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Previews

Fumbling anime fighting with Saint Seiya: Soldiers' Soul

Sep 17 // Steven Hansen
I think my favorite thing about Saint Seiya is that I can say its title to the tune of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" Also it looks pretty pretty. Not quite as clean as some of Namco's other anime games, like the current One Piece and Naruto titles, which look gorgeous. But still good. Has that Killer is Dead extreme sheen and mild grunge to it. BRETT: I guess my favorite part about it is how I beat you at it. By the skin of my teeth in the final round, but a W's a W. I'm not quite sure how I did it. It probably has something to do with the fact that neither of us had a real clue how to play. A pre-fight intro screen was gracious enough to share all the controls, and it was convoluted enough to make me say "Hahaha, fuck this" out loud. I don't consider myself well-versed in fighters, and that goes doubly so for 3D fighters. In my layman's opinion, I thought it felt slow, but not in a bad way -- more of a moving chess match kind of way. The pace is likely the reason I was able to string together a few nine hit combos, which were satisfying even though I have no idea if they were impressive or not. Probably not, to be honest. It felt good when my golden boy blocked your dumb Kratos chains, too. STEVEN: Yeah, I was using a pink lady with green hair who, actually might've been a very pretty and slim man, according to pre-fight dialogue. Regardless, she had these Ivy Soul Calibur whip things going and I spent the first match just ranging Brett because it was easy to do and exploit, but that proved pretty boring so I tried to figure out other things to do. Figuring out the block button was essential, but I'm still confused about the supposed throw combination and also the specials. I do enjoy that 3D fighter running style -- "like chickens," you noted -- which is very anime-like (and definitely faster than something like Tekken). That general style of fighter (I lump Gundam Versus and Dissidia types in there, too) is interesting me, but not something I ever got into. I last spent notable time in a fighter with vanilla Street Fighter IV (I later tried to get into Persona 4: Arena, but not even Persona love could hold me). I'll mess with more Samurai Gunn, Towerfall, Duck Game, Smash Bros. these days. Had a bunch of stages, though, Saint Seiya. And a pretty good roster. I feel like a lot of fighters skimp on that recently, probably for DLC (Mortal Kombat X comes to mind). BRETT: Who knows if that roster is a blessing or a curse. For all we know, it's unbalanced as all get-up and there are glaring exploits. Probably not though, right? The meta's something that people can figure out when it releases very soon. We had fun, got a few chuckles, and ran around like chickens. Chalk that preview experience up as a success, I say.
The Fighting Animes photo
PS4, PC fighter
The Saint Seiya series has been going strong for nearly 30 years in Japan. Those elsewhere might know it as Knights of the Zodiac. Brett Makedonski and myself don't know it from Adam, though the maintained '80s anime art styl...

Project X Zone 2 is more of the same, with new faces

Sep 16 // Chris Carter
To be clear, Project X Zone 2, so far, seems to be more of the same. Although Bandai Namco has promised advancements when it comes to the combat system, it's still very simplistic, and more style than substance. That's not to say that there's no strategic depth involved in general though, as the decision to employ defensive options at the cost of SP is alive and well, in addition to the general placement of your characters in each mission's grid. It just isn't nearly as nuanced as a lot of other SPRGs on the market. During my hands-on time with the game I was able to play a full level, which followed the mundane task of "killing all enemies," an objective typically found in the first iteration. Having completed the original it was an all-too familiar sight, albeit with the typical rush of playing as some of my favorite video game characters. During the demo I had access to Dante/Vergil, Chun-Li/Ling Xiaoyu, Strider Hiryu/Hotsuma, Kazuma Kiryu/Goro Majima teams, as well as the solo units of Captain Commando, Phoenix Wright, and and Ulala. As expected, the flair didn't disappoint. Dante/Vergil were a joy to play as, and the ninja team of Strider/Hotsuma (Shinobi) was just perfect. Seeing Captain Commando was also a treat, as he doesn't get nearly enough respect these days. Every single character is represented well, even the ones that can merely be called in by core units. It may be fanservice, but developer Monolith Soft is handling it in stride. Series producer Kensuke Tsukanaka was on-hand to talk about the game, and noted that in particular, they want people to know that this is a character-focused game, so the opening animation will not only feature every playable hero, but will clock in at just over two minutes in length. Tsukanaka went on to state, "We're aiming to look for new fans with an even bigger cast. We want people to see a new character and ask 'what game is this from?' We want them to become even more involved with the industry as a whole." The team is also stepping up the original animation with the sequel, as there will be more artwork than before both in and out of combat. I noticed this particularly during my demo session, as supers and abilities had a bit more visual flair than usual. When asked how this collaboration was even possible, Tsukanaka replied that "all of us have a mutual respect for each other. We've also collaborated for years with one another, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to create this project. The rivalry still exists, but it's a friendly one." Project X Zone 2 is still set for a November launch in Japan, and a February 16 date for the US was just announced.
Project X Zone 2 photo
Your mileage will vary
Based on the reception to Project X Zone 2, it's clear to see that it's a "hate it or love it" affair. Fans seemed to really take to the idea of playing as a cavalcade of heroes from some of their favorite franchises, but oth...

Total War: Warhammer's Dwarven faction shakes up the battlefield

Sep 16 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310625:60354:0[/embed] The developers have been keeping things pretty close to the vest when it comes Warhammer. While we've already seen the Empire and Greenskin armies in action, they've been very hesitant to share any details about the Dwarf and Vampire factions. As each army will have its own unique settings, politics, and overall feel from one another, Creative Assembly wanted to make sure it nailed its approach before showing it off to the world. Our session focused primarily on one of the earlier skirmishes in the Dwarven campaign. During the Ambush at the Thunderfalls Pass, the faction's underground networks have been breached by the Greenskins, and it must drive them out in order to keep its most secure and valuable asset in Dwarf hands. Unlike the other Total War titles, Warhammer has deeper ties to a general narrative during the campaigns. While you'll still have plenty of leeway into how you build the factions up, there will be several moments in the faction's plot that will affects several key characters from Warhammer lore, but will also change the course of your campaign. For the Dwarven faction, a great empire lies underground and they've built a network of tunnels to travel vast distances, transport supplies, and surprise enemies forces from beneath the earth. From underground skirmishes, to using the tunnels for trade during nation-building, the burly and stout faction will use the subterranean realm to strengthen its empire and debilitate foes. But given how valuable of a resource these tunnels have been to the Dwarfs, it's no surprise the other factions would want to take it for themselves. The Ambush at Thunderfalls Pass served as a great opener to not only the new field of war, but also to see how Warhammer made the transition to Total War. Despite the tonal shift and massive change in setting, battles should be quite familiar to those who've sunk hundreds of hours into the RTS series. Players control various types of ranged and melee units to engage the enemy and complete objectives. Along with a brand new mechanic called the Grudge system, which adds dynamic challenges based on how effective your attacks and strategies are against the opposition, the battle mechanics have evolved in this entry. With the fantasy aesthetic in full swing, the developers have gotten creative in implementing the classic Warhammer archetypes and lore into the Total War gameplay. Each faction possesses its own unique Hero classes, who are not only important to the faction's narrative, but also provide special skills and abilities to battles -- and many hardcore Warhammer fans will undoubtedly recognize a few of them. During this battle, the Dwarven units were accompanied by High King Thorgrim Grudgebearer, the ruler of the Dwarven capital city, who wielded a enchanted tome that allowed him to buff nearby units. Another Hero character with the army was Thane, a melee champion that was at his best when rushing into the thick of it. In addition to the large number of units, the hero characters add a lot of nuance to battles, as their special skills can seriously make or break a battle at critical moments. During one moment, a remote melee unit of Slayers was getting pummeled by Greenskins, but moving Thane close enough to their position allowed the Slayers to become imbued with his special melee buff which boosted their abilities and slaughtered their foes. It's important to remember that each faction always has ways to deal with the opposition, but you'll have to stay on your toes in order to keep one step ahead of the enemy. I was fortunate enough to test out the same map on two separate difficulty modes, Normal and Hard, and each skirmish field will have varying difficulties to spice things up. Hard mode makes your opposition far more aggressive and cunning, which will be a welcome option for those who want their battle knowledge to be put to the test. But of course, the thing that interests Warhammer fans the most are the faction characters. During this skirmish, we were given access to a number of unique classes from the Dwarven faction, with many more yet to be unveiled. Just as you would expect, each unit has its own special strengths and weaknesses, and they're at their best when combining efforts with different classes. From Dwarf Warriors, Longbeards with Great Weapons, Slayers, Iron Drakes (flamethrower units), Quarrelers and Thunderers (both ranged), Siege Weapons, and even Gyrocopters -- the Dwarfs' knowledge of tech and terrain are their greatest asset, and it totally comes out in the combat style and strategies they employ. I was impressed with the rich detail and visuals during the battle. With the awe-inspiring setting, and the detailed characters and animations, I had a lot of fun just watching the action unfold. Just like in previous titles, you can change camera and get much closer to the action with cinematic camera angles and wide-shots of the battlefield. It can't be stated enough at how much of a looker this game is. I spent a good amount of time just staring at the detail of Thorgrim's character model, which showed his throne being carried Dwarf servants. The developers nailed the visual aesthetic, and when Warhammer fans aren't winning battles, they'll be geeking out over the details of the world and its characters in-game. As the members of Creative Assembly stated during our session, Total War: Warhammer still has a ways to go during its development, but it's looking sharp at this point. The action was fluid, and the visuals were very impressive. The high-fantasy setting shines within the Total War brand, and with the core gameplay of the nation building still yet to be seen, more of the Warhammer universe will become unveiled in the coming months. I'm still looking forward to the day they reveal the Vampire faction, which the devs claim are very different from the others, but until then, the Dwarfs have got plenty of firepower and brute force to stand up against whatever comes their way.
Total War: Warhammer photo
Heigh-ho! It's off to war we go
Back at E3 2015, I got a special sneak peek at the upcoming Total War: Warhammer. The pre-alpha footage we were shown featured an intense battle between the Empire and Greenskins, and each side brought their largest weapons a...

Dragon Quest Heroes is a fast-paced, challenging spin-off

Sep 11 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310289:60328:0[/embed] Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below (PS4)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Square EnixRelease Date: October 13, 2015MSRP: $59:99 Set in the kingdom of Erusaze, humans and monsters live in relative harmony with one another, until one day, the capital city of Arba is attacked by an army of monsters led by an evil sorcerer. Taking up arms against them are two heroes from the king's guard who must band together a group of adventurers, warriors, and even monsters of their own from across the land to combat the legion of foes seeking to destroy civilization. Given the scope and detail of both the Dragon Quest series and the Musou titles, the story does well to fit itself nicely into the themes and styles of both. With the vivid and colorful setting of the DQ games, which channels Akira Toriyama's signature art style quite well along with the vast number of foes to battle, there's a undeniable richness to the world. Exploring it was quite a treat. In traditional Dragon Quest fashion, players can name their central character and then proceed on their epic quest. However, Dragon Quest Heroes presents players with the choice of two unique characters, Luceus and Aurora, both of whom are fully voiced, have their own personalities, and posses their unique play-styles. Selecting one will allow players to view the story from their perspective, with the other serving as another member of the party. Much like other titles in the Musou series, players will be able to choose multiple characters with their own unique move-sets and abilities. Many of the classic DQ archetypes and classes are recreated with new fleshed-out characters, and even some returning from past Dragon Quest titles will join your party to battle the evils that corrupt the land. Moving away from the random battles and turn-based combat, the developers incorporated many of RPG systems from the series into their brand of Dynasty Warriors-style combat and gameplay structure. Battles are entirely action-oriented, using quick and strong attacks, magic, and even the tried-and-true Tension abilities from recent Dragon Quest games to beat down the legions of monsters. Stages take place with in vast open areas with waves of monsters, while tasking players with completing objectives from active quests. You'll have to manage your MP for magic attacks, and keep your inventory of support items well-stocked for when you travel out into the field. The gameplay is very similar to titles like Dynasty Warriors, but it still has the DNA of Dragon Quest. I was happy with the marriage of different genres. Even though I felt more a twitch-focused approach to gameplay, I still felt a sense of progression as I grew in power along with my party. Keep in mind, the general structure of Dragon Quest Heroes is focused on the singular adventure with your party. Unlike the other Musou titles, which focus on a particular characters and their campaign, your party of heroes in DQH will be with you throughout your journey, and while you can switch between them during battle with ease, your chosen characters are still the main focus. Eventually, your band of heroes will gain access to a flying fortress made of stone, which will serve as your base of operations as you travel around the world taking on new challenges. With the airship, you'll essentially have a mobile town from which you can shop, interact with other characters, find new quests, and perform any other needs you may need. Battles are much faster and to the point compared to most other Musou titles, which is great for the focus on narrative and the RPG systems. With its October release approaching, this title will be up the alley for both fans of Dragon Quest and the Musou series. For the classic RPG series, this is largely new territory to be exploring. Action-RPG gameplay with its rich and finely-tuned systems would be challenging to do justice, but I was pleased with how Omega Force made the transition. To make things more enticing for the Western release, all the released DLC from the original launch in Japan will be available for free to all players. Even with its new gameplay, Dragon Quest Heroes still exudes the same sense of adventure and wonder found in the much-loved series.
Dragon Quest Heroes photo
Includes all bonus DLC for free
I've got quite the soft spot for Omega Force's series of Musou titles. If you've heard of or played Dynasty Warriors, then you know exactly what they are. As the popularity of the studio's games grow with every release, it br...

Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode is an interesting change of pace for the series

Sep 10 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310121:60304:0[/embed] Taking place in the world, or worlds, of Minecraft, we take on the role of Jessie, a local resident living in the wilderness along with his friends and pet pig. With the upcoming event known as Endercon approaching, sort of an in-game take on the popular Minecon, Jessie and his friends prepare for the festivities along with the rest of their community. Unfortunately, an ancient evil known as the Ender Dragon is unearthed from the nether, and wreaks havoc across the land. With Jessie and his friends being the only ones to escape, it's up to them to restore the legendary Order of the Stone, a group of powerful adventurers capable of stopping the dragon, and save the rest of the world. While it may seem unusual to try and create a specific story and narrative with predefined characters within Minecraft, which is inherently about the relative and varied user experiences, Telltale's take on Story Mode is surprisingly charming. Sure, many of the jokes focus on Minecraft-related humor and trivia, which may confuse or fall flat for those who aren't too into the adventure game, but it does a pretty admirable job of finding itself within a game world that's so varied and almost infinitely diverse. With a pretty solid voice-cast featuring Patton Oswalt, Corey Feldman, Paul Reubens, Dave Fennoy, Martha Plimpton, Ashley Johnson, and Brian Posehn, this is likely Telltale's most star-studded cast yet. During the short segment I played, we find Jessie searching through the forest for his pet pig. Gameplay will be instantly be familiar to those who've played other Telltale titles, such as The Walking Dead or Fables. You'll explore the environment looking for clues, interact with other characters, and occasionally participate in action sequences that call for well-timed responses. When Jessie was ambushed by zombies, he had to defend himself with a hastily put together wooden sword, which broke during the encounter. Eventually, his friend Petra (voiced by Ashley Johnson) saves the day and they make their way back to town. Of course, this is only the start of their troubles. Essentially, this is a very family friendly take on Telltale's past titles. Easy enough to get into, but deep enough to wonder what choices will be the best in the long run. However, one of the more interesting aspects of Story Mode is that it allows players to customize the central character Jessie. From their aesthetics to even their gender (voiced by Patton Oswalt and Catherine Taber, respectively), players will be able to build their own story and show off their character however they see fit. Given the numbers of choices and turns the story presents, it's refreshing to be able to have more of a choice in how your character looks. I'm curious to see how this title will shape up. With the first episode coming this year, Minecraft: Story Mode has some big shoes to fill. While there are many fans who may turn their nose up at such a departure from what they know from Minecraft, the developers are seeking to make a narrative that not only rewards long-time fans with a long and eventful journey through series lore, but also serves as a great opener for those who haven't taken the plunge into the quirky and incredibly popular adventure title. And it's a promising start from what I played. 
Minecraft: Story Mode photo
The Creepers will remember that
Since its announcement last year, many fans of both Mojang's Minecraft and Telltale Games were caught off guard by this union of adventure developers. With one focusing on open-ended and procedurally generated jaunts thr...

Magic: The Gathering - Puzzle Quest found inspiration in Tinder

Sep 10 // Zack Furniss
I've always been curious about Magic, so I clenched my toes and resolved to understand everything the developer was going to tell me. Like other Puzzle Quest games, this is a match-3 game where you have to rearrange chromatic gems. You play as a Planeswalker of your choice, which the internet tells me is "among the most powerful beings in the Mulitiverse" and is also a cipher for the player. Each Planeswalker specializes in a certain type of mana, which correlates with a certain colored gem. By carefully choosing gems that are better for your P'Walker, you can cast spells, use items, and attack your opponents. As I aimlessly matched Swamp mana gems, developer man told me that while decks begin pre-assembled and tailored to each Planeswalker you can choose from, you can also earn new cards through the game or through buying booster packs. If you decide to buy a booster pack, you'll be shown more cards than you'll actually get and can choose from that pool. D3 Go! told me that they found inspiration by way of popular dating (fucking) app Tinder, in that if you like a card, you can swipe right to have sex with it acquire it, and if you don't you can swipe left to dismiss it. It's almost the same amount of fun, except here you're judging and subsequently throwing a card (instead of a person) in the bin. While there will be a set number of Planeswalkers at launch, more cards and characters will be available as time goes on. D3 Go! wants special events to tie into the physical card-based game when they can, and might even make certain cards easier to attain at these times. They haven't nailed down the pricing and timing of these events yet, but plan to make sure this month's variant of Puzzle Quest has a long span of life. Though my awkward time with Magic: The Gathering - Puzzle Quest wasn't enough to teach me all of the intricacies of the upcoming mobile game, I left curious. I might try it out this fall when it releases for free on iOS and Android devices, if only as an opportunity to symbolically apologize to D3 (kudos for being patient and fun!) for making their job harder for fifteen skin-crawling minutes. Let's see who'll be the first person to accuse me of not knowing anything about Magic in the comments. You have my permission to laugh at them. Or, you can be nice and point to the first paragraph. Your call.
Magic: The Gathering photo
Or, an adventure in ignorance
I'm telling you right now, if you clicked on this article for an expert opinion on all things Magic: The Gathering, you're in the wrong place. I know fuck-all about Magic! My only experience with Puzzle Quest is the five...

Rock Band 4 made me forget that I suck at rhythm games

Sep 09 // Alissa McAloon
During my time with the game I was perfectly content to just smash out different notes on the guitar and see what sounded best, but more skillful players should note that there is an art to creating solos. Switching notes at the right time or using certain strums with certain chords all create different and unique sounds. The notes themselves may change slightly to fit with the key of certain songs, but those patterns do not. With a little time and effort, players can figure out how to create specific tunes in Freestyle Solos and create their own finely crafted guitar solos from scratch. Playing around with solos, both in the training modes and in actual songs, made me feel like I was actually good at the game. The half hour I spent with Rock Band 4 marked the most positive experience I've ever had with a music game of any kind. As someone who is chronically clumsy with any sort of rhythm game, this endorsement doesn't come lightly. I can only imagine what some of those hardcore Rock Band players will be able to do with Freestyle Solos when the game releases for PS4 and Xbox One on October 6. 
Rock Band 4 photo
Freestyle solos are way too much fun
[Disclosure: Nick Chester, who is currently employed at Harmonix, previously worked at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the preview.] Rock Band 4 is spearheading the rhyt...

It's not easy running an airship in Guns of Icarus Alliance

Sep 09 // Jordan Devore
I tried Alliance last month at PAX and while I enjoyed what I played, my goodness was there a lot to take in all at once. It was my first time with Guns of Icarus, after all. My duties were relatively simple -- help mark far-off ships and structures, hop from gun to gun, shoot bad guys until they explode -- but even that proved chaotic. Acclimating to the different types of weapons and their variable ammunition (and bullet drop!) proved difficult at first, especially when the ship's layout was still unfamiliar to me. Efficiency is crucial to surviving. Sometimes, our guns were on fire, on account of the many ships shooting at us. Other times, while backing off of a turret (because it needed to reload or, uh, it was on fire), I fell to my death. It didn't happen early on like I thought it might, but after the first fall, it became a habit. Despite Muse Games CEO Howard Tsao's best efforts as our pilot, we died. A lot. Still, it was exhilarating -- each airship we brought down felt like a feat, as it should. There's depth to the combat, which I appreciate (and will appreciate far more once I'm proficient with the systems). Alliance has been a long time coming -- reworking the game to function with AI has been challenging -- but progress is being made. Kickstarter backers are now testing the prototype. In its latest Kickstarter post, Muse Games wrote that it will be "adding progression to characters and factions. There will be a world map and a grander sense of the Guns of Icarus universe where every battle will shift the course of history. At the end of each season of conflict, you'll have the opportunity to have your deeds immortalized in the lore of the game, and have glory bestowed upon your clan and faction. While not all of these features will be available immediately, we'll be seeing more and more of them enter testing as we continue to push towards launch in 2016. Last but not least, there will also be new unlockable ships, new weapons, new tools, new clothes, decals, and more!" It's still going to be a bit of a wait, in other words. I hope everything comes together as promised.
Preview photo
But it sure is rewarding
I always liked the sound of Guns of Icarus Online. It's a competitive multiplayer game in which players work together to control a steampunk airship and take on other teams. Someone physically steers the vessel, while others ...

Sublevel Zero mixes sci-fi space shooters with roguelike challenges

Sep 09 // Alessandro Fillari
Set in a facility in outer space that's slowly falling apart, you're tasked with flying your spacecraft through the tight corridors filled with rogue A.I. and other obstacles that seek to take you out. As you travel through the crumbling facility, you'll find new power-ups and other upgrades to your ship, which will give you the edge to make it through the ever-changing and increasingly difficult labyrinth. Much like many other roguelike titles, the plot is largely light and only seeks to set the scene. You're a lone space pilot in hostile territory, and you'll have to use all your skills in order to survive. The true meat of the game lies within the deep and intricate systems in place. The sub-genre is notorious for its difficulty and uncompromising challenges, so it's surprising to see a twitch-based shooter that allows you to travel in six degrees of movement to structure it within the system of an RPG title. With the procedurally generated world, along with randomly placed enemies and treasure locations, each run will be unique. As you travel around the facility, you'll find loot from downed enemies and space caches filled with new upgrade and abilities for your ship. Starting out, you'll have the basic energy cannons, but over time, you'll acquire missiles, long-range lasers, and high-powered rail guns to take on the ever-growing threats. I was pretty impressed with how well both styles of gameplay work together. Initially, I believed the fast-paced nature of this space-shooter and the roguelike systems wouldn't work too well together, but it all clicked for me quickly, and I was very much into it after going a few runs. By far, my favorite aspect of Sublevel Zero is its rich visual style. Channeling the retro feel with bright colors and a distinct visual palette, along with the claustrophobic design and layout -- I found myself quickly immersed with this title. With its release coming in October, this compelling hybrid of both fast-paced action with deep-strategic gameplay is very much unlike anything I've played in a roguelike, and its approach to the action-RPG is one you'll want to take notice of. Sublevel Zero [Steam] 
Sublevel Zero photo
Descent goes Rogue
One of the great aspects of this reawakening of the roguelike sub-genre is seeing the systems in place in genres that you'd least expect. For those unaware, roguelike is a sub-genre that features hardcore-focused RPG systems ...

MEG 9: Lost Echoes offers a surprisingly existential take on sci-fi exploration

Sep 09 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]309920:60291:0[/embed] After a group of scientists from the Horizon research facility goes missing, the corporation Quantum Multiphasics tasks one of their employees with remotely piloting a Rig, a high-powered rescue and assault vehicle, in order to find out what happened at the remote location. Unfortunately, Horizon is located within the mysteriously named Probability Aperture, a world that's located between dimensions. Using the Rig, the pilot must explore the remains of Horizon while uncovering the mysteries of the fractured and chaotic world, all the while defending himself against creatures that have taken up residence in the research facility. With a focus on narrative, the developers wanted to ensure that they had a strong foundation for the plot, in addition to getting the science right to give the story much greater believability. Luckily enough, they were able to team up with famed sci-fi author William Gibson, author of the prophetic and ultra-stylish Neuromancer and The Difference Engine. Interestingly enough, this is Gibson's second foray into game development, with the first being an adaptation of his novel Neuromancer. With MEG 9, he offered his insights into the mechanics and functionality of the Probability Aperture, and worked with the in-house writers on giving the general story a strong foundation. While exploration the world within the Aperture, players will pilot the rig and discover the remains of the lone human installation in the chaotic realm. As you explore, you'll acquire resources and other materials to combat the presence of the creatures corrupted by the environment. Throughout your travels, you'll receive backstory on the characters and world from your on-board AI, which offers some interesting commentary on all things relating to Quantum Multiphasics. Though the Rig is able to defend itself with machine guns and cannons, in addition to its thick armor, the pilot will have to rely on more advanced tools in order to survive. After acquiring resources, the Rig will be able to dispatch remote units to defend key points. During a segment while exploring the installation, I came across a massive reactor that was vulnerable to attack. Using several tools, such as remote turrets and placeable energy shields, I was able to hold off the creatures seeking to destroy the reactor. Surprisingly, this section offered a lot of strategy and kept me on my toes. I was very impressed with different this area felt. It definitely offered some callbacks to tower defense games, but with focuses on action and maneuverability. While it's still in pre-alpha, the developers have a pretty solid foundation for their title. And with more areas and creatures to explore, there's definitely a lot to look forward to. I found myself pretty intrigued by the basic premise of the setting. It's often we see games set on other planets, so it's pretty interesting to see on that's set in such an intriguing locale. With an Early Access release set for later this year, in addition to a PS4 release sometime after, the folks at Skunkwerks have got a pretty interesting title in MEG 9: Lost Echoes. I'm very much looking forward to see where it goes from here. MEG 9: Lost Echoes [Steam Greenlight]
MEG 9 photo
Featuring work from William Gibson
When it comes to games with sci-fi settings, the thing that usually excites me is the locations you'll be able to visit. Often times, you'll be blasting foes on other planets throughout the solar system, or invading enemy mot...

I died cold and alone in The Solus Project

Sep 08 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]309864:60287:0[/embed] Exploration and narrative go hand-in-hand in The Solus Project. Technically, your goal is to find a way to communicate with Earth, but there's more at play. An alien civilization used to inhabit this planet, and that's a mystery you get to unravel. That is, if you're not too busy getting ripped apart by the elements. If this demo had gone correctly, I would have scurried inside a cave which would have offered some much-needed shelter. That didn't happen. After finding two requisite keys, I scrambled back to unlock a giant ruinous door. Cycling through the loads of water in my inventory, I didn't quite have enough time to put that second key in the lock. Who would have thought that picking up survival equipment would be what eventually damned me? As quickly as I was pummeled into submission, I definitely didn't see the worst of what The Solus Project had to offer. In fact, I may have seen it at its most forgiving. Firestorms, tornadoes, and earthquakes are all in play. Who knows what's waiting underneath the surface? My time with The Solus Project was mercifully brief. It was a weird look, but what I saw seemed like it was both misrepresentative and completely representative of the experience. Like, it was too short for anything meaningful to happen, but it also wonderfully captured the fickle nature of the environment. That's a beast that we'll probably never tame; we can only hope to sidestep its wrath.
The Solus Project photo
The nature of the beast
The Solus Project chewed me up and spit me out. After spending mere minutes with the game, blood spots started appearing inside my space helmet as it started to crack in an unsettling manner. It was ruthless. I knew I wa...

Stories: The Path of Destinies is magnifique

Sep 07 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]309565:60263:0[/embed] The narrative (or at least its delivery) draws on Supergiant's Bastion for inspiration, employing an omniscient narrator who recounts the game's events as if he were reading a child's storybook -- or in this case a dark, violent choose-your-own-adventure novel masquerading as something kid-friendly. Don't be fooled by the cutesy anthropomorphic characters, as within the first few minutes of playing I had the protagonist Reynardo (an airship pilot of a fox) kill his pal Lapino for some reason. Studio co-founder Simon Darveau told me it -- the evil route -- was a popular choice, and just one of many. In Stories, players will be forced to make a series of choices throughout the experience, which will have significant impacts on how the tale unfolds. To illustrate this, Spearhead brought a build to PAX Prime with no less than 32 possible endings. And these aren't minor departures, mind you, the decisions players make will determine who lives, dies, or even appears in the story at all. [embed]309565:61054:0[/embed] The forks players travel down will not only decide what takes place, but how the narrator will depict Reynardo. He can be a classic good guy, a selfish anti-hero, or somewhere in-between. Moreover, while playing the game, the narrator will react to what the player is doing. I recall breaking a bunch of pots and hearing him quip about something, only for Darveau to nudge me and remark that was one of several potential reactions (as there are apparently over 1,000 lines of voice over), and had I played more than once, I might not hear the same thing twice.  Something that was a tad more repetitive, though, was the combat, which I was told takes its cues from the Batman: Arkham series. However, unlike the Dark Knight, Reynardo goes to battle wielding a sword and makes no bones about carving up his foes or just kicking them into the abyss. [embed]309565:60262:0[/embed] I eventually unlocked an ability that enabled me to dash around arenas, hinting at the possibility of more than a one-note combat system. This allowed for guerrilla-style flank attacks, letting me pick apart enemy crowds, rather than charge up the middle to my death. On the one occasion I tried to brute force my way through battle, I was quickly overwhelmed by my adversaries. While I still have my concerns about the fights, thankfully, it's not all hacking and slashing. Between action sequences, the camera pulls back to an isometric viewpoint, giving players a commanding view of the lush, watercolored scenery (which is damn pretty, by the way). These segments have environmental puzzles, such as stealthing your way through a ruinous maze patrolled by sentry drones. Nothing I saw seemed too mentally taxing, but it provided some nice variation between the more action and narrative-heavy elements of the experience. [embed]309565:60266:0[/embed] Stories: The Path of Destinies impressed me on several fronts, and I'm typically wary of games that tout player choice and morality as key features. From what I've seen, Spearhead Games seems to be handing this in a more interesting, non-binary way, and backs it up with some killer aesthetics and solid combat. There's a lot of potential there, and I really hope the game can deliver on it. Keep an eye out for Stories when it launches exclusively on PlayStation 4 early next year.
Stories preview photo
You can go your own way
Anytime I attend a trade show or convention these days, I walk away smitten with a new game out of Québec. It's eerie, really. I don't go looking for them; they find me, as if there were some sort of gravitational pull...

Crazy racer has you drive multiple cars at once

Sep 06 // Kyle MacGregor
It's controlled chaos, though. Luckily, you need only take control of one vehicle at a time. However, in what might be one of the better "it's a feature" excuses yet, the computer in this game is as dumb as a post. AI-controlled cars (both yours and your opponents') are largely incompetent. This requires players to hop from one track to the next, either taking the lead or putting the computer in a position to do so before moving on to the next track. The challenge is more about management and strategy, rather than pure driving skill. And given there can be up to six tracks on any raceway, all of which sport differing speeds, steering your team to victory can be quite a handful. While Drive!Drive!Drive! is still somewhat early in development, it can be a  pretty rough ride. During my time in the driver's seat last week in Seattle, I discovered the title doesn't handle anywhere near as well as, well, any mainstream racers I've had the pleasure of playing in recent years. [embed]309532:60259:0[/embed] Midwood was the first to admit the experience could use some fine tuning, as sharp turns often resulted in messy pile-ups and ramps can send your vehicle flying onto another track with no means of returning to the correct one. But there's still time to fix mechanical issues and tighten up the controls, especially since the concept and aesthetics are already so attractive. The visuals are minimalist, but the pastel color palette and otherworldly track layouts more than make up for some technically unimpressive graphics. The trippy vibe is also enhanced by a trippy soundtrack, courtesy of synth artist Zombi, giving the game a distinctive look and feel. On top of that, there's a track creator, which should give the experience some legs, allowing players to build and share their own designs with the community, should one ever form around the game.  Drive!Drive!Drive! is targeting a 2016 launch on PlayStation 4, Vita, PC, and maybe more systems.
Drive!Drive!Drive! photo
On your marks, get set, go, go, go!
Game designers rarely go off-road when creating racing games and eschew lesser-traveled paths in favor of more established, familiar routes. Not Gordon Midwood, though; the one lone developer at indie studio Different Cloth i...

La-Mulana 2 will probably break me

Sep 05 // Zack Furniss
Since the interface and overall graphical style of La-Mulana 2 looks almost identical to the original, it's appreciated that the new character is distinctive enough that you'll know which game you're playing. Instead of inhabiting the Indiana Jones-alike Lemeza Kosugi, you'll be playing his (maybe) daughter Lumisa. Skill-wise, the only major change I noticed is Lumisa seems to have slightly more air control; instead of being locked into a forward jump, you can ease off a bit. Though I eventually acclimated to the strict leaping rules in the first game, I immediately felt more comfortable exploring the ruins in this demo. That comfort was obliterated in approximately one minute. While a jovial PR rep was telling me that puzzles aren't necessarily easier, so much as they have better signposting, I stumbled through trap after trap and wandered up to a boss. I was supposed to whack him in the face, but he kept charging through and knocking me down, killing me in a few quick blows. This happened about four times, until I gave up and went in a different direction. Another change is that there's a more noticeable sense of depth (at least in the stage that I played). La-Mulana 2 is built in 3D in the Unity engine, as seen above. Though this first area didn't play with this too much, I imagine the late-game ruins will use this newfound depth to their advantage. I'll be damned if clues to certain puzzles won't be hidden in the background. With such limited time and access to the demo, it's hard to get a sense of whether the signposting has actually been improved. The first game played a sound effect when you had advanced a step in a puzzle, but there was often no clear way to figure out what exactly had changed. The platforming and bosses still feel as tough as ever, but a series like La-Mulana really demands at least a few hours to see just how inextricable the labyrinthine ruins will end up being.  The PR rep ended our meeting by saying that when they polled players about difficulty, Japanese players overwhelmingly wanted the sequel to be easier and the Western players wanted it to be harder. They're trying to strike a middle ground here with tricky riddles that still require a sharp eye, and more forgiving platforming. We'll see how that turns out when it launches early next year.
La-Mulana 2 photo
And I look forward to it
I only recently finished La-Mulana, Nigoro's "archaeological ruin exploration action game." It tried its damnedest to make me quit at every turn; with its obtuse puzzles and tricky platforming, I don't feel it's hyperbole to ...

Slain! requires a surprising amount of restraint

Sep 04 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]309156:60249:0[/embed] The result of my urgency was death. Over and over it happened. Sometimes I rushed jumping over a pit and died. Sometimes I rushed into battle and died. The common theme here is that rushing leads to dying. I found out the hard way. Contributing to my death count was a jumping system that felt too rigid. Simple platforming quickly became a chore because the responsiveness of the jump button felt off. I fell into a pit that unceremoniously crushed me far too many times because it was too unintuitive to determine when exactly I needed to jump. Slain! will surely be difficult enough in its own right; it doesn't need to unnecessarily kill the player with sub-par mechanics. Still, Slain! undeniably gets its hooks in you, even through failure after frustrating failure. At one point, the representative tending to the game asked if I wanted him to clear a particularly pesky section for me. "No," I sharply shot back. "I got this." It's the type of game where you just know that you can get to the next checkpoint, and you're infuriated with yourself that you messed up that last run. Just take a methodical approach, and your chances will improve -- even if slow and steady doesn't exactly scream metal.
Slain! preview photo
Everything else is metal as hell
One glance at Wolf Brew Games' Slain! and it's immediately obvious where it draws inspiration from. This is hack-and-slash action from the '80s and '90s that takes no prisoners in its violent pursuit. The gore-fille...

Hob is a fascinating departure from Torchlight

Sep 03 // Jordan Devore
My demo at PAX Prime was short, and left me with questions that almost certainly won't be answered until I get to play the finished game, whenever that will be. It's still a ways off. I was dropped into an early area of the game -- but not the actual opening, it's worth pointing out -- and started hopping up hills and climbing vines. Hob is presented from an overhead view, but its camera dynamically zooms in on focal points. It pays to check out every tucked-away area for health, stamina, and weapon upgrades, sure, but also to take in the sights. Eventually, I happened upon some basic creatures and then a boss. My Souls instincts kicked in and I rolled, rolled, rolled. You can never be too cautious, y'know? The bigger foe was fairly easy but, in general, "The idea is that all of our monsters will basically destroy you unless you actually figure out how to beat them," according to Runic president Marsh Lefler. Moving on, I worked my way underground to an area like the one shown in this concept art, and used my arm to grapple around. The world is, in part, mechanical. It doesn't sit still. You might come back to a spot you've already gone through only to find that it has been altered. Runic wouldn't give much away about the story, but teased something unexpected. "What makes this game unique is what it hints at -- we have some pretty big ideas for it," said Lefler. He also believes the team is "going to blow people's minds when we start showing them what we're going to be actually doing with manipulating the world to the Nth degree." While there will surely be a Torchlight III one day, I'm happy we're getting Hob first. It sounds like the folks at Runic are genuinely happy to take a break from RPGs, too.
Preview photo
A new adventure from Runic Games
Zelda. Ico. Shadow of the Colossus. Even a little Metroid. Runic Games has borrowed concepts from these iconic adventures for its next PC and console game, Hob. Why "Hob?" Well, the name has a dual meaning that refers to litt...

Atlas Reactor's competitive turn-based play shows promise

Sep 02 // Jordan Devore
Atlas Reactor is turn-based, but players have a limited time (30 seconds by default) to lock in their decisions, and everyone's turns are simultaneous. That goes for your allies and enemies. It's quick and chaotic and not unlike rock, paper, scissors. After committing to a strategy, your actions (attacking, shielding, buffing, trapping, moving) play out across different phases. There's an order of operations to keep things fair, in other words. During any given turn, you have to get into your opponents' heads and try to predict how they'll behave. If you're sure an enemy is going to dodge, don't plan to fire a shot that will inevitably miss -- lay a trap instead. If you're guaranteed to be hit hard and have no escape, set up a shield. It's a system that borrows from fighting games (reading your opponents), tactical games (grid-based positioning), and MOBAs (varied characters, free aiming). The end result is a promising fusion of genres that, at least to my knowledge, has never been explored quite in this way. [embed]308953:60233:0[/embed] "Once you have the basics, it's pretty interesting," said executive producer Peter Ju. "You want to play one level above your opponent. If you play two levels above your opponent, you're just going to out-think yourself and you basically are going to seem like a noob compared to the guy who doesn't do anything." Out of nowhere, another Trion Worlds employee, who was not a part of my demo, chimed in. He said he had far better results early on when he first started and didn't really know how to play. No one could predict his strategy because he simply didn't have one. I can relate. Atlas Reactor is only now entering alpha, and while the core mechanics are set and seem solid, there's still stuff to figure out. Which modes to create, for one. The match I saw was pretty standard: two versus two, first to four kills wins. Based on what players do with custom games during alpha testing, Trion will adapt to their preferences and "make more of that." I liked the sound of lighting rounds, where you have a precious few seconds to plan your moves. As for cooperative play, challenge maps of some sort are planned. "I really want to play XCOM with buddies," said lead designer Will Cook, "but I can't do that. This is the key to that." I'd be down to play with Steven. Between this, Hard West, and XCOM 2, there's a lot of love for turn-based strategy on the horizon. As long as Trion Worlds doesn't mess up the free-to-play aspects of Atlas Reactor -- I suspect it'll charge for skins and taunts -- it should turn out well.
Preview photo
I'm pleasantly surprised
Signing up to see an unannounced title at a gaming convention or expo can be risky. I've never been burned before, but I'm aware my streak could end in an instant. I went into my PAX appointment with Trion Worlds (Rift, Defia...

Meddle in the affairs of others, control their minds in Randall

Sep 02 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]308786:60224:0[/embed] Randall (releasing on PC, PS4, and Vita) takes place in a world where everyone's been brainwashed by the authoritarian powers that be. A corporation has the citizens under its control, but the populace is completely unaware of the oppression at hand. We The Force wasn't willing to go too far into the story, but hinted at a "bigger things are at play" angle. One person is acutely aware of the oppression, however. That's the titular Randall. In a "taste of your own medicine" type of twist, he's trying to take down this faceless juggernaut through the use of mind control. It's this mechanic that takes Randall from an action-platformer and injects a puzzle element into it too. Rooms will often have a throng of enemies in them that need to be cleared out in a particular order. A rudimentary example was an area with one foe on the ground and two on platforms above who could shoot projectiles. Those platforms were unreachable from the floor, but if you controlled the bottom enemy, you could jump off of him and up to the top. Order of operations is important to figure out. It was obvious in that instance what needed to be done, but later encounters surely won't be as telegraphed. Most of these guys won't just allow themselves to get taken over, though. They require a quick beat-down. This comes in the form of simple button-pressed combos. We were shown an earlier level, but there was a definite sense that tactics would have to be switched up as the game progresses. That's only half the battle. Studio head Cesar Ramirez Molina told us that the developer's aiming for about a 50/50 split on combat and platforming. The platforming aspect isn't as intuitive as it could be, and it took several deaths before I got the hang of it. There's likely a better learning curve and teaching process in the full game than in the quick slice I played. Fortunately, Randall checkpoints graciously and there wasn't too much lost progress. There's promise in Randall, but there's more promise in what Randall represents. We The Force Studios is one of the few video game developers in Mexico. Currently, the scene is dominated by software and web developers. It's a much safer prospect to follow the established market than to risk your family's security pursuing what no one else is. That's why We The Force was doing web development up until it made the bold decision that it wanted a legacy. That's why the team started creating games. Randall is its first project, and Molina lamented what a tough transition it has been. He spoke about how challenging it is to make a decision about gameplay and then have to do all the research to figure out exactly how to implement it. Seasoned developers already know the technical side, but Molina and his crew have learned most of it on-the-fly. Randall is projected for a release sometime in 2016. It's a loose window, but it needs to be considering that the studio's inexperience possibly makes it more subject to delays than others. Regardless of when it launches and how it turns out, it's admirable that We The Force went out on a limb to pursue a dream while sacrificing safety. Just like its protagonist, these developers are going against the grain and chasing what they believe in.
Randall preview photo
Freedom fighter
Clerks has a scene where Randal Graves, an irresponsible and indifferent video store employee, tells a customer that he finds it best to stay out of other people's affairs. The laissez-faire approach isn't a noble a...

Kona is a hauntingly beautiful survival adventure

Sep 02 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]308447:60214:0[/embed] Set in the wilderness of Northern Canada during the early 1970s, you play as private detective Carl Faubert as he investigates the mysterious events occurring at a remote village of Atamipek Lake. What starts as simple job of finding the unknown culprits behind the vandalism of private property, it soon becomes apparent that things are not what they seem and Carl finds himself in a whole mess of danger. With nearly the entire population of the town missing -- along with wild animals looking for their next meal -- he'll have to rely on his wits and resourcefulness in order to survive mother nature's cold embrace of the land, and learn the truth of what happened in the isolated town. As the first episode of a planned series, Carl will explore two square kilometers of land in search of clues and supplies. While on his investigation, he'll find abandoned homes and public points of interest that will give him leads. Along the way, he'll learn more about the town's unique characters while searching through their abandoned homes, notes, and other clues left behind. I really liked the atmosphere and tone that Kôna gave off. Exploring the town felt like opening up a time-capsule from the '70s, and many objects, media, and other knick-knacks from the era are presented in authentic fashion. Though be careful, exploring the environment will take a toll on Carl, and he'll have to look after himself during his journey through the wilderness. Interestingly enough, the game's survival elements do a lot to play into the core structure of intrigue and dread that the game encapsulates. While most adventure and narrative-driven games like Dear Esther or Everybody's Gone to the Rapture have players focus on story and not worry about their characters getting hurt, Kôna goes all in with survivalist gameplay. Players will manage Carl's health, temperature, stress, and carrying capacity, which adds another more pressing element to the title's structure. Eventually, you'll acquire firearms to ward off wild animals, such as packs of roaming wolves, but ammo is in extremely short supply. I was impressed to see that the two gameplay focuses, which are totally different from one another, actually work quite well together. If anything, having to mange resources and Carl's well-being adds to the urgency of the environment. Though my time with Kôna was quite brief, I really enjoyed what the developers have come up with. Blending survival elements into the narrative structure of an adventure title was alluring, and my short stint in the great white north offered a lot of intrigue. The developers are also working on special VR features for the title, which will create an even more immersive experience. Though the game is still some time away from release, Parabole has got something quite special with this evocative title.
K˘na photo
Whiteout in the great white north
It's not often we see a title that blends one of the many hallmarks of the adventure genre, a focus on a rich and evocative setting, with the tense and resource-focused gameplay of survival games. But...

Banner Saga 2 is 'basically the same' as the first

Sep 01 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]308796:60226:0[/embed] It might have been a refreshing moment of honesty, you know, if the statement were actually true.  While The Banner Saga 2 may not be a drastic revision that goes out of its way to reinvent the core experience, intimating it's a carbon copy that merely continues the story might be underselling it. In my limited time with the game, I witnessed a number of notable tweaks to the existing formula that figure to go a long way in addressing players' complaints about the original being somewhat of a repetitive slog. The sequel feels like a more dynamic, varied evolution on what's already been established, thanks to little touches like how battles arise and play out. The Banner Saga 2 reinforces one of its predecessors greatest strengths -- how consequences born from player choice ripple throughout the experience like stones cast into a pond -- by having them directly bleed into combat, starting out battles with scenes that stem from your decisions, rather than have them play out exactly the same way regardless of how a particular situation came to pass. Once a skirmish begins, you'll encounter new foes, such as four-legged creatures that can cloak themselves and ambush more fragile units (such as archers) that you figured were safe behind the front lines. New support units will also force you to make difficult decisions between targeting the enemy's bruisers or the guys making them even more imposing than they otherwise would be. Even outside of battle, players will have new options to manage their caravan. Clansman seem to be of more use this time around, as they can be recruited as fighters. However, much like everything in Stoic's universe, there are drawbacks to this; these new warriors will no longer focus on collecting supplies, making your caravan's precious resources dwindle at a faster clip. At a glance, it may not seem that too much has changed since The Banner Saga launched in early 2014, but upon closer inspection, the development team at Stoic appears to be making subtle, yet impactful changes to a blueprint that already worked in an effort to take its game to the next level.
Bad PR photo
Except not really
Game previews are an inherently strange part of this business. You wouldn't read a few pages from an unfinished book and render judgement about the final product. Likewise, we don't often have the opportunity to sample a song...

Through the Woods uses psychological horror to retell a classic myth

Aug 30 // Alissa McAloon
Conversations between the mother and her doctor drive the greater plot. The events of Through the Woods happened long ago; the players are simply helping the mother with her retelling of the tale. The demo begins with the mother alone in the dark woods with only a flashlight to guide her way. Branches crunch beneath her feet as she slowly makes her way through the environment. From time to time, an object in the distance catches the light of the flashlight. These objects, the mother explains to the doctor, are reflectors her son often collected. Reflectors sometimes trigger a short conversation between the mother and the doctor, but more often than not simply serve as a welcome reminder that you're on the right path. Eventually the forest directs her toward an isolated cluster of cabins. As she tries to open each door, she calls her son's name into the night. After finding every door locked, the door farthest from her creaks open and the soft sound of a woman's singing beckons her toward the cabin. I was somehow still surprised when the door then slammed shut behind her. The sound something loudly drooling and shuffling nearby filled my ears and it was then I became well acquainted with the run button. The game bills itself as psychological horror and it isn't hard to see why. Through the Woods uses a finessed merging of sound, design, and narrative to craft an experience that is equal parts intriguing and terrifying. I can't wait to give Woods another shot when it releases next year, but chances are I'll be playing with the lights on. 
Through the Woods photo
Norse mythology is messed up
I knew I was in over my head with Through the Woods the very second I started the demo. The moment I put those headphones on, the loud world of PAX disappeared and was replaced with the unsettling ambiance of a dark forest. ...

Burly Men at Sea is such a delightful adventure

Aug 29 // Jordan Devore
[embed]308368:60185:0[/embed] I think I would've preferred to play with touch controls given the way movement flows, but using a mouse was fine. Burley Men at Sea is coming to Windows, Mac, and iOS, so we'll have that choice. The demo at PAX was only a hint, and I am intrigued. Toward the end, a whale swallows the bearded brothers, which one of them finds "really very discouraging." I helped them escape by finding and tugging on the creature's uvula, prompting a quick blowhole escape. It's real cute. There's promise of folklore creatures and I can't wait to see how they translate to this art style.
Hands-on preview photo
Scandinavian folklore
Strolling through the Indie Megabooth at PAX Prime, Burly Men at Sea stood out thanks to its clean, charming art direction. The adventure game has a small presence within the bustling independent area, but I sincerely hope ot...

Get your XCOM fix this year with the brutal Hard West

Aug 28 // Steven Hansen
[embed]308273:60179:0[/embed] At one point in my demo I had to rescue a man held on a cannibal farm because I needed information from him. An elixir vendor further south, when pressed about the cannibalism (information gleaned from earlier adventure), admitted some of that crew come into his shop to buy spices and things. He offered to vouch for me if I drank one of his elixirs. I did, and it was poison, which weakened me a bit. But I was also able to take that poison to a well near the farm and poison their water supply, thus weakening all my upcoming enemy combatants. Plus, with the snake oil salesman's help, I was able to stealth my way through my turns and to the hostage's shack. With my cover, enemies would get suspicious if I got too close for too long, but I was able to get through fairly easily. After the rescue, that upped our ranks to three, leaving me even better off for the impending slaughter. (An optional objective was to try the human meat, which would restore strength, but it could've had some drawbacks; I opted to avoid it). There are a number of cool options available within the tactical half. Like XCOM, you have to reload, sometimes after just one shot, because of the period guns. You can also hold up an enemy if you don't want to kill them (or don't want to kill them yet). There's also no overwatch phase, so if you know where an enemy is and they aren't expecting you, you can run up on them and unload. Hard West also challenges the random number generator. You can permanently lose characters (as I did, last minute, with my would-be informant); the game is not easy. But it tries to reward you for playing well, which all comes down to positioning. Accordingly, you don't have those point blank, 98% chance shots that somehow always miss when you need them most. If you get close enough, you were playing well, and you're rewarded with sure hits. Which is important when both you and your enemies can go down in one or two hits. There are plenty of other wrinkles in Hard West I'd like to explore. There is full/half cover, but you can also make your own cover by, say, flipping over a table in the middle of a room. There are also challenging richochet shots, which I didn't try out, and each gun has secondary fire (a spread cone for the shotgun, fanning for multiple pistol shots). Playing card modifiers also enhance your characters -- by greater degrees if you also make a poker hand. And I didn't get to the early promised bit about dynamic sunlight casting shadows that can alert you to enemy positions (and vice-versa). Hard West is coming to PC this fall.
Hands-on preview photo
Cowboys and strategy
With XCOM 2 just pushed back into 2016 and, I assume, everyone needing a short break from 1,000 hours of Invisible, Inc, strategy-minded folks seem to have a good option this fall: Hard West. The Western turn-based strategy g...

Cities: Skylines gets nightlife with After Dark expansion

Aug 21 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297379:59852:0[/embed] There is also, "a new specialization for the commercial areas," leisure areas like casinos and night clubs, "the downtown area, the nightlife center of the city." Nighttime also brings about higher rates of crime, helping to fill out prisons. Daytime has unique additions, too. New beachfront property thrives during the day like the casinos and clubs of nighttime, and the cities can also allow bike lanes for cyclists (or let them travel more slowly on sidewalks), thereby reducing traffic. The team wants to add, "smoother ways of handling large systems" with its updates, "helping people do what they're already doing in a more elegant and streamlined way," like by adding bus stations that can accept multiple bus lines and allow for in-building transfers. The $15 expansion launches September 24. The day and night cycle itself is a free update added to all owned copies of Cities: Skylines, while the After Dark expansion will house additional content.
September 24 photo
September 24
Cities: Skylines' major expansion, After Dark, has been dated for September 21. After dunking on SimCity, the successful city simulator is, "focusing on making large expansions over making many small ones," Colossal Order's l...

Zombie Vikings brings humorous brawler action to the Norse landscape

Aug 20 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]307158:60071:0[/embed] Zombie Vikings (PS4)Developer: Zoink! GamesPublisher: Rising Star GamesRelease Date: Autumn 2015 Set in a very goofy interpretation of the Viking era, the Norse god Odin has his last good eye stolen by the mischievous trickster Loki, and must unearth four undead viking warriors to chase after the rogue god and return his eye. Loki plans to use the eye for his own nefarious purposes, such the awful and evil act of playing beer pong, and Odin wants revenge. Over the course of their journey through the Norse lands, the Zombie Vikings will battle waves of monsters, creatures, and other oddities that will put their brawling skills to the test. But with their new zombie powers, they'll be able to match up to the monsters that await, while also coming to terms with their troubled past lives. Right from the opening cutscene, the game sets itself up as a humorous and cartoonish take on Norse mythology, and it was pleasing to see a game have some fun with the material. The art style is essentially like a 2D animated cartoon, complete with interludes where the characters bicker and talk amongst themselves. With the main story written by Zack Weindersmith, the creator of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic, Zombie Vikings blends together brawler action with comedy. Over 90 minutes worth of cutscenes are spread across the thirty levels, and the story goes in places you'd least expect. While some of the jokes are hit-or-miss, it's refreshing to see a brawler revel in its own ridiculousness. The game continually ramps up in oddball comedy, and it's all the better for it. As one of the four vikings, you'll battle through several stages utilizing unique character skills and weapons which alter your performance. In similar vein to Castle Crashers, gold acquired from your journey can be spent on upgrades and new gear. As you travel through the land and complete stages, you can head back to old areas and tackle new challenges and side-quests that open up, yielding greater rewards. While there isn't a leveling system or any other RPG mechanics, the items you can deck your character out with are plentiful, and allow for a great level of customization. Which is great, because each character has their own special playstyle. During my session, I mostly stuck with Seagurd, a viking who's corpse somehow fused with an octopus. Thankfully, it's not just for show, as he's able to use the tentacles for spin attacks and charged-up power moves which turn the small octopus on his torso into a massive monster that damages all nearby enemies. The other characters make up the more standard strength, speed, and technique archetypes for brawlers, and each of them not only shows a lot of creativity in their design, but also feels very different one another. Moreover, you can use certain skills together in unison, such as throwing your friends across the field and into a mob of foes where they can unleash a power attack. This adds another layer of strategy to combat, which can make the co-op nature of the game all the more appealing. You haven't lived until you've seen four undead vikings stack on top of each other and rush deep into battle. I'm a big fan of the brawler genre, and Zombie Vikings has got a lot going for it. Norse mythology is often ignored in gaming, so it's a real pleasure to be able to explore the lands while battling monsters straight from lore, albeit in a really goofy, comedic way. The guys at Zoink! Games made a really fun title. Those looking for a four-player co-op beat-'em-up that doesn't take itself too seriously will be intrigued by this one.
Zombie Vikings preview photo
Are you a bad enough dude to stop Loki?
When people think of the beat-'em-up genre, they most likely recall the dimly-light streets of an urban metropolis filled with thugs and other roughnecks looking to cause trouble. While there are some other notable titles tha...

Poncho is a mind-melting retro journey through post-robopocalypse

Aug 20 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]307084:60068:0[/embed] Poncho (PC [previewed], PS4, PS Vita, Wii U)Developer: Delve InteractivePublisher: Rising Star GamesRelease Date: September 24, 2015MSRP: $14.99 After the apocalypse, humanity has been wiped out by an unknown scourge, and all that is left are machines. With mother nature having retaken the earth, the machines developed their own society and culture in the ruins of the old world. But one day, a poncho-wearing robot longs to discover his origins, and seeks out his creator. Using perspective-warping abilities and his own platforming skills, the resourceful little robot will travel through the landscape and encounter other machines trying to find purpose in the new world. Over the course of his adventure, he'll not only discover the meaning his own creation, but also the truth behind mankind's destruction. In recent years, retro-throwback games such as Fez have become common. What these titles share is an increased focus on subversion and playing with genre conventions, all the while crafting a compelling story that goes beyond what many would expect from the genre they're paying homage to. Poncho is no different. With the ability to travel between different planes of the level -- from the foreground, background, and middleground -- the poncho-wearing robot will have to tackle challenging puzzles and action set-pieces. The developers cite classic platformers such as Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog, which had richly detailed backgrounds, as inspiration. I was surprised by how quickly Poncho ramped in difficulty. Initially, it's a very atmospheric game that focuses on storytelling, but once you're let loose into the various stages, things take quite a turn. While there are no enemies or bosses to battle, the challenges come from figuring out how to navigate the multi-layered levels with the perspectives-jumping abilities. With platforms, switches, and other obstacles that call for quick jumps between the different areas of the stages, there's tricky twitch-based gameplay to the platforming and some genuine three-dimensional thinking to the puzzles. It's trippy while still playing on the 2D plane.  With its release approaching, I got in some quality time from the current build of the game. As you acquire new abilities and skills from schematics, you'll be able to travel back to past stages and explore new areas. These abilities, such as the robot stomp, open a number of new avenues of exploration. This mechanic did a lot to make me understand the true scope of Poncho. It's very much a throwback platformer with modern puzzle gameplay dynamics. There were several moments where I felt I was stuck, but once I figured things out, I was left immensely satisfied.  If you're itching for a puzzle-platformer that plays with the genre's tropes and conventions, then keep an eye out for this little title. While on the surface it looks like a rather humble platforming jaunt through a post-apocylyptic world filled with robots, Poncho quickly goes into mindfuck territory, and it'll raise questions you'll be dying to get answers to.
Poncho preview photo
Out on September 24
Last year, we got a sneak peek at a rather peculiar puzzle-platformer named Poncho. Launching on Kickstarter and debuting at EGX for attendees, it showed a lot of promise in exploring the earth after humans went extinct. Unfo...

Secret Ponchos: Most Wanted is an improvement on the original release

Aug 20 // Chris Carter
The long road to Most Wanted started a few months after the original hit the PS4, notably by way of the PS+ program. Mapara and his team started working on a complete overhaul in the game, and development culminated when he took his preview build to EVO this year. "They don't hold their punches, in a good way," Mapara said. He noted how most of the attendees aren't interesting in visuals or artistic elements, but how the game plays, if your hitboxes are correct, and other technical aspects. "We always intended on having our game be catered to hardcore players, so this kind of feedback was perfect," he said. The entire experience is re-balanced around 3v3 fights to have a perfect mix of chaos and skill -- "4v4 was a little too hectic," stated Mapara. Improving Secret Ponchos is a two-layer strategy -- support features, and content. In terms of the former, Mapara mused on how they quickly shifted their philosophy after launch, saying, "We learned so much about the game at launch. This is new territory for an indie team, making a heavily online game. So we tried to base our system off of bigger games like TF2, and we learned that the model doesn't really work for us. For instance Call of Duty has millions of players at all times. We need to make our game work even if there's only 100 people playing." As a result, they've made matchmaking easier, merging lobbies together while allowing a rookie and ranked option. In terms of content, there will be 10 characters, five of which who weren't present in the PS4's launch, and four new maps. One of the new additions is "Gunman," who is described as the "[Street Fighter's Dan] of the game. He's a dumb cop who was kicked out of his town, and still thinks he's the law. After going hands-on with him it's clear that he's a support version of the Killer character, complete with a six-shooter, and the ability to mark enemies with a defense-lowering target. The Mad Trapper is another cool newcomer, who is literally all about traps and a massive amount of range. He's incredibly technical, as he has a low health pool, and can manually hide traps, luring players into all sorts of situations. Although she has been playable before I also had the chance to check out the reworked Wolf, who is one of my favorite arena shooter characters in recent memory. She's all about crits and precision, which grant her extra damage for subsequent shots, and shots right after she dodge-rolls. She also runs faster with her knife out, and can pounce on enemies, slashing them on the ground. Also included in the game is Gordo, a minigun toting maniac, and an unnamed character who wields two tomahawks. I was actually influenced to level them all up individual as well, as there's a new progression system in Most Wanted that ties into Steam achievements, and rewards players with in-game cash and content. Other additions include a tutorial, a more improved rookie matchmaking queue, AI bots, and a new mode called "Protect the Posse Leader" (think Gears of Wars' VIP). Secret Ponchos: Most Wanted will arrive on September 29 on Steam for $14.99. Much like what happened to Rovio with Awesomenauts' shift over to Steam, PS4 updates hinge on the success of the PC version. It's great to see a developer continue to support a game months down the line, and Mapara and his team seem to be incredibly invested in it.
Secret Ponchos preview photo
Coming to Steam on September 29
Back in December, I reviewed Secret Ponchos. It was a pretty interesting online arena shooter, and I saw a ton of potential in it that hadn't yet been tapped, mostly due to a lack of content. When Switchblade Monkeys' Yo...

Killing Floor 2's Incinerate 'N Detonate update feels damn good

Aug 20 // Zack Furniss
Killing Floor 2 (PC [previewed], PlayStation 4)Developer: Tripwire InteractivePublisher: Tripwire Interactive Release date: April 21, 2015 (Steam Early Access)MSRP: $29.99 As per the name of the update, the main draw here is the return of the Demolitionist and Firebug perks. In the past few months, most available perks had trouble taking down sub-boss enemies such as Scrakes and Fleshpounds. If you didn't have someone playing as Support with an AA-12 shotgun, chances are you weren't going to survive (put your dicks away, I'm not saying it was impossible, tough guys). In such a team-based game, it felt odd to be pigeonholed in this manner. Demolitionist fills a much-needed gap in Killing Floor 2's cooperative structure. Having the big guns necessary to tackle the big specimens feels long overdue, but it's much appreciated. You'll start off with sticks of dynamite, a utility knife, and the first tier weapon: the HX 25, a grenade pistol that may be my favorite in the entire game thus far. It launches a short-range horizontal cluster of grenades that explode on contact, and encourages strafing to properly group oncoming attackers. Having to change the way you move and think about lining up your shots separates this perk from the others in a pleasing manner. You have to reload between every shot, but the destructive power contained within more than justifies the increased pucker factor.  The second tier weapon is the C4, which I haven't got much of a feel for yet. You can deploy up to eight of them and then set them off in the order you set them. I imagine creative players will have fun rigging doors to blow, but I usually skipped C4 to get to the third tier M79 grenade launcher more quickly. You don't need to be as careful with this one as you do with the HX 25, since you can shoot from a farther distance. It doesn't work very well in a panicked backpedal, since you need to have a certain amount of space between you and your target for the round to explode. You'll still do damage with a dud round, but you won't take out the group in front of you like you were probably hoping. The final Demolitionist weapon is the RPG-7, which you've used in every game with guns ever. It's welcome here, even if I miss the LAW from the original Killing Floor. It launches one rocket at a time, which makes a missed shot a painful experience. You'll mainly want to save this for Scrakes, Fleshpounds, and the boss, Hans Volter. On a solo match I was able to take out Hans with three rockets, but they've already nerfed it somewhat since then. As much fun as it was to obliterate the boss so quickly, it's better that they took it down a notch. Don't worry, it still feels immensely powerful, just not ridiculously so. Perk skills for the Demolitionist include explosive resistance, being able to rig doors to explode when you weld them, and increased damage when using weapons from other perks. There seems to be less of a sure a build than with the previous classes. I only reached level six so I could only choose between supplying teammates with grenades and having my dynamite explode on contact. Even at this low level, I felt integral to every team I played on. Firebug occupies a similar role to the Commando perk: you're the garbage man, taking out the trash so your friends can take on the bigger meatsacks. You start out with Molotov Cocktails, a Fireman's Knife, and a makeshift flamethrower called the Caulk 'N Burn. It's a caulking gun that emits a short-range stream of flame that cooks weaker Zeds in seconds. It's easy to burn through all of your ammo before the wave is over but careful conservation eventually comes naturally. Once you have enough dosh (Killing Floor money), you can get the Trench Gun, a pump-action shotgun with incendiary rounds. This is the only weapon in the update that feels a bit underwhelming to me so far. The flame rounds are pretty, but feel ineffective. Next up is the Flamethrower, which is as enjoyable to use as I was hoping. Watching the never-ending onslaught of Zeds charge through your wall of flame only to keel over just in front of you remains a pleasurable (demented, horrible, what's wrong with me) experience. It sort of invalidates the Caulk 'N Burn though, since it's better in almost every way. The star of the show is the fourth tier weapon: the Microwave Gun. This high-tech laser beam feels straight out of Turok, replete with the oh God gross gore. It heats up enemies, covering their skin in what looks like gingerbread dough, making them expand until they just...pop, leaving entrails and other viscera strewn about. Some of the Firebug skill choices seems obvious: why would I choose to Flaritov (Molotovs become better light sources in dark areas) when I could have Fully Stocked (purchased weapons have full ammo)? Later skills seem more difficult to pick from, such as when you have to choose either increased range or splash damage. I wasn't able to try any of these skills, so maybe I'll be singing a different tune in a few weeks. Firebug, while entertaining, can't hold a candle to Demolitionist. I like having more options so I appreciate every perk, but a class that specialized in bosses was sorely lacking. I see myself rocking the grenade pistol for quite some time. And that's just the perks! The two new maps, Evacuation Point and Catacombs, are vastly different from each other. Evacuation Point is a more urban environment with plenty of open spaces and long tunnels to funnel Zeds through. There are only a few areas that you can get cornered, and there always seems to be an escape route. Catacombs is my new favorite map. It's an Ossuary under Italy, with tight corners and almost no light. It's the first map where every light can be shot out or accidentally blown up, and tension runs high when you can't see anything. It's fortunate then that one of the new perks is about creating meat torches, no? There's a host of other improvements that continue to make Killing Floor 2 feel more finished than the average Early Access title. The reworked audio includes meatier sound effects and also adds additional hit markers on the enemies. Whereas before there was really only a difference between head shots and body shots, metallic implants on the Zeds now make clanging sound effects. Shooting Hans' power core on his chest now does more damage than body shots. It's nice to be choosing to shoot somewhere other than chest or slightly above the chest. Upon ending a match, whether by defeat or victory, you're greeted with a results screen. Awards are handed out for various achievements such as killing the most specimens and getting the most assists. You can see which team member is doing the most damage, and how much experience you earned for each perk. Map voting has now been implemented as well so players can actually choose where they're going for the next round.  As if Killing Floor 2 wasn't gory enough, there's now the optional Nvidia FleX toggle that simulates soft tissue and fluid interaction. Just wait until the first time you launch a grenade into a group of Zeds and see the satisfying meat explosion. Do I sound crazy? I sound crazy. You need a beefy graphics card to handle FleX on high (they recommend a 770 or higher, which is what I'm rocking), but even with the extra giblets abound I didn't see a performance drop. If you want to get close to all that gore, you can try the new Berserker skill tree. Since the perk was underwhelming at launch, it's been completely re-worked. It has more damage resistance and you now have to choose between being stronger with normal strikes or doing massive damage with counterattacks. Since I've seen both styles of players, I know these changes will be appreciated. I still haven't mastered the parry. Some Zeds now have unblockable attacks (denoted by a fiery outline on their weapons) so Berserkers will have to stay on their toes. Berserkers (as well as Commandos) also have night vision instead of flashlight now. No more 'wasting' a skill slot! Dual pistols have also made their return, though the Gunslinger perk that will utilize them has yet to be implemented. Using their ironsights feels great; instead of holding your hands out a little further to zoom like the previous game, you aim with your right hand while the left remains in place. While the concept of dual-wielding is and will always be silly (he said while previewing a game with mutants taking over Europe), it's a great compromise. There are two crossover characters for players who own Red Orchestra 2 and Chivalry. The first is Anton Strasser, a soldier of the German Wehrmacht. He was cryogenically frozen by Hans Volter during World War II and now he's pissed. The second is a LARPing knight who played too much Chivalry before the Zed outbreak (seriously, that's what it says in his bio). He comes with his own unique weapon for the Berserker perk, a Zweihander that easily cleaves through Clots. As long as one player has this character, he can share the weapon with anyone on the server. This way the crossover bonuses are purely cosmetic. In a cool final touch, when Hans comes out for the final wave, he's introduced with a title card and a strategic hint. It's minor, but makes him seem more imposing. I look forward to when there are multiple bosses on rotation and each one gets their own little introduction. The Incinerate 'N Detonate content update is a shot in the arm for Killing Floor 2. Since the only problem I had with it before was that there wasn't enough to do, this was exactly what I needed to put it back into my regular rotation. While we don't yet have the release date for this update, it shouldn't very far from now. It's now in the QA stages, so as soon as final balancing touches are in place, it should be in your hands. I'm happy to say it was worth the wait. Now if I could just get the Sharpshooter perk back...
Killing Floor 2 photo
FIRE AND BLOOD
Killing Floor 2 has been available through Steam Early Access for almost exactly four months. Upon its initial release, I was already surprised by how fluid and satisfying the cooperative horror shooter felt. Cleaving my...

3D Gunstar Heroes revitalizes Treasure's debut action title

Aug 19 // Alessandro Fillari
Released towards the end of the Sega Genesis' life in 1993, Gunstar Heroes was Treasure Co.'s first title, and it was certainly a hell of a debut. While it quickly became a favorite among action fans and gaming press, it mostly went under the radar for many Genesis owners. Though the spotlight was on the release of the upcoming Sega Saturn, Gunstar Heroes still managed to become a cult hit among hardcore gamers. But over the years, it's cemented itself as one of the Genesis library's most loved and sought after titles, and even saw a sequel in Advance Gunstar Heroes for the GBA. This made it a prime candidate for the remaster treatment in Sega's 3D Classics series. Speaking with producer Yosuke Okunari, he spoke at length about the respect and admiration they have for the hectic and punishing action title."This was Treasure’s debut game. Everything they ever wanted to do, but couldn’t up until then, is poured into and represented in this game," said the producer while reflecting on the title's legacy. "The game’s volume and difficulty balancing is really spot on in my opinion, and you can feel the passion of the original dev team when you play the game even now. Their follow-ups, Dynamite Headdy and Alien Soldier, were really good games in their own right, and while the games' volume and difficulty were appropriate for its own day, they might not stand up so well in modern standards [In regards to difficulty curves]."Taking place in in a world where a massive army of mercenaries are seeking world domination, it's up to a family of crime-fighters known as the Gunstars to stop them. With the evil Colonel Red (called Colonel Grey in Japan) having acquired four powerful gems to power a massive robot capable of conquering the world, the brothers Gunstar Blue and Gunstar Red have to put a stop to the army's evil plans, all the while finding the whereabouts of their missing brother, Gunstar Green.Unfortunately for me, I missed out on Gunstar Heroes back in the day. While most of my attention was on titles such as Streets of Rage, Mortal Kombat, and Sonic, this one totally slipped past me. It sucks, because my seven year old self would've lived for this type of game. In similar style to Saturday morning cartoons or Japanese anime, the action and tone of the story is extremely over-the-top and takes place in episodic order, allowing you to go about clearing the game in anyway you want.For the uninitiated, Gunstar Heroes blends together high-octane shooting with some light-brawler action set across a series of unique and challenging levels. In the vein of classic side-scrolling shooters such as Contra, two players can utilize a variety of weapons, ranging from close-range flamethrowers, energy beams, and homing lasers. Moreover, players can even select aiming modes with Free-Aim (moving and shooting) or Fixed-Aim (stop and shoot), to suit their play styles. Even at close range, the Gunstars know how to handle themselves. Unlike the Contra guys, the Gunstars can throw, kick, and dive attack enemies that get too close for comfort. Utilizing all these skills is quite easy, and you'll be able to kick ass with ease.I was pretty blown away by the performance of 3D Gunstar Heroes on the 3DS. The original was quite an achievement on the Genesis, and seeing it in action in 3D is a trip. The visuals in the game use a number of graphical tricks and gimmicks that made the action really pop, and the 3D option really does a lot to enhance those aspects of Gunstar's visual design. Some bosses even have some quasi-3D animations and visuals, which was extremely impressive back on the Genesis. With 3D Gunstar Heroes, the overall performance is rock solid. Even with the 3D enabled, I was blasting enemies with screen-filling weapons and watching foes rush the screen with no drops at all. The folks at Sega saw porting over Gunstar Heroes as a major challenge, and actually put it off until they had more games under their belt."When we went about these Genesis 3D conversions, back when we first got the project off the ground, we thought that if we could get Gunstar into what we considered ideal 3D, then there was no way it wouldn’t be a good game," said the producer. "However, we knew that we had to wait until the development team had the experience needed to go about converting the sheer number of stages and all the odd perspectives the game used. In three years, M2’s team has worked on 13 titles (and then some), and they were finally ready to handle Gunstar since they now had the speed and skills to pull it off."Of course, one of the most admired aspects of Gunstar Heroes is its unique power-up system. While you select a core weapon at the beginning of each mission, power-ups acquired while out in the field will act as modifiers to your main weapon. For instance, using the lightning gun with the chaser power-up (green homing laser), it turns the lightning weapon into a homing laser that targets nearby enemies and clings to them until death. The weapon combos get pretty gnarly as you switch things up, and each combo changes the gameplay and strategies up considerably. In keeping with its focus on challenge, the original game only allowed core weapon selecting before the beginning of a mission. This design was to ensure players would commit to a weapon and stick with it for the level. Unfortunately, it was very often players would choose poorly and be stuck with an ineffective weapon for a level that may call for something more versatile. While many of the more skillful gamers could make it work, most players would often have to restart and pick a better weapon. This was one area the developers at Sega wanted to improve upon. With the addition of the brand new 'Gunslinger' mode, players can now switch between core weapons on the fly. While many hardcore fans might find this a bit sacrilegious, the developers had a lot of discussions about the new mode, and even took some inspiration from other titles from Treasure's library. "In Gunstar Heroes, there’s a lot of weapons, but the opportunity to change weapons is somewhat limited, so sometimes you get all caught up in using that one combination you like," said Okunari while discussing their work on Gunslinger mode. "It’s possible that people just never had the leeway to try different weapons or control modes. But by using Gunslinger Mode, you can now try a different weapon combination on that boss that used to give you a hard time back in the day, and you might find that you can beat them a lot faster. It’s a chance to try playing the game the way the developers originally intended. This does have the impact of lowering the difficulty. The 3DS’s controls are different from the Genesis, and we want people who played games back but maybe not so much now to be able to have fun with it. The gamers back then are probably more or less the same age as me, and they might not have the same skills they used to, you know?""This is something we can say for all the ports, but the SEGA 3D Classics development team were all fans of the games back when they were released. We know what makes these games good, so we didn’t need all that much time to figure out what sort of support features a person needs to play the game in today’s world," continued the producer. "The core of Gunslinger mode comes from a sequel made by the same development team called Alien Soldier, a game with a bit of a cult following that was only released in Japan and Europe. The key lies in this game. In Alien Soldier, you can choose from a number of weapons and control modes at will right out the door."Thankfully, I can say that the new mode is in keeping with the core Gunstar experience. The game was still tough as hell, even with the extra room to experiment and adapt to challenges with the weapon switching. I was pretty impressed with how well balanced the game is. Even with the larger arsenal, the enemies still can overwhelm and outmatch the player. I'm more than certain fans of the original will find a lot to like with Gunslinger mode. With the increased access to weapons, you'll be able to get to core of what Gunstar Heroes is about without much hassle.All in all, I have to say that 3D Gunstar Heroes is a pretty stellar port of the original. While I'm still kicking myself for missing out on this one back when I was a kid, I still managed to recall those days of wonder and excitement while spending some time with this installment. I feel as though this entry will bring in a lot of new admirers to the series. In many ways, Treasure was ahead of the curve when it released this title, but not that many people realized it. Thankfully, 3D remastering has done the original justice, and it'll give new players curious about this cult favorite the chance to give it a shot. But take heed: all the hype about this title's challenge was not exaggerated one bit. Be ready for this one.
Sega 3D Classics photo
Lock and Load on August 20
It's been pretty wild re-experiencing many of these past titles in Sega's 3D Classics series. In the last few months, we managed to get 3D remasters of several games that have defined Sega's legacy as one of the most famous g...

Super Mario Maker is more fun than I initially thought it would be

Aug 18 // Chris Carter
Super Mario Maker starts in the best way possible -- a miniature creation tutorial featuring the first Super Mario Bros. After jumping across an impossible-to-make gap, you'll have the option to "finish the course," and bring Mario to the safety of the goal flag. Objects are located at the top, and it's very easy to use the stylus to create platforms, Question Mark Blocks, enemies, and hazards. Putting wings on enemies, piranha plants inside pipes, and items inside of blocks is also as easy as dragging it on top of said item. You can also tap or drag to clone the last-used item, which is useful for dropping tons of blocks. There's a lot of personality present, especially with the auto-tuned voice that notes item placement, cutely shouting out things like "block! block block! block block block block!" to the tune of the classic Mario theme. Maker even has its own tutorial character named "Mary O." who functions as a Power Line Expert of sorts, complete with a headset. I love little touches like this. The way amiibo support works is by adding characters to a roster with a GamePad tap, which will allow players to change into new cast members when touching a Mystery Mushroom. Each character has a special emote with the up d-pad button (for example, Pac-Man will raise a piece of fruit) -- most of the ones I've seen so far also have their own sound effects, and if you're hit, you'll transform back into Mario. Here's a full list of compatible amiibo.  Changing your "theme" (such as above or underground in the first Mario game, or even a new series entirely) is as easy as pressing a button, and only takes a few seconds. It's awesome seeing a stage change from the retro style to the "New" visuals instantly. It's also important to note that more tools only open up "over a series of days, as you continue to create in the game," and only 12 are available right away -- Nintendo notes that this is so you aren't overwhelmed but I don't really buy into it (hence my lingering issue). Expect thoughts on how this scenario plays out in the coming weeks. In terms of modes, you'll start off in the editing portion, but you can also access a challenge mode of sorts that limits your lives, and "Course World," which is a full online hub that allows you to play, star, download, and comment on levels. I love how Nintendo has this mode laid out, as you can clearly see the entire level by way of an icon in the hub menu, giving you an idea of whether or not the stage is up your alley before you even play it. You can also sort by rating and filter "up and coming" levels if you wish, and each map only takes roughly five seconds to load. There's tons of levels available right now for reviewers, so I'll be able to provide some thoughts on how the hub works at a later date. I don't want to spoil too many secrets, so expect our review in early September ahead of the September 11 launch of Super Mario Maker.
Super Mario Maker photo
First hands-on with the retail edition
Although I haven't been super excited for Super Mario Maker based on the initial pitch, we've slowly been drip-fed more and more information over the past month or so, and some of it looks intriguing. Now, I've had the chance to play the game myself, and left pretty satisfied outside of one lingering issue.


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