visually stunning screenshots, the last Mages and their faithful Guardians face a sinister and dark menace. Once a proud and elite order, the Mages were well-respected counselors of the kings. Now, outlawed by the Inquisition, they live a secluded life on the thunderous island of Taranis. As the hero of Risen 3: Titan Lords, you have the option to join the guild of the Guardians and learn the powerful spells of their crystal magic as you traverse the land in an effort to conquer your enemies and save the world.

Exiled to an extensive abbey in the mountains of Taranis, the old circle of wise men continue their experiments to create an enchanted weapon that can defeat the enemy Titans and set an end to the everlasting conflict. Armed with a private army of former soldiers, the Guardians Guild offers players training in the powerful magical arts and provide increased combat expertise if you choose to advance in the ranks. Players can gain access to exclusive armor from this proud order, and boost an array of magical spells to the limit.

The world of Risen 3: Titan Lords tells the tale of a land abandoned by all gods, with its inhabitants suffering from the Titan Wars and a new threat rising from the very soil of the land. A young warrior is attacked from the shadows and deprived of his soul. He sets off to reclaim what is lost amidst the darkness that is spreading throughout the world. Banned and long forgotten Mages versed in the magical arts could be powerful allies on the quest. To get their help, he needs to find the Mage sanctuary on Taranis, also known as the Island of Thunder. Protected by the Guardians, the Mages search the mines of Taranis for crystals loaded with magic energy. Will the player join the Guardians to get in contact with the Mages? Or will he choose one of the other guilds in Risen 3 to reach his goals?

Official Website: http://risen3.deepsilver.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/risengame
Twitter: www.twitter.com/deepsilver 

*

North Africa, 1942, the British Army deploys its Long Range Desert Group to the region in an effort to thwart the progression of the Axis forces.  Along for the ride is OSS Agent Karl Fairburne; an elite Sniper tasked with clearing a path across the region – from the Libyan port town of Tobruk, through the Gaberoun and Siwa Oases, the twisting canyons of Halfaya ‘Hellfire’ Pass, the ancient ruins of Kasserine Pass, to uncover the secret machinations of the Nazi war machine. In an effort to derail plans to unleash a Wunderwaffe Wonder Weapon on the world, which will crush allied resistance and turn the tide of the war.

Sniper Elite 3 is bigger, better and bolder than any game in the series with larger and more open levels, greater tactical choice to go loud or stealth as you please, and improved next gen engine and graphics rendering technology.  The series’ trademark x-ray kill cams are back with even greater detail than ever before and have even been extended to new vehicle take downs.

Launching with competitive & co-operative multiplayer and challenge modes alongside the rich, detailed campaign across the warzone that turned the tide against the Nazis in Europe – famously described by Winston Churchill as “the end of the beginning”, Sniper Elite 3 puts the power in your hands. With more choice than ever before and the freedom to tackle your objectives head on, however you see fit.

Sniper Elite 3 is now available at retail stores nationwide for Xbox One, the all-in-one games and entertainment system from Microsoft, Xbox 360 games and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®4 and PlayStation®3. The game is also available digitally on the same day via the Xbox Live online entertainment network from Microsoft for Xbox One, Xbox 360, and on the PlayStation®Network for both PlayStation®4 and PlayStation®3. The PC version, which is being self-published by Rebellion, will release on June 27.

*

Friday, June 27, 2014

1001 Spikes is COMPLETE!  

*
 Movies: Breaking news! Guillermo Del Toro has just announced that Pacific Rim is officially getting a sequel. (And more comics. And an animated series!) I am soooooooooooo stoked!  Bring on the Jaegers!!

*

Triumphs: So I just finished 1001 Spikes (Vita) a few minutes ago…


Wow, what a crushingly-hard, patience testing, self-esteem erasing game. In most levels, death comes in less than a fraction of a second, and pixel-perfect performance is required to progress through tough spots over and over again. I’m trying to think of a game I’ve played that was harder, but I’m not sure anything was. The Extreme levels in Trials or some of the rough patches in Super Meat Boy come to mind, but it’s possible 1001 Spikes tops them. Either way, this was some hard shit.


It’s a fantastic game, though. It’s made with the precision of a Swiss watch, and the challenges are always fair if you know what you’re doing. Fair definitely does not equate to being easy, but I can only think of one spot in this 15-to-20 hour experience where I felt like maybe the developer was pulling a fast one. Quick reflexes and quick thinking are required for success, but it’s all according to formula -- there aren’t any secrets or tricks here.


If you’re the sort of gamer who doesn’t shy away from a brutal challenge, 1001 Spikes gets my highest recommendations, for sure. For those who are curious, here are my stats:

Total playtime – 18 hours, 28 minutes.

Total deaths – 1177.

Average deaths per level – About 19.

Most deaths in a level – 149 deaths in 4-3. Runner up – 132 in 10-4.

Lives remaining at game’s end – 798

Also, major, major props go to @MikeSuskie and @Boiteabebelles for letting me lean on them when times were hard. They had good advice when I needed it, and sometimes it was just enough to know that someone else out there felt my pain. And joy.




Games: In other games news, it seems like a whole pile of things popped up out of nowhere, and I went from having not enough to play to having too much. It's a good problem to have, to be sure, but it's tough to find enough time to cover everything that deserves it.

Here are some quick mentions…




Ultra Street Fighter IV. (PS3/360) It's an add-on to the core game that brings four new characters and a bunch of other stuff. It's been a long time since I played Street Fighter with any proficiency so it's hard for me to pick up on all of the nuances, but Poison and Elena have been added to the roster, and in my book that's a big plus.





Z-Run. (Vita) This is a small game made by a small team that’s an auto-runner similar to Temple Run or One Epic Knight on iOS, except that it feels a little richer thanks to having actual controls. Basically, you play as a survivor trying to hoof his way out of the apocalypse, so you're dodging obstacles and whacking the undead. Or jump-kicking. Jump taking the undead works too. This one is a great idea, but it seems like it needs a little more time in the oven. Still, enjoying it in short bursts.






Blue Estate. (PS4) This is an on-rails shooter based on a comic book I'm never heard of, but it's a pretty interesting -- not only does it work well with the PS4 controller’s motion functions,  it also looks great and it's got a lot more of a story than you might expect. Also, whoo boy, is this one for the grown-ups. It’s got loads of salty language and one of the main characters is a stripper named Cherry Popz, so I'll let you fill in the rest.

Besides those, there've been a few other things that I would’ve liked to get to -- Shovel Knight, Battle Princess of Arcadias, the State of Decay: Lifeline expansion and the X-Blaze: Code Embryo visual novel among others, but there are only so many hours in the day and I don't have enough time for what I’ve already got. Still, some of these might be worth looking into if you have availability on your own personal gaming agenda…




********************PR/NEWS/INFO********************




NIS America is happy to announce that Fairy Fencer F will be available for digital and physical release for the PlayStation®3 in North America on September 23 and in Europe on September 26!

Developed by COMPILE HEART, Fairy Fencer F is a turn-based RPG that features character art by Tsunako (Hyperdimension Neptunia series), as well as concept art by Yoshitaka Amano and music by Nobuo Uematsu who are both renowned for their work on the classic Final Fantasy series.

Key Features:

Robust Combat System – Witness the next evolution of Hyperdimension Neptunia's battle engine! Move your characters in a fully 3-D environment as you link combos in thrilling turn-based combat! Exploit enemy weaknesses to trigger Avalanche Attacks and watch your party gang up on opponents! Send your enemies sky high with Launch Attacks, then follow up with an Air Attack to send them crashing back to Earth! And if fights get really tense, simply transform into your upgraded Fury Form and really bring the pain!

Untold Levels of Customization – Use the Furies you collect to give your characters powerful abilities, or use them to customize dungeons to your exact specifications! Need a little more "oomph!" in your swing? We've got a Shaping Effect for that! Want some extra experience points after battle? We've got a Shaping Effect for that too! But what if you're a masochist who wants everyone—allies and enemy alike—to deal DOUBLE damage? Oh, you best believe we've got a Shaping Effect for that!

Artistic Pedigree – Enjoy the dulcet tones of renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for many of the Final Fantasy titles. With character designs by Tsunako (Hyperdimension Neptunia) and Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy I-VI), the line between cute and menacing has never been more blurred!