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Gen Eric Gui
5:27 PM on 11.09.2008

As I said in my Legend of Kage 2 review, I'm really growing to like Taito. They know what they do well and they just do it. The results may not be the most original games, or even the most impressive, but they're solid and fun and that's all that matters.

Real men wear scarves and hats.

The first thing I want to point out is that this is NOT a port of the original Exit on the PSP or 360 Arcade, as many reviews and previews have been claiming. This is an entirely new game(it MIGHT be a port of the Japan-only Exit 2, but I can't prove or disprove that notion since I haven't played it). In fact, there are several additions that should have made it abundantly clear that this wasn't a port, the most glaring of which being the inclusion of an entirely new type of evacuee(the dog).

In Exit, you play as the cat-loving and coffee-drinking Mr. ESC, a professional escape artist who goes to various disaster sites world-wide to help people in need...for a price. Mr. ESC lends his skills to anyone that pays and he does not judge the people he helps, although he has been known to help people free of charge when he's personally vested in the situation. If you've ever read the manga "Blackjack: Two Fisted Surgeon", you'll know the type.

The gameplay is best described as a puzzle-platformer, not unlike Braid or Lemmings, and is identical to it's predecessor in every way. Each "situation" finds Mr. ESC in a different disaster site (burning building, collapsing tunnel, avalanche, etc) and consists of ten different stages where you must maneuver blocks, items, and traps in such a manner so as to reach the stage's "EXIT" sign with a pack of evacuees in tow. The real strategy comes in having your evacuees help you to solve the various puzzles by using their special abilities in conjunction with your own. It's in understanding how each evacuee operates and how to utilize their abilities in tandem that will allow you and them to escape each level unscathed.

You'll never have to control this many evacuees at once, thankfully.

The presentation is very stylish, and is one of the things that has made the game stand out so much to me. Compared to the original, which was 2.5D, this version is completely sprite-based. The overall effect has actually made the game a little duller(the spritework isn't very well done; everything feels very flat(lolol) and lifeless. It feels like they tried to take the 3D models and crush them into 2D space, and it hasn't been a gentle process.), but in the end it's still a very unique presentation and it still looks good; it'll just be a tad disappointing to anyone who enjoyed the original game on the PSP or 360. As for the music, well, it's largely forgettable, but it's not particularly intrusive which is just as important in a puzzle game. You're here to think and to act, if the music prevented you from doing this there'd be a problem.

To preface each situation, you get a very cool comic book intro to tell you what's going on.

And one thing in particular I feel I need to mention when talking about the presentation is the character profiles, accessed off of the situation select menu. This is a really small addition, and I'd be willing to bet most of the people who played the game never even looked at it, but it adds a touch of flavor to the game that really makes it stand out in my mind. You see, the people Mr. ESC rescues aren't just generic nobodies in need of help, they are people with lives and histories, many of which are highly entertaining and fun. For each person that you rescue over the course of the game, you can read their story in the character profiles. Some notables are the superhero who would help rescue people but he's too afraid to change clothes in public, the old billionaire withering in a hospital and the two young women claiming to be his long-lost daughter so as to claim his inheritance(and his real daughter who took a job at the hospital because she only cares about seeing her father get better), and many, many more. The fact that they took the time to give each and every evacuee their own (sometimes very comical) story is just that extra added bit of flavor that really sells me on this game.

One point of contention I have is that Taito decided that, since this was on the DS, they of course needed to shoehorn in terrible touch controls where they didn't belong. And believe me, the touch controls are ATROCIOUS. For just walking around and pushing blocks, they're serviceable. But the second you try to do anything advanced, like heaven forbid climb down a ledge or maneuver through a pile of blocks, it becomes nearly impossible to get Mr. ESC to do what you want him to do, and in a puzzle/platformer that's unforgivable. Luckily, a standard button control scheme has been included as well, although it still feels a little off and sticky compared to the original game's controls.

Overall, if you like puzzle or action games that make you think a little, and you either already beat the original game or don't have a PSP or 360(And if you own one of those machines and haven't played the original, GET TO IT, BEST GAME EVAR), then I can highly suggest this title to you. It's not nearly as polished as the original was, and the controls aren't as smooth as they could be, it's still a great game that everyone should at least give a shot. Plus it's only $20, so what have you got to lose?

Are "HEAVEN OR HELL" jokes getting old yet? I still like them.

Just don't use the stylus controls. Really. They're just awful. STOP DOING THIS SHIT, DEVELOPERS.
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Taito has been making quite a comeback since Square-Enix bought them up, and I might say it's one of the few good influences S-E has brought to the game world. With recent releases like Exit and the upcoming Exit DS(I've also heard that their Space Invaders and Arkanoid remakes were pretty spiffy) they've really caught my attention, and so I decided to take a gamble and toss a little money their way on their newest release, Legend of Kage 2.

I've only played a few levels, but from what I've seen so far it's a pretty decent oldschool-style platformer. You can choose between titular hero Kage and his stalwart female companion Chihiro as your character, although both seem to go on the exact same quest, and both have access to the exact same powers. Both Kage and Chihiro can run, attack at close range, use a throwing weapon, jump VERY high, and use Ninjutsu spells to attack enemies or power themselves up in various ways. But this is not to say that the characters are completely identical. Kage's long range attack (the shuriken) travels very far and very fast, but does little damage while Chihiro's Fundo attack only travels a few feet in front of her, but deals somewhat more damage and she recovers from it faster. Kage has quite a bit more health than Chihiro, but Chihiro has more magic and is able to use Ninjutsu more often and to greater effect. Thus far, these differences haven't made too much of a difference(For the most part you want to use melee attacks since you don't have to stop running to do them, and magic hasn't played a very large role in the game just yet) but I assume as I advance in the game and the enemies get tougher these differences will begin to stand out more.

An interesting feature in the game is the creation of Ninjutsu. In the beginning of the game you have no spells, and you must complete the first level without any help from Ninjutsu power. However, once you reach the map screen after defeating the first boss, you are able to access the Ninjutsu Creation menu. The touch screen displays a scroll with several blank slots, and special elemental orbs you collect in the stages are displayed at the top. You can place the orbs on the scroll in any fashion you please, and certain combinations of orbs create different spells. By stage 4 I've already created a plethora of different spells, ranging from Power and Defense boosting spells all the way to spells that summon lighting and whirlwinds of fire to attack enemies. And you're allowed to equip as many spells at once as you can fit into the scroll. It's a pretty standard system, but it's implemented in an interesting way that allows you to plan out what skills you bring according to the level and your own personal taste.

Suddenly, Ninjas! Hundreds of them!

As to the meat of the game, it's honestly a pretty standard action platformer. You run and swing your sword and mass murder Ninjas to build up a combo meter for points and you fight a boss at the end of the stage. You can repeat levels to try for higher scores to unlock new skills and artwork in the gallery, or just to try and top your personal record. My only real complaint so far is that the jumping is rather touchy, due to the fact that the characters jump so ludicrously high and at such a high speed that it's often hard to tell where you're going to go, but since the top screen displays the skies above you it's not too big of a bother.

Overall it's a pretty standard game, but it's good and it's fun. And since it only costs $20, that's all you can really ask for. It isn't going to melt your eyeballs with its graphics, and it isn't going to blow your mind with exciting new gameplay, but it's a solid 2D platforming experience, and with the dearth of those lately it's nice to see one that knows exactly what it does well and does it, no strings attached.

Fun fact: This is the only game I can think of in recent memory where the male lead is wearing less clothing than the female. Kage isn't wearing a shirt, let alone much of any armor, but Chihiro is sporting her full ninja gear. This is a strange development in the world of videogames! I uploaded pics of them below.
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I finally got around to downloading the new difficulty modes and the extra Time Attack stage last night, and I have to say I'm very pleased.

The new Time Attack stage is really a step above and beyond the normal stages in the game. Not only are you up against several mini-bosses in addition to two actual bosses, but the stage is quite long, you're on a time limit, and you're not allowed to die. The level is laid out with the same care that the rest of MM9 is dealt, and even to get through it normally(let alone do it quickly) you have to know all the properties of your weaons and use them to their fullest. Ultimately, though, I see no reason as to why this was made into DLC, there's nothing in the level that really screams "this should have been extra content", though at only a $1 it's still a pretty good buy if you like the game's Time Trial element.

(Which I do! My current time is 3:17:71, anyone beat that yet?)

The difficulty modes are another matter, however. These are some of the best DLC I've seen in a game yet. For $1 apiece, you are essentially getting a whole new game. For most games, the developers would have made the enemies do more damage and you do less damage and called it a day. Not Inticreates. Damage levels aren't changed at all, in fact; Megaman takes and deals exactly the same amount of damage he did in the normal game. Instead, MM9's new harder modes change the entire face of the game. While each level is laid out in fundamentally the same manner(ladders, spikes, pits, and (most) platforms are all in the same locations), enemy and trap locations are laid out in drastically different patterns, which cause the player to have to approach each level in a completely different manner than they would normally. The teleporters in Galaxy Man's stage are laid out in crazy patterns, the birds in Concrete Man's stage fly in different patterns and on more screens, Mines are spread more liberally in Splash Woman's stage, and so on and so forth. Both modes are only a single dollar to download, and they will essentially double/triple the size of the normal game. Now THAT is good DLC.

Gen Eric Gui
11:51 PM on 09.28.2008

This review is almost as short as the game, haha! :(

Time Hollow is an adventure/puzzle game in the vein of King's Quest and Monkey Island, except it's much easier, told in first person, spiffed up with anime art and lots of pretty animated cutscenes, and it replaces all the funny with drama llamas.

The game stars Ethan Kairos, a teenager who, on the day before his 17th birthday, sits down to dinner with his folks. As he's eating, he gets a headache and has a flurry of strange flashbacks that are not his own; and when he wakes up, his parents have been dead for years and he's living with his uncle. He later receives a package from his father, sent to him through time and space. It's a device called the Hollow Pen, and it allows those who use it to trade some of their remaining lifetime to "draw" a hole in the space/time continuum, and alter things in the past for better or worse. The point of the game is to gather information about the flashbacks that Ethan has to alter the past in an attempt to help the people around him and eventually bring his parents back into the main flow of time.

Now that I think about it, Time Hole sounds kind of dirty. <3

Now, that all sounds incredibly complex and awesome, but in the end, the game is only slightly above-average. The actual puzzles are incredibly easy to solve, as it's not uncommon for multiple characters to tell you exactly what you need to do to progress. "Oh hey, if only I had done this when I was here, I wouldn't have gotten into this mess! Ethan, did you hear that? Ethan? IF I HADN'T DONE THIS WHEN I WAS HERE, I WOULDN'T HAVE GOTTEN INTO THIS MESS. ETHAN? DID YOU GET ALL THAT? HERE LET ME WRITE IT DOWN FOR YOU IN A MEMO." *Ethan received Problem Memo*

The first of many memos.

Adventure/Puzzle games are all about making the player think in strange ways, and to deduce logically what s/he should do with the information and items that are present. Time Hollow removes this element, almost entirely eliminating the "game" aspect in exchange for having you run errands that the game explicitly dictates to you to continue the story. While this removes a lot of the problems with the time-travel theme mucking up the story, it doesn't make for a very fun game. Rarely will you feel like you really "solved" anything, and isn't that the point of the genre? The game does try to put a little pressure on the player by way of a gauge that ticks down every time you use the Hollow Pen, but you have so many uses per chapter that it's nearly impossible to run out. You can also regenerate the bar by locating Ethan's cat Sox throughout the town, who helpfully finds little green things that fill the bar back up. It's nearly impossible to see the Game Over screen, if there even is one.

The music has a nice jazzy feel to it and is rather catchy, if a little repetitive, and the animation is gorgeous if you like a sort of generic-y anime-style art. There are quite a few animated cutscenes that take place during the game, and they're pretty well utilized for important parts of the story. The cutscenes, as well as many of Ethan's comments through the game, are completely voiced in English, and all the voices are performed admirably, especially given that this is a DS game. Overall, the presentation is really top-notch, AAA+ stuff, and it's really nice to see this amount of effort put into such a niche game.

Overall, although the game sports a very powerful presentation and an interesting concept, ultimately it falls a little short in the "gameplay" part. There was a lot of space for them to have made some really clever puzzles utilizing the Hollow Pen mechanic, but the game seems more interested in telling its story than in providing an interesting gameplay experience. I'd like to tell everyone to go out and buy the game so as to support more titles like this coming out in the US, but with how utterly short the game is, coupled with how incredibly easy and straightforward the entire experience is, I honestly can't suggest it to everybody. If you like adventure games or games with a large focus on the story, it's probably worth checking it out. Everyone else should really wait for a price drop.
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It took me a whole week, but I finally managed to track down a copy of this game.

Turns out it was worth the search.

You don't fuck around with this many enemies.

I went into the game expecting a balls-hard, less-polished version of Metal Slug, and that's exactly what I got. Honestly, I can't find a better way to put it than Nilcam already did about a week ago; it's the slightly homely-looking lovechild of Metal Slug and Gunstar Heroes, so if you've played and liked either game, you'll probably like this one.

You play as a special ops trooper named "Storm" (oh how original) who is sent on all manner of impossible missions, and yet always manages to climb out alive and victorious. Anyway, there's something about a super villain named Rattlesnake who the government thought was dead but he's really not and he's stolen his plans to build a "super weapon made of steel and iron, to bring disaster upon the world" back from the government who kept it in a flimsy, unprotected laboratory (shack) in the middle of nowhere, and you have to stop him. Or something. It's hard to tell because the localization isn't very good, and there's a lack of spaces and a bounty of poor wordings that makes the story hard to follow.

But why are we talking about the story in a Metal Slug clone anyway? If you wanted a story you're doing it wrong.

Who cares about story when you fight bosses like THIS?

The gameplay is pretty much exactly like Metal Slug. Enemies run on-screen, and either slash at you, shoot at you, or try to make you blow up in various ways. Your job is to shoot them and kill them first, while dodging their gunfire and explosions as best you can. You can collect different weapons to help you more effectively wipe goons from the face of the earth, such as heavy machine guns, shockwave cannons, gas canisters, rockets, and so on. As in Metal Slug, you can also lob grenades at foes, which travel in an arc and do lots of damage, but which are severely limited in number. In a spark of barely original thought, the devs included a welcome addition to the basic MS controls in the form of a combat roll, executed by holding down and pressing the jump button. It functions much like the slide in Metal Slug 5, except you are completely immune to enemy bullets (but not explosions) while doing the roll. Several times, even in the first level, this maneuver was all but necessary to Storm's survival.

The biggest difference between Commando and MS is in how the game deals with player lives. In Metal Slug, if you get hit once, you die, period. You have three lives per continue, and you must pay money to continue(Since it was made to be an arcade game.) In Commando, you get one life, and no continues: if you die, it's game over. However, you do get a lifebar. You start each level with 99 health, and can restore it by collecting medpacks scattered throughout the level. You can also pick up armor from crates, which can give you up to 99 extra health over top of your basic HP bar. Enemy attacks do not instantly kill you, but instead just drain some HP. When that runs out, it's time to call the pallbearers and start the level over. So it's still very important to get hit as little as possible; although you can restore health, it's fairly rare and almost never there when you actually need it.

Expect to see those two little zeroes at the top left more often than you'd probably like to.

The game is brutally difficult, like any good MS clone. Despite the various extra combat options that are helpful in keeping you alive, the game compensates for them by throwing even more chaos in your general direction(and considering how much chaos gets onscreen in MS, that's pretty damn crazy.) The game is balls-to-the-wall hard, and wimpy gamers and the faint of heart need not apply.

Overall it's a pretty good game, and considering it only costs $20 I'm inclined to be a little less judgmental on it. It's definitely not as pretty as Metal Slug; the animations are a little stiffer and the characters have a lot less personality. But the gameplay is definitely up to snuff and for what the game costs you can't argue with that.
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Megaman Legends finally gets some love.

I shed a single tear of pure joy when I saw this video. It is...absolutely magnificent. Of all the Megaman games, Legends is pretty much my favorite. It's such an amazing game with incredible gameplay and characters and setting and EVERYTHING.

I...I need new pants.