hot  /  reviews  /  video  /  blogs  /  forum

reviews

Review: Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm

Jul 07 // Kyle MacGregor
Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm (Windows PC)Developer: PDW: HotapenPublisher: Nyu MediaMSRP: $14.99Released: July 7, 2015 Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm often draws comparisons to Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, and for good reason. It was a major influence for designer Ume-Zono, who was an active competitor in tournaments, and has its fingerprints all over the place -- from the visuals to the parry system. In terms of the basic controls, there are four main attack buttons (split between light and heavy punches and kicks), plus two others that allow players to parry high and low attacks. Of course, there are combos and supers, though most of them are fairly simple and easy to pull off. That goes a long way in making the game feel accessible to newcomers. While there certainly are deeper systems to be explored, I felt comfortable with Yatagarasu in minutes, quickly picking up a Shoto-style character (there are two) and was throwing fireballs and dragon punches in no time. True to its inspiration, Yatagarasu is all about controlling space on the ground, and there are some interesting wrinkles in terms of movement to help you do so. There's a quick forward jump similar to King of Fighters' hyper hop, which is useful for closing distance or avoiding projectiles while mitigating your susceptibility to anti-air attacks -- which can't be blocked. Meanwhile, dashing is nice for backing up quickly, but still leaves you vulnerable to strikes.  The roster includes a diverse group of eleven fighters, all of whom are unlocked from the get-go. In addition to Shoto guys, the cast features a grappler, a pair of sword-swinging ladies that look nearly identical but play very differently, a Dudley clone boxer, and teleporting ninja. This version of the game adds three new characters, Kotaro (a technical fighter mid-air specialist), Azure (who makes use of a Reppuken à la King of Fighters' Geese), and Aja (a slow and heavy sword user). While there aren't a ton of characters, it still has a nice variety and the limited number of options means it probably won't take you too long to decide which ones fit your preferred styles of play. After selecting a fighter, you will have to make a couple decisions that add a bit of color to the experience. The game will prompt you to power up one of your two supers, which will make that one more powerful for that battle. Yatagarasu also has a commentary system, which features prominent faces from the fighting game community, including Jchensor, UltraDavid, and Maximilian. The commentary is a cute idea, but it can be distracting. And while there are a number of voices to choose from, after spending a while with the game I'd heard just about everything they'd had to offer and opted to switch them off entirely. There aren't a lot of other extras to be found, though. The package is about spartan as it gets, coming with a pair of arcade modes, versus, network play, and surprisingly robust training mode. Of course, the quality of the online experience is of the utmost importance. Or at least you'd think so. Despite GGPO support being promised in the project's crowdfunding campaign, the lag-reducing middleware has not yet been implemented, which is a huge disappointment. The development team still plans to include GGPO eventually, but it will not be there at launch. Since I've been playing Yatagarasu pre-release, I wasn't spoiled for choice in terms of competition, leading me to reluctantly take on a number of opponents with less than stellar ping.  I've experienced a lot of that in my time with Yatagarasu thus far, pushing past a string of minor headaches to enjoy the combat. Everything outside of battle -- from the way the game launches to the austere menus and 4:3 resolution that doesn't take into account widescreen -- it all could have been handled so much better. Even just getting my controllers and fight pad to work properly was a constant source of frustration. Without rhyme or apparent reason, something always seemed to be going wrong, putting a damper on an otherwise great experience. That's really a pity too, because when you're in a match and everything's working properly this game is an absolute dream. I enjoy the minimalist visuals and emphasis on mind games and feeling out your opponent, rather than pulling off technical combos. In a lot of ways, it's refreshing how stripped down Yatagarasu is, but it would have been nice to see more attention around the periphery.  Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm is wonderful, except when it isn't. From first blood to knockout this is an exceptional fighting game. I just wish the rest of it was held to that same standard.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Yatagarasu review photo
A strong contender
[Disclosure: The reviewer supported Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm's Indiegogo campaign.] Yatagarasu has taken a long and winding road to get where it is today. The doujin fighting game has existed in one form or an...

Review: Roving Rogue

Jul 03 // Chris Carter
Roving Rogue (Wii U)Developer: Padaone GamesPublisher: Padaone GamesMSRP: $9.99Released: July 2, 2015 The basic gist is pretty genius. Players will take control of Kurt the Righteous, who has just slain the final boss of the game. But what happens when said big bad dies? You can't just jump out of a window at the top of his massive fortress, right -- you have to walk back through where you came from. That's what you'll be doing throughout the course of Roving Rogue. Kurt only has one mechanic to master, so you won't get too flustered as you're busting your way out. Using a two-button system, one button jumps, and the other teleports. By quickly tapping the latter button you can warp a short distance, and holding it will stop your progress and allow you to aim a cursor in whatever direction you desire; it's a lot like Daud's blinking power in the Dishonored DLC. It's an easy concept to pick up, and it works very well. Players can opt to make a lot of jumps manually for safety, or go for a riskier teleport jump at nearly every turn. It makes every platforming portion a choice, but you can only teleport through specially marked "golden" walls to prevent you from breaking the game too hard. While the controls are on point, the levels on which you perform these antics are a mixed bag. Once you've played the first 10 stages or so you've basically seen it all, a feeling that's augmented by the fact that there are only six enemy types in total, all of which essentially operate in the same patrolling manner. There are some new ideas presented on occasion like darkness, and a switch between horizontal and vertical layouts, but it never really iterates beyond that. Four player co-op is definitely a big draw if you happen to have three other people on hand. [embed]295212:59321:0[/embed] Like the level design, the way the developers have chosen to approach the lore is also both brilliant and flawed. Although the premise is based on Kurt's tired old memory loss trope, you're basically rediscovering the fluff of the game's universe as you play it. Picking up collectibles will in turn decrypt diary entries explaining the initial journey throughout the castle, and why you're actually doing it. It even lends itself to multiple endings if you find enough. On the flipside, there's also a less stylish storytelling element -- Twitter feeds. I can't stand these, as they're basically a collective of memes and hashtags that are seemingly chosen at random, presented between levels. They're easy to skip, but feel wholly unnecessary. As for the visual style itself it's a bit plain when it comes to most of the game's animations and structures, but I actually dig the Loderunner feel to it, and as I stated previously, it does play well. Roving Rogue failed to really capture my interest throughout the entire adventure, but from a raw gameplay perspective I had some fun with the platforming bits. You'll enjoy it even more with friends. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Roving Rogue photo
Beam me up, ninja
When I heard of a game concept that starts you off at the last boss and takes you back through his castle as the story progresses, I was intrigued. Sadly, the mere premise of Roving Rogue is probably its strongest quality.

Review: RONIN

Jun 30 // Patrick Hancock
RONIN (PC)Developer: Tomasz Wacławek Publisher: Devolver DigitalMSRP: $12.99Released: June 30, 2015 RONIN uses a barebones and cliche story. The main character wants to avenge their father and does so by killing five targets. A photograph with all of the targets together, along with the father, is used as a loading screen, which leads to the assumption that they were close at one time. What happened between then and now isn't ever delved into, and the player is sort of left with little to no story to go off of. Just kill the targets, because dead father. Got it? Every target plays out exactly the same. Two stages of going around and hacking computers, then one stage with the target in it. This repeats every single time, with the exception of the final stage. Even the stages with different objectives play exactly the same way, so it hardly matters. Playing RONIN feels like playing the same mission over and over again, about twelve times.  Each level even has the same three mini-objectives: don't kill any civilians, don't set off the alarm, and kill every enemy. If all three of these are completed, a skill point is awarded. This is the only form of character progression, and is essentially mandatory. The skills add combat techniques like throwing and recalling the sword or deploying a hologram. Certain skills are way better than others. For those who are about to play: get the skill that allows for hanging up unsuspecting enemies, then go for the one that allows teleporting to enemies. They are by far the best skills. [embed]294727:59273:0[/embed] There are two forms of gameplay: free form and turn-based. While outside of combat, movement is free form. Jumping uses the mouse and functions a lot like jumping in Gunpoint, for those familiar with the game. Holding the jump button brings up an adjustable arc, and releasing the jump button sends the player in that arc. However, unlike Gunpoint, this mechanic is incredibly awkward and never seems to work the way it should. When spotted by an enemy, turn-based combat begins. The game pauses and will show where the enemy will be firing, allowing the player to make a move accordingly. The player always moves first, so attacking at a guard who is about to fire works out just fine. The problem is that the only way to move is to jump. If the player is hanging from a ceiling and a guard is about to shoot them, it is impossible to just scootch a little bit to the right. The only option from hanging is to jump down, which isn't always a great option. Jumping on an enemy will stun them, forcing them to recover for two turns. Stunning an enemy also awards one point towards the Limit Break bar. This bar slowly fills up with action points as the player stuns or kills enemies. These points are used to utilize the acquired skills, or to use the Limit Break itself. If the bar completely fills up, the Limit Break is automatically activated, which allows two turns at once. Once used, the bar is completely drained. Most of the time, I would have much preferred to not use the Limit Break and instead use my skills to dispatch enemies. The issue is that jumping takes one action point to use, and if the player doesn't either stun or kill an enemy, that point is lost. Some skills, like throwing the sword, can only be activated mid-air for some reason. This means players have to waste an action point jumping, then next turn they can spend the two points it takes to throw a sword and complete the action. This essentially means it takes three skill points to use the skill instead of two, and can be quite frustrating.  Battles are essentially puzzles to be solved by the player, and there is often only one real solution. Most rooms have one entrance, and from there it is a matter of figuring out how to hop around in the most efficient way. Players with different skills will approach a battle differently, but given a single set of skills, they will solve battles in just about the same way every time. There are also only four enemy types throughout the entire game, so battles are different ways of arranging the same thing. Despite the awkwardness of the jump and frustrating design decisions in many of the levels, every once in a while something beautiful happens. It happens when all the skills are used effectively and players actually feel like a Ronin warrior. These moments occur somewhat frequently, and do a lot of good to help alleviate the otherwise constant frustration of memorizing a level's solution. There are checkpoints throughout each stage, though it's not conveyed to the player where they are. They can be pretty generous at times, usually saving right before a battle. However I did encounter instances where the checkpoint left me in an inescapable position, forcing me to restart the level. At one moment, the game saved just as the alarm was going off, making it unavoidable. The game then crashed immediately afterwards. The option to go back to past checkpoints would be a very welcome addition. The last mission has zero checkpoints, and forces players to do the entire thing all at once. It's a great mission compared to all of the others, largely because it's actually somewhat different, but considering the amount of accidental deaths I've had on it alone, it's an asinine decision. There's also a New Game+ mode, which adds more difficulty to the stages. Behavior also seems to change, as guards that previously shot in a contiguous straight line now had upwards recoil. The problem is, there's no incentive to play New Game+. The standard campaign was already the same mission every time. Why do it again? There are no new skills to acquire, just an added challenge for those who are yearning for more of the same. While I played this game on PC, it is clearly designed for tablets. The user interface is awful, consisting of simple text and gigantic buttons. To perform any action, players must click on big floating circles above the object, whether it be to kill an enemy or ride an elevator. Sometimes players can tap the W key to perform an action, like moving the elevator up a floor, but other times it simply doesn't work, like when entering the elevator. It's gaudy and frustrating to have to click on these bubbles all the time. RONIN strives to achieve the level of masterful design of games like Gunpoint and Mark of the Ninja, but seems to have overlooked what made them so special in the first place. It has its moments of truly feeling like a badass, but they do not make up for the frustration of everything in between. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
RONIN review photo
Where are the other 46?
When I first saw RONIN, I thought I was looking at a mod for Gunpoint. The jumping mechanic appeared the same, the environments were almost identical, and the idea looked just about the same. Turns out, RONIN is not that...

Review: Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3

Jun 30 // Chris Carter
Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 (3DS [reviewed], PS Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Tecmo KoeiMSRP: $29.99Released: June 30, 2015 In a sense, although Chronicles 3 is a continuation of the existing Chronicles offshoot series, it actually ends up being bite-sized take on Warriors 4, but with a few twists in tow. Players will create their own warrior right off the bat and follow a more personalized story, putting them smack in the middle of famous figures like Takeda Shingen. It's a strategy fitting for a portable, even if it takes some liberties when it comes to gameplay. What this does is it allows Samurai newcomers to instantly acclimate themselves without having to know any background on the franchise whatsoever. Even with the last full iteration, it was tough to glean a lot of ancillary backstory about armies and characters unless you had kept up with the series. With Chronicles you can just jump right in, and it will assist you in filling in the blanks. There's a bit of choice involved in the pre-battle cutscenes, but it's mainly an illusion and more of an excuse to learn more about the cast. This goes double for the story, which doesn't really change, and is more of a predetermined narrative for your character. Having said that, the "bonding" system does allow you to unlock new scenes (and a few levels) the more you battle (or pay to drink tea) with fellow officers. [embed]295006:59270:0[/embed] For the most part, gameplay is roughly the same: there's your standard attacks and combo openers as well as supers. It's fast, and despite claims of being "repetitive," it's still a damn fun approach to beat-'em-ups. Chronicles 3 takes things a bit further though (as it has in the past) and allows you to swap between four characters in the battlefield at will, which is better than Samurai's recent two-character mechanic, and a great way to always keep you in the action. Instead of running back and forth constantly, you can just switch to someone else. The main storyline took me roughly 10 hours to complete, then it's off to individual battles while you grind up your character and earn gold to buy new outfits. Instead of a bunch of different bonus gametypes, you'll have a simple challenge mode at your disposal, which is basically a score attack on a timer. Most of your enjoyment will derive from grinding it out for rare weapons and fighting enemies across the span of the entire campaign all at once. It's fun, but its appeal is definitely limited and your mileage may vary. I would have preferred more modes. Sadly, the 3DS hardware has not been kind to Chronicles. The game looks incredibly generic, especially in comparison to the detail that was put into Samurai Warriors 4's new character models. You can't even make out faces for enemy soldiers a lot of the time, much less the set pieces in the background. As a reminder, this review is based off the 3DS version (the only one that was provided), which does have the added benefit of constantly displaying the map on the bottom screen. The 3D effect enhances the experience a bit, but sadly, also contributes to some slowdown. It's never unplayable, but it does make things worse and I don't recommend using it. Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 is held back by the switch to the 3DS, and I recommend just picking up the past core entry instead. In the meantime, I'll attempt to locate a Vita version to see how it compares to Warriors 4, which was also released on the Vita earlier this year. With some of the performance issues smoothed out, this personal story would be more worth telling. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Samurai Warriors review photo
Not quite as punchy on a portable
Samurai Warriors 4 was a noticeable advancement for the series, and added a number of interesting mechanics like instant character switching and more varied move sets for each character. It even solved a few common compl...

Review: AVerMedia Live Gamer EXTREME

Jun 29 // Jed Whitaker
Product: Live Gamer EXTREMEManufacturer: AVerMediaMSRP: $179.99 1080p, 60fps is the holy grail of console games these days and the Live Gamer EXTREME (LGX) handles those specs without issue. Footage looks exactly as intended by the game's developers. The LGX also has all the frills you'd expect a capture device to have such as HDMI input and output, its own recording software, but also includes some things I've never seen on other cards. Included in the box is an HDMI cable, a component cable, a 3.5mm cable, and a PS3 cable. The latter cable can be used to connect directly to a PS3 instead of connecting it with component cables, a feature only on the LGX, though I'm not sure how useful it is as it seems gamers and game publishers have mostly moved on from the previous generation. A component cable adapter is also included for capturing legacy consoles.  The included 3.5mm cable can be used to connect an external audio input source to be mixed into streams and captures alongside a 3.5mm microphone jack. Personally I opt to go with USB microphones, as they tend to offer a better sound quality overall, but for those on a tighter budget, a 3.5mm microphone might be a better fit as they are typically less expensive. The purpose of the 3.5mm jacks is to allow the LGX to be used in place of an external audio mixer, though most streaming software allows you to do this already. Also in the box is a manual, the Rec 2 -- AVerMedia's own capture and streaming software -- and a three-month subscription to the streaming software XSplit. I could go on for days about the various streaming software out there, but currently there is no one true winner. Rec 2 is pretty simple and great for beginners, allowing for picture in picture and layout designs with ease, while XSplit has more options and advanced features but runs a monthly fee. I personally use OBS, as it is free and covers most of my needs, though sometimes I still use Rec 2 or XSplit if they have a specific feature I need at the time.  The main feature that the LGX touts is ultra-low latency uncompressed video, meaning you see the game as intended with no real lag or delay between what you'd see on your TV. In my pseudo-scientific tests, I shot 240fps footage with my iPhone of my computer screen versus my TV screen with Mario Kart 8's timer on the screen, and found that AVerMedia's claim of under 0.05 seconds of latency is true. On average, it seemed be around 0.04 seconds, sometimes going up to .08 at worst and .02 at best. The latency is better than any previous capture device I've used and allows me to play off my computer screen instead of switching inputs, as I use a single-screen setup with my desktop in the living room connected to my TV. This allows me to react to my onscreen follower and subscriber alert without having an impact on my gameplay.  Also included is the ability to print your own cover image for branding and vanity purposes. It doesn't serve much purpose, in my opinion, but you can easily make what you'd like with the included cover creator software. I personally suggest a Red Bull can overlaid onto an image of Destiny for the coolest of covers. Overall, AVerMedia has made the Live Gamer EXTREME the capture device to beat. It is more feature rich than competitors at the same price point, and no other device has offered the minimal latency. [This review is based on retail hardware provided by the manufacturer.]
AVerMedia LGX review photo
Live streamer's delight
I've been making gaming videos and streaming for what seems like forever, and I've gone through my fair share of capture devices. My original card only did 720p and 30fps, required hard drives setup in a RAID, and only captur...

Review: You Must Build A Boat

Jun 29 // Conrad Zimmerman
You Must Build a Boat (Android, iOS, PC) Developer: EightyEightGames Publisher: EightyEightGames MSRP: $2.99 (Android, iOS) / $4.99 (PC)Released: June 4, 2015 You must build a boat, and that's all there is to it. Building a boat means assembling a crew. Assembling a crew means exploring dungeons located at points along the river, which is what you'll spend pretty much all your time in the game doing. When attempting dungeon exploration, the player is presented with a view of their character running left to right through a tunnel. On the run, they'll be stopped by obstacles. Being stopped doesn't prevent the background from moving, and the character is dragged back to the left as long as they aren't running. Enemy obstacles push the player back faster by attacking. If they fall off the left edge of the screen, the run is over. Rather than engaging directly to surmount obstacles, the action is represented through puzzle gameplay. On the most basic level, the play will be instantly familiar to anyone who has experienced a "Match-3" game before. The player moves tiles to create matching lines of three or more. Upon making a match, the connected tiles disappear, tiles above fall into the newly created space, and new tiles drop in to replace those lost. Each of the seven basic types of tiles produces a different effect when cleared. Some are directly used to pass obstacles and progress further, and their effects are wasted when cleared with nothing to use them on. Some have a chance to add special tiles to the grid, which provide one-time use effects when clicked. Others provide no immediate benefit but serve as resources back on the boat, not to mention occupying valuable real estate within the puzzle better served by more urgently needed tiles. Clearing groups of more than three tiles at a time multiplies the effectiveness of the tiles. In YMBAB, tiles are moved as entire rows and columns, wrapping around the edges of the grid. This particular method of movement is a bit more interesting than, say, simply switching the positions of two neighboring tiles. It could have an impact on strategy by allowing a tile at the bottom of the grid to move to the top and drop down to pair more easily with others, or anticipating groupings on opposing sides. That is assuming that you had time to actually think about the actions being taken, which is almost never the case. The near-constant pressure of needing to find a relevant match to clear an obstacle just doesn't allow for it. It does, however, offer a lot of opportunities to create matches once the player gets accustomed to visualizing the whole board and eliminates the risk of a situation where no combinations can be made. The game's tutorial makes it all look so easy. But once you're past the introductory runs which demonstrate how the different tiles work and the game no longer gives you a moment to look at what you're doing, there's no letting up. Speed becomes essential and there's no substitute for it. Intense, yes, but also exhausting. Dungeons are endless but increase their difficulty at regular intervals. Each new difficulty level reached provides a helpful opportunity to restore lost ground on the map while adding a new effect to tweak dungeon elements. Enemies may receive a boost in damage, chests become more difficult to open, or greater financial rewards could be bestowed, among other curses and boons. To reach new dungeons, specific objectives (assigned prior to entering) must be accomplished, with each adding some element to the construction of the boat when successful. Success has less to do with strategy than instinct, luck, and persistence. In attempting specific objectives, it's possible to have some forethought (a vendor added a few dungeons in allows for some adjustment of tile probabilities), but the player is always at the game's mercy to some extent. That said, it isn't cruel either. YMBAB only ever rewards the player for playing it, each run earning additional resources to spend on upgrades that make subsequent runs easier, making progress inexorable as long as the will to play persists. Back on the boat between runs, the player may purchase upgrades to attack and shield tiles, monsters captured in the dungeons can be trained to provide additional bonuses, and acquired crew members offer other benefits. The short round length and simple, lizard-brain gameplay makes it ideal for either the commute or the commode. Dedicating more attention to it than that may prove to be a bit tedious (not least because of the simple, repetitive music) and the design lends itself far better to touch controls for mobile devices than a mouse, so your better bet is to grab it on the phone and take it with you places. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
You Must Build A Boat photo
I mean, if you feel like it
The premise of You Must Build A Boat is simple, but unexplained. In order to travel up a river, you must build a boat. The why is, seemingly, irrelevant.

Review: Super Star Path

Jun 29 // Jed Whitaker
Super Star Path (PC)Developer: DYA Games Publisher: DYA GamesMSRP: $2.99Released: June 22, 2015 Flying through tons of enemies to get to a boss at the end of a level is nothing new, but how Super Star Path makes you get there is unique. Enemies approach from the top of the screen and are mostly static aside from some small animations. Shooting them causes them to blow up, taking any adjacent enemies of the same color with them. The final enemies to explode in a chain will cause nearby enemies of different colors to crystallize which then can't be cleared from the screen.  After navigating through the maze-like wave of enemies on every level, a boss will appear. Boss battles play similarly to what you'd expect see in a bullet hell shooter; tons of bullets covering the screen with a boss that requires a lot of shots. Luckily the difficulty of a bullet hell boss can be curbed by purchasing upgradeable ships. After normal enemies are destroyed, they leave behind crystals that are used as currency to buy one of the 10 ships. Each ship has some kind of added benefit -- like being immune to certain attacks or increasing the value of crystals -- and stats that can be upgraded. During each stage, three special enemies appear that, when killed, drop upgrade points; one for speed, health, and damage. These upgrades can then be applied to each specific ship to power them up. Upgrading health allows ships to take up to five hits before exploding and is really necessary for some of the later boss fights, unless you're a veteran bullet hell player. Each level has its own unique twist. Some levels have added enemies flying at you, while others have mines that explode when you get too close or lasers that shoot in straight lines, clearing anything in their way. Figuring out which ship to use for each level feels almost Mega Man-like, as each stage's hazards have a ship that is immune to them. Every level also has three black bat enemies that drop green emeralds that are required for completing the game; thankfully, you can play levels over until you come across them without much trouble. While blasting through each 16-bit-esque level, an awesome soundtrack plays and the main character makes quips about what is happening around him. Something these quips include swearing, which may be off-putting to some, but they are far and few between. Nothing you wouldn't see on Dtoid every day. If anything, the swears add some flavor and character to the game, something most space shooters are lacking.  Super Star Path nails the mixing of space shooter, roguelike, and puzzle genres in a way I didn't even know I wanted. Sadly, the whole experience is over within an hour. But at a measly three dollars, I find it hard to complain -- though it did leave me wanting more. If that's the only complaint I had with the game, it is easily recommendable. I just hope we get to see more space shooter puzzlers in the future! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Super Star Path review photo
Space puzzles, the final frontier
Space shooters used to be popular. Back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, everyone knew Gradius and R-Type, amongst others. These days they are few and far between, at least quality ones. Sure Steam is flooded with them...

Review: Subject 13

Jun 29 // Caitlin Cooke
Subject 13 (PC) Developer: Paul Cuisset , Microids Publisher: Gravity Europe SAS Release: May 28, 2015 Subject 13 begins dramatically with your character, Franklin Fargo (yes, that’s his actual name), attempting suicide via driving into a river. As he descends into the water, a mysterious event occurs which transports him into an abandoned research facility inhabited by a strange disembodied robotic voice. Franklin (otherwise known as Subject 13) is encouraged by this entity to use his intellect to solve puzzles and make it out of the compound -- and thus begins the challenge. The gameplay has a nice balance to it, starting off with fairly simple concepts as an introduction but not taking too long to get your mind ticking. Most of the challenges are spin-offs of popular games and brain teasers like Reversi, Minesweeper, sliding puzzles, etc. If you aren’t a fan of these kinds of puzzles -- especially sliders since they make up approximately half of the puzzles -- then this game may not be for you. There’s also a bit of traditional point-and-click detective work along with finding items as you search for ways to make it past obstacles. The game’s inventory allows you to inspect, rotate, and zoom in on any item -- which adds additional complexity to the puzzles, as many of them require you to modify, combine, or inspect items to find solutions. If you get stuck, a hint is available at any time, however I found them to be simple and would often give me information I had already figured out on my own. Contextualized pointers are extremely helpful and help you determine if an object is movable, or requires an item to move forward. When solving more complex puzzles, the game transitions to a clear first-person viewpoint which makes the puzzles easy to work with and simple to back out of with the scroll of a mouse wheel. Luckily, there were only a few moments when I felt puzzle logic or solutions were obtuse and I needed to search for help online. While Subject 13 isn’t extremely long, the pacing is just right in terms of the story. Small plot elements are sprinkled throughout in “testimonies”, recordings from researchers who had lived in the complex. The mysterious voice that guides you throughout the game also occasionally asks questions to which you can respond and in turn receive background info on Franklin. Strange occurrences become more and more frequent as you progress, revealing more of the interesting details of the story. Eerie background music is perfectly stationed throughout, amplifying the mysterious setting. The plot and story elements seemed to borrow heavily from other games (ie Portal and Mass Effect come to mind), however Subject 13 is interesting in its own right. The only real downside to the story was the quality of the dialogue and voice acting -- unfortunately the latter wasn’t very good, and some of the dialogue came off as cheesy. The writing could have also used some proofing, as there were times when the dialogue didn’t match up with the subtitles, or just didn’t quite flow well. However it was a valiant effort for an indie game with only two voice actors. Being a puzzle fanatic, I really enjoyed Subject 13, but I was disappointed with a few elements. For example, sometimes the action wheel where you could view or take an item wouldn’t connect, depending on which angle you were viewing the object from. More than a few times I found that I missed clues because of this. I also felt it was a bit of a let down to make the last puzzle of the game an extremely large, glorified Minesweeper. I was hoping that with the ingenuity of some of the previous puzzles that the game would go out with a bang. That being said, Subject 13 as a whole is thoughtfully challenging. I can see it working really well for casual and hardcore puzzle fans alike as it intermingles timeless puzzles with original concepts. Despite the storyline having some slightly cheesy and generic moments, it was intriguing enough to keep me interested and engaged. Although it doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessors in the genre, it’s definitely worth a play if you’re a fan of exploration puzzlers. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Subject 13 review photo
Logic always wins
Point-and-click puzzle adventures set in an abandoned world were always my favorite games to play growing up. There’s something exciting about uncovering the story of a desolate world via solving puzzles -- games like T...

Review: Her Story

Jun 29 // Laura Kate Dale
Her Story (PC [reviewed], iOS) Developer: Sam BarlowPublisher: Sam BarlowMSRP: $5.99Released: June 24, 2015 From the first set of clips tagged murder, I had several options of which narrative thread to pull at first. Did I want to look for clips related to the victim's name first? Maybe I should try to track down the name of the person accused of the crime? Perhaps I wanted to go in a completely different direction and try to find references to the murder weapon on the database. Right from the start, several different avenues opened up and the number of narrative options to explore only expanded as I went deeper into the case. You can't organize clips you find chronologically or watch them in order without re-searching for them, meaning that a lot of the work of piecing the narrative together is down to you as the player. There's an in game application that will show you which pieces of the case you've watched and which you have not, but it's up to you to keep track of where each statement falls in the timeline of police interviews and how their placement fits together. Much of the mechanical challenge in the game comes from piecing the story together in a way that draws conclusions you're personally satisfied with. At around two hours in, I had seen enough that the game offered to let me see the credits roll, but I personally wanted to know much more of what was happening and ended up playing for around six hours on and off before I was truly satisfied with my understanding of the events. Others I know felt they knew everything they needed within half an hour. In terms of pacing, Her Story lasts however long you want it to in regards to narrative. Any time you feel the game is ready to end, you can draw your conclusions and walk away. Ultimately, Her Story is a really inventive way of exploring a narrative with an impressive number of twists and turns. Every time I thought I understood what was happening, a clip would become unearthed that turned my understanding of the case on its head. The story was personal, uplifting, dark, twisted, insightful, and unnerving all at once. I know we get a lot of talk of narrative-focused adventures as "not games," but this is a narrative that undoubtedly benefits from its open-ended interactive nature. If this isn't a perfect example of how video game interactivity can enhance a narrative, I don't know what is. Being able to unearth these twists out of order, rushing to understand what you've found, and bouncing tonally back and forth across a series of interviews truly is the perfect way to experience this skillfully crafted narrative. It's not a typical structure for a game, but the mechanics really do work in the context of the narrative. If you like the idea of an open-ended '90s murder mystery with no guarantee you'll find a solid answer to its mysteries, then I can't recommend this highly enough. Her Story is a spectacular video game, and one of the most gripping personal narratives I've experienced in some time. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Her Story review photo
Let's solve a mid-'90s murder
Her Story is certainly not what you would call a traditional video game. Set entirely on a police computer database in the English town of Portsmouth, it breaks a lot of new ground in terms of blending its narrative and gamep...

Review: J-Stars Victory VS+

Jun 28 // Laura Kate Dale
J-Stars Victory Vs+ (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita) Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentRelease: June 26, 2015 (EU), June 30, 2015 (US) I may not be the most knowledgeable anime fan out there, but I'm always willing to try out a new series if it looks interesting. As such, I was pretty excited coming into J-Stars Victory VS+. I was hoping to experience well known characters I already knew, as well as finding new characters to get invested in and try watching going forward. Unfortunately, J-Stars Victory VS+ was a bit of a disappointment in that regard. The representations of characters I already knew didn't feel accurate and the hooks to get invested in new series just weren't there for me. So, as this is a fighting game first and foremost, let's talk about the fighting mechanics at play. Every character has one light attack button, a heavy attack button, a special attack button, a block and a dash. While these are tailored to each character, the movesets all feel very similar to play using. While it's cool to see Ichigo pull off a Getsuga Tensho and Goku a Kamehameha, both on a mechanical level act near identically. Every move is an approximation designed to fit a specific combat system's mold, which ultimately takes away some of what makes these characters unique. Defensive techniques like cancels are minimal, so if you wait for an attack animation to start then start mashing buttons you'll usually win. J-Stars Victory VS+ is not a game of skill, it's a game of waiting for any enemy to attempt anything slower than a light attack, interrupting with a light attack then button mashing while they remain locked in your combo. [embed]294934:59255:0[/embed] So, ignoring the fact the combat system itself lacks depth, lets look at how this functions as a pure fanservice game. Just looking at the numbers there is a lot here for fans of Shonen anime to love. There's representation from newer series like D.Gray-man as well as older series like Rurouni Kenshin and a whole host of series in between. There's even inclusions from my super niche sports anime, but only as support characters rather than full playable roster members. Damn, I was just about ready to praise this game for supporting my niche interests. So, let's talk about the modes on offer in J-Stars Victory VS+. There's J-Adventure, where you sail around the world on a tiny boat given to you by god to earn your way into a tournament of champions, where everyone involved seems perfectly fine with the fact god gave them a boat that couldn't get most of the places it needed to go and needlessly pads out the experience with narrative fluff between fights. This mode has four arcs, each of them near narratively identical. I couldn't see any reason players would want to go through all four of these, they're all equally padded and dull. Your other options are Victory Road which sets up special fights loosely themed around anime dream team fights, a standard Arcade mode which offers minimal challenge, local free battles and online free battles. None of these modes felt terribly coherent or fleshed out. On paper, the roster of nearly 40 playable characters is certainly impressive, but what makes these characters unique is rarely utilized fully. Each character's ultimate attack feels decidedly less visually impressive than comparable titles like Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. The story mode offered on disk features static 2D images of characters that may say the odd single word to each other, but otherwise remain silent. Their dialogue feels terribly homogeneous, stripped down so that every character speaks with the same uniform voice. This doesn't feel like a series of characters clashing for the first time, rather it feels like one person in many different outfits badly acting out their alternative universe fanfiction. Where the games opening cinematic gave me hope for a visually impressive, fanservice heavy experience, the single player largely boiled down to watching static images talk to each other in a weirdly unemotional tone then fight for no adequately explained reason. It just wasn't compelling. Ultimately, J-Stars Victory VS+ only succeeds as numbers on paper, the game itself being largely disappointing. The roster have had much of what made them unique stripped down, stopping me getting truly excited about the characters I knew and preventing me getting a sense of which characters were worth me investing future time watching. The mechanics are shallow, the fanservice is surface level and it only succeeds in terms of its pure number of supported characters. Overall, I walked away rather disappointed. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
J-Stars Victory VS+ photo
Mash, mash, mash, mash, mash, mash......
J-Stars Victory VS+ is a game that's mechanically light, heavy on fanservice volume but that only ever skims the surface of the characters it includes. If you want an anime brawler that focuses on the sheer volume of anime ch...

Review: The Controller Shop custom DualShock 4

Jun 26 // Kyle MacGregor
Okay, so maybe it wasn't a complete enigma. Still, cracking the case open and laying eyes on the controller for the first time, I was taken aback. It wasn't at all how I pictured it in my mind's eye. The thing literally glittered, metallic paint beaming in the sunlight, its splashy buttons distracting from the intricate detailed artwork in the periphery. It was shocking, really. Maybe a little gaudy. Certainly more than I bargained for, more vibrant and impressive than anything I might have conjured up. My attention was soon drawn to the portrait of Mr. Destructoid along the left handle. At a glance, our robot mascot looked flawless, so impeccable that I figured it was a decal. Upon closer inspection, though, you can see its tiny imperfections. This didn't roll off a conveyor belt in a factory somewhere. It was painstakingly rendered by hand, a labor of love. Subtle stripes and understated circuitry art accent the front panel, while the rear is underscored by a dozen or so little Space Invaders and an elaborate pattern of triangles clustered around the edge. While The Controller Shop offers rear paddles (similar to the ones featured in Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One Elite Controller) and foot pedal accessories, ours didn't come included with any significant hardware upgrades. But that isn't to say it feels identical to a standard DualShock 4. The surface is more glossy than matte, and the anterior lacks the grippy feel of other DualShock 4s. Having spent an extended period of time gaming with it, I can't say I prefer it over the basic edition, nor can I say it's any worse. Just different. Though there are a few specific instances where I might favor one over the other. In a side by side comparison, The Controller Shop's face buttons feel more satisfying. They're a tad clickier -- if that makes any sense. The shoulder buttons feel slightly heavier. The biggest difference was the D-pad, though. It takes more effort to move around, making it feel ill-suited for fighting games or other genres where a more rigid range of motion might be an impediment. On the other hand, the analogs feel firm and potentially more durable, which could be a plus, given how the set on the standard model are prone to falling apart. Whether or not a custom look and vaguely different feel is worth $100+ (or, in the case of this one, closer to $250 due to its hand-painted graphics and whatnot) is debatable and highly subjective. I can say that if you're in the market for such a luxury item, you could certainly do a lot worse. This may not have been the particular design I would have chosen for myself, but that was kind of the point. I wanted to see what The Controller Shop could do, and they produced a finely-made work of art that exceeded my expectations in many respects. If you can afford to channel that craftsmanship into your own style, it might very well be worth it. [This review is based on a retail unit of the controller provided by the manufacturer.]
REVIEW: Custom Controller photo
Handcrafted hardware
When a custom controller outfit offered to let us design our own tailor-made gamepad, it was a proposal we couldn't refuse. Except designing things is hard. So we rolled the dice and left that task in their hands, hoping thei...

Review: LEGO Jurassic World

Jun 26 // Ben Davis
LEGO Jurassic World (PS4 [reviewed], PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, 3DS, PC)Developer: Traveller's TalesPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $59.99Released: June 12, 2015 As a huge Jurassic Park fan, LEGO Jurassic World is pretty much exactly what I expected from a dinosaur game themed around children's toys. There is no shortage of humor, plenty of satisfying references to the movies and books, playable dinosaurs, and I get to run around as Ian Malcolm with his shirt torn open. What more could I ask for? LEGO Jurassic World's story is built around the plots of the movies, but while the movies can be tense and thrilling, the game remains silly and lighthearted. Death scenes from the films are played out in a comedic fashion. The LEGO characters are never actually killed; instead, they usually end up sharing a goofy moment with the dinosaur that attacks them. For example, Gennaro can be seen cleaning the T. Rex's teeth with a toilet brush after being pulled from his restroom hiding place, and the raptor tamer who dies in the very first scene of Jurassic Park only loses the precious sausage he was holding onto rather than his legs (there's a weird recurring sausage joke for some reason, which I can't say I really understood). Meanwhile, other parts feature raptors riding motorcycles, wearing fruit hats, and chasing lawn mowers through the long grass, so the dinos are generally more charming than they are terrifying. Of course, for a LEGO game, this was kind of a necessity. [embed]294839:59241:0[/embed] Gameplay is heavily puzzle-based, requiring obstacles to be solved by choosing the specific character required for the task. Most of these obstacles are accompanied by button prompts, and there are numerous quick time events scattered throughout as well. There is also some light combat, whenever the party is attacked by dinosaurs or InGen employees, but it involves little more than punching things until they get dizzy or fall apart. Characters do have health bars, but the only penalty for dying is losing a few studs, so it's not really a big deal. The health bars honestly feel wholly unnecessary, as there aren't any lives and characters already essentially feel invincible. They could have probably scrapped that mechanic entirely. It's possible to play as nearly every character from the Jurassic Park films, even minor characters such as Mr. DNA and that weird boy at the dig site who says raptors look like giant turkeys. Each character has their own unique skills which typically play off of their personalities and roles in the films, all of which will need to be utilized in order to traverse each level. Some characters, like Dr. Grant and Gray Mitchell, are good at building things out of dinosaur bones; characters like Lex Murphy and Kelly Malcolm can scream loud enough to shatter glass; characters like Tim Murphy and Ian Malcolm have items that can illuminate dark areas (night vision goggles and flares, for example); and others like Ellie Sattler and Owen Grady aren't afraid to get dirty and rummage through dino droppings (by diving in head first, no less!). It's necessary to play as many different characters in order to clear all of the puzzles and obstacles in the game. Of course, there's not only human characters, but dinosaurs to control as well. Most dinosaurs are unlocked by collecting amber bricks hidden in every level. They can be summoned via dinosaur creation pads, and sick dinosaurs can be healed in order to join the party as well. The dinosaurs come with their own sets of skills; Triceratops can charge and bash open large objects, Dilophosaurus can melt certain things with its venom, T. Rex can roar loud enough to shatter stuff, and Velociraptors can pull switches and sniff out hidden objects. The craziest option is the enormous Brachiosaurus, which can be used to crush certain platforms with a huge stomp, but it's so gigantic and slow that it's almost hilarious. It's even possible to play as Pteranodons and Mosasaurus, although they're restricted to the aviary and aquarium, respectively. Story mode will take the player through twenty levels centered around many of the most memorable and action-packed scenes from the movies. It's really fun to reenact classic scenes like the very first T. Rex attack, the raptors in the kitchen, the San Diego crisis, and more through the playful lens of the LEGO world. Every level is filled with puzzles to solve, obstacles to overcome, and a set amount of collectibles to find. Many levels implement chase sequences, such as running from the Gallimimus herd, or puzzle-based boss fights, like taking down Indominus Rex. There's nothing too complicated, though, so it should be an easy ride for most players. Upon completing each level in story mode, free play mode will be unlocked, allowing players to choose any character they want and switch to someone else at any time. Many of the collectibles can only be obtained in free play, since the characters in story mode might not have the required abilities, so it's necessary to play each level at least two times in order to find everything. Outside of story mode, players can also freely explore each of the four parks. The parks contain more collectibles to find, sick dinosaurs and workers in peril to help, characters to unlock, photograph locations, races, and more. The parks on Isla Sorna are unfortunately rather small and unexciting, but Isla Nublar's Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are both huge and full of all sorts of attractions and cool areas to discover. Strangely, though, once story mode is completed, free play in the parks takes place entirely during nighttime, which kind of bothered me as some areas just seem much less exciting in the dark. I'd prefer to view these beautiful parks in the bright sunshine. [Edit: Apparently, this can be changed, but only by fast travelling to specially marked areas on the map. Still an odd choice, but at least there are options!] Split-screen co-op is also an option, and players can jump in and out of the game at any time. Co-op can make solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles much easier, as players will not need to switch between characters as often and multiple tasks can be completed at once. For such a light-hearted adventure as LEGO Jurassic World, I can definitely see co-op being a popular option. The best aspect of LEGO Jurassic World for me was all the little nuances and nods to the films which were sprinkled throughout. Idle animations for characters usually highlighted certain aspects of their personalities or referenced specific moments from the movies. For example, Zach Mitchell will put on his headphones and start dancing, Amanda Kirby will test her megaphone (put that thing away!), and Ian Malcolm will run a Chaos Theory experiment by dripping water onto his hand. Many of the trophies also make great references to the movies; I think my favorite is the "Hello John!" trophy which is awarded for having both characters set to John Hammond. I also loved that Mr. DNA was in charge of all the tutorials and loading screen trivia. Aside from borrowing plot, characters, and locations from the movies, LEGO Jurassic World also borrows sound clips. While some new dialogue was recorded specifically for the game (mostly for the Jurassic World section), a lot of the dialogue is taken directly from the films. This can be entertaining at times (hearing Jeff Goldblum's ridiculous laugh on the helicopter never gets old, even when it's coming out of a LEGO character's mouth), but it can also be quite jarring. Since the tone of the movies does not match the tone of the game, the dialogue is often way too tense and emotional for what should be silly, light-hearted scenes. There are also many instances where background noise from the films can be heard in the game's dialogue, which sounds really strange when compared to the newly recorded dialogue. Unfortunately, LEGO Jurassic World is not without its fair share of bugs. During my time with the game, there were several instances where I had to restart a level after a character got stuck between a wall and an object and couldn't move or jump to escape, or after they fell through the ground when I switched away from them. There were also a few instances where, after spawning a dinosaur and taking control of it, I could no longer switch to any other character and was permanently stuck in my dinosaur body. Usually, this meant I lost all progress on that level up to the point where I got stuck, so that was always a bummer. While it may have its flaws, I was still perfectly satisfied with my time in LEGO Jurassic World. Fans of the LEGO games should basically know what to expect, and Jurassic Park fans should be more than happy with the story, cutscenes, characters, and references. It captured all of my favorite Jurassic Park moments and added its own unique sense of humor into the mix, and that's essentially all I really wanted. And if you still need a reason to play this, just remember that is has LEGO Jeff Goldblum. Let's be honest: that's all anyone really needs. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
LEGO Jurassic World photo
Hold on to your butts
Another year, another beloved franchise gets the LEGO treatment. This year, blocks and dinosaurs come together in LEGO Jurassic World, a compilation of games spanning the entire Jurassic Park film franchise. Released simultan...

Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

Jun 26 // Chris Carter
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month)Released: June 19, 2015 (Early Access), June 23, 2015 The "40 hours" of questing claim by Square Enix for the main story (levels 50-60) is accurate, but there's a caveat. You'll have to do a combination of sidequests, daily hunt marks (which can be done solo), and dungeons to push through some gaps, particularly in the middle levels. A few portions can be off-putting sometimes in terms of pacing, especially since the sidequests aren't nearly as good as the main story questline. Having said that, there wasn't any point, even the aforementioned lows, where I stopped having fun. There's just so much to do at this juncture of Final Fantasy XIV. I would frequently stop to do world hunts, which respawn every few hours or so in each area. They're even more fun now once you've unlocked flight for that particular zone, and all of the old hunts still exist too, albeit with smaller rewards for kills. You could hunt all day if you wanted to. I'd visit my new apartment in my friend's beachfront property villa in the Mist, and see what was going on with their new workshop -- a feature that lets you build Free Company (guild) airships in Heavensward, which go on expeditions for more items, similar to Retainer quests. Although I don't tend to craft in any MMO I play, I hung out with a group of crafters and chatted for hours about the new crafter meta and theories for some testing, which are insanely deep. For those who aren't aware, each crafting and gathering class has its own miniature storyline, and crafters in particular now have a even more complicated method of creating new high quality items. Crafting was always like a puzzle, allowing players to learn the best rotations for creating the best items, but now, there's an "endgame" of sorts for the profession, featuring a separate system of crafting in guilds to help build airships, and more complicated patterns that will fetch big gains on the auction house. Flying makes gathering nodes more fun, which is a big improvement on the 2.0 system -- and more nuanced with new gathering abilities. I also took a break and started a Dark Knight, Astrologian, and Machinist, which are all new jobs in Heavensward. Although there's a debate going on regarding the latter's low damage output, I've grouped and played all of them, and each brings something unique to the table. The Dark Knight is really fun to tank with, as he can drop his "Grit" stance (having it on lets you take less damage) on occasion, which unlocks a whole host of damage-dealing abilities. [embed]294750:59242:0[/embed] As a general rule you always want to be doing your core job and tanking with Grit, but when you need that extra push, the Dark Knight is ready and willing, and feels far more engaging than the existing Warrior. The Astrologian sacrifices a bit of firepower (compared to the White Mage and Scholar) but makes up for it with a variety of different healing tricks, and the Machinist is one of the most complicated DPS classes in the game. They are all worthwhile additions, and each role (tank, healer, ranged DPS) fits perfectly in the current meta. By the time I was done with the story and hit level 60, I had played far more than 40 hours. While there are some predictable plot points and far too much Final Fantasy grandstanding, I have to say I enjoyed it as a whole. I really dig the dragon theme that permeates throughout the expansion (they commit to it), and I was satisfied with the conclusion, especially the final boss, which Final Fantasy fans will love. The epilogue also does its job of sufficiently teasing all of the upcoming free content updates, so I'm pumped to see where this goes. The dungeons are all par for the course, which again, is a theme with this expansion. Every dungeon, including the three level 60 ones at the end, have the same linear design that is crafted to prevent you from speedrunning them. Gone are the labyrinthine paths of some low-level dungeons, as well as the tricks of the trade of the vanilla endgame areas; the structure is basically the same every time. Thankfully, the boss fights are spectacular, and nearly every zone features an encounter that has something I've never seen before. Without spoiling it, my favorite dungeon has a fight where a bird flies up into the air, and causes the entire battlefield to fill with fog, forcing you to find his shadow before he comes back down. Another hilariously tasks players with picking up totems and placing them in certain areas to prevent a boss from casting a ritual that ties his health to them. Every fight is intuitive so you won't be scratching your head going "how does this work?" but you will have to actually try. It's a good balance, even if I wish some of the dungeons were a bit more open. The two Primals (Ravana and Bismarck) are worthy additions to the game, and both have EX (extreme) versions that will test your might at level 60. Ravana is an awesome fight that I refer to as "the ninja bug," and it basically feels like how Titan should have been, with a circular arena that you can fall off of. Bismarck on the other hand is like nothing else in Final Fantasy XIV, featuring the titular whale flying right next to a floating rock that the party is standing on. Players will have to hook him with harpoons (you can shout "call me Ishmael" while doing it) and whale on the whale's weak point temporarily. I feel like Ravana is faster-paced and more fun, but again, Bismarck is unique. Currently the endgame consists of gathering law tomes (obtained by high-level dungeons and hunts), buying item level i170 gear, and upgrading them to i180 by way of items from seals. Bismarck EX will net you i175 weapons, and Ravana earns you i190. You have two weeks to fully upgrade your left and right-side gear to face the first part of the Alexander raid, who will debut at that time (with the tougher "Savage" difficulty unlocking two weeks after that). Said raids will be even better thanks to the new loot systems, which can give a raid leader more control over who gets what (finally). With everything there is to do in the game though, it doesn't feel like a grind to get to that point. Did I mention Heavensward was beautiful? I'm pretty sure I have often, but I'll do it again just to drive the point home. It looks fantastic, from the snowy landscape of Ishgard to the Souls-esque Dravanian Hinterlands, complete with lush plains and hellish mountains filled with fiery depths. I would often stop just to admire the scenery, which is even easier thanks to flying mounts. Every time I visit an old content area I long for the chance to use a flying mount, but alas, it's only available in new zones. Specifically regarding the PS4 version, it's starting to feel the sting of the more open areas a bit, particularly when it comes to longer load times (which can be a pain while zoning in for hunts) and some slowdown. I should mention that said slowdown never becomes unplayable, even with 50 other players slashing away at the same world hunt target. It can just get a bit sluggish is all. My view is partially colored by the fact that the new Direct X 11 version on PC looks gorgeous and runs smoothly. Down the line you have new storylines to look forward to, as well as the aforementioned Alexander raid, more 24-player casual raids (which aren't currently in yet), a new PVP map, and a new multi-part relic weapon quest that will debut next month for all jobs. None of this was factored into this review, but it's something to be aware of -- based on its past track record, Square Enix will continue to evolve the game and make it better. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is more A Realm Reborn, which is a fine thing to strive for in my book. Whether you're the type of player who enjoys crafting, endgame content, or role-playing, there's so much to do here for people of all skill levels it's insane. While I fizzled out a bit after completing the main story in 2.5, Heavensward has rekindled my flame. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Heavensward review photo
Par for the heavens
When our story began last week, I was a level 53 Paladin, soldiering through the new content for Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward. I stand before you now as a level 60, having played everything that's currently available. My opinion on the expansion hasn't changed much, which is a good thing.

Review: Sonic Runners

Jun 25 // Chris Carter
Sonic Runners (Android, iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 6])Developer: SegaPublisher: SegaReleased: May 25, 2015MSRP: Free-to-play Sonic Runners is very clearly, well, a runner, but it's far more than meets the eye. It's level-based, features a variety of locales from Sonic's past, has a cute little story involved, and plays wonderfully well, just like how you'd imagine a good mobile Sonic game would. Our hero will run from left to right automatically through stages that mirror the classics from his storied history, and players can tap anywhere on the screen to jump. Tapping again will trigger another leap, and the process of jumping will inherently attack enemies. A lot of depth lies beneath the surface, with multi-tiered stages that are a lot like Robot Unicorn Attack's maps, giving you a good sense of adventure on a constant basis like a true platformer. Gathering more coins and pickups in a short period of time will grant you a combo bonus, which in turn earns you more points, which assists in your progress with the story and your skill unlocks. It looks great on paper and in action as well, sporting a cool bright look that differentiates itself from the classic titles while giving it a distinct style. It's great how Sonic Runners actually feels like a Sonic game through and through, from the "dying while having no rings" mechanic to plungers, to loops, and Tails' flight power and Knuckles' power dash are great additions. Sonic and the rest of the cast have individual experience levels, and can equip "buddies" (like Chao) for minor statistical bonuses. You can also level-up characters to beef up their response to power-ups and point bonuses for specific objectives. Like I said, it's surprisingly deep, and will keep you interested for the long haul rather than supply you with a selection of different cosmetic options. [embed]294806:59239:0[/embed] Unfortunately, Sega decided to be unreasonable with the free-to-play nature of the game. First, you'll have to go through a grueling signup process that involves updates (which crashed when I first tried to install it this morning), online checks, and age verification (so you don't spend all your parent's money). From there, you'll head on down to the microtransaction layer, of which you will likely never return. Let me just list off everything that's present in the game: two roulettes, one for each type of currency that you earn or buy spins for, an energy system that takes 30 minutes to recharge per life, a revive system that involves watching an ad to restart from your death point, three types of currency you can buy (yellow rings, red rings, and lives), friend invite bonuses (10 will get you Amy), and a ticker that shows "current deals" on the currencies involved. This is exacerbated by ads that run every so often after a level, seemingly for no reason, that happen to play the ad's audio alongside of the game's music. Sometimes, this happens while you're getting a post-match bonus tallied. It's exhausting. While playing each round and having a bit of confined fun will often have you forgetting about all of these elements, it's not long before they're thrown back into your face. The energy system is probably the worst part, limiting your playtime regardless of whether or not you wade through everything else. In practice, Sonic Runners is a fun mobile tribute to the Blue Blur, and the team that designed it should be proud -- this is how you bring a storied console franchise to the Android and iOS marketplaces. Unfortunately, the team in charge of that team decided that said fun should be gated by needless locks with cash keys, which is a problem. Give it a go and see if you can stomach the microtransactions. As for myself, I'm taking frequent breaks, mostly because I'm forced to.
Sonic Runners photo
Did Eggman design the microtransactions?
Hey, Sega actually made a really cool mobile Sonic game...then promptly proceeded to beat it down with layers and layers of microtransactions. Oh Sega, you scamp!

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight

Jun 25 // Steven Hansen
Batman: Arkham Knight (PC, Xbox One, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: RocksteadyPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $59.99Released: June 23, 2015 Arkham Knight is stitched together with exceptional technical proficiency at the cost of tonal instability. City shared this problem. It insists on the direness of the narrative while letting you busy yourself with 69 (hah) AR challenges. It's worse in Knight, with even more dire stakes (there is nothing to do but escalate, of course) as Scarecrow intends to ruin all of Gotham with the help of the titular Arkham Knight.  There is so much "content" beside the main story path, but most of it is busy work. I've still not rescued all 20 captive firefighters spread throughout the city. Militia members set up dozens of roadblocks across Gotham's three islands that impede the Batmobile, but you can always go around them, or avoid driving except when mandated, given that Batman's grapple and glide are some of the coolest traversal methods in games. Clearing them isn't even that useful. It's just about getting to the super villain (most of whom have no story aside from "they're doing crime") at the end and notching the completion percentage. And of course this brings us to the Batmobile. It is cool and god awful. Calling it to pick Batman up; ejecting from it at high speeds and doing takedowns; the fact that all of Gotham's pillars and corners are destructible, so you typically don't do much crashing; remote control driving it towards Batman, who automatically jumps into it while you maintain control and momentum; the tank mode convincing me I need a Transformers game or Armored Core reboot. [embed]294804:59235:0[/embed] This all works well. It was also a lot of work for Rocksteady. Thus, there are heavy, mandated Batmobile segments, like the aforementioned waves of tank fights, and even a hilarious tank stealth section against bigger, stronger tanks. The Batmobile is cool as something I might occasionally use, but all the work that went into it means it needs a lot of screen time. It's actually pretty fun to chase Firefly through the streets in it, even if you have to do that several times before he's been punched enough to quit. When I'm forced to ferry passengers to the police station in it just so more drones can be thrown my way, it becomes a nuisance. When one side mission involves chasing missile-spongy armored cars while smaller armored cars attack me, over and over, it's not so fun. Everything is strung together nobly, but it's a case if "they were so concerned with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Disjointed content put together as well as possible mirrors a main story that works too hard to put Batman in his car. The shorter side missions that pop up woven into the narrative are much more fulfilling than saving 20 different firemen, stopping Two Face's goons from robbing several banks or destroying five or so of Penguin's weapons stashes (though the latter teams Bats with Nightwing and the dual fighter segments are fun). Thankfully I hardly looked at the map screen this time around because there's a d-pad button just to bring up a mission select wheel so it's easy to ping pong between waypoints like an errand boy. I also hardly looked at the upgrades, usually going several hours at a time before dumping like 50 points into skills I mostly didn't use (but do reinforce that car for the mandated tank segments). I can't tell if there is less punching this time around. Maybe it's been replaced by Batmobile segments. There are also more stealth options, including fear takedowns that can be used to instantly incapacitate up to eight enemies at a time (ok, upgrades are sometimes helpful, as it starts at three). I can string together perfect, room-clearing 60x combo fisticuffs with the best of them, but combat never drags in Arkham Knight, which I appreciate because my favorite thing to do is to explore the city. That does bring up a series-long issue of detective mode and waypoints guiding you to the point of feeling like a middle manager. It's nice to just notice side missions -- hearing strange shrieks, hearing opera blaring over a PA system, seeing a building on fire -- rather than being directed towards them, but that's the problem with dealing with this size of open world necessitated by the series trending upward as far as stakes raising goes. But when you stumble on mutilated bodies and every time -- five times! -- the answer is to scan one obvious thing on each of three layers (skin, muscle, bone) with detective mode, you're not really doing anything, much less detecting. Batman is boring, right? The character. Sad about parents, righteous, rich, mostly ideal. When comic fans point to his spot at the top of the echelon it's always about the supporting cast (villains, namely). And so, post Joker, what is there to do? Two things, neither of them original, but one of them done well. Without getting too spoilery, the Joker has inevitably left his mark in the Arkham universe and these ramifications are handled nicely in one half of Arkham Knight, even if they open the door for perhaps the most unoriginal and obvious Batman story to take seed beneath Scarecrow's reign of terror in the other. Scarecrow, to Rocksteady's credit, plays a great villain here, though he does so from the shadows. Because Batman is Batman, it's hard to feel the stakes sometimes, but Scarecrow is good for manipulating Bats and leaving him one step behind, more and more panicked and fragmented. The Arkham Knight, meanwhile, mostly tries to kill you with very large vehicles. The whole tenor of the character feels at odds with his Scarecrow partnership. There's the weird red tactical camo print and his general, impotent rage. His voice, which seems to waver beneath the autotune, is a mix of haughtiness and incredulity. He hates Batman, knows Batman is strong, is sure that he's better, and gets real petulant every time something goes wrong. His hugely amassed, literal army -- ex-United States soldiers now mercenaries -- occasionally remark about how better outfitted they are now than when they were government employees and ask if all this gear is overkill for just one man.   And it's not, because Batman is Batman and he feels immune to even the direst of straits. It makes the villains -- Knight, namely -- look goofy as plan after plan are foiled, though Scarecrow holds it together fairly well as the story takes shots at characters adjacent to Batman. The most interesting story stuff is happening within Batman's head, though, and that's where the series returns to effective use of jump scares (not a bad thing!), Dutch angles, and unreliable world distortion. Shifting the world around the player, moving things that the player isn't looking at. There's some cool, occasionally chilling toying going on, but it's mostly wrapped up in the end of the game. Getting there, Arkham Knight struggles to surprise and delight as Asylum and City. One musical boss "fight" stands out as a show stealer, but it would have been nice to have more inventive moments like the Mr. Freeze fight from City.   If the Batmobile was Rocksteady's gambit in that regard, it failed. It makes for a better occasional use gadget than core gameplay system. The Riddler side mission sums up Arkham Knight's issues fairly well. Apropos of nothing, he becomes a racing aficionado and constructs massive death tracks beneath the city to go with his death traps. This is to cram more Batmobile segments in. He does his same, tired shtick for a third game, this time holding Catwoman captive, but also he's made both race tracks and robots to fight, just to add more. He even explains in-game why if he wins because Batman can't beat the robots, it still counts as a victory of cunning. He's doing mental loops to defend padding. At one point, he taunts that even a chimp can follow basic instructions. Sometimes that feels like Arkham Knight. More of the same isn't all bad; too much more of the same is, especially at the cost of upsetting the balance between familiar and new. Riddler's story can't be resolved (nor can you get the full ending) until you do the 300 or so Riddler trophies/riddles/whatever, but you can at least take it far enough to free Catwoman. Arkham Knight is a solid, if uneven send-off for Rocksteady's trilogy. Combat and predation are still satisfying. The narrative mixes unsurprising, but well done segments with unsurprising and uninteresting elements. It's full of nods, winks, nudges for batfans, even if certain super villain side missions feel needlessly tossed in. It makes me worried about what will happen with Batman in a new developer's less comfortable hands, and excited for what Rocksteady might do, itself free of the Batman myth. [This review is based on a retail build purchased by the reviewer.]
Batman review photo
Long Halloween
[Note: This review is based on a retail PlayStation 4 copy of Batman: Arkham Knight, not the PC version that is so broken publisher Warner Bros. temporarily delisted it from sale] If the difference between the real Batman and...

Review: Cosmochoria

Jun 25 // Patrick Hancock
Cosmochoria (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Nate SchmoldPublisher: 30/30Released: April 27, 2015MSRP: $9.99  When Cosmochoria begins, the player is plopped into an unknown point in space with a few seeds and a gun. From there, they are tasked with restoring planets using seeds to bring some color and harmony back to the universe. Along the way, the player uncovers secrets about the history of the universe and destroys some evil beasts that come to ruin the party. The backstory isn't exactly rich with details or particularly interesting, but it does help build the universe. The game is a bit of a mix between a tower defense and a twin-stick shooter. It's a very unique combination, and honestly I'm not sure that description does it much justice. As the player flies around to different planets, they must plant seeds to restore the planet back to life. The bigger the planet, the more seeds needed. A player must first tend to the seed to plant it, which makes them immobile for a short time. Then, it takes some time for the seed to fully bloom. Once a seed blooms, it drops more seeds for exponential seed gains (players will never run out of seeds). After enough seeds have bloomed on a planet, it becomes restored! This does two things: the planet now has a "health pool" that it can transfer to the player to heal them up, and it brings the game one step closer to the next boss fight. The latter is not explicitly stated, but from my experience is true. Naturally, enemies come to chop off the player's green thumb. Luckily, the player can use a resource called Bricks to create towers and defend the planets. In addition, there's always the trusty gun to ward off foes. Ammo is unlimited, but Bricks are not. Bricks are occasionally dropped by enemies and are far scarcer resource than seeds. Towers are the standard fare of rapid-fire, fireballs, shields, and close-ranged.  [embed]293752:59233:0[/embed] While playing, I heavily favored gunplay over towers, especially once I unlocked the shotgun. When I was building towers, it was generally because I felt guilty for having so many Bricks saved up or because I expected a boss fight to break out. The bosses are quite the mixed bag. A handful of them act in very similar ways, but the game does change them up often enough to keep the players on their toes. Towards the mid-point of the game, I had no idea what to expect from any upcoming boss fight. In some cases towers were quite useful, whereas in others they were borderline useless. The final boss fight, while fittingly grand in scale, can be confusing because it forces the player to use a weapon they may have never tried before. For anyone stuck like I was: your weapon during the final boss fight can be charged, so charge it. The common enemies have interesting behaviors, but there are not enough different types. Towards the latter half, everything starts to feel like it's on auto-pilot. Plant seeds, kill the same enemies, move on. It got to the point where I could predict what was going to happen and when. Enemy spawning felt way too formulaic instead of being organic.  Cosmochoria is not meant to be completed in a single life, but it isn't what would be considered a "rogulike," "roguelite," or even a "rogue-lighter-that-lite." Killing foes rewards red crystals, which can be used in between playthroughs to purchase upgrades. Things like life, speed, starting seeds, and new weapons can all be purchased and have various prices. While it is probably technically possible to complete the game with the starting stats and equipment, it's very unlikely. Plus, it would be a slow and painful process. The increase in efficiency after getting a new weapon is huge and dramatically improves the experience. The early-goings can get a bit dull, since even a skilled player has to take their time killing enemies and bosses at the slow pace the starting weapon achieves. My second run lasted for a couple of hours, but I didn't make tremendous progress. New characters can also be unlocked, but not through spending crystals. They need to be found, usually through completing mini-objectives, during the game. They do have slight differences. For example, the ninja character becomes intangible while planting seeds. This is an incredibly neat mechanic, though enemies still know where the player is and will often just hover above and hurt them as soon as they become tangible again. Regardless, it still has its uses and is better than the starting character (but not as naked). In addition to upgrades, players can find artifacts to modify the way the game is played. The modifiers vary wildly in what they do and are completely optional. Some make the game harder, like only refilling jetpack fuel with kills, while others do the opposite, like removing certain types of enemies completely. It's a great way to spice up the core gameplay with mini-objectives of finding artifacts and to customize Cosmochoria to the player's liking.  The game saves the player's progress after each boss fight, though towers and location of planets do not stay between lives. The amount of planets restored is saved, but they are in different locations and different sizes. In addition, all planted towers are removed between lives, which further discouraged me from planting them in the first place.  The art and music are both wonderful, making the time spent in Cosmochoria memorable. The art is downright adorable in every way. Colors pop, which has a huge impact when restoring planets. Players can really see their progress in that regard. What once was a drab and lifeless husk of a planet becomes a bountiful and beautiful one,giving the player a real sense of accomplishment. Cosmochoria is a great way to explore space, but falls short in some aspects of its design. The core mechanics are great, but the latter half feels too repetitive, and there's not much real incentive to replay the game, despite there being many new things to uncover. It is certainly worth the time invested into it, though it may not have players screaming for more. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Cosmochoria review photo
In space, no one can hear you plant
When I first played Cosmochoria at PAX, I had to be pulled away from the demo station because of an appointment. The game's blend of calming gardening mixed with tower defense and space spelunking really jived with me. A...

Review: Tales from the Borderlands: Catch a Ride

Jun 23 // Darren Nakamura
Tales from the Borderlands: Catch a Ride (iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: June 23, 2015 (Mac, PC)MSRP: $4.99, $24.99 (Season Pass)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] When we last saw Fiona and Rhys, the duo had just constructed the Gortys Project while Vaughn and Sasha were being held hostage. Atlas Mugged ended with a significant Telltale choice for Rhys to make: trust Fiona in her ability to improvise the situation or trust the shadow of Handsome Jack residing in his own cybernetic head. Though the decision was given a lot of weight, the episode concluded before we got to see much of an effect. As it turns out, the opening sequence to Catch a Ride plays out quite differently depending on which option was selected earlier. It's enough of a difference that along with the review code, Telltale sent a message imploring me to play through the episode twice in order to see just how far-reaching the consequences are. The differences are there, and they persist until about the third act, but at that point the two branches sort of homogenize together. Without giving away too much, trusting Handsome Jack unlocks the help of three characters who aren't necessarily available to those who instead trusted Fiona. However, by the end, all three are out of the picture one way or another, despite that they could have been particularly useful. [embed]294552:59205:0[/embed] It shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who has played a Telltale game in the past few years that the overall narrative threads all begin and end in the same place, but Catch a Ride does feel like an improvement in that regard, if only slightly. Though the player cannot really affect how the story ends, certain scenes play out differently enough to warrant another look. One silly change I appreciated was that Rhys's Echo Eye ability is corrupted if he lets Jack into his systems. Instead of the dry humor found in the default descriptions, Jack inserts his own brand of over-the-top musings. I do wish this idea were taken further; there is a section in which Rhys has to hack a computer and having a digitized version of Handsome Jack ought to have helped in that situation. Fiona also goes through some questionable design territory with her abilities. Where her sleeve gun was previously limited, providing the possibility for interesting choices, its power is unlocked in the episode. It nullifies the opportunity cost that piqued my interest in Atlas Mugged; when I spent that incendiary bullet singing Finch's hair off in the second episode, I thought that would be the last time. Now it almost feels like Telltale is trying to set Fiona up to be a proper Vault Hunter in Borderlands 3. While on the one hand it will definitely be cool to see Telltale's original characters in Gearbox's next effort in the main series, it would detract from her uniqueness as a smooth-talking con artist were she to become another gunslinging badass. Speaking of characters, we do get a few new cameos from the main series here, although their inclusion feels a bit like fan service. After playing through twice, I'm still not quite sure why they were there, but it could very well be something that is planned to be explained in the future. As it stands, they show up, say some funny lines, do some outrageously violent things, and advance the story in a way, but their motivation isn't clear. That is a relatively minor complaint, especially considering the best thing Catch a Ride has going for it is one of the new characters. Gortys turns out to be a friendly robot and she easily has some of the best lines in the episode. With the personality of an earnest young child, she feels so out of place in the dark wastelands of Pandora that I couldn't help but be charmed. Everybody on the planet is gruff, insane, murderous, jaded, or at least sarcastic that having one character who is none of those is just perfect. Some of Gortys's lines tap lightly on the fourth wall; those are worth a lasting grin. There is one scene of hers in particular that had me laughing heartily, both times I played through. Even knowing it was coming, the setup and delivery were so on point that it killed. Ashley Johnson's voice work was perfect for the role. I don't know how this story ends, but I hope Gortys survives the ordeal in one way or another, because Borderlands needs to keep that character around. It may seem like a lot of my thoughts on Catch a Ride are negative, but they are minor quibbles in the grand scheme. Though I'm a little disappointed the two protagonists aren't using their unique skills as much as they did in the first episode, the story they team up to tell is still completely engrossing. The writing is as sharp as ever, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. The end of the episode has just the right amount of cliffhanger to it. Tales from the Borderlands: Catch a Ride feels like a complete chapter in the story, but now I have a rough idea for what to expect in the next two episodes. With that narrative skeleton in mind, I am looking forward to watching the rest of the series play out now more than ever. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] Tales from the Borderlands: Atlas Mugged (iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: March 17, 2015 (Mac, PC)MSRP: $4.99, $24.99 (Season Pass)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit
Telltale Borderlands photo
Worth the fare
[Disclosure: Anthony Burch, who consulted on the story for Tales from the Borderlands, was previously employed at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] Ever s...

Review: Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition

Jun 23 // Chris Carter
Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomMSRP: $24.99Release Date: June 23, 2015 After booting it up, you'll have the option to play the original campaign with Nero and Dante, solely as Vergil, or a joint story of Lady and Trish, mirroring the former pair's split-story. Each character has their own customizable set of controls, and the Legendary Dark Knight mode (previously exclusive to the PC version) is open from the very start. I immediately sprung for Vergil and was not disappointed. If you're a newcomer, you'll likely want to replay the base story for some background, as the new characters merely have a new intro and ending to cap things off. It's essentially the exact same levels and bosses, but thanks to the fundamentally reworked movesets, the experiences feel nothing alike. Also for newcomers, the "automatic" control option returns for easier combos, as well as an automatic level-up function where the game chooses your upgrades for you. Veterans will be pleased to find a turbo option (increasing the speed by 20%) as well as your typical lock-on tweaks. Those of you out there who never played the PC version are in for a treat, as Legendary Dark Knight is about as balls-to-the-wall as it gets. The entire screen in nearly every area is littered with enemies, and it even goes so far as to add in endgame foes in the second mission. [embed]293573:58903:0[/embed] Despite the fact that there aren't any other major new modes, this is not a lazy remake by any means, as the three aforementioned character additions spice things up considerably. Vergil is probably my personal favorite new playstyle; possibly my favorite of the entire series. His style is fast and flashy, as he can still "trick" teleport up, down (which can also be used to cancel attacks), and forward, but he has a major new mechanic to manage that makes him more unique. Vergil now has a "concentration" gauge, which increases when he is walking, taunting, or connecting with abilities, and lowers when he runs, whiffs attacks, or gets hit. Raising this gauge increases your statline and opens up some new powers that are reliant on a full meter. It completely changes the way you play, as walking like a badass is now a priority, and missing attacks is more punishing. That's not to say that the game is "impossible" if you don't feel like mastering concentration on a normal or easy difficulty level, it just makes it more fun -- though it will increase your chances of survival later on. Take one advanced tactic from Vergil: teleporting. By using a sword projectile, Vergil can "stick" an enemy for later. By using the forward trick, you can instantly teleport to that marked baddie. He's extremely mobile, much like Dante's trickster style in Devil May Cry 3 or his appearance herein. To me, Vergil is the main event. Trish and Lady crash as well, starting with a small pizza party intro with Dante. Lady's playstyle, like Vergil before her, completely changes the way one would approach Devil May Cry, mostly because of her reliance on guns. In previous games, guns could always be used with effectiveness, but weren't really ideal. With Lady though, they're front and center. She has her Kalina Ann rocket launcher (which doubles as a grappling hook to mirror Nero's platforming abilities in the story), handguns, and a shotgun. While the latter two guns mesh with Dante's gunslinger style, the Kalina Ann acts almost nothing like it did in Devil May Cry 3. Her rocket sports a few melee abilities, a rocket-jump boost, and a throw, but the focus for her is ranged combat. Additionally, since Lady is human, she uses a super grenade blast instead of a Devil Trigger. It's really hard to get a good style rating at first, but once you learn to start chaining throws and juggling with different guns and abilities, it gets real fun real fast. Classic bosses like Berial are seen in a whole new light when you're trying to turtle and keep them at bay with rockets. I didn't expect much from Trish, but she's come a long way since her appearance in the first game. Her entire style hinges on the fact that she can't switch weapons, and instead just has a shit-ton of moves at her disposal. This sounds lame on paper. It's anything but in practice, as said moves are a ton of fun. In addition to a smorgasbord of powers from the entire series, she also sports some movesets from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, as well as Round Trip, a boomerang of sorts that will continue to attack enemies while she's doing her thing. Dante himself though is still the king. He has access to his five styles (Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, Royalguard, and Dark Slayer), which can be switched out at any time using the d-pad. If you haven't seen the absolutely insane combos and possibilities that this system creates, take a look at this. Yes, with 1080p visuals and 60fps, you can still craft and employ advanced frame-specific mechanics, and beyond. With how deep the combat system is even to this day, I expect plenty of similar discoveries for the rest of the cast. That cast, by the way, is added in a way that feels like a natural continuation of Devil May Cry 3, which is a nice touch. I love little details like the fact that everyone has their own lock-on reticle. Sadly, the bad news is that all of this extra content doesn't necessarily fix the level design. The core problem hinges with the halfway point of the campaign, in which Dante (or Vergil/Trish) backtracks through the story, fighting the same exact bosses all over again. Not every level is exactly the same per se, but it's enough to grate on most players, especially since the pacing slows down a bit near the end. To unlock Dante, you'll have to play as Nero, and to unlock Trish, you'll have to play as Lady for a while. It's not that this system is bad per se because of how strong the combat systems are, it's just odd, as it feels like Capcom rushed its development a bit. The boss fights themselves are challenging and enjoyable, but having to do them all over again (or more, once you hit a gauntlet-like area at the end) is a bummer. The same goes for trekking through locales you've already seen at length. Having said all that, the juice is worth the squeeze, even more-so than before because of the new playstyles. While Nero operated like a handicapped Dante in the original edition, Vergil, Trish, and Lady have all cemented their places into the pantheon of Devil May Cry, to the point where I would love to see at least one of them (if not all) return in a future iteration. Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition reaffirms the series' status as the current king of the action genre. It may not fix some of the blemishes inherent to the game's campaign, but the new characters and styles are fantastic, and will have players creating combo videos for years to come. With respect to DmC and everything it accomplished, this is the Devil May Cry I want to see in the future, Capcom. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Devil May Cry review photo
Real Dante returns
It wasn't until I played the very first Devil May Cry game that I knew I was an action fan. I must have beaten it five times at launch, pouring through every facet over weeks, perfecting my frame-by-frame combat abilities -- ...

Review: The Masterplan

Jun 18 // Stephen Turner
The Masterplan (PC) Developer: Shark Punch Publisher: Shark Punch Released: June 4, 2015 MSRP: $19.99  It’s the start of the '70s and Richard Nixon is cracking down on crime with the War on Drugs, which means bad news for your dealing protagonist. After being busted out of jail, it’s time to stick it to The Man by pulling off a series of heists; each one leading you closer to the ultimate payday at Fort Knox. Actually, there’s not much else to say about The Masterplan’s plot, even if it does serve the funky aesthetics well. No special gadgets, here; just good old fashioned lockpicks, drills, and shooters. The Masterplan has a charming tongue-in-cheek vibe throughout, with anachronistic references, stumpy characters, and goofy violence. Presented from a top-down perspective, the hand drawn artwork is reminiscent of a board game. Each map stands out with its own detailed identity -- from stores to offices to casinos -- to the point where you’re interested in seeing the next location or need to remember for a bonus replay. As for the gameplay itself, it’s a real-time, semi-improvisational puzzler. Oddly though, for a game about heists, there’s no pre-planning at all. At a hideout, you hire crew members, buy some weapons, pick a destination, and work it out when you get there. It makes for some frustrating instances of trial-and-error runs. Plus there’s the odd design choice of having to kill a crew member to replace them and not one but two crew caps (six hires, but only four go on the heist). The Masterplan is really about fluidity and making decisions on the fly. Brute force is fine, but it comes with monetary penalties and alarms, so it’s obviously meant to be played as stealthily as possible; turn off the lights and cameras, and avoid the cones of vision. Though you’re given different objectives, every level boils down to one plan: get the grey key to get the orange key, which in turn will net you the red key and finally the loot. The maps might increase in size and complexity, but it’s always the exact same method for success. That’s not to say there’s a lack of flexibility. This is a game where you play it room-by-room, adapting to every mistake and accidental paths. As long as those major goals are completed, the next heists are unlocked. It also helps to have a choice, as being stuck on one doesn’t mean a grinding halt in progression. Each heist usually contains a useful tool for another location, like a disguise or a drill, and none of it ever feels overpowered. There’s a real feeling of relief when a plan goes awry at the last second and a previously opened shortcut becomes essential for your escape. It’s the little pressures that make it fun. The Masterplan rides a fine line between fiendish and finicky. The minimal UI, which encircles your character with a simple right-click, usually overlaps objects and characters in close proximity. When you’re on your own, it works great. When you’re moving two people together or need to multi-task, it becomes a real hassle; especially in a timed situation. Everyone walks around like they’re on ice, which makes for some troublesome encounters when you need make quick turns, fast draws, or lock swinging doors. There’s a slo-mo function meant for synchronised tactics, but it’s obviously the developers’ way of combating the negatives above. You see, there’s never much reason to have a crew working in tandem. Most heists have you donning a disguise and pulling off silent one-man robberies, as the rest of your crew idle about, acting as pack mules or lookouts. For the most part, The Masterplan feels incredibly slight. In the last third, where tactics shift from bull rushes to planning longer routes, the need for tactical complexity becomes too apparent. Though not exactly fast-paced, it works best when decisions are made on-the-fly and risks are taken for monetary distractions. Overall, The Masterplan is not a bad game, just one that misses some tricks because of scaled back designs. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Review photo
I propagate British cultural depravity
Once upon a time, I played a PC game called Heist. It was truly dreadful, but it did spark my interest in seeing more methodical crime games on the market. Sadly, the wait has been more of a slow drip, with more cancellations...

Review: Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure

Jun 18 // Chris Carter
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoMRSP: $8.99Release Date: June 11, 2015 Yep, this is pretty much the same Dr. Mario you know and love. Miracle Cure sports 10 training levels and 50 core stages for its "campaign," and mixes the classic gameplay of Mario with the newly-minted sub-franchise of Dr. Luigi, allowing both playstyles as a separate option. If you've never played a game in the series before, you're directing little pills on a screen, similar to Tetris, to eliminate viruses and clear the board. Each virus and pill has a respective color (blue, red, or yellow), and matching up four of a kind will clear that link. Dr. Mario features a standard pill shape with up to two colors, and Dr. Luigi makes things a bit more difficult with an "L" shape pill. That's the gist. Here in the newest 3D game there's a new mechanic though called the "Miracle Cure," which basically translates to "powerups." Leave it to Nintendo to barely iterate on a formula and still make a fun game, right? Said powerups include bombs, which blow up anything in their blast radius, and line-based explosions, which are more tactical in nature. For the most part, everything is the same as before, but the Miracle Cures do add a bit more nuance should you opt to turn them on. For instance, the pacing for individual levels is a bit faster since you can score a ton of bombs to blast out some mishaps you may have stacked up in a particular round. It's not mind-blowing, but it doesn't detract from the experience. In addition to the aforementioned preset puzzles, you can also play a custom mode that allows endless play, as well as the option to play directly with a CPU, head-to-head, racing to clear your board first. This versus mode also extends to both online play and local play, the latter of which thankfully supports a download play option, so only one person needs a copy. Honestly, the online experience was one of the smoothest of any recent Nintendo game, as I didn't have any lag of any kind playing a number of different people in Japan. It's all matchmaking based, mind. [embed]294288:59147:0[/embed] It also has this cool display method that shows your game on top and your opponent's on the bottom, both of which have been lag-free based on my testing. For all of these modes you can also opt for Dr. Mario- or Dr. Luigi-based modes, as well as the option to turn off Miracle Cures if you wish. My suggestion? Play with Miracle Cures online. It can be a radically different experience, looking up, then quickly looking down and realizing that your opponent has blasted away half their viruses with powerups. When all is said and done though, there really isn't a whole lot to Miracle Cure if you aren't going to play multiplayer with a friend who shares your passion. I really wish Nintendo showed a bit more effort when it comes to solo play, as the standard "missions" aren't cutting it. I would kill to see a new storyline (like Dr. Mario 64) incorporated into the franchise, one that unites both Mario and Luigi against a common foe. For now, there's only so much pill-dropping that I can take. If you're a Dr. Mario junkie, you can probably pull the trigger on Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure just to see what the fuss is about in regards to the power-ups. For everyone else, just stick with Dr. Luigi until Nintendo decides to overhaul the formula a bit more. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Dr. Mario review photo
The next game should be Nurse Toad
There's something to be said about preserving old games. As we move into the digital era and publishers start putting less and less emphasis on physical media, many classic games and pieces of hardware will cease to exist. Fo...

Review: Fallout Shelter

Jun 15 // Chris Carter
Fallout Shelter (Android, iOS [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: Free-to-playRelease Date: June 14, 2015 (iOS) / TBA (Android) The gist is that you'll basically need to build your first vault from scratch, with a power source, a water treatment plant, and a cafeteria to serve food as a baseline. As you play the game, more citizens will line up outside of your vault, ready to suit up and get placed into a new room. As time passes, said NPCs will work and earn you resources, which can be gained by tapping on the location -- simple stuff that I'm sure you've seen before. Other than a few nuances like the ability to place male and female NPCs in a living space and potentially create children or ship off inhabitants to scour the wasteland off-screen, that's it. It's a lot like SimTower, or its mobile successor, Tiny Tower. Tapping is the name of the game. Unlike many games though, Fallout Shelter actually forces you to keep up with your resources. If you don't power your vault enough, rooms will shut down. If you don't keep your NPCs fed, they will lose health and productivity. A low water resource will cause your citizens to become irradiated, and so on. Your personal hamster-wheel involves completing objectives and upgrading rooms to earn caps, which in turn allow you to build more rooms to take in more inhabitants, which unlocks more advanced buildings. It's all pretty straightforward, but sometimes objectives are a bit broken, as you'll need to re-do things you may have already completed (specifically in the case of equipping an NPC with a certain item in my game). The entire process is enhanced by the fact that visually, Fallout Shelter is far more impressive than most resource-management games on the market. I love how when you double-tap on a particular room it does this 3D-like zoom, which looks great when juxtaposed to the cartoony art style of the vault inhabitants.  It's very easy to click on everything, and although the scrolling sensitivity could use some tweaking, the game as a whole is responsive. During its E3 conference last night, Bethesda noted that it didn't have any underhanded sales tactics with Fallout Shelter, as it was playable offline "without energy meters." Now, that's technically true (it works in airplane mode), but you will have to wait to earn more caps from rooms to actually do anything substantial with your vault other than look at it. What's actually cool about Shelter is that you can "hurry up" activities by taking a chance rather than spending premium currency (like every other game on the market) -- the catch is that room might explode or cause an "incident," which may kill off citizens or spread to other rooms. These can involve things like fires, or even radroach infestations. In the latter case, I had just equipped my mess hall officer with a handgun, which she used to fight off said roaches. It's a nice risk-reward feature that you don't see often. For a game like this the pacing is decent, as most early-game resources take one to three minutes to earn. It's slow though for sure in terms of earning caps and building new rooms in the long-term, as Fallout Shelter is an experience that's meant to be played over time -- so much so that many of you may give up on it after all the waiting involved. There are optional microtransactions however in the form of "lunchboxes," which range from $0.99 per box to $19.99 for 40 of them. You'll earn "Shelter Cards" for your trouble, one of which is guaranteed to grant you a rare item "or better." For the purposes of science (and this review) I purchased one, which granted me a stimpack, a 10mm pistol, 100 caps, and a sturdy piece of battle armor. All of these items aren't particularly game-breaking, and you can earn a few lunchboxes yourself by completing objectives. Faster world progress hinges on earning lots of 500 cap boxes on a whim, so I see the obvious slot machine draw here that Bethesda is going for. Fallout Shelter is a pretty inoffensive mobile resource management game. While it could have exploited fans at every turn like EA tried to do with Dungeon Keeper, it's actually a nice little way to spend an afternoon while you wait for Fallout 4 to come out in November. Just don't expect anything particularly exciting, as it is slightly skewed towards enticing you to spend money on it -- lest you wait to enjoy it in short spurts. [This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game. $0.99 of in-app-purchases were made by the reviewer.]
Fallout Shelter review photo
Free-to-tunnel-snake
Last night at Bethesda's press conference, we got our first surprise of E3 2015: a brand new mobile game set in the Fallout universe called Fallout Shelter. It looked innocent enough, hearkening back to classics like XCOM as ...

Review: The Detail (Episodes 1 & 2)

Jun 10 // Stephen Turner
The Detail (PC) Developers: Rival Games Publisher: Rival Games Released: May 28, 2015 MSRP: $5.99 (Seperate Episodes), $9.99 (Episode Bundle) Though it’s mostly presented as a graphic novel, The Detail is a cop show at heart, owing a lot to the likes of NYPD Blue, The Wire, and Homicide: Life on the Streets. Players take control of several characters on both sides of the law – Det. Reggie Moore, a burned out cop, Katelyn Hayes, a rookie officer thrown into the deep end, and Joe Miller, an ex-informant-turned-family man – as they track down the suspect in a gangland murder. By the end of the second episode, things go from bad to worse, as Reggie struggles with the responsibility of a new Major Crimes Unit, and Joe resorts to desperate measures for his family’s safety. It might be a familiar premise, but it’s also one that makes for an intriguing set-up; where characters are presented with morally grey decisions on a regular basis and the stakes increase scene-by-scene. But, honestly, the writing never quite hits its televisual marks. Characters spout clichés like the last 15 years of contemporary crime novels never happened, maverick cops are constantly told to cool their jets, and the gang stereotypes are really on the nose. The Detail does have moments of subtlety though, enough to elevate solid characters over the eye-rolling narration. The main protagonists come across as sympathetic and realistically flawed – Reggie’s girlfriend being an escort and Joe’s bedtime stories to his daughter spring to mind – and for all the bluntness of Ep1: Where the Dead Lie, you perfectly understand the motivations and reflections that colour in their more questionable actions. Both episodes lean heavily on choice and consequence, but by the end of Ep2: From the Ashes, you never get a sense of the bigger ramifications. Most of the decisions are short-term affairs and callbacks usually end in a throwaway line of text. In several scenes, three choices really amount to two outcomes. This is particularly striking in Ep1: Where the Dead Lie, where a child molester walks free, no matter what you pick (completely ignoring his assault of two officers in the process). In Ep2: From the Ashes, aggressive tactics can cause a suspect to have an epileptic fit, but it’s never brought up again. Of course, the illusion of choice will always be there in narrative-led video games. Some hide it better than others, but here, only a handful of decisions clearly carry any weight. From conversations to investigations, player input feels fairly minimal, and that’s really down to the low-budget hallmarks of an iPad port. A crime scene is just a case of clicking on hotspots, which can also be permanently highlighted for ease, and they’re always capped off with a simple comparison puzzle, e.g. check the names on a map with a criminal record or match the calendar dates with a call log. When the story becomes more urgent, like getting into a fight, it’s more about picking the next panel in a comic book. Speaking of which, The Detail’s artwork is an acquired taste. Nothing on screen is ever consistent; jumping from stark black and white panels to comically expressive talking heads, with characters looking different in every other shot. Grammar is also spotty at times; not exactly egregious, but sometimes distracting. It’s not until Ep2: From the Ashes that the quality takes a massive leap for the biggest beats. But if there’s a real consistent high point throughout, it’s definitely the soundtrack. The low-key themes perfectly capture the downbeat mood, turning the right kind of screws when the situation gets out of hand, and getting into the head of certain characters when the dialogues fails to deliver. The Detail is a rough production. Past the clichés, inconsistent presentation, and slight investigative work, there’s the odd glimpse of potential in its characters and their dilemmas. Whereas Ep1: Where the Dead Lie leaves a bad first impression, Ep2: From the Ashes does its best to refine past mistakes, if not rectify them completely. Two episodes down in a five-episode season, and the nagging suspicion that The Detail won’t be anything more than average when it’s complete lingers in the mind. For now, it’s best to stick with the gimmicks. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Review photo
'Game's the same, just got more fierce'
As someone who loves the detective genre in both novels and film, I’m always disappointed by the way they translate to video games. A lot of it boils down to gimmick first, mystery second; where you’re usually a g...

Review: The Next Penelope

Jun 10 // Chris Carter
The Next Penelope (PC [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: Aurelien RegardPublisher: Plug In DigitalMSRP: $12.99Release Date: May 29, 2015 (PC) / TBA (Wii U) It's the year 3044, in Ithaca. Odysseus has been away at sea for 10 years, and his kingdom is now under attack by Poseidon, father of the Cyclopes race. As a result, it's up to Odysseus' wife Penelope to find him. If you couldn't tell by the year marker, all of this is set to the tone of a futuristic epic -- spaceships are prevalent throughout Penelope's universe, and Poseidon is basically a member of an alien race. A lot of people probably won't even pay attention to the ties to Homer's Odyssey, but it works for the most part. All of this setup brings us to the main event -- racing. Yep, somehow, someway, this is a classic top-down racer reminiscent of the Micro Machines games or Blizzard's Rock'n'Roll Racing. As such, the visuals are retro-centric, and I have to say, they look excellent. Everything from the animated anime-like portraits during cutscenes and the colorful, flashy in-game graphics are painstakingly detailed. The controls take no time at all to learn, as they mostly consist of just altering your direction by way of the arrow keys or the gamepad's triggers, but they'll take quite a while to master. Acceleration is automatic, but weapons and power-ups can be enacted by pressing a specific button (in the case of a keyboard, the up arrow). These range from things like boosts to bullets, which you'll often need to blow away enemies or blast through hazards like boulders. They're fun to use, but since the general gameplay is so fast, they don't have as big of an impact as they should. [embed]293674:58914:0[/embed] Power-ups also bring another classic racing mechanic into play -- energy zones from F-Zero. While micromanaging your abilities, staying on track, and fighting off foes, you'll also have to occasionally steer yourself into the way of energy areas to sap up more power-up meter. It's fast, frantic, and fun, especially since individual stages are roughly a minute or two long. What's amazing to me is that The Next Penelope hosts a four-hour campaign. Heck, with its old-school flair it didn't even really need to go this extra mile, but it did. The campaign is even further augmented by a full galaxy map, the power to choose what stats to level-up (including upgrades to steering, defensive capabilities, and more outwards camera zoom). Boss battles on top of all this madness make things even more interesting, turning the game into a full-on shooter. It's crazy how much variety there is. The four-person multiplayer mode also has a mini-story involving Penelope's suitors, who are battling each other for glory. It's not a fully-fledged campaign or anything, but it's a neat little way to justify its inclusion. The gist is that all four racers, CPU or player-controlled, are attempting to blow each other up while they struggle to stay on one screen. If you're left behind, you're dead, and the last ship standing takes it all. It's a good old-fashioned slugfest across nine maps, and given the way it works, all four players can feasibly share the same keyboard. It's important to note that no online play of any kind is supported. The Next Penelope is a blast to play on PC, and will probably be a massive hit at parties when it arrives on Wii U later this year. It's a shame more old-school racers aren't around, but with games like this and 90s Arcade Racer, the scene is seeing a revival that brings a huge smile to my face. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Next Penelope review photo
My, how mortals take the gods to task
If I told you that I wanted to mix Greek mythology with the racing and shoot-'em-up genres, you'd probably call me crazy. But that's just what developer Aurelien Regard did with his one-man show The Next Penelope, and for the...

Review: Kholat

Jun 09 // Jed Whitaker
Kholat (PC)Developer: IMGN.PRO Publisher: IMGN.PRO MSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 9, 2015 Picture this: You're famous Hollywood actor Sean Bean and you're investigating the deaths of nine hikers while stumbling around Russian mountains and collecting letters and pages from their journals. Now picture that as a game and you have Kholat. It would be easy to write this off as another Slender clone, as part of the formula is the same: you walk around finding pages, while occasionally having a run in with a shadowy figure. What sets Kholat apart is that the ghostly figure isn't constantly chasing you, and every page discovered delivers another piece of the story, be it via text or top-notch voice acting. Kholat plays out in three acts, of which the second is the main meat of the game. Act Two takes place in the snowy mountains where the hikers met their demise. You've got a map with key locations listed in longitude and latitude, a compass, and a flashlight. The goal is to visit each of the nine marked locations to discover key pages to give insight on what exactly happened to the hikers. While finding the nine main locations is the overall goal, many other pages can be found throughout the mountains that provide tidbits of information into what happened there. The game saves each time a new page is found, which gives some incentives to find them other than just experiencing the story, as you may find yourself dying often. Gaseous orange shadows will show up in certain areas of the mountains mostly requiring stealthy movement to avoid, though at times running is the only option. Scripted events occur where orange clouds start to close in around you, and a nearby page must be found before the monsters within can take your life, though these are few and far between. If you're like me, you're going to get lost a lot. Turns out when everything is covered in snow, it looks very similar, but at least Kholat is easy on the eyes. There are some varying locations, from caves, to a charred forest, to a giant spooky tree, to a throne of bones. Each one is a unique and memorable set piece where something important is to be discovered. The scariest part of Kholat isn't the monsters that lurk in the dark, but the feeling of anxiety and urgency brought on by it capturing the feeling of being lost in the wilderness. Each location is coupled with realistic ambiance and weather that when combined with the equally realistic graphics really nails the feeling of being lost on a mountain in solitude. At one point I considered muting the game to give myself a break from the dread coming over me, but I pushed on. The voice-acted pieces of the story are very believable and chilling. While some pages you'll find just read like generic journal entries, others are downright horrifying thanks to a well written and acted script. There are various people writing the pages, providing different perspectives on what happened on the mountain over time. Unlike many games with collectible journals, I find these actually worth seeking out. Little to no directions are given to the player -- you're just dropped into the world and expected to figure things out on your own. It wasn't until my second play session that I realized the locations marked on the map were of importance. After figuring out proper use of the map and compass, it was easy to complete the game in just around four hours, which felt a bit light for the asking price of $20, considering most of your time will be spent looking at snowy rocks. Overall an enjoyable experience that has a fantastic presentation but just lacks much depth in gameplay. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Kholat Review photo
Sean Bean's Mystery Incorporated
Kholat is based on the Dyatlov Pass incident, which is arguably one of history's greatest mysteries; nine hikers go missing and are subsequently found dead in the snowy Russian mountains. The hikers had cut their wa...

Review: Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy

Jun 09 // Chris Carter
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy (PlayStation TV, Vita [reviewed])Developer: Experience Inc.Publisher: MAGES, 5pb. Games (JP) / NIS America (EU, NA)MSRP: $39.99Release Date: July 24, 2014 (Japan) / June 5, 2015 (EU) / June 9, 2015 (NA) Operation Abyss opens up with a bang -- your character has just woken up in the "gloomy darkness," next to multiple severed, bloodied bodies. Holy shit, right? It gets a little bit goofier from there, as a hooded man suddenly appears and tells you "basically, you've been kidnapped," as an army of half-human zombie monsters attack. You're immediately offered a choice: trust the man or not, which doesn't really end up mattering. Then a Magical Girl shows up and fights a giant crocodile. It pretty much never lets up from here. New Tokyo Legacy is set in a near-future version of Japan. Those creatures? They're called Variants, and it's up to the government-funded Code Physics Agency, which you've just been forcefully inducted into, to save the day. It must be said, if the silly intro wasn't any indication, the art for the game is incredible, and full of life. A lot of scenes may feature static portraits, and the dungeon designs might be on the bland side, but the art style (and by proxy, the main cast) is always colorful and interesting. Likewise, the darker elements of the game are just that -- dark. Creatures look suitably horrific, the narrative can go darker when it needs to, and on occasion, I was straight-up creeped out. There's also a ton of weird story elements like the blood of Florence Nightingale, Leonardo da Vinci, and Hanzo Hattori used for "Blood Codes," to gain abilities and special powers. No one can say that Tokyo Legacy isn't unique. [embed]293318:58901:0[/embed] Like most lengthy dungeon crawler experiences (this one is roughly 40 hours), it takes about six hours of walking until it takes off sprinting, and by then I was sucked into the world. Dungeons aren't obtuse, but as previously mentioned, they are on the bland side. After about 10 hours of play some of them started to blend together, and there isn't enough indication on-screen to denote hidden areas or locations of interest. I definitely don't want a streamlined "go here" indicator, it would just be nice if there was an inkling of uniqueness to the dungeons, since everything else is painstakingly crafted. There's lots of customization involved, including equipment and ability choices and statline tweaking. In terms of choices in relation to the narrative, there's not a whole lot here. This is an old school dungeon crawler through and through, and although there are some light forks in the road, none of them are emotional or engaging. Your key plan here is to go and defeat monsters to further the overarching story -- not your personal one. That's partially because each playthrough uses randomly generated characters, which can be customized, but don't necessarily play any real role. That extends to a lack of any real romantic element, since your party is essentially a collective. Unlike Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss' recent predecessor, Legacy is a bit more forgiving. For instance, you can now go freely back to your base if you wish, which is where you'll level up and sort through your massive inventory. The good news is that there's no "rent" or statistical hit to worry about, and if you're having trouble, heading back to rest up isn't a terrible idea. There's still a lot of menus to wade through and stats to painstakingly tweak back and forth, but it's more accessible than a lot of other crawlers since it doesn't penalize you at every turn. Because of that design decision though, it loses a bit of its edge. Despite the fact that Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy can be a bit by-the-numbers inside dungeons, it's anything but in nearly every other facet of the game. While I probably won't be rushing to complete it again anytime soon, it was a lengthy enough adventure that will stay fresh in my mind for some time. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Operation Abyss photo
The Walking Variants
One of the very first PC games I ever played was a dungeon crawler. It was called MadMaze, a title released on 1989, playable on the Prodigy internet service -- yep, it was during the dialup era. While crawlers may not be one...

Review: Massive Chalice

Jun 08 // Steven Hansen
Massive Chalice (Xbox One, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsMSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 1, 2015 A talking cup with the alternating voices of an old man and younger woman gives you a "Hello Commander," informing you that you, an immortal being tied to the chalice, are the only one who can navigate humanity to victory against the encroaching, monster-filled Cadence. With that brief set up, you pick five pre-generated families to serve as your starting vanguard of fighters. It's an aesthetic choice. Try and pick families with distinct flag colors (and fun surnames) because otherwise keeping track of them is a mess. The Fab Five have different stat-affecting traits (bred) and personalities (learned) and three different base classes that can be combined to make sub-classes with slightly different abilities. You're also seemingly bound to get stuck with an asthmatic early on whom you can rightly cast off into the scary orange mist because they will be useless and the life of an individual isn't worth much in a 300 year war effort. Massive Chalice operates on two levels. Combat is turn-based with grid movement and two actions per turn. Walk a bit and then attack, or walk further and leave yourself unable to attack are the big ones. The latter has a chance of leaving a character screwed if they wander into the obscured battlefield Fog of War and reveal a pack of waiting enemies. Outside of combat, there is scant decision-making and a lot of hitting the Advance Timeline button as you try to make it to year 300 to destroy the Cadence by building kingdoms for your characters to bone in to produce better soldiers and advance the bloodline. [embed]293482:58868:0[/embed] Combat, however, feels one-dimensional, perhaps appropriate for the rote meat grinder that is 300 years of war. There's no cover or overwatch, never objectives beyond kill everything within line of sight. Inch forward, kill, inch forward, kill. I often had to double back through the sometimes obnoxiously routed, procedurally generated levels to off one last monster that was content to, I guess, walk around in circles in the far off map corner for all its turns. Enemies are impressively distinct. Ruptures create a wide berth of corrosive tiles upon death, Lapses sap soldiers' XP, Wrinklers age soldiers on contact. But Massive Chalice only metes out these highly specialized enemies and facing them over and over, in larger and beefed up quantities, gets tiring. Its turn-based strategy feels brute forced and basic. Even with the addition of sub-classes and the tips screen advising carrying members of every class, I still felt like fielding a team of five Hunters to SOCOM its way through fights was ideal and borderline easy (on Normal mode). The Alchemist's volatile, limited projectiles killed more of my own troops than enemies in my last run and sending the melee-focused Caberjack into the fray always feels too dangerous. This, though, raises a huge problem with the lengthy final fight that I've found unwinnable without the area of effect moves of the other classes. Nation management, too, feels simple and sterile. You are asked to choose between research projects which take years to finish. The most obviously necessary are the Keeps, which is where you retire soldiers to and appoint a mate on the grounds of eugenics. I find that once I get Keeps built and Übermenschs screwing, research becomes haphazard. A couple pieces of gear (mainly for Hunters), the experience raising item, and then I'm mostly choosing something at random and slamming on the "Advance Timeline" button until someone else dies of old age and needs to be replaced at their post. It is clinical and the soldier stat effects feel slim (so long as you avoid breeding a handful of proper blights, like asthma). The idea of bloodlines is a good one, but the sparse overworld (the same Simon panel of territory and occasional, stoic look at a throne) does not support any narrative or connection in the vein of a Crusader Kings-like strategy game. All there is are brief, occasional text adventure events that have you make a decision (how will you settle a squabble between two troops?) that might affect some mild stat. Meanwhile, the short shelf-life of fighters doesn't support any connection to individual troops in combat, save for the one or two fights you'll have a high-level troop with a funny nickname. The most attachment I felt was to a flag color. This becomes a weird problem with the ending, which tries to suddenly loop back around and deliver an unnecessary story element that, at best, would "explain," in-universe, subsequent playthroughs. It is odd, unnecessary, and even robs you of basic world-saving catharsis. It also reminded me that, on Normal, I've yet to come close to my kingdom falling, which belies roguelike claims, while on the other hand I sort of dread playing 300 more years (plus failure restarts) on higher difficulties because of the simple combat. Massive Chalice is both beautiful and approachable, somewhat rare qualities in the genre. But its 300 year arc bends toward apathy and inhumanity. By mid-game, what was novel and enticing becomes a slog. The nation and bloodlines are mostly built out, ending the high level tactics, and battles become more brute force as the same enemies double in HP, power, and quantity. I felt like middle management making the same position appointments that a computer could make more quickly and all I got for my click click clicking was combat with bigger numbers on the same handful of stages. There is some payoff with the bloodline idea at the end, but it is not worth the rote meat grinder to get there. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Massive Chalice review photo
Great fighter with a glass jaw
Double Fine's less scrutinized Kickstarter success, Massive Chalice, has been formally released half a year since entering Early Access. Along with Invisible, Inc., it formed a one-two punch of time-eating, XCOM-tinged turn-b...

Review: Heroes of the Storm

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Heroes of the Storm (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentMSRP: Free-to-playRelease Date: June 2, 2015 Fundamentally, Heroes is still very much a MOBA experience. It's a five-on-five, top-down, click-heavy affair with various roles such as support, tanks, and DPS, and there's a variety of different characters to choose from. To help break down the barrier to entry, Blizzard has made a number of concessions that set it apart from its competition. Perhaps the biggest difference with Heroes of the Storm is that there are no longer items of any kind, and that's something I'm really, really happy about. While I definitely appreciate the "me-too" nature of adding items to every new MOBA, as it did initially stem from the original DOTA (and by proxy, Warcraft III's shops), learning new item-meta in addition to every map and every nuance for each character can be taxing. I'll often spend hours upon hours theorycrafting builds when returning to specific MOBAs just to figure out the best course of action, which can get tiring if you have to do it for every game. Potions have been replaced by healing wells, found at every fort checkpoint -- making it even easier to get back into the action without any boring moments. Now, there's still plenty of theorycrafting to be had with Heroes of the Storm as characters do get the ability to choose between different abilities after hitting certain level milestones, but you don't need to worry about that one extra crucial layer that can make or break a match. But without items, newer players will be able to pick up any hero and play. Builds are initially limited as you start to level-up within the game's ranking system, offering only a few paths for heroes you've never played as before. It only takes a few games until everything is available though, and at player level 25 (a few days of heavy sessions), every skill will be unlocked automatically. In short, it'll be very easy to come back to Heroes months down the line and learn new playstyles. [embed]292749:58760:0[/embed] The open-ended build system is also great for another reason. Even if you don't build the perfect group composition for any given team, all hope isn't lost at hero selection. For instance, you can spec your support or tank characters into a more damage-centric role over the course of the game. Healers can spec entirely for damage if there's multiple support members on the team, and warriors can go a more tanky route if there's no one to soak up damage. It's far more forgiving than most MOBAs, where you can get yelled at for picking a hero that doesn't fit the current meta, much less your group. Shared experience is the other huge mechanic that Heroes of the Storm is pushing. Basically, it allows everyone on the team to be on the same exact level as one another at all times. For example, you won't have one master player who knows exactly how to lane amassing all of the XP on your team. Instead, the worst player is just as strong as the best one. I dig this system for multiple reasons. For one, it doesn't discourage players from attempting to mount a comeback. While another team can still theoretically outlevel their opponents as a collective, everyone can now feel like they're contributing without having fingers pointed at them. The cast itself is also a huge draw, mostly because it calls upon the rich lore already established in the Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft universes. There's not much backstory in terms of the world itself (unlike Riot Games, which does a fantastic job of keeping its lore interesting and fresh), but each hero has a ton of personality to make up for it. Old familiar characters like Thrall or Raynor have a lot of the same icons and skills from their respective games, as well as updated designs and sound effects. It's a joy to play as Nova and hear the classic StarCraft Ghost phrases, running up against the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo. It sounds hyperbolic, but I really do like playing as everyone (the only hero I straight-up don't like is Tychus), and there's more than enough variation to keep everyone entertained. Abathur, for instance, is a character that doesn't directly fight on the battlefield, but instead hitches a ride on other heroes (as well as towers and creeps) to do battle in the form of a sentient spirit of sorts. The Lost Vikings are a lot like Meepo from DOTA, in the sense that they're actually three different units that can be controlled independently, all in different lanes if you can handle it. There are plenty of more traditional platstyles available, as well as more unique choices like Zagara, who summons minions from StarCraft and can create creep (that barren-esque Zerg terrain) to buff herself. Other characters like Ghost and Zeratul can go stealth to pick off enemies. Sylvanas can disable towers or creeps by attacking them. Uther can heal for a short time after his death. You've seen some of these mechanics before in the genre, but the way each style plays out is unique to Heroes. If you're bored of playing the same exact five-on-five, three-lane map over and over in every game, Heroes can offer some respite. There's tons of maps to learn (seven in all at launch, with another Diablo-themed map in development), all of which have objectives built into them. These mini-quests range from collecting coins to pay a ghost pirate to blow away an enemy base, or defending a circle that shoots lasers at opposing forts. While a lot of folks likely won't enjoy the fact that a team can come back and win because of these events, they're actually just a more streamlined and flashy way of handling the Dragon and Baron Nashor objectives in, say, League of Legends. They're also designed to expedite matches -- an average Heroes game is usually 20 minutes, which is a stark contrast to 45-60 minute matches elsewhere. It's a great philosophy, as one of the common genre complaints is the fact that games take forever. The less Blizzard copies the status quo, the better. Heroes of the Storm also provides a more relaxed environment in general. There's far less pressure in unranked matches (as there should be), and there's even an option to turn off allied chat, thus avoiding taunts from angry players -- instead, you can rely on the fairly extensive pinging system on the mini-map to communicate. "All" chat is also entirely disabled, so you won't hear enemy trash-talking either. There's a few bad apples here and there, but in my experience, this is by and large the most welcoming MOBA community. This should help alleviate a lot of the concerns people have in regards to starting up the genre. For those of you who are more competitive, there is a ranked option called Hero League. There's no bans currently, but you can solo or group queue for it, and hero selection is done by a "draft" style format, where players switch off selecting characters. From what I've played of ranked, the community is just as understanding and helpful, and in every lobby I've been in, players have suggested picks for inexperienced folk and adjusted their picks to help the team. At the highest player rank there's also a team Hero League option for all five players to enter. Currently, the ranked system needs a bit more work in terms of the infrastructure behind it. Blizzard has noted that it is building a system in line with Hearthstone's ladder rankings, but top-tier players will require a lot more to keep playing. In terms of monetizaton, Heroes is roughly on par with League (which is fine by me), but with a slightly lower earn-rate for in-game currency. Yes, it's awesome that Dota 2 has all of its heroes unlocked from the start, and I wish we could have that strategy implemented in every MOBA. But the reality is, Blizzard has created enough avenues to earn gold, and the free-to-play rotation every week will still allow you to play every role and get the full Heroes experience. To earn gold, you can complete daily quests, which will net you around one character per month (depending on the price). By playing frequently, you'll earn gold inherently through completed matches, and by leveling up heroes, you'll earn a nice gold bonus at specific ranks. It's not really hard to do any of these tasks -- they merely require you to play heroes from specific franchises, roles, or play the hero itself a certain amount. There's also a few bundles, including a $20 physical boxed set at launch, that provide a large number of characters. A handful of heroes are also very cheap, to the point where you can buy a few after only a day or so of play. Ever since the beta, I've always had a reserved take on Heroes' economy. In short, it's a bit too conservative in terms of rewards, and Blizzard doesn't put out nearly enough sales (the weekly is usually just a middling one character). That could change over time, but for now, I would like to see a higher earn-rate overall. The good news is that all real-money purchases are just that -- real-money, with dollars and cents. You don't need to wade through and calculate "Riot Points" to figure out how much something costs. Skins are only available for purchase with real cash, which doesn't really bother me as they are a completely optional affair. Plus, when you see how much work goes into making a skin, the prices feel justified, especially when they're on sale. Heroes of the Storm has unfairly been branded as a "just a casual game" due to the removal of many tried and true MOBA mechanics. With over 100 hours of play under my belt, I can say with authority that those claims are untrue. Heroes has a ton of depth, it's very well balanced (though not perfect), and nearly every cast member is a blast to play. It achieves almost everything it sets out to accomplish, so I really hope it catches on with the non-believers and continues to grow. [This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game, but Blizzard provided us with 60,000 gold to spend in the shop. A $20 retail starter pack was purchased by the reviewer. I am currently player level 40, the maximum.]
Heroes of the Storm photo
My new go-to MOBA
When people hear the term "MOBA" they usually groan. I tend to respond with, "Tell me more." I grew up with RTS games since I could grasp a mouse and keyboard, and my first MOBA was the original DOTA back in 2005. Over t...

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Supremacy

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Supremacy DLC (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Sledgehammer Games (Current-gen) / High Moon Studios (Last-gen) / Raven Software (Zombies)Publisher: ActivisionReleased: June 2, 2015 (Xbox) / TBA (PC, PS3, PS4)MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) First up is Skyrise, a map that takes place in futuristic Greece. Well, you wouldn't notice the setting unless you really looked, as the only clue is the Acropolis landmark on one side of the map. As it stands, it's basically a straight remake of Modern Warfare 2's Highrise. It's a classic arena in its own right -- but as I've said in the past, I'm not a fan of injecting remakes in a $15 DLC pack. Having said that, Highrise really holds up. It's a classic tiered map with plenty of high, middle, and underground paths, with a giant playground in the middle, and hidden side paths. It's a nice addition to the rotation, and enough time has passed between the release of Modern Warfare 2 to not piss me off. Parliament is set on the River Thames in London, and is yet another tanker map. It's almost like Activision needs to fulfill an imaginary quota of tankers in every Call of Duty, so this is where you can get your fix if you're a fan of steel traps. It's a lot like Skyrise in that most of the cool stuff is happening in the background, but there's some decent opportunities to jump around the map and over hazards like the river itself. It's not quite on par with Skyrise's layout, but I have no real qualms when it comes up, since it takes advantage of the increased Exo mobility quite well. Kremlin, obviously set in Russia, is extremely colorful, and sets itself apart from the rest of the pack immediately. I love that it feels like a legitimate map from an older game like World at War, as there's tons of detail inside and out, and nearly none of the layout is wasted. It's one of the best objective-based maps currently, as there are multiple chokepoints built into it, including one really rad area that involves a long road and a mounted machine-gun perch. Whenever it comes up in a playlist, my eyes light up and I mash the vote button. It seems like there always needs to be one bad apple in these DLCs, and Compound fulfills that niche. Taking place in a staging ground in Colorado, Compound is a boring, small map that serves no real purpose in Advanced Warfare, which is a much more mobile game than past iterations. From what I've played, opposing teams tend to spawn on top of one another, leading to a bunch of messy firefights. They tried to go for a more tiered design here, but it mostly fails because everything is so low to the ground. Thankfully, the Exo Grapple playlist returns for Supremacy, and I recommend playing it to get more mileage out of Compound. In case you were wondering, there's no DLC weapon this time around -- which I'm more than fine with. [embed]293187:58782:0[/embed] Like clockwork, a number of issues I have with Supremacy have been alleviated with the third part of the Exo Zombies tale, Carrier. I really love how Sledgehammer and Raven Software are moving the story along with the same cast of characters, and its narrative style is pretty much exactly where it needs to be. It's not as cryptic as Treyarch's method, it's not too on-the-nose, and it's far more interesting than Infinity Ward's alien-oriented Extinction lore. It helps that Bruce Campbell is now along for the ride, and he fits the tone of the game perfectly. Maybe he'd be better suited as a full-on Ash cameo down the line with a wackier take on the zombies mode in general, but he does a great job of acclimating to the already talented cast here. Carrier itself looks aesthetically similar to the first Exo Zombies mission, but the intricacies will soon start to pop out the more you play. One of my favorite bits involves a makeshift Pachinko machine on a random wall that takes spare grenades, rewarding you with cash. There's also a lot of cool skirmishes with humanoid opponents this time, which elevates the mode and gives it a certain degree of depth that exceeds your normal "horde" expectations. Objectives like defusing bombs while fighting off ravenous zombies do a great job of keeping you on your toes. Call of Duty: Advance Warfare's DLC drops have become incrementally more impressive as Sledgehammer is willing to take more risks. While I didn't think it'd be able to bring anything new to the table for its first Call of Duty outing, the studio has proven me wrong, surpassing Infinity Ward in my mind. While the jury is out on the fourth DLC for Advanced Warfare, Sledgehammer has already done enough to make me look forward to its next project. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Call of Duty DLC review photo
Third time is a charm
Another year, another round of Call of Duty DLC -- four rounds, yet again, in the case of Advanced Warfare. We've already had the Havoc and Ascendance packs drop so far as part of the Season Pass, and while they weren't bad offerings, nothing about them really vied for a purchase. With Supremacy, there may be a case for the pass, at the very least at a discount down the line.

Review: Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser

Jun 02 // Kyle MacGregor
Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser (PC)Developer: Astro PortPublisher: Nyu MediaReleased: June 4, 2015MSRP: $4.99 The story centers on Takuya Akatsuki, captain of the eponymous Vulkaiser, and his trusty team of VulFighter comrades, who together must defend the planet from an armada of alien invaders. Akatsuki's buds can join him in battle one at a time, fusing their ships with his own. Each augment the Vulkaiser with a wide swathe of munitions ranging from a cannonade of heavy missile fire and a gun that harnesses the power of lightning to a needle blaster and a massive drill. Diffused between the levels are a series of vignettes where the VulFighters that just accompanied the protagonist will have something to say. While it's never explicitly stated, the game encourages players to stick with one squadmate throughout the experience, as the longer they accompany our hero in battle, the more of their personal storylines we see. It's a small lure, but those willing to humor it will discover an added wrinkle to the challenge. Even if you manage to clear the game on its hardest difficulty setting, sticking with a single VulFighter throughout the campaign's duration certainly ups the ante. In addition to particular allies being more useful in certain situations more so than others, they're also limited by their shields. Much like the Vulkaiser itself, the VulFighters only recharge a small amount of health between one battle and the next. Once a ship is gone, it's gone! And there aren't any continues either, so you need to be mindful about weaving through every barrage avoid an untimely and disappointing end. That's how Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser hooked me. Having initially played through the game and thought it enjoyable, if a tad prosaic outside of its charming '70s anime veneer, I began playing the game within the game. I decided to see if I would see new dialogue if kept using the same VulFighter. I soon discovered, yes, that's the case -- though this came with the realization that it might be difficult to keep them alive long enough to see all of it. And challenging it was. Going back to the lede, the moment Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser got under my skin was at its climax. I had nearly completed the entire game with my pal Kimiko in tow, only to see her VulFighter crash and burn mere moments before felling the final boss. I felt crestfallen, despondent, but more than anything imbued with a sense of purpose, an intense desire to forge ahead on this self-imposed quest. I found it remarkable how such a seemingly unexceptional experience could rise to be so much more than the sum of its parts. I can't guarantee Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser will blow you away, but I'm having a blast with it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Doujin shmup review photo
On target
Amidst a wash of old school mecha anime and Tokusatsu-tinted nostalgia, there was a moment in this otherwise homespun shooter that left me surprised and curiously enamored. Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser doesn't come from a gen...

Review: Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven (3DS)Developer: MarvelousPublisher: Marvelous (JP), XSEED (EU, US)Released: October 2, 2014 (JP) / June 2, 2015 (US) / June 4, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Magna puts you in the shoes of a humble innkeeper (whose name can be customized at the start), who made a promise to his father to always keep his doors open and be the best proprietor he can be. One day on a standard trip to a cave to gather crystals (a precious resource in this world), he encounters a group of monsters. Fearing death, he retreats to a corner hosting a giant crystal, and summons a magical Spirit Girl named Charlotte (an "Artemis") who saves the day, and pledges her loyalty to him. It gets really goofy from here, in a good way. Maiden Heaven quite literally lays the last bit of its moniker on thick, as Charlotte has six other sisters who end up joining the fray over the course of the game. The narrative is framed as a shonen journey at its core, and the tone and even the presentation remind me of Lunar: The Silver Star, all the way up to and including the short, voiced anime cutscenes that intro new characters -- which is definitely a compliment. It's technically a harem anime setup, but the sexual tension is very light outside of a few scenes (most of which are optional and involve a bathhouse that buffs your party). Plus, you can readily fast-forward any story scene in the game if you wish. As you progress through the game, you'll start to realize that the story is tertiary to your interaction with the Artemis sisters. Think "Social Links" from Persona but much less detailed, and you'll have an idea of what to expect. By talking to characters at hub zones you'll be able to embark upon sidequests, which allow you to increase your affinity towards certain characters, and thus, power up your combat synergy with them. It's an interesting system, mostly because you cannot schmooze everyone in the game. You have to choose between them somewhat, as a handful of these quests will automatically cause the core story to continue. [embed]293142:58774:0[/embed] Magna has a really cool animation style that hosts chibi character models but is also insanely detailed, and for the most part, it works. Backgrounds are fairly stunning on the 3DS even without the 3D effect, and individual moving parts like a random Newton's cradle on a desk look great. The big problem with Magna though is that there is little to no exploration involved. It almost feels like at one point there were going to be massive hubs (you can see a few during quests), but they were cut for time. Instead, cutscenes are the only real way you're going to see Magna's sprawling kingdoms, and even the world map is a boring series of cutscenes. Speaking of cut for time, the English voice acting cast is great, but actual voicework is sparse, and mostly for combat actions and the first few bits of dialogue within a scene. It's unfortunate. Combat, on the other hand, is always a joy to play, and doesn't feel rushed in the slightest. It's a turn-based top-down strategic affair, but it's also grid-less, similar to Valkyria Chronicles. Instead, individual characters have a certain speed rating to determine their turn, and a movement radius. You can traverse anywhere within said radius, and then either defend, attack, or use an item. It's standard stuff, but the way combat actually plays out is just as over-the-top as its cast. The main goal with Magna's battles is to topple as many enemies as possible. Most baddies are grouped up in a formation, with a leader surrounded by tons of minions -- the former of which can summon more as long as he remains alive. For the most part, you'll want to run into these groups and hit an outside member to smash them into others, who fall over like bowling pins.  10-hit combos will grant you extra turns, so it's in your best interest to smash up piles of enemies in rapid succession. It's not the deepest system but it never gets old. Thankfully, individual scenarios have a decent amount of variety to them thanks to random items scattered about the battlefield, like explosive bombs and health potions. It might be turn-based but it doesn't really feel that way if you act quickly, and once you start acquiring more party members you'll have quite a bit of firepower to work with. The standard difficulty setting is spot-on, offering a decent enough challenge right out of the gate. You can also adjust the difficulty on the fly if you want. If you fail a level you can reform your party instantly and buy items before the battle, which is a really cool feature. Lord of Magna has seven endings in all, one for each sister. It's not an extremely lengthy JRPG though, as most of the replay value and extra content is hidden behind this gimmick. Since you can't see all of them in one playthrough it encourages you to do it all over again, but I'm not so sure a lot of folks out there will do that. Personally, I was happy enough with one completion, but years down the line I can see coming back for more. I enjoyed my time with Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven, despite the fact that it felt a tad unfinished at times. The combat system is fast-paced, the cast is likable, and the animation style looks excellent on Nintendo's newest portable. If you curb your expectations a bit, strategy-oriented JRPG fans will find a charming little flawed adventure in Magna. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Lord of Magna photo
Go go Harem Rangers
It's a miracle that Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven even exists. The project was unceremoniously halted after Rune Factory developer Neverland declared bankruptcy, and publisher Marvelous actually re-assembled part of the team t...


  Around the web (login to improve these)




Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -