Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shogun Skulls, Denpa Men, and Crash Mobs  


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Games: I usually have a couple of review games going at once, but it's rare that everything I've got on my plate is good at the same time. However, that's exactly the case right now. The stars may not align this way often, but I appreciate when they do.

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First up, Skulls of the Shogun for XBLA.

I've mentioned this one a few times over the last couple years (yes, years) but it's finally done, and almost ready for release. The fine folks over at 17-Bit studios were good enough to shoot me a code and the final version is a thing of beauty.

I think it's best described as a turn-based tactics game where the player takes control of an undead samurai general who’s unexpectedly been sent to the spirit world and isn't the least bit happy about it. In his bid to take the place over, he recruits horsemen, foot soldiers, archers and a few other things along the way.


While it may initially look like any other tactics game, don't be deceived. The developers have added a number of unique twists which make the game feel unlike any other tactics title I've played in recent memory. Since the game is not hex- or square-based, characters can freely roam the field of battle. However, when clustered together they form a "spirit wall" which prevents enemies from knocking them back or passing through. Even more interesting are the titular skulls themselves - when dropped by defeated enemies, they can be devoured to increase the health of a friendly unit. When that unit eats three, they transform into a demon and can attack twice per turn thereafter.

There are a number of other interesting ideas and tweaks, and the level of challenge commands respect. Although the graphics are pleasantly cartoony and the irreverent writing is worthy of laughs, it takes some real strategy to get past some of these mission. Just one wrong move can tip the entire balance of the battlefield and a win turns into a loss before you know it. It's been a while since I had to focus this much on a tactics title, and that's not a bad thing.


My wife and I playtested the game in an earlier form, and the difference in the final version was immediately noticeable. I thought it looked great back then, but it's straight-up better in every respect now. All parts of the game have received some love and attention, and there are plenty of perks that make the general experience more pleasant -- things like being able to skip cut scenes, or speed up the AI’s turn.

Microsoft has kept this one under wraps for quite a while with the intention of unleashing it as one of their "big guns" for when the games side of Windows 8 was ready to go. That was definitely a smart move, because so far, Skulls has been worth the long wait.

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Next in my queue is The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave for 3DS.

This is a title I had been looking at in the e-shop since the day I picked up my 3DS, but I just wasn't convinced to buy. It was cute enough and it seemed weird enough, but the demo didn't sway me and I left it on my wish list for later.

A short time afterwards, I saw @TheGayGamer talking about it on Twitter, so my interest level rose. He had almost completely talked me into a purchase, but there was still a little hesitancy on my part. As fate would have it, I heard @BrainyGamer talking about it on the Experience Points podcast the very next day, and that was enough to get me to take the plunge. If both of these guys thought it was worthwhile, then there must be something to it.


And there is.

Denpa is a simplified dungeon-crawl RPG that asks the player with putting together a small army of tiny little men. However, one of the big folks is how you get them. In the beginning, the game asks the player to scan for local WiFi signals, and it interprets those signals into specific types of Denpa dudes.

For example, when scanning my home wireless, I get a number of characters with Antidote and Water spells. When I took it to work, I found characters with Ice, Poison, Heal, and so on. Later on, and option opens up that lets the player trade characters with other players via QR codes that are read through the 3DS camera.


This is all pretty novel stuff, but on top of this unconventional recruiting system, the game is actually pretty decent. The core of it is a basic JRPG battle system, but the player can use up to eight Denpa men at a time. There are a ton of different skills to build a team with, and customizing them with the appropriate gear for each dungeon is a nice little challenge. 

Even better, the developers were geniuses when they instituted two different “everybody attack” functions -- one using the magic spells, and one without. It cuts down on unnecessary button pressing, speeds up the entire experience, and the AI does a good job of choosing the right actions at the right times. It's still possible to micromanage if that's what's desired, but I appreciate that it's just as effective to use the auto-battle function.

Also, it's cute as hell.

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Last but not least, Tokyo Crash Mobs, also on 3DS.

As I've said several times, I love the weird, and they really don't come any weirder than this one. It's pretty much textbook Japanese game design insanity any way you look at it...


First of all, it uses real people as the game's characters and they also star in the FMV cutscenes.

Secondly, it's a puzzle game vaguely similar to something like Zuma or one of the eighty-four billion copycats like it. However, rather than shooting balls, the player is picking up people called “scenesters” and throwing or rolling them to make matches. Why are they matching these people? Well, the two stars of the game want to get to the head of a line, but it's not explained what they're lining up for, or why physically tossing someone into someone else makes a match. Nor does it explain where these people go afterwards...

I’m pretty sure you're not supposed to think about it too hard. There are all sorts of random elements like UFOs and ninjas that pop up, and if one of the characters loses around, they get shot out into space because... I don't know why.


Every single minute of it is pretty insane, but it's got a good energy and it's quite amusing to play, even if the controls are a hair less polished than I'd like. That said, you don't see something as whacked-out as this everyday, so I can't help but jump aboard. 

I'm hoping the story has some sort of clever bit at the end, but even if it doesn't, the WTF factor is so high on this one that everybody should have it on their 3DS just to show friends at parties, if nothing else.



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



Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. today announced a playable demo for METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE is now available via download on PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE®. The free demo showcases Chapter 1 of the game and introduces Raiden as the central character - a child soldier transformed into a cyborg ninja killing machine, equipped with a high-frequency katana blade and a soul fueled by revenge.

Developed by Kojima Productions and PlatinumGames, METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE takes the renowned METAL GEAR franchise into exciting new territory by delivering an action experience unlike anything seen before. The title brings two of the world's most respected development teams together with a common goal of providing players with a fresh synergetic experience that combines the best elements of pure action together with epic storytelling, all within the expansive METAL GEAR universe.

METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE will be available on February 19, 2013 for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft  at major retail stores nationwide.

The free demo is now available for download on PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE®. 


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Reverb Publishing announced today it is expanding on the Primal Carnage Human vs. Dinosaur gameplay with an additional free game mode, “Get to the Chopper,” that is now available through Steam.

Humans must make their way as a group toward set checkpoints through dinosaur-infested territories, holding off ambushes and vicious assaults from all angles before securing their escape in a waiting helicopter. The new “Get to the Chopper” objective-based game mode launches on the new jungle-themed Downpour map, which challenges players to radio into the helicopter pilot at one checkpoint and turn on a fuel valve at another before making a mad dash to their rescue awaiting them at the landing pad. In addition, the DLC also includes a modified Docks map, with additional maps to follow.

The new Spinosaurus is a fearsome predator who makes its first appearance in the “Get to the Chopper” DLC during the climactic rush to the chopper. The Spinosaurus is therefore the ultimate obstacle standing between humans and salvation. With a fearsome one-hit kill bite and vicious claw attacks, it can dispatch minuscule humans swiftly and efficiently. The Spinosaurus will also be available this month as a paid skin for Team Deathmatch maps. 

For more information, visit the official Website: www.primalcarnage.com/website.


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Bethesda Softworks® and ZeniMax® Online Studios today announced that beta signups are now open for The Elder Scrolls Online at ElderScrollsOnline.com.  Interested gamers simply have to go to the website and register for a chance to play. Selected beta registrants will be granted early access to beta test the game. They will be among the first to experience this epic world with others in one of 2013’s most highly-anticipated releases. Timing and details of the start of playtests will be provided at a later date to those who register.

The Elder Scrolls Online is slated for release in 2013 and is being developed for the PC and the Mac by ZeniMax Online Studios. The studio is headed up by industry veteran Matt Firor who has more than 20 years of online game development experience. The Elder Scrolls Online has not yet been rated by the ESRB. 

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ATLUS, a brand of Index Digital Media, Inc., today announced a demo of the upcoming RPG Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan will be available for download on the Nintendo eShop beginning 2/7/13. 

The demo will allow players to experience the opening gameplay areas available in the full title, including the introduction, initial mini-dungeon (Old Forest Mine), first skyship area (Windy Plains), and areas of the first main dungeon (Lush Woodlands).  Players will have open access to engage in a variety of sidequests in the main dungeon, along with the complete set of equipment, skills, and classes available in this portion of the full title.  Various facilities in town are also available in the demo, including Guild Card exchanges via QR code and select QR gifts. All progress gained within the demo is transferrable to the full retail version of the game.

As a reminder, those that pre-order or pick up Etrian Odyssey IV at retail launch will be treated to a limited edition art book as well as music CD (while supplies last). Etrian Odyssey IV will be available at retail and on Nintendo eShop for digital download on February 26, 2013 across North America.
   
Etrian Odyssey IV brings enhanced graphics and 3D effects, more immersive 3D dungeons, and upgradeable skyships that let players travel and battle among the clouds. Players can utilize 3DS' bottom touch screen to chart out a path and create maps to aid in the team's survival of the dangers that await. The game delivers deep character creation and party customization options, and an all-new casual play option will provide greater accessibility for novice players. Additionally, guild card and character trading functionality will be available through the 3DS StreetPass feature.

For more information, visit www.atlus.com/etrian4

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CCP Games is proud to announce that DUST 514 is officially in open beta, free to download and play for anyone with a PlayStation®3.  Having recently connected DUST 514 with EVE Online, CCP has forged an unprecedented persistent single-shard universe of incredible depth and scale.  Now EVE Online’s expansive New Eden Universe connects two different games across PC and console platforms in real time. This is the first time two games from different genres and different platforms, a PC space combat simulator and a console first-person shooter, have been linked together into one massive online gaming experience.

Now that DUST 514 has entered open beta, mercenaries will begin to shape their careers in earnest as there are no further character resets planned and every shot, every battle and every contract counts. Going forward, all skill upgrades, weapon choices, dropsuit selections and vehicle fittings will shape the fighting strategies and the battles of all mercenaries in DUST 514.

DUST 514 is in open beta now and is available exclusively on PlayStation 3. For more information, visit www.dust514.com and follow the game on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/DUST514) and Twitter (@dust514).

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