Sunday, January 18, 2015

Links, Monster Hunter, Catching Squirrel Girl, and Culling The Backlog.  

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Welcome back to Coffeecola! Starting off tonight, here are some links to some recent reviews over at my home base, @Gamecritics:


Hatoful Boyfriend by @Apricotsushi




Never Alone by @JimB_85




In other linkage, here’s our Game Of The Year podcast. I'm sure most of you have probably heard it already, but just in case, here you go. Oh, and brace yourself for our GOTY selection… It’s absolutely not what you’d expect.

If you want something else to listen to, I was a recent guest on the @Father_Nation Podcast, and I talked with Jesse Foster about my views on parenting, videogames and kids, homeschooling, appreciating wives, and more. It's all about being a dad and not so much about videogames, but if you want to hear some of my other views and to get to know me a little better, here's your shot.

I asked folks to send me their own personal GOTY lists, and here’s a brief list of sumbissions. Check ‘em out and feel free to disagree all you want!



Now, moving onto games…


If you were one of the select few, Nintendo emailed you demo codes for the upcoming Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. I was lucky enough to get some, so I've been playing the demo with my wife and some friends, and I couldn't be more excited. I'm going to reserve my in-depth comments for now since I'm sure I’ll be talking about it quite a bit once it hits, but I will share a couple of resources right now.


First off, if you're a person who's been thinking about jumping into the series but you don't really know anything about it, I strongly recommend this Monster Hunter Beginner’s Guide by Roy Blakely, also known as @Kotowari. 

I've been through the guide myself and his advice is 100% spot-on. The only caveat with this is that the guide was based on MH3U, and has not been updated for MH4U. As such, there are (of course) going to be some differences between the versions, but the core information and instructions here still apply. It's still an excellent resource to get started.

Another great resource is this starter’s list explaining the weapons, accompanied by brief commentary. Written by @AEvanko, his Gaijin Hunter blog is written with the hand of someone who really understands the game on an expert level.

Noooooooooooo!

Finally, one last thing about Monster Hunter before I move on… Basically, kind of an embarrassing admission. I went to Amazon a couple of days ago to check on the status of my preorders, and I just about fell over in shock when I realized that I had completely forgotten to order the collector’s edition of MH4U. I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that I had ordered two copies of the CE, but when I checked, there was absolutely nothing there… I was thunderstruck.

I have no idea how it happened, but it totally slipped my mind and now not only is the collectors edition sold out, the Gamestop Monster Hunter-themed 3DS was also sold out before I had a chance to order. There are no words.



Here’s a quick update on @MarvelPuzzle Quest: the current PVE reward is a brand-new character, Squirrel Girl. 


I've never heard of her before and I've never read anything with her in it, but apparently she's pretty popular… The competition is fierce at the moment, so she must have a pretty loyal legion of fans.



Finally, on the most recent @Gamecritics podcast (it hasn't been published yet, but look for it on Monday or Tuesday) we talked about how much time we have to play games, how much of a chance we give games to hook us before we kick them to the curb, and so forth. It got me thinking about my backlog, which is huge. It may not be as big as some people (@Horrorgeek and @Finalmacstorm, I’m looking at you guys) but it's pretty big.

I felt like I should be perfectly honest with myself in admitting that I wasn't going to ever touch some of these titles given what limited free time I have and the huge amount of new stuff coming down the pipe every day, so I decided to cull the herd and get rid of stuff that I'm pretty sure I’ll never play.

You are never going to be played!!!

I've listed the titles below that got the axe (of course, these are just physical copies… I haven't taken a tally of my downloads yet) but I feel pretty safe in saying that these ones aren't anything that I’ll be missing out on. 

That said, if any of you have any strong feelings about any of these, or any reasons why I should take another look at them in a critical sense, let me know. Any titles on this list that don't receive any votes of support are going into a cardboard box that will eventually be stored right next to the Ark of the Covenant in that big warehouse.


THE NIXED LIST

Vita:
Natural Doctrine – ridiculous difficulty

PS3:
God of War: Ascension – had enough of Kratos
Uncharted 3 – heard it was crap, not a big UC fan to begin with
Under Defeat HD

360:
Burnout Paradise
Devil May Cry 4 – got halfway, bailed
Eternal Sonata
Fracture
Lost Odyssey – stopped halfway, forgot where I was
Red Faction: Guerrilla – got halfway, bailed
Resident Evil 6 – do I even need to say anything?
Risen 2: Dark Waters – heard Risen 3 is the same thing, but better
Sniper Elite V2
SSX
The First Templar
The Last Remnant – heard it was hella busted
Venetica
Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise – Had enough w/ the first one

Edit: Singularity was on this list, but I had a number of folks chip in and say it was worth a play, so Singularity has been returned to the backlog! 


WiiU:
Rayman Legends – hate the art, don’t like the too-harsh gameplay.

Wii:
A Boy and His Blob
Alice in Wonderland
Boom Blox – elbow strain
De Blob – control issues
Fishing Resort
Madworld – Got halfway through, didn’t care for it
Monster Lab
No More Heroes 2 – I hate Suda 51’s stuff
Red Steel 2 – no WiiMotion Plus
Safecracker

PS2:
Baroque
Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer
The DaVinci Code
Disgaea 2
Drakengard – recall it running like crap
Drakengard 3
Kingdom Hearts – camera issues
Final Fantasy XII – waiting for an HD remaster
Manhunt 2



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



The Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell launch trailer

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Achtung! Berlin is burning and Adolf Hitler has risen from his grave to gather an army of Undead Super Soldiers who are poised to spill blood and guts across Europe. Only one thing stands in their way – you, and the fleshy sacks bristling with guns and explosives you call your best friends. 

Zombie Army Trilogy, rising early 2015, gives Xbox One gamers and PlayStation 4 gamers their first chance to experience the blood-pumping co-op shooter series that became a cult sensation on PC. Former enemies become allies as the living fight against the dead. 
Packed with apocalyptic new content and two eye-popping remasters Zombie Army Trilogy also includes the never-seen-before third instalment in the series and a brand new horde mode, delivering the ultimate package for fans of adrenaline-fuelled gunplay and harrowing intensity.  
Zombie Army Trilogy will be self-published by Rebellion on all formats and will be available for download via Xbox Live, the Playstation Network and Steam for PC. A retail version will also be available.

·       Battle through 15 gut-wrenching missions spanning THREE epic campaigns across the irradiated, demon-infested ruins of World War Two Germany.
·       Wrestle the occult powers in the campaign and across FIVE terrifying horde maps. Face the horrors alone or fight back-to-back in 2-4 player online co-op.
·       Fight as elite sniper, Karl Fairburne or one of EIGHT playable heroes including FOUR new female characters, armed with over 25 iconic weapons and explosive traps.
·       Take on legions of Undead Super Soldiers, Armoured Skeletons, Zombie Snipers, Chainsaw Elites, Fire Demons and more, before facing the demonic Hitler himself in a final stand to decide the fate of mankind!
·       Bask in the gruesome glow of the infamous X-Ray Kill Cam, and watch in gory detail as rotting flesh and organs are shredded from the inside.
·       Experience haunting environments and intense-action, all framed in bloody beautiful 1080p.

For PC gamers, Zombie Army Trilogy will be available to pre-order today via Steam or the Rebellion Gamestore
As a thank you to the fans that made the series a cult hit, Rebellion are also offering an exclusive loyalty discount to owners of the first two Nazi Zombie Army games via Steam before launch.
The official website, www.ZombieArmy.com has been unleashed on the interwebs with more information and FREE content including an exclusive MP3 album of atmospheric compositions from the game’s soundtrack by Nick D Brewer.

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We are delighted to announce that the dungeon-crawling action RPG adventure,Brandish: The Dark Revenant, will be available for digital download on January 13, 2015 in North America for the PSP (PlayStation®Portable) system at a price point of $19.99. This title will be fully compatible with the PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system and PlayStation®TV system at launch. 
Featuring an innovative "world turning" mechanic, players will be immersed in a third person real-time dungeon-crawling adventure with a first person flair, dungeon walls rotating around their avatar as each corner is turned. 

 Check out the new official website at http://brandishpsp.com/

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The first wave of PlayStation®4 players is set to deploy to Auraxis on January 20, 2015. Today, Sony Online Entertainment LLC (SOE) announced that the critically-acclaimed, free-to-play massively multiplayer online first-person shooter (MMOFPS), PlanetSide 2, will enter Closed Beta for the PlayStation 4 (PS4) computer entertainment system in North America this month.

Starting with a few thousand initial invites, the amount of players with access to the Closed Beta will steadily increase through the Beta period. Players will be invited to the Beta in chronological order of when they signed up. Players can opt in by email for a chance to participate in the Closed Beta through the PlanetSide 2 website:https://www.planetside2.com/ps2onps4.

PlanetSide 2 Closed Beta will begin on Jan. 20, 2015 for the PlayStation 4, with a full PS4 launch slated for later this year. For additional details on the PlayStation 4 version, visit the PlanetSide 2 FAQ: https://www.planetside2.com/faq.

More information can be found in Executive Producer Clint Worley's blog post:http://blog.us.playstation.com/2015/01/07/planetside-2-closed-beta-hits-ps4-january-20th/.

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Etrian Mystery Dungeon is going to be a doozie when it comes out in spring 2015. The roguelike RPG from Atlus and Spike Chunsoft will bring delight to your ears when it launches, because we're including a soundtrack CD with pre-orders and limited first-run copies of EMD. We have more details coming soon, but for now, enjoy the splendor of the brand new trailer! So if you were wondering how Etrian Odyssey and Mystery Dungeon fit together, there you go! 

YouTube

Plus, if you missed our Twitch Livestream, you can access the archive here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI0jf0N2eZ4 

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NIS America has a few awesome announcements for you before the year ends and the wonderful new year begins.

We are very excited to officially announce that the next entry in the long-lived Disgaea series, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is making its way to North America and Europe in Fall 2015, for the PlayStation®4 entertainment system! Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance will be available as both a physical and digital release. 

Second, we are also very happy to announce that the dungeon crawler RPG, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy will be making its way to North America and Europe in March of 2015, available on the PlayStation®Vita. This title will be available as a physical and digital release. Website and trailer will be coming soon, so please keep an eye out for it!

Last but not least, we are pleased to announce that The Awakened Fate Ultimatum will be coming to North America on March 17, 2015 and to Europe on March 20, 2015, only on the PlayStation®3! The game will be available as a physical and digital release. We also have a our first batch of English screenshots for this game, which can be viewed on our asset page below. 

A limited edition of the title is also available for pre-order from the NISA Online Store.

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Independent video game developer DrinkBox Studios announced today that it is bringing the distinctively strange world of its highly anticipated adventure game Severed exclusively to the PlayStation®Vita system in Spring of 2015. Filled with ghastly enemies, including three-headed constellations, six-armed swordmasters and beasts made of crows, Severed has players take control of a one-armed heroine wielding a living sword as she knits together pieces of her story from both the past and the future.

As the heroine, players will embark on a journey through a surreal, nonlinear world by using a touch-based combat mechanic to defeat enemies in this first-person adventure. During their journey, warriors will unlock new abilities, discover secrets of the mysterious world, and grow in power as they master both offensive and defensive techniques

For more information regarding Severed please visit the game’s website, or DrinkBox Studios’ Facebook and Twitter pages. The new Severed trailer can be found here.

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Leading and award-winning developer and publisher of digital entertainment Telltale Games, and world-renowned game developer Mojang, today announced that 'Minecraft: Story Mode - A Telltale Games Series' is in development and is set to premiere in 2015.

 Minecraft: Story Mode will be an all-new narrative-driven, episodic game series, developed by Telltale in collaboration with Mojang and members of the Minecraft community.  Set in the world of Minecraft, the game series will introduce new characters and familiar themes, but will be an entirely original Minecraft experience inspired by the game that continues to inspire a generation.

Minecraft: Story Mode will be a standalone product, separate from the core Minecraft game, and will be available to download in 2015 on Xbox consoles, PlayStation consoles, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android-based devices.

Minecraft: Story Mode - A Telltale Games Series is currently in development, and is not yet rated by the ESRB. The series will be published digitally in 2015 by Telltale Games in partnership with Mojang.

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Independent developer Dennaton Games, rogue publisher Devolver Digital, and creative production company iam8bit announced that the Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number three-disc vinyl Collector’s Edition will unleash aural fury onto your ears in early 2015. Fans can now pre-purchase Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number via a substantially awesome analog offer presented on 180-gram vinyl for $60. The Collector’s Edition includes a colorful three-disc vinyl set that hosts the 28 ecstasy-fueled songs from the game and a collectable phone card containing a download code for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number and the full digital soundtrack download on Steam.  

The colorful set can be pre-purchased direct from the iam8bit store starting today (http://store.iam8bit.com/collections/hotline-miami).

The tri-fold jacket encasing the vinyl features original artwork by Niklas Akerblad, the Swedish artist responsible for the striking cover art for both Hotline Miami games. The three discs include music from returning Hotline Miami artists such as M|O|O|N, El Huervo and Perturbator and newHotline Miami artists Megadrive, Mitch Murder, and Magic Sword.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is the follow up to the stylish top-down shooter Hotline Miami from independent developer Dennaton Games. The original game continues to be a critical and commercial success since its launch in 2012 that resulted in more than a dozen Game of the Year nominations and awards from game critics and more than a million copies sold. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is set to launch on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita in Q1 2015.


For more information on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number please visit www.devolverdigital.com or follow us on Twitter @devolverdigital and @hotlinemiami.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Kicking Off The New Year!  

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It's a brand-new year and 2015 hasn't really gotten rolling yet, so I'm going to just blast through a bunch of random stuff tonight. No particular order, just freestylin’, yo.

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I'm not really much of a tablet user, but we have a Kindle Fire in the house, and apparently Amazon has started their own game studio in order to crank out some exclusive stuff. The first release is called Tales From Deep Space, and it's not half bad.


Basically, it's a 2D platformer with a pair of aliens who team up to get past various obstacles. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it looks really sharp (very reminiscent of Ratchet & Clank in style) and the touch controls aren't half bad. Also, it's pretty cool that Amazon is developing some exclusives… There are more on the way, too.

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I just recently retired my character in Fantasy Life the other day, after about 45 hours. There was still a ton left for me to do and I still haven't leveled up enough to see the DLC that I paid for (!!!) but it seems like I could probably play that game forever and I really wanted to make time for other things.


I'll probably come back to it once I have some free time on the 3DS (although there won't be much of that once Monster Hunter 4U hits) but I really, really enjoyed it and I think it's Level 5’s best work in years.

A lot of the critics and reviews I read were really cold on it, but I think that's a combination of having to rush through it for review purposes, and perhaps having certain expectations not matching up with what the game actually is. I'm very glad I jumped into it, and I liked it enough to pass it off to the wife… She's not really one for dialogue in games (and FL is awfully chatty) but I think she's going to dig the gameplay.

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The newest Marvel Puzzle Quest character is out, and it's Luke Cage, also known as Power Man. I have to admit that I'm not really familiar with him apart from the fact that he was partners with Iron Fist for quite a while… 


In fact, I'm not sure that I even own a single comic book with him in it, but hey, a new character is a new character, and his powers seem pretty interesting.

Speaking of powers, I'm glad to see that the developers are constantly going back and retuning old characters. Dr. Doom was one of the first, and I've always felt that he had a lot of untapped potential. 


The devs clearly agree, because he just got a big revamp with the addition of a new purple power (with a new mechanic) called Diabolical Plot. 

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I've talked about Freedom Wars on Vita before, and I recently put a few more hours into it. I really, really like the overall concept and I'm also a fan of how it plays in general, but I think I hit a bit of a wall and I may be done with it.

My biggest problem with the game is that the battles against the massive Abductor robots just take too long… It's like the devs want to create big, epic fights, but in the case of this game, the characters are so fast and mobile that it seems like it should focus more on running and gunning and using the grappling hook than extended encounters. 


I know some people say I’m being contradictory since I love Monster Hunter so much, but let me tell you, the battles in MH aren't really that long once you know what you're doing, and if you're actually playing with other people, they're even quicker. 

In Freedom Wars, no matter what weapon I'm using or how powered up it is, it still feels like it takes forever to do any significant damage. On top of that, the AI needs work (when I die, REVIVE ME, dammit!) and I recently lost some progress due to the game glitching out, and few things sour me faster than losing 45 minutes of effort due to a hiccup in the game’s programming.

I think this franchise has so much potential, and I really hope the developers take a serious look at it, rebalance things, and clean up some of the systems. And hey, if it was on the PS4 with more robust online multiplayer, that would be pretty tremendous. This is a great property that needs nurturing, and I hope it’s not left for dead after just one outing.  

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Finally, I'm not sure how many people know this, but both fellow @Gamecritics writer Dan Weissenberger and I are huge fans of semi-obscure Japanese developer Goshow, and I just recently discovered that one of their titles that I’ve never seen before is now available on PSN. 


Called Warriors of the Lost Empire, It seems like a simple, straightforward dungeon crawl-type game with third-person action, but despite the fact that all of their efforts are unpolished and idiosyncratic, there’s just something absolutely fascinating about the work Goshow produces. Their other titles available domestically are Colosseum: Road To Freedom, Gladiator Begins, and Clan of Champions. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes them stand out to me, but there’s definitely something.


I've only just started playing Empire so it's way too early to talk about it in any critical sense, but if you are a fan of Goshow the way that Dan and I are (does that describe anybody out there? Anybody at all?) then do yourself a favor and check it out -- I'm not sure many people even know it exists.


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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Dark Souls 2 DLCs - Complete!  

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If you read my Top 10 of 2014 post, you'll know that Dark Souls 2 ranks high on my list. I think it's a great game pretty much any way you slice it, and I enjoyed all the time I spent completing the main campaign. I had a few minor problems with it (of course!) but overall, it was fantastic stuff.

I’ve been waiting to crack into the DLC ever since it was announced earlier this year, but due to review responsibilities and the demands of real life, I knew I wouldn't have time for any of until right about… now -- everything that needs to be looked at has been looked at, the write-ups are done, and the madness of the silly season has faded. And really, thank goodness for that.

Anyhow, I took the first available opportunity to jump into all three separate pieces of DLC for Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Sunken KingCrown of the Old Iron King, and Crown of the Ivory King.

For the record I completed all of the DLC, but by ‘completed’ I mean finished the proper last boss and earned the crown from each new section. I did not fight or defeat all of the optional bosses. These DLCs were a bit strange for me because I thought the level design was basically amazing in all three cases. On the other hand, I felt like the devs went off the rails with the bosses. Almost all of them (especially the optional ones I skipped) felt like they were intended to be fought in co-op, and the difficulty was scaled too high. Coming to the content this long after release, I found very few players available to be summoned into my game, and most of the ones I did find were not up to the task at hand. It was rough at times, to say the least.

Anyway, for those interested, here are my final stats after wrapping up the final DLC, and brief summaries of each new area follow below.


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Crown of the Sunken King: I heard some people say that they weren't satisfied with this one, but I felt like it was a great place to start. This subterranean level starts off with strong visuals – a tunnel opens up onto a chasm overlooking a temple secreted away in a giant cavern. The devs also made no secret of the fact that there is one big-ass dragon wandering around, and you're going to meet up with him sooner or later. 



This level plays a lot with vertical space, and there are switches which raise and lower platforms, granting access to different parts of the area. This level also features new enemies, spirits that can't be damaged until the player find their corporeal body hidden somewhere else in the level. Although I dreaded running into them, I thought they were a cool idea, and it was quite satisfying to finally find those bodies and rip them all up.

The main boss is the giant dragon that I mentioned earlier. He’s quite mobile, flying around the level and dishing out several swipe attacks and poison gas. Although he looks impressive, I found it was really, really difficult to fight him as a melee, non-magic character. It's not that he was necessarily that difficult, but the camera struggled to keep up with him because he’s so large. It was too hard to keep him on-screen long enough to be able to read his attacks. I honestly don't think the Souls series is built to handle enemies that large (I had the same problem fighting the Giant Lord in the main game) and it was more difficult than it needed to be due to that technical issue.

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Crown of the Old Iron King: Another level that plays with vertical space. The entire area is set inside a tall mountain spire with the inside hollowed out to make room for a giant forge, elevators, and some metalworks. This section also features new ‘idols’ which must be destroyed, but the game didn’t a good job of explaining what they are, or what their purpose was. I eventually figured it out by accident, but I felt like it should've been introduced in a more concise way. This is also the area where the developers play a lot with explosive barrels, and observant players will find many opportunities to use flammable enemies to take out our larger threats and expose secrets.


While I enjoyed the area itself, I hit a massive brick wall at the proper boss, the Fume Knight. The Knight is a tall melee combatant with one short sword and one massive greatsword. It seems like a straightforward battle at first and I had no problem getting past his initial phase. However, once he gets down to about 50% life, his greatsword ignites and the hitbox on it seems to multiply to an unreasonable degree. Of course he does massive damage with it, and even one mistimed dodge pretty much ends things.

I have to be honest, I was having real doubts as to whether or not I would be able to finish him, and I tried a lot of things to get an edge; things like experimenting with different weapons (my favored Drangleic Sword +5 was too slow for this battle) and also started trying spears and other various things with different ranges. I eventually decided to use the Black Scorpion Stinger (a rapier) because it was so fast and I was able to enchant it with magic and bring it up to +5 for a very decent level of damage. However, even with that, I still wasn't able to get the job done.

Everyone I talked to had different advice and I tried most of it, but there were two things that put me over the top. First, @Maclark89 suggested I put more points into my ADP stat. I had no idea what ‘iframing’ was but he explained that with more points the window of invincibility during a roll was widened, and that sounded like exactly what I needed. That definitely helped, but the thing that made the biggest difference was that I eventually got frustrated and used one of my rapidly-dwindling human effigies. I got lucky by finding a real person to summon who knew what the hell they were doing, so between the two of us, we were able to make short work of the Fume Knight. It was a huge relief… I was genuinely bracing myself for the idea that I would never be able to finish.

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Crown of the Ivory King: Another excellent level, this one is a huge castle complex with a small township at its base, and the entire area is buried under a winter freeze. Snow covers everything, and many parts of the level are closed off by huge ice accumulations blocking doorways and clamping treasure chests shut.
  

The twist in this area is that the final boss is a huge mob fight followed by a large swordsman. The swordsman is quite easy compared to the other DLC bosses, but getting through that mob was a nightmare. When starting the battle, the game gives one friendly NPC to support you, but the damage it does is pretty minimal, and the AI is not great. It took me a while to figure out, but there are actually three other knights to be found in the level, so it's all about finding these other NPCs to help -- a pretty neat idea, I thought. Once they've been recruited, the fight becomes much more manageable and I blew through it in short order.

Side note, this level also holds an optional mission area the Frigid Outskirts which I didn't even bother to try. I watched a video of it on YouTube and basically said EFF that. Look it up for yourself if you want to see what makes it so crazy, but it seems impossible without a second player, and in general, it looks like FromSoft is (as the British say) taking the piss.

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Overall, these three pieces of DLC are generally excellent except for the difficulty problem with some of the bosses (easily remedied if you have access to friends able to join you) but one of the most satisfying things about completing this content is that From decided to take a very small step away from the ‘cryptic, don't-explain-anything’ stance they usually take, and they just came right out and started explaining things. Some Souls hardcores might object, but I've never been very interested in trying to puzzle together the various pieces of lore into some kind of sensible theory… I mean, I don't need a bunch of in-your-face cutscenes explaining everything, but I don't think the series will be harmed by being a bit clearer about certain aspects. Demon’s Souls actually did a great job of that balance -- it was easy to follow, but there were definitely some mysteries left by the time credits rolled. Dark Souls 2 is a little more overt than Demon’s in the DLC, but I’m absolutely not complaining.

Specifically, there's one NPC in Ivory King which tells the player point-blank who she is and where she's from, and that information has a lot to do with the main game. Following that, there is a lengthy discussion to be had with King Vendrick once the player brings him all four crowns. (Including Vendrick’s own, from the main game.)
 


Vendrick gives a neat item reward for doing so, but the real win here (to me, anyway) was to be able to chat with him and have him explain in perfectly clear terms about what he was doing and what happened in Drangleic. It was a satisfying finish to an excellent game, and gave me some of the closure that did not come in the main game. I mean, when I beat it for the first time, I had no idea who the last boss was, or why I was fighting it. With these new bits of information and some other things that I've come across recently, everything makes sense and I have a newfound appreciation for the level of detail and the depth to which the devs craft their worlds.

(One of my favorite resources? The Dark Souls Two Podcast, highly recommended for anyone who wants a deep, deep dive into the gameplay, level design and lore of this specific game. Highly recommended)

At the end of the day, these three Crown DLCs were all excellent additions to an already-excellent game, and are the kind of additional purchases that I’m glad to make. I’d recommend the trio to anyone who wants more Dark Souls 2, just be prepared for some very stiff, borderline-unfair boss battles… If you plan to go through these new levels, either be a complete badass, or be ready to summon some people to help out.

Just saying…  

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Top Ten games of 2014  

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Welcome back to Coffeecola!

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s now time for me to partake in the sacred videogame tradition of putting things into a ranked order and declaring a few ‘bests.’

Of course, it would have been impossible for anyone to play everything that deserved a critical examination, but I do what I can and go from there. As such, these were the ten (plus one!) best experiences I had over the last twelve months – I’m sure there were plenty of other great things that I just didn’t have time to get to, but hey, I'm only human.

Without further ado, here are my top ten (plus one!) games of 2014!


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Plus One> Marvel Puzzle Quest, Demiurge Studios (PC, Mobile)

It may sound strange to hear, but I put more time into Marvel Puzzle Quest than any other game this year, and by quite a large margin. Although it’s a match-three at its core, the developers have been introducing new characters at a steady rate, and the game has seen constant improvements in terms of overall design and game mechanics. They’ve been very responsive to player feedback, and it’s just a better game every time an update comes along. This is pretty much the only mobile title I need, and it’s one of the very few ‘free-to-play’ efforts I’ve seen that holds up as a legitimate game with depth and nuance, rather than just another whale-squeezing scam.


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10> Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Monolith Productions (Multi)

I have to admit, I'm mixed on Shadow of Mordor. The campaign’s pace is bizarre, the Nemesis system did nothing for me, the story isn’t great, and the endgame is a rushed mess. However, the developers get so much right when it comes to the gameplay that it was tough to put down. Although many games attempt an open-world formula, very few let the player accomplish important things when not on a mission. Not so here. The important characters the player must assassinate are always in the world, and being able to pounce on them whenever I felt like it was a breath of fresh air. The mobility and abilities of the character were admirably done, too. Combining a ranger and a wraith was brilliant, and maneuvering across the landscape and up castle walls felt natural and intuitive. Although this particular game wasn't everything it could've been, the developers are absolutely on the right track when it comes to empowering the player in a living, breathing world.


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9> The Fall, Over The Moon Games (PC, WiiU)

It feels like it's been a long while since I've played a thought-provoking game with strong science-fiction themes, but The Fall scratches that itch. The story is quite intriguing, but what really makes it stand out is the impeccable way the narrative, characterization, and gameplay all work together in cleverly cohesive fashion -- the tasks the player performs actually reinforce the ideas in the story, and vice versa. That's an incredibly hard trick to pull off, but The Fall makes it look easy. Double points are awarded for the game coming to a totally satisfying conclusion despite the fact that it’s the first part of a planned trilogy.


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8> Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Young Horses (PC, PS4)

Comedy is incredibly hard to do in games, but Octodad not only pulls it off with snappy writing and clever jokes, but also through its very play -- controlling a floppy octopus as he stumbles around urban environments is inherently humorous, and if there’s a game that makes the act of walking more fun than this one, I’ve yet to see it. I also appreciate that the player’s family was a healthy, loving one despite the fact that the father is a cephalopod. The messages delivered from start to finish are ones of positivity and love, and in the gaming landscape these days, that’s something quite rare. (Also, best theme song ever.)


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7> Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, Marvelous AQL (Vita)

Out of all the games on this list, this is the one that I absolutely never imagined would be something that stuck with me. Based on appearances, it was nothing more than a T&A fanservice piece, but once I sat down and started paying attention, I was quite impressed. Half visual novel and half musou action, this formula seems like it absolutely should not work, but it really, really does. The combat bits are excellent because they’re quite brief, and each character feels significantly different from the rest. The visual novel side was impressively done with interweaving storylines and a layer of complexity that shows the writers went above and beyond to make it a quality product. While it’s true that the fanservice is present in ample supply, there's also a legit game on offer for a title could have easily skated by on jiggle alone. Big respect to the developers for going the extra mile.


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6> Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, MercurySteam (PC, 360, PS3)

I did not like the first Lords of Shadow, and the only reason I started playing the sequel was because no other writer at @Gamecritics would accept the assignment. However, once I sat down and gave it a chance, I was blown away. The combat is tight and entertaining, the art design is impeccable, it looks great, sounds great, the setpieces are amazing, and I have quickly become a huge fan of the way MercurySteam has rewritten the Castlevania lore as something somewhat familiar, yet altogether different. Despite my efforts to evangelize the title, it seemed destined to be ignored from the start, and that's a real shame -- it’s a fantastic (and fantastically overlooked) action-adventure any way you slice it.


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5> Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth, Atlus (3DS)

Take the excellent cast of characters from Persona and combine it with the incredibly polished dungeon-crawl mechanics of the Etrian Odyssey series, and the result is a match made in videogame heaven. While it was initially difficult to conceive how these two franchises would come together, it turns out that they are a natural, complementary fit, and the game delivers on every level. It’s clever, it’s well-balanced, the writing and voices are fab, and it’s polished to absolute perfection… The developers have thought of everything. It's a near-perfect 3DS game, and a wonderful new entry into the Persona canon.


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4> 1001 Spikes, Nicalis (Multi)

I've always said that a high level of difficulty doesn't bother me as long as the developers implement it fairly. Tune the mechanics to 'Swiss watch' precision, and I will happily accept any stiff challenge that someone nudges my way. Enter 1001 Spikes. No joke, the game is one of the most difficult I've played all year, but it's honed so perfectly and everything is so spot-on that all of its adversity is surmountable given enough practice and dedication. Fully completing this game from start to finish felt like an incredibly satisfying achievement, and it just goes to show how important craftsmanship is to a final product. If the developer had come up short in even one aspect, I probably would've tossed it aside in anger and given it the finger as it sailed away. Instead, it's a true masterpiece.


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3> Dark Souls II, FromSoft (PC, 360, PS3)

Speaking of polish, the developers at FromSoft clearly heard the criticisms of the first Dark Souls and created a new entry which addresses them while still delivering an epic, satisfying adventure truly worthy of the Souls name. Beautiful vistas, sweat-inducing fights, and a huge world to explore kept me occupied for a hundred hours this year, and I can honestly say that I was not bored for a single minute of it. Even better, it's more approachable and more welcoming to new players while not removing the challenge and intrigue that series fans have come to love. FromSoft is at the top of their game here, and if you've never played a Souls before, this is the one to get into. (And in my humble opinion, it's arguably the best of the series!)


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2> The Last of Us: Left Behind, Naughty Dog (PS3, PS4)

I don't think I've ever given end-of-year awards to a piece of DLC before, but Left Behind is a stunning, stellar work that genuinely advances videogames as a medium in terms of characterization and narrative, and deserves to be recognized as such. The relationship on display between Ellie and Riley was one of the most believable, natural, touching, and utterly human relationships I've ever seen in a game despite the fact that it was about survivors in a fungal-zombie wasteland. The time spent with these two was profoundly nuanced and real, and should be seen as a lesson to anyone who attempts to craft a story that aims to do more than shuttle a player from level to level.


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1> Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc & 
Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair
     Spike Chunsoft (Vita)

Yep, this year’s top dog is a twofer. 

These visual novels starring groups of high school kids killing each other for survival kicked its sometimes-snoozy genre into high gear, and was proof that games about reading text could be just as thrilling and engaging as anything else out there. The writing was funny, smart, dark, and absolutely perfect for the tone it was trying to deliver. The mysteries to be solved were engaging and satisfying, and the way the two games connect didn't seem to make a lot of sense at first, but the developers absolutely knew what they were doing – between the two titles, they’ve crafted a single narrative that comes together in a perfectly brilliant, perfectly surprising way. 

Danganronpa leaves other visual novels in the dust thanks to the tightness of the scripting, the extra care and attention given to the visual presentation, the great voice actors, and a hardcore dedication to its concept. It was a fantastic experience from start to finish and set a new standard for what a visual novel could be. I'm absolutely ravenous for more in this series, and until then, I'll be hugging my Monokuma plushie while waiting for the next installment or spin-off to arrive.


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…And there you have it, my top ten games (plus one!) of 2014.

 If there are some games on this list you haven’t tried, I encourage you to give them a shot. You might just find a new favorite! And if you have tried these, let me know if you agree with my assessment… or if even you don’t!

And now, bring on 2015!


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