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Review: Life is Strange: Dark Room

Jul 28 // Brett Makedonski
Life is Strange: Dark Room (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One[reviewed])Developer: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Square EnixRelease date: July 28, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) Interestingly enough, Dark Room largely betrays the pacing set forth by the previous three installments. Those chapters had a tendency to meander as Dontnod built the world and its characters. There wasn't anything inherently bad about that. Actually, now that the game's nearing its conclusion, it's paying dividends. We're invested in the story surrounding Arcadia Bay. Still, Dark Room is always tugging at your sleeves, trying to guide you somewhere. The stakes in this episode have been raised to a degree that doesn't lend itself to killing time. Urgency permeates the entirety of Dark Room. Rushing from one location to another advances the plot as things escalate steadily, and there's not always a chair handy to take a mental breather. As quickly as things move, a lot of the brilliance behind this episode comes in the form of finally tying together past events and seeing how they cause everything to shake out. There's some resolution, even if it's not full resolution. Dontnod has proven that it expertly laid the framework to affect future encounters. One particular instance comes in the form of another spat with a familiar antagonist. The branching paths can lead to several outcomes, none necessarily more optimal than the next. [embed]296752:59714:0[/embed] Another prime example is very un-Life is Strange, and maybe the only time Dark Room just sat still for a minute. Max has a board of clues that she must use to put together some damning evidence against someone. Putting on Max's sleuthing hat, the puzzle requires carefully finding related documents and grouping them in a sensible way. Odd as it may have seemed, this section nicely conveyed a sense of inter-connectivity and broke up the episode's breakneck speed. The rest of Dark Room's high points were the bleakest moments the game has seen, none of which should be discussed here. This episode doubled down on grim material and somber social issues. The absolute best thing Dark Room does is that it still somehow manages to present most of this (and the characters tied to it) from a complex perspective. It's not dealing in blacks and whites -- even though it's completely expected by now, given the nature of the subjects. The more time spent in Life is Strange, the more obvious it is that this isn't the game we may have originally thought. The supernatural won't overshadow the social issues. The rewind mechanic often doesn't feel like an option because you want to live with your decisions. Somehow, Dontnod resisted the urge to lean on these aspects, even though they'd be the easiest to lean on. The game's immeasurably better off for it. So, after another cliffhanger ending, we're left awaiting the conclusion and with no real idea where the narrative might go. Dark Room has been the most masterful installment in Life is Strange thus far, and it sets us hurtling toward the finish line. If the first 80 percent is any indication, it probably won't be a "happily ever after" ending. Only one thing's certain, though: that ever-present throat lump will be along for the ride.
Life is Strange review photo
Super Max
I played the fourth episode of Life is Strange with a lump in my throat. You know, the sort of uneasiness that puts a slight pressure behind your ears. The lump waned and grew with the chapter's crescendos and decrescend...

Review: King's Quest: A Knight To Remember

Jul 28 // Chris Carter
King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The Odd GentlemenPublisher: Sierra EntertainmentReleased: July 28, 2015MSRP: $9.99 per episode / $40 for the "Complete Collection" To be clear, this isn't a true continuation of the series, but rather, a "re-imagining" with the same characters, and some of the same events. For the most part, this new rendition is going to tell side stories that happened between the games over the course of five episodes -- A Knight to Remember is the first. There's plenty of fanservice scattered about to keep old fans happy, but newcomers won't be lost in the slightest in their first foray into Daventry -- it's a great balancing act. When I first booted up the game, it was seemingly taking a low-key Ico-like approach, which I really dug. The protagonist didn't talk much initially, and you're thrown into an unknown situation that sets up the rest of the tale. It immediately reminded me of a Don Bluth project, with beautiful scenery and interesting character designs. There are a few areas I encountered that had some screen tearing issues, but nothing that affected my enjoyment significantly, or crashed the game in any way on Xbox One. Slowly but surely the game opened up and started to become more talkative, at which point I immediately fell in love with it. The way the game is framed is through the narration of King Graham, who is telling his granddaughter the tales of his youth. Christopher Lloyd plays an older Graham to perfection, with plenty of "grandpa puns" and lots of heart. You can tell he's really enjoying it and isn't phoning it in like some stars might (Destiny), and in fact, the entire cast is one of the most organic collective of characters I've ever seen in a game. There's tons of great references to classic films like The Princess Bride with a welcome appearance from Wallace Shawn, and even direct references to characters like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. While I don't want to spoil the surprises, they're done with the utmost respect to the source material, and never approach the level of an annoying forced meme. It helps that the game's animations are incredible, and it's hard to not laugh out loud when you see Graham frantically running with his arms flailing about like Disney's Ichabod Crane. In fact, I've never laughed so hard at a game in my life -- trust me when I say that's not an exaggeration. I particularly like how the game handles death with the Grandpa Graham narration mechanism, which even makes failure funny. There's also a few hilarious references to characters "remembering that" from Telltale games, and a clever use of the narration technique in other ways. For instance, there's one part where you're walking on a log, and after going over it again, Graham mentions that it would be repetitive if he had to explain that bit over and over to his granddaughter, so it transports you to the other side. It's convenient and charming in the same breath. One thing I need to mention is that the game is not as hardcore as past King's Quest titles, which is to be expected. The narration element sort of clues you in sometimes to the solution (which again, is done very well), and I really like how the game focuses in on objects you are currently trying to use a piece of equipment on, to eliminate any nasty instances of pixel-hunting. There's also plenty of choices to be had that change the story in smaller ways, like leaving tips in a collection plate in any empty store, or bigger conundrums that promise more of an impact in future episodes (stay tuned to future reviews to see how this plays out). While the first hour or so of the roughly five hour adventure is rather linear, the game opens up significantly after that, with a large sandbox that isn't as massive as a classic adventure game, but big enough to roam around in. There's also some third-person obstacle dodging, mild on-rails platforming, and several first-person aiming sequences. There's a few quick-time events but they are very few and far between, which is a nice touch, as modern adventure games use them as a crutch far too often. Of course, A Knight to Remember also has several puzzles as well as some memory work involved, which are well executed. So yes, it's much more involved than your average Telltale game. I wish King's Quest: A Knight to Remember was a bit more taxing, but I loved everything about it. If this series does well I hope we get to see the adventures of other family members like Alexander, and additional areas like the Land of the Green Isles. Right now though, I'm going through withdraws for the second episode already. Move over Telltale, there's a new adventure king in town. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
King’s Quest review photo
A kingly modern classic
Not all revivals or remakes instill a sense of nostalgia within me. For instance, if we ever got that sequel to Kabuki Quantum Fighter we were promised in the original's credits, I wouldn't be all that excited. But King'...

Review: N++

Jul 28 // Chris Carter
N++ (PS4)Developer: Metanet SoftwarePublisher: Metanet SoftwareReleased: July 28, 2015MSRP: $19.99 If you haven't played N+ before, you're in for a treat. This series is predicated on tough jumps, pinpoint controls, and a physics system that's built on momentum. All you can really do with your ninja avatar is jump, but you'll be able to use acceleration and specific leaps to your advantage. It's a platforming fan's dream, as nearly every level presents a unique challenge that will force you to master every facet of the control scheme. The general layout of the game is also dead simple. You have 90 seconds to complete each level, and picking up gold along the way increases your timer. On every stage you'll need to brush against a switch to open up the exit door, then make your way to said door. It's cleverly paced, as you can choose to go for as little or as much gold as you want -- though hardcore players will likely want the clear bonus earned for picking it all up.N++ is massive in size, and to properly convey just how big it is, let me just give you a concise breakdown: Solo:600 new N++ levels125 Intro 600 Legacy Co-op: 300 N++ 50 Intro 120 Legacy Race: 300 N++ 25 Intro 120 Legacy Yeah, that's a lot of levels right? What I really like about the campaign in particular this time around is that it does a better job of acclimating players to the game, and all of the different concepts within. These arenas are short enough where you won't get bored learning the basics, but you'll be adequately prepared for what's next. While I finished most of the solo stages, I wasn't able to complete them all, and I played for roughly 30 hours. Co-op is particularly fun (with up to four players), as some stages specifically require people to suicide into hazards to let the other player complete the level. Races are also a rush, requiring one player to get to the goal first, and while they operate similarly to the solo sets (they can even be played by yourself), they can get crazy with multiple people, and if you really want, you can play the solo stages with friends. Sadly, there's no online play to be found for any mode, which is a disappointment. In terms of extras, I like how the game keeps track of crazy stats like how much of your time was spent in the air, on the ground, and on the wall, and there's a ton of really cool UI and visual filters to unlock and test out.  If you're so inclined you can also create levels with all of the available tools used to develop the game, and share it online. Even pre-launch there's already over 100 levels up, and the coolest one I found automatically takes you through a giant level without pressing anything. Others are more artsy, with messages and poetry that gradually appear on-screen. N++ might lack online play and feel like more of the same, but it's pretty much everything a platformer fan could want out of a sequel. It's still challenging, it has a boatload of levels, and it's a hell of a lot of fun to play. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
N++ review photo
Go ninja go, again
I don't think anyone could have predicted to success of the original N+. I was sitting around my dorm, playing Devil May Cry 3 for the billionth time, and my friend came in and said "dude, you have to play this game." It...

Review: Niko: Through The Dream

Jul 27 // Jed Whitaker
Niko: Through The Dream (PC)Developer: Studio Paint Publisher: Studio Paint MSRP: $9.99Released: July 10, 2015  A girl named Niko wearing wild face paint visits the grave of a passed loved one. She lays down and drifts asleep, when a tiny cute black creature with big bright white eyes sneaks into her mind and influences her dreams; or at least that is how I interpreted the opening pencil-drawn anime cinematic of Niko. The story is told subtly from then on via drawings found in-game and a post-credits cinematic, most of which lets you interpret it as you will instead of outright telling you what you just experienced, something I wish more games did.  Niko's minimalistic style makes beautiful use of the Unreal Engine. Most early levels are white and almost canvas-like other than shadows and a few a colorful pieces, and later on things get a bit more dark and eery. The soundtrack evolves alongside levels, starting bright and charming and eventually becoming chilling and tense. Rarely do game soundtracks feel so on point with what is on the screen and as memorable as Niko's, especially for a team's first game. Each level of Niko features a unique puzzle based on colors, shapes, platforming and even sounds. Most puzzles can be solved without much fuss, particularly for observant players as clues are usually hidden somewhere not far from the puzzles themselves. I'd be here all day if I described each type of puzzle, so just know the variety is enough to keep the whole adventure interesting.  [embed]296684:59697:0[/embed] Platforming puzzles aren't frequent, but when they do occur be ready to die a few times. Luckily, the checkpoints are really frequent and loading them is instantaneous, keeping frustration near non-existent. Niko aims to provide an enjoyable experience over one that tests your skills, and it certainly delivers. Nothing ever felt too difficult. Puzzles are mostly easy to figure out once you've got the logic down, though one of hardest puzzles is a platforming section where you turn into a ball. In ball form, the control scheme is vastly different: the view is top down, and if you're using a gamepad, the left stick moves the ball while the right stick decides the trajectory. Once I finally mastered the controls, I was able to finish the puzzles without much fuss, but it felt out of place in an otherwise beautifully-crafted game. Along the journey a few different characters come into contact with Niko such as cute black fuzzballs with eyes, and a giant white-masked black figure, both of which would feel right at home in a Studio Ghibli film. There is no dialogue in-game, but rest assured the characters are anything but flat. Over the course of the story, you'll see the masked figure evolve and convey emotions all without a single word of speech.  Niko only takes around five hours to complete, but those hours are time well spent. Completionists can seek out hidden collectable teddy bears that unlock Steam achievements, and a few other secrets along the way that will help extend the playtime a bit. The bears are often hidden behind some of the more difficult and rewarding puzzles, or just out of sight.  Beautiful levels with equally beautiful story, characters, and music come together to form one amazing puzzle adventure. Niko: Through The Dream is easily one of the best first-person puzzle games I've played, and a strong contender for my game of the year. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Niko Review photo
When Portal met Ghibli
First-person puzzle adventure gaming was reinvigorated with the release of Portal, and the genre has since become one of my favorites. The surreal Antichamber showed us how to think outside the box. The Unfinished Swan&n...

Review: Adventure Time Puzzle Quest

Jul 27 // Chris Carter
Adventure Time Puzzle Quest (Android, iOS [reviewed])Developer: WayForward, Cartoon NetworkPublisher: D3 Go!Released: July 23, 2015MSRP: Free (with microtransactions) If you've never played a Puzzle Quest game before, the concept is fairly easy to grasp -- it's a match-three. All you have to do is switch tiles to create matches of at least three of a certain color, and you'll do a certain amount of damage to enemy forces, which you'll do battle with in an RPG-like format. That's basically it, as the series is a bit more active than a lot of other puzzlers in the same subgenre. Except with Adventure Time, a few extra cogs have been thrown into the machine to spice things up a bit. Enemy mice tiles will slowly make their way to the top of the screen, worms will periodically lower your health if they aren't dealt with, and other tiles may explode after a certain amount of time. It's up to you to manage offense and defense, alongside of your party abilities (such as Jake's taunt) to clear out your foes as quickly as possible. On paper, it actually sounds pretty cool. You'll start with Finn and Jake on a fun little adventure to rescue Ice King's drumset, and go from there to other quest-givers like Princess Bubblegum and Flame Princess. The animations for attacks are neat, especially Jake, who transforms into giant boots and jackhammers to smite baddies. But as time goes on, you'll start to understand more of how the freemium nature of the game spills into every facet of the experience, which significantly sours things. For one, combat is painfully slow. Even on the fifth mission of the game, damage starts to become woefully low, both on your side and with the enemy forces. There were times were I was doing 5% damage to one enemy with a multi-combo attack, and sometimes it takes up to 10 seconds for the matches and your attack animation to play. These aren't epic boss fights with villains like Hunson Abadeer or the Earl of Lemongrab either -- they're mere skirmishes with rats. This all plays into the in-app purchase (IAP) scheme. Multiple confusing currencies can be used to heal or revive characters (a soft energy system), buy them equipment, and buy temporary "recruits." Almost everything ties into IAP, to the point where after only an hour the game tempts you to constantly replenish your party and buy new items to make battles go faster. It's just too much, and even though there is a tournament mode that hosts different daily events, it all feels like a slog. If you've never played the series before and the concept sounds interesting, just go with the original game (which has hit multiple platforms at this point), the legion of other match-threes that spawned after it, or the superior Marvel Puzzle Quest, which is a much more respectable mobile rendition. Cartoon Network really needs to re-evaluate the developers it chooses for the Adventure Time license, because this series deserves better, and has performed poorly for far too long. [This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game.]
Puzzle Quest review photo
Vengeance for Orgalorg
I have a love-hate relationship with Adventure Time. In recent years, there hasn't been much in the way of consistent character development or advancement of the core plot, outside of a select few instances per season. Yet, I...

Review: Lost Dimension

Jul 27 // Kyle MacGregor
Lost Dimension (PS3, PS Vita [reviewed], PS TV compatible)Developer: LancarsePublisher: Atlus USA (NA), NIS America (EU)Released: July 28, 2015 (NA), August 28, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 The story begins with a man who calls himself "The End" authoring a string of deadly terror attacks and threatening to destroy the planet in 13 days unless someone can stop him. To do just that, the United Nations dispatches S.E.A.L.E.D., an elite team of teenage warriors with psychic powers. But before the final showdown, the kids must climb the villain's mysterious spire, where he awaits their arrival. The task is easier said than done, though, as the group soon discovers. During the ascent the team is locked in a room, where they learn there is a traitor in their midst whom they will need to "erase" before moving on to the next level. The task falls on central protagonist Sho Kasugai to use his visions and deductive skills to root out the traitors. When they're not pointing fingers at one another, the squad of psychics will need to work together to defeat an army of enigmatic robots that stand between them and their main objective. While the ensuing battles have been compared to those of Valkyria Chronicles, the resemblance isn't overly deep. Lost Dimension is indeed a tactical role-playing game with a similar aesthetic, but the combat here is entirely turn-based and has enough distinctive features to make it feel unique.  All of the characters have unique psychic abilities, ranging from offensive powers like telekinesis and pyrokinesis to defensive powers like healing and buffs. Using these abilities is tied to a pair of gauges, one of which is a sanity meter. In addition to managing what is essentially a mana bar, players will need to be mindful of the sanity meter, as depleting it can turn the tide of battle. Should a character run out of sanity, they will go berserk. In this state, players lose control over the character, who no longer differentiate friend from foe. It sounds bad at first, but berserk characters are extremely powerful, and utilizing them effectively is an essential strategy. Another great tactic at players' disposal in Lost Dimension is deferring, which, at the cost of a little sanity, can allow allied units to have multiple turns. This is great for taking advantage of enemy weaknesses with a powerful attacker or moving your forces across the battlefield quickly to close distance or retreat to a more defensible position. Since nearby units will assist their buddies in battle, stacking assists is another important part of the equation, netting you extra attacks for every ally in range. Of course, enemies can pull off this maneuver just as well, which can be pretty devastating. Missions are usually quick affairs, lasting around 10 minutes or so on average, which was ideal for playing the game on Vita. After they're finished, Sho will have a vision where he'll see brief glimpses into what his teammates are thinking -- which might help players identify traitors. There's another ability that should help you do this as well, which allows you to go into someone's subconscious mind and tell for sure if they're the traitor or not. Thing is, you can only use this ability three times per floor, so it's best to narrow down suspects before firing your silver bullets. Since the traitors are randomized, each experience with the game will be somewhat unique, ensuring someone's first run through the game will be different than the second. But it might be a tough sell for most to invest a couple more dozen hours in the game after seeing the credits roll. When a character is erased, they become Materia, which allows other characters to use the abilities they learned before their untimely demise. It's little things like this, and the whole tension surrounding judgement and betrayal that made Lost Dimension an enjoyable experience for me. Knowing I made a blunder early on and would have to watch one of my favorite characters betray me was something I dreaded throughout the journey. It was a huge source of dissonance, enjoying my interactions with someone that I knew was playing me and would ultimately make the final showdown with The End all the more difficult. Lost Dimension isn't particularly exceptional at anything it does, but I still really enjoyed the overall experience. It's a genuinely satisfying and memorable tactical RPG that I won't soon forget. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]  
Review: Lost Dimension photo
Keep your friends close, then kill them
It wasn't long before I realized my adventure in Lost Dimension wasn't going to end terribly well. My comrades and I were turning on one another, agreeing to sacrifice a teammate at the behest of our sworn enemy. None of...

Review: Five Nights at Freddy's 4

Jul 24 // Nic Rowen
Five Nights at Freddy's 4 (PC)Developer: Scott Cawthon Publisher: Scott Cawthon Released: July 23, 2015MSRP: $8.00 The setup of Five Nights 4 intentionally replicates the design of the first game. The original cast is back, their avenues of attack directly mimic their first outing, and the general layout of your besieged room is the same, making this entry feel like closing a loop. But, this time instead of haunting a creepy knock-off Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, they're spooking up your home instead. There are no more security cameras to monitor, no more batteries to fuss over. You're just a little kid with a flashlight, scampering between the two doors into his room and whatever might be lurking in his closet (or right behind him). The type of sense you rely on has been inverted: instead of keeping an eye on things, this time you'll be listening for whatever is out there. When you creep up to a door you have to pause, wait a moment, and listen for any kind of breathing or noise in the darkened hallway. If you hear something, you need to shut the door as fast as you possibly can. If it's clear, shining your flashlight down the hall will ward off anything stalking towards you. If you're wrong though, and the monster is right there, and you shine your flashlight right into its toothy mechanical face, well, it's is the last thing you'll ever do. What this means mechanically, is that you need to absolutely crank up the volume to reliably hear things. Headphones are nearly required. Of course, the jump scare death animations are as loud as ever. Do you see where this is going? Sonic fucking boom. If you want to know if this game made me yelp, or jump, or spill my coffee and send me trudging to the kitchen for a roll of paper towels while I swore angrily under my breath -- yes, it did. Of course it did. It's a cycle of protracted periods of peering into the darkness and intensely listening to absolutely nothing interrupted with SUDDEN. LOUD. JUMP. SCARES.   [embed]296612:59683:0[/embed] It's an easy, dull, and obvious trick. The final refuge for a game that has run out of any other ways to scare people. Don't think of anything new and clever, forget introducing any kind of gameplay twist, or carefully establishing tension or mood. Just take the basic components, crank up the contrast, pump up the volume, and jam the severity. It's trite, lazy even. I'm not sure how the inevitable Five Nights at Freddy's 5 will be able to top this kind of “subtlety.” Maybe it will come with a pair of electrodes you attach to your testicles, so it can administer 5,000 volts of spookiness every time something goes “boo.” *BZZZZZT* What, did that make you jump? Sissy. There are a few other tricks. Monsters introduced in later nights operate with slightly different rules, and by the time the fifth night rolls around, you'll be sprinting all over the bedroom trying to keep things locked down. Unlike previous games though, the rules don't feel tight. Things are sloppier, with more guesswork and chance baked into the experience. When I died, I often had no idea what I did wrong. And if I'm being honest, when I succeeded I wasn't always sure why. Frustrating deaths and unearned victories are equally unsatisfying in their own way. The animatronics' logic was never clear enough to me to come up with a reliable strategy to keep them at bay. I supposed that could be intentional, a way of always keeping even seasoned players on their toes, but I think that's giving the design credit it doesn't deserve. More than any other Freddy game so far, I just felt exasperated and annoyed playing through Five Nights 4.   The emphasis on carefully listening for every creak and groan in the darkness isn't just a lame way to manufacture easy scares. It's also a way to ruin one of the greatest pleasures I've had with the series, namely playing the game with an audience. While others sneer at Freddy's for being pure Twitch/YouTube bait, I've always understood it. I get why these games are fun to watch because I know how well they play in the living room with a couple of spectators and rotating victims. There is a real joy in playing these games with someone else or two in the room to watch you screw up. To have a small chorus whispering “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...” behind your shoulder as the tension mounts. Of having someone to exchange nervous glances with when the doors stop working and it's 5 AM going on 6 AM and there is just the tiniest chance that you might roll over to the next day before Freddy pops out and – “OH GOD HE'S IN THE ROOM!” Those were moments I missed while I played Five Nights 4. What I'd think about while I was all hunched up in my chair with a pair of headphones clamped on tight. The memories that made me feel like a traitor whenever I violently shushed anyone in the room who made even the slightest distracting peep. However you played the previous games, know that this Five Nights is purely for the lone wolves and streamers out there who don't mind strapping on their pair of overly-expensive, sound-canceling Beats By Dre. But enough about how I resent the bargain-basement scares and penny-ante tricks the game uses to provoke a response from you. Enough about how this game is profoundly annoying and deeply unimaginative on a mechanical level. As a person who has followed the series since its start, the most damning part of this boondoggle of a game is how it absolutely folds under the pressure of its own established narrative. After all the teasing and hints, the essay-length forum posts and amazing fan-made theory videos that manage to be more entertaining than the games themselves, the promise that THIS Freddy's will be the one to finally answer the series long-standing questions -- it completely flubs the landing. All of the world building and story momentum generated by the first three games lurches to a disappointing stop, like a wind-up car gummed up with carpet lint. Yes, the infamous “bite of '87” is finally addressed in Five Nights 4. But like so many smoke monsters and Cylon replicants, the mystery was always better than any answer the series could reasonably provide. You see it, say “meh” to yourself, and retroactively wonder what the big deal was in the first place. The fact that this kind of anti-climax is common doesn't excuse Five Nights 4 of its wet noodle narrative and limp “reveals.” If anything, all of those previous failures should have been taken as cautionary tales, the value of mystery should be known and respected by now. Some questions are better left unanswered. It doesn't help that the way the game wraps up heavily implies that the events it depicts should not be taken literally. Yes, the tired old “it was all a dream/nightmare, or maybe a metaphor, or like a weird trippy memory, I don't know” trope is dusted off once again, so nothing is particularly clear. That's without getting into how the chaotic mass of prequels, reveals, and reinterpretations the games have constructed now threatens to collapse into a superdense black hole of no-longer-giving-a-shit at this point. I almost broke out a whiteboard trying to figure out the series' mythology at this point. “Okay, so this game is set in '87 to see the infamous 'bite,' around the same time as the prequel events in Five Nights 2. But it's also BEFORE the murders of the children that haunt Five Nights 1 and what you find out happens with Springtrap in Five Nights 3. The Purpleman doesn't really have a role, but he does show up in a cameo. Wait, are the kids in the last cutscene the eventual murder victims? Oh god, I'm seeing spots. Is this a migraine, or am I having a stroke? Do I need to call 911? If I die, are they going to find my body splayed out in front of a computer with a bunch of crazy notes about Five Nights at Freddy's? Am I going to end up as some shitty urban myth about how Five Nights totally killed a reviewer?” This game is stressful in all the wrong ways. The now familiar Atari-esque mini-games appear between chapters to deliver their payload of exposition and spooks, but all the menace of those scenes has been lanced and drained by repetition. There is a new sort of mini-game between nights where you play Weeping Angel stop-'n'-go with an animated plush doll. Stop him on a specific mark and you can knock two hours off the next night. Let him get too close or run out of time and, you guessed it, JUMP SCARE! It's the one new addition Five Nights 4 brings to the table, and it feels like the shadow of a reflection of an afterthought. You don't need to play this game. Even if you've been invested in the series up till now, it's just going to disappoint you and rankle your nerves. The interesting gimmicks have been completely rung out of the franchise; this game is imaginatively bone dry. The louder, nastier jump scares that are left are just a crass attempt to try and distract you from the lack of innovation. The story, the ongoing mystery of Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria, and the strange goings-on surrounding it are best left to your personal headcanon or favorite fan theory. You'd be better served experiencing Five Nights at Freddy's 4 the way it was obviously intended to be enjoyed. By going on YouTube and watching some twenty-five-year-old, dressed like a fourteen-year-old, scream and cry his way through the game like a seven-year-old. The game truly has come full circle. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Five Nights 4 Review photo
This guest has overstayed its welcome
Well, it's been a few months, time for another Five Night at Freddy's game I suppose. I don't like to be cynical. I don't volunteer to review games, and pay for them out of my own pocket, hoping that they'll disappoint me and...

Review: Divide by Sheep

Jul 24 // Darren Nakamura
Divide by Sheep (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Victor Solodilov and Denis NovikovPublisher: tinyBuildReleased: July 2, 2015MSRP: $2.99 (Android, iOS), $4.99 (Mac, PC)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Like many well-designed puzzle games, Divide by Sheep starts out with a simple premise, which it builds upon as the player progresses. Groups of sheep in numbers ranging from one to nine are spread across platforms whose sizes can vary within that same range. Sheep can be moved between adjacent platforms, but if a group size ever exceeds the destination platform size then the excess sheep are thrown into the water and drowned. The goal is to load life rafts with sheep, but only in specified numbers. Too few and the raft won't launch, too many and the raft will spring a leak and sink. Hitting one numerical goal for a level will unlock the next, but mastering a level requires three quotas to be met in a specific order. In the beginning, there isn't a lot to think about. The options for adding and subtracting sheep from a group are small: combine two groups together to increase the number or throw more sheep than a platform can hold to decrease. It might sound complex in writing, but it's an easy concept to pick up after a few minutes of play. [embed]296494:59650:0[/embed] Not far in, Divide by Sheep introduces new elements to use toward the end of filling up life rafts. Fences block movement between adjacent platforms. Dynamite platforms explode and disappear if they have no occupants. Laser fields will slice sheep in half so one divided sheep takes up two spots on a platform. (This is where the name of the game comes in.) The first major change comes with the introduction of wolves. If a wolf and a sheep share the same platform, the wolf will eat the sheep and become so obese it cannot be moved or fed again. Wolves have their own life rafts and the two species can never commingle on rafts. It almost reminds me of the old fox/rabbit/cabbage puzzle; there are constant calculations for when and how to feed the wolves in order to get the right number of animals to safety. A wolf can be fed to completion on half a sheep, so one sheep sent through a laser can feed two wolves. With all of the mechanics put together, there are several ways to add and subtract from groups of sheep and wolves. What I like about the setup is that even though there is often only one three-star solution to a puzzle, there are several different avenues to mentally attack it from. In some levels when the quotas are high, it's important to note exactly how many animals can be safely sacrificed. Others require a different kind of foresight, forcing one initial move since all others would lead to failure. Still more are so complex that a sort of trial-and-error can reveal the path to the best answer. The next big wrinkle comes in the Dark World, where Death finally shows up. He has rafts of his own, and he is collecting souls. It doesn't matter how the animals die; they can be drowned, sliced, eaten, or burned and he will take them. It eventually gets to a point where sheep can do double duty in terms of raft occupancy. The sheep can be cut in half to fill Death's raft, then duct taped back together to fill a sheep raft. That highlights the odd tone of Divide by Sheep. At a glance, it looks like an average cartoony mobile title. The soundtrack is bouncy and upbeat. So the juxtaposition of that G-rated presentation and the graphic slaughter with copious amounts of blood is funny in the same way the fictional cartoon The Itchy & Scratchy Show is. It would be disturbing if it weren't also adorable. Divide by Sheep hits the perfect level of difficulty, where every stage makes me think for at least a few seconds (and often for several minutes), but each one is also small and self-contained enough that persistence and critical thinking can always lead to victory. It has never felt too easy nor have I ever been permanently stumped. It's smart, it's pretty, and it never dwells on any one idea for too long. At its heart is a quality math puzzler, but what makes it shine is the dark comedy found in killing cartoon animals just to satisfy some arbitrary numerical requirements. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Divide by Sheep review photo
Not baaad
Death is lonely. Death wants some company. So naturally he would flood a plain filled with sheep and wolves, then float rafts requiring very specific numbers of dead creature souls at a time. Obviously. Divide by Sheep is a math-based puzzle game and to that end it works well. What makes it noteworthy is the window dressing, a whimsical cartoon presentation of fairly morbid subject matter.

Review: F1 2015

Jul 23 // Brett Makedonski
F1 2015 (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Codemasters BirminghamPublisher: Bandai NamcoMSRP: $54.99 (PC), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)Released: July 10, 2015 (Europe), July 21, 2015 (North America) Most of F1 2015's missing horsepower comes in the form of features. Only the barest of essentials are to be found, and even those feel further stripped-down. The mode that everyone will get the most mileage out of is a single season of play (either 2014 or 2015). Pick a driver from the pre-set list of real racers, practice, qualify, and race. Repeat 18 more times, and F1 2015's longest goal has been completed. There's no career mode, creation tools, or management simulator present, so season play has to carry a strong sense of progression. Unfortunately, that's almost completely absent apart from watching you and your teammate earn points after each race. There are no contracts to chase or sponsors to keep happy. Your crew assigns goals, but they are absolutely pointless. After they're achieved or failed, they're never spoken of again and they don't affect anything. There isn't even a calendar to keep track of how many races are left; I had to look it up on F1's official site. [embed]296540:59670:0[/embed] Compounding matters is the race length. The shortest possible race in season mode is 25 percent of a real race. This usually works out to about half an hour. If you add in practice and qualifying, it's upward of an hour. That's quite the time commitment to a game that doesn't adequately reward you for playing. It becomes a slog before long. Other modes offer little reprieve from the tedium. Time trial puts you on a track alone. Quick race is a better suit for seeing the different tracks than anything else. Multiplayer is plagued by a litany of bugs -- one of my first races there saw a player finish last by more than 30 seconds only for the game to award him first place by more than a minute, with a best lap time of 457 minutes. This lack of polish isn't isolated to the netcode. F1 2015 is an uninspired-looking game. Driver models are almost offensively bland. Several of the tracks are adorned by blocky, blurry backdrops. Crowds are completely static. The screen tears regularly, which thankfully isn't always easily noticed due to concentrating on racing. There are exceptions to this, though. Codemasters put in care in the most obvious spots -- where it knew players would look for it. Iconic courses in Monaco, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi are absolutely fantastic. The claustrophobic streets of Monaco almost feel like an entirely different game given the attention to detail on all the close-quarters buildings. And, like in real life, it's where F1 is at its most exciting. Strangely, for a title that's supposed to simulate the highest tier of performance racing, F1 2015's cars handle remarkably easily. There's a disconcerting disconnect to the road. The pavement offers little in the way of challenge, as simply steering in the correct direction at full throttle works flawlessly. Brake for those tight corners and then slam the gas back down. It's nowhere near as nuanced as one would expect, and it takes a lot of skill out of what should be the most skilled driving in the world. The saving grace for the driving mechanics -- and I say this without an iota of sarcasm or irony -- is the tire wear. Over the course of a race, the tires degrade to the point of being nearly useless. The turns you once took efficiently suddenly have you pointing in the wrong direction. It adds a sense of tension around the midway point and final laps. You'll know that you have to pit as you're losing time on each circuit, but when's the best time? Have your opponents pitted yet? Can you squeeze out one more lap? Similarly, rain adds a lot to the driving. While it's visually unimpressive, it certainly negates the problem of cars being too easy to steer. All of a sudden, these vehicles might as well be on ice. If it starts pouring, it's paramount to tell the crew to switch to a different style of tire and hit the pits as soon as possible. Otherwise, drivers who have already adjusted will overtake you in no time at all. One last mode in F1 2015 also takes care of the "too easy to drive" issue. Pro Season is the most simulation-like the game has to offer, and it's only for the most hardcore of players. It ramps the difficulty up to the highest degree, turns off all assists, locks the view to cockpit, and sets everything to full length. It's intense. Realistically, only a small percentage of people will care enough to attempt this, and those are the ones dedicated enough to the genre that they have much better offerings with way more options in several other games. But, it's not only those racing enthusiasts who will see F1 2015 as lacking. Everyone who tries it will. Its development was short-sighted, and its appeal is thusly short-lived. This is a game that excels in a very small handful of areas -- imagine how thrilling it is when your tires wear away in Monaco! -- but is mediocre or bad almost everywhere else. As centuries of racing have taught us, no one remembers the guy who finishes toward the back of the pack. That will be F1 2015's legacy: a forgotten one.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
F1 review photo
Caution's out
No matter the length of race chosen, F1 2015 mandates at least one pit stop per outing. When pulling into the pits, control of the car is seized from the player and the steering wheel displays the words "pit limiter." Th...

Review: Onechanbara Z2: Chaos

Jul 22 // Kyle MacGregor
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos (PlayStation 4)Developer: Tamsoft CorporationPublisher: XSEED GamesMSRP: $39.99 (digital), $49.99 (retail)Released: July 22, 2015  Onechanbara Z2: Chaos, being the direct sequel to a game that never released on western shores, has a story that isn't easy to follow. Jumping into the adventure essentially in media res, you have to play a bit of catch-up, piecing together morsels of dialogue with information from loading screens and the accompanying art book to really get a good feel for what's going on here. In short, familiar faces Aya and Saki aren't exactly the best of friends with newcomers Kagura and Saaya. Coming from rival clans, Banefuls and Vampirics, the duos crossed swords in the prequel, but now find themselves forging an unlikely alliance to stem a worldwide zombie outbreak. The ensuing adventure isn't exactly riveting, but the localization team at XSEED did its best to ham up an otherwise banal scenario. Combat is clearly the main attraction here, which is an area where the series has made some progress since its last appearance in the West. The combat system is straightforward, but has a few wrinkles to it. In the beginning, the game essentially instructs the player to button mash, suggesting you hammer on the square and triangle buttons and see what works. A full list of attacks and combos can be found in the menus, more of which can be unlocked between missions and mastered in practice mode. Of course, the series' trademark blood meter returns. As you dispatch zombies, weapons will get progressively more crimson, necessitating periodic cleaning to remain effective. On the other side of the coin, enough carnage will send characters into a frenzy, causing a spike in offensive power at the cost of gradually diminishing health. You need to pay attention, lest suffer the consequences. The four protagonists can be tagged in and out of battle anytime, which players can use to their advantage in a number of ways. One character can set up a combo for another, and since all of them have vastly different movesets, this freedom opens up a lot of possibilities. For example, one of my favorite things to do was lock a group of enemies in one of Saaya's lengthy chainsaw attacks, then bring in another character to perform a devastating double team maneuver. Sadly, the solid mechanics are wasted on an ecosystem that isn't treated with anywhere near the same level of care. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos has a linear and repetitive mission structure that funnels players through corridors and locks them into arenas at regular intervals. In these arenas you'll need to kill every last zombie, as they respawn ad nauseam, until you're allowed to pass. Most of the enemies don't pose a threat on their own, but instead rely on sheer numbers to impose any sort of challenge. A lone zombie often won't attack for seconds at a time. They can also get hung up on terrain or spawn outside the combat zone, which leads to a frustrating mini-game of sorts where you're forced to play hide and seek with stragglers in order to proceed. This is exacerbated by the fact that basic grunts can blend in with their environments. The visuals are all over the place, ranging from pretty decent to downright abysmal, with the zombie hordes and background graphics obviously falling on the low end of the totem pole. The character designs and accompanying sexual fan service are on the other end of the spectrum. There are a variety of lewd outfits players can unlock, or purchase in the case of the shameless "Strawberries & Banana DLC costume," in which the heroines might as well be nude. It's pretty disheartening this is where Tamsoft decided to focus its efforts, rather than to improve the core game. This game feels like it has tunnel vision; it's a product where some aspects of the experience are given incredible attention to detail, while others feel like they were lifted from something found in a PS2-era bargain bin. Just as often as I found myself enjoying Z2:Chaos for its pulsing soundtrack or slick combat, there were times where it embarrassed, aggravated, or bored me to tears. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos could have been decent, but it seems content to revel in mediocrity. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Onechanbara Z2 photo
Flirting with progress
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is a game that wraps its identity around sex and violence like few others. This is, of course, nothing new for the series. Styling itself after exploitation films, Onechanbara has survived for over a dec...

Review: Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max

Jul 21 // Jordan Devore
Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max (PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: RedLynxPublisher: UbisoftReleased: July 14, 2015MSRP: $9.99 (DLC) / $39.99 (Full game, Season Pass DLC, and Awesome Level Max) While Ubisoft has spent much of its time talking up "The Awesome Adventure," the group of levels centered on the unlikely duo, that content makes up the minority of Awesome Level Max. It's only short eight levels, one of which is an even-shorter FMX course that has players performing tricks as they fall from space. The other twenty-two levels are a mix of developer and player-made creations. They're far more varied and come packaged under the "RedLynx vs. All-Stars" banner. But back to that unicorn -- it's meant to be ridiculous, silly fun. That may seem obvious, but some people take Trials leaderboards very seriously. Think of this set as something you'll go through once -- maybe a few times more, tops, to get better medals -- and never touch again. The scenery is a change of pace, especially from the core game's offerings. Level layouts aren't particularly memorable or challenging, and I suspect most dedicated players will be able to breeze past them, crashing only because the path ahead wasn't clear enough the first time through. The seventh track culminates in a boss battle, if you can even call it that, against a penguin inside a mech. There are pixelated cats, for some reason. You literally win the fight by balancing on the machine's helmet. I didn't know what to expect for the conclusion, but it sure wasn't that. Weird stuff. It's also worth noting that the unicorn and cat are locked out of other tracks aside from Supercross. [embed]296414:59632:0[/embed] The RedLynx vs. All-Stars side of the DLC is far more fulfilling. For one, it represents a better range of difficulty. Clearing the first checkpoint in the two new Extreme tracks felt like an accomplishment, as it should. I haven't managed to finish either of them yet, and that pleases me. One concern going in was that there would be an inconsistency between the player-created courses and the ones RedLynx designed. I didn't find that to be the case at all. If they weren't labeled separately, I'm not certain I'd be able to tell the levels apart. One takes place in a computer. Another is reminiscent of Limbo's shadowy, saw-filled world. Too many tracks employ lava but, on the whole, this bundle has exactly the variety I missed in the often bland base version of Trials Fusion. Folks who skipped the season pass but want more Trials in the vein of Trials HD and Evolution should consider downloading Awesome Level Max. It's a little on the easy side, but I appreciate RedLynx for trying new ideas and bringing back more of its unusual personality. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Trials Fusion DLC review photo
Just go with it
Why would Trials Fusion drop its motorbikes for a gun-toting cat on a unicorn? Because it's funny. The touchy controls transfer to your new ride, so when you inevitably lose balance, the quadruped will start hoofing it on two legs. If you're anything like me, you'll burst out in laughter.

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: A Nest of Vipers

Jul 21 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: A Nest of Vipers (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: July 21, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)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.] Throughout the series, Asher and Mira have been the more interesting characters to follow, the former for his action and wit and the latter for her suspense and guile. Ethan and Rodrik at Ironrath have been fine as central characters, but haven't stood out. Gared's exploits at The Wall and beyond have easily been the least exciting thus far. A Nest of Vipers shakes up that split, if only a little. Asher still stands at the top with scenes dense with action and dialogue choices that feel important. He and his partner Beskha find themselves in a fighting pit in Meereen, seeking combatants to follow them back to Westeros. During this sequence, the stakes are high and it genuinely seems like failure is possible, forcing Asher to return home without any extra aid. One other point for Asher is Telltale's injection of humor into his lines. Though Game of Thrones takes an entirely different tack than Tales from the Borderlands, the little pockets of comedy help to break up the oppressively somber tone of the episode. One line in particular had me audibly chuckling, which I think is a first for this series. [embed]296123:59553:0[/embed] Mira's sections, on the other hand, lacked a lot of the punch they have had in past episodes. Where the coronation ceremony scene in Sons of Winter left me feeling smart for having successfully navigated and manipulated King's Landing politics, both of Mira's major scenes here just had me along for the ride. The first scene is one with Cersei and the second features Tyrion in his cell, locked up and awaiting trial for the incident at Joffrey's wedding. Perhaps because she was playing opposite two of the strongest personalities in Westeros, Mira didn't seem to do anything important or have much of an impact. This episode does set up for one final showdown with Cersei, in what sounds like it might be a life-or-death situation. Gared's journey toward the nebulous North Grove continues, and how it can possibly help House Forrester so many miles south is still a mystery. That said, it's finally getting to the point where Gared feels important again. The first four episodes were spent putting him in place, first getting him to The Wall, then getting him north of it. Now he actually gets to do something. Of all the intertwined stories, Gared's feels the most hopeful at this point. He's in a pretty sticky situation, but it's difficult to imagine a scenario where he doesn't make it out to at least play his part in the grand scheme during the finale. Everybody else in House Forrester might die and the clan might be wiped from the map, but he's going to get to the dang North Grove. Next time. The crux of the story still lies in Ironrath, with Rodrik dealing with the fallout from the last episode. It's a little disappointing; all of the clever politicking from Episode Four is essentially nullified by the traitor. Where it previously seemed like a peaceful resolution could be possible, it's now clear that this story can only end with bloodshed. That isn't to say Rodrik's sections were bad; there were still plenty of interesting decisions to make along the way. They may not all have a major effect on where things end up, but a few appeared to have serious immediate consequences and a few others appeared to affect how the final episode will shake out. This episode culminates with a particularly emotionally impactful finale, the kind Telltale has steeled us for with series like The Walking Dead. It's difficult to discuss without going too far into spoiler territory, but I can say that I was thinking about the last scene hours after I played through it the first time. It could go down as the most memorable section for the entire series. It's strange. Detailing all of A Nest of Vipers' parts makes it sound about average, if not even a little disappointing compared to the previous episode. But this one ends up working well as a cohesive unit, even if some pieces fall flat. This episode has its highs and its lows, but it still leaves an unforgettable impression. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
Now we're getting somewhere
Anyone following my exploits as House Forrester in Telltale's slice of A Song of Ice and Fire will know that the first four episodes have been a lot of setup for the main event. While only one episode felt like filler (The Lo...

Review: The Magic Circle

Jul 20 // Nic Rowen
The Magic Circle (PC)Developer: QuestionPublisher: QuestionMSRP: $19.99Released: July 9, 2015  The Magic Circle (the aforementioned meta-game inside of this real life title) is Ishmael “Starfather” Gilder's brainchild. The long awaited sequel to his beloved fantasy game 20 years in the making, mocked as vaporware by detractors and seen as the holy grail by his fans. A monochromatic fantasy world (that was a Doom-like sci-fi game for the first ten years of development) and probably the worst game ever made. Until you come along that is. Inserted into the game as a nameless play-tester, you see the drama play out in front of you. A world made of patchwork fixes and temporary assets while the developers, represented as giant floating eyes, loom overhead, changing things by whim. If the project wasn't already doomed by constant redesigns, oversized egos, and feature-creep, things take a surreal turn when something reaches out to you. Something that lives inside the game. Something that seems vaguely sinister, with its own agenda, an axe to grind against “the gods” as he calls the developers. What is it? A rampant A.I. that's somehow grown deep inside the mess of code? A machine spirit? You don't find out its exact nature until fairly deep into the game, and even then there is room for interpretation. What's important is what it shows you, how to get elbow deep into the guts of the code and rewrite it to your liking. How to use a simple but powerful editor to take the legs off one creature and stick them onto another. How to turn an enemy into a friend into an enemy of your other enemies. How to remake the world to your design. Then he sets you loose, a poltergeist in the programming, hacking in features, resurrecting cut content. Sometimes you play the part of a technological necromancer, finding content in the limbo of vaporware and dragging it back into the game. More often, you're Dr. Frankenstein, ripping bits and pieces off of creatures and stitching them back together to make your own beautiful little monster babies. The result has a pleasing effect, satellite dishes and broken bits of star ships poking out of the cliched castle walls of Ishmeal's would-be opus, an army of weaponized mushroom men following at your heel. Once the tutorials are over and the rather unorthodox premise established, the middle chunk of the game opens up into a sandbox that has you solving puzzles and indirectly slaying monsters by breaking all the rules. The flexibility of the editor, what you can do with a few swapped abilities here, a slight behavioral shift there, is astounding. Many of the puzzles (such as they are) can be solved in so many ways that I was almost always unsure if I did it the “right” way, or if I just bent and broke things until the pieces all fell where I hoped they would. I love that feeling, it's beautiful when games that are confident enough in themselves to not only let that happen, but applaud the player for doing so. There is a light tone to the whole affair. The various developers are chatty, with some great performances turned in from James Urbaniak (better known as Dr. Venture from the Venture Bros.), Ashley Burch, and others. There are audio diaries to discover, developer commentaries from a defunct version of the game to collect, and change logs detailing the carnage of the development process scattered around, all of which reveal not only what a comedy of errors The Magic Circle has become, but also the various neurosis and flaws of the team members. The comedic tone of the writing and performances feed right back into the gameplay. Silly decisions abound, like the developers (the real ones) always went with the fun idea rather than the easy or clear one. For example, there is no upper limit on how many creatures you can have following around you at once, so things can, and likely will, easily devolve into chaos as you walk around with a fire-spewing zoo trailing behind you. Similarly, there are no limits on how you can swap abilities so it's easy to make truly ridiculous creatures, like a flying demon puppy with a railgun mouth. But aside from the obvious circus-show of zaniness, there are tons of small jokes and clever winks. Little details like picking up copies of your own avatar to increase your health (represented by placeholder art that looks like a cylinder with arms). Being able to re-name every creature you hack so you can make your own fun. At one point I ended up changing the name of the game to “Duke Nukem Presents The Magic Circle” and I giggled at my handiwork off and on for the rest of the night. It's just fun to tinker around in. The objectives of the game are purposely vague -- you need to wrest control of the title away from its current creators, how you're supposed to accomplish that as a disembodied phantom inside the game isn't clearly laid out – but they don't have to be. Exploring the half-built world of The Magic Circle, this pitiful thing, marked with the visible scars of development notes, vestigial remains of deleted content still clinging to it, concept art hastily plastered over the seams, is the meat of the experience. One you wouldn't want to rush through even if you knew exactly what you were supposed to do. And one, that even with a healthy amount of goofing around and experimentation, is over too soon. The sandbox is tiny, and once the game enters its final chapters there is no coming back to it. While The Magic Circle has a compelling third act and some neat surprises to throw at the player (sometimes with the intent of harm), it's hard not to feel like the game is a little thin on the whole. While the central conceit is fun, you don't spend as much time playing with it as you'd hope. The runtime is already short, and a good chunk of it is taken up with monologues that occasionally veer into full on lectures as well as multiple epilogues. For a game that is about grand ideas betrayed by shaky execution, it's tempting to explain the lack of substantive content as more sneaky meta-commentary, but while the idea makes me smirk, I don't think it's good enough to give the game a free-pass. But The Magic Circle isn't just about the gameplay, it has a message. A whole lot to say about what it's like to make games in the modern video game industry. The stresses it places on people, the incorrect assumptions creators have about their work, and the untamed expectations of a judgmental audience. Despite being a commentary on the industry, The Magic Circle isn't gauche enough to single out a specific target. Ishmeal is a composite of several flawed, egotistical developers who are big on hype, hazy on details, and always ready to blame someone else for their shortcomings. There are shades of Molyneux in the mix, flickers of Cage, a sprinkling of Garriot, and a heady musk of Romero to round it out. Coda, an ardent fan of Ishmeal's former works who worms her way onto the team, represents the new era of the participant fan; The streamer, the wiki editor, the super-secret pre-beta fan tester, and all the good and ill that's come along with that shift. Her passion and reverence for the virtual worlds she's dedicated her life to is engaging and even a little familiar -- we're all enthusiasts around here. But, her obsessiveness and the sheer gall of her skewed priorities quickly become unsettling. Beneath all the fan-girl glee is a shrewd, nasty sense of undeserved entitlement and ownership, the sort of overly-invested fan that will send shamelessly ego-stroking love letters to a developer one day and thinly veiled death threats the next. Less well defined is Evelyn Maze, a former eSports celebrity who is unwillingly tied to Ishmeal's sinking boat through contractual chains (a clumsy way of explaining her combativeness while dodging the question of “why doesn't she just quit?”). She represents the “games are for playing” kind of gamer who has no patience for cut-scenes and a thirst for competition. A philosophy which directly collides with the “Starfather's” vision of a story-heavy RPG yarn with no combat. As Maze is the unofficial second-in-command of the studio's disorganized hierarchy (that seems to work like a hippie-commune as run by Joseph Stalin) her and Ishmeal's constant bickering results in a lot of flushed efforts and confusion on the part of the team, right in line with some of the horror stories we've heard about the industry the real world. And somewhere in there is you, simultaneously gawking at the car crash while pouring more gasoline on it. Are you just another player in this world? A different sort of creator? Are you sabotaging this whole thing, or just giving it the sharp kick it needs? The problem with talking about a game that aims to surprise is it's hard to get specific without ruining the experience. But I guarantee, in the near future a lot of ink is going to be spilled about The Magic Circle. The final third of the game goes to some weird places that demand to be dissected. The message is a little muddled, with so many accusing fingers thrust in so many directions that I'm sure different people will come to radically different conclusions of what it all means. But it's a message worth hearing, and a world worth exploring, if you care about video games and the people that make them. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Magic Circle Review photo
The medium is the message
The Magic Circle is a game set inside of a game, where you bend and break the rules to make it another game entirely. This is all in service of makings a meta-contextual statement about the game making industry and the tension between the creator and the audience. Still with me after that? Then you're probably The Magic Circle's target audience.

Review: Tembo the Badass Elephant

Jul 20 // Chris Carter
Tembo the Badass Elephant (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Game FreakPublisher: SegaReleased: July 21, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Tembo has a rather short little setup, and from there, doesn't really give you any further exposition until the very end. What you see is what you get in essence, which is a Rambo-inspired elephant laying waste to an enemy dictator, who controls the Phantom Force army. It sports a charming little visual style that reminds me of Regular Show and a few other Cartoon Network properties. It even has effects like a literal "BADA BADA" phrase appearing while dashing about, and despite the low key setup it's a very bright and loud game, mostly in an endearing way. The basic gist is that you'll be able to jump, dash, and float in the air momentarily like Yoshi, with the added ability to shoot water from your trunk. More advanced moves involve uppercuts, slides, butt stomps, and a cannonball dive spin with a bounce. As you progress you'll start to learn more nuances, almost like you're fitting Tembo through various keyholes with your moveset. There are no real explicit puzzles, but it sure feels puzzle-esque if you're going for flawless runs. For instance, select levels can be completed without losing any momentum whatsoever, and it's a blast to dash, dive-kick, and slide your way through the entire thing. There's even a modified charge that you can utilize by holding down the water button, which can put out flames while running. It's pretty much the perfect amount of depth, allowing newcomers to pick up and play Tembo while giving hardcore platforming fans room to experiment a bit. [embed]296063:59600:0[/embed] The level design is fairly open-ended, tasking you with finding hidden civilizations scattered across the map, and killing as many enemies as possible -- both of which have separate goals that are tracked. Mini-bosses and a few full-on Big Bads are peppered into progression, but I would consider it more of a traditional platformer than a real action game -- especially with how muted and easy these encounters are. There's many more instances of timing and running than fighting, which is something you mostly happen to do while jumping around. Game Freak keeps things exciting with hazards, well-placed enemies, and lots of explosions, which will keep you on your toes constantly. Tembo has 17 stages, which last a few hours -- if you play very well, that is. Now, here's where my big holdup is with Tembo -- gating. In order to progress past certain stages, you need to kill a certain amount of enemies. Each stage has a death counter of sorts, which requires you to rescue most of the civilians trapped within a level, as well as actually seek out and defeat most of the enemy forces. It incentivizes actually killing foes, which is neat, but it ultimately ends up causing frustration and forcing players to replay levels over and over. While it is cool that levels do split off into branching paths, several of them have points of no return. If you happen to just choose a particular path, you may be locked out of say, 50 kill points or so -- which can easily be the difference between unlocking new levels and being forced to replay. It's maddening in some cases, and at one point I was held back by six points. Now, I did like returning to some levels to try to "master" them per se, but that should be a player choice -- not something that gates main story progression. Tembo the Badass Elephant is a really enjoyable game at its core, but it can get tiring to replay the same stage five times over just to grind out a few kills to see the next set of levels. It's an odd design choice for sure, but most of you will probably enjoy dashing through unsuspecting Phantom Soldiers and butt stomping them into oblivion regardless. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Badass Elephant review photo
They drew first blood
When someone told me that the developer of Pokemon was creating an action platformer called Tembo the Badass Elephant, I knew I had to give it a shot. While a few of the design choices are a bit odd, they don't overshadow the sum of its parts.

Review: SlashDash

Jul 17 // Patrick Hancock
SlashDash (Xbox One)Developer: Nevernaut GamesPublisher: Nevernaut GamesMSRP: $9.99Released: July 17, 2015  SlashDash is a local-multiplayer only game. There is no one-player mode, no bots, no challenges, nothing. If there are not at least two players, it's impossible to play any mode. I just wanted to make that perfectly clear before anyone reads further. It uses a simple control scheme, but that doesn't make it a simple game. Players can slash with their sword, perform a small teleport forward, or throw a weapon forward. Hitting an enemy with a thrown weapon like a kunai will stun them for a brief moment of time, but slashing them will kill them, forcing them to respawn. It takes less than a single round of play for players to fully comprehend the controls, but the feeling of mastery is still a long ways off.  The biggest quirk is that players cannot slash and move at the same time. It may sound like a non-issue, but in a fast-paced game like SlashDash, it makes a world of difference. It forces players to really think about their attacks, because a single missed attack might be the difference between victory and defeat. Everyone moves at the same default speed, so missing an attack and stopping is a huge setback. There are four modes available: Capture the Flag, Assassination, Deathrace, and Mirror Match. Capture the Flag (CTF) is easily the best mode available. It doesn't deviate far from what players would expect from a CTF variant. It's 2v2 only, and one player must grab the opponent's flag and return it to their base to score a point. The player carrying the flag is slowed, but their teammate can slash them and give them an extra boost of speed. It's incredibly important to master this skill, and forces players to think about what move would be better: boosting your flag carrier, defending them, or attacking the opponent who has your flag. Other than simply outplaying an opponent, mind games are a huge part of CTF. There's a deceivingly large amount of options at any given time, regardless of which role a player is filling. Of course, all of this happening with friends nearby or on the same couch is what really pumps the excitement into SlashDash. [embed]295953:59548:0[/embed] Assassination gives each team a Shogun to protect. The Shogun will blindly follow one player, and slashing your own Shogun will make it run to your teammate. It's important to know that the Shogun will run in a straight line to your teammate, and will get caught on any pieces of environment that are in the way. It's hard to find a good Shogun these days. The Shogun variant is interesting, but doesn't tend to provide the same amount of excitement as CTF. Having the Shogun generally forces the player to run away, and these matches can easily devolve into very defensive matches from both teams. Deathrace is a fancy way to say Deathmatch, with a slight twist on the formula. This is a free-for-all mode where each player has a bar that fills as long as they are alive. If a player is stunned or killed, the bar is slowed. The first player to fill their bar wins. The leader has a ring around them to indicate they are in first, but it's really hard to see by how much. The bar that fills for each player is a circle in the middle of the stage, and makes it near-impossible to see how close players are to one another. Mirror Match is the worst of the bunch. In this mode, every player gets five ninjas to control, each acting at the same time. It's possible to separate them by using the environment, but this mode is basically just chaos. There wouldn't be much wrong with this, except that the frame rate drops heavily while playing, even with just two people. I've even had the game crash on me on this mode. If it didn't struggle to run, Mirror Match could be a chaotic distraction from the other modes, but as it stands, it is unplayable. There are nine maps, and each of them are quite unique from one another. One map is made of ice with less friction, while another has spikes that rise from the ground that will kill anyone who steps on them. Map knowledge is an important skill, since it is crucial to know what the ninjas can and cannot teleport over. Being chased by an opponent and failing to teleport over a gap because it was too far can lead to some quick deaths.  New throwing weapons can be unlocked, seemingly through games played. This is never made very clear, but considering all I have done is play matches, I think it's safe to say that playing more matches unlocks more throwing weapons. It's a shame, though, because there will be people who download the game to play with friends and only have a single throwing weapon, the Kunai, to use. It takes some decent playtime to unlock them, too, which seems counter-intuitive to the design of the game as a whole. The different weapons all have very different effects, and cater to multiple different playstyles. The smoke bomb, for example, creates a big puff of smoke around the ninja, making them impossible to see for a moment (warning: do NOT use in Mirror Match, for the love of frame rate). The Poison Kunai, on the other hand, stuns for a very small amount of time, but prevents the enemy from teleporting for a short time instead. Playing around with the throwing weapons is a blast, once they're all unlocked. One huge issue is the rematch button. Opting to rematch restarts the match, but every player is reverted back to the Kunai for a throwing weapon, regardless of what they picked. Originally this is fine, since it's the only weapon unlocked, but as people start to select different weapons, the button becomes useless. Despite incredibly polished visuals with a true homage to Japanese culture, there's a ton of gameplay hiccups, After playing a game and going back to the main menu, the "Instructions" option becomes invisible. It's still there, just invisible until the player selects it. Selecting rematch after "Random" is chosen for the stage brings players to the same level, instead of a new random one. I've encountered freezes multiple times, even outside of Mirror Match. And after a match, the options for rematch, mode select, and stage select can block a player's statistics if they accidentally hit a button too early, which is common when the end of a match is intense. I really do love SlashDash, but only when playing with four people. Currently, there's a lot of blemishes on the product as a whole, most of which seem like glaring oversights. There's also not a lot going on for people who don't regularly have friends over at their house to play multiplayer games. With no single-player and even lackluster two-player options, SlashDash exists for a certain kind of player. Hopefully all of the bugs can be fixed, because playing Capture the Flag with three friends is easily one of the best local multiplayer experiences out there. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SlashDash review photo
Bring your friends...or else
SlashDash first grabbed my attention at PAX East, where it easily soaked up a good amount of my time on the show floor. Also, I'm pretty sure Dylan Sprouse was working the booth. Or maybe it was Cole? I guess it could ha...

Review: Odallus: The Dark Call

Jul 16 // Jed Whitaker
Odallus: The Dark Call (PC)Developer: JoyMasherPublisher: JoyMasherMSRP: $14.99Released: July 15, 2015 Haggis's son has been taken by darkness, his village has been set ablaze, and his Gods have abandoned him, so he does what any father would do in this situation, brandish a sword and go on a killing spree. Along the way Haggis picks up axes, spears and torches to add to his arsenal of demon-dispatching weaponry; axes go in a straight line and torches ignite the ground much like throwing knives and holy water from Castlevania respectively. These sub weapons can be found and replenished via various chests along the way or at shops set up throughout the land in exchange for orbs enemies drop. Knowing when to use these sub weapons are key to success in Odallus, especially at the start of the journey as your sword is rather weak in comparison. Certain enemies and obstacles fall faster to sub weapons.  A weapon bag dictates how many of each weapon can be carried, luckily it can be upgraded by finding upgrades hidden throughout the landscape. Health, sword, and armor upgrades can also be found hidden in hard to reach places. Odallus is anything but hard as I was able to breeze through it in just over four hours. Health is carried over between levels, only being refreshed by finding health pickups in chests or by purchasing them at shops. Lives can be purchased at shops but there is little reason to as running out only causes you to restart the current level at the beginning instead of the latest checkpoint. The only real difficult part of the game is the final boss whose attack pattern was seemingly random and extremely cheap: the only way I was able to defeat him was to be equally cheap and abuse the final armor upgrades and their ability to make myself invulnerable for a brief moment while spamming attacks. Bosses in general are pretty easy, having predictable patterns and falling quickly to sub weapons or upgraded swords which is a shame because they all look so cool, mostly like hellish H. R. Giger creations. I found myself purposefully not being aggressive in boss fights just so I could see what attacks the bosses had in their arsenals. Like the bosses, many of the levels look awesome, even if some of them rely on Castlevania tropes such as a burning village or a dark forest. Graphically Odallus looks like an NES game, which isn't a bad thing, as the game honestly feels like a spiritual successor to the NES Castlevania games. While there are some commonplace level locations for this type of game, there are also some that mix up the formula a bit such as underwater levels and even a mine cart level. Riding in a mine cart, ducking stalactites, and jumping over other mine carts and gaps in the track are just as fun as they were in Donkey Kong Country, albeit a bit easier. The underwater levels play generally the same as the other levels, though jumping gets a bit of additional height. Jumping higher underwater when wearing armor may not make much sense, but it doesn't take away from the experience.  Each level has multiple paths to progression, though a lot of times they end up looping back to where they started in clever ways that prevent the need for backtracking. If you're like me and you always wonder which path you should go and worry about missing something, Odallus is pretty good about making sure you end up back in that area for one reason or another.   One thing I've never liked about metroidvania style games is the tedious, boring backtracking that is forced upon you if you're a completionist. Luckily here you're able to use a Ghosts 'n Goblins-esque map to jump between levels. The level selection screen also provides details on how many secrets are left to collect, if the boss is alive, and if you've unlocked the alternate routes. No levels are really secret as they are marked on the map when you unlock the levels that they can be accessed from. I had to repeat a couple of levels maybe two times to clean up on some secrets I'd missed, but for the most part your time isn't wasted to try to artificially extend the playtime.  Traversing levels at first feel mostly like a classic platformer; You have one jump, and getting hit knocks you back a bit, but unlike those games of old there are no bottomless instant-kill pits to be found. While cheap deaths plagued classic Castlevania games making them "NES hard," I was very pleased Odallus didn't follow in their footsteps. Another nice feature is the ability to grab ledges and pull yourself up; this leads to some interesting platforming and puzzles that I won't spoil here. Eventually you'll gain the ability to double jump, dash, and perform other actions to help you blaze through levels, though this is late into the game. Typically I'm team whip, but Odallus goes team sword and it feels great. Slicing enemies into pieces doesn't feel much different than using a whip, what is different though is the ability to parry an enemy's projectiles. Hitting a fireball or other projectile out of the air with a sword just feels awesome, Odallus definitely rewards aggressive play.  The entirety of the story plays out in an opening cutscene, hidden collectible runes, boss dialogue, and an ending cutscene. There are a few instances where the localization seemed a bit off on grammar, but it wasn't unintelligible. Just like the visuals, the music is very much NES-inspired. While the chiptune music is all right it certainly isn't as catchy as the music found in actual games available for the NES. Sound effects are seemingly more Genesis-influenced, as they sound more realistic and are often times brief voice clips much like Splatterhouse's effects. Odallus does nothing extraordinary in the audio department but what it does do works well enough. Only lasting four easy-to-complete hours and having a few minor localization issues are really the only hangups I had with Odallus, which aren't all that bad. Though JoyMasher has promised that a harder veteran mode will be made available in a few weeks, I just wish it were included at launch as this was a rare case of game being a bit too easy. Regardless of a few minor gripes, Odallus: The Dark Call is a worthy addition to any metroidvania fan's library and is worth the asking price. Do yourself a favor and play it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Odallus Review photo
The best Castlevania game in years
JoyMasher, the Brazilian team behind Odallus: The Dark Call doesn't have a ton of games under its belt, but that doesn't mean it can't produce quality content. Somehow the developer has done something Konami hasn't ...

Review: Worms World Party Remastered

Jul 16 // Darren Nakamura
Worms World Party Remastered (PC)Developer: Team17 Digital Ltd.Publisher: Team17 Digital Ltd.Released: July 16, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The trailer below does a good job summarizing what is new in this remastered version. Resolution can now go as high as 1920x1080. Sound effects have been updated. Controller support is in for those who are more familiar with the console versions. Steam features like leaderboards, achievements, and trading cards are all here. While those are all welcome additions, some feel half-baked or manifest in unexpected ways. The Steam integration is a little wonky, since the default screenshot button is F12, which is used in game to select the "Skip Go" and "Surrender" actions. These don't come up frequently and there are ways around it, but I have already taken a few errant screenshots because of it. It goes the other way too; intentionally taking a screenshot will inadvertently bring up the actions. When it happens (or when any Steam notification comes up), the notification window covers a good chunk of the bottom right corner of the screen, where wind velocity and weapon information live. More jarring is the visual upgrade. While the battles (the parts that matter most) can now be viewed in 1080p, the title screen and menus are still their old, fuzzy, 4:3 selves. It isn't a huge problem, but it's a strange first impression to go into a game expecting a clean presentation and be met with pixelated opening screens pulled straight from the year 2001. [embed]295986:59506:0[/embed] In battle, the resolution increase works as it always had: instead of sharpening up the graphics and textures it presents a larger field of view. In other words, each worm, sheep, and banana bomb maintains the same sprites and animations, but the camera is zoomed out so everything appears smaller. Functionally, this is a welcome improvement. Taking long shots and planning big moves (especially the twitch action of the Ninja Rope) are easier with the entire level in view. Calling down an Armageddon and seeing every meteorite hit is a delight. Aesthetically, it doesn't feel like a remaster at all. Eschewing the 3D elements found in Worms Revolution, the looks of these worms and environments are the classic 2D versions, unchanged since 1997's Worms 2, only now we can see more of them at a time. By and large, this is the same game that released in 2001. Play as a team of well-armed worms. Use an array of conventional (bazooka, grenade, shotgun) and unconventional (banana bomb, flying sheep, old woman) weapons to blow up, maim, drown, and otherwise murder the other team. Part turn-based strategy, part action platforming, part artillery game. For many, just being the same game as before is enough. After all, Worms is an institution in gaming for a reason. Still, there are some design elements that betray how dated Worms World Party is. In addition to being ugly, the menus aren't intuitive. Some require a single click to enter, others a double click. Most are represented by images that aren't self-explanatory. After setting up a custom game type so I could practice with the Ninja Rope, I couldn't figure out how to set indestructible terrain. The campaign is a collection of unconnected scenarios. Some are clever and some teach players a new technique or idea, but there isn't much of an impetus to do any of them. Worse, the mission descriptions are often obtuse or incomplete, forcing players to play and replay missions just to understand them or to know what "surprise" pops up halfway through. This is exacerbated by a lack of a way to quickly restart; a failed attempt results in players being kicked back to the menu, forced to click through a text box and to restart the mission, and made to wait for it to load up again. At the very least, load times are quick now that the game isn't disc-based. The merit system is also never explicitly explained, so new players might be confused why a sloppy, "by the skin of their teeth" run might net a gold medal and an expert, no damage run might only be worth a bronze. It's a simple system once you know (it has to do with the number of attempts since the last victory), but it isn't ever spelled out. Worms World Party does this a lot. It assumes players already know what they're doing, which made sense when it first released on the heels of Armageddon but is less welcoming today for new players (or rusty ones like me). Of course, the main selling point of a Worms game is the multiplayer. With six-team local or online action and a bevy of options to tinker with, this does what it needs to do. I did log onto WormNET prior to launch and found exactly zero others online. This will live and die with its community, so we'll keep watching post-launch to see if it's thriving or withering. Worms World Party Remastered might be the go-to PC Worms experience for hardcore fans of the series with a taste for nostalgia. It definitely doesn't serve as a good place to get started for those who might want to try the series out. While it looks a little shinier than it used to, it still doesn't look new, and it certainly doesn't play like a modern game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Worms World Party review photo
Dig in
Worms World Party has always been a divisive entry in the long-running series. Released as a followup to the almost universally lauded Worms Armageddon, some viewed it as a welcome refinement to a great game while others saw ...

Review: Godzilla

Jul 14 // Jordan Devore
Godzilla (PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Natsume Atari Inc.Publisher: Bandai Namco GamesMSRP: $59.99Released: July 14, 2015 Half an hour and several levels in, I wasn't sure Godzilla could really be hurt, much less die. That's not an inherently bad thing, as he's supposed to be tough, but I wondered where the challenge was. A few hours later, I found it. Godzilla is far too easy except when it veers into overwhelming, unfair, not-fun territory. Then it becomes a boring battle of attrition against the same old kaiju. A lot of frustration lies in the controls. You use L1/R1 to turn Godzilla, which is weird at first but eventually feels fine. He's got a forward-charging attack (that you'll frequently use given his normal plodding pace), a standard three-hit punch combo, a heavy tail whip, and atomic breath. The latter needs to charge up before you can fire it, but the cooldown isn't terribly long, especially with upgrades. Aiming, however, is a total nightmare; you don't have exact control over it. Say you want to shoot down a helicopter. You'll need to position Godzilla close to it -- but not too close! -- and line up his body. Next, you can turn the camera to confirm his head is more or less tilted in the correct direction. Now fire away and hope that a) the helicopter hasn't moved and b) the blast doesn't just hit the ground. That's my best strategy and it's not even consistently successful. Thankfully, it got me through the aggravating fights in which you're forced to take down a kaiju while multiple aerial vehicles (Super X, X2, and X3) come close, shoot you, then zip away. [embed]296005:59509:0[/embed] For some baffling reason, there's no blocking in the traditional sense. While Godzilla's roar acts like a block to an extent, initiating it is by no means instantaneous. You have to know in advance that an attack is imminent or you'll be too late. There is also this odd invincible dodge move, but it runs on the same gauge as your atomic breath, so it's often unavailable when you need it most. The end result is a slow, awkward fighting system that effectively recreates the movies but is annoying in practice. Although your attacks can and will be interrupted by strings of combos, you can't always interrupt your enemy's moves. To that end, I stuck with Battra whenever and wherever possible (Versus, King of Kaiju, etc.) -- the moth is quick, easy to control, and cheap. The main mode, God of Destruction, is something out of an arcade game. Levels are tiny, bland, and feature the same goal: destroy the generators. That's the focus. Generally, you'll also need to fight a monster, work within a time limit, or both. As you blow up vehicles and buildings, you'll earn points that fuel Godzilla's growth. There's a multiplier to encourage you to move quickly from structure to structure. By the end, he'll be about twice as big as when he first came ashore. Branching levels give you control over which kaiju you engage as well as the overall difficulty. You're meant to replay this mode several times to see all of the (super-light) story and unlock characters, but environments are so similar, so unengaging. I've literally punched hundreds of generators to death. There are variations on God of Destruction that have you invading as another beast, or defending as a protector like Jet Jaguar or Mothra. The format doesn't help. The game's extensive character upgrade system requires even more replays. Godzilla has quite a few moves that are locked until you can find and defeat specific monsters, some of which appear under mysterious circumstances. King of Kaiju mode's six quick back-to-back fights help with gathering resources, but tied to such repetitious content, the progression system is flat-out awful. It was also disappointing to learn that the Versus mode for up to three players is online only. No split-screen support. There are Godzilla-obsessed fans playing, at least, so it's not a total wasteland. The only other bright spot is the Kaiju Guide, a collection detailing the playable creatures as well as quite a few not featured. I adored seeing old stills from the films and, sure, there is a certain appeal to playing as a bunch of these guys. But the feeling fades before long. A love of the movies can only get you so far when the experience is this frustrating and hollow. What a letdown. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Godzilla PS4 review photo
Better luck next time
This was supposed to be the game for Godzilla fans -- an authentic adaptation that captured the look and feel of the films. In some ways, it is. There's a satisfying cast of playable characters including Mothra, Destroyah, an...

Review: Rocket League

Jul 14 // Zack Furniss
Rocket League (PlayStation 4 [reviewed], PC)Developer: PsyonixPublisher: PsyonixMSRP: $19.99Released: July 7, 2015 Rocket League is Psyonix's follow-up to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, which had entirely too many hyphens. By dropping the hyphens and making every facet of their concept as simple and accessible as possible, they've made something undoubtedly focused. You are a car, and you must knock a large ball into the opposing team's goal. It never gets more complicated than that. You can play one on one (though I can't imagine that'd be terribly fun), or up to four on four with players around the world or bots. There are different modes available: Exhibition is for local games with four-player split-screen or bots, Season allows you to set up consecutive bot matches over complete with playoffs, and Training teaches you the basics of movement. Starting with Training is a swell, yet ultimately unnecessary idea since you'll have a feel for the driving by the end of your first match. You can accelerate, reverse, jump, double-jump, and boost all over the field and it all feels crunchy and responsive in the best way. The arenas all have just the right amount of friction to feel like you're completely in control of your vehicle at all times. When you try to boost into the ball to score a goal and you careen right past it, you have no one to blame but yourself. The perfectly-tuned controls lend themselves to a desire to acquire mastery, a feeling that seems rare as of late. If you master one skill, proper use of boosting is the one to pick. Since boost juice is finite, you have to drive over boost pads to keep it topped off. Whether you use said juice to dart from the goalie to position to attempt a risky goal or you boost long enough to crash into someone to temporarily destroy them, you'll learn to love judiciously tapping and holding that circle button. Exploding a member of the opposing team only takes them out for a second but can be a viable strategy when things get hectic. While you can play with four players per team, it tends to be too chaotic. You'd think with more players that one person would designate themselves as the goalie, but instead each person gets caught up in an offensive. With a dedicated team it'd probably be a viable mode, but I was playing mostly pick-up games. 3 on 3 seems like the definite sweet spot and is recommended when playing online. Since Rocket League has cross-platform play between the PlayStation 4 and PC, I was always able to find a match within a minute or two. The loading screens are always brief so it's a little too easy to find yourself starting up another match even after telling yourself it's 2 in the morning and you need to texture a patch of drywall tomorrow (that's a normal thing, right?). There's also a carrot on a stick to keep you playing in the form of car customizations. By playing well, you can enter the garage to customize your car's body type, decal, paint job, wheels, boost trail color, antenna, and topper. I rocked a pirate hat on my little pick-up truck for the majority of my matches. These are all purely cosmetic so as not to distort game balance. It would take quite awhile to unlock all customizations, but they're a nice little bonus for the already fun core gameplay. There are seven arenas (though a few of them are the same, with different weather) that are all gorgeous. Watching your little car zip over billowing grass as it rains down on you all in a crisp, smooth frame rate is more aesthetically pleasing than you'd expect from soccer car smash fusion. Though I sort of expected different obstacles or boost pad placement on each arena, I ended up appreciating that these changes are only cosmetic. You always know exactly what you're playing with. I didn't go in expecting much from Rocket League since I'm usually not a huge fan of driving and sports games. Instead of walking away with a confirmed bias, Psyonix's laser-focused concept gave me something fun to whip out the next time I have friends over. I imagine with a bunch of awful beer and willing companions, we'll have a great time. What's next, will I enjoy a game that mixes Metroids and Soccer? We'll see. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Rocket League review photo
I will only call it 'soccar' once
A good chunk of today's onslaught of complex games has convoluted controls, alienating lore, and feature creep that can sometimes be overwhelming. Every so often, a developer comes along and makes something that just seems nice and digestible -- no need to research the best character build or wiki-scan to catch up on the plot. And sometimes that tasty little morsel is a driving/soccer sandwich.

Review: The Fall

Jul 14 // Mike Cosimano
The Fall (Linux, Mac, PC, PS4 [reviewed], Wii U, Xbox One)Developer: Over the MoonPublisher: Over the MoonMSRP: $9.99Released: May 30, 2014 (PC) / July 14, 2015 (PS4) The Fall opens with style, as gravity slowly kicks in for a mysterious suited figure entering the dusky atmosphere of an alien world. This figure is Colonel Josephs, a soldier in a generic future army. But the good Colonel is in critical condition, leaving his life in the hands of ARID, the AI controlling Josephs' suit. Unfortunately, she's trapped in a decrepit android repair facility, packed with hostile security drones and run by a fantastically creepy caretaker. Her one ally is the facility's mainframe, who is understandably happy to see a friend after decades of loneliness. The character writing is fantastic. ARID doesn't know it, but every attempt to save the meatsack trapped inside her suit brings her closer to escaping her restrictive programming. At first, her determination appears to be a result of coding, but as Josephs comes ever closer to expiring, genuine emotion begins to push through her automated facade. Rogue artificial intelligence hasn't been this compelling since the Portal games. The same goes for the other characters. The caretaker's job is to designate malfunctioning units, but nothing is safe from its critical eye. Both malfunctioning robots and innocent humans are killed and literally crucified by its hand -- a result of overly rigid programming. The character is brought to life by some delightfully creepy animation and a holographic disguise gone horribly wrong. The mainframe, on the other hand, wants to be closer to humanity in the hopes of being treated fairly. ARID exists in a space between these characters; between rigid adherence to the rules (the caretaker) and simulated humanity (the mainframe). Without spoiling the game's killer ending, ARID does make something of a decision between the two. [embed]295646:59464:0[/embed] It's also worth noting that The Fall is not technically over, with two more parts supposedly on the way. The ending of Part One brings closure to the game's themes and ARID's character arc, so it's difficult to guess where the game could end. There's certainly something to be said for exploring characters after a major revelation, so I have faith in the future of The Fall. As long as the writing stays at this level, we'll be in good hands. If there's one area where the game could improve, it's the puzzles. ARID's suit has a series of abilities that can only be activated if her human pilot is in danger. In order to get through the facility and make it to the medical center, ARID has to find a way to manipulate both her environment and her programming. This leads to clever scenarios, where you transform a harmless security door into a death trap, all in the hopes of activating your cloaking mechanism. Unfortunately, most of the puzzles can be reduced to "use item on other item." In retrospect, they seem well-telegraphed, but they're frustrating in the moment. The bulk of the item-based puzzles take place in a domestic droid training center, which makes up for the frustration with atmosphere and some clever jokes. I imagine pumping up the game's brightness would also help a lot with finding interactive objects. Like a fool, I went with the default. Don't be like me. There's also combat, made more tactical by ARID's weak shields. Although the health bar is fairly sizable, both the shields and life support regenerate more slowly than a dead turtle. The real penalty for poor performance is having to sit around and wait. Or you could take a page out of my book -- I was able to make a quick sandwich, eat it, and clean up in the time it took for ARID to come back to full health. This doesn't matter after a certain point; once you get a certain gun upgrade, you can pop headshots like nobody's business. When you nail The Fall's combat, you feel like a badass. The Fall Part One's minor gameplay shortcomings don't even begin to tarnish the sheen on everything else. It's a seductive old-school sci-fi yarn, with characters that somehow manage to represent greater ideas and exist as fully-formed beings. Even though two more episodes have been confirmed, the game ends on an exciting conclusion that could function either as a cliffhanger or a definitive finale. If you're into books like The Martian Chronicles, there's no reason to let some potential head-scratchers keep you from a great experience. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Fall photo
Fallen angel
The Fall's opening act is something out of a collection of Ray Bradbury short stories, where hard science leads to deeper questions of morality puzzled over by engaging characters. It's the right sort of science fiction,...

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight - Batgirl: A Matter of Family

Jul 14 // Chris Carter
Batman: Arkham Knight - Batgirl: A Matter of Family (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $6.99Released: July 14, 2015 (for Season Pass holders) / July 21, 2015 (wide release) The Batmobile takes a backseat this time in favor of a tale told entirely from Barbara Gordon's perspective before the events of Arkham Knight. WB just couldn't resist the chance to bring The Joker back yet again, and it uses every opportunity to let you know that this is his DLC without really having him do all that much. In other more exciting news, Harley Quinn is back, but with her red and black Animated Series get-up for the first time in the Arkham games. It looks great. All of the action takes place in the Seagate Amusement Park, which can be thought of as a tiny little sandbox that hosts the new DLC area. The Joker has captured Jim Gordon, and it's up to Barbara (and Robin) to save the day. Family kicks things off with a by-the-book Dual Play combat session, then it's off to free roam for Batgirl. For the most part (like all the other playable characters so far), Batgirl operates just like Batman -- she even has identical detective vision. Combat is relatively the same, and even though WB Montreal notes that she's "weaker" than Bruce, it doesn't really feel that way at all. It's very cool grappling about with Robin, but other than the use of a new type of gadget (advanced hacking), it's the tried and true Arkham formula. In Family, Barbara can use her remote hacking device as a "catch-all" basically, to do all sorts of things like short-circuit devices or manipulate objects. Think of it like a super gadget that can do a lot. It's presumably done so you don't have to micro-manage all of Bats' tools all over again, and to give Batgirl a slightly different feel. Here's the thing -- it does work at a base level, mostly because it distills the experience down to a lot of the good bits, and takes away the pesky forced Batmobile sessions. In other ways it feels limited, as you're stripped of most of those wonderful toys. [embed]295688:59441:0[/embed] None of the environments are particularly memorable outside of a nice little cameo I found in a water tank (in fact, most zones are even less interesting than the random spots you'll find in Gotham proper), but the linear format isn't jarring, either. That's mostly because of the fact that the DLC is so short. Normally that would be fine, but the story never really goes anywhere until the very end. Even then, it feels like a footnote rather than an impactful part of the overall narrative. In terms of length, it's meatier than the Harley DLC, but not by much. You can complete the main story in roughly an hour, and sort out all of the other collectibles in another 30 minutes. What I would have really loved to see is a full-roam option with Red Hood, Harley, and Batgirl (I mean, the models are already in the game with grappling and combat animations), but it's not meant to be -- the latter is still confined to her tiny add-on area. There are eight Achievements/Trophies though if you're into that sort of thing. Warner Bros. is really employing an odd strategy with Batman: Arkham Knight's post-launch content and the relatively expensive $40 Season Pass. All that's been revealed so far beyond a bunch of throwaway content (skins, races) is a handful of bite-sized episodes such as this; it's a far cry from the competent Cold, Cold Heart add-on for Arkham Origins last year. While A Matter of Family may be worth it for hardcore Batgirl fans, WB will have to do a lot better than this to justify the cost of the pass. [This review is based on a retail build of the DLC purchased by the reviewer.]
Batman DLC review photo
The Killing DLC
Enough time has passed for me to make a solid judgement on Batman: Arkham Knight. For the most part, I agree with the sentiments expressed in Steven's review of the core game -- Rocksteady tried too hard in many respects, and...

Review: Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess

Jul 14 // Chris Carter
Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita)Developer: Tecmo KoeiPublisher: Tecmo KoeiMSRP: $49.99 (PS4)Released: July 14, 2015 Since the core experience hasn't changed all that much, head to the original review to get a full breakdown of the main mechanics. The gist is that you'll be controlling a character that, for all intents and purposes, can't attack on their own, and must rig an elaborate combination of traps to do their dirty work for them. You'll do this by pausing the game, bringing up a menu, and placing a number of wall, ceiling, and floor traps that can be used with one another for maximum mayhem. For instance, you can hold an enemy in place with a beartrap, shock them with a wall taser, then drop a giant boulder on their head from the ceiling. It's glorious. So before you get confused, The Nightmare Princess is an all-new SKU that includes everything in the original package on top of another story with 100 quests, a new character with a different moveset, and a "Studio" mode so you can create your own scenarios. The extra campaign is easily the new draw, and I have to say, newcomer Velguirie holds her own here. Her tale runs concurrently with Laegrinna's and doesn't feel tacked-on in the slightest. 100 new quests also isn't really anything to shake a stick at either, though it must be said that there's only a few new zones (which are rather small), as some quests re-use old areas from the base game. The second campaign does stand up on its own, and even playing both stories back to back, they didn't overstay their individual welcomes. Velguirie's big gimmick is that she can kick enemies now -- something no other protagonist was able to do in the history of the franchise. [embed]295432:59487:0[/embed] But it's important to put things into perspective here. She can't just karate-kick bad guys into oblivion with flashy combos. It's a simple timed kick on a cooldown that can be used to tactically slot foes into position for traps (or stomp them on the ground), which are still going to do the real legwork here. It's not a game-changer, but again, the story, bonus traps, and the new character design themselves are enough to carry another playthrough. Yep, I said bonus traps, including a deadly toilet, a bolt of lightning, a wardrobe that eats armor, and sticky flooring. At this point there are so many trap combos at your disposal that you're only limited by your imagination.  You'll get to test your inner demon plenty with the Studio mode, the other big addition in Nightmare Princess. Here, you can create enemies with various custom parts and name them, placing each creation inside an existing arena. You can craft fun scenarios like battling the entire Justice League, and even download or upload them online for all to see. It's not as expansive as I would have liked, but the fact that you can download new missions every so often is a breakthrough for the series. Keep in mind that your fun is also going to be limited by how many actual parts you have, which are unlocked by completing both campaigns. Here's the bad news for those of you who already bought the original. While the new story is enjoyable and the Studio is fun to mess around with, you aren't getting a substantial new expansion to pour over for weeks here. Think of it more like a hefty DLC package. In other words, unless you absolutely love Deception, it probably isn't a good idea to shell out $50 for Nightmare Princess. It's a really weird thing for Koei Tecmo to do, as it could have easily provided an "upgrade" for say, $20, and then released a package version on the side. As it stands, you either have to go all or nothing. At the very least, there is the added bonus of being able to import your old save data, so you don't have to complete the original campaign all over again to reap the unlock benefits. Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess is in a really weird spot, but here's the rub -- as a Deception enthusiast, I was more than happy enough to take Velguirie's story for a spin, and I found myself beating the original game again as well as creating a few levels in the Studio. Just know exactly what you're getting into with Nightmare and make an informed decision. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Deception IV review photo
Hardcore trappers only
I really liked the original release of Deception IV. It was refreshing to see the series get another lease on life after taking a hiatus with Trapt all the way back in 2005, and newcomer Laegrinna fit right in. This...

Review: Quiplash

Jul 12 // Nic Rowen
Quiplash (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One, iOS)Developer: Jackbox Games Inc.Publisher: Jackbox Games Inc.MSRP: $9.99Released: June 30, 2015 Quiplash is the latest title from the party-game maestros at Jackbox Games. It represents what they learned from the success of the Jackbox Party Pack and how they observed people using it. It takes the pick-up-and-go ease of those games to a whole new level by cutting out every superfluous element of the experience and leaving nothing but goofs and japes. Quiplash works by getting three-to-eight players together, asking a few leading questions to different sets of players, and getting the audience to vote on which answer they think is funniest. Then it's off to the next round for more of the same. It's a quick no-fuss-no-muss mainlining of jokes, with each game taking roughly ten minutes start to finish. When I first started playing it, I was worried that that they cut too much, that without some kind of a framework the game would devolve into chaos. But surprisingly, it works. It's a much more egalitarian game than the other Jackbox titles, one that is easier to rope people into. There's no baggage, no time commitment, and no stakes except you and your friends' amusement. This lack of consequence and ease of use is a godsend when playing with mixed company, making it an even more appealing party choice over the other Jackbox games. While You Don't Know Jack is hilarious, it can lead to some sore feelings if one person in the room is the perpetual dunce. Fibbage is fantastic, but with the relatively small pool of questions, veterans have a distinct advantage. And while I personally believe Drawful is at its best when nobody knows how to draw worth a damn, it tends to be intimidating to people who's artistic skills might rival a chimps. Quiplash is just a vehicle for jokes. A vehicle you can ride as long as you like, or hop off on a whim to go find something in the kitchen or chat with someone. Just like the Jackbox Party Pack games, it is ridiculously easy to get an entire living room of people into a game of Quiplash. All a person needs is a device with a web-browser like a cellphone or tablet, and a questionable moral fiber to get in on the action. But Quiplash takes it one step further. Seeing the popularity of their other games on streaming services such as Twitch, Jackbox Games designed Quiplash with streaming in mind from the ground up. While only eight players are able to provide answers and gags, an audience of up to 10,000 can vote on which goof tickled them best. There is no registration or buy-in necessary. You could try it right now but simply searching Twitter or Twitch for an active game and punching the room number into jackbox.tv. While there is nothing overtly offensive about Quiplash, comparisons to the adult party game Cards Against Humanity are almost unavoidable. The two games definitely share the same naughty head-space, with CAH offering a selection of deliciously offensive punchlines, while Quiplash spoon-feeds the room questions that are guaranteed to rouse the profane 14-year-old lurking inside of every normally responsible adult. However, because Quiplash depends on the creativity of it's players, you don't run into the diminishing returns a well-worn deck of CAH suffers from. I mean, “Glenn Beck Catching His Scrotum on a Curtain Hook” is a great line the first (dozen) times you hear it, but nothing can retain its shock value forever. This dependency on player creativity is both a blessing and a curse. Playing with a group of quick-witted people who know each others tastes or how to push each others' buttons can yield tremendous results. Earlier this week, a “low-key” get together with some friends turned into a all-night booze-fueled Quiplash binge that left me sore with laughter the next day. It was fantastic. Jumping into a few online games provided a mixed, and decidedly less amusing, time. While some of the streams I joined were fairly funny, a depressing number of them seemed to be a competition of who could staple together the most vulgar combination of “poop, jizz, butts, poop, ur mom” in an answer, no matter what the question was. But, since the commitment level to a game of Quiplash is roughly zero, it's easy to just up and bounce if a particular online room seems lame. If that rough time is happening in your own living room however, things might get trickier. Maybe get better friends? “Accidentally” set the room on fire? Or you could strap them down Clockwork Orange style, peel their eyes open and make them watch episodes of Louie and old Kids in the Hall sketches until they generate a sense of humor. I'm a reasonable man after all. Quiplash is a drum-fed machine gun of jokes. It's quick, it's snappy, and I'm hard pressed to think of a better time one could buy for $10 without breaking a few laws. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Quiplash Review photo
Crowd-pleaser
Quiplash is what you get when Fibbage and Drawful get a few drinks in them and stop screwing around. When you strip down the flimsy excuse of a lying/trivia game, remove your friends embarrassing chicken-scratch doodles, and leave nothing but raw, undiluted, punch-lines. It's a party game that is so minimalist, it's almost not there. Thankfully, with the right group of people, it's also hilarious.

Review: Nekoburo: Cats Block

Jul 12 // Jed Whitaker
Nekoburo - Cats Block (PS Vita, PlayStation TV [Reviewed])Developer: F K Digital Publisher: Neko EntertainmentMSRP: $7.99Released: July 7, 2015 Square alien cats made of electrical waves are passing the Earth when a solar storm strikes, knocking them to the planet. One of the cats gets found by a human female who takes him home and treats him nicely, so he decides to summon his pals through her television to join him living with his new servant. If this somehow related to the gameplay other than featuring said cats, it was never apparent.  Levels consist of a standard falling from the top of the screen match three mechanic, three cats fall from the top of the screen that can be moved left to right and be reordered on a tilted playing field. Each level has a specific quest such as clearing a certain number of cats of a certain color within a timelimit, or surviving for a set amount of time while cats drop quickly. Matching three or more cats of the same color in a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line will clear them. Clearing cats also fills up a meter that grants items that help clear the board such as horizontal and vertical bombs, a grid warp that clears a set of nine surrounding blocks, clearing all cats of a single color and a rainbow block that clears the entire board.  [embed]295827:59475:0[/embed] Acquiring these items and knowing when to use them are an important part of the game, as each level seemingly has a specific way to complete it. For example, one level has what look to be tofu blocks slowly advancing from the bottom of the screen that can only be cleared with items or clearing cats in horizontal lines. In this level the only real way to complete the level is to constantly build up and use items to keep the middle of the screen cleared, as the middle is the only area that can cause a failure, the other rows don't matter and stack up past the edges of the level with no repurrrrrrcussions. The levels are laid out in such a way that it forces you to learn the mechanics of the game with no hand holding. One level may require so many vertical bombs to be used to clear it, thus teaching you how to effectively use them, another may require rainbow blocks be detonated which is extremely important in later levels.  After every 10 levels a new cat will materialize through the TV in the human's house, in tow with its own personality, background information and colorful comic. Unfortunately the dialogue and background information is so poorly localized it is basically incomprehensible. I've played a lot of poorly localized games in my day -- looking at you Zero Wing -- but this one was easily the worst. Here are two examples of the awfully translated text: "He hope to become an charming men as chocolate," and "Even though fiery rude, he have sense of justice. He did something that against the grain with him, because think to much."  Nekoburo isn't exactly a hard game as it is random -- or more specifically, the difficulty is mostly due to the random generation of the falling cat blocks. Sometimes, exactly what is required to complete a level will spawn, other times you'll have to work for it. This isn't specific to any level though, so it isn't like the levels are specifically designed to spawn cats in a certain way, at least it seems that way on the surface level. Multiple attempts at the same level will eventually yield positive results, allowing level completion, other times the game just seems to be against you. Though this is the case with most puzzle games, so it isn't exactly a new problem with the genre -- it's just worse here. Between levels you can customize the apartment with furniture, and play with the cats with toys, both of which are unlocked by completing certain goals attached to them. While the cats are uber cute, this portion of the game left much to be desired; the furniture can't be moved, and the toys aren't exactly fun to play with more than once. One of the toys is turning on the TV for the cats to watch, the screen just lights up white as the cats sit there, not what I'd call a toy or entertaining.  The story mode can be completed in around six or seven hours, mostly due to trial and error. A survival mode is unlocked around half way through the story mode that is just an endless mode that increases in difficulty, much like marathon mode in Tetris. As there are no online leaderboards and the furniture is little more than pallet swaps there is little reason to continue playing once the story mode is finished unless you're a completionist.  The best thing about Nekoburo: Cats Block is the art style; everything is bright, colorful and super adorable, but take that away and you're left with a generic, poorly translated puzzle game with a tilted playing field that doesn't compliment gameplay. Nekoburo is certainly not the cat's meow.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nekoburo Review photo
Pussies
I love pussies, my dad loves pussies and my Grand Peppers loved pussies before he met his untimely demise on that trampoline -- RIP Grand Peppers may you continue to love pussies in the afterlife. But, we are all fluent in th...

Review: Skullgirls 2nd Encore

Jul 11 // Jonathan Holmes
Skullgirls 2nd Encore (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita)Developers: Lab Zero GamesPublisher: Autum GamesReleased: July 7, 2015 So now that we've established that Skullgirls is great, we can get to the question you're all probably dying for answers about -- what the heck is a 2nd Encore? Well in this case, it's a boost in visual fidelity, tons of newly recorded voice acting, an 882 page virtual art book (with special pin ups by the likes of Chamba, Robaato, and OMOCAT), a few new single player modes, and five and a half new characters that you may have already download for the prior version of the game. If you haven't been keeping up with the Skullgirls DLC as its been released, then 2nd Encore is undoubtedly a worthy purchase for you. If you have been picking them up as they've been periodically put on the market since last year, then the price tag here may not be worth your while. It all depends on how much you care about owning the most complete, clean looking/sounding version of the game, Visually, Skullgirls 2nd Encore looks heaps better on the PS4 than Skullgirls or Skullgirls Encore did on the PS3. The black bars on the top and bottom of the screen are gone, allowing characters to stretch to their proper proportions, and everything looks brighter and sharper. As for sound, every cutscene now has full voice acting, which does a lot to make the game's world feel more alive. As Skullgirls fans already know, the game has a deep, fairly complicated story, filled with around 100 characters big and small. That said, fighting games aren't exactly well known for their vocal performances, but gratefully, the acting here is all top notch, thanks in large part to the direction of Christina Vee.  [embed]295474:59465:0[/embed] As for new modes, there's stuff for both newcomers and veterans alike. The new Survival and Challenge modes are great for old pros who are looking for new ways to tackle the CPU, and the new Trials mode is a great way to learn new combos or brush up on old ones. There's also a new Quick Match CPU mode that lets you do take on the computer without having to sit through any of the pre-fight delays you might find in Arcade or Story mode. That's all well and good, but the real stars of the show here are the new characters. The only true newcomer here is Robo-Fortune. She's a default part of the 2nd Encore package, but has also been released as a free download for those who already own Skullgirls Encore, so she's not exactly exclusive. That doesn't diminish how exciting she is to play though. Robo-Fortune is a great example of what I was saying about how the developers of Skullgirls seem to take the strangeness inherent in fighting games for granted, and as a result, have built upon that strangeness in ways that's filled with next-level weirdness.  Robo-Fortune was original planned to be a remixed version of Ms. Fortune, one of the original members of the Skullgirls roster and the game's resident "cat girl with a detachable head that can attack independently from its body." If that wasn't thought provoking enough for you, Robo-Fortune takes that concept and adds a few levels of surreal to it. She's a robot copy of a cat girl with a detachable head, and she can actually fire her head into the air like a rocket, only to grow a new one in its place. These stack-able, detached robot heads are a major part of her arsenal, along with her Cable-like beam attacks. She's also extremely chatty, which will likely turn off some players, while others are sure to fall in love with her immediately. Her two big catch phrases are "Beep Boop Meow" and "What am I fighting for!?!" These are questions I ask myself every day, which makes it all the more gratifying to see them finally expressed on the big screen by a robot cat woman thing.  The other four and a half other DLC characters (Beowulf, Big Band, Eliza, Squigly, and Filia's semi-clone Fukua) are equally fantastic, so if you missed out on them before, you'd do best to grab them now. It's also worth mentioning that the game is a Cross-Buy purchase, with a PS Vita port coming later this year. It all shapes up to the definitive, and maybe final version of one of the most beautiful, detailed, and passionately developed fighting games in recent memory. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Skullgirls review photo
Hold your applause, the show's not over
Skullgirls is one of my favorite fighting games ever. With an innovative combat engine spearheaded by top tier BlazBlue expert Mike Z, animation direction by Mariel Cartwright, and world and character design by Alex Ahad...

Review: Duck Game

Jul 10 // Steven Hansen
Duck Game (PC)Developer: Landon PodbielskiPublisher: Adult Swim GamesMSRP: $12.99Released: June 4, 2015 Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack. Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack. Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack. [embed]295748:59453:0[/embed] Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack. Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack. ...Ok, fine. Duck Game has a quack button. The feeling of impatiently tapping at an elevator to make it come faster has been turned to song and that song is the cacophony of up to four players mashing quack at the start of stages and, often, during combat. As much as the impish coquette in me would have delighted in leaving this review quacks in its entirety, I have a lot I want to say about Duck Game. Things that go beyond pure amusement -- the quack button, the ragdoll button, the tongue-hanging "Frog?" mask, the fucking name "Duck Game." There is an amusing set of solo challenge modes accessed through arcade cabinets. Success in these yields tickets which can be traded for gameplay modifiers, if you're stupid, or more funny hats, if you're smart. But the fatty meat of Duck Game is its multiplayer (online and local). While it could easily draw comparisons to a number of recently successful 2D multiplayer games like Samurai Gunn and TowerFall, I see a mix of randomness and pace from the likes of WarioWare and Super Crate Box. Matches can be over in seconds -- some stages seem designed that way. A victor is crowned, and it's off to the next fight. Breaking this whirlwind pace are intermissions where the ducks will toss their hats/masks across a field en route to 10 wins for ultimate victory.  They all look very mad and I love it. If the "Crazy Ass Goose!" video was not explicitly about a goose, I would say it was about these ducks. These ducks are the "Crazy Ass Goose!" of video games. Most interesting, though, is not that Duck Game has been energizing my living room of late, but how it does so. Part of it has to do with fast deaths and crazy weapons (riding chainsaws, magnet guns, Bionic Commando-claws, net guns, sledgehammers, trumpets). A lot of it boils down to an interesting take on what would otherwise be simple controls. In Samurai Gunn, you jump, slash, or shoot. In Duck Game, you jump, pick up/throw, and use. Along with the indispensable quack and its lesser relative, the ragdoll.  But Duck Game changes your interaction with the huge assortment of weapons that are scattered throughout maps. Everything needs to be picked up with a button press. With most guns, you can press pick up, then start pressing "use" (shoot, in this case), and it works as expected. But when you "pick up" a grenade, pressing "use" pulls the pin, and then you have to press "throw" (formerly "pick up") to toss it. It's not the assortment of weapons that is fun, it's the quick reflexes -- and their funny failures -- needed to remember how they all work, despite the simple two button layout. Shotguns are shot, then racked before they can be shot a again. Armor is picked up, then put on. Muskets are slowly, slowly reloaded. There are a litany of handguns, all with different properties. In the frantic panic, will you remember you were holding a derringer with one shot? I can't describe the amount of hollering coming from my living room after the tension-snapping slapstick of two ducks with shotguns meticulously coming up to the other before unleashing a barrage of empty-chamber clicks. They're both out of ammo and the calm, self-assured demeanor they came with dissolves into two panicked ducks jumping around looking for weapons. Quack. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Quack photo
Quack
Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack qua...

Review: Spy Chameleon

Jul 10 // Steven Hansen
Spy Chameleon (Xbox One [reviewed], Wii U, PC)Developer: Unfinished PixelPublisher: Unfinished PixelMSRP: $4.99Released: May 22, 2015 (Xbox One) Spy Chameleon is a puzzle game with stealth flavorings that does one thing right. Its chameleon character changes colors in accordance with the four face buttons on an average Xbox 360 controller. To that end, I have no idea how it made it to Wii U before Xbox One. The palette swap ability is used for hiding in plain sight from both sweeping and stationary enemy vision cones. The cute mascot character works well with the colored rugs that adorn the first set of missions. Collectible flies lead you towards the best path for completing a level and you're rewarded for nabbing them all and coming in under time. A third chore is added once you've completed a level; you can go back and collect all the newly added ladybugs, too. In this retreading for things to do is Spy Chameleon's obvious flaw, which is that it is slight and tries to hide it. But it's not a good enough stealth game for that. [embed]294985:59452:0[/embed] The consistent aesthetic, albeit somewhat bare and not as lovingly detailed as the lead character, of the first mission gives way to repetitive, steel lab environments with mouse enemies and light-up floors that work against the jaunty Dreamworks lead. After those segments drag on, it tries to pick up, hurriedly introducing a few new mechanics (file cabinets to move and hide behind, paint cans to knock over, patrolling enemies you can eat from behind) and it just feels unfocused. The Metal Gear Solid cardboard box doesn't feel like an earned homage, just a disconnected reference. Spy Chameleon is a short game that feels too long. It's one good idea not fully realized and a reptilian mascot who deserves another shot. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Spy Chameleon review photo
Complacent Bond
Did the Gex 3 ad with a grinning Gex cupping a human woman's bare breasts kill green lizards in games? I'm pretty sure that horny-teen embodiment of '90s edge ended the Croc series, cost King K. Rool chief villain spots in Do...

Review: Traverser

Jul 09 // Conrad Zimmerman
Traverser (PC)Developers: Gatling Goat StudiosPublisher: Adult Swim GamesMSRP: $14.99Released: July 9, 2015 The setting for Traverser is its strongest asset. The underground remnants of humanity live in Brimstone, a floating city suspended in a cavern near the Earth's core. It's a city with two sides, literally and figuratively, with one side using some form of anti-gravity technology to allow people to live upside-down. A wealthy populace occupies the upper, properly oriented half, enjoying a life of relative ease under the care of the Raven Corporation. A working class labors beneath, forced to wear breathing masks due to the poor availability of air their work makes possible. This arrangement caused friction over time, as one might expect. Workers striking at an oxygen refinery plant to demand better conditions has grown into a full-scale rebellion, turning to violence to deliver their message. It's in this environment that the player assumes control of Valerie Bennett, the daughter of Raven Corporation's chief scientist. Her story begins on the day she becomes a Traverser, a new form of peacekeeper in the city. With the rebellion more active than ever, Valerie becomes drawn into the conflict to play a central role. [embed]295678:59439:0[/embed] There is a cartoonish element that lies at the core of many aspects of Traverser. Brimstone is a bleak place, a society which has seemingly fallen back to an earlier industrial age in retreating from the world above, but there's a softness to the visual design which undercuts the aesthetic tone. A few scripted sequences exist solely for their comic effect in lightening the mood. Character designs are fairly simple, with slightly exaggerated features and energetic voice acting performances that leave no question exactly what kind of person each is. These are generally good things. Not in terms of the plot, necessarily, which probably would have benefited from a little bit of subterfuge for its twists. No, the whimsical elements function as a distraction in a game that wants you to think about its world, but not too deeply. They make the bigger incongruities easier to swallow. For example, the role of the Traverser itself makes little sense in practice. As described, the job is a sort of secret police force and, upon successfully completing her exam, Valerie is instructed to remain in her street clothes so as to not draw attention to herself. That would be good advice, were it not rendered irrelevant by the large electronic gauntlet she's given, the Gravity Glove, which everyone in the city seems to know exists and is the trade tool of a Traverser. It is a neat tool, though. With it, Valerie can fire a beam to manipulate objects considerably larger than herself with ease. This is done with the mouse, pointing and clicking to lift objects and move them freely. Holding the right mouse button allows a held item to be rotated while the scroll wheel raises and lowers it. Objects can be lifted from a considerable distance but are dropped if the beam is broken. The range of items that can be picked up and moved is not insignificant, but most of the time the Gravity Glove is used to move or stack boxes to gain access to higher areas. Occasionally, there will be a room that takes better advantage of its capabilities and limitations to produce something slightly more challenging, but most of the puzzles will underwhelm experienced players of 3D adventure games. This aspect is quite unfortunate, because it seems like the pieces are in place to do some interesting stuff. About a third of the way through, the player is introduced to the concept of using multiple objects together to accomplish goals, culminating in the game's first boss encounter. Yet it never proves more creative than at this point, the remainder of the game featuring fairly standard adventure puzzle tropes (mirror reflections, levers, dragging items from one end of a room to another) separated by bits of light platforming and stealth. The challenges in Traverser are not poorly designed, merely underwhelming. To Gatling Goat Studios' credit, many can be approached in a couple of different ways and it's enjoyable whenever the player has an opportunity to feel as though they have subverted the intended solution. As there's only light violence and Valerie's capabilities are mostly defensive, the game's content could work for a younger audience. Parents may want to do a solo playthrough (which should take 3-4 hours) or watch a video of the conclusion before sitting down with the kids, though. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Traverser review photo
The air isn't all that's stale here
The Earth has lost its sun and become a frozen wasteland bereft of breathable air, but humanity struggles on in Traverser, the debut title from Gatling Goat Studios. A 3D platforming adventure, the game excels in presenting a...

Review: Spectra

Jul 09 // Brett Makedonski
Spectra (PC [reviewed], Xbox One, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)Developers: Gateway InteractivePublisher: MastertronicReleased: July 10, 2015 For all the things Spectra isn't, it does one thing very very well. The chiptune beats instantly remind of Chipzel's in Super Hexagon -- a game which is renowned for its recognizable and catchy music, and for its addictive qualities. There's a logical explanation for this connection: the music is made by Chipzel. Good as that component predictably is, one can't shake the feeling that the developers put the music too far at the forefront of Spectra. It's tied to the core of the game in such a way that Gateway Interactive actually developed around it. The ten levels are procedurally generated for what's happening with the music. Dynamic (racing) tracks for static (music) tracks. The problem isn't so much with the method, but with the absolute lack of variation in it. Spectra takes place on a winding two-lane road (like a Sheryl Crow song) with hexagonal prisms peppered along the way liberally to serve as obstacles. The entirety of Spectra consists of avoiding those barriers, picking up gold pellets, and ever-so-occasionally hitting a turbo marker that not only boosts speed but a score multiplier too. Technically, that score is probably the main reason to play Spectra. It's heavy on arcade-like qualities in that it asks the player to put up with great repetition in pursuit of leaderboard glory. Unfortunately, the procedural generation makes it so that no one can necessarily hunker down and teach themselves how to dominate the game. [embed]295486:59424:0[/embed] Instead, it emphasizes reaction over pattern recognition, which would be noble if the algorithm didn't often feel as if it spawns too many barriers at once. Sometimes it could very well be impossible to escape those situations unscathed. It's mostly unnoticeable on the earlier levels, but it's all too apparent in the later ones. Hampering those efforts is a control system that's not poor, but just slightly too loose for a game that only asks the player to steer. It's more a complication with the ship's animation than the actual controls. Regardless, it causes the tiniest of disconnects. A reaction-based game on a narrow pathway with thousands of hurdles has no excuse for not giving the player complete control. Spectra seemingly knows it as going off-track often grants a split second mercy window to get back on before plunging into the abyss. Besides score chasing, players may find themselves insistent on simply trying to finish each level. Clocking in around three and a half minutes each, it's no small feat as Spectra lends itself well to temporary concentration lapses causing immediate failure. The track length often seems about a minute too long to sustain any spurts of enjoyment. Even completion is unsatisfying as there's no finish line due to the game being unsure how far you will have made it over the duration of the song; rather than any sort of fanfare, a new screen pops up informing you of your accomplishment. I don't usually rely so literally upon Destructoid's scoring guide when assigning a number for a review, but it feels so apt in the case of Spectra. It's like a boring meal that did nothing more than chew up a little time. It does lack any real flavor. It didn't leave me any different than it found me. It's tolerable, but not anything special. Well, the music is special, but it turns out that Spectra can't stand on the merits of its music alone. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Spectra review photo
Beat it
Spectra isn't a lot of things. It isn't complicated; its mechanics and entire premise can be learned in literally five seconds. It isn't structured; level design is eschewed for procedural generation. It isn't long; an hour of playing will have unlocked all the tracks with plenty of time to retry the many failed ones. Probably most important: it isn't really fun.

Review: Sunset

Jul 08 // Steven Hansen
Sunset (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Tale of TalesPublisher: Tale of TalesMSRP: $19.99Released: May 21, 2015 Ortega's home starts out empty and austere as Angela's early duties, directed by scribbled notes Ortega leaves, revolve around unpacking boxes and slowly making a home out of the place. This is done by wandering around to find what needs to be done (a pile of dirty dishes, papers in disarray) and clicking on it, at which point Sunset cuts to a shot of the city's skyline and time ticks away on the clock until you're returned to first-person control with the task at hand completed. That chores are done in a cutaway feels like I'm being robbed of the physical connection to Ortega's apartment. The apartment itself becomes an evolving character going from home, to art sanctuary, to rebellion plot house, but boiling housework down to a single click makes Angela feel more like Ortega's executor than hired hand. This conflicts with the pitting of Angela against Ortega as far as class and social standing. With the same minimal effort he writes her a reminder to paint an accent wall, she does it. Just a click and time ticking off the clock, as if someone else is doing the work. Angela and Ortega communicate almost solely through notes scattered throughout the house. Angela can respond with one of two canned responses: warm responses trend towards romance, cool leave the relationship professional. I found Ortega's early flirtation off-putting and insulting, preferring to dutifully work, but things are complicated as the city becomes more volatile and Ortega seems to be leaving out intel Angela could pass along to the resistance. Gunfire in the streets turns to explosions, a stray bullet shatters a window. [embed]295633:59422:0[/embed] Craving more interaction, I found myself at one point glibly playing in Mass Effect style, that is going the warm route for chore execution and note correspondence for the sake of (or expectation of) sex. This was in part out of curiosity and to spice things up, but also, in a truer role-playing sense, I began to feel the familiar weight of Angela's poverty and the allure of easy escape into the arms of the wealthy, connected artist. This does clash, though, with Angela's fiery, sometimes too on-the-nose monologues upon entering the apartment week after week, criticizing Ortega's wealth, naivety, and concern over art. Most of Sunset's choices, like whether or not to push a romance or where to put away fresh-folded clothes, are small relative to what's going on externally, but the most interesting on a personal level. That I didn't even explore one possible choice, to not do my work, is interesting. But I only engaged Ortega for a lack of things to do -- I didn't respond to his notes at all at first -- as the chores themselves are handled for you. This leaves the notes and choosing responses as the main interaction; otherwise, it's less roleplay, more listening to Angela's elevator monologues and diary entries while sitting in a particular chair in the apartment. Sunset struggles with pacing, technical performance (movement is a tad wonky and it can run sluggish), and a disconnect between how its lead is written and, occasionally, what she does, player depending. The reduction of work to single click means the year's worth of date title cards, going up the elevator, and going down at sunset feels more monotonous than housekeeping. The music and colors are effective at setting mood, though, and there are instances of emotional resonance, strong writing and voice acting. Shorter, more tightly strung, Sunset's character study set against the revolutionary backdrop would've shone brighter, but as is it still leaves you enough to consider and a calendar to change. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Sunset review photo
Half moon
I like doing dishes. There is catharsis in cleaning, in being able to exert tangible control over your surroundings. Many things are out of my control, but I can keep my kitchen tidy. Sunset takes what most video games would ...


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