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PC Port Report: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

May 22 // Patrick Hancock
[Note: Screenshots and video used in this post are taken from my experience with the game.] Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 7. Framerate measured with FRAPS. I'd be remiss if I didn't address the now-infamous trailer of the game that incorrectly showed what it would look like back in 2013. The developers have since downgraded what the game can do, and have addressed the issue. There are lots of elements to this and it isn't as simple as "downgraded because consoles" or "they couldn't afford it," but the end result is still the same. Regardless of that trailer, The Witcher 3 still looks phenomenal. In order to achieve 60 frames per second with my setup at 1080p, I needed to play with the settings a bit. Most things were kept at the Ultra settings, except for the foliage and shadows, which were turned down to High. The game stays consistently above 60 FPS for me now, even during combat and most in-game cutscenes. Some cutscenes are evidently capped at 30 FPS, which is offputting and incredibly noticeable. The biggest setting to turn off in order to achieve a good framerate is HairWorks. With HairWorks on, hair does looks absolutely stunning and is perhaps the best rendering of hair I've ever come across, though up close it's still a bit funky looking. There are three options for HairWorks: on, Geralt-only, and off. If fully on, even the monsters and Geralt's horse will have HairWorks-quality hair. However, even when I had this on "Geralt only," the framerate would fluctuate between 30 and 50 at any given moment. Yes, the hair looks great, but it is not worth the huge dip in framerate. Another option to be aware of is the "Hardware Mouse." It's located under Options in the Video section for some reason, and anyone playing with a keyboard and mouse is likely going to want to turn this option on. Doing so disables mouse acceleration, essentially making the mouse "feel" like it is supposed to. Many of the .ini files located in the installation folder can also be edited to further customize many of the options. [embed]292553:58627:0[/embed] There's some strange odds and ends in the options to take note of. To turn on unlimited FPS, the FPS slider needs to be all the way to the left. The middle option is 30 FPS, and the right option is 60. For those playing on a big television screen via Big Picture Mode or something similar, be aware that the font size is rather small, and the HUD size does not get any bigger, only smaller. In fact, there's only two sizes for HUD size: Large and Small. Controlling Geralt with a keyboard and mouse is somewhat clunky. Turning is awkward and slow, and managing to interact with a specific object or NPC can be a struggle. Combat on a mouse and keyboard feels fluid, at least. Controlling Geralt with a controller simply feels better, all things considered. It's not that controlling him with a keyboard and mouse is awful, but there's an unfortunate feeling of "this just isn't right." Switching to a controller input is as simple as hitting any button on a connected controller. As soon as the game detects a controller input, everything is switched to controller prompts and the game immediately recognizes it. The same goes with switching back to the keyboard. The responsiveness of switching is fantastic, and future PC game designers better take note. The keyboard keys can be remapped, except for movement. The WASD keys are set in stone. When using a controller, all of the buttons are locked in at the default assignments; there is no remapping of any of the buttons. Since the PC release, there has already been a couple of large patches to help improve performance and fix bugs. CD Projekt RED has always put a lot of focus on the PC community, and that certainly still seems to be the case with The Witcher 3. More patches are on the way, and despite the console-esque nature of the third iteration, I would not expect the game to be neglected on PC going forward. It's also important to note that, apparently, it is coming to SteamOS/Linux. There was a banner on Steam saying as much, but CD Projekt RED has not commented on the Linux situation. Currently, the game is only available for Windows. Some users have been reporting crashes on their systems, but I have yet to encounter a single one. Mods are still in their infancy, but they are there. Mostly small game tweaks at the moment, but the toolkit is evidently on its way. It took a couple of years to get the official modding toolkit out for The Witcher 2, but it has been promised to come out sooner for the latest installment. Plain and simple, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a great PC port. Whether or not it should have ever been a "port" in the first place is a separate discussion, but what's presented here to the consumer is thoroughly enjoyable. Oh. and you can skip all the splash screens when booting up. 10/10, would port again.
Witcher 3 on PC photo
Gwent Simulator 2015
The Witcher is an interesting series on PC. The first game was a PC experience through and through: you could pause the action at any time and movement was mapped to mouse clicks. The second was way more action-oriented ...

Review: Til Morning's Light

May 21 // Chris Carter
Til Morning's Light (Android, Fire OS, iOS [reviewed])Developer: WayForwardPublisher: Amazon Game StudiosReleased: May 21, 2015MSRP: $6.99 At the start of the tale, Til Morning's Light feels like it's going to be a typical teenage adventure, with two "popular" girls and an outcast -- otherwise known as our hero, Erica. After being made fun of as a potential fan fiction writer, she's pushed into an abandoned mansion, and the door is boarded up behind her. Those are some pretty sick bullies! It gets even sicker when she realizes that the mansion isn't abandoned after all, and is actually inhabited by ghosts and gross insect-like creatures. Cue the Luigi's Mansion parallels. Armed with only a flashlight out of the gate, Erica will roam about, discovering the secrets of the mansion, filling in various bits and pieces as she goes. She'll go about this by wandering around, which is accomplished by simply holding the screen and moving towards a direction, or tapping where you want to go. Whatever feelings you may have towards touch controls, let me just say, they work wonderfully here. In fact, the entire game is filled with fairly inoffensive touch gimmicks, like rotating pieces of paper around to find more hints (a la Resident Evil), or flicking the screen to search pantries and the like. The whole affair is built upon a really fun atmosphere, as the characters (ghosts, mostly) you meet all have personality, and for the most part, are likable. Their personalities lack depth and the character building is pretty light fare, but it feels more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon, which a lot of potential players will dig. Erica jokes about there being a lot of keys to sift through though, but there's plenty of truth to it. You'll embark upon plenty of fetch quests, with a healthy mix of box puzzles (evoking more Resident Evil parallels) and basic problem-solving. For instance, one old-timey picture has a timestamp on it, which clues you in to the placement of the hour, minute, and second-hands on a nearby clock. If you find yourself stumped, you can pick up coins along the way, which can purchase hints, as well as items from an in-game store. Combat is another big part of the game, taking place on a rhythm-like stage. It's a lot like Elite Beat Agents (but less engaging), starting off with timed taps on the screen, then swipes, and so on. I like the idea in theory, but there's a lot of enemies to fight in the game, and since the battle system isn't super deep, it can occasionally feel tedious. It can get really tough even early on, and as the game states after booting it up, you'll probably want to use headphones. While the mansion isn't exactly open-ended and tends to be a tad too linear at times, you eventually will make your way to more interesting areas -- like the greenhouse wing, which features plenty of holes to dig up for hidden items. It's at this point in the adventure that you'll also unlock the Spectral Phone, which can spot hidden spirits in the wild, with 20 in all to find. That's about as deep as the exploration-angle gets, but it thankfully never gets to the point where it's straight-up dull. Think of a wheel with only one or two spokes on it, and you'll have an idea of what to expect. Til Morning's Light never really goes the full mile with any of its concepts, but they all mesh well together and the presentation is enjoyable enough. I don't think it's going to make headlines or change the horror game in any way, but it's a fun way to spend an afternoon and another respectable showing for Amazon's game division. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Til Morning's Light photo
Nancy Drew meets Luigi's Mansion
WayForward has stuck to doing what it does best -- platformers -- for most of its career. But every so often it branches off and does something a bit different, like Silent Hill: Book of Memories, and now, Til Morning's Light. As an odd mix of Luigi's Mansion filled with rhythm-based combat, it mostly works.

Review: Swords and Soldiers II

May 20 // Chris Carter
Swords and Soldiers II (Wii U)Developers: Ronimo GamesPublisher: Ronimo GamesReleased: May 21, 2015Price: $19.99 This time around, the playable armies of the Chinese and Aztecs have been replaced by Demons and Persians. Although the former two will be sorely missed (I'll never forget some of their sayings), the replacements have more than enough tricks up their sleeve to justify their inclusion. The way Swords and Soldiers II works is strikingly similar to its predecessor. As a strictly "one on one" affair, players will opt to build and research units, sending them in a straight line against another foe. If one gets close enough your units will start attacking their resource accruing units, and just like a complex RTS, your days are numbered as your enemy whittles down your base for a win. It's not just a "set it and forget it" style, as a constant array of diverse spells that can be used at any time keep you on your toes, and can change the tide of any given battle within a round. My favorite part of this scheme however is how quickly everything goes down. After you have the gold, units can be built instantly. Other than the select few instances in a match where you need to erect towers, no real "buildings" need to be created. It's all action all the time, but there is depth to it. While Soldiers does have a story mode, the heart of the game lies within its head-to-head versus and skirmish gametypes. [embed]292182:58551:0[/embed] The campaign is basically table-setting for everything else, giving you a rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of each individual unit, some ideas for how armies counter one another, all set to the tune of a really goofy story that illuminates some background on all three armies. It's not going to win any awards, but the jokes are occasionally laugh out loud funny, mostly due to the superb voicework that carries over into the other modes. Where the sequel mostly succeeds is diversity between the armies. Vikings mostly focus on spells, Demons, towers, and Persians have a health mix of both with their own unique trappings. Every time I started to embed myself in an army I felt like I was playing an utterly different experience, which is definitely a positive. Over time I ended up gravitating towards the Persians, who have some really cool abilities on-hand. I really love the invisible units that are only seen while attacking, but they're balanced, expensive to build, and have plenty of counters. I also enjoyed the low mana-cost cannon structure, which does nothing on its own, but can fire a low-damage, tiny genie-summoning canon shot across the map. I quickly learned that Demons could counter my stealth units by building barrel riders -- suicidal creatures that would explode and destroy them even if they were invisible, and were at a lower cost. In return I researched the bribe skill, which allowed me to take over specific units at a cost of gold and mana. There's hundreds of counters like that across the multitude of characters and strategies present in the game, and thankfully, it's never too overwhelming at any given time. After seeing a new unit you'll have an incentive to try out the army and use it yourself, which is really easy to do considering how open the research tree is at the start. If you want to spend all of your starting gold just to build one big unit -- you can do that. Likewise, you can bunker up with a defensive-strategy at the start, or "Zerg" rush with some low-cost units. It's surprisingly balanced and open-ended. Another new layer of depth is the gold and mana drop mechanic. On every map, airdrops will occasionally fall down and litter the map. You're presented with a choice -- let your gold gatherers stay within the comfort of your base for consistent riches, or brave the world for a massive reward. This is on top of micro-managing your army, spells, researching, and building responsibilities. It gets even more intense on one map in particular, where the only way to any resources of any kind is to pick up drops. Multiplayer is played by way of one mode -- a local versus setup where one player uses the GamePad, and another, the TV. Although the lack of online play is a bummer, Ronimo really chose a perfect platform that caters directly to the dual army conceit. In short, it's a perfect situation for my wife, who prefers the TV and the Wii U Pro Controller (though a Classic Controller Pro and Wiimote can be used), and myself, who vastly prefers the GamePad. I ended up plugging in some noise cancelling headphones so I couldn't hear her unit sounds (and vice versa), and it was a much easier setup than we achieved with the previous game, getting two PCs together, logging into Steam, and hoping we consistently connect to one another. There is one hangup though -- you can set your tweak a few extra stats in versus like your starting gold settings or change up build and cooldown rates, but you need to do this every round once you quit out of a session. It will work if you stay the same armies on the smae level to "rematch," but it feels like an oversight to have to switch it back every time. Your mileage may also vary if you don't have a friend to play with, but then again, that's where Skirmish comes in. If you don't have anyone on hand, you can opt to play with the AI. Surprisingly it's actually challenging, though I will say that the CPU cheats from time to time, like when it throws down an area-of-effect (AOE) ability on the ground, knowing that your invisible units will cross over it. Still, I can put everything on random and play skirmish for hours, despite the fact that there wasn't anyone to revel in my victories with on the couch. Although Swords and Soldiers II has a limited appeal for those of you who like to only game solo, it's a fine strategy title, and a perfect mix of brevity and depth. I'm likely still going to be learning the ins and outs of each army months down the line, which is a really great thing. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Swords and Soldiers II photo
Vikings, Demons, and Persians, oh my
Swords and Soldiers, released in 2009 as Ronimo's first game, was an underrated treasure. Although it was soon eclipsed by their subsequent release of Awesomenauts a few years later, it remained a staple in my house, as it was wonderously easy to pick up and play at any time. Swords and Soldiers II builds upon that foundation and adds just enough depth to keep things interesting.

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition brings the gang back together

May 18 // Alessandro Fillari
Now this isn't the first time that the original DMC series has received the Special Edition treatment. A year following the release of 2005's Devil May Cry 3, Capcom released an enhanced version that made a number additions and tweaks -- most notably the inclusion of a playable Vergil with his own moves and levels to play through. Now with the release Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition coming, nearly eight years after the original, the creative minds at Capcom sought to rekindle the same enthusiasm found in Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition for this supped up re-release. And much like the recent Definitive Edition for DmC, they looked their well-received PC release as the base."There was content in the PC version of the original DMC4 that was not possible for consoles at the time due to hardware limitations. We have always wanted to provide these features to more DMC fans, most notably Legendary Dark Knight Mode," said DMC producer Takashi Fujii. "We wanted to provide a good action game that really gives the player a lot to sink their teeth into. With the features I’ve mentioned previously, and the addition of three new playable characters we’ve designed, I think fans will be very happy with all the content we’re offering in DMC4 Special Edition. With the hardware capabilities introduced in the new console generation, it proved this was the right time to revisit DMC4 and provide all of these features that we had been thinking about."Back when Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition was revealed last year, we all got a nice tease showing that Vergil was going to be making a return. But who would've thought that DMC's leading ladies, Trish and Lady, were going to get in on the action as well? While the ladies were already present in the core DMC4 story, Vergil's campaign in the Special Edition features his own unique story taking place many years before the events of DMC3 and 4. In addition to these new characters are several tweaks and upgrades made to the core game. Such as higher texture and graphical quality, auto-saves, rebalanced orb and proud soul economy, official trophy support across all platforms (take that early generation seven architecture!), and also some tweaks to puzzles -- such as the infamous dice game. It's a pretty meaty package. You might as well call it "Super Devil May Cry 4." The larger cast was a way for Capcom to offer variety in a convincing and fun way that stayed true to its combat heritage."Everyone plays Devil May Cry games a bit differently, and so with Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition in particular, it was important to us to give players more ways to enjoy the gameplay experience," explained the producer. "It was important that these characters each had distinctive combat styles, so fighting a boss you may have fought as Nero, for example, will feel very different from doing so with Lady or Vergil." In the two hours I spent with the game last month, it was quite clear that a lot of work went into the new characters. Though of course they're still going through the same areas and fighting the same bosses from the original game, that didn't really bother me all that much after getting settled with the new characters. Any fan will tell you that the combat is the crux of the series, and the new characters offered a lot depth and complexity that are totally unique to them -- which really set themselves apart from both Dante and Nero. And yes, for those who've gotten really comfortable with Dante and Nero over the last seven and half years, you'll be please to know that they're largely untouched (aside from general gameplay tweaks). "No changes have been made to Nero or Dante," said the producer rather bluntly and with the utmost clarity. So please, use high-level tricks such as guard flying and intertia to your heart's content. And with the sharing functionality on PS4 and Xbox One, showing off your high-flying antics and finger acrobatics will be much easier than before.For those who read my long preview last month, you could tell that I was quite smitten with this title. Devil May Cry is easily my favorite Capcom IP, and seeing it return this year with two really cool titles was a total joy for me. Checking out the new characters in DMC4SE was a complete blast, and I can't wait to dive back in from the beginning. I'm telling you guys, Trish and Lady are not to be messed with. Vergil's got some serious moves, and his concentration mechanic is a total game-changer, but these ladies are total bad-asses. I cannot wait to see some high-level exhibitionist videos later once people get them in their hands.With the release next month just after E3, you'll have the opportunity to get some quality time with the gang again. We all remember that tease at the end of DMC4 with Dante, Lady, and Trish teaming up to battle more demons, so it's definitely exciting to see that it's finally coming to fruition. So don't let this slip past you. If you've been screaming for a chance to return to these wonderfully goofy characters in this over the top world, you finally got it.And by the way, be sure to check out Capcom's weekly twitch livestream on Wednesdays for sessions with DMC4: Special Edition  by Capcom staff.
Devil May Cry photo
Capcom Producer talks revitalizing DMC4
In case you missed it, Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is now a thing. Following up on their release of the excellent DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition (seriously, it's great), Capcom are readying their second hit o...

Review: Schrodinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark

May 18 // Darren Nakamura
Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Italic PigPublisher: Team17Released: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Raiders of the Lost Quark takes place in the quantum world, zoomed in so far the elementary particles of matter are visible. Previous knowledge about quantum physics is not required to play, though it does enhance the experience a bit. For instance, there are six flavors of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. Schrödinger's Cat uses the first four flavors of quark in his platforming adventure (charm and strange are much rarer), and just like in real life, the quarks combine in groups of three. This central mechanic is smart. It allows Schrödinger's Cat to employ a lot of different abilities, using only the four shoulder buttons. It starts off with basic combos: three up quarks form a propeller that will carry the cat upward, three down quarks form a drill that will destroy terrain downward, three top quarks form a protective bubble to safely pass through hazards, and three bottom quarks form a platform to stand on. From there, quarks of different flavors can be mixed and matched. Two ups and a down (or two downs and an up) will form a missile that can be fired in any of the four cardinal directions. It ends up being one of the most useful abilities. With all of the combinations, there are 14 different abilities. Though it sounds confusing, it all comes fairly naturally, and there is a helpful quick reference on the pause screen detailing all of the different constructs. [embed]292295:58563:0[/embed] At its best, Quark takes the quark combination mechanic and applies it to a puzzle platformer. Half of the levels are designed, giving the player a specific set of quarks to overcome a specific task. Though several quark groupings can achieve similar outcomes (the copter, base, and bounce constructs will all help Schrödinger's Cat move upward), a limited supply of quarks means having to choose wisely, considering what will be left for other tasks. If it were just the puzzle platformer levels, Schrödinger's Cat would a tight little game that does its thing well. It's unfortunate that between the puzzle levels are procedurally generated filler areas. Though they still make use of the quark combination mechanic, the abundance of quarks takes away any sort of interesting decision making or a need for much forethought. Though there are 14 different abilities, I found myself mostly using the same 4 in these sections. There's no need for creative problem solving when the copter, missile, bubble, and net can do everything that needs to be done. It highlights the drawbacks of procedural generation. It can be a powerful tool for two types of games: enormous sandboxes that would be unreasonable to hand-design (Minecraft) and short, replayable experiences that reward experience over memorization (Spelunky). Raiders of the Lost Quark is neither of these. The procedural levels aren't interesting enough to merit a huge open world and aside from some new dialogue there isn't a whole lot of reason to replay it after going through once. Another downfall that stems from the procedural generation is in the environmental art. The destructible terrain and the chunky grid look outdated in the best cases. At worst, the environments are almost nauseating in their color choices and design. This come in stark contrast with the character artwork. Cutscenes have a sharp cartoon look, and the animations are smooth and visually interesting. Schrödinger's Cat's movement and combat animations are particularly good. The supporting cast members have really inventive designs, bizarre enough to fit well in the weird and wonderful subatomic universe. The art for the quark combinations is noteworthy as well. Looking closely at each construct, players can pick out which quark is performing which function, as they all stretch, bend, and combine together. It even helps from a gameplay perspective, where each design is memorable enough on its own that it helped me recall which quarks to summon for a particular ability. Even with the ones I used less frequently like the parachute, I can picture which colors go into it and use that to activate one without having to pause for the reference. Though the overall story is silly, the writing is good. Comedy in games is difficult, but Raiders of the Lost Quark had me laughing out loud a few times. That said, I'm a science geek, so your mileage may vary when it comes to the physics jokes. On a more disappointing note, I did run into a handful of notable bugs during my play through. On multiple occasions I got stuck in the level geometry. Sometimes there would be a creature listed for capture but that creature wasn't actually present, leading to unnecessary time wasted scouring the area. The Bosons were especially hard to work with; they are supposed to attack one another when brought too close, but I had several that wouldn't budge. None of these issues were gamebreaking; a reset to the last checkpoint or leaving and returning to an area fixed all of them. They still hurt the experience through wasted time. None of those waste as much time as the procedurally generated levels, which are easily the biggest flaw in Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark. They take up about half of the play time, present very little worthwhile gameplay, and feel like a drudge by the end. If it cut all the fat and featured only the smart puzzle-platforming found in the hand-designed levels, Raiders of the Lost Quark would be a leaner, more engaging, and ultimately much better game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Schrödinger's Cat review photo
A superposition of good and bad
"Schrödinger's Cat" refers to an old physics thought experiment that highlights the weirdness of the quantum theory. Though it generally applies to very small particles, a device could be designed that leverages the prob...

What if Twitter was a Real Life Party? Video games and violence

May 16 // Jonathan Holmes
With video games in particular, there's absolutely no way of knowing what effect games alone will have on a person on a long-term basis. Some studies saw that many people show a diminished capacity for empathy after playing some videogames, but other studies show the opposite. Unless science is able to gather a perfect test group that is able to be studied by the effects that video games have on them alone, it will never be able to provide us with any conclusive answers. More qualitative, general observations aren't much more helpful. Sure, there are more mass shootings in America now than ever before, but the violent crime rate is also down overall. It would be easy to guess that means the rise of violent video games in America gives most people a positive outlet for aggression, decreasing their capacity for violent crime, while having the opposite effect on a group of outliers who later become mass murderers, but that kind of guess would be completely silly. That kind of guess would have to discount all the other concurrent trends in America today, like the increased levels of violence in film and movies, the increased use of thought- and mood-altering drugs (both street and prescriptions) in modern society, the drastic changes in our sociological/political/nutritional landscape, the Internet's influence on culture in general, and so many other factors. If you know a social scientist who can isolate video games from all those factors in determining how a person has been affected by his or her environment, I've got a crisp $20 bill with their name on it.  Regardless, this video wasn't meant to be a serious debate about all these issues, so I'm not even sure why I'm getting into them now. It's just a little animated reenactment of an unusual and semi-cute interaction I had with someone on Twitter. I hope you like it.  
WIT WAR LP photo
Social media animated!
One of the great things about the Internet is the limitless opportunity for social interaction it provides. While it always saddens me to see people use Twitter and other social media tools for the primary purpose of putting...

Weekend Deals: Witcher 3, Galactic Civilizations III up to 28% off

May 16 // Dealzon
Top Deals Witchin' Deals The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt — $36 at GMG  Use code: 40OFFW-ITCHER-DEALZN The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt — $42.99 at DLGamer  (list price $60) The Witcher 3 + $10 Rewards (PS4, Xbox One) — $59.99 The Witcher 3 + $10 Xbox Gift Card (Xbox One) — $59.99 More Top Deals Galactic Civilizations III (Steam) — $39  (list price $50) Xbox One Master Chief Bundle + 2 Games + $100 eGift Card — $379.99  (list $450) Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate (3DS) — $29.99  (list price $40) Tomb Raider GOTY Edition (Steam) — $4.68  (list price $30) Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition (Steam) — $4.68  (list price $30) Thief (Steam) — $4.68  (list price $30) Recent Releases 05/12: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Steam) — $12.48  (list price $16) 05/06: Project Cars (Steam) — $36.99  (list price $50) 05/05: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (Steam) — $15.60  (list price $20) 04/30: Block N Load (Steam) — $9.94  (list price $15) 04/21: Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China (Uplay) — $7.95  (list price $11) Upcoming Releases 05/26: Magicka 2 (Steam) — $11.70  (list price $15) 06/23: Batman: Arkham Knight Premium Edition — $70.19  (list price $100) 06/23: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward — $31.20  (list price $40) 06/23: Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition (Steam) — $19.50  (list price $25) PC Game Deals Just Cause 3 (Steam) — $42.12  (list price $60) Ultra Street Fighter IV (Steam) — $14.44  (list price $30) World of Diving (Steam) — $13.29  (list price $20) Spintires (Steam) — $12.95  (list price $30) DMC: Devil May Cry (Steam) — $10.62  (list price $50) Red Faction Collection (Steam) — $10.19  (list price $60) Darksiders Franchise Pack (Steam) — $9.34  (list price $60) Remember Me (Steam) — $6.37  (list price $30) Enemy Front (Steam) — $5.85  (list price $30) Thief: Master Thief Edition (Steam) — $5.15  (list price $33) Demonicon: The Dark Eye (Steam) — $4.68  (list price $40) Killing Floor (Steam) — $3.90  (list price $20) XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Steam) — $3.51  (list price $30) Console Game Deals Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (PS4, Xbox One) — $47.99  (list price $60) Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PS4, Xbox One) — $47.99  (list price $60) Dying Light (PS4, Xbox One) — $39.99  (list price $60) Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360, PS3) — $29.99  (list price $60) The Crew (PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360) — $29.99  (list price $40) Skyrim Legendary Edition (Xbox 360, PS3) — $19.99  (list price $30) PS4 Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (PS4) — $47.99  (list price $60) Destiny (PS4) — $28.49  (list price $50) Xbox One Mortal Kombat X (Xbox One) — $44.99  (list price $60) Xbox Live 12 Month Gold (Digital Code) — $40.95  (list price $60) Xbox Live Gold 3 Month (Digital Code) — $16.95  (list price $25) Minecraft (Xbox One) — $14.99  (list price $20) Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Xbox One) — $9.99  (list price $20) Misc Console Deals Borderlands 2 (PS Vita) — $19.99  (list price $40) Freedom Wars (PS Vita) — $19.99  (list price $30) The Walking Dead: Season 2 (PS Vita) — $14.99  (list price $30) The Wolf Among Us (PS Vita) — $9.99  (list price $30) Laptop Deals 15.6" HP Omen 15t, i7-4710HQ, GTX 860M, 256GB — $1,049.99  (list $1,600) 14" Lenovo Yoga 3, i7-5500U, 8GB, 256GB SSD — $949  (list $1,250) 15.6" Lenovo Z51-70, i7-5500U, 8GB, Radeon R9 M375 — $829  (list $1,080) 11.6" MacBook Air, i5-5250U, 128GB SSD — $749.99  (list $900) HDTV Deals 49" LG 4K 3D LED TV with webOS + $200 eGift Card — $999  (list price $1,699) 60" Sony 1080p 120hz Smart LED HDTV — $889.99  (list price $1,799) 55" Vizio 1080p Smart LED HDTV — $597.99  (list price $798) 48" Sony 1080p Smart TV + $150 eGift Card — $498  (list price $528) Hardware Deals PlayStation 4 + Last of Us Remastered + PlayStation TV — $399.99  (list $400) Nintendo 3DS XL + Case (Blue, Red, Black) — $149.99  (list $175) Samsung 850 EVO SSD 2.5" 1TB MZ-75E1T0B/AM — $336.34  (list $450) Crucial M500 Series SSD 2.5" 960GB — $279.99  (list $520) AMD Radeon R7 Series SSD 2.5" 240GB — $99.99  (list $165)
Weekend deals photo
Now where's my $500 GPU...
Update 5/27: A new 40% off coupon has sprung up on The Witcher 3. Use code 40OFFW-ITCHER-DEALZN at checkout at GMG and drop the price to $36. The The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is finally releasing next week May 19th...

Review: Stretchmo

May 15 // Chris Carter
Stretchmo (3DS)Developers: Intelligent SystemsPublisher: NintendoReleased: May 14, 2015Price: Free-to-play with microtransactions ($9.99 for everything) The way Stretchmo's microtransaction setup works is very confusing at first glance. Initially, you'll have access to a select few intro puzzles. After that, there's one 100 level pack for $4.99, three 50 level packs for $2.99 each, and the option to buy all of them for $9.99 upfront. If you buy each add-on individually, there's a small discount for purchasing more. My guess is that the series didn't perform as well as Nintendo would have hoped outside of Japan, so they want to give international players a chance to "get a taste" for a few bucks. Whatever the case may be, it's not a bad idea as it basically functions as a demo, outside of the fact that there is no way to sample individual packs. As for the game itself, it's pretty much business as usual outside of one new addition. Our heroes will have to solve various block puzzles and reach a predetermined goal (usually at the top of the heap) by pulling and pushing them into submission to create new paths to jump and cross. In this edition you'll have the power to "stretch," blocks on the side, which actually adds quite a bit of depth to the proceedings. You'll soon learn that blocks can be manipulated in a multitude of different ways from every single angle, creating some of the most taxing puzzles yet. Intelligent Systems also brought back the convenient zoom feature, as well as the effective 3D technique, which makes it very easy to move about each creation. Beyond that one new mechanic Stretchmo's gimmick is found in its various level packs, which all have a different theme and character. The 100 core levels are hosted by Mallo, and are actually the easiest of the bunch -- some of which are even remedial. If you enjoy the core Pushmo experience, I'd recommend picking them up, but they aren't anything special. [embed]292153:58540:0[/embed] Poppy is next in line, with items that are themed after real-life objects. While her 50-stage gauntlet has a bit of charm to it it's only marginally more difficult than Mallo's adventure, and I wouldn't say that it's essential in any way. Corin on the other hand kills it with the Fortress of Fun. This add-on brings in more gadgets, including full-on enemy characters to deal with. They remind me of the Sackbots from the Little Big Planet series in that they're crudely designed and only sport a base-level AI, but they're probably the most innovative addition to the series yet, because nearly every level is crafted around avoiding them and jumping on their heads. It adds a degree of twitch action that wasn't really present before. Papa is the last pack in the bunch, and his theme is old NES classics. You'll find levels designed around retro art like an 8-bit Mario head, much like the maps that so many players have created and shared on their own. This add-on however has the benefit of being the most difficult set of levels in the game, and when you add in the stretch ability, I'd be comfortable with making the claim that they're actually some of the biggest challenges in the entire series. For those who are interested, yes, Stretchmo still has a creation studio (that's enabled after you make one purchase). It can read QR codes just like the old iterations, and your gadget unlocks are tied directly to your progress in each pack. In other words, if you want enemies you'll have to buy Corin's levels, and so on. [embed]292153:58557:0[/embed] While all of this is generally pretty great, there are a few downgrades in comparison to the previous version. In particular, the Pushmo World Fair feature from the Wii U release is sorely missed. Although the idea of socially sharing your QR codes with one another is cool, I loved the ability to instantly jump in and casually browse through online creations, even if I didn't play all of them. I also miss the screen real estate provided by the GamePad, which has since spoiled me. Still, the new concepts presented in two of the level packs (Fortress of Fun and NES Expo) make up for it. If you've never given Pushmo a fair shake before, trying out the free stages in Stretchmo is a great way to start. While I'd generally recommend going the full mile and buying the whole thing outright, you can also just spring for the Fortress of Fun for a few bucks and come out on top. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Strechmo review photo
Sure, I'll push some mo'
Nintendo has been silently crafting some killer franchises over the years. While he may not light up sales as much as Mario, after four years, I'd consider Pushmo's Mallo to be a fully-fledged Nintendo character. Now he's back in his fourth game on the 3DS in the form of Stretchmo, which adopts a rather odd free-to-play scheme that essentially functions as a demo.

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster on PS4 looks better than ever, but has major problems

May 14 // Brett Zeidler
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (PS Vita, PS3, PS4 [tested])Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixReleased: May 12, 2015MSRP: $49.99 In terms of the entire package, the PS4 version is the exact same compilation as the original remaster release. The international versions of both base games, Eternal Calm, Last Mission, and the super weird audio drama are all here. Nothing in terms of gameplay content was added or removed. However, there appears to be an alteration or a major bug affecting FFX's random number generation. People even more keen than myself on FFX have noticed the RNG system is completely broken in the PS4 version. Random encounters and events are supposed to be, well, random. However, this is no longer the case in this version. Encounters always occur when they are supposed to, they will always have the same enemies, and the battles will always play out exactly the same way. No matter how many times the game is reset, the occurrence and outcome of encounters or events that involve the RNG system are set in stone. This has a drastic affect in key aspects of the game. Say you're having trouble on a specific boss, and if you could just land that twenty-second hit it would change the tide of battle for you. Well, the bad news is on the PS4 version you're always going to miss that twenty-second hit as it stands. Additionally, this changes ribbon farming, blitzball, and likely everything else that involves RNG. I couldn't test every aspect of this, but I could easily predict down to the second when my first battle against two Chimera would occur during one of my saves in the Calm Lands. I could have tracked this up to as many subsequent "random" encounters as I wished. I checked the exact same save file on PS3, and encounters were always random. FFX-2 does not appear to have this problem. [embed]292113:58550:0[/embed] A major complaint of the PS3 and Vita release was the new rearranged soundtrack. It seemed a lot of people simply outright hated its existence, whereas others would have at least preferred the choice to switch to the original soundtrack. Thankfully, players now have that option at any point during their playthrough. I actually really enjoyed the remaster soundtrack, but on my current playthrough it's been nice to use the original. It sounds amazing. The Besaid Village theme in particular sounded the best even back in 2001. Unfortunately, the background music system also has a major bug in the PS4 release. Background music on the PS2, PS3, and Vita versions continued playing where the track left off once a battle occurred, but now this is no longer the case. For a game like FFX that has a ton of random encounters, you will likely only ever hear the first ten or twenty seconds of a track unless you stop and listen to the music. It appears to have to do with how the soundtrack switching system was implemented, affecting both FFX and FFX-2. The soundtracks sound amazing, which makes this bug so unfortunate. Hopefully it can easily be fixed in a future patch. Cross-Save was a great feature of the PS3 and Vita version, and it's been extended here for the PS4 version. Once a particular game is fired up, all old saves that were stored in the cloud previously can be accessed just as quickly and easily as before. It took me less than a few minutes to install the game, start up Final Fantasy X, load a save from awhile back, and instantly pick up right where I had left off at that point. That's pretty cool. The PS4 version of the remaster has even more enhanced visuals, which is pretty amazing considering how incredible and smooth the game looked on PS3. To check this, I started a fresh playthrough on both consoles on the same television and played them alongside each other. The PS4 does have a slight graphical enhancement overall, but I really only noticed it because I was looking for it. There's a sort of extra crispness to the PS4 version, and the occasional aliasing issues that were still on the PS3 version are gone here. It's not a major overhaul, but the improvements are there. Additionally, Square claims more NPCs and monsters received enhanced models. I didn't notice any of these in my current playthrough (it's really hard to just stumble upon these without knowing specifically which were enhanced), but seeing poor-looking character models in the same scenes with enhanced ones was a big complaint, so it's nice to know this was addressed in some fashion. However, some other major complaints were not addressed at all. Cutscenes, for whatever reason, are still not skippable and there's no option to toggle between the old character models and the remastered ones. These types of things don't detract from my experience, but they were definitely huge complaints upon release last year, and it's unfortunate they weren't taken care of here. Some of those cutscenes are really long, man. As is stands, the PlayStation 4 version of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is not the definitive version of the compilation. Even for super fans of Final Fantasy X, it's hard to recommend a version of their favorite game that has broken RNG, a background music bug, and still no skippable cutscenes no matter how beautiful the game looks or how incredibly fast it loads now. With an MSRP of $50 it's also a really hard sell to a brand-new player when the other two versions are currently so much cheaper, even more so if they already own one of those two versions (especially since they launched at $40). The PS3 version does lack the original soundtrack, but other than that it offers the truest experience of Final Fantasy X and X-2. If you must have it on PS4 or that's your only option, I'd honestly recommend waiting for the RNG and background music issues to hopefully be patched soon and the inevitable price drop. If those two major issues are ever fixed, the PlayStation 4 version of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster would easily be the definitive package.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 PS4 photo
Spira never felt so good
Barely over a year after its original release on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster makes its way to the PlayStation 4. A remaster of a remaster, if you will. However, the original releas...

Review: Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition

May 14 // Chris Carter
Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition (3DS)Developer: GungHo Online EntertainmentPublisher: GungHo Online Entertainment (JP) / Nintendo (EU, US)Released: April 29, 2015 (JP) / May 8, 2015 (EU) / May 22, 2015 (US)MSRP: $29.99 It's not just a checkmark on the side of a game box -- this 3DS package really is two full games in one. You'll get the traditional Puzzle & Dragons experience with Z, as well as a Super Mario Bros.-centric romp. But even the former feels like it was severely influenced by Nintendo, which is definitely a good thing. In the world of Z, Dragon Tamers roam the land in search of adventure, much like Pokémon Trainers. Hell, it even has the option to choose between a male and female protagonist, and the story starts off in your house with a conversation with your mom. It gets even more on the nose from there with a "D-Gear" instead of a Pokédex, and the presentation of red, blue, and green monsters as your first party members. Truth be told, despite how familiar this setup is, and how much the generic story drags at times, it's far more endearing than the gambling nature of the free-to-play mobile game. The events of the story are set in motion by a massive earthquake from the evil organization Team Rocket Paradox, but the world is more captivating than the actual characters or events involved -- odds are you'll be skipping a lot of dialogue. Thankfully, the creature designs in Puzzle & Dragons are interesting to fight and discover, as they look wholly unique, and even while battling static monsters with just a few animations on-screen the game still has a ton of charm. If you do happen to dig the story though, you'll quickly suffer a degree of disappointment, as it takes a backseat in favor of dungeon crawling and constant battling. [embed]291810:58494:0[/embed] Remember, the core principle is to match three orbs on a grid to damage your enemies. You'll drag and drop them on the bottom screen using your stylus, and said orbs will initiate attacks based on elements that you match. So for instance, a simple activation of three fire orbs will kick off a small fire attack from your appropriate party members, but a huge combo of red and blue will see a stronger counter from multiple party members. Matching more than three will also queue up more devastating attacks, and so on -- you've seen this before. Puzzle & Dragons does have a few nuances in place to differentiate itself though, like an active time gauge to keep you on your toes (allowing you to create combos while you're at it), the ability to target specific enemies with the D-pad, and a rock-paper-scissors mechanic with the elements involved. It also has a light amount of party building, as the best way to succeed is to diversify your setup to allow the most coverage in terms of orb attacks. Each character also has a super that can be used every so often, like a direct-damage power or an ability to change up colors of specific orbs. It's not incredibly deep, but there's some meat to it, especially when you pick up more characters and start making decisions on who to use, as well as who to upgrade, and who to sacrifice to make existing party members stronger. As it turns out, the Super Mario Bros. portion of the game is fairly remedial. If you've never played a match-three before or have children, you'll want to play this one first. It has the same basic gameplay, but with a new "story" that involves Mario and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom, including the lovable Koopa Kids. As usual the plot is fast-tracked here, with Bowser once again capturing Peach due to the power of "mysterious orbs" from the P & D franchise. That swift pace carries on throughout the experience, and it's rather jarring to go from the sprawling Z to this.Remedial as it may be, it has some challenging spots, and it's still worth playing if you dig puzzle games. The thrill of building a party is still present, and although the world isn't all that engaging (it feels as lifeless as the first "New" game on DS), most Nintendo fans won't pass up the chance to fight and capture classic characters like Goombas or Piranha Plants. It's disappointing that the Mario part isn't as fleshed out, but it's more excusable when you add in the fact that the core Z experience is worth the price of entry alone.Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition isn't likely to wow anyone, but it's a pretty comprehensive package that would make a great gift to any match-three addict. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Puzzle & Dragons review photo
Two games in one
Puzzle & Dragons came out some time ago in 2012, and has since taken the world by storm. Although its origins started as a humble match-three puzzle game, GungGo Online cleverly added in slot machine-like addictive qualit...

Review: Not a Hero

May 14 // Steven Hansen
Not a Hero (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, PS Vita)Developers: Roll7Publisher: Devolver DigitalReleased: May 14, 2015Price: $12.99 BunnyLord, a rabbit from the future, is running for mayor to prevent humanity from some sort of possibly bee-related extinction on a campaign of hunting down and murdering various crime bosses. His mayoral bid starts with his campaign manager, Steve, and gunman join the cause with rising poll numbers. The health bar shared by Not a Hero's nine playable characters is only a few ticks. It regenerates rather quickly when you're not being shot, but you're often being shot, and one bad volley of enemy fire can kill you immediately. This frailty, which feels more "retro" than the pixel art in and of itself, is mitigated with a cover system, the crutch of the contemporary third-person shooter. Movement here is just as key as shooting, so there is a slide button that you can contextually release before pieces of cover to snap to safety. Shooting while in cover automatically exposes you and enemies can still come head-on and give you a thwack lest you think you can reload in absolute peace. You can play sheepishly -- and cover is helpful when you're down to the last tick of the health bar -- but are not encouraged to. Shots at close range do critical damage while sliding into enemies will knock them out and allow you to perform executions. The result is a cover-supported game rather than a cover-based game. It's there to be used when you're not slide tackling and brutally stabbing folks to death room to room. Your tactics are as brazen as the boss' campaign, which includes perpetuating the war on drugs, rescuing pandas, giving bees to the children, and shooting a not-insignificant amount of police officers. Established trends voters are for. [embed]292134:58536:0[/embed] There are power ups and limited secondary weapon pickups to go along with the nine characters, all of which except the last two feel distinct from one another. There were some power ups I tended to avoid, especially after unlocking an assassin with a devastating, but slow to reload, double barrel shotgun. Coupled with the quick reload power up, the only one not limited to one magazine worth of ammo, it's hard to beat. That same character is quick with a rapid slide which did end in some undue-feeling fall deaths. When I had to jet down a descending series of rooftops, it felt about as precarious as playing a 3D platformer. You can change direction midair which is great for busting out of a window and then busting into one on the floor below, but occasionally I found myself careening forwards to death despite feeling like I'd moved the stick the other way. Having multiple buildings to flit between and different points of entry keeps every multi-floored stage from feeling like a Donkey Kong zigzag to the top, but running or sliding in between any open spaces that weren't perfectly in line with each other just feels a bit off. Additionally, there's just the three visually distinct areas -- the first two of which are even more similar outside of the color swap -- that fall in line with Not a Hero's general flattened action tropes and references. First, it's the Eastern European shipping underbelly. Then it's off to the "urban" (read: dark skinned enemies) area, in an apparent reversal of the first two seasons of The Wire. One of the player characters is Spanish, named Jesus. He wears bright pink, is in a permanent hip thrust animation, and sounds more like Al Pacino doing a Cuban accent in Scarface. Meanwhile the black guy pulls extra magazines out of his afro. On the other hand, the rest of the cast are regional UK in-jokes. The most visually distinct area is the Yakuza-boss-run, an Asian-themed one (much of it related to a sushi restaurant run by bossman Unagi) that also introduces one-hit-kill samurai and ninja, as well as triad folks doing combat barks sometimes not in English, sometimes with thick accents. It also introduces timed door locks which are antithetical to momentum and are often situated at hall ends, meaning you've already done all the murdering on the way there and are waiting for nothing to move on to the next level. And while BunnyLord makes for a unique employer, the extreme irreverence is sometimes amusing and sometimes feels like a forced @dril imitation. There's a bit too much, "Look, it's so random!" at times, like a deadpan presentation of Borderlands 2. More importantly, BunnyLord gives post-mission and pre-mission monologues back to back and to keep the comedic timing you can't just read the text boxes more quickly. It's either wait for the slow text crawl hoping for payoff or just skip it entirely and go shooting. I often went with the latter. Each stage has three optional objectives, too, that go towards determining BunnyLord's political station. Apparently mayor doesn't cut it. But while I completed most everything in the first two areas on my way up from mayor to prime minister to King of England to Global Megalord, I'm stuck as mayor overall. The third act ratchets up the difficulty a lot. I almost spent as much time in the last and third from last stages as I have everywhere else. And I still haven't been able to complete any of the side-goals in the last level, which is basically a boss fight followed by a level, with no checkpoint. It's a bit of a pain, but given how quickly I breezed through a majority of the game, perhaps those more challenging, borderline frustrating bits add to the longevity of what is a pretty lean little game. Translating cover shooters into 2D makes for a good  mix of contemporary and classic sensibilities. It's nice to play a shooter where avoiding enemy bullets is a bit more necessary and I like the tools Not a Hero provides with its slick cover system, mechanically varied cast, and constant chain of slide kicks and executions. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Not a Hero review photo
I can be your hero, baby
Roll7 has received much adulation distilling skateboarding into pixel-based 2D fun with OlliOlli so it's not surprising that the team has been able to do the same with cover-based shooting. But OlliOlli's pixels belie the pol...

Newstoid, a Smash 4 guide by ZeRo, exclusive Bloodstained art, and more

May 13 // Jonathan Holmes
We've also got announcements related to our digital/print magazine with GameFan. We're in the process of generating some exclusive artwork from Bloodstained for our cover, an all new full color Arem comic by Corey "Reyyy" Lewis, an exclusive preview of Metal Gear Solid V, and a very special Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS mini-guide by Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios.  And that's not the half of it! I wish we always had the opportunity to pop the hood and show you what we're cranking away, but any time spent opening the hood is time that could have been spent cranking. Thanks as always for cranking along with us, and please stay tuned for more announcements coming soon.   
Newstoid photo
Newstoid, a Smash 4 guide by ZeRo,
Destructoid is a lot like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. It may look like just another unpredictable carnival of joy and horror on the surface, but behind the scenes, there are hordes of even more wonderful, horrible thing...

Review: Knights of Pen & Paper 2

May 13 // Zack Furniss
Knights of Pen & Paper 2 (Android, iPhone [reviewed], PC)Developer: Kyy GamesPublisher: Paradox InteractiveReleased: May 14, 2015Price: $4.99 (Android, iPhone) Knights of Pen & Paper 2 takes the concept of tabletop gaming and squashes it into something that fits comfortably in your pocket. Miniatures, character sheets, and multiple reference books aren't required to enjoy the world of Paperos. Instead, you'll play as both the dungeon master and up to five adventurers. As dungeon master, you will set up encounters, choosing where your quest will lead and how many/what type of enemies the adventurers will fight. Adventurers must be created by making choices in three different categories: the player's high-school archetype, their character's race, and their character's class. Each choice factors into the adventurer's combat prowess. That's a picture of my cheerleader dwarf barbarian up there for reference. The core stats are now based on the three 20-sided die you see above: red is body, green is senses, and blue is mind. Body determines damage, threat, and how quickly you shake off status effects. Senses is in charge of critical hits, initiative, and attribute rolls. Mind rolls affect health, energy, and your success when you try to investigate an area to find secret items. It's always satisfying to watch these little dice roll, and I'm glad to see they made the stats a bit more clear this time around. After assembling your party, you begin your quest to stop the Paper Knight, a player who is using the 2nd edition of the role-playing game against the wishes of the dungeon master. The residents of Paperos are suffering from the clashing of the 1st and 2nd editions and it is up to you to restore the balance. Having any familiarity with how drastically different editions can be between actual tabletop games goes a long way towards how much you'll get out of Knights' plot. To reach the Paper Knight, you're going to be fighting all manner of beasts ranging from lowly snakes to sky pirates. The turn-based combat has been beefed up since the first game, where the tactics mostly boiled down to finding your favorite ability and putting all of your skill points into it. Character classes still feature four abilities each, but it no longer feels like there's only one obvious choice. The sequel is more focused on status effects such as wound, weakness, stun, and poison. I was happy to find that the RPG sin of useless status effects wasn't implemented here -- the majority of enemies can be targeted by these abilities, and they even begin to feel necessary as the plot progresses.  Spamming one high-level spell isn't the only way to win anymore. My fights frequently went something like this: my Ninja would throw a smoke bomb to stun a crowd, my Thief would throw a barrage of knives to do double damage to the stunned enemies, and then my Warrior would cleave through a row of enemies. My Paladin would hold the threat from remaining monsters and my Mage would finish them off with chain lightning. The variety of character classes helps to reduce repetition, though I eventually got tired of the random encounters sparked by traveling on the world map (there's a roll for that too, of course). Like any good RPG, there is equipment to find and buy, though the crafting system is somewhat odd. While the first Knights had you waiting for real-time hours to pass before you could upgrade a weapon, you can now combine certain items to make better weapons and armor. What's strange is that by the time I had finished the campaign, there were still only a few recipes and I hadn't even seen a couple of the items that could be used. You are able to combine a weapon with an enchantment scroll and a charm to improve its stats, but I never found any charms, at least to my knowledge. It feels as if there are going to be more items to find later on when more content is added. Knights 2 isn't heavy on microtransactions like the first. Though you can buy gold to create more adventurers first or to buy better gear, it never feels required. Kyy Games has found a fun way to provide more content along the way that doesn't force you to pay real money. At any time you can press a magazine button in the top-left corner to see this month's edition of Modern Dungeon, an in-game tome that allows you to buy new character classes, archetypes, and trinkets while also providing silly lore. You can grind for in-game currency to buy these, and there's supposed to be an issue every month. I'll be checking in June to see what's been added. Paperos looks clean and crisp in the new 16-bit style. I played most of it in portrait mode because the interface is larger, but it does cut off most of the environments and I ended up missing some details. Landscape mode is better on the eyes but the buttons become so small that they are difficult to consistently and accurately press. The music is simple and catchy but much too repetitive. I hope you like hearing the same five songs over and over.  I can't help but wish that the jokes were kept to being about the intricacies of editions in Dungeons & Dragons instead of trying to be "sooo random." I realize humor is subjective, but hearing players accuse the dungeon master of making things up on the spot is more entertaining than finding a pixelated Bill Murray who wants your help to "bust" a "geese" because he's a geesebuster. Between Game of Thrones puns and trolls engaging in Internet-speak, I found myself rolling my eyes more than chuckling. If you're a Family Guy fan you'll probably find a lot to love here, but I'm judging you right now. Knights of Pen & Paper 2 is by no means a serious game, and this lightness can be as refreshing as it can be annoying. The refinement of the combat has gone a long way to mitigate the tedium of the first game, but the humor and plot won't do much to keep you engaged. I had enough fun with it that I'm looking forward to next month's Modern Dungeon. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] http://www.destructoid.com//ul/292095-/barbarian-noscale.jpg
Knights of Pen & Paper 2 photo
Fun, but it ain't funny
I played the majority of the original Knights of Pen & Paper on various toilets within the boundaries of Southern California. It was an enjoyable if shallow take on pen-and-paper RPGs with some cringe-worthy, referen...

Review: Action Henk

May 13 // Jordan Devore
Action Henk (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: RageSquidPublisher: RageSquidReleased: May 11, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Action Henk, who I desperately want to call Action Hank, is past his prime. He's a toy, and a middle-aged, beer-bellied one at that. If you played this game back when it was on Steam Early Access, you can dress him up as a certain ring-carrying blue hedgehog. More than just a fun nod, it fits. There are hints of Sonic the Hedgehog in how Henk builds up his speed, how he roars through loops, and also in the chipper, infectious music. But for as fast as Henk moves, and he is always moving (or you're messing up), it's not hard to follow him, and he doesn't get lost in the chaos. Ghosts are a big help in that regard. Even on your first time through a level, you can race alongside an AI ghost, allowing you to see precisely what it takes to achieve a bronze, silver, or gold medal before executing the winning strategy yourself. This cuts out a fair amount of guesswork and, as a result, unnecessary (see: cheap-feeling) failures. [embed]292039:58519:0[/embed] It's not just running across wooden blocks and vaulting over the (lava) floor of a messy kid's bedroom. Crucially, our aging action hero can slide down ramps to pick up extra speed. Knowing precisely when to start and stop sliding makes all the difference on the leaderboards, as those fractions of a second add up rapidly. It's hard to put into words how enjoyable the movement system is, so I'll just say this: some 70 levels later, it doesn't let up. I'm still digging it. Eventually, Henk comes across a Hookshot, though it's only usable in select levels. Which makes sense, given that the device demands bigger, more open-ended environments to accommodate its huge range. It fits in so well with the existing physics and feel of Action Henk. Flying off a ramp and firing the shot at the exact right moment to fling Henk directly forward is a never-ending joy. The way the device is introduced partway through the game led me to believe there might be more abilities or items later on but, sadly, there aren't. There are more characters to unlock, though. Stages are capped off with a head-to-head race against another toy -- beat them, and they'll join your side. By earning every gold medal for a stage, you'll unlock a coin collection level. These are more compact than the standard fare but they're also less linear. The challenge is primarily in figuring out the best possible route to grab every coin within the time limit. Clear these levels, and you'll earn a new character skin (including one reminiscent of Michael Jackson from "Thriller"). Even if I didn't have the goofy Sonic outfit for Henk, I probably would've stuck with him anyway. I found most of the other characters grotesque. Besides racing against AI and player ghosts, there's also a separate multiplayer mode complete with a chat room. Here, you're competing against other people in real time. You can redo the course as often as you'd like until you're satisfied with your score or the clock runs out. While it's the same old levels from single-player, there's a greater sense of urgency and competition. Finally, there's a level builder with Steam Workshop support. The editor is quick and intuitive to use thanks in large part to the simplicity of the user interface and building blocks. Just drag, drop, copy, and paste pieces onto the screen until you've cobbled together an obstacle course. It's that straightforward. Making something worth sharing will take more time, of course. Barring the final, post-credits set of levels -- which is absolutely brutal -- it shouldn't take more than a few hours to get through Action Henk with decent rankings. Although the game doesn't outstay its welcome, that can be difficult to appreciate. I was left wanting more, particularly in terms of level variety, but the essence of the game is great. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Action Henk review photo
Toy story
Going into Action Henk, a time-trial platforming game starring action figures, I expected to grow frustrated. I figured that once the training wheels came off, the challenge would rise to a point where perfection, or somethin...

Review: TowerFall: Dark World

May 13 // Chris Carter
TowerFall: Dark World (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Matt ThorsonPublisher: MattMakesGames Release Date: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 The main draw for the this $10 add-on is the full four-player "Co-op" mode. It aims to improve upon the existing "Quest Mode," which previously was limited to two people at a time. While the original Quest is still alive and well, co-op actually feels like a legitimate campaign (albeit without a story), with a clearer view of progression for each level set, culminating in a boss battle. Oh, and just like before, you can play it by yourself if you want. Here, you can resurrect teammates by standing near their corpse for a few seconds, and the enemy waves feel more relentless and unique. It helps that there are more variations out there to deal with, from baddies that explode after their death, to doppelgangers, to these projectile-heavy...floating things that will annoy the hell out of you. On Normal mode all four sets of levels will probably take you an hour or so to clear. There are only four bosses on offer, but they're all fun to fight in their own way -- especially the final encounter, which strips you of your ability to fire arrows for most of the fight. These big bads are particularly tantalizing with multiple team members fluttering about the map, resurrecting each other en masse. With three difficulty levels to choose from (Normal, Hardcore, or Legendary, with the latter two limiting your continues), I can see myself coming back for the challenge every so often, especially with friends. [embed]292091:58527:0[/embed] Of course, the real draw here is the core deathmatch mode, which has been improved as a result of the expansion. Two new arrow types have been added, my favorite of which is the remote arrow -- a Bomberman-like attack that can be detonated at will. It even has an alt-fire (Circle instead of Square) that lets you lay down more than one. This one mechanic would be enough to deal with on its own, but when you add in the fact that other players can dash into the arrow before it's triggered to steal it, things get a bit more complicated. The Prism Arrow is also pretty fun, as it traps someone in a box if they try to snatch it out of the air. There's just so much more to learn, and the game is all the better for it. TowerFall's option toggles are also insanely detailed, allowing you to switch out every weapon a la Smash Bros., as well as change-up pretty much everything else, including the implementation of automatic handicaps, slow-mo, "there's always lava," and forcing the arena to always appear dark. My personal favorite is the "scrolling" option, which makes every level look like it's a traditional platforming level -- it works very well with the new DLC stages. It doesn't actually change the arena into a full-on adventure, as the level stays the same since players will simply warp to the other side if they "fall off," but it constantly keeps you on your toes -- particularly on vertically designed stages, where you can theoretically fall forever, fighting it out in the air. Other extras including 10 more characters and new time trials. While the actual archers themselves don't have any unique powers and are more like skins, and the trials feel like par for the course, they're nice additions all the same. For the record, the game still doesn't have online play. If you haven't picked up TowerFall yet, go get it. If you like it, then buy Dark World. It's that simple. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
TowerFall DLC review photo
How high does this tower ascend?
TowerFall quickly became the go-to arena game in my household, especially after it hit the PlayStation 4. While there has been a resurgence of the genre lately with new classics like Samurai Gunn and heavy-hitters l...

Review: NERO

May 13 // Brett Makedonski
NERO (Xbox One [reviewed], PC, Wii U, 3DS)Developers: Storm in a TeacupPublisher: ID@XboxReleased: May 15, 2015 (Xbox One), TBA (PC, Wii U, 3DS)Price: $19.99 But to spend a little more time in NERO's world is a wondrous thing. The omnipresent phosphorescent set-dressing strikes a dissonant chord against the subject material, but works in an odd mutuality. When hope seems like it's sure to slip away forever, the aesthetic inspires in an underlying way. Hey, maybe things will turn out all right after all. As this is a foray through a child's mind who's going through uncertain realities, nothing about NERO is metaphorically black and white. The journey is paced however you see fit. Meandering about is enticing, as everything about it begs for exploration. Backtracking is likely to occur often, as you realize you've been staring at the lustrous sky for too long and forgot to pay attention to your surroundings. Every time this happens, you'll fall a little more in love with NERO. Wandering off the beaten path has its benefits beyond taking in more scenery. NERO is a first-person puzzle-solving game, but it can be very light on the latter if you so choose. The majority of the puzzles are tucked away in areas that aren't even necessary to venture to. Those who opt to complete these brain-teasers will be awarded with an extra slice of narrative. [embed]292028:58522:0[/embed] Honestly, those who take the quick and narrow path through NERO are robbing themselves -- not just of a few puzzles, but of the core experience. It's a game where you slowly figure out that aimless wandering is the aim. It's something that requires some marinating, soaking in the world to fully appreciate it. Approaching NERO with a destination in mind is a mindset that will result in disappointment. Likewise, those who appreciate clearly drawn lines will similarly feel frustration. NERO is intentionally ambiguous at all times about its narrative, but its tone is always striking. Different thematic accents constantly punctuate different scenes; the ones that don't happen to arch over the course of the entire journey. For all the discussion it's sure to raise regarding plot, it's undoubtedly a story of love and loss, grief and guilt, companionship and family, and coping when the world is so goddamn unfair. All that being said, NERO isn't perfect. Detractors will knock it for a short run-time, flat textures, frame rate stutters, and lack of puzzle variety. However, isolating those issues is akin to missing the forest for the trees. There's something greater at play here, and letting yourself become immersed in NERO will likely render those shortcomings moot. Even after finishing, it's difficult to pin NERO down to a concept or feeling that's easy to explain. It's a game that prioritizes emotion above all else, and it does so wonderfully. But as the boy at the heart of this tale learns, emotions are tough to understand, and thus NERO is tough to understand. You'll just know that you felt something, and that sensation alone is worth the journey.
NERO review photo
A strange and distant land
I don't know why I kept playing NERO. That's not a statement meant to express disdain. I literally don't know what -- but something -- drew me to keep trekking through this sad, enamoring world. Its gravitas has a gravity abo...

Review: Invisible, Inc.

May 12 // Steven Hansen
Invisible, Inc. (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developers: Klei EntertainmentPublisher: Klei EntertainmentReleased: May 12, 2015Price: $19.99 Stealth games often offer two tonal paths. You are ill-equipped, powerless and possibly stay that way (horror), or you are preternaturally talented, improving stats and skills further until you are Batman-like (most "detective mode" games). Invisible, Inc. gives you all the information needed to succeed. Sight lines are obvious and clear. Enemy routes can be precisely observed (for 1 AP). You can peek around corners or behind doors (again, 1 AP). And you have the Incognita system which can hack devices -- cameras, turrets, item machines -- to help you complete your infiltrations. Screw ups aren't twitch-based dissonance, like frantically steering Snake into a wall when spotted. What you butt up against, then, is a series of balanced checks that gives you tools to succeed and becomes about execution. Hacking requires power, which can be stolen from consoles or generated once per turn (with the default Incognita setup). Agent movement is limited by action points. Hastily enter a door and you may be exposed, without enough AP to set up behind cover. Peek and observe the patrol route of the guard next door and you may find that he is coming right to where you are, your melee stun device is still recharging, and you no longer have the AP needed to get back into cover. And if you think the answer is to take things slow, creeping along a few squares at a time, know that each procedurally generated stage has an alarm that raises by one tick each turn. Every time the alarm goes up a full level, you'll be facing additional cameras or extra, better outfitted guards, or higher power costs when hacking.  [embed]291971:58506:0[/embed] All the systems are at odds with each other and it is exhilarating. You want to find the exit quickly, before things get too difficult to handle, yet the whole point of your infiltration to to quickly prepare for a big standoff, which means it's better to steal all the credits and gear that you can, to explore every room. You have to spend power to open safes, but also to rewire cameras or turrets, things that can more presently do you in. But not doing enough, not filching everything, feels like it will do you in in the long run, too. Credits buy you new gear, which becomes necessary for dealing with tougher enemies, but it's also what you spend to upgrade your agents' movement distance, ability to gain more power from consoles, and so on. It's elegant as hell. A commensurate arms race. You fly around the world, eating hours off the countdown clock. If you take a harder ranked mission, you're more likely to lose, but if you don't, will you be able to win in the long run? For every "2x armor piercing stun baton" you pick up, the next stage could have 3 times armored enemies. There are killing weapons, too. They're good because the enemies won't wake up a couple turns later (they stay incapacitated if an agent is physically pinning them down), but have limited ammo, raise the alarm level more quickly, and leave you paying a bit of "cleaner costs." Decisions, decisions. I love the constant duress and how many options you have. While all the stages are procedurally generated, you do have some idea of what you're getting into, depending on the type of infiltration (going for a vault? a terminal with locations of more points of interest? an executive's suite?) and the particular company (one is particularly robot heavy, rendering your knock out sticks useless) whose site you're breaking into. There's wiggle room. You decide what you're going for. Money takes precedence for me, mostly for agent upgrades, followed by labs that allow me to add cybernetic upgrades to my agents. Of course, a detention center could be housing a third or fourth agent as well, and numbers can be useful if you have the means to outfit them all, or ruthlessly treat new additions as expendable. And while you start off with two default agents and two default power-gaining and hacking programs, you can unlock more mid-game (buy new programs, rescue captive agents), as well as unlock them for use at the start of a campaign. They have different latent skills or default items. And each agent has an alternate with a different load out yet and a new backstory. The programs, too, offer anxiety-inducing risk-reward choices. One power per turn, or two power per turn with the chance of spawning a harmful daemon? Maybe couple that with a lockable character who gains power on enemy daemon installs in an attempt to even out the risks. Klei has also created a robust set of options that allows you to tune the experience to your liking. There are three "standard" modes: beginner, experienced, and expert. Mind you I've played Invisible, Inc. 40 plus hours prior to this, but I found beginner to be too non-threatening of a cakewalk, so maybe start with experienced? Note that expert is the "base difficulty and tuning." Within these options, you can toggle one-turn rewinds (and how many) as well as whole level retries. You can even go deeper than that to adjust settings to your liking. You can extend the campaign from 72 hours, dictate starting power level, turn off danger zone warnings, and more. And on top of all that, there is an extra difficult "expert plus," an endless mode, and an extra difficult endless mode. You can fine tune 20 or so settings in all of them. The turn-based stealth gameplay is empowering, but fraught and fleeting each time you dive deeper into one of the world's least architecturally sensible corporate buildings, rooms budding off rooms, some empty, some dangerous, all necessary. It's a fight to stay equally matched with your enemies and make it to the end. Things can and will go wrong. Sometimes life-saving maneuvering just delays an impending, inevitable loss as you bring the full weight of the guard down on your head. And it's almost always your own damn fault, which is why you'll try again.
Invisible, Inc. photo
Invisible, man
It feels weird to be finally reviewing a game I played more than anything else last year despite it being in Early Access. I mean, I already gave it a Game of the Year award. Klei (Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja) has perfect...

Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

May 12 // Chris Carter
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: CD Projekt REDPublisher: Bandai Namco (Europe), WB Games (NA), Spike Chunsoft (Japan)Released: May 19, 2015MSRP: $59.99 From the very start, The Witcher 3 is a return to form in terms of presenting the core Witcher lore from the first game. Unlike the second iteration, where many elements important to the overarching story were teased or merely mentioned in passing, you get to see more events up close. You'll have the chance to experience The Wild Hunt itself even more-so than the original title, which is going to be a huge bonus for fans of the series. You get to delve deeper into the world as a whole, and the more personal take on Geralt makes it even better. Over the course of The Wild Hunt, players will experience Geralt as a teacher, lover, and hero. There are far more opportunities to actually be a Witcher, haggling for goods and demanding gold for your service. These elements were always communicated in past games to some degree, but given the vast scope of this title, you'll actually get to live it on a constant basis here. The script as a whole is also much sharper, with stronger dialog and a funnier general feel. It helps that it hosts the most interesting cast yet, like a funny young creature that loves to poop, a terrifying trio of witches, a dumb goat named Princess, and one very angry ghost baby. The setup this time around involves Ciri, a young woman that Geralt has essentially raised as his own daughter. She's trained with Witchers, but she also hosts a power no one quite understands that has sparked the interest of The Wild Hunt -- a mysterious and powerful group that roams the land and terrifies everyone who comes in contact with them. Geralt kicks off the adventure in search of Ciri, attempting to find her in various locations, learning of her whereabouts through story missions. Occasionally you'll get to control Ciri herself in short standalone sequences, which serve as a window into her point of view and are a welcome brief departure from the Geralt show. [embed]291344:58447:0[/embed] In general, choices feel like they carry more weight in The Wild Hunt, and the characters are more fleshed out as a whole. I felt like the second game had way too many "Would you like to do option A or option B?" black and white choices, but the third iteration brings back some of the ambiguity from the original. There is immediacy to your decisions, but there are lasting consequences in some cases, with individuals that I actually cared about. I like Ciri in particular, and was inspired to press on to find out what happened to her. More importantly, the game is designed as a large collective of little choices compared to a few sweeping options in The Witcher 2. Having a bit of control over nearly every aspect of your personal story is a much more desirable design. A lot of you out there will probably be disappointed to learn that combat is now essentially Assassin's Creed, as most of the nuances like stances from the first game and the slower flow of the second game are now gone. Instead, you'll attack with light and heavy attacks, spicing things up with a few magic abilities, and separate dodge and roll buttons. Geralt still carries his trademark steel sword for humanoid opponents and silver for creatures, but since he automatically takes the appropriate one out most of the time, that bit of strategy is quashed too. It's not enough to make the game "easy" (especially on higher settings) but normal is significantly more hack and slash oriented than The Witcher 2. For all of the streamlined changes though, I actually enjoy this take on combat the most. Your magic abilities run the gamut of everything you'd need, from traps to projectiles to a defensive shield, and the dodge mechanic works better than it ever has, which makes battles feel more action-oriented and less like an outdated pen-and-paper scheme. When you add in the ability to parry and counter, combat gets even more interesting. Ciri's bits are even less expansive, as she can't access an equipment or inventory screen at all, and only has a few unique spells at her disposal. When you're exploring about, the way fast travel is handled is just about perfect. You can technically use it, but players will need to have explored the target area first, and access an actual dedicated fast-travel signpost. It encourages you to see the world without pulling your hair out and losing tons of time manually getting to places you've already been. Roach, your horse, will assist in finding those new locations, and the controls are fairly versatile with walking, running, and galloping options. Sailing is probably my favorite means of travel, and in one instance I was even left stranded on an island after enemies capsized my ship! Questing is also much more satisfying now because The Wild Hunt is less "tunnel" oriented. Thanks to the advancements of newer tech, the open world can be fully explored by climbing, sailing, and horseback riding. The climbing mechanics are a welcome addition, but like a lot of other sandbox titles (I'm looking at you, Bethesda), it comes with its own set of glitches and rough animations. Specifically, ridges and edges are problem areas, and I had Geralt get stuck a few times in the game world or die to very questionable amounts of fall damage. It doesn't help the situation when a few main story quests have bugs in them as well. It should be noted though that there is a very forgiving checkpoint save system, and you can manually save at any time. I suggest doing so often. Once you get your first look at the world and see the new engine up-close, you'll likely forget about those stiff movements and occasional rough patches. The draw distance is wonderful, and the map in general is insanely detailed. While there are three particular areas that are instanced (cut off from the rest of the world), the core area is huge, and would take you hours to fully traverse and explore, even if you didn't stop to actually do anything. For the purposes of this review, I played The Witcher 3 on PS4, which features 1080p visuals, with a 30 frames-per-second cap. Unfortunately that latter figure is noticeable all too often, especially when you're outside, moving the camera about, and fighting multiple enemies. I have to give it to CD Projekt RED for creating a beautiful, vast universe with very little in the way of load times, but the console edition does feel like a compromise. If you have the rig, I highly recommend taking a look at the PC version, though I haven't had a chance to test out its stability just yet. There is something to be aware of in addition to the technical issues. While the combat and overall story have been improved, a lot of quests (particularly the transitions between story missions) involve "Witcher Vision." Yep, Arkham's Detective Vision mechanic is now a part of the Witcher world, and you're going to be spending a lot of time holding down a button, looking at footprints, and following them blindly to the next sequence. At first it's a really cool mechanic, and appropriately represents a Witcher's advanced sensory and tracking capabilities. But once you do it roughly 100 times, it gets a tad old. If you're looking for a lengthy adventure, you'll find pretty much everything you need here. With four difficulty levels (including a super easy mode) there's something for everyone. Alchemy mechanics shine in The Wild Hunt, as there are lots of ingredient nodes all across the world, easily visible on the game's mini-map -- almost like the developers took a page from the newer Far Cry games. There's literally hundreds of quests to complete, secret locations to find, and buried treasure to search for. The core story will last you a good while. It took me roughly 50 hours to complete the game. Hilariously enough, there is one point that feels like it's the end, to the point where the game even warns you that you should save and that you cannot turn back after entering the area. After I finished that sequence, it turned out that I had at least another 10 hours to go. Once the story is said and done, a few select sidequests can't be completed, but you're plopped back into the world, ready to explore. I suspect I'll be at it for over 100 hours by the time I'm ready to put the game back on the shelf. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a huge step up from its predecessor, mostly because it manages to tell a more compelling and personal tale. At the same time, that intimate feel is juxtaposed against a gigantic, sprawling open-world adventure that may hit some snags along the way but still comes out on top. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Witcher 3 review photo
100% more Witchay Woman
I have an odd history with The Witcher series. I absolutely fell in love with the first game near launch, at the behest of a friend, and adored the way it approached morality. Typically, games of that era would offer up black...

Review: Toren

May 12 // Chris Carter
Toren (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: SwordtalesPublisher: Versus EvilReleased: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Toren is a surreal game. You'll start off as an infant, quickly growing into a young girl who is seemingly trapped in a giant tower without any real context. The story is primarily told through clever poems, which are never on the nose or in your face. It's a good idea, as there are some awesome moments, like one specific event near the start where prose will shoot across the screen while looking into a telescope. Most of the narrative relates to the heroine and her direct conflict with a dragon, but a lot of it is also internal, and deals with the hero's journey trope in a unique way. It's just a beautiful game inside and out, but it's a bit rough around the edges. It's not optimized very well on the PC, and even using a decent rig (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M 8GB, 8GB RAM, i7-4810), Toren was consistently sluggish on the two highest (and even on medium) graphical settings, among a host of glitches like falling through floors and the camera getting stuck occasionally. There also isn't a whole lot in terms of menu customization, with a scant few resolution options, a fullscreen toggle, and a few checkboxes for motion blur and SSAO (screen space ambient occlusion). Additionally, I had a lot of problems with controller support. Despite trying multiple times with both Xbox One and PS4 gamepads, the functionality would often break mid-game, or wouldn't work in the first place. I can only assume it's handled better natively on the PS4, but the PC port, which is the only build I currently have access to, has been a source of contention for me. Gameplay-wise, Toren works on a three-button system -- one for actions (attacking or grabbing, usually), one to jump, and another to "look." Most puzzles involve rather simplistic platforming, but it must be said that the entire experience is just as soothing as the art style. In particular, I really like how the look button gives you vague hints without telling you directly where to go, and the solutions will usually have you saying "I can't believe I missed that" out loud (in a good way). It plays out much like your standard action-adventure game, with elements of free-roaming, puzzle-solving, platforming, and even stealth. In other words, it has a little bit of everything. Toren's jumping mechanics are a tad rough as they're very floaty, but the development team keeps things simple, so you won't be ripping your hair out too often outside of the aforementioned issues. Puzzles include things like dropping sand into specifically marked shapes, snapping statues into place (like Resident Evil), and so on. Said stealth sequences are equally simplistic, mostly involving quick movements to avoid an omega-attack from the dragon. You're not going to find a whole lot of cocnepts that aren't already present in other adventure games, but they're done well here. Thankfully, every aspect simply feels connected and in its proper place. For instance, early in the game you'll acquire a sword and turn into a young woman. Most gear acquisitions feel like an accomplishment with an emotional reward attached, rather than an item that raises your stats by a few points. These RPG-like mechanics are few and far between in favor of the more standard action-adventure elements, but welcome. Toren is a very cool concept that's held back by its rough presentation, especially on the PC platform. Truth be told though, I think developer Swordtales should keep making games and simply refine its touch, as the studio clearly has the knack for it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Toren PC review photo
No, not the Warcraft race
When I first saw Toren, I was intrigued. It has a killer art style, and the concept of seeing a young girl grow up into a woman before our eyes to fulfill a mysterious destiny is an interesting premise indeed. Sadly, not everything goes as smoothly as you'd expect, at least when it comes to the PC version.

Review: Project CARS

May 11 // Brett Makedonski
Project CARS (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developers: Slightly Mad StudiosPublisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: May 6, 2015 (PC), May 12 (PS4, Xbox One)Price: $59.99 Even though Project CARS is difficult, it's all rather appropriate. I've never raced cars before, but I imagine it to be an unrelentingly tough gig. There are a dozen or so drivers that are all after the same checkered flag. Slightly Mad has done a fantastic job crafting a racing experience that reflects real-life competition. Whereas other games often feel like races take place around the player, Project CARS feels like the player is one small part of the race. However, in the heat of the moment, one could be forgiven if they don't agree with that. Project CARS' AI can be so aggressive at times that it seems as if the game is trying to pound the player into submission. Opponents will veer across the track to block progress, and they'll occasionally send you skidding into the gravel trap. Sure, it's an accurate portrayal of racing, but, man, that comes as no consolation at all when it dooms the entire race. The AI isn't the only opponent in Project CARS; you're a constant threat to cause your own downfall. In the rare event that you break free from the pack, the most minute of miscalculated turns will send you straight to the back. One tire overstepping the bounds of the track will often send the car skidding off into a pile of tires, relegating you to an unimpressive finish. Also, this title doesn't play the rubberbanding game, so once the leaders have created separation, you're likely to stay off the podium. Again, frustrating, but that's what you signed up for when you booted up Project CARS. [embed]291507:58427:0[/embed] All that annoyance isn't aided by the fact that Project CARS starts the career with the lowest levels of kart racing, which just so happen to be the most uncontrollable vehicles in the game. It's almost like a trial by fire of sorts, a challenge from Slightly Mad that if you can command these unwieldy beasts, you're good enough to play this game. I was handily defeated so consistently during these races that I wondered if tweaking vehicle settings was an absolute necessity to success. That's where Project CARS' commitment to being for hardcore simulation fans became actively detrimental. Before each race, the menu will implore the player to make alterations, but offers little in the way of guidance as to what anything does. Those who know the ins and outs of cars may take great pleasure in adjusting camber angles and changing suspension heights, but the layman will be left wondering if they're actively at a disadvantage. Honestly, they probably are. Regardless of where all those sliders end up, Slightly Mad has some great driving to offer. The cars all have an appropriate weight about them, only seeming floaty when they're the lightest of vehicles. Project CARS also mandates a nice degree of subtlety with the throttle and brake, often requiring barely touching the gas to optimally weave through a set of turns. The most appreciated facet of driving is that most of the 70-some vehicles feel legitimately unique from one another, meaning that each takes some time behind the wheel before you can control it efficiently. That learning curve won't be welcomed by everyone, however. A lot of nuance is needed, and it's difficult to master. This is especially true with a standard gamepad, which is how the majority of people will play Project CARS. These controllers are often too finicky, and will send the car careening further and more slapdash than the player intended. Those with proper racing wheels will surely have an easier time. One aspect of Project CARS that never fails to impress is its aesthetic. Everything is stunningly gorgeous at all times, even when the sun blinds you as you're trying to corner. The scenery might be at its best during the rainfall, which looks fantastic, but adds another degree of difficulty as the slick roads definitely impact driving performance. Unfortunately, it also impacts game performance, as rainy weather acts as a kind of stress test, and it's where the frame rate dipped the most noticeably in the Xbox One version of the game. For a title that touts itself as offering a staggering amount of control, Project CARS is ironically rather shallow. While all cars are unlocked right from the get-go, the player has no say in what they drive throughout the career. Once signed up for a new league in which to compete, the game decides what vehicle the races take place in. Likewise, outside of the standard career progression, there just isn't much more to do in Project CARS. It basically boils down to the obligatory multiplayer, some community events, and some one-player quickmatches. The game doesn't give the player much incentive to keep playing, so that drive has to be internal. If it isn't, you might find yourself putting down Project CARS sooner than you'd think. Actually, Project CARS' career is paced in such a way that it directly conflicts with the desire to keep playing. Every race is preceded by a practice and qualifying round. Each of those lasts a minimum of ten minutes. You can probably afford to skip practice (easy, Allen Iverson), but qualifying is borderline mandatory. Bypassing it, or simulating to the end after a solid lap, means you run the very real risk of starting the race in last place. If that happens, it's unlikely that you'll finish first. The AI is just too good to let you overcome those odds. You were probably damned before you even began. Admittedly, Project CARS isn't for everyone. In fact, it isn't for most people. It's niche, and it's for those who take their racing games seriously. It does most of what it sets out to do, and it does that very well. However, the broad appeal is lacking, as the long learning curve likely outweighs what most are willing to put up with. But, for those who put in the time and manage to take the checkered flag, this title has a supremely rewarding experience that most anyone can feel proud of, regardless of familiarity with cars.
Project CARS review photo
Hard charger
Project CARS is a game that revels in its inaccessibility. It was made specifically for people who have come to expect more from their realistic racing simulators. Developer Slightly Mad took that desire and ran with it....

Castlevania's IGA back with 'dream game' Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

May 11 // Steven Hansen
Bloodstained stars Miriam, an orphan stuck in the middle of "a classic tale of magic, or rather faith and belief, versus science," Igarashi told me through a translator. A group of alchemists, fearing its waning relevancy as science captures the 18th century setting, try to warn against the world losing faith. Start fucking loving science, they warn, and a bunch demons will take over. When that doesn't happen, egg on face, the alchemists start fusing demonic crystals into orphans to call the demons to earth, attempting to instigate a global annihilating "told ya so." The demon crystals have a, "natural inclination to expand, eat away at hosts' bodies," not unlike bad videogame companies, perhaps. "Stained glass" acts as an artistic motif reflected in the art style, but those pretty shades in characters' skin are also the basis of gameplay. Enemies drop materials, which are forged into gems, which can be formed into weapons. Rare materials can be forged into ability crystals that can be stuck in Miriam's body. They can also be combined in a number of ways, like adding a strength+ attribute crystal to a double jump for a double jump attack move. Igarashi explained the new system would be a little less repetitive than old Castlevania's, naming Aria of Sorrow specifically, where "you're just grinding on the same enemy to create the same thing." Why stained glass? "Stained glass is already cool-looking as it is, but stained glass weapons is badass." A recent walk through Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has me in agreement. Igarashi, "wanted to have a more colorful palette," and so on top of the stained glass, you have a blue-heavy protagonist, purple tinted key items (candles, keys), and an active blood orange sky in the background (thanks to parallax scrolling) inspired by an 18th century Icelandic volcano eruption that killed 23,000 Brits and bore a "bloody sun rising." All of this is framed by classic Gothic gray. If the mock up is any indication, it could look lovely. That's a "could," of course, because the game has not been made yet. Igarashi is someone you can likely depend on to make a Castlevania-style game. Inti Creates has been delivering for a long time. And Bloodstained isn't even held hostage by its Kickstarter, though it's meant to fund the last "20%" of development (and make for physical, pressed Xbox One and PS4 discs). Still, it's a way's out. Igarashi hasn't been gone from Konami much more than a year and shopping this proved difficult, hence last year's "hold." Igarashi "scoured the globe" and "pitched every major -- even minor -- publisher on this concept." "There was a ton of interest, but for various reasons, from, 'we do distribution for Konami and...don't want to anger them,' to 'Oh, this looks like a Japanese game.' But they didn't realize Igavania games sold better in America than any other territory." Incidentally, despite the widening popularity of the term "metroidvania," the team is eschewing the "castle" and "metroid," opting for the term "Igavania," explaining, "We want to make sure we don't anger Nintendo, and Igavania is a more accurate name." This project will likely irk someone at Konami regardless -- "Konami doesn't know about it," Igarashi said last month -- perhaps even more if it proves successful, like Mighty No. 9 or the recent not-Banjo-Kazooie platformer from ex-Rare folks, Yooka-Laylee. Given those examples (or Double Fine Adventure Game, or a number of others), it feels like a sure thing, but Igarashi does seem a bit more unsure after constant publisher rejection. "A lot of them were more interested in AAA stuff," he said. "There's a big disconnect between what the publishers are giving people and what the fans want." Inafune's success, specifically, "proved that the Western audience would put its money where its mouth is and support the creators that it loves." Igarashi doesn't expect he'll generate "anything close" to Mighty No. 9. He remains modest about the whole thing. "I spent the last year trying to make this work because I believe that's what the fans are telling me. And if the Kickstarter campaign shows that's not the case, then in the end the publishers were right and I was wrong." "From Iga-san's perspective," the translator, explains, "the most frustrating, saddening part is that he did his due diligence. He tried to work within the standard publisher model." It does seem surprising that Mr. Castlevania shops around a Castlevania and no one bites. Then again, why did Igarashi have to leave Konami in the first place to make this sort of game? "In the good old days, it used to be, as a producer you'd put your neck out on the line to make a game and if it's didn't work out, then you'd be done," Igarashi explained. Speaking specifically of Konami, at least as far as he left it a year ago (and somehow it was in a better state then), "Recently, there's more of a delicacy at [Konami] towards how they handle IP to the point where rather than maybe making new games, 'let's just not touch it'" becomes the mantra. "Or, 'we have to do it a bigger way." The 3D Castlevania, perhaps. Igarashi thinks it's "more risk averse" because someone used to, "pledge it would be okay, and it was their responsibility," but given that he would've have pledged on a new Castlevania, or Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima's likely ending relationship with the company, I'm not sure that's all of it. But Konami is in the past now. Inti Creates is making Bloodstained under Igarashi's direction. "We had several developers that were interested," he explained. "We needed a team that was both capable, but more importantly passionate. "They said, 'Listen, ever since becoming an independent studio, we've wanted to do three games.' One was a Mega Man type game, which they're now doing. The second was an Igavania game. And the third is a Zelda-type game, which they will probably never get a chance to do," Igarashi chuckled. Nintendo seems more open these days, though. Igarashi did dredge up some past, scoring the composer of Symphony of the Night, Michiru Yamane. "I basically tricked her into joining the campaign by getting her really drunk and making her promise she would help," Igarashi said. "You think that's a joke, but it's the truth." I believe it. And I believe Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night's campaign shouldn't have a problem, "proving that this is a concept that the fans really want." I mean, all you have to do is ask "Sword or whip?" and they flip.
IGA's metroidvania photo
Publishers wouldn't touch it
Last year, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night assistant director and subsequent series producer Koji "IGA" Igarashi left Konami after nearly 25 years with the company. At GDC that year, Igarashi ended his interesting Symphony...

This post explains the entire Mega Man Legends copyright situation

May 11 // Chris Carter
Oronamin C is a real beverage over in Japan, and is sold in the vending machines in the first Legends game. In addition, there are a few other copyrighted references. Now, here is the problem -- Sony apparently does not allow the modification of source code for a PSN classic. In other words, it needs to be the exact same release. So unless these issues can be solved by Capcom's legal team (or Sony drops the policy), a full-on PSOne Classic release for Legends 1 is not going to happen. Nintendo however, does allow the modification of code. If it was deemed a worth endeavor by both Capcom and Nintendo Mega Man 64 could feasibly be ported. In fact, the original code for 64 already has a few of these changes already. Other options suggested by Protodude include the release of the PSP version (untranslated), a PC port by Capcom, or a full remake -- all of which have a low chance of happening in my book. Whatever the case, I'd love to see it happen. There's plenty of hope for Legends 2, but maybe Capcom wants to deal with everything and release them both at the same time. For now, we wait. Regarding Mega Man Legends and Property Infringement [Rockman Corner] [Art from Walls4Joy] [embed]291931:58501:0[/embed]
Mega Man Legends photo
Wow, it's complicated
For years now people have been clamoring for the release of Mega Man Legends 1 and 2 on the PSN (or the Nintendo 64 version on the eShop, for that matter), but Capcom hasn't budged. We're one step closer with The Mi...

One with nature: Playing as animals in videogames

May 10 // Ben Davis
Playing as a shark in Depth is my new favorite thing. Controlling the sharks feels incredible; they move and behave exactly the way I feel a real-life shark might, darting swiftly through the water, stalking their prey, and thrashing about in the heat of battle. The sharks' controls are simple: move through the water with the mouse and WASD, right click for a short lunge, left click for a long lunge, and once it's got something in its mouth, thrash the mouse around like crazy to kill it faster. That's pretty much it, aside from holding shift to swim faster and pressing E to activate a special passive ability, but that's really all a shark would need to be able to do. Players get to choose between four types of sharks: the tiger, the great white, the mako, and the hammerhead. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The great white is sort of like the tank shark -- lots of health but little stamina, with a special ability to increase defenses. The mako (my personal favorite) is the opposite; it has lots of stamina but little health, with the ability to mark targets for extra points. Tigers and hammerheads are somewhat balanced stats-wise, but the tiger has the ability to blend into the environment while the hammerhead is able to quickly kill divers by ramming them into walls. There's also an all-powerful and truly terrifying megalodon, but he's only available in a special mode. You'd think a shark would clearly have the upper hand in a fight against divers in the water, but it's not so simple in Depth. The divers come armed with a vast array of equipment to fend off the sharks, including sea mines, sonar buoys, nets, shields to disrupt the sharks' senses, and weapons like bang sticks, harpoons, and rifles which can easily take down the large predators with careful aim. This means sharks have to be very careful about when and how they choose to attack. After a while, I start trying to think like a shark. What would a hungry shark do in this situation? Wait for the opportune moment to strike, or go all in and hope for the best? Those seals swimming around are starting to look mighty tasty and much easier to kill than these humans, but they're just a side dish. It takes a bit of work to get to the main course. The challenge of playing as a shark comes from planning an attack strategy. Swimming recklessly into a room full of divers with no escape plan will most likely lead to a quick death. It's better to examine the area for all possible entrances and exits, then swim in, grab a diver, and quickly swim out while killing them before the other divers have time to react. Another good plan is to circle the area and wait patiently for any divers to venture away from their group, picking them off as they swim out into open waters, greedily searching for treasure. These strategies of circling and waiting, examining the surroundings, and attacking at swift speeds all seem to mirror behaviors that real sharks often employ. Of course, it's good to keep in mind that actual sharks are not normally as aggressive towards humans as the sharks in Depth need to be in order to win. More often than not, real sharks are circling out of curiosity rather than hunger. But that's where the videogame aspect of Depth comes in. It wouldn't be nearly as fun to swim passively around the divers as they leave the sharks alone to collect gold. There needs to be action, and hungry sharks need to eat something, so why not humans? Sorry divers, but we can't be friends in this game! Getting into the mind of a shark for a few hours, even in a fictional world, just feels awesome. Sharks are not something I see everyday. I've seen some at the aquarium, although plenty of other people have encountered them personally out in the ocean. They're scary, but they're also beautiful, intelligent creatures. We may never know what a real shark is thinking, but taking the role of one in a videogame might bring us a bit closer to understanding them. And this is true for other videogame characters as well. Aside from Depth, several other games have managed to capture realistic animal gameplay in the past too. While the main character in Mister Mosquito may appear very stylized and cartoonish, he flies around and bites people in a way that feels like I could be controlling a real-life mosquito (barring his inexplicable ability to push buttons on electronics by throwing his weight around). The Shelter series also lets players take control of animals in their natural habitats, with games centered around families of badgers and lynxes. Another one of my favorite games in this regard is Tokyo Jungle. The animals in Tokyo Jungle feel really great to control, as they go around hunting for food, mating, and generally trying to survive like any animal would. I particularly enjoy the variety of animals available to choose from in Tokyo Jungle. There's everything from cats and dogs, to chickens, lions, bears, porcupines, ostriches, elephants, and even dinosaurs. I can inhabit the minds of all sorts of animals! I hope to see more games adopt realistic animals as main characters in the future. With so many different kinds of animals in the world, there are surely an endless amount of possible ideas for fun and exciting games centered around them. Now if we could just create a game where I could play as a majestic whale...
Playing as animals photo
I'm a shark!
One of the greatest aspects of the videogame medium is its ability to allow players to inhabit the mind of someone, or something, other than themselves. You can be people from all different walks of life, with all kinds of sk...

Early Access Review: Black Mesa

May 10 // Nic Rowen
Black Mesa (PC)Developer: Crowbar CollectivePublisher: Crowbar CollectiveReleased: May 5, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Now that I've had a chance to replay the original (selectively edited) Half-Life through the incredible reproduction effort of Black Mesa (which had its first part released roughly three years ago), I'm not sure that choice was so wrong. In the end I think I broke even. Half-Life was a monumental game that will always be rightfully remembered as a masterpiece for its time, but its probably not as fun as you remember it (headshots on the other hand are, and forever will be, a timeless source of joy). First thing's first, the Crowbar Collective has done an astounding job of dragging Half-Life into the modern age. This is not a mere port like Half-Life Source which used all the same assets as the original with a bit of spit and polish added in the form of a higher resolution and some dynamic lighting. Black Mesa is a remake, built from the ground up to fully realize the vision of what Half-Life could be on modern machines. More than a straight remake, the Crowbar Collective has played with the nuts and bolts of the game. Black Mesa rebuilds, trims, and expands different parts of the original for a smoother experience, while still staying true to what fundamentally made Half-Life what it was. There are new puzzles to work through, new and expanded areas to explore, and the availability of ammo and supplies has been bumped and nudged by a team that has spent ages agonizing over the pacing of the game. Action scenes are frantic and aggressive, with plenty of ammo doled out to deal with the additional enemies and larger set-pieces provided by Black Mesa. But when the action slows down and Gordon is guided towards evasion and caution, supplies dip to an almost survival horror level of scarcity. The push and pull of tension and action, going from a rat in the walls to a one-man army was one of the most intriguing things about Half-Life, and Black Mesa nails it better than the original. Some areas like the On A Rail sequence that infamously overstayed its welcome in the original, benefit from editing. Sometimes more isn't always better and Black Mesa makes some smart cuts getting rid of the fluffier and more frustrating aspects of the original. All of the edits are an improvement to the game. In fact, I'd say they could have probably brandished the razor around a bit more. Maybe we were just more tolerant of rampant amounts of bullshit back in 1998. Or, I suspect our memories of Half-Life benefit from a healthy helping of nostalgia and a lofty appreciation for everything that game did for modern game design. Half-Life basically wrote the book on immersive storytelling, first person exploration and strategically minded A.I for enemies, it had to be fun, right? Kind of? There are great times to be had in Black Mesa. When the game works, you can easily tell why Half-Life is so highly regarded as a classic. But then there is a looming dark side; a great number of hours when the game stubbornly refuses to be fun. The overly long underwater sequences that have you searching about in the darkness for some nook or cranny you missed as the last of your oxygen bubbles out of your lungs. The obnoxious clunkiness of trying to just MOVE around on physics enabled debris, let alone when the game demands you try to make a specific jump or escape from a screen rattling auto-turret under those conditions. The arbitrary insta-kill traps and monsters that force you back into loading screens and more than a couple “gotcha” moments that you couldn't hope to avoid without active precognitive abilities. Even with careful editing and a mind towards evening out the pace of the original, Black Mesa still traffics in an almost unconscionable amount of backtracking and finagling. There were several sequences where the solution to the predicament I was in was so awkward and stilted that I was sure I was doing it wrong. Of particular disdain was a protracted sequence set in a waste disposal facility that merged all the “joys” of water exploration, insta-death traps, pinpoint jumping between moving conveyor belts and confusing map design into a single ultra dense black-hole of anti-fun so terribly dark and spirit crushing that I'm still not sure I fully escaped from it. Maybe I'm being tough on it, but I remember Half-Life being smarter. I remember liking its world and characters better. Maybe it's age or maybe games have just moved on, but this time around I was more exasperated than amused by the shenanigans of the Lambda research team. The game has one joke -- you wander up to some poindexter in a lab coat, he says something silly/smug/abrasive, then immediately runs headlong into bullets/fire/devouring jaws (whatever option would make what he said seem more ironic). I like to imagine Freeman giving the leftover blood smear a knowing smirk each time. Granted, it's a funny goof the first two or three times it comes up, but when you're nine hours deep into the game and Professor Egghead is still predictably blundering into the crossfire, the dismemberment gets a little rote. I think its interesting that almost all of my criticism for Black Mesa is directly related to content from the original Half-Life. Every other effort is fantastic. This game looks great, especially considering its roots as a community driven mod. The soundtrack of original compositions is fucking banging. Every edit and change they made to the game was for the better. It almost makes me wish Black Mesa wasn't a remake-with-cuts of Half-Life. I wonder if the team would have been better served making their own thing, or maybe a “inspired by the events of Half-Life” complete re-imagining of the original game. The way I see it, there are two potential audiences for Black Mesa. There are the players who missed the original in its heyday because they were too young, or didn't have a PC, or thought Freeman's goatee on the box art made him look like a barista stooge, but love Valve's other games and want to check out the legendary classic that started it all. Then, you also have the true-blue fans of the original, the generation that cut their teeth on Half-Life and remember it as a wonderful and mind expanding experience who would love to recapture the joy of those heady days. I'm in the slightly uncomfortable position of telling both of those camps that they can probably take a pass on Black Mesa, even though I truly respect the work that the Crowbar Collective team has done with it. If you want to play a great Half-Life game that has aged fairly well, Half-Life 2 and its accompanying chapters are fantastic and Valve practically gives them out every Steam sale. Those games have all the best parts of the original Half-Life, while cutting out most of the chaff that bogs it down. If you didn't play Half-Life back in the day, I can't really imagine someone enjoying it as a game. Maybe as an academic curiosity, but not as a play experience. If you absolutely loved the original, you may very well find something worthwhile in Black Mesa. It really is the singular best way to play Half-Life. That said, you could also find something you don't like. A terrible truth, an awful secret, the knowledge that one of your favorite games is actually kind of a pain in the ass to play. It might be best to leave those pleasant memories as they are. There is still more Black Mesa to come; the game is in early access and right now the story concludes on a cliffhanger right before the Xen levels, where Freeman is thrust into an alien world of annoying platform jumping and floating alien bastards. The Crowbar Collective is actively working on that final chapter and plans to include it in the full release. Considering that even the most stalwart fans of the original generally concede that “the game was perfect (except for the Xen levels)” I don't think those last levels will really swing my personal opinion on the game. I will say this though, I can't wait for whatever the Crowbar Collective does next.
Black Mesa photo
Half as good as you remember
Half-Life was like a magic trick. It was a game you could show to people who weren't gamers and they'd get into it, a gateway drug. A real game (not some glorified puzzle book like Myst) that had the cinematic flair and prese...

Podtoid 294: Croatian Vacation

May 10 // Kyle MacGregor
New Podcast photo
Također, pijetlovi!
This week's installment of Podtoid, Destructoid's fast food podcast, is here and ready to captivate your soul. In addition to your weekly update on all things Taco Bell, the cast (Steven, Brett, Laura, and Kyle) discuss Proje...

Experience Points .13: Animal Crossing

May 09 // Ben Davis
The mouse next door Animal Crossing is all about the villagers. Whenever I start a new town, I pray I'll get at least a couple cool neighbors. I usually try to pester or ignore the less desirable ones until they eventually move out to be replaced by someone better. And when an awesome neighbor finally moves in near me, I make a point of hanging out with them every day, hoping they'll be my best friend. There are a ton of animal villagers I really like, but I think my favorite will always be my first friendly villager, Samson the mouse. Samson lived in the acre right below me in my very first town. He has the sporty personality, so he's constantly talking about lifting weights and keeping active, with a very optimistic and happy attitude. I used to visit his fruit-themed house every evening before bed, listening to him brag about how many push-ups he could do and asking if there were any errands I could run for him. I was always glad to see him walking around town. Then I tried visiting my friend's town one day, and a while later I noticed that Samson had moved. He'd left to go live in my friend's town, and I was super bummed. It always seems to happen to the villagers I like the most, while the ones I don't particularly care for seem to stick around forever. Luckily, I've had plenty of other cool neighbors to keep me company ever since Samson left, like Punchy, Apollo, Puck, Leopold, Lobo, and Octavian. I never managed to get Bob in any of my towns, though. Bob is the best. A blast from the past The GameCube version of Animal Crossing was the only one to get NES games as items (at least in the US), which is a shame because it was one of my favorite things about the original game. The NES titles are furniture items which can be placed in players' houses. Interacting with them while they're on display will allow the game to be played. And not just a demo of the game. The entire thing was playable! NES games were particularly hard to come by, usually only found in Tom Nook's lottery at the end of the month, or in Crazy Redd's black market tent. There are 19 in total that can be obtained, although some of them can only be found through cheat codes. I only owned a few of these games growing up (Excitebike, Super Mario Bros., Punch-Out!!, and Legend of Zelda), so the rest of them were completely new to me. I spent a ton of time playing all of the NES games, which I collected and displayed in my basement. I probably spent the most time playing Balloon Fight, Clu Clu Land, and Ice Climber, since those titles were very unfamiliar to me, and also Pinball, which was strangely addictive. It was crazy that they included so many, though. Animal Crossing was essentially twenty different games in one package. It just took a bit of work to find them all. Gone fishin' If you know me at all, you know that I love the ocean and everything in it. So it should come as no surprise that my favorite activity in Animal Crossing is fishing, of course! Fishing in Animal Crossing is pretty simple, compared to most fishing in videogames. The player only needs to line the lure up with the fish's face, wait for it to bite, then hit A and voila! The fish is caught! No need to worry about reeling anything in or having the line break. It's all about careful aim and a bit of patience. It's also probably the quickest way to make money, so I often found myself fishing out of necessity to pay off my debts, but still had fun doing it. I love how specific the game gets with the various types of fish, too. All of the fish featured in Animal Crossing can be found in the real world. There's normal fish that everyone has heard of, like goldfish, piranha, and catfish, and also some really exotic ones that only ichthyologists would know about, including arowana, arapaima, and coelacanth. I actually learned a lot about real-life fish and bugs just from playing Animal Crossing! Oh, and the player character likes to come up with the most awful puns for everything they catch. So there's always that to look forward to while waiting for a fish to bite! The cat without a face There are tons of animal characters to encounter, aside from just the villagers living in town. Special characters will occasionally stop by for a visit, depending on the time, the date, or other circumstances. There's a giraffe fashionista, a wandering walrus, a carpet-dealing camel, an accident-prone seagull, and more. One such character is Blanca, who will sometimes appear on the train when a player goes to visit another town. Blanca is a white cat with a blank expression, and I mean that in the most literal sense. She does not have a face. It's actually kind of horrific when you think about it. I mean, how is she even talking to me? How does she eat? How does she breathe?! After a rather unsettling conversation (apparently she washed her face off?), she asks the player to draw her a new face. A menu pops up, similar to the menu for designing clothing at the Able Sisters' shop, allowing the player to draw whatever they want on Blanca's head. Players can make her look as beautiful or as scary as possible. And I'm sure there are plenty of people who drew immature things for a laugh, like drawing on a roommate's face with a marker after they've passed out. Later, she can be found walking around town with her freshly designed face. Even though I usually tried to give her normal features, they often still looked rather strange and stretched out. Poor Blanca! Her appearance is forever at the mercy of others, and other people can be pretty cruel. At least she provides a fun little mini-game, and the results are almost always amusing. Canine in concert Everybody loves K.K. Slider, right? He's the hip hound that stops by the train station on Saturday nights to play live music. He basically makes Saturday the most exciting day of the week. I always made it a point to play the game every weekend around 8pm to see him. K.K. will play just about any style of music imaginable, from rock 'n' roll, to country, to reggae. He'll take specific requests, or just play whatever, and after a concert he'll give the player an air check so they can listen to his music at home. Obviously, I had to collect them all. There's a ton of K.K. songs that I enjoy, but the songs I had playing most often on the stereo were K.K. Cruisin', Go K.K. Rider!, and K.K. Ballad. Of course, I'm sure everyone else has their own favorites. You really can't go wrong with a K.K. song. Well, except for maybe K.K. Dirge... that music makes my skin crawl. Between K.K. Slider's tunes and the ambient music that changes depending on the time of day, Animal Crossing has one of the most unique applications of a soundtrack I've seen. Certain songs will always scream "Animal Crossing!" to me more than others, just because of how and when I played. For me, it's all about the 8pm music and K.K. Cruisin', but other players could have an entirely different opinion. Happy holidays Animal Crossing handles time mechanics in a rather remarkable way. Not only is there a day and night cycle, but even the seasons change in real time. Different seasons bring different weather, different events, and different animals into the game. Playing during winter almost feels like an entirely new experience after playing during the autumn months for so long. And as if that wasn't enough, Animal Crossing even has several in-game holidays which correspond with actual holidays in the real world. That means if the player starts their game on October 31, for example, the villagers will be celebrating Halloween, running around dressed as Jack-o'-Lanterns, asking for candy, and handing out prizes. The holiday events were always entertaining. The fireworks displays on New Year's Eve and July 4 are really pretty and fun to watch from the pond. During the Harvest Festival, players have to save a frightened turkey from becoming a feast. A reindeer comes to visit on Toy Day, handing out toys to the player when he's found. On Groundhog Day, the resident mole -- I mean, "groundhog" -- makes an appearance to predict the upcoming weather. They even celebrate the player's birthday, which the other villagers will sometimes ask about in order to get the date right. All of these time-sensitive events are a great way to keep players thinking about the game even after they've stopped playing for a while. Once Christmas season began, I found myself wondering what kinds of events might be happening in the world of Animal Crossing, and planning a time when I could jump into the game and explore. And when spring rolled around, I felt compelled to visit the game again just to find all of the new fish and insects the warmer weather attracted, and to see if anything changed around town. I had Animal Crossing on the mind all year round! Waiting 'til the end of time Time doesn't stand still in the world of Animal Crossing, even when it's no longer being played. If a player boots up the game after a year-long hiatus, they'll notice that the town has changed a lot since they last played. It will become overrun with weeds, houses will become infested with cockroaches, mailboxes will be overflowing. It's a huge mess to deal to with. And yet, the villagers that still haven't moved away have not forgotten about their human friend. In fact, they've been counting the months since they last spoke with the player. Even if it's been several years, they still count the months. Every single month, waiting, hoping, feeling sad and abandoned, refusing to pull their weight and CLEAN UP THE DANG TOWN THAT THEY LIVE IN, LIKE I'M THE ONLY ONE-- ahem. Got a bit carried away there. I apologize. I always thought it was really crazy that the game carries on without me even when I'm not playing. It makes me wonder what's going on in all the different towns I've created over the years, hiding away in various memory cards. Are my favorite villagers still there waiting for me? Or have they moved on to a new home after feeling neglected? Maybe I'll pop into the game again someday and find out. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes.07: Paper Mario.08: Persona 4.09: Final Fantasy IX.10: Mega Man Legends.11: Rayman Origins.12: Metal Slug 3  
Animal Crossing photo
So, you've decided to move out?
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Review: Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters

May 09 // Brittany Vincent
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters (PS3, Vita [reviewed])Developer: Toybox Inc. Publisher: Aksys GamesReleased: March 10, 2015 MSRP: $39.99 You're the newest transfer student to have enrolled at Kurenai Academy, and as such the game wastes no time in getting you to provide your own personal information to give you the impression that the protagonist is little more than an imprint of you. From your height to your blood type, it's all about fitting yourself into the player character, which ties into a decidedly different yet very refreshing branching dialogue system upon which a good portion of the game is built upon. I'll get to that later, but know that after you've customized your character properly, you're embarking on a brand new career with a high school ghost-hunting establishment. After meeting up with a shy young woman named Sayuri Mifune and nondescript male student Masamune Shiga, you're quickly whisked away to join the Gate Keepers, or Kurenai Academy's version of, for all intents and purposes, a ghost-hunting club for after-school mischief. The Gate Keepers meet in a stereotypically crowded club area daily to take on new clients, all of whom are being haunted in some way by wayward spirits who haven't yet passed over to the other side. When you take on a new client, it's as if you're starting a new episode of an anime series, complete with its own opening credits and ending, which ends up lending a refreshing lilt to content that may otherwise feel alien in the visual novel-laden segments of the game. You and your teammates tackle each assignment by delving into dungeon-styled arenas that conjure images of the classic Shin Megami Tensei games, where you're essentially playing a modified strategic grid-based game of Go or Chess. After choosing the gear you'll need to ward off specific ghosts (salt for keeping ghosts at bay and other equipment) you and your team are thrown into a grueling game of remote ghostbusting. Each chapter prefaces the capture of the ghost of the moment (think "magical girl" anime "demon of the week" format) with bit of story told in the typical static background, slightly animated character, and accompanying text style of visual novels. The characters themselves are given gorgeous, beautifully-detailed portraits that swap as they speak, despite how dry the script can be, and their accompanying environments are great-looking as well. These segments take up a bulk of the game aside from "dungeon' exploration, though I didn't have enough for my tastes, especially given the wheel that allows you to interact with other NPCs. It pops up seemingly at random when you're engaged in conversation with others, and contains two different tiers of options to select in order to respond to others. You can choose from a happy face, sad face, confused face, handshake, and an angry face. It's easy enough to decipher -- this denotes the type of response you're going to give on an emotional level. The second wheel corresponds to each of the five senses: eyes, nose, ears, hands, and mouth and the senses they represent, obviously. The game doesn't do an excellent job of communicating to you what these wheels do, but it's fairly simple to figure out. Where the game missteps is by serving up options and actions that don't always correlate with the emotion you want. For instance, if you wanted to be friendly you might choose a loving face and a hand to touch someone, right? The game might not see it that way. It may instead spawn a completely opposite reaction, which can alter your interactions with other characters in a very frustrating way. Perhaps I was going about it incorrectly, but after consulting the official video from Aksys Games that talked about it in length and referencing the manual, which did little to explain it, I realized I just needed to go with it. So I did, resulting in my character becoming some sort of bizarre lecher who used his tongue way more than I feel like he should have. Luckily, there's a diverse and interesting cast of characters to spend time with, and much like the Persona series, each have their own strange little quirks. So you won't have to feel so out of place when you use your hands or eyes in situations where you really shouldn't. The bulk of the game, however, isn't driven by emotion or intent. It's a cold, calculating exercise that's both vexing and challenging at the same time. For each ghost you're setting out to catch, you're given a stipend for supplies, which you'll purchase and set up before each episode. There's a chess-like board upon which you'll set up moves to attack and change positions, though all of the avatars on the board (viewed isometrically) will move at the same time. Most of the time, you'll have no idea where the ghost is, so as the timer ticks down to nothing, you're constantly forced to think about how to best push the ghost to you. Do you put down salt to ensure the ghost can't escape a certain area? Do you push all of your teammate to corner it? What happens when you finally corner the ghost? You get a good look at the ghost of course, as the action switches to first-person a la Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers or games of that ilk, and you see your party landing hits and doing damage. Defeating the bigger boss ghost of each episode wraps up the chapter, and it's done, done, onto the next one from there. It sounds very simple on paper, but it's likely you won't immediately understand any of this. There's a tutorial section at the beginning of the dungeon sections that you can turn to, but after that you're basically thrown to the wolves. I had to spend hours perfecting the system, and even after putting weeks into the game I'm still a little rusty. I learned the ins and outs and peculiarities of the system, but I still feel as though I could have done better. The game should have taken more pains to explain itself, especially since it's such an alternative style of play. But that's what makes Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters so entertaining. It won't hold your hand or force you through a million tutorials. There's a hint of unpredictability that you just don't get from most games anymore, even the niche titles, and that's the main reason I pressed on even when I got frustrated. That's also one of the reasons you'll be spending plenty of time with the game, aside from the fact that there are several side missions, a board game in the hub area, and other surprises to engage you. There aren't as many secret weapons or awesome-looking ghostbusting tools as I would have hoped for, but such is life. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is certainly one of the most unique titles the Vita has seen or will see by far, and while it can take an astronomical amount of getting used to, it's absolutely worth investing time in. What other game is going to let you bite someone's nose in error when you meant to make a friendly gesture? I rest my case.
Tokyo Twilight photo
More Vita goodness
Whenever the Vita's library expands, I always get unreasonably excited. Double excited if there's a new IP to add to the fold, because I'm seeing a lot of sequels these days. That's why I was ecstatic to hear that Toybox Game...

Review: Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed

May 08 // Chris Carter
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed (PS TV, Vita [reviewed])Developer: TamsoftPublisher: Compile Heart (JP) / Idea Factory International (EU, US)Released: August 28, 2014 (JP) / May 19, 2015 (US) / May 22, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Once again we are whisked away to the parody-filled world of Gamindustri, where the main characters of Neptunia will get into all sorts of wacky antics. Since this isn't a typical RPG, the story is tangential to all of the killing you're going to be doing. You're free to bypass part or all of the story with very easy to enact button presses, skipping ahead to dungeons and gear management at will. The dialog is cute and the voice acting is presentable, but the silly nature of the plot almost always circles around the same feud of "who is the best CPU or journalist in the Gamindustri," and it ends up getting old after a few hours or so. The action of course, is the highlight. Neptunia U's engine looks incredible, especially on the Vita's OLED screen, and more importantly, the framerate and camera are top notch. I simply adore the cel-shaded style. Everything on-screen looks wonderfully detailed, whether it's a faraway landscape or an up-close shot of a character. Each combatant has access to strong or weak attacks, which function just like the Dynasty Warriors series with simplistic combos that trigger new abilities. Characters can also double-jump, dash, and call forth stronger powers (limited by a mana gauge), as well as transform and unleash mega attacks. There's plenty of options like camera tweaking and display settings to ease the clutter of the UI, and a toggle for Japanese or English voice acting is the cherry on top. [embed]291761:58476:0[/embed] For a hack-and-slash the combat is surprisingly deep, even if you won't have to use half of its tricks to best the AI on the standard difficulty setting. Action Unleashed also has a costume break mechanic, where if you use too many strong attacks or get hit too often, some clothing will tear off. Yep, some characters will occasionally bare their underwear, so if you mind that sort of thing, you probably shouldn't play it. What this boils down to is the realization that Action Unleashed is a magical girl Dynasty Warriors, which I am totally ok with. Uni is a personal favorite of mine, as her main gimmick is a rapid-fire rifle that offers up some melee attacks, often melded in the same combo. All 10 playable characters (including series newcomers Dengekiko and Famitsu, based on the popular Japanese culture and gaming outlets) have their own signature style and are fun to play in their own right. There is a snag in terms of pacing, though. Early on, enemies don't put up enough of a fight to put your skills to the test. While their models are great (aping tropes like Dragon Quest's slimes or Pac-Man's ghosts), most of the foes you'll face in the first few hours are cannon fodder, and it isn't until you reach the boss fight in a particular dungeon that you'll really have any sort of a challenge to square off against. Additionally, it must be said that while the mechanics do match up to the Warriors series, the actual flow of a level feels more confined, akin to the Senran Kagura games. Instead of sprawling battlefields with multiple objectives to worry about simultaneously, Action Unleashed's dungeons are linear by comparison. It's a lot less focused on exploration and more-so on constant fights, with a hefty amount of gates -- some levels are just sole rooms with dedicated arena battles. Despite this, it's still a lot of fun to blast everything in sight and try out new styles of play. Once you clear the first few missions and the game opens up, there's a lot more to do in general to keep you interested. You can opt to watch additional scenarios and hang out with the cast of the game to unlock extra scenes, fool around with your current loot and try out new gear combinations, or adjust your bonus abilities, unlocked by killing a certain amount of each enemy type. Neptunia U is ultimately built on replay value, counting on players to repeat missions for better scores, gear, and the goal of reaching max level with all characters. There's also a new difficulty and extra arena mode unlocked after completing the game. Maybe it's just me, but the videogame industry parody theme that the Neptunia series is going for fits with a faster-paced environment -- especially when a better developer is involved. As long as you can deal with a little skin and a silly plotline, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is a fun little action romp.
Neptunia U review photo
Compile Heart didn't develop this
Over the years, I've developed a cautionary approach to Compile Heart projects. As a fan of Eastern games in general I'm always receptive to the idea of them, but as a development studio, they don't always follow through as w...

Review: Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character

May 08 // Chris Carter
Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character (PC)Developer: Team Shanghai AlicePublisher: Team Shanghai Alice (JP) / Playism (US)Released: August 12, 2013 (JP) / May 7, 2015 (US)MSRP: $14.99 There's no Texas two-steppin' around it -- the "Western" release is not a good port. There's very little effort put forth at all, mostly due to the fact that it's relatively untouched from the Japanese version, and it's not translated -- at all. Double Dealing Character's menus were already in English, but extra details and bits of the story are all in Japanese, so you'll have to manually update it with an outside fan patch. When Playism announced that it was "bringing Touhou to the West," I assumed it would be a little more than "we made it slightly easier to buy the original Japanese game." Whether this is Playism's doing or Team Shanghai Alice's request, the result is the same.   The actual game, thankfully, is very good, and I must stress though that with the English menus, it is entirely playable. If you haven't experienced a danmaku (also known as bullet hell or curtain fire) game before, the concept is pretty easy to grasp. Tons of bullets will litter the screen at all times (like a curtain), and it's your job to maneuver around various patterns while firing back at your opponents. As is the case with most Touhou games, Double Dealing Character features a standard shot button in addition to one for specials, and a "slow" ability, which I'll explain in a moment. Where the Touhou team excels is in the presentation of it all. The bullet patterns are varied and constantly keep you on your toes, but they're also coupled with a charming art style and catchy music. Double Dealing Character is no exception. It would be fun to read the various story bits that pop up during boss fights and between levels, but again, you'll need a fan patch for that. Not being able to understand it all doesn't fundamentally ruin the game, but Touhou fans are big on their lore for a reason -- it gives context to the proceedings, and elevates the experience significantly. [embed]291754:58465:0[/embed] You'll have access to three characters, all of which have two different variations in tow. Each "ship" (in this case, a magical girl) has a different rate of fire or type of shot, such as a straight bullet or a spread. Specials add even more variety, like one character who uses a giant broom melee attack, or another who fires a deadly void bomb that slowly creeps up the screen. This is where the lack of a translation comes into play again -- you'll have to experiment with each variant since you can't read what they do on the select screen. Now, about that "slow" function I mentioned earlier -- it's another Touhou staple that spices things up a bit. At any time you can hold a button to make your character's flight more precise, which not only shows your hitbox (a blinking light that displays where bullets can damage you), but changes up your shot type as well. Personally, I always map it to the left trigger, so I can comfortably switch in and out of it at will, and it works like a charm. Thankfully there is plug and play controller support, and it's easy to customize your buttons. Like most shoot-'em-ups, Double Dealing Character will last you roughly an hour your first time around, with six stages and an additional EX level. There's also a few extras like a practice mode, music player, and some secrets that you'll definitely need a guide or translation for. Playism may have made it easier to buy into Touhou, but the actual result isn't anything better than just purchasing the game anywhere else. It you're a shoot-'em-up fan and haven't touched the franchise yet, you owe it to yourself to play at least one game in the series -- so why not start here? [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Touhou review photo
Bad port, great shooter
As I've said in the past, I consider myself lucky when it comes to meeting fellow gamers over the years that have had a positive impact on my life. I was fortunate enough to discover the Touhou series back in 2002 at the...







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