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Review: Godzilla

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

Review: Rocket League

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

Review: The Fall

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

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

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

Review: Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess

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

Review: Quiplash

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

Review: Nekoburo: Cats Block

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

Review: Skullgirls 2nd Encore

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

Review: Duck Game

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

Review: Spy Chameleon

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

Review: Traverser

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

Review: Spectra

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

Review: Sunset

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

Review: Yoshi's Woolly World

Jul 08 // Laura Kate Dale
Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)Developer: Good-FeelPublisher: NintendoMSRP: $49.99Release Date: June 26 (EU) / October 16 (NA) Sitting at around 10 hours to complete, Yoshi's Woolly World is a delightful journey through a world full of pleasantly enjoyable surprises. Colours are bright, wool textures are detailed, and animations are always fluid. The game's world is polished where it needs to be, but isn't afraid to have the kind of natural rough edges present in a game about thread and sewing materials. From loose threads that unravel when pulled to fabrics that fold in asymmetrical ways, the game world just feels like an incredibly tangible physical space. Woolly World really shines when it takes advantage of the design aesthetic. From Shy Guys brandishing crochet hooks threateningly to fish spitting out water that, thanks to being made of wool, can be run along, the game excels when it fully commits to its core design concept. Mechanically, Woolly World is at its best and most challenging when it pushes Yoshi out of his comfort zone. Yoshi's abilities are all designed to keep him out of harm, from eggs that can dispatch enemies at a distance to a very forgiving and lengthy jump arc. The times when Yoshi's Woolly World forces you to take a leap of faith that pushes that jump to its limits, requires you to fight enemies in close quarters and experiments with the characters weaknesses are some of the best moments of Yoshi gameplay out there. It's just a shame those moments are few and far between. [embed]295585:59414:0[/embed] The vast majority of Yoshi's Woolly World doesn't push the titular hero's moveset in ways that really challenge the player. While levels frequently throw minor new gimmicks in that freshen up the feel of progression, they rarely have any real effect on the challenge of playing the game. It's not necessarily a problem; if you're looking for a calm and relaxed exploration of new mechanics in a colourful world then this certainly delivers that in spades. But yeah, be aware that the challenges are often spread out for the player. There are a bunch of collectibles to go after in the game, most of which are monotonous to collect and offer very little reward. The main exception to this is collectibles that allow you to re-skin your Yoshi, which are pretty enjoyable to seek out. The game's co-op mode does give you the benefit of being able to use your partner as a source of wool if you run low, but the levels in the game were very clearly designed to be played single player and more often than not, your secondary player will feel like they're hindering progression rather than helping with it. Yoshi's Woolly World is best described as easy, beautiful, and inventive. While the times it offers challenge are a little too spread out for my liking, the game looks and sounds stunning, and offers players a variety of new sights to experience along their journey. If you're looking for something to play to unwind, something pleasant and positive, this would be a pretty darn solid choice to go with. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer].
Yoshi's Woolly World photo
Pleasantly fluffy
Yoshi's Woolly World is the epitome of adorable. From Yoshi's cute, easily read facial expressions to the bright colourful world he inhabits, the intricate minor details to the tactile physicality of the world, this game took...

Review: 0rbitalis

Jul 07 // Darren Nakamura
0rbitalis (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Alan ZucconiPublisher: MastertronicMSRP: $9.99Release Date: May 28, 2015 0rbitalis starts off with a simple goal: keep the probe from hitting a star or a planet for a set period of time. Generally, this can be achieved by finding just the right launch conditions to get the missile into a stable orbit. Soon after teaching that basic rule of thumb, it puts out levels in which stability is impossible and the surest course can be one with dangerous fly-bys and slingshot maneuvers, smashing into the surface of a star just moments after the timer runs down. That's just the first set of levels. Each set has only about five levels in it, with a progression that goes from introduction to experimentation to display of mastery quickly. Some levels can take a lot of time to complete as a result of their difficulty, but pacing is fast in terms of the number of conceptual tweaks. Long before a single idea feels played out, the next one is ushered in. [embed]293514:58888:0[/embed] These ideas can sound mundane, like having planets move along fixed paths, or they can sound fantastical, like anti-stars made of antimatter that produce antigravity fields. Either way, they bring something new to puzzle over. Other notable tweaks featured in certain level sets are pulsars whose gravitational pulls are variable over time, multiple star systems, and multiple rockets launching simultaneously from different locations. One major gameplay tweak comes with a total shift in goals. In certain levels there is a demarcated zone and the object is to spend a certain amount of time in the zone. Rather than surviving for as long as possible, the goal is to finish as quickly as possible. Instead of searching for a smooth orbit, the ideal solution often involves a high-power shot meant to break free and end once it has achieved its purpose. Personally, I prefer the more relaxed feel of the "survive as long as possible" levels. Since player interaction ends at the moment of the launch, there is a fair amount of downtime when the player isn't strictly doing anything other than watching the probe and predicting its path. That aspect in itself is almost a zen experience. With a mellow atmospheric music backing and a film grain filter over the simple geometric shapes, it's easy to be lulled into an almost catatonic state. I sat around just watching one orbit for about five minutes and it felt like it was only about thirty seconds. The visual effects work toward this as well. The subtle glow of space debris is calming, but the most striking effect is the trail following the probe. It fades slowly, so a long run over an interesting path creates an image reminiscent of those produced by a Spirograph. 0rbitalis has built-in screenshot functionality (in addition to Steam's), presumably because a good shot can result in some beautiful minimalist art. On the surface, 0rbitalis is a competent puzzle game with a simple central mechanic. It explores many facets with modifications and additions to that mechanic, and each new idea changes up gameplay enough that it never feels like its retreading ground. That's how one could describe 0rbitalis, but that doesn't really convey it. Finding the right groove and reaching a hypnotic state, that's 0rbitalis at its best. Fire a shot, have it smash into an asteroid. Fire another, have it slingshot off into deep space. Fire another, then contemplate the nature of the universe as it bends and loops around for minutes at a time, leaving behind a trail of where it has been. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
0rbitalis review photo
Hypn0tizing
A lot of ideas come out of the 48-hour game jam Ludum Dare, but only a small handful of them gain any appreciable notoriety past that. Every now and then a submission will get enough attention that its creators decide to deve...

Review: Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm

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

Review: Roving Rogue

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

Review: RONIN

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

Review: Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3

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

Review: AVerMedia Live Gamer EXTREME

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

Review: You Must Build A Boat

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

Review: Super Star Path

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

Review: Subject 13

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

Review: Her Story

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

Review: J-Stars Victory VS+

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

Review: The Controller Shop custom DualShock 4

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

Review: LEGO Jurassic World

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

Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

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

Review: Sonic Runners

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

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight

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


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