I've always enjoyed the simple Naruto games on the Nintendo DS. They were simple 2D sidescrollers with elements of a fighting game, along with a wide cast of supporting characters to play as. Unfortunately, Naruto Shippuden 3D: The New Era is nowhere near as fun to play as the older DS games. My first gripe is the story. It's one of those games based on an anime series which creates its own story arc on a quality par level with a filler season. It's based around the idea that all the Kages of the villages have cancelled their anti-war treaties and Naruto has to travel the Ninja world to find out why. It's a pretty simple story which features, as the main villain, a character who has never been seen in a Naruto story before, and is not memorable enough to be featured again unless a direct sequel to this game is released.
Next up, the gameplay & graphics. It's a simple 2.5D Side-scroller with unnecessary 3D projections on the top screen. The gameplay is simple. Run with the circle pad, defeat enemies wit the X button and jump with the B button. Levels are simple to complete, sometimes featuring Quick Time Events, requiring the 3DS to be shaken in one direction or another using a feature which I still don't understand the reasoning behind including on a device which goes out of focus the minute you move it a half millimeter in any direction. The levels progress quickly and are easily beaten as long as you don't fail at the badly-designed platforming sections which feature multiple enemies who you cannot attack firing projectliles at you. But once you've completed your level in a few minutes, you reach a boss battles. The bosses in this game are basically damage sponges. They can take almost anything you throw at them. Normal punches, nope doesn't do much. Special Attack, again doesn't seem to be doing much damage. Super Special Attack - the one that clears out entire areas of the main level with one use, about 1% of the overall health bar. Did I mention that those last two types of attack are severely limited in number of uses and that any attack the boss character uses on you takes about a sixth of your health bar away? No? Well it does! Meaning that bosses usually take many multiple attempts until you find the succesful formula for each boss.
The combat also feels very simple when you're playing. It is literally the case that you get close to an enemy and then repeatedly tap X until the enemy flashes and fades from the level, meaning you have defeated them. Occasionally a more interesting enemy will come along which requires the use of combos, through pressing X and using a Special Jutsu Attack.
The graphics, admittedly, are nice. Definitely nicer than the previous outings on the DS, but occasionally they can appear a little jagged or rough around the edges, especially if you don't have the 3D turned on all the way. Although I really can't complain about the graphics. They're nice & quite pretty, like most 3DS games.
Then there is the soundtrack used in the game. It takes familiar tracks from the anime, mostly the generic battle music and themes of the various Kages/Villages, but it's still nice to listen to while you play.
The game also makes use of the 3DS' AR camera function, but I can't comment on this as I haven't located any "Sharingan Codes" in the real world. Perhaps because I'm in England? I don't know...
Furthermore, the game features 28 unlockable characters or alternative forms of existing characters. They include several different forms of Naruto, such as his tailed & sage modes, Sasuke, Sakura, Karin, Kakashi, Gaara along with all the other current Kages & several others! So if you're a fan of Naruto, then you're likely to find one of your favourite characters on the list of unlockables. However, each of the characters is the same to play but with different animations, wit te exception of the Double Toads, who play in a sort of tag team aspect.
Overall, the game is quite nice if you're a Naruto fan, but I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to pick this up,, aprticularly with the likes of Mario Land 3D, Mario Kart 7, Sonic Generations and other great-looking games finally being released for the 3DS system.
+ Nice graphics
+ Decent range of characters to choose from
+ Makes use of the 3DS' Motion sensor
+ Simple, easy to learn controls
+ Enjoyable music from the anime series
- Boring story
- Easy levels
- Stupidly hard boss battles
- Makes use of the 3DS' Motion sensor, therefore ruining the 3D effect when used
- Characters feel as though they are Naruto with a different skin
So as I'm sure many of you know, Batman Arkham City was released last week to (mostly) rave reviews. Naturally, after my supreme enjoyment of Arkham Asylum I was hoping this game would live up to it's position as the successor to the greates Superhero game ever created. But how does it do?
Well, the campaign instantly throws you into the action no matter which way you decide to play. If you enter your Catwoman Pass code first, the campaign begins with a short cutscene followed by a fight scene in which you control Catwoman, stealing a memory card from Harvey Dent's men. Whereas, if you do not enter the Catwoman code, the game skips to the scene after the Catwoman sequence and begins with Vicki Vale reporting live from Bruce Wayne's anti-Arkham press conference, at which Hugo Strange's guards descend to arrest Bruce. While there is no denying that these two sequences are both action-packed, it seems as though a vital element has been missed. Why the hell is Bruce being arrested? It is soon established that Hugo Strange knows that Bruce is Batman, but this isn't reason enough to arrest Bruce whilst he is simply campaigning against the Arkham City facility. This plot point aside, you are soon inside Arkham City, but not wearing the famous Cape & Cowl. In this fairly short sequence you encounter Hugo Strange, Black Mask being beaten up by TYGER guards, Deadshot telling Bruce that he is "on my list" and finally Jack Ryder, a Political Prisoner in Arkham City. Here is your first fight sequence as Bruce, although your moves are severely restricted as you're still stuck in cuffs. Once you complete this sequence through a series of well-timed counters, Penguin arrives and commences his beating of Bruce. However you soon escape him through more well-timed counters and climb to the roof of the building, where you call Alfred and request the Batsuit be dropped off on the building of ACE Chemicals. (The first of many gorgeous throwbacks to fans throughout the game, ACE Chemicals is the location of Joker's creation according to Moore's The Killing Joke.) Now follows a lovely little platforming section as Bruce climbs to the rof of ACE Chemicals, just as the Batwing drops off a pod containing the Batsuit & Batgadgets. And this is where the fun of the campaign really begins!
As you get out the Cryptographic Sequencer, a gadget that will be familiar to players of Arkham Asylum, you hack into the TYGER Helicopter's communication networks, allowing you to hear Hugo's plans and orders for his own personal army. While this point sounds interesting, it is only utilised a few times throughout the game, in much the same way Hugo & the TYGERs themselves are, but I'll come to that in a moment. You overhear a transmission informing you that Catwoman is being held as a prisoner of Harvey Dent (Two-Face) in the courthouse, and Batman decides that if "anyone knows what's really going on in Arkham City, it's her". And off you go to rescue her from Two-Face, gliding and grappling your way across the Gotham rooftops. And this shows the game's really impressive feature - the city is beautiful! An almost completely open world, full of nods to fans & plenty of Riddler challenges to complete, with green glowing question marks visible all around! This is probably my second biggest piece of praise about this game, I'll come to my biggest one later.
Once you have saved Catwoman, as you undoubtedly would (You are the godamn Batman after all), you save Catwoman from a hole in the head at the hands of our dear old pal Joker. And this is where the really interesting story of the game begins. Joker. Without a doubt, no matter how many villains are in this game, he steals the show yet again! His storyline throughout the game is interwoven with Batman's journey in such a beautiful way. It really is a triumph and shows off how brilliant Paul Dini's writing really is! Even after Hugo Strange has been defeated, the final boss battle comes out of the Joker storyline, with a surprising twist which, while some may be able to work out, will surprise most people in some way when they reach that stage in the game.
But if the Joker story is so good, what of all the other countless villains in the game? This is an issue with Arkham City. Surely having so many villains won't provide enough time to give all of them a decent amount of characterisation as well as an idea of their motives, right? Absolutely correct. The game does a really good job with Joker, Harley Quinn, Penguin, Mr Freeze, Hush and Riddler, but it leaves Two-Face, Zsasz, Bane, Deadshot, Calendar Man, Solomon Grundy & Poison Ivy as either dramatically underused or not fully characterised, with the sense that they are simply there to give the game some depth. There are also two villaisn who are perfectly well characterised but underused in the extreme. Mad Hatter & Hugo Strange. Mad Hatter has a single side mission to his name, which is a fun beat-em-up sequence set on a falling stopwatch in a dream world inspired by Alive in Wonderland.
But Hugo Strange is a weird one. Throughout all the trailers & promotion his story has been built up to make him appear as the main villain of the game, wanting to tease and push Batman until Bats snaps, but Hugo is tragically underused. He is a threat constantly throughout the game until he is defeated in a frigging cutscene. You don't even get to physically fight him in any way, be it a puzzle or a fist fight. And whilst there are other villains in the game, but their appearances are so enjoyable and surprising that I don't want to spoil them here.
Arkham City isn't just a campaign mode though. Once you complete the story mode and all the side missions & Catwoman missions, there is still Riddler's Revenge to complete. A twist on the challenge maps or Arkham Asylum with the idea being that each map is Riddler putting you through your paces. This mode can be played as Batman by any owner of the game, Catwoman if you enter her code or buy her pass, Robin or Nightwing if you purchase the DLC pack relevant to the character.
Furthermore, there is a New Game+ mode which allows you to tackle the story mode again but with all your gadgets and upgrades from your initial playthrough of the game intact, meaning that replayability is obviously intended to be a feature of this game!
+ 12 Hour Campaign with even more hours of Side Missions
+ Beautifully well-written, coherent storyline incorporating many villains
+ Gorgeous design and rendering of the city itself
+ The Identity Thief Side Mission; a joy to be doing proper detective work as Batman!
+ Plenty of nods to Batman lore throughout the City (ACE Chemicals, Monarch Theater, Crime Alley, etc.)
- Several villains seem to be there for no apparent reason, particularly Hugo Strange
- Catwoman campaign content requires an Online Pass
- Several villains criminally underused in the story and/or side missions
After thinking long and hard about where I should pre-order Batman: Arkham City from, I realised that with most games I would have placed a pre-order with Amazon and not given it a second thought until release week. But with Arkham City I had to consider all the available bonuses. I could get it from Gamestop and get a downloadable Batman Beyond skin. Or from HMV with a T-Shirt. Or I could get it from Amazon with a steelbook case, or TESCO with a steelbook case AND an extra downloadable map, or GAME/Gamestation with a whole bundle of Character content! And I started wondering; how does it change the way we purchase games when all sorts of different pre-order incentives are offered to us?
I remember back when I was but a pre-teen with a Gameboy colour and I always bought my games from Woolworths or a local retailer. There were no incentives back then, everyone simply purchased from the store that they chose to be loyal to without taking what extra skin or map they might be getting out of it. Nowadays, such loyalty does not exist in gaming and the most recent game to demonstrate this is Arkham City. I know several American gamers who have generally remained loyal to Gamestop for pre-ordering games, however Arkham City caused them to flock to Best Buy, simply because the Best Buy Robin incentive itself was of such greater playability value than the Gamestop Carnival Map incentive that it warranted the change, in their opinion. But is this wrong? Waiting to pre-order a game that you desperately want in fear that the place you pre-order from might be the WRONG place to go to for the game? Far too many publishers are going down the route of store exclusive incentives and I, personally, conisder it to be the wrong way for the publishers to go about it. If a publisher wants increased pre-order numbers for a game, offer a pre-order incentive which applies to all stores selling the game, similar to the Sgt Johnson incentive from ODST back in 2009.
But this idea of one unified incentive for every store still leaves out independent retailers. Those small game stores that are all but dying out here in England, simply through lack of interest and being unable to compete with the likes of GAME & Gamestop. These independent stores rarely get any love from publishers when it comes to pre-order incentives, which makes me wonder whether pre-order incentives should exist at all. If publishers insist on handing out extra content to those purchasing on release, stick a code for a downloadable skin or something in the first shipment of every copy of the game allowing every retailer to offer it.
However, even if this was adopted as the mass formula for pre-order incentives, would it be enough? Warner Bros. Publishing are offering the Arkham City pre-order incentives as early access material, with them being made available at a later date as paid DLC for all consumers. Surely this would be a much better way to approach the format? Going back to the Sgt. Johnson incentive for example - it was purely available for pre-orders and early purchasers, not being made available to everyone at a later date, meaning that many gamers who were avid fans of the Halo franchise missed out on him as a playable character simply because they could not afford the game when it was released, which is a real shame, particularly if that consumer has been consistently loyal to the franchise. This argument could continue to say that pre-order incentives are simply items cut from the disc to sell at a later date or make available as an "incentive", but I'm not trying to make that argument today.
What is your opinion? Are pre-order incentives changing the way we purchase video games and destroying the idea of loyalty from a consumer to a store?
P.S. I pre-ordered Arkham City from GAME and got the Robin content pack, just in case anyone gave a crap!
Ok. I'm going to start by saying that I have not played all the way through either of the first 2 Gears of War games, but all the hype that surrounded Gears of War 3 prompted me to rent it for the sole purpose of a campaign run-through. Furthermore, this review may edge slightly into spoiler territory, but I'll try and keep them to an absolute minimum. I decided I was going to play the campaign on normal since I only had the game for the weekend and I got stuck in first thing Saturday morning. The first thing to say is that the game gives you the option to watch a short cinematic which features the COG soldier Anya explaining the main events of the first two Gears games before you start campaign, meaning that Gears newbies like myself can play the campaign without worrying if prior knowledge is required. The first good thing about this campaign is that it puts you straight into action as Lambent stalks, the spawn of the stalks & Polyps attack the Sovereign. This first act leads up to a revelation regarding Marcus' father, Adam Fenix. Namely that he is still alive. However, before anything more can be discovered abotu Adam, in truly perfect dramatic style, a Lambent Leviathan attacks the Sovereign. This leads to the first major boss fight of the game, which is surprisingly good. As this section of the story concludes, we are introduced to the second squad of COG Soldiers who are scavaging for food and their gameplay takes up the rest of the first act.
I shan't go into greater detail about the story elements because it is really an incredibly compelling & sometimes poignant story penned by Karen Traviss.
However, it is not perfect. There are problems with it, mainly that it begins to feel slightly rushed come the fourth and fifth acts, but other than that I would recommend the game to fans of a solid single-player experience.