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Review: Undertale

Sep 24 // Ben Davis
Undertale (PC)Developer: Toby FoxPublisher: Toby FoxReleased: September 15, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Undertale is the story of a human child who falls into a deep underground cavern filled with monsters and must find a way to escape back to the surface. The monsters had all been banished there by the humans long ago, so tensions are high whenever a human drops in to visit. The player quickly meets two monsters, a flower named Flowey and a motherly cow/rabbit monster named Toriel. They seem nice enough, but they are monsters after all, so should they really be trusted? The journey through the caves is filled with puzzles, turn-based random encounters, and a whole lot of humor. The outstanding gameplay mechanic here, though, is combat. It's a unique system, and even though encounters are random, they don't occur often enough to become an annoyance. In fact, I usually found myself looking forward to my next encounter. [embed]312265:60496:0[/embed] The turn-based combat in Undertale works very differently from most other RPGs. While attacking or defending, a box will appear with a short mini-game to complete in order to determine the amount of damage given or received. Attack mini-games involve stopping a moving bar along a slider at the perfect moment for maximum damage. The majority of defense mini-games play out a bit like a bullet hell; enemies will usually send out a volley of projectiles, and the player must move their heart around to avoid getting hit by anything. Bosses each have their own slight alterations to the defense mechanics, and the game does a good job of changing things up from time to time so that it's not always strictly bullet hells. Attacking is not the only option, however. There are two other choices, Act and Mercy, which will provide much of the core combat gameplay for many players. The Act option offers several ways to interact with the enemy, which change depending on which monster is being fought. These can range from friendly actions such as "Compliment" or "Hug" to meaner things such as "Pick On" or "Ignore." Choose the wrong interaction and the monster might become more aggressive. Choose the correct interaction and the monster might become happier or no longer wish to fight. When this happens, the Mercy function opens up and the fight can be ended non-violently. I honestly enjoyed trying out every possible option anyway, even if I already knew what to do, just to see how the monsters would react. Basically, it's the player's choice whether to destroy the monsters or show them mercy. Killing monsters grants money and XP which can raise the human's LV. Sparing monsters is only rewarded with money (and perhaps a new friend). It's entirely possible to play through the entire game without killing anything and remain at LV 1, and it's also possible to kill everything. But keep in mind that every decision has consequences. Aside from combat, there are also puzzles to be solved in order to navigate the caverns, but for the most part these are very light. I can't imagine many players will get stuck on any of the puzzles, and actually some of them are solved by the monsters themselves because they doubt the human's abilities. The puzzles aren't particularly impressive, but they're used more as a way to keep things interesting as the player is exploring rather than trying to stump them. One of Undertale's greatest strengths is its wonderful cast of characters and its extremely witty sense of humor. While the main character is sort of a gender-neutral blank slate for the player to inhabit, the monsters are anything but. I quickly fell in love with just about every character I came across, even some of the common enemies, since it's possible to have conversations with them during battle. Everyone in Undertale is so memorable and interesting, I just wanted to hug them all (and I did hug some of them!). The humor is spot-on as well. I haven't laughed out loud this consistently during a game since EarthBound. Between listening to a long conversation of terrible skeleton puns, having a flexing contest with a muscle-headed merhorse, cooking and eating a cup of instant noodles in the midst of battle, finding out how item names like Butterscotch Pie or Spider Donut are abbreviated, and hundreds of other hilarious moments, my face was starting to hurt from smiling and laughing so much. The thing that really hooked me, sealing the deal for Undertale being such a phenomenal game, was how it deals with player choices. I don't want to spoil much in this regard, but there are multiple endings as well as many moments and lines of dialogue which can be altered depending on the player's actions, and some of the things the game remembered seriously surprised me. It's really difficult to talk about what makes Undertale so great without spoiling anything, but if the concept sounds interesting to you at all, I highly recommend checking it out. Don't let the somewhat plain-looking graphics turn you off, because the game more than makes up for that through its superb gameplay, characters, and writing (not to mention the excellent soundtrack!). And actually, many areas, objects, and characters are surprisingly beautiful and well-drawn, so even the lackluster art style started to grow on me after a while. Undertale provided me with many hours of laughter, happiness, and warm, fuzzy feelings, all the while surprising me with some truly sad and shocking moments out of the blue. It's the kind of game that I'll want to replay many times in order to see how all of the various choices play out, and I'm sure I will remember it fondly for years to come. I hope everyone else can find as much joy from playing Undertale as I have! [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Undertale review photo
Pure happiness
Every once in a while, a game comes along that takes you completely by surprise. I noticed a lot of people talking about Undertale recently, and how great it was. The screenshots looked a little underwhelming, but I decided t...

Review: Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance

Sep 22 // Chris Carter
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PS4)Developer: NIS Publisher: NIS Released: October 6, 2015MSRP: $59.99 This time around, Void Dark, an evil overlord, sparks the largest Netherworld war in history. As a result of essentially alienating the entire galaxy, a heap of rival overlords rise up in revolt, one of which is led by the stoic warrior Killia. Because of the focus on global (or universal) conflict, the narrative feels more sprawling in Alliance of Vengeance, which works both for and against it. This is more of a gradual story, building up over time, than the small-group feel of most of the series. Hell, in Disgaea 3, the main character wants to kill his dad for smashing his video games. As a result, the characters aren't quite as crazy or manic as Laharl and Mao -- they have bigger things at stake. Killia's silent archetype does get old after a while, but his style actually works from a gameplay perspective, so I never felt fully disconnected from him. Seraphina, the Princess Overlord of the Gorgeous, is a bit more annoying. She has that "hohohoho!" laugh that's popular in anime, and her jokes of dominating everyone around her get old very quickly. But like all Disgaea characters, she opens up over time and reveals more depth, particularly with her backstory. She also fills in for Etna in-between chapters, delivering the comedic interludes that are clearly too absurd to be canon. There are plenty of side-conversations to have, and an archive function in the game's hub world allows players to re-watch cutscenes or dialog bits. Ailliance of Vengeance's weakest point is probably the narrative this time around. Particularly for the first 10 hours or so, the pace is relatively slow. You know nothing of the true motivations of most of the cast, and the main draw seems to be "fight, fight, fight until we get to Void Dark." You'll get a few flashes of story here and there, but for the most part it's one-dimensional, at least for the first half. [embed]309993:60317:0[/embed] As for the rest of the cast, it's about par for the course -- you have your meathead, your subservient Prinnies, your overconfident youngsters, and so on. There wasn't anyone I outright loved like Almaz or Mr. Champloo from Disgaea 3, but no one is excessively annoying or not worth using during missions. I've always felt like Disgaea is what you make it, party-wise. Since the class creation system is more robust than ever, you can literally custom-tailor your own characters if you don't like the core cast. It helps that the animations are beautiful, as is the artwork. It's not going to push the PS4 even close to its limits, but it's far better looking than the last entries on PS3, and it's crazy how gorgeous anime-style games look on current consoles. It's all so smooth, colorful, and well-crafted. Even characters that belong to the same class look different enough, especially when they wield a variety of weapons, which yield their own sets of personality. Disgaea 5 kicks off in record time, as you're placed into the main hub in minutes. Like every other game in the series, you'll launch missions from here, equip your party, and shoot the breeze with various NPCs. The tools available are a bit more expansive than other games, most notably the crazy character creation mechanic I mentioned above. In addition to a name and color scheme, you'll also be able to hire them at your current level, alter their personality, and change every single one of their skills if you wish. For instance, you could create a fury-crazed warrior with a red hue named Immortan Joe, debuff his ranged attacks, and reapply those points into close-combat, high-risk abilities. As usual, the "all at once" player turns in combat work splendidly. If you've never played a Disgaea game before, your entire team gets to do their turn, and then the enemy team does theirs. It's an interesting juxtaposition to the alternating scheme used in most SRPGs, and it's even more nuanced when you take into account the "execute" function that lets you play out part of your turn in the order that you selected. This is on top of the crazy counter-attacks that will play out randomly (as well as counter-counters and counter-counter-counters), and team-up attacks that initiate when you're near a party member on the grid. You also need to watch for enemy "Evilties" this time, which may produce effects like making foes stronger next to other baddies, and so on. Likewise, your team has their own set of Evilties, like Seraphina's ability to do more damage to males. Combined with the Geo system (colored zones that also provide buffs or debuffs), you'll have to pay attention at all times to get the most out of a battle. Eventually, you'll unlock the power to place characters in "Support Squads," granting them special bonuses with the caveat that each squad is limited in number. Oh, and there's the Revenge system that powers up characters after the death of a connected party member, the Item World and council system return, and new classes like Dark Knights (one of my new favorites), Maids (an item-based class), and Fairies (who absorb magic) join the fray. Thankfully, there are a lot of game options to customize the experience as well, including jacking up the movement speed during hub sequences, upping combat speed, skipping animations, and auto-scrolling conversations, which are mostly fully-voiced. While I don't have access to it yet and it didn't influence this review, Alliance of Vengeance still has the contentious DLC strategy as past titles. I feel like the series has enough content to last you at least 100 hours on its own, but I still don't like the idea of selling fan-favorite characters piecemeal directly after launch. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance may not have the best story or cast in the series, but it gets the job done, and brings a ton of advancements with it in the process. I'll probably be playing this one for years to come, and I sincerely hope NIS is able to continue this series. It's still one of the best SRPG franchises in the business. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Disgaea 5 review photo
Finding The Lost
I can count on the Disgaea series. While NIS always seems to be trying to recreate the magic of the initial release, every game manages to capture the essence of SRPGs in a charming and robust manner. The story isn't as impressive as the last entry, but Alliance of Vengeance has made a number of advancements to the Disgaea formula.

Review: Aerannis

Sep 22 // Jed Whitaker
Aerannis (PC)Developer: ektomarch Publisher: ektomarch Released: September 15, 2015MSRP: $9.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, 32GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit, Intel 750 SSD After receiving an email from one of the developers stating you play as a transgender character, I couldn't help but give Aerannis a chance. I was rather surprised how well the Kickstarted game was able to mesh the adventure genre with a stealthy metroidvania. Traversing different parts of the cyberpunk world to find and complete missions -- mostly consisting of either stealthy sneaking, hits, or investigating -- was pretty satisfying and never felt dull.  The formula is overall pretty simple: Talk to your robot buddy / boss / NPC and receive a mission with directions, follow the directions till you find an arrow in front of described building, do the mission, rinse and repeat. The world isn't exactly huge, but save stations allow you to fast travel between them, thankfully cutting down on dull backtracking that many games in the same genre suffer from.  Missions are all relatively similar even if the goal at the end can be a bit different: Going from point A to point B while hiding or blasting enemies until you reach the goal. But thankfully new mechanics, weapons, and enemies are introduced along the way to keep things interesting, such as the abilities to hang from ledges, jump off walls, and drop varying types of bombs. In a few levels you'll also be tasked with taking down giant boss monsters, which are always satisfying and unique.  [embed]311778:60469:0[/embed] As someone who typically hates stealth sections in games, I actually found the stealth missions fairly enjoyable as they are a bit more action-oriented than games like Hitman. I found myself never having to wait more than a few seconds for an enemy to mill about allowing me to either sneak by or grab them from behind with the decision of instantly killing them or taking them hostage, with any option being equally satisfying.  Politics: this game has them and we have to talk about them. Seeing as you play as a transgender female in a world where men don't exist because... well... the game doesn't really ever explain this, nor does it explain how trans females exists with no males. Are babies born male and forced to be female? How are babies born? I feel like the developers had some kind of agenda with the game's story but never truly make it 100% clear one way or another, which is probably intentional. I imagine that players of every belief will be able to feel like Aerannis story falls into what they think if they wanted.  For instance, one section has you enter a part of the city known as TERF Turf, where radical feminists are in control and rally against "snowflakes" as they call them, a shortened version of the pejorative "special snowflakes" which is often used to slur transgender people. TERF is an acronym for "Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists" by the way, so it makes sense that the sign outside their part of town says "you must be this cis to enter" with a picture of a tampon. The game treats TERFs as the main villains even going as far as referring to them as Nazis, though without directly saying the word. So many people will take this as meaning "excluding trans people is bad" while others will surely interrupt it as "all feminists are bad," a distinction that is never directly made. My biggest gripe with the game is it never really says anything. Sure it talks about feminism, transgender people, and diversity, but what is the message it is trying to convey? In the end the whole thing kind of feels like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist who finds the most radical outlier of a group and makes an example of them for what a said group must be like, when that isn't necessarily true. I have a hunch the developers' intentions was to try to hide a wolf in sheep's clothing or apply gotcha tactics by having players play as a transgender character while preaching to them about the dangers of feminism -- insert laughter here -- and it really just never works, mostly because the writing is less than great and the message isn't clear. For a game having two endings, neither really had much to say or made sense to the context of the rest of the game. One ending has the main character reveal a secret twist they had been keeping the entire game, which would be fine if their internal dialogue wasn't presented at times, which made the ending feel jarring and disconnected from the rest of the experience. The other ending just goes completely off the rails that had me audibly exclaim "What the fuck!?" Maybe that is part of the beauty of Aerannis -- aside from its crisp pixel art, matching soundtrack and solid gameplay -- is that it is like staring into the abyss of the mind of a conspiracy theorist, or any random internet hive-mind; it might not make much sense, it might be completely off kilter with the real world, and it might be the complete opposite of what I believe, but it was still good for a laugh. Aerannis is a beautiful, diverse metroidvania with solid mechanics mixed in with some tin-foil hat madness, and regardless of your political views you should give it a shot; you might just enjoy it, I know I did. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Aerannis photo
Transgender Feminist Illuminati Blues
In a cyberpunk future where men cease to exist, a trans woman and for-hire assassin is fighting the feminist Illuminati that runs the government. Along the way she encounters shape shifting monsters that often are shaped like...

Review: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Sep 22 // Ben Davis
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoRelease Date: September 25, 2015MSRP: $39.99 Happy Home Designer puts the player in the role of interior decorator as an employee of the Happy Home Academy. It's your job to listen to clients' requests, fulfill their needs, and add your own bit of flair to their home designs. There are more than 300 villagers in need of decorating advice, and Isabelle will visit with requests to design public facilities around town. Each villager request will have a special theme to follow pertaining to their vision of an ideal home, such as "a tropical resort," "a forest of books," or "a bamboo playground." They'll bring along a few pieces of their favorite furniture which must be used in the design, but the rest is up to you. Design their yards, the exterior of their homes, and of course the inside as well, and try to fit the theme to make the clients happy. Isabelle will also drop by occasionally with requests to design larger public spaces, such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, and more. Many of these buildings have multiple rooms to decorate, each with their own set of requirements. These were the most fun for me, because I got to use items which I never wanted to use in my own home in previous Animal Crossing games, and the layouts were a lot different than what I was used to working with, so everything felt new to me. [embed]311329:60430:0[/embed] Every new request adds new items to the catalog of furniture at your disposal. Any of these new items are sure to make the client happy, although ultimately it really doesn't matter too much. They will be pleased as long as the furniture they brought along is used, and it's actually not possible to say that the house is finished until those items have been placed, so there's really no way to make any of the clients unhappy. This was the most disappointing thing about the game to me. I was hoping to be graded on my designs, with the ability to make clients happier with more thoughtful interior decorating skills or upset if their house turned out to be a disaster. In reality, they'll be just as happy if you take time designing a beautiful house as they will be if you walk in, unpack their boxes, and say that everything is finished without adding or moving anything at all. It's terribly unsatisfying, but I suppose it does give players the freedom to play however they like without the fear of upsetting any of the villagers. Fortunately, your designs can be graded by other players if you choose to upload them to the Internet via the Happy Home Network. Houses and public facilities can be rated by four different categories: cuteness, coolness, uniqueness, and the "I'd live here!" factor. If you find an interesting design online, you can visit that person's house to walk around and check it out before giving an assessment. It's a pretty neat feature and a good way to get some feedback, but it's not quite the same as having the game score your designs. That being said, designing rooms is still super fun, and easier than ever to do. Just drag, drop, and rotate furniture with the touch screen, add more items from the catalog, duplicate items with the L and R buttons, drag unwanted stuff to the trash can, and voila! No more slowly pushing and pulling furniture into place (but you can do that too if you want). Also, there are no bells to worry about, so the only limit to the amount of items which can be added to a room is the space afforded by the floor plan. Decorating rooms in Animal Crossing has never been simpler. There are also options to add ceiling fixtures, create your own custom designs, have Cyrus refurbish stuff, add background noise other than music, and more which can all be unlocked with Play Coins. Once a house or public space is finished, you're free to go back and visit it whenever to hang out with the residents or offer a remodel (although public spaces can only be remodeled after they have all been built). Villagers who have been helped already can be found walking around town, and new potential clients can also be found wandering around with thought bubbles above their heads. Finished public spaces will also be used by villagers, and their roles within the buildings can be chosen by the player (meaning you can decide which villagers are customers or employees). Happy Home Designer features support for amiibo cards. The game includes one amiibo card to start with, and more can be bought in packs for $5.99. The cards can be used to design homes for special villagers who wouldn't normally come by as clients. I got Lyle's card, for example, a higher-up at the Happy Home Academy, so I got to decorate my coworker's home. The cards can also be used to summon villagers to public spaces, so the town can be populated by all of your favorite villagers. That's essentially all there is to Happy Home Designer. Just design homes and admire the finished projects. But even for such a simple idea, I still find myself going back in to see which villagers are looking for a new home and how interesting their theme sounds. It's strangely addicting, and designing homes for some of the more offbeat villagers like the mad scientists, wrestling fanatics, and criminal masterminds is really fun. I just wish they had built in some kind of grading rhetoric for how well your designs resonated with the clients. There has always been a grading mechanic for your own homes in previous Animal Crossing games, where the Happy Home Academy would award points based on how well the furniture fit together, how everything was arranged, and so forth. It's strange they would scrap that idea for a game built entirely around the Happy Home Academy, but that's the way it is. I would recommend Happy Home Designer for anyone who really enjoys designing and decorating virtual spaces. If finding the perfect furniture for your house in Animal Crossing was your favorite part of the series, then you'll surely get some enjoyment out of this game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Animal Crossing review photo
Comfortable living
Animal Crossing's home design feature was actually the thing that got me hooked on the series in the first place. Back when I was addicted to building houses in The Sims, one of my friends came over for a visit and broug...

Review: Extreme Exorcism

Sep 22 // Jed Whitaker
Extreme Exorcism (PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Golden Ruby Games Publisher: RipstoneRelease Date: September 23, 2015MSRP: $12.99 If you've played one of the many indie couch competitive games that have become popular in the past year or two, you know the drill here: gather three of your friends together and fight to the death. The gimmick in Extreme Exorcism is that winning a round causes a ghost to replay your previous actions, including firing weapons that can kill your enemies, or even yourself depending on the various customizable settings. By default each player can carry up to three weapons at a time, which spawn in predetermined places around each of over 45 stages. Weapons range from basic punches and kicks to rocket launchers, boomerangs, and magical staffs. While the variety of weapons is nice, nothing really feels original, though familiarity makes the game very pick-up-and-play friendly.  Matches are fast and furious, especially when playing with the maximum of four players. Each time someone wins a round, a ghost will spawn of their previous win, and ghosts stay on screen until exorcised via the purple wings weapon that spawns from time to time. The fact that you can potentially have ghosts from four different players running around the screen firing off rocks and kung-fu kicks in every direction makes for some hectic games.  [embed]311776:60466:0[/embed] For those of you without friends in real life, there is an arcade mode and the challenge mode. Arcade mode is a series of matches in each level of the game where you're required to kill so many of your previous ghosts to unlock each level. The first ghost is spawned by killing a possessed chair, which is super simple as the AI isn't anything special, as it doesn't need to be since you're fighting your ghosts. Arcade mode is simple enough to be enjoyable alone, but can be played with up to four players as well, working together towards an enjoyable fight with a boss in the final level.  Challenge mode, however, is for one player only. In 50 different challenges you'll be tasked with completing different goals such as killing 100 chairs with three lives, or completing five rounds only using a boomerang. The challenge mode lives up to its name. It is easily the most challenging part of Extreme Exorcism and will test even the most seasoned players. I was able to unlock every challenge, but completing them is a different story, though I didn't really feel pressed to complete them given that there is no real reward other than feeling accomplished, and achievements if you care about those.  If anything, Extreme Exorcism is a game for those who have tried TowerFall and Samurai Gunn at their parties and want something even more hectic, and bustin' makes them feel good; otherwise players new to the genre may feel a bit overwhelmed with the amount of on-screen action. As for me, I'll stick to the classics for my get-togethers. Simplicity is what appeals to me when I'm trashed and I'd rather not projectile vomit from my eyes trying to keep up with all those ghosts. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Extreme Exorcism photo
No head spinning here
Four teenagers enter a haunted house and get killed by each other until ghosts show up. No, it isn't the plot to House on Haunted Hill but the mechanics of Extreme Exorcism, the new couch competitive game from Golden Rub...

Review: Act of Aggression

Sep 21 // Patrick Hancock
Act of Aggression (PC)Developer: Eugen SystemsPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveReleased: September 2, 2015MSRP: $44.99  Act of Aggression's plot takes place in the near-future where political agencies are being exploitative during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The player takes the side of the Chimera and U.S. government, who believe a group called the Cartel are behind this financial crisis. There are also standalone missions that play out from the perspective of the Cartel. The campaign isn't the most interesting story, which is compounded by downright terrible voice acting. I'm honestly not sure if they were going for a "so bad it's good" angle, but the end result is just bad.  The campaign also does a poor job of acting as the game's tutorial. After completing a campaign, jumping into an online match will be mostly foreign. Personally, I recommend playing through AI skirmish matches to get used to how the actual game handles before jumping online. That way, players can take their time reading unit descriptions and getting a feel for the various factions. [embed]309347:60454:0[/embed] Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a real-time strategy game before. Players need to harvest resources, build up their base, create an army, and wipe out the opponents' base. There are four resources to keep track of: oil, aluminum, rare earth elements, and electricity. The first three are harvestable from the map using Refineries, but electricity is created by specific buildings. There are other ways to acquire certain resources, like occupying banks or constructing specific buildings.  Not everything is par-for-the-course RTS gameplay. Players can send ground troops to occupy any building that litters the map. Soldiers inside of buildings have increased defenses from that structure, with the obvious downside of being stuck inside the building. Enemies can either attack the building in an attempt to destroy it and kill the soldiers inside, or send in their own troops to fight inside. Winning battles inside of buildings seems to be a case of numbers; having more soldiers than the enemy will end in a victory. There are tons of buildings spread across just about every map, which makes traversing an area way more interesting since the enemy can be in any of them. As mentioned, large bank buildings will generate (finite) resources when occupied, so the early game usually consists of players rushing towards those areas. It's easy enough for players to take a bank next to their base, but heading directly towards an enemy bank early on can also be worth it. It's an incredible gameplay mechanic that truly does alter competitive play. Another important element involves prisoners of war. After a soldier is defeated in battle, they don't disappear from the map. Instead, they become a unit that has no action other than to move. Players can have the wounded soldiers retreat to base, but if an enemy gets there first, they can capture the POW. From there the enemy can generate resources, and even be traded for different resources. This is something that can really impact the late-game, and can easily separate mediocre and great players.  Base building is standard for the genre, and consists of three tiers of buildings. Certain structures need to be built before constructing anything from a higher tier, and many of the late-game buildings require rare earth elements, the late-game resource. It feels like a natural progression, and still allows for many different "builds" and strategies. Perhaps the best part about playing Act of Aggression is that it actually feels like war. Players, in general, need to have a well-balanced army to see any sort of success. "Deathballs" of a single unit can see mild success, but will usually fail to bring complete victory (trust me, I've tried). Having a balanced army, stationing units in buildings, and occasionally calling in airstrikes made me feel more like a strategist than any RTS in recent memory. Each faction can also build a "superweapon," which takes the form of a nuclear missile. All three superweapons are pretty much identical, with some numbers being changed like area of effect and damage. These aren't an automatic victory once they are built, and in fact can be defended against by certain factions with specific structures.  It's important to note that "actions per minute," or APM, isn't an emphasis here. Players won't need to worry very much about micromanaging their armies in the midst of an intense battle. It's more about keeping your enemy on their toes with a strong overarching strategy, along with intelligent placements and makeups of an army. Visually, Act of Aggression impresses. Players may not realize it, but zooming in reveals a nice level of detail given to each of the units. It can be hard, using the normal camera level, to discern between specific units which makes combating armies tougher than it needs to be.  It's unclear whether or not Act of Aggression will have any legs to stand on within a few months. The player count hovers around the 1,000 to 2,000 range at any given time and I've had no shortage of players to compete against online. The larger price tag is likely limiting its playerbase, and it can be hard to justify due to the lackluster single-player option.  This might not be the prophet of the next wave of "golden-era" RTS games, but it's a fresh entry to a genre that desperately needs it. It's one of the few games that has truly made me feel like a strategist, and changes the way I approach familiar situations when playing online. For those only interest in single-player, I'd recommend looking elsewhere. If online multiplayer or even AI skirmishes are all you need, Act of Aggression delivers a wonderful product. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Act of Aggression review photo
Enter the hotseat
Act of Aggression claims to be built like games from the "golden era of RTS." You know, back when StarCraft and Command and Conquer were taking the industry by storm. At least, I assume that's what they mean because...

Review: SOMA

Sep 21 // Caitlin Cooke
SOMA (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: Frictional GamesPublisher: Frictional GamesRelease Date: September 22, 2015MSRP: $29.99 In SOMA you play as Simon Jarrett, an unlikely fellow trapped inside a deep underwater facility named PATHOS-II. The machines are strangely talking like people, monsters wander the corridors aimlessly as if looking for something or someone, and most of the systems are completely shut down. The complex is clearly in disarray, and it’s up to you to make it through alive and discover what caused the collapse of the facility. There is little guiding Simon in his exploration through PATHOS-II save for Catherine, a scientist you find via a comms link. She is virtually the only guide you have in the game, explaining what you need to make it through to the next area. However, most of SOMA rests on your ability to parse through notes and other aspects of the environment to discover what might need to be done next.   The environment is highly interactive with lots of care in the details -- practically everything can be examined, from sketches and magazine articles to ancillary objects, all of which give more flavor to the atmosphere and in some cases provide hints for how to move forward in the game. Simple controls also make it easy to focus on the story and interactivity of the world, allowing you to hone in on your ability to discover and learn bits of what happened to the facility. The general flow walking through the facility is very natural, and despite the story and gameplay being fairly linear, it never actually feels forced in this way. There’s no journal, written objectives, or anything of that kind -- exploration (and sometimes Catherine’s guidance) grants you more insight into what you need to do next. Maps are only provided in some larger areas, and are fixed in one place, so relying on memory is key -- especially when hiding and running from monsters. SOMA has no combat, but this doesn’t mean that it lacks action. The game finds clever ways to make your brain work, from solving interesting puzzles to having you navigate maze-like environments filled with monsters -- or sometimes both at the same time to keep you on your toes. Puzzles err on the side of being a bit easy, but are integrated seamlessly within the plot and environment (via old computers, mechanics, and other elements), so nothing seems out of place. Monsters are carefully placed in certain areas and are typically one-offs -- i.e., you’re only dealing with one at a time. If you run into one (or if one runs into you), Simon will instantly pass out and wake up in the same location, sans monster, but with an impairment that renders your screen dizzy and altered. There are several “healing” points throughout the levels that can remedy your dizziness so you’re not shambling around for too long. However, if you’re still dizzy and don’t avoid the monster safely the second time, it’s game over and you’re back to the beginning of the area. [embed]311740:60456:0[/embed] The monster designs are unique and frightening, ranging from human-like robots to creepy underwater disco-ball-headed humanoids and twisted abominations, each having their own patterned behaviors and rules. For example, some monsters are blind so sneaking around is possible, but for others, looking straight at them will cause an instant death. Thankfully, there is  a way to detect them -- if any monster is in close proximity to Simon (even through walls), your screen starts to distort and turn to static, and will grow worse as they get closer. Save for one particularly nightmarish portion where you are trapped in an extremely dark maze full of monsters chasing you about, SOMA has a good balance between exploration, puzzles, and these monster bits. I was however a bit disappointed that there were only a few monster types in the game, and most of them only make one appearance. I liked that they kept things new but would have preferred to see some re-appearances down the line, especially because the monsters were so creative in their mannerisms and design. It's delightful they didn’t overuse the whole “run away from the monster” shtick to boost tension at every given turn. Sometimes just being in a desolate, dark environment surrounded by water and metallic-sounding creaks is enough to cause fear and tension in itself. The atmosphere does plenty good on its own creating jump scares from utilizing lighting, sounds, and other ambient elements. The man vs. machinery theme is also extremely unsettling -- often times creating disturbing images of human bodies being leeched. SOMA is executed extremely well across the board from the plot, to the ease of gameplay, all the way up to the voice acting. I felt immersed and anxious the entire ride, and although the story isn’t 100% tied up or concrete by the end, it leaves players some room to interpret what may have happened and what’s to come -- and what is right or wrong. It pushes you to think about the nature of being human, and at a few points forces you to make tough decisions based on your morals and what you believe to be right. The beauty, however, is that nothing is right. No matter how you proceed, there’s always a piece of you left wondering if you chose correctly. SOMA gets everything right about the the survival horror genre. It’s like someone created the perfect video game mixtape -- a little bit of abandoned underwater atmosphere from BioShock, detailed environments a la Gone Home, and (of course) the frenzied monster mechanics from Amnesia. Even if you dislike non-combat-oriented games, I dare you to give it a try.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SOMA review photo
Sci-fi excellence
What makes us human? Is it our physical body, our intellect, our spirit -- or all of the above? These questions permeate an underwater world where everything’s gone mad. The machines have lost it, taking over all that w...

Review: Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows

Sep 17 // Chris Carter
Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows (3DS, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox One])Developer: Yacht Club GamesPublisher: Yacht Club GamesRelease Date: September 17, 2014MSRP: Free (with $14.99 Shovel Knight purchase) The main draw here is the new campaign, with a completely playable Plague Knight. As a note, you're required to beat the original story to unlock it, but there's also a code available that will likely be widespread after the expansion's release. For the purposes of this review however I didn't use the code, as I wanted to replay the entire base campaign so I could directly compare it while it was fresh in my mind. Whereas the original story involved Shovel Knight's quest to defeat the evil Enchantress, Plague of Shadows is an alternate timeline of sorts, where our hero was bested (but not killed), and evil rules the land. Plague Knight decides to seek out his own fortune, developing a potion of unlimited power in secret. The levels are, for the most part, the same, but are reworked to cater to Plague's particular set of skills. Most, if not all stages, have completely new paths and areas as well. This remix concept paid off, because while the actual themes of the levels were familiar, it felt like I was playing a new game. Heck, he even gets his own town. Plague Knight sports a double-jump by default, as well as a charge attack that explodes and provides a triple-leap. Because of the nature of the charge, players can employ a lot of fancy maneuvers, delaying your explosion to basically go anywhere you want. Even using his potions mid-air will delay your descent. You'll basically have to relearn the game's mechanics, as Plague Knight feels utterly different. He's a bit more loose than Shovel Knight, sliding to and fro as he runs. Attacking is even more nuanced, as Plague's potions are a delayed explosion (initially), so you can hit stronger enemies with your first barrage, and aim subsequent projectiles as traps of sorts to blow up later. From there you can upgrade your standard attack to use a longer fuse, or even orbit around your character like a shield. Overall I'd say he has more options than Shovel, but is much tougher to master. As far as collectibles go, there are Green Cipher Coins to locate (which open up more shop options) as well as cash to acquire. The Ciphers remind me of the red coins in Yoshi's Island, and they're just as fun to hunt for. The fact that the number of overall coins out there is known (420) makes them more addicting to collect, and this is on top of the musical sheets to find (now scrap sheets). My favorite new element of the game is probably the tonic system, which allows you to drink an item to gain a temporary life point until death. It's a bit more strategic and deliberate system. There is one minor hangup -- don't put too much stock in the challenge mode, which is hosted by a playable Shovel Knight. Of the challenges, most are rematches (boss rushes). A few of the boss-centric challenges are pretty tough, like the one that tasks you with beating The Big Creep in under a minute, with the minimum amount of life available. The first 10 have fairly difficult bits like riding an enemy to the end of a lengthy scrolling arena. Plague of Shadows also has its own achievements (albeit 20 compared to Shovel's 45), but I'm told that he will not take on Kratos or the Battletoads, as those fights are exclusive to the core campaign. Shovel Knight already felt complete at launch, but Plague of Shadows just makes it even more enticing. The fact that it's a free update for existing (and new) owners rather than paid DLC is the cherry on top. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Shovel Knight DLC review photo
Bubonic Chronic
I can't believe it's been over a year since Shovel Knight released -- time flies, right? Over the course of that year, I've beaten it on every conceivable platform outside of the PC edition, playing it over and over...

Review: Leo's Fortune

Sep 16 // Darren Nakamura
Leo's Fortune (Android, iOS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Windows Phone, Xbox One)Developer: 1337 & SenriPublisher: Tilting PointRelease: April 23, 2014 (mobile), September 8, 2015 (Mac, PC, PS4), September 11, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: $4.99 (mobile), $6.99 (non-mobile) Originally released on mobile last year, Leo's Fortune is now playable with a controller elsewhere. It's equal parts precision platformer, speed platformer, and puzzle platformer, alternating between the three to keep the experience fresh throughout. Leopold is a slippery guy, which aids in the speed sections. Certain areas have ramps and curves built in, giving Leo a playground to jump, inflate, and dive toward the exit quickly. Of the three styles of platforming present, this is the most exciting. The other two styles slow Leo down considerably. With his inflate ability, he can not only jump and launch off walls, but he can also slow his descent, giving himself greater control in spiky sections. Here, Leopold's slipperiness can get him into trouble; he will sometimes maintain momentum from a speed section straight into a trap. It can be difficult to make the small adjustments necessary for the precision segments, because pressing in one direction for more than a split second will send him careening in that direction. The puzzles are a welcome change of pace, though they never really tax the brain. For the most part, they are the same kinds of physics-based puzzles we've seen elsewhere. They're certainly not bad, but they're never mindblowing either. [embed]310626:60351:0[/embed] All of this is tied together by an after school special-esque story. Though the specifics of the big twist aren't exactly predictable, it's clear throughout that Leopold is barking up the wrong trees and stands to learn a life lesson. It's almost like one of Aesop's fables; it comes with the moral of appreciating people over possessions, which is a great message to teach children, but feels trite to those who have heard it before. In that way, the story mirrors the puzzle sections. It's totally serviceable, but I'm not particularly impressed by it. Where Leo's Fortune excels is in the presentation. Leopold's fuzz and a lot of the environmental effects are fantastically animated. Leo slides as he moves, meaning he doesn't have any walking or rolling animation, but despite that he exudes personality, particularly through facial expressions. I love the look he gives when he inflates. So what we have in all is a beautiful platformer with ups and downs (literally and figuratively), a mundane narrative with a good message, and some real difficulty toward the end. The whole game probably only takes about an hour or two to finish (with full game speedruns clocking in at about 45 minutes. It's not a must-buy, not even for platformer fans, but it's a cute little game that most people can find some fun with. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Leo's Fortune review photo
Favors the bold
Coins. Plenty of games have them scattered around to collect, but few explain why they're there in the first place. If they're so valuable, why did somebody just leave them there? Leo's Fortune gives a reason. The titular mus...

Review: Zombie Vikings

Sep 16 // Jed Whitaker
Zombie Vikings (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: Zoink!Publisher: Zoink AB, Rising Star GamesReleased: September 1, 2015 (PS4), October (PC), Q4 2015 (Wii U)MSRP: $19.99 Stick It to the Man! developer Zoink! decided to keep the same great art style from that game for Zombie Vikings, which is a like a combination of papercraft, stickers, and a pop-up book. The graphics really pop during the entirety of this Norse brawler, and that is about all the good things I've got to say. If I listened to my kindergarten teacher and "only said something if I had something nice to say," I'd stop here and this would be a very short review, but I'm a big kid now. Speaking of kindergarten, the humor is about on that level. Be ready for poop and anus jokes. Seems like every fantasy adventure game has to make some kind of stupid reference to the Lord of the Rings movies, which I get are iconic and loved by many people, but if I hear one more "you shall not pass" joke, it had better be next-level, second-coming-of-Christ impressive, otherwise don't. I understand that some people reference things and kind of feel like it is an inside joke -- or something only '90s kids will get -- but it isn't funny, especially when done multiple times. [embed]310977:60391:0[/embed] Now that I've made it crystal clear I think the writing and comedy are unfunny garbage, let's move onto gameplay, which isn't terrible but isn't exactly standout either. Zombie Vikings has the typical beat-'em-up flair. You'll be jumping, running, blocking, dodging, and mashing buttons to beat your enemies senseless, as well as using each character's unique special attacks and abilities. These range from more powerful attacks to swooping from the sky like a crow on top of your enemies, and clearly make some characters better than others. All in all, you're still just mindlessly beating up the baddies without much thought. The problem isn't so much what you can do, but the variety of who you're doing it to, as most every level has a variety of three styles of enemies: tiny, medium, and large. The different styles of enemies vary in appearance between stages but perform mostly the same, and after thirty levels, I was bored to tears. Bosses mix it up a bit every few levels, often requiring specific new strategies to clear before you're sent back to the same repetitive enemies. Every now and then there will be levels that mix up the formula a bit -- such as a few where you're forced to run as fast as possible from enemies -- which are the only fun levels throughout the game. Two levels have you playing a game of what equates to soccer mixed with basketball against the CPU and they easily are the most infuriating levels due to the mechanics just not working; points are really hard to score because the goals are extremely finicky when deciding if your ball goes in. Online multiplayer matchmaking was either devoid of players or just didn't function -- neither option would surprise me. Multiplayer felt necessary as you can revive other players instead of being kicked back to checkpoints, and when I was playing alone, I found myself replaying sections far more often due to death than when playing with a local co-op buddy. The cherry on top of this shit sandwich is the insane amount of bugs and glitches I experienced while playing: persistent screen tearing, levels that wouldn't allow me to complete them due to enemies getting stuck off screen or objective items not spawning, enemies getting stuck on and inside terrain, and so on. Zoink! has already released a patch on the European PSN addressing some of these issues earlier this month, which is still absent in the US for one reason or another, but that doesn't excuse the state in which it was released. I can only review the product I have in hand, not what the game could potentially be. I'm a huge fan of the beat-'em-up genre. It can be rather repetitive, but typically that can be overlooked as the games tend to be rather short. Zombie Vikings, however, overstays its welcome and starts to get rather monotonous around halfway through. While it tries to throw in some interesting levels and boss fights, those mostly end up falling flat, just like the humor. On top of all that, the game is buggy with screen-tearing issues, subtitles not working properly, and glitches preventing levels from being completed. If you're looking for a beat-'em-up to play, I'd recommend Castle Crashers Remastered and the original trilogies of Final Fight, Golden Axe, Splatterhouse, and Streets of Rage. Those games are worth far more than the asking price of this tragedy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Zombie Vikings photo
Laugh at this bug-infested corpse
Comedy is as diverse as the world around it. Some people love Larry the Cable Guy. Others prefer Louis C.K. But one thing is for sure: not every comedian is for every person. The thing that makes you laugh may not make me lau...

Review: Dropsy

Sep 15 // Zack Furniss
Dropsy (Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows [reviewed])Developer: Tendershoot, A Jolly CorpsePublisher: Devolver DigitalReleased: September 10, 2015 (Windows, Mac, Linux) / TBA (Android, iOS)MSRP: $9.99 Last week I said that Dropsy's music was "brimming with the earnestness you feel when you're about to tell someone you love them for the first time." I'd like to extend that statement to include the entirety of the game. While it's hard to swallow that idea when it is juxtaposed against the titular clown's disquieting countenance, I assure you that his adventure is more uplifting than it is horrifying. Some background: Dropsy had always looked different, and had a hard time communicating with his fellow humans. Animals, however, always found a fast friend in him. This ability to talk to creatures furred or feathered gave him a skill to perform and please people with. Through use of this talent, Dropsy convinced the crowds to love him. He and his parents were Big Top circus performers until a mysterious accident set the tent and their reputations ablaze. Daddy Dropsy survived, but Mommy Dropsy didn't. A short cinematic conveys all of this to you, and your first "quest" is to leave a memento on your mother's grave in the cemetery on the other side of town. Though it starts off on a somber note, Dropsy quickly becomes an exploration of what it means to bring happiness to a stranger. Dropsy wants to hug everyone to show him that he loves them the way he hopes that they can love him, but most people aren't keen on the idea. By helping each NPC in the game by way of light puzzles, you can eventually earn that sweet, short embrace. Whenever Dropsy meets someone in need, thought bubbles appear over their heads to convey what it is they want or need. The difficulty lays in trying to parse what exactly these small pictures mean, and it can be frustrating at times. But the beauty of this is that it places the player right in Dropsy's clown shoes, effectively showing you how hard it is for the poor guy to communicate. If each character could just verbally tell you what they required, this would be a short game. But that isn't the world Dropsy lives in. Though there is the aforementioned main quest, Dropsy is non-linear in such a way that you can wander the entire city (a beautifully pixelcrunchy mish-mash of city, desert, bayou, and forest) within the first few minutes. People that you meet early on might have secrets that you won't unravel until the back half of the game, which I completed in about five hours. You'll gently float through town with your queue of animal buddies, spreading love to all who will receive the message. Most puzzles are solved by having the right item stored in Dropsy's overalls. These often won't require too much of you, though there are a couple of tricky scenarios in the latter half of the game. There are a couple of pixel hunts and logic leaps that aren't immediately apparent, but that is mostly in regard to side quests. You don't have to make everyone happy in order to complete Dropsy, but I recommend having multiple saves so that you can go back and earn all of those sweet hugs before the ending sequence locks you out. While many suspected that this would be a horror game before it came out or that there would be some disturbing twist halfway through, that never ends up being the case. Instead, this is a celebration of the small victories we achieve when we become even the slightest bit closer to someone. Dropsy's appearance lends itself to terror and has lead to his alienation, but his presence brings an indomitable cheer to anyone who gives him a chance. Every so often, Dropsy subverts this tone with an emotional kick right in your heart's crotch, and it hurts in the best way. In the interest of being as earnest as this game, I felt a hope while playing Dropsy that I don't usually associate with gaming. This a point-and-click where your main interaction with the world is a hug button. You can play as a dog who has a map with all of his favorite places to pee, who wiggles his eyebrows when he finds a new place to mark. You can re-unite families or learn more about your own. There's an optional button in the menu to turn on the sound effects for your clown shoes.  This levity, this world, and these people are going to be with me forever. If you've ever complained about there being too much violence in gaming, or that games are all the same, and you don't play this... I hope somebody hugs you.
Dropsy photo
The best hugventure you can embark upon
I finished Dropsy about a week ago. Though an increased workload at the ol' day job slowed down this review, I'm grateful that I had extra time to put together these thoughts. Most would take that to mean that Dropsy&nbs...

Review: Super Mario Maker

Sep 11 // Chris Carter
Super Mario Maker (Wii U)Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 4Publisher: NintendoRelease: September 11, 2015MSRP: $59.99 The core theme behind Super Mario Maker is simplicity. Opening up with a rather lovely tutorial section, you'll be introduced to the creation process, which is as simple as touching an object with your stylus, and placing it in the on-screen grid. The entire experience can be played on the GamePad without the use of a TV, and never seeks to overwhelm the player. As the famous fictional Chef Gusteau once said, "anyone can cook!" and now anyone can create a Mario level. While Super Mario Maker doesn't give you everything your heart desires, you'll find plenty of toys to screw around with, from enemies like Kuribo's Shoe (which are actually Yoshi in select themes), to Giant Goombas that split into more Goombas, that can assist you in crafting objectives like P-Switch-centric puzzles, and even shoot 'em up levels with clouds or Koopa Clown Cars. You can create pipes or doors to send players into different areas of a level, tracks to craft moving platforms -- every basic Mario concept you can think of is here. The bread and butter of Maker is themes. You'll start with the original 8-bit Mario theme as well as the New Super Mario Bros. U series, then eventually work your way up to Mario 3, and the always delightful World. Themes (which have their own unique physics and in a few cases, movesets) can be shifted at the press of a button, including the ability to jump into underground, ghost, water, airship, or castle settings in every sub-franchise. It's awesome to create a level and see it switch to an entirely new gimmick within seconds. An "undo" option, eraser (which can be toggled with quick trigger presses), and a nuke-like reset button make everything easier. Costumes, however, are probably my favorite extra in Mario Maker, which provide players with a way to morph into other characters like Sonic, Pac-Man, or Mega Man. They're unlocked by way of amiibo, or another method I'll get to shortly, and have some unique animations and sound effects in tow, like Pac-Man's shift to an 8-bit sprite when he runs. Sadly, all of these costumes are limited to the 8-bit style only. The more you play it, the more you'll realize that limitations are a recurring issue with Super Mario Maker, despite its immense charm. [embed]306729:60161:0[/embed] Not all of these objects will be available immediately, either. Instead, you'll have to wait nine days to obtain everything, including major themes like Mario 3 and World. I can confirm that players will be able to fast-forward the Wii U clock a day ahead at a time to "unlock" the next set of items. But the process is still painfully tedious, as you have to play five minutes to "allow" the unlock, then switch to the main menu, then back to the game to receive the items, then play for another five minutes, and so on. Since this method is available, the entire requirement is rendered pointless. Having said all that, it wasn't really a dealbreaker in any way for me, and didn't have any direct correlation to my assessment here. However, there are a number of shortcomings inherent to Mario Maker's toolset even after unlocking everything. For starters, there are no assets related to Mario 2 outside of a select few re-skins. Not only is the entire theme missing from the game, but unique objects and enemies such as the iconic Phanto are nowhere to be found. Additionally, there is no way to eliminate the countdown timer (the max is 500 seconds), which takes the wind out of exploration-based creation's sails considerably. There's also a severe limitation in terms of how you can build out levels. Right now you can't choose to create a vertical-themed stage -- you have to go with the same horizontal blueprint the game gives you without fail. Maker also limits the amount of enemies you can have in any given level (for instance, only three Bowsers or roughly 100 smaller enemies) even in the 8-bit theme, which is a silly design. Mario Maker does have a few modes beyond the creation realm, thankfully, including a "10 Mario Challenge" mode that tasks you with completing eight levels in 10 lives. This essentially functions as the campaign, and brings players through a variety of different themes composed by Nintendo. The reward is two-fold -- you'll experience a fun pseudo-story mode, and obtain each blueprint for use later in the game's creation mode. They're relatively easy, but some of them provide mechanics very rarely seen in a core Mario game, and are worth spending several hours on alone. The online hub (titled "Course World") is probably where players are going to spend most of their time in the coming months. Having played other creation games with online functionality for years, I have to say that this is one of the better modules. There's support for everything, from bookmarking levels (with hearts), to viewing your "played" history, to queuing up your own creations, and sorting potential levels with qualifiers like popularity and newly shared. It's crazy to see what people have come up with already in the past few weeks, like re-creations of old school Mega Man levels complete with the 8-bit costume, to the classic "music videos" we've seen for years on end in games like LittleBigPlanet. My one gripe with viewing levels online is that they are automatically "spoiled" right before you start them. Basically, by looking at a stage, it will show the entire layout by default -- there's no way to "hide" this currently, and a lot of courses I played lost their luster as a result of this snafu. As a bonus of sorts, the hub has its own version of the 10 Mario Challenge -- a 100 lives version, which basically grabs levels online and mixes them into a custom world. This is probably my favorite element of the game, as it does a good job of curating content and giving it to you in a rapid-fire format. It also rewards players with costumes upon completion, so you don't need to use amiibo to unlock them. Super Mario Maker is a charming little creation tool, and I'm sure fans will come up with some amazing levels for years to come. However, it feels a bit more constrained than it needs to be, and is in dire need of updates or DLC to keep it going long term. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Super Mario Maker review photo
The costumes are the best part
Ever since I was five years old, I've been drawing my own Mario levels on graph paper. It's a pretty common story, because when I look at a series to give me a platforming baseline, it's usually Mario. Nintendo didn't ju...

Review: Castle Crashers Remastered

Sep 11 // Jordan Devore
Castle Crashers Remastered (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The BehemothPublisher: The BehemothReleased: September 9, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 It didn't help that I was alone for most of the journey. Not only does the pacing plod as you methodically take out enemies by yourself, but certain fights aren't balanced well for solo play. When everyone's out to get you -- just you -- and they can collectively launch a volley of projectiles that stun, over and over again, it's hard to retaliate. My way around this was and still is to juggle foes in the air, but it's not fun feeling like you have to resort to such tactics. Of course, Castle Crashers is best played with companions -- even if it's just one other player. But I have a lone Xbox One gamepad and despite The Behemoth's promised matchmaking and network improvements for Remastered, my attempts at online co-op were sluggish. Even when slowdown wasn't an issue, it was hard to find other players around my character's level. While I opted to start fresh, you don't have to. If you played Castle Crashers on Xbox 360 and upload that save data via Xbox Live Gold, you can bring over your progress to Xbox One including weapons, animal orbs, and characters (but not including things like gold and consumables). That's terrific. So is the initial pricing for Castle Crashers Remastered. It's free if you're a Gold subscriber who owned the original game on Xbox 360. You have through September 20, 2015 to claim your copy, after which point the game will cost $5 with the loyalty discount. [embed]310233:60324:0[/embed] To be clear, Remastered is not a remake. It's more of a touch-up than anything -- a way to keep Castle Crashers easily accessible and relevant as the industry moves away from last-generation consoles. It's smoother (with a frame rate doubled to 60FPS) and better-looking (with five times larger textures). But this is a game from 2008 at its core. While the character designs remain charming as ever, certain backgrounds and other elements don't hold up as consistently. Bonus characters and animal orbs that were previously obtainable as DLC are now integrated, and the shallow, button-mashing mini-game All You Can Quaff is gone. In its place is a far superior time-waster called Back Off Barbarian. I didn't get it at first, but now I really dig it. You hop around a tile-based world and try not to get squished by other characters. The twist is that movement isn't as straightfoward as pressing up to move up. Instead, adjacent tiles are color-coded to match the Xbox controller's A/B/X/Y buttons. So depending on where you are at on the board, you may have to hit Y to move up. Or maybe X! You have to think fast to survive for as long as possible. Once Back Off Barbarian gets going, it's nerve-wracking in all the right ways. As much as I enjoyed the new mini-game, it's hardly enough of an incentive to justify paying full price for Remastered. It's a similar situation with the visual upgrades and behind-the-scenes tweaks. If you can snag the loyalty discount, by all means, go for it. An eventual Steam version is also planned, but release date and pricing details haven't been announced yet. I maintain that Castle Crashers is a good game. Great, even, if you're playing cooperatively. But seven years later, I'm not nearly as smitten. I just can't endlessly grind battles like I used to. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Castle Crashers review photo
Bring friends (or lots of potions)
In 2008, Castle Crashers rekindled my dormant love of beat-'em-ups. It had imaginative characters, strange and varied locales, and the four-player co-op was great at encouraging friendly competition. There wasn't much else li...

Review: Circa Infinity

Sep 09 // Ben Pack
Circa Infinity (Mac, PC [reviewed]) Developer: Kenny Sun Publisher: Kenny Sun Released: September 9, 2015 MSRP: $9.99 The game is so simple there's no tutorial. You play as two nameless characters who must traverse through a seemingly endless corridor of black and white circles while avoiding any red demons that cross their path. The whole aesthetic can be summed up by the question "What if they made a game based on the animation that plays when you enter the TV world in Persona 4?" You can move the character left and right, and hit the action button to either dip down or jump up, depending on what color circle you are in.  Infinity consists of 50 levels split up into five sections. These all do a great job of slowly introducing new mechanics and folding them back into existing challenges. Each section feels distinct, not dissimilar to Braid. The earliest levels teach you the basics of how to dodge enemies, then section two introduces challenges like enemies that will only move when you do.  Sections end with boss fights, which do a great job of wrapping up the lesson of each stage while supplying a completely new gameplay experience. These are the only areas that feel like having a bit of a tutorial might be good, but you can still manage to figure out their secrets without too much worry. The game also features a speedrun mode for those who want to master the stages. As you would expect, things get incredibly difficult. The hardest part of Circa Infinity is keeping track of which direction you are moving in since left and right don't really mean anything when you're running around a circle. This doesn't help that the game itself may make you dizzy. You die if you touch an enemy, but it only sends you back one circle. It's very easy to get frustrated and get sent back several circles, but there are also checkpoints before particularly hard sequences. Outside of a few boss moments, it never feels unfair. The music fits well. It keeps you in a trance-like state. Each section features a different song, as well as unique boss music. The main problem with the soundtrack is that it loops fairly often, which can add to the exhaustion if you're having trouble with a particular level and are spending upwards of an hour on a section. If you can get past the fact that this is another indie puzzle platformer with a simplistic art style, Circa Infinity is well worth the cost. Brilliant level design and a great aesthetic keep the game fresh from start to finish. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] Ascendant (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Hapa GamesPublisher: Hapa GamesRelease Date: May 13, 2014 (PC) / September 8, 2015 (PS4)MSRP: $9.99
Circa Infinity review photo
'Circle Infinity'
Circa Infinity is a trip, as the game is about as simple as it gets. There are three buttons, mostly three colors, and every level is just a circle. But as you start to dig deeper, and the mechanics evolve, Circa Infinity reveals itself as a brilliant puzzle platformer.

Review: Ascendant

Sep 08 // Chris Carter
Ascendant (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Hapa GamesPublisher: Hapa GamesRelease Date: May 13, 2014 (PC) / September 8, 2015 (PS4)MSRP: $9.99 While Ascendant is a hack and slash first and foremost, it follows a metroidvania style, with a boxed-base map. It's only an illusion however, as most of the game's rooms are standard challenge rooms, with very little in the way of actual exploration. You'll battle your way through said rooms, acquiring slight statistical bonuses (but never enough to get you pumped) and items, until you die -- then you start all over again. The concept is neat, but it never really follows through, nor does it entice the player to actually keep going with nearly enough carrots to go along with the stick of permadeath. Ascendant sports a cool "seasons" theme, with each portion of the game culminating in a boss fight followed by another art style, but the visual flair begins and ends with that concept. While it may look colorful and vibrant at a glance, the actual in-game visuals are fairly unimpressive. This is exacerbated by the fact that nearly every enemy in the game looks like same. As most of you know by now, I'm a fan of tougher games, but having an experience focus on that fact doesn't excuse a dip in quality. Ascendant is difficult, mostly because all of the upgrades you obtain throughout the course of each run aren't all that great, and you'll have to rely on your raw combat skill to get by. Each character has a dash (which can be done in the air), a block (with a parry), standard combos, a few spells, and a launcher system. [embed]309645:60283:0[/embed] At first I was on board with the combat, but the way launchers work turned me off a bit. To launch foes, you'll have to beat them up a bit first, then you can slam them into a specific direction. It's not really conducive to comboing or juggling -- they kind of just speedily fly away. Combat doesn't have a whole lot of impact, and while the dash system ensures that dodging is paramount, your offensive repertoire feels shallow. The fact that the game is procedurally generated also doesn't help its case. Whereas a lot of other similar titles have a variety of different obstacles to overcome, most of Ascendant's rooms (particularly early on) are simple boxes with very little in the way of platforming. I get that the team was probably going for a more combat-oriented game, gating off exits left and right, but the end result is rather jarring when you're fighting the same boring enemies over and over. Boss fights can be a blast, and highlight the vision of the developer's quite well -- even if there aren't enough of them. In a confined space with pre-determined rule sets and patterns, Ascendant does a decent job of playing with its mechanics, forcing players to master every element of the game to proceed. But then it's right back into the open world, completing the same menial actions, until another big bad crosses your path. Playing a co-op game will severely boost your enjoyment, but you'll encounter all of the same problems over again. It's almost like developer Hapa Games had two really cool ideas and tried to integrate them both into Ascendant, with mixed results. At times it has flashes of brilliance with its focus on raw skill and combat, and others, it feels like you're just aimlessly wandering another barren landscape, in search of a rush.
Ascendant PS4 review photo
We're getting to the point where the roguelike formula doesn't inspire "oohs" and "ahhs" like it used to. Where a game could generally have had the label "tough as nails," and earned instant cred, it's becoming increasingly h...

Review: I am Bread

Sep 08 // Darren Nakamura
I am Bread (Mac, PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed])Developer: Bossa StudiosPublisher: Bossa StudiosReleased: April 9, 2015 (Mac, PC), August 25, 2015 (PS4)MSRP: $12.99 I'm glad I stuck with I am Bread until the end. There was a point about halfway through when I considered giving up. I was spending a lot of time getting to the end of a level and then failing and having to start from the beginning. I was constantly fighting the camera in addition to the controls. I just wasn't having any fun. Eventually, it gets better. As a slice of bread, each of the four corners is assigned one of the shoulder buttons. Holding one of the buttons will make that corner stick to a surface. By alternating which corners are anchored, the bread can walk, climb, and even jump. The big problem I faced early on has to do shape of the bread. It is essentially a rectangle, and it is constantly flipping and rotating. Though the corners are labeled with their corresponding buttons, it doesn't feel intuitive. Sometimes the top left corner on screen is controlled by L1; sometimes it's controlled by R2. After spending more time with it, some nuance does show up. Since it's cut from a loaf of bread, the slice has two rounded corners; those are always L1 and R1. Also, since the length and width of the slice aren't equal, orientation can be manipulated in order to increase or decrease stride. There is room for impressive maneuvers to be performed, but man is it hard to get to that point. [embed]309590:60274:0[/embed] Even after coming to terms with the unintuitive controls, I never felt quite comfortable with the camera. It's always sluggish to respond, it doesn't allow any zoom control, and it's often clipping through walls and objects in tight quarters. The main goal in I am Bread is to become toast without getting dirty or wet. This means a lot of climbing along walls and across furniture. It isn't always clear what surfaces are safe. Toenail clippings on a pillow (ew) are hard to spot, and moldy walls aren't clearly delineated from clean walls. Getting to the end of a level with 100% edibility takes some trial and error. It is somewhat open in that there are multiple paths across an area and occasionally there are multiple heating elements available for toasting. It's a bit of a missed opportunity for organic difficulty scaling; I can imagine there being a fast-but-difficult route to complement the slower-but-easier route. As it is, there doesn't seem to be any obvious structure. Though the story mode was more frustrating than fun for me, the additional modes add their own twists along with new bread types. Bagel Race switches in a round rolling bagel, adds cardboard race track pieces to the levels, and has players hitting checkpoints as quickly as possible. Rampage uses a baguette, which features simpler two-button control as it tries to smash as many plates and vases as possible in a strict time limit. Cheese Hunt features cracker bread, which is more rigid and is prone to breaking, as it focuses more on exploration. Finally, Zero G adds rockets to each of the bread's four corners, allowing for total control in the zero gravity environments. As much as I didn't particularly like the plodding, frustrating story mode, I can't help but be impressed by how differently each of the additional modes plays. All of them are difficult to control, but I ended up finding some enjoyment in Bagel Race and Zero G. Fortunately, every mode is available from the start. Still, when I think about I am Bread as a whole, I'm reluctant to say it's good. It's a silly idea and it seems like developer Bossa Studios had a lot of fun building all of the different modes, but I wish I were having that much fun playing it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
I Am Bread review photo
Not worth the dough
I can only imagine how I am Bread came to be. I picture a couple of friends sitting around, drinking, when one says, "Man, wouldn't it be funny if we made a game where you play as a slice of bread?" Then everybody laughs and ...

Review: Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Sep 08 // Jed Whitaker
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (Linux, Max, PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Asteroid BasePublisher: Asteroid BaseReleased: September 9, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime takes place in outer space, the final frontier, a place of wonder filled with various anthropomorphic species, and a heart-shaped space station called the Ardor Reactor, which is powered by love and protected by the League Of Very Empathetic Rescue Spacenauts, also known as The Lovers. Everything was fine and dandy until the dark forces of anti-love destroyed the Ardor Reactor, ripped a hole in spacetime itself and took prisoner many of the lovely inhabitants. That is where The Lovers come in to save the day, running to and fro to control their circular spaceship while spreading love throughout the cosmos. While the story isn't exactly new -- evil force caused by evil being ruins the day, fix it -- the cute presentation and charm more than make up for it. Everything in Lovers is completely adorable, including the enemies. Lots of bright colors fill the screen, and love is emphasized at every turn. As you and a friend guide The Lovers through spacetime you'll be jumping from role to role inside various circular spaceships. Stations include thrusters, shields, turrets, navigation, and laser. Manning the guns is a pretty straightforward affair of aiming and firing, shields can be rotated around the ship to prevent damage from terrain, enemies, and projectiles, and the laser can be triggered causing it to automatically fire while rotating around the ship before needing to cool down. [embed]309747:60277:0[/embed] Piloting the ship is a bit different than any other game I've played. By default, you'll be rotating a thruster around the outside of your ship to determine what direction you'll be heading. If the thruster is on the bottom left of the ship, you'll be heading up and to the right, if it is on the top then you'll head down, and so on. While it may sound confusing, piloting only requires the brief tutorial to get used to and you'll be zipping through the cosmos in no time as if it were second nature.  Your goal throughout each colorful level in the four campaigns you'll be exploring is to find five of a possible ten captive critters to advance to the next stage. Collecting critters also increases your ranking, which unlocks different ships and upgrades for them, so exploring to find all ten critters per stage has its benefits. Gems are also found floating in containers in each stage and can be used to power up each station with power, beam, and metal abilities. Stations can be upgraded to hold two gems each, allowing you to mix and match gems to gain different effects. For example: two metal gems on the shield form a large spiky barrier that rotates a bit slower than other shields but provides more protection, or a power gem and a metal gem on a turret creates a powerful rocket that can be manually controlled. Experimenting with gems until you find the perfect configuration is exciting and leads to hilarious results, especially on the laser.  Campaigns have four levels and then a boss fight with massive creatures based on real-world constellations. Boss fights are as you'd probably expect: learn the bosses pattern, take its health bar down enough to piss it off, avoid an even larger barrage of attacks, success. Don't be fooled though, bosses are no pushovers and we found ourselves teetering on death whenever we finally defeated each boss.  Nearly every level seems to add at least one new enemy or mechanic, which keeps the entire journey fresh. The first campaign gives you the basics, before later campaigns add underwater combat, solar winds, and even wormholes that teleport you throughout the stage. Some of the more interesting stages include stationary defenses against waves of enemies and one particular stage that had to be completed in under five minutes before a star explodes killing everything in sight. We rushed through this time-limited level and ended up getting the last of ten bunnies with ten seconds to spare on the clock. We could see the exit as the clock hit zero, but luckily for us the explosion was a gradual one allowing us to make it by the skin of our teeth. I've never held my breath during a game as much as I have during Lovers, which makes the sigh of relief afterwards all that more rewarding. After finishing each campaign you'll be awarded a badge showing that you've completed it with each ship. While it isn't necessary to complete each campaign with each ship to reach the ending, it does add a bit of replayability and difficulty, especially if you're using the Jelly Roll ship. When piloting Jelly Roll your thruster rotates the entire ship, causing your controls to also change inside the ship along with it. When we played through one campaign with the Jelly Roll we found ourselves getting confused but laughing about it the whole time, though it certainly made the boss extra challenging. Completionists will be happy with the unlockable ships and added difficulty they provide.  Completing each campaign unlocks new cute Lovers to play as which don't change the gameplay, but instead just add to the overwhelming amount of cuteness the game already oozes. One of my favorite things about the Lovers is they have no gender signifiers, thus allowing you to technically be any gender you so wish to view yourself as. Those of you without a couch cooperative buddy -- as there is no online mode -- will be playing alongside a computer-controlled cat or dog that can be directed to man each of the stations at your will. Unfortunately your CPU partner will not control the thrusters, so all driving will be up to you, but the AI is very competent at the other stations. While Lovers is still very much playable as a single player title, it certainly shines as one of the best co-op experiences I've ever had and that is the way I feel it is meant to be experienced. Being able to blast asteroids and baddies out of the way while someone else is driving the ship is far more fun than watching an AI do it for you.  Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime reminds me why I love video games, because it provides a unique and colorful journey to get totally immersed in that can be enjoyed with a loved one. Probably the most original game I've played to completion in the past five years, and worthy every penny of its asking price. If you've got a loved one to play with, do yourselves a favor and play this game as soon as possible, you won't regret a your lovely journey through space.
Dangerous Space review photo
The Power of Love
Throughout my history of gaming there have been games that stand out as important bonding experiences: Bubble Bobble with my mom, Bomberman with my college roommate, and now Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime with...

Review: Forza Motorsport 6

Sep 08 // Chris Carter
Forza Motorsport 6 (Xbox One)Developer: Turn 10 StudiosPublisher: Microsoft StudiosRelease Date: September 15, 2015MSRP: $59.99 After a few minutes with the 2017 Ford GT in the tutorial (which is actually rather affordable in-game), you'll kick off three qualifying matches, which subsequently unlock the rest of the game. I started with a modest '97 Mazda RX7, with a small degree of CPU assistance to get my bearings again. This is probably my favorite part of Forza -- yes, it's a simulator, but you can fine-tune the experience to cater to your needs. If you haven't touched a racer in years, the game can show you exactly where to take turns with arrow paths on the ground that change colors based on the appropriate speed. You can also have Forza operate your braking procedures for you, so you won't fly off course or crash into walls all that often. Of course, the excellent rewind feature is back, so you can re-do a fateful turn that may have cost you the race. If you disable all of these options though, it's probably the most advanced racing simulator yet. The Xbox One controller is still by far the best standard controller for racers, with the nuanced haptic feedback system actually providing kickback. I also had an opportunity to play Forza 6 with the Logitech's G29 Driving Force, and my experience far surpassed that of its PS4 counterparts. If you've been waiting to pick up a wheel, this is probably the game to do it with. [embed]309093:60245:0[/embed] The Drivatar system also returns, which, as we know at this point, is less a gimmick and more of a proven idea. What's amazing about this mechanic is that we've had data collected for years from Forza 5 and Horizon 2, so when I jumped into Forza 6, I was immediately greeted by these AI/player combo drivers. They're still just as fun to race against as they were in the past, mostly because of erratic behavior that separates them from the orderly AI. The visual enhancements of Forza 5 have been perfected, up to and including the working odometer for each car interior. The game is still 1080p60, but the level of detail on tracks (which Forza 6 has a lot more of) is insane. This is heightened by the research Turn 10 did on the effect of rain on each track, and as a result, puddles form exactly where they would in real life. It really forces you to know (and trust) your vehicle, and you'll have to not only learn each track's ins and outs, but the rain element as well. Sometimes I found that I could sprint over it at certain angles, and in other instances, I hydroplaned the crap out of my car. Sim fans will love that they have to master yet another element of each track, even if they're already familiar. The flow of Forza 6 involves a career mode, separated by street, sport, touring, pro, and ultimate tiers. The concept here to break up the relatively standard career is "Stories of Motorsport," a loving tribute to historical races mixed in with other gamey challenges. I'm talking showcase events like racing an IndyCar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway taking curves at over 200 mph, reliving the birth of Grand Prix racing, bowling for pins, or going up against The Stig from Top Gear. Speaking of Top Gear, it does return in a minimal capacity, but the lack of Jeremy Clarkson stings a bit. Although I had limited access to multiplayer, there is support for up to 24 players across seven modes, including your standard race setting and tag. There's also league support and a free-play mode that supports split-screen play. If you're interested in trying out any car you want, you can rent it without a charge to in-game currency -- you just won't get any experience for that race. So let's talk cars and tracks. Straight-up, Forza 6 feels like a more complete game, hosting over 450 vehicles at launch (without paid DLC), as opposed to Forza 5's roughly 200. You can still tune them up, customize their look, and download/upload new patterns -- of which there are hundreds, spanning multiple games at this point. The running theme with Forza 6 is that it's very easy to pick up for newcomers, since it basically functions as a new game and a "GOTY" edition of sorts, sporting tons of content from past titles without resorting to add-ons. This is partially because Turn 10 brought back the prize wheel from Horizon 2, which allows players to randomly earn a prize after leveling up, up to and including million-credit cars. Even though I only earned a supercar once, the other rewards are generally pretty great, so I still felt like I was progressing credits-wise. And this leads into another important element of Forza 6 -- there are no microtransactions to speak of, at least at launch. If you can't buy a car with your credits, tough, you'll have to earn them. This also goes for the new "mod" system, which kind of plays out like Titanfall's Burn Cards. You can activate one-use mods to better your handling or grip after buying packs of mods, or take "dares," which are like challenges of sorts, which provide their own rewards. Again, this thankfully doesn't feel necessary (it isn't even enabled online), and it's not linked to a microtransaction system...yet. There are also 25 tracks, each with multiple variations, which kicks Forza 5's 14 to the curb. With the aforementioned new details (especially with refreshing levels like Rio de Janeiro, which hasn't appeared since the first game) and the new rain, even the old ones feel new. Despite a lot of these upgrades, Forza 6 does feel somewhat like an apology letter for the last main iteration. It's important to note that if you don't really love the idea of reworked rain effects, you probably won't find a whole lot that's fundamentally new outside of the fact that there's just more to do in general. For me though, it was enough to outright bring me back into the racing fold. I found myself racing for hours, racking up credits, ferociously buying new cars to add to my garage, and cursing at my friend's Drivatars. Forza 6 is the new king of simulation racing. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Forza 6 review photo
Turn 10 turns a new leaf
Although I used to play racing games for hundreds of hours, it really takes something special to get me hooked again. Recently, after the somewhat rushed release of Forza 5, I naturally gravitated toward other racers, including the Horizon series. But even still, I wasn't crazy about them. That is, until I played Forza Motorsport 6.

Review: Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder

Sep 04 // Jed Whitaker
Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder (PC)Developer: Shiro GamesPublisher: Shiro GamesReleased: August 25, 2015MSRP: $19.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, 32GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit, Intel 750 SSD Serving as a spiritual sequel, Evoland 2 doesn't require knowledge of the original game, which is a good thing for me as I've never played it. Judging by our review of the original, it sounded like a fairly short and linear experience, which the sequel is anything but -- for better and for worse. The story took around 16 hours to complete and even then there were a few optional collectibles that I didn't bother getting to 100% the game. They felt like filler. A majority of my time was spent in conversations with characters that often seemed to drag on as they talked about nothing in particular or kept a joke going for far too long. Between scenes, there are often transitions that almost feel tailor made to extend the playtime. For example, when climbing onto a boat, instead of just showing the main character get onto the boat, your party splits up and walks on one at a time.  The story of Evoland 2 is pretty par for the course as far as RPGs go: hero of time meets party members with their own conflicts, and travels through time collecting parts of an item to stop a terrible event from happening. You won't find anything too impressive, but there are at least a couple of twists to add a bit of flavor to a story we all know.  [embed]309159:60250:0[/embed] Once the dialogue ends is where the real fun begins. A majority of the game plays much like top-down Zelda games from the past meaning you'll be hacking and slashing enemies and solving puzzles in dungeons. Other times, you'll be playing levels based on many genres of old with tongue-in-cheek references to the games that popularized them including Cave shooters, Double Dragon, Puzzle Quest, and even Dance Dance Revolution. These levels work in your party's abilities seamlessly, which is impressive since there are so many different genres.  While these levels are parodies or homage to the games of old, I couldn't help but feel I'd rather be playing most of those games than the levels in Evoland 2. The beat-'em-up level's mechanics were pretty generic, and the tactical RPG level was tedious, while the Metroidvania and shooter levels were decent, especially the final level that combines the two in an experience unlike any other I've played. You'll be zipping around in the skies with the option of dropping to the ground when needed; the level was so great I couldn't help but wonder what an entire game in that style would be like. An optional collectible card game side quest that has you playing what feels like baby's first Hearthstone is entertaining, but as I'm a Hearthstone addict I wasn't tempted to finish it when I could just play the real thing instead. Throughout the entire experience, you'll be swapping between in-game times which have their own graphical styles that match up with Game Boy, 8-bit, 16-bit, and more modern-day 3D graphics. There isn't a lot of guidance or hand holding, and you're free to come and go as you please with the ability to do dungeons in any order starting around the middle of the story. Graphically, Evoland 2 nails the games and systems it is based on, from sleek pixel art to more modern 3D graphics. Unfortunately, my playthrough was not a bug-free experience for me, as I experienced stuttering, graphical glitches, getting stuck on the overworld map, and a red error that wouldn't leave the screen after the graphics failed to load. There have already been various updates fixing some of these issues, but leaving the game in the oven for a couple of more weeks probably would have been beneficial. That being said, a simple restart fixed all these issues making them minor but noticeable inconveniences.  Overall, Evoland 2 is a pretty good Zelda-style game with mediocre pieces and parts of other games mixed in; it doesn't reinvent the wheel but pays homage to the wheels that came before it. If you're thirst for an RPG and just can't decide what genre of RPG to play, or are just looking for your Zelda fix, this is the game for you. Otherwise you might just find yourself wishing you've played the games it is inspired by. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Evoland 2 photo
I'm every genre, it's all in me
Real-time RPG, turn-based RPG, tactical RPG, hack and slash, bullet hell, beat-'em-up, rhythm, side-scrolling shooter, fighter, puzzler, platformer, Metroidvania, and more: Evoland 2 takes basically every classic genre a...

Review: Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

Sep 04 // Kyle MacGregor
Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX (Nintendo 3DS)Developer: SegaPublisher: SegaRelease Date: September 8, 2015MSRP: $39.99 While Miku's looks will never fade with age, she certainly has received a bit of a makeover in her latest outing. In Project Mirai DX, a spin-off of Sega's successful Project DIVA series for Nintendo 3DS, the digital singer and her band of vocaloid pals sport a super deformed chibi aesthetic.  Inspired by Nendoroid toys, the characters all feature massive, distended heads and petite frames, reminiscent of toddlers. The new art direction is one I can't say I'm terribly fond of, as it gives rise to some awkward moments where the infantile performers unadvisedly attempt to exude sex appeal.  The new look isn't the only notable change to the established formula, though, as the rhythm game portion of the package has seen some revisions. The basic premise is the same, with notes flying in from off-screen, challenging players to keep time with the beat of the music. Players must either press specific buttons or tap the correct portion of the touch screen at certain times, the accuracy of which (in the aggregate) will determine the level of one's success or failure. The touch controls are a new and entirely optional way to play the game. On easy mode, players will tap a single circular area on the portable's lower screen, with each subsequent difficulty level adding another zone to tap on. This initially seems more forgiving than using the buttons, but on normal and hard mode, with multiple areas to worry about, I actually found this was more challenging. Keeping track of the action on the top screen while needing to tap certain sectors below can be quite the feat, particularly in an up-tempo song when the notes are coming in rather quickly. The touch controls can also be rather finicky, though. It's not only easy to tap the wrong portion of the screen, but sometimes the inputs don't seem to register at all. At other times, the game will ask the player to slide the stylus in a particular direction, which can be difficult if you are already pointing at the edge of the surface and are asked to move in a direction where there's no room to go. In contrast with the Project DIVA titles, where notes fly in from every which way to a variety of targets, Project Mirai introduces a single rail system, which I actually found to be a helpful change in most instances. There are times where this can be convoluted, with a crowded rail looping in on itself, or seemingly unfair, where the speed will change at a moments notice and throw off your rhythm, but for the most part it seems to be a better, more straightforward system. Another aspect where Project Mirai is remarkable is the sheer amount of content included in the package. The rhythm game mode vaunts 48 tracks in total, which span all sorts of genres and visual themes with minimal repetition, keeping the experience fresh and varied throughout. There are a lot of secondary aspects of the experience, which didn't necessarily appeal to me, but at the same time don't take anything away from the game. You can play dress-up and house with a selection of characters. There are mini-games and a somewhat limited mode that allows you to design your own compositions. By far my favorite throw-in, though, is PuyoPuyo 39!, a fun little Miku-themed version of Sega's tile-matching puzzle game that even incorporates local competitive play. One thing Project DIVA veterans might not appreciate about Project Mirai is it's a much easier and more lenient experience. On the other hand, some people find those games to be incredibly difficult and have a high barrier for entry. Personally, I was just fine with the challenge on the hard setting, but some rhythm game masters may be left feeling wanting for more in that area. Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX retains the essence of the Project DIVA series, but it's definitely its own unique thing. It may not appeal to all fans of the vocaloid songstress' previous work, and it's certainly my least favorite outing of hers in the realm of games. However, that all said, I still generally enjoyed my time with Project Mirai. Despite its missteps, this is a decent game that has a lot to offer for both rhythm game enthusiasts and Miku devotees alike. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hatsune Miku 3DS review photo
In many respects, Hatsune Miku symbolizes my interest in Japan. It doesn't matter how much I learn about the virtual pop star or the amazing/bizarre subculture that has taken root around her; it's tough to imagine ever truly ...

Review: Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence

Sep 03 // Kyle MacGregor
Nobunaga's Amibition: Sphere of Influence (PC [reviewed], PS4, PS3)Developer: Koei TecmoPublisher: Koei TecmoRelease Date: September 1, 2015MSRP: $59.99 My journey began by acquainting myself with Sphere of Influence's comprehensive (perhaps a tad too comprehensive) tutorial, before jumping headlong into one of the title's nine historical campaigns. There, players have the opportunity to act as one of Japan's elite families during the country's "warring states" period in the 16th century. Whether you choose to recreate history as the Oda clan or blaze your own trail, the aim remains the same -- to unite the fractured nation. How you get there will require a careful synthesis of conflict, management, and diplomacy, as the path toward bringing dozens of warring territories under a common banner requires a multi-pronged approach. This begins with building up a small province, developing it into a rich, bountiful launching pad that can support a growing empire. The backbone of the realm is the labor force, which is, of course, limited in supply. Daimyos must allocate their workers to projects mindfully, whether that means paving new roads, constructing new buildings, improving fortifications, focusing on trade or food production, the list just goes on and on. Rest assured, manpower is always at a premium. That line of thought extends to the nobility as well as the commoners. With only so many officers to go around to carry out diplomatic missions, govern territories, lead military units, and oversee civic projects; managing the ruling class is of the utmost importance. Individual leaders have varying skills, and knowing how and where to employ them can make a drastic difference in how quickly and effectively a clan enacts the wide swathe of policies these officers must take charge of. [embed]305046:60241:0[/embed] If that sounds incredibly intricate and exacting, well, that's because it is. Despite being a game where the end goal is conquering (or subduing) an entire nation spanning dozens of factions and hundreds of settlements, Nobunaga's Amibition doesn't shy away form minutiae. No task, from appeasing the local hill tribes to planting an orchard or setting up a suggestion box for citizens to voice their concerns, is too small a concern to deal with. And in the aggregate these sorts of seemingly minuscule moves tend to pay dividends when clashing with neighboring daimyo or getting them to join your coalition. It isn't all about raising armies and sending them off to battle. Not that combat isn't a large part of the game, because it most certainly is. After players finish managing their towns, the experience switches from a turn-based affair to a real-time one, where armies will march off to besiege enemy villages or clash with hostile forces on the battlefield. The battles play out automatically (as depicted above), but can be controlled manually, with players taking control of each individual army as a unit on the battlefield. This facet of the experience might seem a little primitive in comparison to some of its genre peers, but it's not entirely without depth. While there isn't much in the way of unit variety, each commander has his or her (no, you needn't marry off all your daughters to forge political alliances) own abilities that buff their troops with improved defense, melee attack, and a myriad of other temporary strategic supplements. Skirmishes aren't always a numbers game, either. I've frequently found myself using guerrilla tactics, surrounding a large battalion with several smaller ones and harassing them from all sides. This negates their numerical superiority, since a block can only attack in one direction at any given time, while forces with smaller, more plentiful detachments possess the ability to be more nimble. Throughout the experience, players are treated to historical vignettes, which not only follow key events pertaining to your chosen faction, but other clans as well. If significant affairs are happening across the country, chances are you'll be given a front row seat. These aren't always assassinations and coups d'état, though, sometimes they're a tad more trivial, pertaining to the romantic lives of clan leaders or the arrival of western missionaries spreading Christianity in certain provinces. There's a lot going in Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence, to be sure, and much of it is done well. After pushing through some initial bewilderment associated with coming to grips with its mess of elaborate systems, I discovered an experience that rewarded the time I put into it in spades. Its pace may be too plodding for some and it certainly seems somewhat backwards or dated in relief with other modern strategy games, but Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence still remains an ornate and absorbing title that kept me engaged for hours on end and surely will continue to do so. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nobunaga's Ambition photo
Sublime Sengoku-era strategy
My first experience with Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence nearly broke me. I collapsed into a heap over my keyboard, weeping softly, wondering just what I had got myself into this time. Even as a seasoned strategy gam...

Review: The Flock

Sep 02 // Zack Furniss
The Flock (Mac, Linux, PC [reviewed])Developer: VogelsapPublisher: VogelsapReleased: August 21, 2015MSRP: $16.99 If you've followed The Flock's development or seen any videos about it, you may have decided that it's a digital version of flashlight tag. This is an apt comparison. The difference is that the flashlight (here called The Artifact) can immolate organic beings upon illumination. Each of the three to five players of the game play as the Flock, a skeletal alien race. These lithe beings crawl on all four limbs when they want to move fast, and can turn to stone when they stay completely still. They can also place decoys of themselves and later teleport back to said decoy once per life. Their final ability is a scream that can increase the speed and strength of nearby kinsmen. When a match starts, each player is tasked with finding the Artifact as quickly as possible. Whoever finds it becomes the carrier, a being with less physical prowess than the Flock. Though you're no longer able to jump, you can now incinerate players who attempt to kill you, since that's their sole objective. While they're busy trying to get the jump on you, you have to shine your light on markers spread throughout the three maps. Using the Artifact is simple. You have to keep moving to keep it charged, which I like since it promotes active footwork. The scroll wheel changes the distance and width of your light; you can have it wide and short-ranged or narrow and long-ranged. While it can be satisfying to scorch one of your attackers, playing as a carrier never feels particularly exciting. The hide-and-seek antics grow weary after only a couple of play sessions. The first few times I played merely flirted with tension. I immediately found the Artifact and began searching for the objective markers, and heard footfalls behind me. I would turn around in a facade of panic and either burn a member of the Flock to death or find a stone statue behind me. You can't hurt the statues, and sometimes it's hard to discern if it's even an actual player controlling the alien gargoyle since these stone effigies are littered across the stages. Wracked with doubt but driven by the need to reach my goal, I backpedaled to where I needed to go. My more clever opponents would use decoys to circumvent situations such as these, but the vast majority of people I played with had no solution to me being able to watch them and move backwards. When playing with a full team, I'd usually be swarmed from all sides and this was less of a problem. Good luck finding enough players, though, as I usually was only able to find one or two people to play with at all times of the day. And that's the entire game. It doesn't take long to realize that aside from a slight variance in player tactics, every match feels identical. If you tell a friend about an especially exciting round, you've told them about every round you will ever play. It doesn't help that no aspect of The Flock seems to have been cooked long enough. I like the look of the Flock themselves, but the Artifact, the carriers, and even the environments exhibit all the fidelity of an early Half-Life 2 mod. If these were placeholder assets for an alpha build waiting for another layer of polish, I would understand, but these are the uninspired end results of Vogelsap's efforts. The stereo positioning of the sound is functional but every effect has an odd, muffled quality about it. Fortunately, the music doesn't suffer from this same issue, but there's not enough of it to ward off monotony. What hurts The Flock the most is that there's very little to do, and none of it is entertaining. With only one game mode and three maps, you can see all that the game has to offer in two hours (and most of that time will be spent looking for willing players). It's difficult to justify paying $16.99 for something that's going to vanish eventually, and it's even more difficult when what's vanishing won't be missed. With over 200,000,000 lives for people to lose, it's going to be approximately forever before we see whatever happens at the end. The Flock is a promising idea dressed in the blandest of clothes. It's damning that I was convinced I was doing an Early Access impressions piece until I looked and realized the game had been released two weeks ago. This lack of content and polish is acceptable when there's an implicit promise of more to come, but aside from a nebulous end segment that may take literal years to reach, this is all The Flock is and will ever be. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Flock photo
Oh, for flock's sake
I'm a huge horror fan, and love to see any kind of innovation brought into the genre. Vogelsap's The Flock has a Big New Idea that I kind of love: there is a finite pool of respawns for all players, and once it has ...

Review: Mad Max

Sep 02 // Chris Carter
Mad Max (PC, PS4 [review], Xbox One)Developer: Avalanche StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentReleased: September 1, 2015MSRP: $59.99 Mad Max is, at its heart, a revenge tale. You aren't going to get much high commentary here (like Beyond Thunderdome's exemplary exploration of the power of language and speech), just a good old fashioned showdown between series protagonist Max Rockatansky, and Scabrous Scrotus (which, as silly as it is, is par for the Mad Max course), who happens to be a son of Fury Road's Immortan Joe. That's about where the link with the film series ends, though, as the game is not a direct tie-in, and mostly benefits from that fact. Max is scorned by Scrotus, who takes everything he owns and destroys his prized car. Teaming up with the psychotic, yet harmless Chumbucket, it's up to the player to hunt down Scrotus, and rebuild your ride in the form of the greatest car known to man, the Magnum Opus. What I like about this setup is that it allows Avalanche to tell a new tale of the wasteland without having to retread on certain areas. I mean yes, there are a few re-used locations like Gas Town, as well as some familiar thematic elements, but for the most part, this is an encapsulated tale. The enhanced Avalanche Engine is quite the achievement, and I can see why the developer opted to shuck the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. Screens simply don't do this game justice, especially when you're scouting out far away locations high up in a hot air balloon while the scorching sun beams down on you, or when vicious sandstorms pop up. A built-in camera capture mechanic (on top of the PS4's standard capabilities) is the cherry on top. Taking a different approach to the typical open world formula, Mad Max's core gameplay is built around driving. Any racing game fan will instantly find themselves familiar with the control scheme, and the vast majority of the vehicles operate similarly to some of the best racing titles out right now. Car combat is handled well, since your companion Chumbucket rides along with you, repairing the car and using weapons in real time -- so it's both cinematic and functional. While the "slo-mo" feature is pretty much dead at this point, it allows players to actually get some hits in while aiming vehicle-centric weaponry, and blowing out enemy tires or harpooning them right out of the driver's seat is satisfying in all the right ways. The customization aspect also feels justified here, since changing up your car will significantly alter how it functions. There's hundreds of options here, from ramming grills, to spikes that protect your car from boarders, to new paint jobs and bodies, to explosive harpoons. The way the concept of the Magnum Opus is presented actually fits inline with this bit of the game, and I never felt pressured or compelled to go out and seek other cars to use. You can basically just drive and switch up your own custom car from start to finish, and it's easy to get attached to certain elements of your ride. Where Mad Max starts to falter is the on-foot sections, or more specifically, how these areas were designed. Combat is basically a carbon copy of the Batman: Arkham games, albeit with more brutal finishers, so that works well enough, but it's the actual zones -- where you can't bring the car mind you -- that often feel uninspired and bland. Since Max can only climb on certain surfaces, and only exhibits a pathetic GTA-style "hop" when pressing the jump button, on-foot sections feel out of place and gamey. It reminds me of the Prince of Persia reboot, which gave you this awesome-looking, sprawling world, and forced you to only explore it within a rigid set of rules. There are also a few other issues I had with these sections, like collision detection problems while climbing, and annoying mechanics like the fact that Max limps for a few seconds after falling the smallest distances. Exploring these zones simply isn't as satisfying without say, the aerial prowess of Talion, or the wonderful toys of Batman, to use direct comparisons to similar open-world WB titles in recent memory. While the story is engaging enough to string you along, a lot of the other activities aren't all that intriguing. It's like the team took the typical Ubisoft blueprint and stuck with it -- radio towers (balloons), fortresses, collectibles, sidequest races, smaller towers to knock down to lower "influence" -- it's all there. That's not to say that the game is mostly boring, far from it actually, as driving around is always a joy given how great the vehicular mechanics are, and there are a lot of naturally occurring events out in the wild to keep things interesting. I went back and forth in terms of my assessment multiple times throughout my time with Mad Max. I'd be having a blast in the car, and then I'd get to a particularly samey part on foot, and so on. But ultimately, I did enjoy my time in the wasteland, even if it doesn't offer up a whole lot that we haven't seen before. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Mad Max review photo
Who run Bartertown?!
I grew up with Mad Max. It was one of the first R-rated film series I viewed as a child, and naturally, I saw Fury Road, and enjoyed it like everyone else on the planet. My infatuation with the films is mostly due to George M...

Review: STASIS

Sep 01 // Patrick Hancock
STASIS (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: The BrotherhoodPublisher: The BrotherhoodReleased: August 31, 2015MSRP: $24.99  The story begins with the main character, John Maracheck, woken from a stasis (heh) pod on a spaceship called the Groomlake. It's immediately obvious that something big has happened here, as there is broken machinery, plenty of bloodstains, and no one around. John sets out to find his wife and daughter, in addition to finding out what the hell he's doing here in the first place. I won't spoil anything further, but what follows is a grim and morose tale that will certainly leave an impression on the player. As the story begins to unfold and more elements of the Groomlake's history become clearer, players shouldn't be surprised if a sickening feeling washes over them. There are scenes in STASIS, especially towards the end of the game, that I'm not sure I'll ever forget. The only way I can think to describe them is: fucked up. And that is the kind of "horror" that STASIS sets out to achieve. The game doesn't just throw jump scares at the player in every scene; instead, it builds an atmosphere that will make players uneasy. There are a few jump scares, but they actually work because they're infrequent and unexpected. This is a true horror game: creepy and unsettling, with scenes sure to embed themselves in the player's mind, whether they like it or not. Much of the plot is told through PDA journal entries found around the ship. These entries are well written, and players will find themselves excited to find new ones. Entering a room often reveals quite the scene, and as players read the PDAs, the events that transpired in the room come in to view. All of a sudden that blood splatter or broken machinery makes perfect sense. [embed]308755:60221:0[/embed] The biggest issue the plot has is pacing. For someone who figures out all of the game's puzzles with relative ease, the pacing is great. For those like myself, however, who struggle with classic adventure game puzzles, the pacing can fall apart quickly. In general, I suck at figuring out puzzles in adventure games. That being said, I managed to get through most of STASIS' puzzles without struggling. When I did struggle, however, oh boy was it rough. After spending over an hour trying to figure out what to do, the game's atmosphere and themes crumble away, and the I began to look at it from a mechanical point of view. "Okay, what haven't I clicked on yet," or "which item haven't I tried to use on everything yet?" are signs of desperation and even frustration. At that point, the creepy background sounds and eerie music were just noise and I was furiously clicking on everything in hopes that it would work. For players who end up at this point, I have a few tips. First of all, make sure you've read everything. Many times, hints are offered through various PDA journal entries or in the mouse-over descriptions of things. Read them carefully! Always try to combine items, and use items on just about everything. Finally, if you're truly stuck, look it up! It's better to keep moving with the story than to spend hours banging your head against the wall, hoping for the best. Shoutouts to my Destructoid colleague Stephen Turner for helping me through some of the harder puzzles; that guy is a rockstar. With the exception of those few obtuse puzzles, most of them range from very obvious to "just the right amount of thinking." As mentioned, hints are almost always available to those who are observant enough, even though some don't come off as hints initially. Piecing together these clues feels great, and solving most puzzles provides a strong sense of accomplishment. The game takes an interesting isometric perspective, similar to RPGs like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment. The view cannot be zoomed in or rotated, so what you see is what you get. This is probably for the best, since the game uses a fairly low resolution and zooming in would not be pretty. It isn't always easy to see where to exit a room, so it's best to hover the mouse over the edges of each room to find all of the exits.  Objects that can be picked up or PDAs that can be read have a glint of light, signaling to the player that they should click on it. This helps alleviate the "pixel-hunt" that many adventure games suffer from, though not completely. While interactable items sparkle like a gem in the sky, environmental objects do not. I did occasionally find myself slowly scanning my mouse over an area to see if I had missed something to click on.  While this is inconsequential, the pathfinding in STASIS is a little wonky. Often times John will take the longer route to get to an item instead of the obviously shorter one. Some of the animations are also a bit funky; certain movements don't quite line up with the surrounding environments at times. Both of these have no gameplay impact, but they can break immersion and remind the player that they're playing a video game.  The model for John also stuck out as odd. He's completely dark, like a shadow. Other character models seem to have some texturing done, but John...doesn't. Even when in a room with plenty of light, John stands as a dark figure. It comes off as unfinished, though it seems to be a deliberate choice. The sound design, however, is top notch. Various background noises easily take front stage at times, making an already creepy room into a downright terrifying experience. Sound effects after interacting with specific objects are downright perfect, and make me question the lengths that the developer went to to get such sounds. STASIS is one of the most memorable experiences I've had from gaming in quite a while. Some puzzles can be frustratingly obtuse, but the majority are a pleasure to solve. The game will take most people between six to ten hours to complete, depending on puzzle-solving skill, and just about every moment is sure to stick with the player in some way. STASIS is a game that is not to be missed by anyone craving an eerie and sinister experience. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
STASIS review photo
Something you won't forget
Generally, I tend to avoid both adventure and horror games, which makes my attraction to STASIS a bit perplexing, since it's both of these things. I've been invested in the game's development for years, anticipating its relea...

Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Aug 31 // Chris Carter
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Kojima ProductionsPublisher: KonamiRelease: September 1, 2015Price: $59.99 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360) [There will be no story spoilers here, though themes and gameplay elements will naturally be discussed in this assessment. I'll be as vague as possible.] Phantom Pain opens up with a brutal playable sequence that sets the tone for the game. Big Boss has woken up after a nine-year coma, and just in time, as an elite infantry unit has invaded his location, ready to kill anyone and everyone just to get to him. Looking back on this opening, it's amazing to see how well thought out everything is in Phantom Pain -- there is very little wasted time. This rapid fire mentality shines throughout the entire game. No longer will you spend hours listening to two portraits talk back and forth via codec. Instead, it's all done through a radio seamlessly integrated into regular play. David Hayter's endless monologues are eschewed for Kiefer Sutherland's more deliberate interjections, and as a result, the entire experience has a very different feel to it. That's not to say there aren't some classic conventions present, or that Kojima has abandoned his roots. There's still plenty of silliness that ensues, crazy mutated boss fights, tons of robots, and Easter eggs for days. It's the gameplay that feels a bit more grounded this time around -- one mission even provided me with flashes of Splinter Cell, but with the obvious Kojima flair to it. The main setup involves a timeline in 1984, 11 years before the first MSX Metal Gear, in which the Soviets invade Afghanistan. Your first job as a newly awakened Big Boss is to rescue your comrade Kazuhira Miller, and begin work on an entirely new Mother Base as the "Diamond Dogs" -- taking on Skull Face and his forces. From here, it evolves into a tale of espionage and deceit, complete with franchise-wide reveals and some breathtaking action sequences. Yep, it's still Metal Gear all right. [embed]305699:60106:0[/embed] But thanks to the advancements Kojima has made over the years refining his craft and the power of the Fox Engine, this is the biggest game yet in just about every regard. To accompany this huge shift is a suitable open-world focus, which allows you to explore a giant portion of Afghanistan, and another region I won't spoil here. It's interesting to see a mainline Metal Gear go this route, but after a few hours, I was used to it. The principle reason I was able to acclimate so quickly is Kojima and his team have made the game fun to play almost at all times. Nearly every situation can either be taken head-on by knocking down the front door, by stealth, or any combination therein. By researching different weapons and tools in Mother Base, you'll have the option to equip hundreds of different loadout variations, and face challenges in completely different ways. For instance, I later came back to one area, took an utterly new route, and used the Fulton extraction system to kidnap an entire base -- one member happened to be a translator who upped my force's efficacy considerably. What's even crazier is how deep the customization goes. You can choose from an assortment of "buddies" (which include the horse and wolf that have been previously revealed, among a few others) to accompany you on missions, all of whom have various costumes and loadouts themselves. You can also choose to alter the appearance of Big Boss, Mother Base, and even your own support Helicopter team. If you enjoyed the prospect of switching up camo suits in Snake Eater, you'll spend hours customizing all your junk here. Mother Base is a whole different animal as well. By using the Fulton system in the field you'll slowly acquire new soldiers, which you can in turn visit at your base at any time. It's similar to the Farmville-esque Garrison system from World of Warcraft, but much more rewarding. While I usually tend to ignore mechanics like this, your crew is integrated into the game in a number of ingenious ways. New weapons rely on the R&D team's efforts, for example, and the Intel team can inform you of incoming weather, as well as nearby enemy patrols if they are sufficiently staffed. The rewards are both tangible and poignant. You can also visit some more important NPCs, partake in a few target practice minigames, hit the shower to wash off the blood of your enemies, and generally just explore the base's nooks and crannies for collectibles. As I touched on a tad, the Fox Engine renders this all beautifully. It's insane to see a portion of the game and realize that it's not a cutscene, but actually done with in-game visuals. Although I've only had access to the PS4 version of Phantom Pain, it's run flawlessly, with minimal load times and no major framerate issues during my time. Another huge thing I noticed was the impeccable sound direction, which may be the best I've ever witnessed in a game to date. It's especially delightful if you're wearing headphones, as you can hear every clomp of your horse as the wind rushes behind you, bullets darting past your head. In terms of my assessment of the plot from start to finish (which all told took me roughly 40 hours to beat), it's definitely not one of my favorite entries, but it does a good job of closing a number of storylines and providing us with a few revelations of its own. As a fan it was tough to forget Hayter at first, but Sutherland really works here, especially with how different Phantom Pain is tonally. Which again, isn't to say that it's all serious all the time, as plenty of absurd characters and storylines pop up fairly quickly. For those of you who are curious, you won't be completely lost if you haven't played previous games in the series, but Snake Eater and Peace Walker knowledge will definitely up your enjoyment of the narrative. But as satisfied as I was with the story, there are a few inherent issues with the way the missions are structured. For starters, a number of levels are uninspired, and force a degree of backtracking, usually for a menial task you've already completed multiple times. This is especially evident later in the game, as it's required to redo some missions with either the "Subsistence," "Extreme," or "Full Stealth" modifiers in tow. The former drops you in with no items or assistance, Extreme ups the amount of damage you take considerably, and the latter ends a mission automatically if you're spotted. Series regulars will probably remember playing a lot of these higher difficulty levels on their third or fourth optional playthrough, but now they're incorporated into the game itself. I have a feeling these objectives are going to be incredibly polarizing, especially since a few of them took me at least 30 tries to complete. It's a level of dedication that hasn't really been seen lately in the gaming arena, but to me, it's classic Kojima. I powered through these tough and sometimes aggravating sections, and was sufficiently rewarded, both in the sense of storyline progression, and the acquisition of completely new tactics. As a note, I couldn't test the online features of the game, including the base-to-base combat sections (FOB). The story calls for at least one scripted invasion, but I was required to play the game in its entirety offline. Once Phantom Pain launches we'll provide some impressions of this feature, and we'll provide a separate review for Metal Gear Online, which has been delayed until October 6. Rest assured, the entire campaign can be played offline, beyond the reach of microtransactions or pre-order bonuses. Despite the fact that I hit a few snags along the way, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain feels like a simultaneous celebration of the series, and a decidedly new chapter. It's equal parts tough and flashy, and it's fitting that if this is Kojima's last Metal Gear, he goes out on a high note. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. We did not attend the review event.]
Metal Gear V review photo
Happy trails, Kojima
Despite the fact that most of the spinoff Metal Gear games are good in their own right, they just don't get me excited the same way the mainline console editions do. Every core Metal Gear entry has something new, and offers up some sort of revelatory storyline event that has fans talking for years on end. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is no exception.

Review: FEIST

Aug 31 // Caitlin Cooke
FEIST (PC)Developer: Bits & BeastsPublisher: FinjiRelease: July 23, 2015MSRP: $14.99 In FEIST you control a small furry creature trying to make its way through a mysterious forest rife with larger, furrier, and angrier beasts who have a penchant for killing and/or capturing your kind. Along the forest path you encounter smaller monsters who, unsurprisingly, are also extremely hell-bent on killing you. The only protection you have is within the environment -- ie grabbing a stick, pinecone, or other forest object to hurl at the creatures, or if that fails then running away. Much of the game consists of learning these monsters’ patterns and using the environment to either avoid or directly confront the problem. Making use of the environment is also critical in progressing throughout the levels -- crates, sticky pine cones, ropes, and rocks are all puzzle mechanics which allow you to move through the game, sometimes while also being ambushed. There is very little direction in how to approach each situation, so often times arriving to the solution involves lots of experimentation and do-overs. For example, leveraging a crate as a shield against a dart-throwing centipede and pushing other monsters into the fray is a common tactic to avoid death. Nothing is randomized, even the behaviors of enemies are predictable, however FEIST manages to make each level extremely difficult by throwing a lot at the player. The encounters are sometimes clustered and can escalate quickly if not approached in the right manner. There aren’t any power ups in the game so relying on your platforming skills and muscle memory is key. In other words, FEIST is not a game where you have time to pause and think of what the solution is -- it’s best to run through, burn out, and repeat what you’ve learned from your death. I find that because of this premise, FEIST teeters on the edge of being almost too demanding. If you’re not able to master these precise movements and quick reactions, the game can become frustrating fairly quickly. The first couple of chapters through the forest were intriguing, latching onto more of a puzzle-solving nature, but sadly as I progressed I found the mechanics and monsters to be repetitive and annoying. The visuals are simple but captivating, displaying a bright and sunny environment beyond the veil of the dark forest -- a constant reminder that you’re trapped. The music is also entrancing, matching the ambience of the game and sometimes even providing a sense of calm in the chaos. I did find myself hoping for more setting to accompany the strife of actually making it through the levels -- as FEIST only has a loose story that wasn’t entirely clear, or interesting for that matter. Unfortunately, FEIST also suffers from a number of other issues. For a game that demands so much precision, so much is left out of the player’s hands. In many situations monsters have a hive mentality or tossing mechanism which essentially throws the player back and forth, making it useless to combat. It’s also impossible to tell how many hits you can reasonably take, as there is no health bar yet many ways you can get hurt to varying degrees. It’s also unclear when, or if, the game is saving your state. When dying, it brings you back to the beginning of the scenario as expected, however when exiting the game there is no clear indication of where you will begin when re-entering. At one point, I had spent an arduous amount of time getting through a level only to find that when I picked the game back up the next day, it had erased my progress and placed me back at the beginning of the chapter. Despite it drawing similarities from Limbo and other games in the genre, FEIST manages to separate itself and make the experience its own through dynamic gameplay and an emergent environment. However, that experience is a brutal one, and something that is extremely hard to swallow. Although its premise was simple and delightful at first, playing through FEIST was a trying experience and one that I would not want to repeat. Others who have a penchant for unforgiving games like the Souls series may find joy here, and if you’re looking for something more thoughtful or forgiving, keep walking.
FEIST Review photo
Masochism at its finest
FEIST is at first glance very reminiscent of Limbo, checking all the boxes in terms of its dark visuals, lonely atmosphere, eerie music -- it even has the same creepy, hanging crates and doom spiders. Despite the similarities...

Review: Satellite Reign

Aug 31 // Josh Tolentino
Satellite Reign (PC)Developer: 5 Lives StudiosPublisher: 5 Lives StudiosReleased: August 28, 2015MSRP: $29.99Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i5 3.40Ghz, Nvidia Geforce GTX 780 Ti, 8GB RAM I mentioned the discrepancy between my memory of what Syndicate was and the fact of how it actually played, and Satellite Reign's existence makes that difference all the more apparent. That's because, despite the latter game's obvious tonal and thematic debt to Syndicate, it's a closer cousin, mechanically speaking, to Firaxis' XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Whereas Syndicate and Syndicate Wars had you controlling a squad of roughly identical agents, each distinguished mainly by the weapons you had them carry, the corporate wetworks team you run in Satellite Reign's consists of four distinct character classes; each class has unique abilities unlocked through the leveling system, as well as individualized ways of dealing with the obstacles in their way. Soldiers can attract and resist enemy fire or hardwire enemy power generators to turn off turrets, doors, and cameras. Hackers can shut down security systems, use drones, and "hijack" enemy and civilian NPCs to puppet as they please, a la Syndicate's Persuadertron. Support agents heal their comrades and can use a "World Scan" ability to trace systems and find suitable hacking targets. Infiltrators can use ziplines, vents, and cloaking devices to sneak past guards while packing powerful melee and sniper attacks.   [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed] This class system, in addition to the game's requisite suite of cybernetic augmentations, weapons, and equipment, as well as an XCOM-like cover system, makes every encounter and excursion in Satellite Reign a far more involved affair than in its inspiration. Whereas those older encounters usually boiled down to how quickly your guys could mow down theirs, here, every member can work in concert, their abilities complementing each other to lay even the toughest defenses bare. Evasion, subterfuge and pitched combat all have their place, and can happen at virtually any time on the game's open map. That open map is another way 5 Lives stands apart from its peers and inspirations. Instead of missions, whether bespoke like in Syndicate or procedurally-generated like in XCOM, Satellite Reign opts for an open-world structure set on what the developers claim is one of the largest maps ever generated for the Unity Engine. The map is that of a city owned and run by Dracogenics, a massive future megacorporation propped up by selling "Res-tech", a cloning technology not unlike that seen in The Sixth Day. Your team, part of a rival corporation, is dropped into the city with an older, pirated version of Res-tech (their explanation for respawning), and tasked with overthrowing Dracogenics' monopoly in the name of business, no matter how much murder and robbery it takes to do so. Everything happens on the map, as your agents claw their way through the city, with nary a loading screen between tasks. Each district, from neon-soaked Downtown to the smog-choked Industrial zone, houses a number of side missions designed to reduce Dracogenics' control. For example, infiltrating the local police station can lengthen the time it takes for guards to call in reinforcements, while planting bugs in a surveillance center keeps security cameras from recognizing your agents too quickly. Breaking into the district bank can increase the speed at which ATMs funnel cash into your coffers. Bribing a disgruntled sanitation worker can unlock a side entrance into a heavily-guarded military base. Locating a conveniently hung power line might give your agents a quick way over the walls, but only if your Soldier can sabotage a nearby generator to keep that line from frying anyone trying to slide down it. It all feels interconnected and detailed in the manner of the best obstacle courses and levels. Through it all your agents will be getting their hands on new gear, unlocking new abilities, and getting more formidable, as the game's structure allows for a near total freedom of approach. Virtually every scenario can be handled in the way you choose (short of peaceful negotiation), limited only by your ability to coordinate your agents and their own equipment and abilities. Every upgrade makes you feel more powerful, but not just in a simple "numbers went up" sense, but in the way that new upgrades unlock new options and ways to break past barriers that limited you before. Unfortunately, like a proper cyberpunk story, Satellite Reign's shiny, polished exterior reveals some grit and ugliness upon close examination. Civilians walk aimlessly to and fro, only there to provide a source of fresh clones for your agents and inconvenient witnesses for their crimes. The open-world structure of the game excises the possibility of truly lasting consequence, with the world, guard patterns, and even destroyed cameras eventually resetting over time. Enemies are a touch too durable as well, their multiple layers of armor, health, and energy shielding limiting certain approaches, and turning most firefights into drawn-out affairs as enemies summon reinforcements faster than you can kill them. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this otherwise brilliantly-executed game is how hollow its world feels. Despite the gorgeously rendered city visuals and a goodly amount of text to be found by digging through random data terminals, Satellite Reign's city feel less like a world than a cyberpunk-themed playset. You direct your little squad of action figures around and play as you like, but rarely feel lost or immersed in the setting. It would be churlish and greedy to demand storytelling on the level of, say, Deus Ex from the game when it already does everything else so well, but it's saying something when Syndicate still manages to establish a better mood despite being nearly twenty-two years older. At the same time, rough edges like that are a small price to pay when Satellite Reign does Syndicate better than Syndicate ever did.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed]
Satellite Reign Review photo
Guerilla Startup
I can still remember the first time I played Syndicate. It was after school in late 1993, and I was messing around on an office computer while waiting for my mother to finish a meeting and take me home. I remember the cool mi...

Review: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3

Aug 28 // Chris Carter
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesRelease: August 25 2015MSRP: $59.99 Pirate Warriors 3 is a reboot of sorts (within the confines of the Pirate series that is), taking us all the way back to the beginning. Players will get a recap of Gold Roger the Pirate King, and how his death sparked the search for the great One Piece treasure, ushering in the Great Age of Pirates. After briefly showing us a Young Luffy, stoked by the fires of adventure, the game jumps 10 years into the future as our hero begins to gather his crew, starting with the ruffian Zoro. It's ambitious, starting over like this, but it's a great starting point for players who enjoy Warriors games, and have no prior knowledge of One Piece's narrative. You'll even get all caught up with the Dressrosa arc, the most recent bit of story (albeit with a different ending). With all that in mind, this is a very brief recap indeed, with entire arcs condensed to a single mission. In that way it spreads itself thin in many ways, not to mention the odd design choice of starting all over on the third game in the series. Battles still follow the same Warriors beat 'em up formula you know and love, with light and heavy attacks that can be chained into combos. What's crazy this time around though is the introduction of the Kizuna system, which lends itself well to One Piece's insane over-the-top style. Here, you'll be able to call out teammates for attacks on a constant basis, as well as unleash gigantic supers with multiple crew members, culminating in an explosion that usually kills hundreds of people at once. It's a mixed bag though, because while said explosions look really cool, they're ultimately all the same despite what crew members you have in the mix. So while it's entertaining for the first 100 times, it loses its luster eventually. Also, the regular Kizuna attacks are a bit clunky, as there's a half second delay for your party members to jump in and do their thing. It's not a huge deal, but it definitely could have been handled better. [embed]308138:60166:0[/embed] As for the rest of the combat mechanics, they're rather on point, and as usual, I like to make the point that the system is much deeper than the "button mashing" scheme non-fans accuse the Warriors series of. For instance, Luffy, your first playable character, starts with 14 combos, all of which have a purpose when you're playing on higher difficulty levels. Plus with nearly 40 playable characters in all, the amount of variety on offer is nothing to sneeze at. You'll want to play on a higher difficulty too, because without it, the actual story scenarios will likely start to wear on you. Without a local partner to play with enemies tend to blend together throughout stages, and despite the mixing up of themes (military, rural), they all function basically in the same manner, with the same types of weapons. The dialogue is also poorly written at times, and doesn't do a great job of drawing you into the world beyond the out-of-mission cutscenes. But hot damn, is that world beautiful on PS4. The only time I ever saw a framerate hit was when Kizuna moves were being done in local co-op, but other than that, it's silky smooth. No matter how many enemies are on-screen the game is relatively stable, and it's easy to dash around an entire map and lay waste to hundreds of enemies at a time. While the mission objectives aren't innovative in any way, they nailed the hectic feel of the anime. The story follows the typical Warriors format of roughly 15 hours of gameplay, with 50 or more to try to max out every character. Of course, there's more modes available, including free play, and "Dream" mode, which is basically a remixed version of the story. The latter sees you jumping from island to island, fighting off enemies in unique scenarios and gaining new characters and bonuses in the process. As a note, online play is only available for story mode, but local co-op is enabled for every game type. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3, from a gameplay standpoint, is simply "more Pirate Warriors 2." It doesn't really do anything new outside of the slightly different Kizuna system, and veterans will likely favor the Dream mode instead of the retreading story. Despite its Frankenstein-esque shortcomings, Pirate Warriors 3 is a beautiful game, and still a lot of fun to play locally. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
One Piece review photo
From Straw Hat to Dressrosa
I haven't kept entirely up to date with One Piece, but I do read the summaries, and have caught most of the earlier arcs. It's a daunting task (the series has been running since 1997) in terms of the anime, and there's lots o...

Review: Disney Infinity 3.0

Aug 28 // Chris Carter
Disney Infinity 3.0 (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Avalance Software / Ninja Theory / Studio Gobo / Sumo Digital / United Front GamesPublisher: Disney Interactive Studios / LucasArtsRelease: August 30, 2015MSRP: $64.99 (Starter Pack) / $34.99 (Play Set) / $13.99 (Characters) As is tradition in my toy-to-life reviews, let me break down how everything works. For $64.99, you'll get the Starter Pack, which includes the Twilight of the Republic campaign Play Set, the game, Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figures, and a USB base. You're basically getting the 10- to 15-hour Republic story on top of the creation-centric Toy Box feature that the series is now known for. Rise Against the Empire and Force Awakens Play Sets are going to arrive at a later date, and Inside Out's Play Set will be available at launch. This review is only assessing the Starter Pack, but look out for coverage of other Play Sets in the future. Phew! With that out of the way, let's move onto the content actually included with the base game. At this point, it's safe to say that the collective of developers involved with the project has figured out how to craft a meaningful combat system. To prevent people from mashing buttons, delayed combo attacks have been implemented, as well as mechanics like juggling, and a launcher that's initiated by holding down the attack button. You can also launch an enemy with a lightsaber and juggle them with a blaster, then when they land, use a combo. [embed]307321:60117:0[/embed] In other words, it's easy for kids and parents alike to both enjoy themselves -- the more skilled party will be able to dig deep enough into the ability system and customization elements, and the other party can mostly just wing it. It's a much better balance than the LEGO games, which tend to be just family-friendly. In Disney Infinity 3.0, "hard" mode is akin to a normal setting in most action games, and "Extreme" can be rather tough at points, though artificially so with gigantic life pools for regular enemies. The characters themselves feel fresh, especially the force-wielding ones like Yoda and Anakin, who have access to force push and pull maneuvers on top of their unique super abilities and powers. For instance, Yoda can knock an enemy up in the air, use his super to instantly dash to someone across the room, combo them, and then dash back to catch the other foe. It's not as advanced as other top-notch action games, but it does feel like a marked improvement. As for the story pack, Twilight of the Republic takes a more traditional turn, compared to the one-map sandboxes of past Play Sets. Here, you'll fly between different hubs with your ships, consisting of individual planets like Naboo, Tatooine, Geonisis, and Coruscant, as well as the vast expanse of space in Star Fox-esque sequences, complete with barrel rolls and quick turns. I really dig the variety on offer here, because while the current Star Wars characters can't move about as freely as say, Iron Man or Spider-Man, the hubs all feel unique in their own way. Additionally, Disney is boasting that all Star Wars characters are compatible with all Star Wars Play Sets, which helps (albeit partially) solve the issue of having a bunch of toys that don't work, similar to how the Marvel worlds functioned. You still have to earn tokens to unlock the use of other characters, but they're more easily accessible, and you only need to find one rather than a series of them. Having said that, it's a bummer that the base game didn't come with more than just Star Wars. It would have been great to see a fully fledged Disney property (like Mickey's Toontown) since 1.0 was heavily Pixar-infused, and 2.0 was a Marvel joint. If you're keen on playing with every toy though, the Toy Box is still available. Not only can you create levels on your own with various setups like racing, adventure, and arena action, but you can also easily find stages online to play with one of the best hubs in the business. What makes Disney Infinity so great is that Disney curates content for you in addition to all of the usual fixins, and provides easy access to top-rated creations -- so it takes very little effort to find the "good stuff." I had access to a limited amount of levels pre-launch, which includes a Gravity Falls level with a log ride and roller coaster, as well as a rhythm memorization minigame, a seek-and-find puzzle, a stealth sequence, and of course, classic platforming levels. If you pre-order the game, you'll also net the Toy Box Takeover Play Set, which really should have been included in the base package for everyone. It's essentially Diablo, Infinity style, and you can use every character in the game. It's far more fun than "Escape from the Kyln" in 2.0 as it contains a procedurally generated dungeon in it as well as a host of fixed story levels, and will last you roughly three hours. Some purists are probably seething at the idea of fighting Darth Maul to the tune of Gitchee Gitchee Goo, but I'm completely okay with it, and I assume your kids will be too. Just like its predecessor, Disney Infinity 3.0 feels a bit limited by the lack of variety in the Starter Pack, but the good news is that the studio is still on track with its core mission to create an action game for all ages. Twilight of the Republic is still a fun way to spend your time, and the Toy Box Mode should keep you busy even if you don't intend on buying any more pricey add-ons. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. All current Star Wars figures were provided as well for testing.]
Disney Infinity review photo
Use the toys, Luke
It's only been two years since the release of the first Disney Infinity, which managed to become a massive hit before venturing into Marvel territory in the second game. Now, Disney has tapped the Star Wars market, and i...

Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Aug 28 // Laura Kate Dale
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS Vita)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: September 1 (North America), September 4 (Europe)MSRP: $39.99 So, let's start with where Ultra Despair Girls departs from the previous Danganronpa games on Vita. Instead of investigating crimes scenes for clues, the bulk of your gameplay time in Ultra Despair Girls will be spent as Komaru Naegi shooting robot Monokuma bears with a techno-megaphone. The megaphone, which apparently acts as a "hacking gun," shoots lines of "code bullets" to effect the robots you come into contact with. Break Bullets act as standard damage dealers, but your gun also has less typical ammo types, such as Dance Bullets that cause enemies to stop on the spot and dance, allowing you to put distance between them and yourself. Much of the core gameplay loop feels like you're playing a zombie-themed third-person shooter. Enemies tend to be slow and rambling, take time to kill, and deal large amounts of damage if they reach you. While this is fine in theory, claustrophobic environments, an overly close camera, and numerous invisible walls make this core gameplay at times more frustrating than it needs to be. The idea of a code gun shooting robotic enemies is cool, but the gameplay hiccups -- as well as the infrequency of acquiring interesting new code bullet types -- meant I rarely got excited. Oh, there's also a melee sword combat-focused playable character, but their use is limited by a meter. That's a real shame, because a second gameplay style available to switch to at any time might have helped keep the mechanics from becoming stale this fast. So, does the narrative save Ultra Despair Girls from death at the hands of one of Monokuma's elaborate devices? Well, yes and no. It rescues the game from death, but still gives it a mild case of public torture. [embed]307925:60156:0[/embed] In Ultra Despair Girls, we find ourselves in a city overtaken by murderous young children bent on seeing adults torn to shreds. This gang of prepubescent killers, the Warriors of Hope, have amassed an army of youngsters to control robots that are utilised to kill from safety. Playing as the younger sister of the first game's protagonist, who has conveniently been locked away in her apartment for a year and not noticed that the world has gone to shit around her, you escape with the series running split-personality serial killer and attempt to take back control of the city. Thanks to the shift in narrative focus from confined drama to city-sprawling mission, there's a lower frequency of plot twists than in previous entries. The twists and turns in the narrative are among the strongest in the series, but they feel padded further apart. The cast of characters introduced in Ultra Despair Girls are just as over the top, memorable, and well-written as any characters introduced to date in the series, which is one of the areas the game continues to shine. General moment-to-moment dialogue and character interactions are superb and were the driving force that kept me invested through to the end. The biggest problem: narrative pacing. The game felt like it was probably five or six hours too long. It's worth noting that both the enemy designs and narrative in Ultra Despair Girls are some of the darkest, creepiest, most unsettling to date, and that says a lot for this particular series. From horrible mutated creatures to themes I would hesitate to subject adult characters to let alone children, the game gets pretty unnerving in places. That's not a complaint by any means -- Ultra Despair Girls pulls it off perfectly. Ultimately, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls just didn't click for me the same way previous games did. Sure the narrative still has some strong moments, but it's punctuated with third-person shooter gameplay that doesn't enhance my engagement with the narrative the same way the first two visual novels did. If you're a series fan, there's a good, text-heavy, hands-off narrative to be explored here, but the gameplay sections really dragged it down for me. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Danganronpa review photo
Great story, odd gameplay loop
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair have been some of my favourite Vita games in recent years. A pair of murder mystery visual novels, the games melded puzzle solving, courtroom drama, and murdered school kid...

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