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To Leave is one of the neatest games I played during GDC

Apr 03 // Steven Hansen
[embed]272809:53244:0[/embed] To Leave (PC [previewed], Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita)Developer: Freaky CreationsPublisher: Freaky CreationsRelease date: 2014 To Leave is artsy, forward in its metaphor. The main character, Harm, is attempting to get out of a rut, out of a harmful life. The way to do this is to take his flying door and get the heck out of his bog of despair. But escape is hard because the door is fragile and if you hit something, you get sent all the way back to the beginning of the game, the bottom of the city Harm lives in. The progression is glorious. This isn't Super Meat Boy sort of rapid repetition that encourages white knuckle runs as fun. These white knuckle runs can send you back to the beginning of the game. Now, there are checkpoints of sort in the world. You're not replaying the whole game after each death, but it's a tense set up and that sees you failing early and often. And then you keep on keeping on, getting better at wresting yourself from the slop. If you want to ignore the metaphor, the base game is exciting to play. If you run out of Drive (a gauge filled by collecting those blue spirit things), you enter an extra atmospheric Hopeless mode with weird music and sludgy controls. Otherwise, you're clinging to your door, avoiding obstacles with the sort of floaty controls. And enemy patterns don't just reset at respawns so you can't just muscle memory or power your way through levels. I jumped forward in the game to a harder level and just compulsively died and started over, trying to run before walking.  To Leave is also artistic. Just take a look at the screenshots. Nothing is tiled and art isn't reused. There are a number of different themed sections as well. "We want to show Ecuadorian craftsmanship," Palacios explains at my surprise. I couldn't quite put my finger on why the game looked so different, despite it's interesting art style, until I realized. And all those benevolent looking stone faces are cool as heck. Then there's the music, which is a huge focus. You can check out some of the samples right here. Even through a laptop's speakers in a semi-trafficked area, the score helped to immerse me in the world. I just wanted to keep listening to it. GDC is always refreshing and playing To Leave was a perfect example of why I love it. The mechanics are tight, the artistry is interesting, and the angle feels new.
Preview: To Leave photo
Ecuador's first indie game
GDC is full of neat games. There are sentai management sims. Body building cats. Hyper Light Drifter. But one of the neatest games I played during GDC is To Leave, which creative director Estefano Palacios says is the first i...

Preview: Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes

Jan 07 // Chris Carter
Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (3DS, PS4, Vita, Wii U)Developer: 8bits FanaticsPublisher: Nicalis, Inc.Released: TBA 2014 1001 Spikes is a retro enthusiast's dream. You'll control the titular Aban in his quest for more treasure, as the game takes you through a series of levels in the style of the world map from Ghouls 'N Ghosts. It's a full quest, complete with a narrative, collectibles, danger, and well crafted levels full of fiendish traps. It also plays wonderfully, most notably due to the "two button" jump system. You can press one button to jump high, and another to jump at a standard height, like most 2D platforming protagonists would. This allows you to control your jumps and make precise landings on any platform -- because, you know, they're probably filled with spikes. It's a simple nuance but a welcome one, and as someone who has been playing platformers for over 20 years, it feels fresh -- in other words, it combines all of the good times you had with retro games with a solid framework to make it more fair. The full game will feature nine characters, including Nyx from Nyx Quest, Commander Video, and the President Thompson/Sugimoto duo from Tempura of the Dead. My experience with co-op has been great, as there's a slight trolling element in this current build that allows you to throw projectiles at fellow partners to stun them. It isn't game-breakingly annoying however like a few other titles, since the maps are generally pretty large, and the camera zooms out at a decent length to give everyone their space. In addition to legit four-player co-op for the entire campaign, 1001 Spikes will feature a "Golden Vase" mode (among other multiplayer gametypes) which plays similarly to Spelunky's deathmatch gametype mixed with Halo's Oddball. There's a giant vase in the middle that drops coins as you carry it while running, but everyone else is gunning for you in one giant trap-filled map. It's fleeting fun, for sure, but there's a method to its chaos, and solid platforming skills will win out more often than not. The map I was able to test had varying degrees of height, with multiple doorways to enter (Scooby-Doo teleportation style), tons of spike traps, and fire-breathing wall hazards. The spikes in particular were cool, as they triggered a trap on the opposite side of where it was stomped -- so a fleeing player could run all over them to play defense even though he can't technically use his hands while holding the vase. The final game will sport leaderboards, as well as a sound test mode and a few other secrets (hopefully we'll hear some more progress on the level editor). It expands upon the original game in a big way with a multitude of modes and characters, and everything I've touched so far has me pretty excited to try the real thing. In short, it plays like an NES game with tons of content stuffed into it, and I'm perfectly okay with that.
1001 Spikes photo
This is shaping up to be one of my favorites of 2014
Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes was a great concept. It launched way back in 2011 on the Xbox Live Indie store for a whole dollar, and remains one of the best games on the marketplace to this day. But the folks over at Nic...

Impressions: Rainbow Moon (Vita)

Dec 03 // Ian Bonds
Rainbow Moon (PS3, Vita)Developer: SideQuest StudiosPublisher: EastAsiaSoftReleased: July 10, 2012 (PS3) / December 3, 2013 (Vita)MSRP: $14.99 When Rainbow Moon released last year, it was to little fanfare, and less-than-favorable reviews. Some strategy fans seemed to enjoy it, at least, as proven by this Vita port almost two years later. And let me be straight with you: this is a port in the strictest sense of the word. Very little has changed between the original download on PS3 and this PSN title for Vita. If you missed the title previously, it's your typical open world SRPG, full of random battles as well as foes you can see on screen to fight with. What sets Rainbow Moon apart is the ability to choose whether or not to engage in the random encounters with unseen foes with a simple button press, as well as choosing to walk around or up to the foes you can see. Battles themselves are set up on a grid-like system, moving square by square, turn by turn, tactically moving around your enemies for your best advantage. It's the most basic form of a strategy RPG, but it works well, which is good considering you'll be doing it a lot. As before, Rainbow Moon hinges most of it's gameplay on grinding to level up, only to grind further for items to improve your battle stats so that you can grind again on higher level beasties. So, what has changed? Well, for starters, there's cross-save, allowing you to continue your quest on the go from your console version, and vice versa, which is quite nice if you prefer your grinding while on the go. Also, much of the game has been streamlined, at least as far as menus go. Scrolling through through menus, matching collected items to upgrade weapons, and organizing your inventory seems faster. In fact, Rainbow Moon actually seems best suited for the handheld, as it's short quests, simplistic battle structure, and save anywhere features work best in short bursts. However, the port doesn't really take advantage of the new hardware at all. Touch screen functionality is non-existent, and while most won't gripe too much with that, it does seem odd that it's been completely neglected. Graphically, you're looking at the same game from PS3, and the short, colorful characters are beautiful, with plenty of background animation and expressive characteristics to give the world a fully-alive feel. Sadly, I wish the characteristics of you and your party members last throughout the game -- as before, whenever you add someone to your party, all manner of personality interaction with them disappears. It's as if once you gain a party member, they're merely another body with which to fight your foes, and their storyline ends with them joining you. And therein lies the biggest problem here, just like the PS3 version. While there is plenty to do in this over 50+ hour epic quest (and even more in side quests), the story itself is largely unremarkable. You arrive, monsters are there, you fight them...and that's pretty much it. While there is plenty to do as far as number of quests and missions, the reason behind why you're doing it is left mostly ambiguous. What you're left with is a game that has you grinding for the sake of defeating enemies, so that you can grind again to defeat higher-powered enemies -- and so on, and so forth. If that sort of thing appeals to you, now you can have it on the go. Aside from that, there's not much reason to chose one version over the other.
Rainbow Moon photo
Pretty much the same, but portable
Strategy RPGs seem to thrive on handheld systems. While many are released on console, it often takes a port to a portable build for gamers to take notice. With a sequel already in the works, EastAsiaSoft has seen fit to port last year's Rainbow Moon from PS3 to Vita, and the experience remains mostly intact from the console version. This is both to its credit and its detriment.

Hands-on with the new PS Vita, remote play PS4 test

Sep 20 // Dale North
The new Vita is lovely. I feel like the design has been improved all the way around, from front to back. The first thing you'll notice is that it's so much lighter than the original Vita. It feels like there's next to nothing inside, but it manages to do so without feeling cheap. The new Vita is also thin and svelte, making the original seem a bit clunky in comparison. The rear of the unit is sleek looking, but still has a nice, rounded grip. Between this and the reduced weight, the new Vita is easy on the hands. I already know I'll like it better for extended play.   And while we're on comparisons, know that Sony wouldn't allow me to photograph the Vita screens. I tried so many times. There's nothing to hide, though. The new LCD screen looked fantastic with every game I tried. On the TGS show floor there's no fair way to compare old and new screens,  though I doubt the new LCD will beat the OLED one. While games looked bright and colorful on the new Vita, it doesn't look to have the OLED's wide viewing angle or color depth. That all said, as an avid portable gamer I can honestly say I would be perfectly fine with the new Vita screen. I wouldn't feel like I was missing something by using it over the older model. Finally, the new buttons are nice. The face buttons in particular feel fast and responsive -- a nice improvement. The start, select, and PS buttons are now full circles, and are easier to press.  Remote Play of PS4 games on the Vita went off without a hitch in my demo session. I was able to play Knack on the Vita while seeing it run exactly in time with the PS4 screen. It never missed a beat. Perfectly tight, no hiccups. The control scheme of Knack is pretty simple, so the Vita had no problems handling button assignments.   The visual quality of the streamed PS4 game on the Vita screen was pretty nice, though a close look would show that compressed video was coming across. But at a quick glance you wouldn't be able to tell that you were looking at a stream. Again, at least in this demo environment, play was absolutely lag free. Impressive stuff. The new Vita is a very nice little system. I don't think many will miss much over the previous model, screen included. Japanese gamers will be able to buy the new Vita on October 10 for about $195. We have yet to hear confirmation of a western release. I'm sure we will soon enough, though.  
New Vita test photo
Full hands-on at TGS
Forget about that short time I had with a retail demo unit last week. This week at Tokyo Game Show I've played with the new Vita multiple times with several different games. I've put it through its paces as best as I could here. I've even tested PS4-to-Vita remote play. Read on for our impressions of the new PS Vita model.

Giving the PS Vita TV the full rundown

Sep 19 // Dale North
The PS Vita TV is small -- about the size of a thick mobile phone. Tiny enough to fit in a pocket and compact enough to fit in even the smallest home. But when connected to a network and a television it does some pretty big things for the PlayStation videogame catalog.  Working my way up through its gameplay modes, I started with PSP play. I'm quite excited by the idea of backwards compatibility for play on televisions, but the look of titles like Patapon and Gran Turismo on a large HDTV shows just how far we've come since their initial release. Up against some of the other format options the PS Vita TV provides, PSP titles look blocky and blurry. These are games running at a lower resolution, but they don't all have the retro charm that PSOne games do. Despite my love for the PSP and its library, seeing these and other PSP and PSOne titles in action next to Vita games was a bit of a bummer.  They did play beautifully, though. The Dual Shock did the trick. It also did the trick for menu navigation. The Vita TV's UI looks a lot like that of the Vita, down to the page flipping to move between open apps.  PS Vita games look fantastic on the PS Vita TV. Those that have been daydreaming of a way to be able to play Vita games on their TV will be pleased. Soul Sacrifice Delta looked yummy, as did Danganronpa 1-2 Reload. And wow: God Eater 2 was eye-poppingly beautiful on Sony's HDTVs. I feel TV play of vita games alone is worth the price of entry. I can't wait to see how my Vita collection looks and plays on the big screen. Finally, I gave the streaming PS4 remote play functionality a try. Sony had upcoming game Knack running on a PS4, and showed that a simple option selection on the PS Vita TV had the game streaming almost instantly. Knack played perfectly via remote play using a Dual Shock controller, just as it did when I played it on PS4 at E3.  But the image quality takes a hit. With streaming play, gone is that high end gloss the PS4's graphical muscle provides. The meat and potatoes of the images are still there, but you can see compression easily, and colors and details suffer. The resolution was certainly lower than the original. It certainly doesn't look bad. Remote play of PS4 games looks just like watching a nice HD stream of gameplay on the internet.  But quality of signal is not the point here. Flexibility is. Having second-room access to your $400 PS4 for only $100 more is pretty attractive. Plugging in a tiny box will be much easier than disconnecting and reconnecting your PS4 in another room. There's also plenty of opportunities to be explored with remote play and multiplayer. And who knows what Sony has up their sleeves with Gaikai streaming tech beyond remote play.  Sony has yet to confirm the PS Vita TV for western markets. The device is sure to do well in Japan and Asia on the gaming side of things, but I hope they realize that with the addition of video and other content services, westerners would be happy to plunk down $99 for one.
PS Vita TV hands-on photo
Hands-on at TGS
Seeing the little white Sony box that came out of nowhere last week was a top priority for us a Tokyo Game Show this week. I put the PS Vita TV through its paces today at the show, trying everything from PSP to streaming PS4 play out on it. It does so many things, but does it do them all well?

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Assassin's Creed Liberation HD coming to PSN, XBLA, PC


Reworked from the ground up
Sep 10
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
That's right! The Vita darling is going all HD for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC early 2014. Development started shortly after the Vita release thanks to how the fan base reacted so positively to it after the E3 reveal...

Galak-Z explores the nooks and crannies of space

Sep 01 // Brett Makedonski
The most notable feature of the combat system is that it's really pretty difficult. Even two small enemy ships can cause problems, while some of the bigger ones can feel downright impossible. It's obvious that Galak-Z will require a lot of retreating while attacking, as an outwardly aggressive approach probably won't yield success. This is where the juke comes in particularly handy, almost to the point of seeming overpowered at times. Despite Galak-Z's setting, it's not subject to the vast expanses of nothingness that are commonly associated with space. Rather, it takes on a bit of a metroidvania vibe, as it requires that you work your way through different sets of caves to find upgrades and to eventually advance. It's a mechanic that will need to be explored in detail, but seems likely to mesh well with the style of game. 17-Bit intends to bring Galak-Z to PC, PS4, and possibly PS Vita. As it is now, it appears as if it'll shape up nicely with a bit more polish and refinement. It looks like Sony definitely has another strong indie title in its repertoire. 
Galak-Z preview photo
Shoot everything along the way
"It's the perfect game for fans of 80's anime," 17-Bit's Raj Joshi told me about Galak-Z before I was given a chance to play it. Admittedly, it seemed like a weird statement at the time. At first glance, the Asteroids-esque ...

Samurai Gunn might be my favorite game at PAX

Aug 31 // Brett Makedonski
For all the frantic pace, it never felt uncontrollable. Rather, the way in which you could quickly plot your attempt at your next victim was simply amazing. Realizing that another player's engaged with a different target, and you can easily get over there to dispose of one of both of them felt downright magical upon execution. That magic quickly fades when someone else had that same idea, but this time at your expense. The rounds are kept short, as the first person to ten kills wins. That certainly doesn't take long at all. A showdown might be triggered between the two top-scoring players, which places them on a flat two-dimensional plane, left to jump toward and away from each other until one can finally land the coup de grâce. Showdowns are almost like chess matches in a way. That's all there is to Samurai Gunn. Simple? Definitely -- that's the charm. But, that also comes packaged with an undeniable sense of giddy joy the entire time you play. It's easy to pick up, but difficult to put down. In fact, I think I'm going to go play it again right now.
Samurai Gunn preview photo
It's so ridiculously funn
I didn't really know what Samurai Gunn was before today. It has one of those sort of cliché names that's easy to pass over if you don't have a particular reason to care. After playing it on the PAX show floo...

Murasaki Baby is strange and wonderful

Aug 22 // Dale North
Gently guide her with your fingertip and she'll follow nicely. Pull her arm too hard and she'll resist a bit.  And like a baby, the more you encourage her, the more bold she'll become. While you have to work to get her to follow your finger at first, she'll start to enjoy the walk on her own before long. Before you know it, she'll charge full speed ahead on her own. But when danger is just ahead, you'll have to use the touchscreen to slow her down a bit.  The entire game uses touch control. While you're usually using one finger to drag this baby along, there are times when you'll have to glide your finger across a gap to have her hop over it. And when strange things try to come after her or her precious balloon (you lose when the balloon is popped), you'll have to fend them off with a fingertip. I batted down strange insect-like safety pins that tried to attack her balloon early on.  Just like a baby, this one is always cautious, and scared easily. She's in a world that can change on the fly, so there are lots of opportunities for her to be scared. As her guide, it's your job to make her feel safe. This could mean that you have to move a hanging lamp into a cave to scare away bats, or flick away hanging tentacles.  Babies can change moods very quickly, noted Gianni Ricciardi of developer Ovosonico. Playing on this, swiping the back touchpad of the Vita can change the world for this baby. The baby, the ground, and often other elements stay in place, but the backdrop changes as your fingers glide across the back of the Vita. While strange, the look of these worlds is supposed to represent a baby's different moods -- happy, sad, scared.  When you come across another balloon in the game, it can be popped, adding another world background for you to flip to. Some of these worlds contain solutions to platforming puzzles. For example, one world had smog that blocked the baby's path. By switching to a background that contained a windmill, I was able to blow the smog away to progress. The world of Murasaki Baby looks like a sketchbook came to life, complete with scratchy shading lines a focus on black and white imagery. It's just as striking and beautiful as it is strange. Some really nice work has been done with shadow, light and depth. Screenshots don't do it justice.  Riccardi told me that in this early alpha stage they're trying to optimize frame rates to make play more responsive. The game played fine, though some jumps were slow to respond. The engine that powers this lovely art and animation is still new, and it's somewhat taxing on the Vita's hardware, so they're still figuring it out.  The first level I saw was definitely strange with its hanging tentacles, creepy creatures, and freaky objects. Ricciardi told me that the first level is called the "tentacle boy level." When I asked why he pointed to all the wriggling and dangling tentacles on the screen and sort of smiled.  Ricciardi explained that there will only be four worlds in Murasaki Baby, and that the player could finish the game in one sitting of about 4 hours if they wanted. He said that he is looking for a short and powerful experience, one that has players growing an emotional connection with this baby they're dragging around.  What's most interesting to me is that he chose to tell the story without words or narration. The baby's actions and the things you discover together tell the story. And with the particulars left out, Ricciardi hopes that each player will have their own interpretation of Murisaki Baby's story.  Murasaki Baby's dark charm worked on me. We'll see it's release on PS Vita some time next year.
Murasaki Baby photo
Vita's new baby dragging game
PlayStation Vita title Murasaki Baby looked to be pretty dark and twisted in its debut trailer at Sony's gamescom press conference earlier this week. Now that I've played it, I'd say that it isn't quite as dark as it first ca...

Killzone: Mercenary is the gold standard of portable FPS

Aug 21 // Kyle MacGregor
Killzone: Mercenary (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Guerrilla CambridgePublisher:  Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease: September 10, 2013 (NA), September 4, 2013 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Killzone: Mercenary is pretty remarkable. Over the past several weeks I had the opportunity to experience the title during its closed multiplayer beta and check out one of its nine single-player missions. Even after spending hours upon hours battling in the trenches, I continue to be amazed at how good it feels.  It's astounding how closely Killzone: Mercenary resembles its console brethren. Unlike previous attempts to bring other big first-person shooter franchises to the PlayStation Vita, it's clear the team at Guerrilla Cambridge care about what they're making. The developers don't seem content just to churn out any old portable shooter. They're trying to meet the high standard set forth by its excellent predecessors, and, aside from a few minor gripes stemming from the limitations of the platform and its inability to perfectly mimic a DualShock controller, it looks like they're doing a fantastic job. Despite feeling very similar to Killzone 3, it's also a total breath of fresh air. In addition to giving players a new perspective as guns for hire working on both sides of the Helghast-ISA conflict, Killzone: Mercenary is forging ahead on its own path. Single-player missions still revolve around the cover-based shooting. Fans of the series are already well versed in that. However, there's a new twist in that mercenaries' duty involves collecting intel. Now, there's a couple ways of doing this. You can beat information out of enemy captains through interrogation or hack terminals. Personally, I'm partial to the latter. Terminal hacking involves these fun little geometric puzzle matching sequences that provide a welcome reprieve from spraying bullets and dodging enemy fire. It's refreshing, really. [embed]260196:50066:0[/embed] Collecting intel is important in that it helps unlock bonus Valor Cards. Now, what are those exactly? Well, each player is assigned a card every day that represents their performance compared with the rest of the community. When a player is killed in one of Killzone: Mecenary's three multiplayer modes, they will drop an instance of their card. These can be collected by other players for monetary bonuses. The higher the value of the card, the more cash players will earn. Furthermore, cards can be collected to form Poker hands, which net even more money. The Valor System actually changed the way I approached the game. It encourages a more aggressive style of play where those on the front lines are rewarded for getting into the thick of battle. However, there's also reason for caution. Will you risk running out into the open to snag a card? One of your felled foes' comrades likely has her sights trained on the card just waiting for you to walk into her cross-hairs.  The system of risks and rewards is an interesting representation of how mercenaries risk their lives for a paycheck. Should you be willing to take that gamble, you'll have an opportunity to enlist in Killzone: Mercenary's open beta over the next couple weeks. PlayStation Plus subscribers can get in on the action right now, whereas everyone else will have to wait until next week.
Killzone: Mercenary photo
Get money, get paid
There's a common thread running throughout Killzone: Mercenary. From the single-player campaign to the online multiplayer, the entire experience is seamlessly tied together by one thing: Money. It's all about the next paychec...

The first 10 hours of Dragon's Crown are action packed

Jul 24 // Chris Carter
Dragon's Crown (PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Vita [tested])Developer: Vanillaware / AtlusPublisher: AtlusReleased: August 6, 2013MSRP: $49.99 (PlayStation 3) / $39.99 (PlayStation Vita) From the very first gameplay trailer, it was evident that Dragon's Crown was a technical brawler -- in other words, it had fighting-game tendencies, and a deep level of tactical design embedded within it. I've only extensively tested the Fighter and the Wizard so far, but I've experienced a full party with every other class via NPCs (you can resurrect NPC helpers by finding "bones" in dungeons) -- and the synergy is immediately apparent from your first group confrontation. For instance, every single class has a different key mechanic. The Dwarf can throw enemies, the Elf has a limited number of arrows to use, the Amazon doesn't stop attacking, and the Sorceress can create health-bearing food and debuff foes. The Fighter has the ability to block, and with specific upgrades, can shield party members from damage as well as buff them momentarily. The Wizard took some getting used to, because like the Sorceress, he has to "charge" Dragon Ball Z style to replenish his mana. At first, it was a bit overwhelming to have to constantly top off my mana pool before I could unleash my best attacks, but very quickly I learned that this was yet another design choice to help differentiate the cast. The Wizard has to constantly be on the move, and find safe havens to recharge -- he's the definition of a glass cannon, and that's represented here far better than most games that simply diminish a spellcaster's defensive capabilities and call it a day. Speaking of specific upgrades, every time you level up you gain a skill point, which can be used to buy a skill to augment your abilities. In typical RPG fashion these skills usually consist of upgrades like "more health," if you're looking in the Common tree -- each unique class tree is a completely different story. Frankly, I was blown away by the options presented in each specific party member's tree. The Wizard has the ability to command pretty much every element you can think of, levitate, summon wooden golems, and a whole lot more. The Fighter could specialize into a defensive tanking build, or go more aggressive, with tons of options for both. In other words, given the extensive skill tree, the customization and naming options, and the ability to assign your character an English or Japanese voice, no two characters you meet will be the same. Because of this dynamic, it'll make completing multiple playthroughs with different characters that much more exciting. Going from the Fighter to the Wizard within an hour of each other was incredibly jarring, as I had to initially balance my mana and whack enemies with my relatively weak cane when I was in a jam, whereas I could just wail away with the Fighter without reprisal. But very quickly I started speccing into mana regeneration, buffing my mana charge ability, and giving myself the power to leech MP by hitting enemies with my cane. My Wizard morphed into a completely different playstyle at that point. Although I'm mostly questing on the PS3, I did get a chance to test out the Vita version as well, and I have great things to report. Barring the fact that four-player local co-op on one portable screen is obviously not possible like it is on the PS3, I have to say the Vita version has a few improvements on its console counterpart. For starters, pointer control is fine tuned to suit the Vita. In Dragon's Crown, a neutral NPC named "Rannie the Thief" will follow you around collecting gold, as well as unlock chests and doors. In order to control him, you'll use the right analog stick to aim a mouse-cursor like hand, tapping the stick to queue up an action. While I didn't have any issues using this on the PS3, you can simply tap the screen on the Vita to utilize the pointer, allowing Rannie to open doors and chests with the greatest of ease. Should you choose to use it, right analog support is also available on the Vita, with the L button confirming an action in lieu of clicking in the stick. The Vita's OLED screen is also gorgeous as usual, and fits the action quite well for one player, despite the general sacrificed real estate. While cross-buy and cross-play are sadly not a part of the package, I have tested the cross-save function between the Vita and the PS3, and it works as advertised. Well, that's basically all I can talk about right now! Expect a full review on July 31, a week before the retail version hits on August 6.
Dragon's Crown preview photo
There's so much depth here it's insane
All things considered, Dragon's Crown is one of my most anticipated games of the year, if not the most. As many of you know, I'm a massive fan of action games as well as brawlers, old-school games, and of course, Vanillaware....

Wii U delay brought way more content to Rayman Legends

Jul 17 // Steven Hansen
Rayman Legends (Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita) Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier Publisher: Ubisoft Release: September 3, 2013 "When we look at it now, honestly, the delay was a good thing," lead game designer Emile Morel said. "Right now, I don't see what more we could add to it." Seems all these recent months spent weren't idly wasted on thumb twiddling, because Legends is bloated with great content. The Invasion levels are a mixture of existing assets. Legends is separated into different, self-contained worlds, each meant to "feel like an adventure," and provide some of the cohesion and framing its predecessor lacked. In the Invasion levels, the disparate worlds collide in an unholy union. Each main level has its own Invasion level that will unlock at various points in the game when it can be assumed your skills are up to snuff; for example, an early Invasion level might not unlock until you clear a more challenging world. Each Invasion has a 60-second time limit in which to save three Teensies that are strapped to bottle rockets at the end of the level. If your seconds start spilling over, Teensies start getting astronomical with a punctuality that Nicholas Cage would admire. 60 seconds. These challenging, fast-paced levels seem to be a nice analog for some of my favorite Origins levels, the rhythmic chest chasing levels. They require deft timing. Things get complicated in harder Invasion levels when Dark Rayman begins tailing you and you have to avoid him without sacrificing momentum or timing. As for the remastered Origins levels, "some of the levels we changed them almost entirely," associate producer Greg Hermittant noted. I played a few of the early ones which were much intact, save for the aesthetic boost with Legends' look and lighting, and the addition of Teensies to save scattered throughout the levels. Apparently some Murfy functionality was even added to some of the remastered Origins levels. "When they asked me what's the best version," Morel said, "pick the system you like to play on." Indeed, the main dividing factor in the Rayman Legends experience comes down to whether you want to use a touchscreen or not. While I find the touch screen functional to be novel, I also find it slows the game down more than the traditional controls, in which Murfy is mapped to a face button and will automatically go approximately where he should be. "We wanted to make sure when players start a level with Murfy they wouldn't groan and want a more classical level," Morel explained. "We want to keep the rhythm of Rayman." Using Murfy with the Xbox controller was relatively painless. "You have one more button to press, but you can play very fast." Having to occasionally watch out and direct Murfy definitely added a new wrinkle that I could sort of appreciate as I got into the groove and worked the extra layer into my strategy (I did all the speed runs in Origins), though I'm still hard pressed to say the addition is entirely wanted.  The 3D bosses at the end of each world also add a small, but welcomed layer to the experience. At the end of the newly shown off Fiesta de los Muertos -- which you play much through after having been transformed into a chicken -- you fight a giant, 3D luchador who menacingly sits behind the field of play and tries to squash you with his fist. Legends is the biggest Rayman ever and I'm beyond excited to play it to death.
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More, more, more: That's how Rayman Legends likes it
Rayman Legends is finally almost here. The delay of the Wii U version after the announcement of PS3, 360, and Vita ports seems worlds away, but I'm finally about to embark on the evolution of the gorgeous, 2D platforming good...

I'm down with Dragon's Crown

Jun 14 // Jayson Napolitano
I had a blast playing Dragon's Crown on the show floor. I tried out the Dwarf and Elf, and got a good sense of what makes the characters so different. It was admittedly pretty hectic, but I never really lost site of what I was doing with my character, which some people who've viewed the trailers have begun to worry about. Players will be able to store 20 different characters per save slot, which should allow you to sample all of the game's character classes and then some. While this is a traditional beat 'em up, you will level your character by collecting experience from enemies defeated and achievements made in a particular level, and skill points will be used to acquire and level up skills. There are common skill trees that all characters can use, and class-specific ones as well. You have the opportunity to dabble in new skills or power up ones you've already acquired, which will allow for a lot of customization.Online matchmaking will happen so that similarly-leveled characters end up together. You can work in any configuration in terms of local and online play, so if you have two of your buddies at your house and one across town, you can all still play in a single game together. While the game will release on both PlayStation 3 and Vita (with both versions being nearly identical), there unfortunately won't be any cross-play between the two versions. If you're without friends (it's okay), you'll find bones scattered throughout the game that can be resurrected into computer-controlled companions who you can name and are of equal level to you, although they don't level up.From there, you hit the central hub city where you can access shops and other areas of interests where you can pick up quests. Each quest takes you to a different area that has its own back story, narrated by a suitably fantasy-esque voice (the day-one DLC available for the game will contain different narrator language packs). With the dwarf, I was able to pick up heavy objects and hurl them at my enemies, while the elf was able to shoot a devastating barrage of arrows in a number of directions (including up), but arrows are not unlimited, so watch for them on the ground when you're running low. There are power attacks that will require a short cool down period, adding an element of strategy. And best of all? There are mounts! I was able to ride both a powerful sabertooth tiger and a ice-spitting reptile of sorts.One of the most interesting gameplay elements was the ability to use the analog stick to bring a cursor on screen to interact with elements in the game. You use this to open treasure chests and to interact with elements in the background, such as opening a door to access a side area where you can obtain extra treasure, or perhaps even find some secret areas.In terms of replayability, you can dig deeper into dungeons on repeated playthroughs, play at increased difficulty modes, and access an end-game randomly-generated dungeon to level up your characters and acquire exceedingly rare treasure. There will also be a player-versus-player arena to test your characters against those of your friends.In all, the game should take approximately 12-15 hours to complete if you do everything. It's out on August 6, and there's an art book available to those who pre-order (the art is one of the best things about the game, from the backgrounds to the characters, to the beautiful world map). Get on it!
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Impressions from the E3 show floor are good!
Dragon's Crown is easily one of my favorite games of E3. It's been on my radar for years, back when it was being published by UTV Ignition, but I've kept my distance lately with the visual style controversy. I had the opportunity to really dig in here at E3, and I like where it's headed.There's a lot more to this game than its polarizing visual style, so let's check it out.

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Weird name, amazing game
Hohokum is one of the games at E3 that might just convince me to buy a PlayStation Vita already, even if it is also coming to PS3 and PS4 next year. Playing it on Vita with a nice pair of headphones seems like the only way t...

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LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is a ton of fun


HULK LEGO SMASH!
Jun 06
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
I am so jealous of kids growing up this day and age. They have the coolest videogame consoles, the Internet, iPads, and now LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Combining Marvel, one of the hottest movie proprieties right now (and not t...

Tearaway is a must-own for the PlayStation Vita

May 20 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Tearaway (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Media MoleculePublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease: October 22, 2013 (NA) / October 23, 2013 (AU, NZ) / October 25, 2013 (UK, IE) The Tearaway demo placed me at the very start of the game. I first got to create my custom Tearaway protagonist, choosing my gender and various facial features. From there, my custom hero was mailed off into the human world in an attempt at establishing relations between the two worlds. Something goes awry though, and the hero is forcibly sent back into the world of Tearaway, an event which causes a tear in the sun. This hole in the sun is now a gateway into the human world, and the player's face will be constantly projected into the world thanks to the Vita's front-facing camera. Yes, your face is shown off live in the sun at all times, kind of like that Teletubbies baby but less creepy. [embed]254022:48704:0[/embed] Once back in the paper world, your ultimate goal is to find a way up to the reach sun and the player. Unfortunately, the whole sun incident also unleashed monsters, so you and your character must work together to clear out them out. One early example of how this can work is by leading these monsters to a specific area in the level. Once there, the real "you" will place your fingers on the back touchpad and "pierce" through into the game's paper world. You'll see "your" fingers pop into the world as you glide them around and smash into the monsters. Defeating these monsters will give you confetti, which will go towards unlocking customization options and other features. That whole thing with the fingers popping up into the world is what helped to inspire the idea for Tearaway in the first place. "The original jumping off point was just, I wanted to use the back touch to show fingertips coming into the world," creative lead Rex Crowle told me. "I was obsessed with this visual because you just couldn't do it on any other device, it wouldn't make any sense. So that was kind of the initial starting point, and then, through doing various game jams and stuff, we expanded that out and into thinking, 'Well, it's a handheld world, let's have fun with the fact that you're holding the world in your hands.'" Later in the level, you'll have to tap on the back touchpad in order to help your character jump up to platforms you can't normally reach otherwise. In another part, you'll use the front touchscreen to cut up pieces of paper and create a crown for a character. Once the crown is placed, you'll then be able to take a picture of him and share that online. I have to stress that none of these touch controls felt gimmicky at all. They felt natural and were super easy to use in conjunction with the face buttons. You can be controlling your character with the directional sticks all while sticking your fingers into the world through the back pad. The visuals from the world design to the characters themselves are just splendid as well. Everything looks like a stop motion video, presenting this abstract vision that's very pleasing. It's like what you would imagine paper to look like if it was suddenly brought to life with magic. All this is complemented with some great music, giving off a very folk-like sensation. Media Molecule is continuing their trend of creating wonderful original ideas in an industry where everyone is trying to copy each other for the quickest dollar. Plus, they're incorporating some wonderful ideas that make the best use of the Vita features, with which no one else is really doing anything all that special. I can't sing Tearaway's praises enough.
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Making the best use of all the Vita's features
Last week, I got to preview a bunch of current-gen games, which we can expect to see during E3, at a special pre-show event that entailed several different game companies. The Sony showcase in particular had a handful of game...

Killzone: Mercenary is the FPS the Vita has been needing

May 20 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Killzone: Mercenary (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Guerrilla CambridgePublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease: September 4, 2013 (EU) / September 10, 2013 (US)  Right off the bat, I just have to say Mercenary looks gorgeous. There's a ton of detail in the levels, and everything looks great running on the handheld. The controls are pretty exceptional as well, offering a nice mix of touch and button inputs. The touch controls are fairly minimal, such as swiping the main screen in certain ways to perform a melee, touching enemies to launch missiles at them, or selecting weapons like your grenade. Double tapping the rear touchpad also lets you sprint, but you can simply press one of the front buttons to pull off the same thing. Single-player has you assuming the role of a mercenary who's working both sides of the conflict between the ISA and Helghast. While that initially sounds cool, it's not like you're given the option of choice. There's a set story in place, and you'll be merely hopping between the two sides at certain points as you progress. [embed]253452:48694:0[/embed] The demo Guerrilla showed off dropped me halfway into the story, where you've gotten caught up between the two conflicting sides and have to escort some kid who's important to both the opposing forces. It was an escort mission, but it didn't appear like you had to protect the kid at all as the enemies were pretty focused on me. That's a good thing, as the kid was on my ass the whole time and not really trying to hide behind cover, which was pretty silly given all the bullets flying around. Plus, the AI didn't seem that bright either. On the multiplayer side, Mercenary will allow up to eight players to fight it out over Wi-Fi in deathmatch, team deathmatch, and Warzone matches. Multiplayer also features a new Valor Card system where you can collect cards from another player's corpse. These cards are tied into the ranking and money system of the game, so you'll definitely want to be collecting them to stay ahead of other players. Single-player and multiplayer share a joint bank account too, and any money earned will go towards your being able to purchase new weaponry in multiplayer. It all looks pretty promising, but the sour taste left in my mouth from other shooters leaves me hesitant. I'm sure others feel the same way, so I asked Laura Dilloway, environment artist on Mercenary, what they're doing to reassure fans. "We worked with Guerrilla Amsterdam and their games are exceptionally high standard, so they wouldn't let us put anything out there that was sub-par," Laura told me. "So if you love the Killzone games previously then I think you'll love this one. "We've always set out to make the definitive first-person shooter on a handheld, that's always been our aim. We're not going to let anything go out unless we're 100% happy with it. Hopefully we have produced something people will enjoy." Laura also told me that the campaign will last around seven to nine hours spread over nine different levels. On top of that, there are three difficulty levels and of course all the multiplayer offerings. It's definitely a meaty package, and with this one being developed by a studio that has some experience with the franchise for a change, I have way more faith that Mercenary can deliver.
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A good first-person shooter on the Vita?
The PlayStation Vita is a great system with a slowly increasing library of great titles. The exception being in the first-person shooter genre, that is. You'd think that after one of these big game companies made a handheld w...

CounterSpy takes inspiration from classic side-scrollers

May 19 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
CounterSpy (PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)Developer: DynamightyPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease: 2013 The story draws inspiration from the Cold War era, when the United States and the Soviet Union were a button press away from unleashing nuclear winter upon the world. "If you abstract yourself from how scary it was, it was this super fascinating time from a historical perspective," co-founder and lead designer David Nottingham told me. "You had these two opposing sides that represented these very, very different ideologies. They're both pursing these kinds of crazy goals of like 'let's build all these nuclear missiles!' Some of the crazy plans they were putting into place when you read about when files get unredacted after 30 years is almost as bizarre as some Bond plots." David felt the time period would be a great area to play with, but they're not going for historical accuracy here. They're creating a fun world, as if CounterSpy was some long-lost TV show from that era. Some of the inspiration of also comes from titles such as Shadow Complex, Flashback, Metroid, Impossible Mission, and Prince of Persia. Those last two games in particular had a lasting impact on David, mesmerizing him at a young age from how they let players infiltrate environments. The action espionage game is primarily set as a 2D side-scroller, but there are points when the perspective switches to open the environment up. These camera changes happen when you take cover, which you'll want to do in order to take out guards safely. You can attack guards from the 2D perspective too, but you may not see them coming until it's too late due to the limited view. Every level has you infiltrating a rocket launch site, and there's a countdown timer indicating when the rockets will launch. Your objective is to reach the launch pad and sabotage the controls before the rocket takes off. There are computers that you can damage along the way too, which will delay the countdown and buy you more time. Levels also have blueprints and files which can go toward unlocking experimental weapons. CounterSpy has some limited Cross functions between the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions, where if you find these blueprints in one version they'll be automatically unlocked in the other. Not the best Cross feature ever, but there's going to be more things announced in the future. Employing a unique art style like this isn't easy, so it's a good thing a partnership with Sony goes beyond just PR and marketing. "Our resources are super limited, and there are certain things that would be kind of though for us to do on our own," David stated. "Like, character modeling is one of those things where it's really hard to do right. We were actually able to work with Sony and have them create the character model for those guards. It's just one of those things when you're doing something stylized you can look at something 2D and think, 'Oh, that looks awesome,' but you never know how it's going to look as a 3D model. [Sony] just hit it out of the park straight away. "For us, that's nice to have. It's more than just PR and marketing. They can actually help with some of the development. They're making a big push to work with smaller independent developers like us." I think Dynamighty is doing something really special here. I am a little worried that all the levels will be rather repetitive if you're being tasked with the same goal in each. Hopefully there's a lot of variety to how you can accomplish your goals.
CounterSpy preview photo
Infiltrate to sabotage weapons of mass destruction
The first thing you'll notice about CounterSpy is its unique art style. Really, you can say that about a lot of the indie titles Sony has been picking up lately, but there's something extra special about this one. That probab...

Doki-Doki Universe photo
Doki-Doki Universe

Doki-Doki Universe is more than just flying around on poo


It's about emotions and stuff
May 18
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Doki-Doki Universe is a simple game to grasp but a hard one to describe at first. Basically, you play as a robot named QT377665 (or QT3 for short), who's just discovered that its entire line has become obsolete thanks to thei...

Preview: Never the same levels in Cloudberry Kingdom

Apr 16 // Abel Girmay
Cloudberry Kingdom (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac, Wii U, PlayStation Vita)Developer: Pwnee StudiosPublisher: UbisoftRelease: TBA Cloudberry Kingdom is platformer. You run, jump, dodge, and otherwise navigate your way from one end of the screen to the other. So in that sense, you know exactly what's on offer here. That said, it takes cues from modern genre classics, such as Super Meat Boy. That's to say, it can get hard -- very hard. The levels are actually pretty short, but success is dependent on your ability to keep one continuous flow and rhythm going throughout the level. Unlike Super Meat Boy, challenge isn't what the game is built around. The big draw of Cloudberry Kingdom is in its randomness; an algorithm that randomizes every facet of the game is the focus. So while the difficulty curves in the same way each time, the enemies, traps, power-ups, and more switch up. What's cool about this is that it really changes the way you play, especially in a competitive setting. Topping leaderboards, showing up friends, or even just outdoing yourself has little to do with the traditional tropes of pattern memorization, and all about how adaptive your reflexes are. The best way to appreciate this is to dig into the tools yourself  to see the ridiculous amount of factors the game takes into account, which you can then edit to create custom levels. While the actual geometry of a level is not adjustable, there are a bevy of options. The setup here is deep, yet easy to understand. Everything in a level -- its length, enemies, traps, platform types -- can all be adjusted by a simple set of sliders. You simply go through a list, and adjust the frequency of each. And if you want to be like me, you'll crank everything up to max on your first try. If you're feeling that brave (read: stupid) Cloudberry softens the blow, with a handy AI that can take over a run through a level. This isn't the New Super Mario Bros. type of AI assist, mind you. The computer will only show you how to get through a level, but there's no actual game progression. "You might see a level and say, 'Oh this is impossible'. But the computer can come through just to show you that there is always a way through a level," explained Fisher. It's deceptively simple if you only give it a quick gander, but spend a little time and you'll see that there's quite a bit working under the hood of Cloudberry Kingdom. If you enjoy a good platformer, then it's well worth keeping your ear to the ground for this one.
Cloudberry Kingdom photo
From crowdfunding to major backing
The challenge in creating a platformer is figuring out what you could do differently from everyone else. While the same could be said about any genre, you have to admit that it's especially challenging for plaformers, a genre...

Muramasa for Vita is amazing, plays great

Mar 27 // Steven Hansen
This is one of the prettiest games I’ve ever seen. Like, look at these screenshots, and then imagine something infinitely better, thanks to meticulous animation and other visual flourishes. The copper haze of a setting sun, pink cherry blossom leaves fluttering on the wind. Man, I’m as much of a sucker for cherry blossoms as I am for rain-slick neon signage. It’s the best foliage. The Japanese mythology inspired aesthetic is such a treat. For the similarly uninitiated, Muramasa stars two protagonists, an amnesiac ninja being hunted by his own alleged former friends, Kisuke; and a princess, Momohime, whose body has been possessed by an evil spirit. The two characters are making their ways in opposite directions (east to west, west to east), all the while trying to collect all 108 Demon Blades. Collecting Demon Blades is an important part of the game. Either character can have three equipped at any given time and each carries its own special move. The blades wear down with use -- particularly when deflecting attacks or using special moves -- and will eventually “break,” requiring it to be sheathed and you to switch to a different blade. After a while in the sheath, broken blades will repair, incidentally sapping your soul in the process. They are demon blades, after all. There are two types of blades, quicker ones and slower long blades, which also help differentiate the 108 amongst each other beyond their special moves, which get decidedly complex for the better swords. In addition to finding blades throughout the game, they can be forged from enough souls and other items, from the start menu. The environment is littered with other items, including cooking supplies. With the purchase of cookbooks, you can do into certain locations and order food, actually pressing square to take bites or dip individual sushi rolls in soy sauce before scarfing down. It’s kind of amazing. The cook in me dug it. You can also go to hot springs patronized by monkeys and chill with them to replenish your health. Best game. I tried out both characters in a couple of separate, early boss fights, and I dig the combat a lot. The jump button is now mapped to “x,” versus the Wii version that employed a fighting game styled “press up to jump,” and it works well. The boss fights are lengthy varied, and multi-tiered -- switching betwixt blades and using different specials in conjunction with combos helps to that end, too. There also two gameplay modes, one of which is suited to a more hack and slash, level up style, and the other of which calls more precise swordplay. Other environments are strung together 2D exploration, with a sort of overworld hub linking various locations in the game. Rather than have enemies bandying about, the game uses something like a random encounter mechanism, in which you’ll be attacked by a group of enemies, have a quick brawl, and keep on keeping on. Otherwise, the there is a lot of exploration off of the beaten path available as you collect money or items or find out of the way locations to talk to various NPCs, all of whom feel interesting and worth talking to due to the incredibly original art style. If you haven’t played Muramasa yet, Muramasa: Rebirth is a welcomed point of entry. Even if you’ve played it, you might want to check out the fresh localization and banging visuals, as well as the additional, post-launch content. It’s a perfect game for handhelds.
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Hoping to breathe new life into an underrated gem
God damn this game is pretty. Vanillaware’s 2009 Wii title Muramasa: The Demon Blade inevitably pops up in just about any discussion of the best Wii games. It’s sitting on my shelf, snug in its shrink wrap, becaus...

Metroidvania-brawler Guacamelee! is guacamazing

Mar 15 // Steven Hansen
Guacamelee! (PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)Developer: DrinkBox StudiosPublisher: DrinkBox StudiosRelease: Spring 2013 Juan, a down on his luck agave farmer living in a shanty, is the misfit star of DrinkBox's new title. As some element of fortune would have it, Juan becomes imbued with the awesome powers of a luchador. Just in time, too, as El Presidente's daughter, whom Juan has been crushing on since boyhood, has recently been kidnapped. Are you a bad enough hombre to save her? It's the tired damsel in distress premise, admittedly, but the game wears its old school influence on its sleeve. It draws from the "Metroid-vania" well, which means expansive maps filled to the brim with secret offshoots and alcoves, many of which are inaccessible without the right moves. Plus, I lost any sort of glazed over "been there, done that" derision once I saw the game in motion. The art style is just too charming, featuring tightly angular geometry reminiscent of paper craft, and bold, solid colors. I particularly love the minimal, angular effects that the power moves give off. Where Guacamelee starts putting its spin on the Metroid-vania formula is with its heavy combat orientation. Often you'll be locked in rooms and have to dispatch waves of enemies to progress. There are even combat challenge rooms. As soon as I started playing, I could see why: the combat is a blast. The impressive, fluid animations decorate a clinical, precise action game. Different power moves, which are unlocked during progression, are mapped to the circle button, while square allows for regular attacks, and triangle for contextual moves like the invaluable throw. Those wanting to max out there money yields can try to string together a higher and higher combo by linking up to three regular attacks with stamina-restricted power moves and throws. Throws are particularly fun, but also incredibly useful, as enemies can be thrown into their cohorts, stunning them and proving you valuable breathing room. There's also an equally useful dodge mechanic, mapped to the right stick, which can dodge everything but fire attacks. You'll need it. In my brief hands-on I encountered an impressive array of baddies that required different means of dispatching, keeping things engaging and taut. My favorites were definitely the bleached-white skeletons in yellow ponchos and sombreros that reminded me of Death in Adventure Time. They're tough, fast buggers. Even a few different enemies on screen can pose a challenge, especially when they're split between planes of existence. Key to Guacamelee is the World of the Dead, from which the enemies originate, which draws heavily from Día de los Muertos, the “Day of the Dead.” Initially, accessing portals will switch between the worlds of the dead and living, but eventually you'll unlock the ability to do so manually. This in turn opens up new wrinkles in the gameplay. Certain areas which might’ve proven previously inaccessible can be accessed and the mechanic also allows for some exciting, precise platforming, as the worlds of life and death have different platforms. The mechanic can also lead to some anger-inducing grieving, as the title allows seamless, drop-in/drop-out two player local co-op. I only tried combat sections co-op -- enemies will scale to take a bit more damage -- so I’m not sure how the precision platforming will be tested with a friend, but beating things up in tandem was a blast, especially when you link throws together to add insult to injury. I was also quite partial to the female luchador who serves as Player 2, though I think that can be said about most of the character design and enviable animation work. One cool addition is the ability to use the Vita as a controller for the PS3 version of the game. It can be used in a tandem with a PS3 controller for those who have a friend, but only one DualShock 3. It can even be used solo, with the added bonus of having the map displayed on the Vita’s screen at all times. This could prove invaluable for completionists aiming to explore every nook and cranny, eliminating the wasteful opening and closing of the map via select while playing with a PS3 controller. Being a completionist in this instance may just be well worth it, too. DrinkBox’s Chris McQuinn furtively hinted that the chicken’s abilities get better the more of a completionist you are, so perhaps some mad chicken powers wait at the end of the rainbow. Also a Hard Mode. Guacamelee is releasing simultaneously for PS3 and PS Vita and will feature cross saves between the two systems. No word yet on whether the game will be cross buy. DrinkBox and Sony’s Pub Fund partnership doesn’t mention cross buy contractually, so the details there are still being hammered away. Otherwise, those itching to get a spicy taste of the game can check it out at PAX East.
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Holy Guacamelee, Batman! Este juego es muy bueno.
One of my favorite parts about Mexican cuisine is its cohesiveness. It's a property found in all my favorite types of foods: Italian, Chinese, etc. You take a swath of semi-disparate elements, tie them together with a sauce, ...

KickBeat is looking like music to the ears of Vita owners

Feb 05 // Abel Girmay
KickBeat (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Zen StudiosPublisher: Zen Studios Release: Spring 2013 If you've played any rhythm game of the past decade, you'll get KickBeat at its most basic level. Rather than hitting a string of notes or arrows though, you're hitting waves of oncoming enemies as they step on pads corresponding to the Vita's face buttons. In a traditional rhythm game, you lose after spending an ambiguous amount of time failing. KickBeat records your staying power like a fighting game instead, represented by an onscreen health bar. If you fail to hit a note, that translates into taking a hit from your attacker, which deals damage based on difficulty. Successfully hit notes, and you string together combos which, other than looking pretty cool, act as score multipliers. Enemies are quick to switch things up, though. You will start to encounter new enemy types, and while the method to beating them is ultimately the same, there is a nice risk reward system built into it. For example, yellow enemies go down the same as others, but if you hold down the face button you used to knock him out until you take out another yellow, you are rewarded with bonus points. A viable strategy on perhaps the normal setting, but leaving yourself a thumb short on harder tracks may not be the wisest of moves. Eventually enemies will also start attacking in unison, requiring you to hit two face buttons at once. The d-pad is usable as an input as well, making defending against front and back attacks at once a lot easier. Ever try hitting triangle and X on a Vita? It's not the easiest. While KickBeat offers a modest 18 tracks, the game does offer an analyzer, allowing you to import your own music. While this feature was not part of our demo, fingers crossed that it will work as promised, because the available music isn't exactly a who's who of music. While its great to see lesser known artist get a shot at promotion through music game, I can't exactly see Shen Yi setting your ears ablaze with awesome. Perhaps another gripe would be the axed multiplayer mode, but for $10, its not an easy gripe to hold onto. If we're being honest, the Vita just needs some games right now, and KickBeat isn't a bad way to go.
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Like PaRappa suddenly fell in love with neon
Remember music games? Yeah, those were fun. With the genre's better (or at least its mainstream) days behind, I'm always interested to see in what weird and unique ways it will pop back up. Enter KickBeat, from the house that...

Killzone: Mercernary: A real Vita FPS finally arrives

Jan 31 // Dale North
Killzone: Mercenary (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Guerrilla CambridgePublisher: SCEARelease: September 17, 2013 Wait, mercenary? Yep. As the name of the game clearly states, this Killzone outing is all about the cash and the mission. Alliances lie where the money is. You play as ex-soldier Arran Danner, and as a for-hire badass in a time and place where there's a lot of surreptitious stuff going on, you've got plenty of prime work available. Expect to aid the Helghast and ISA during the course of this game. The focus is so heavy on money that every single thing you do has a monetary value assigned to it. Kill a baddie and a number instantly appears, telling you how much is being added to your account balance. Kill in fancier ways (headshots, melee) and see that number increase. The better you play, the more you'll earn. Even reaching checkpoints and knocking out smaller mission objectives dumps more into your account.  What's neat is that all of the money goes into one account, accessible in both single- and multiplayer modes. You can buy the biggest and best gear in both modes, and they'll all be available for use in both. The Van-Guard weapons system has some pretty nifty things to spend your money on, too. One of the options, the Iron Cannon, lets you call in a beam from orbit, letting you disintegrate enemies with a press of a button. Another, Mantis engine, lets you scout remotely to kill. Despite the change in tone, this is a true Killzone game on a handheld. It looks and feels just like a Killzone title, running off a Vita-ized Killzone 3 engine. Compromises? I don't see them. When you finally witness this game running for yourself, I'm certain you'll be wowed. From both live gameplay and in example footage of various graphical effects, using everything from HDR to dynamic lights to volumetric fog, it's clear that Guerrilla Cambridge is not jacking around when it comes to showing off what a high-quality Vita game can look like. There's no one out there that is going to say that this doesn't look good. And in keeping with the Killzone-ness of it all, Mercenary is even set in the time of previous games. Series fans will find themselves in familiar situations, though the view will be quite different in playing as a gun for hire. The liberation of Vetka? You're there. You'll also play a part in the invasion of Helghan during the time of Killzone 2. I played a bit of the single-player mission, which we're told will last some 6-8 hours in total. My little piece of the action had me taking point on a mercenary mission called Lightning Strike, where it was my job to take control of massive arc cannons that were to be used to shoot an unsuspecting fleet out of the sky. It was a hacking mission -- you know the kind. Run here, take out a wave, defend a point until the super futuristic space computer that should be fast but isn't has time to hack something, and then rinse and repeat. Heavy defense from really solid AI enemies kept things interesting. Not necessarily groundbreaking stuff, but fun, and definitely good for showcasing gameplay that felt exactly like what I would be doing in a console Killzone.  Playing felt totally natural after I got used to the range of movement of the Vita's analog sticks. With its console-ish looks and straight-up DualShock control, after getting into the zone, I kind of forgot that I was playing a handheld game. They didn't shrink or lessen the experience, but instead perfectly translated it to something that just happens to be a more portable way of playing Killzone. Hats off to them for this. There are some new Vita-ish aspects that have been added to the formula -- Sony won't let developers get away without at least some swiping. And that's exactly what you'll get in Mercenaries: touch input to do everything from throwing grenades to switching weapons. The rear touch panel will let you do things like zoom your sniper rifle in. The Brutal Melee system lets you perform attacks with a swipe, too. After pressing the triangle button in close range, time slows down, and the game prompts you to swipe your finger a certain direction to kick off an animation of a head twisting or throat slitting. The input seemed sluggish, and I found myself frantically swiping everywhere to make sure my melee connected, sometimes getting crazy enough to find my fingers hitting the right analog stick and face buttons. It needs some fine tuning, but at least it looks neat. It also has an unintended bonus as it gives you a break when the action gets heated; it felt like no other enemies could hurt me while in the process of a melee attack. Another Vita-ism might be less welcome, though I didn't mind it. A touchscreen hacking puzzle ended up surprising me after finally hacking both stations and getting to the heavily guarded main terminal. Several hexagons with certain triangle segments missing had me poking at a selection of other hexagons on the side of the screens that could be a match. A countdown timer kept the pressure on as frantically I tried to match shapes. Again, I don't mind these kind of hacking mini-games, but others looking for pure FPS action might gripe.  I didn't get as much time with Mercenary's multiplayer, but it's clear even from my limited look that FPS fans will dig this. This is big game multiplayer in a portable package. Four-on-four deathmatches in tight caves kept things hot, and drops to be used in the previously mentioned Van-Guard system turned the heat up even higher. New to the MP system are Valor cards. Kill someone and they'll drop a card, which represents their their class and rank. You'll want to collect them all as they're worth money, and there are also added bonuses to hoarding them. Expect three modes and six maps for Mercenary's multiplayer in the end. Guerrilla says that it will be fully supported by Killzone.com, with leaderboard updates, heat maps and the like. Multplayer moved at a nice clip, with a framerate that seemed to be suitably smooth. The same was true for most of the single-player mission I tried, though there were a couple of instances in tight quarters where a higher enemy count had rates dropping a bit. Some touchscreen commands seemed to lag a bit behind (get that grenade out now!), but nothing too serious.  Hopefully this preview will hold you over as we have a really long wait until release: September 2013. And Killzone: Mercenaries was impressive enough that we'll actually feel the need to gripe about this wait. It's close-to-console looks really took me by surprise -- seeing gameplay visuals displayed on a television didn't look much different from a PS3.  For those worried about some of the Vita-specific features mentioned above, don't. Aside from the melee attacks, which really aren't that big of a deal, and whatever other hacking mini-games that may pop up, this is a proper Killzone title with classic FPS control. Killzone: Mercenary looks fantastic and feels natural, has a sizable single-player mission and solid multiplayer, and isn't compromised or rushed in any way. That's all we've been wanting. Finally.
Killzone Vita photo
Vita's showcase shooter
You want a first-person shooter on your Vita, right? Me too. Those dual analog sticks have been calling my name since the system's release, but we've got nothing to use them with. And no, that other game doesn't count. Killzo...

Hands-on: Ripping into Vita platformer Tearaway

Jan 31 // Dale North
Tearaway (Vita)Developer: Media MoleculePublisher: SCEARelease: 2013 My hands-on session took me into the island of Sogport. It's a small area that is slowly becoming smaller from being slowly used up, and its your job to go in with Iota and save it. The entire island is surrounded by thick, white glue, which is not a great place for our paper hero to end up in. But a light application of this same glue on the level's paper surface can help Iota climb up walls to reach areas that would normally be inaccessible.  Sogport's Wendigo Fissure level is a sort of sandbox at first, with plenty of fun little interactions available to test out Iota's abilities. Aside from the standard platforming stuff, like running, jumping, and rolling, Iota can pick up paper pearls to do things like play a quick game of hoops. Special platforms let you tap up on the back touch panel to send anything on them flying, including Iota. Some platforms are only accessible through this method.  As the level progresses, Sogport becomes less of a playground and more of a dangerous place. Large, angry Wendigos look on as you cross a bridge overhead at first, but it's only a matter of time before they're on your tail, running at you with paper claws outstretched. Jumping and rolling only got me so far in trying to get away, and I eventually had to interact with paper puzzles to distract or trap them.  Paper oysters scattered over the level give paper pearls that the Wendigos love to eat. I found myself throwing them as bait into traps to have the them running into them, or throwing them off in the other direction so I could run around the monsters. Distractions helped me find glue-covered walls to run up and around to dodge trouble.  Special "god platforms" pointed Iota to paper objects that can be interacted with through the touchscreen. One had me peeling away layers of a wall to make a sort of bridge to crawl over to safety.  Finally, after dodging enough Wendigos, the level lead me to a ledge overlooking a mysterious lab off in the distance, where paper synthesizers protruded out of a mountain. All Media Molecule would tell me about this place is that it is "very musical."  Tearaway's puzzle platforming feels right at home on the Vita, and manages to do so without feeling gimmicky in its use of the Vita's alternate control schemes. As I said before, they've crafted a world where it feels natural to put yourself into it. You really do feel like you're helping Iota along on his journey.  And, visually, of course, Tearaway is a delight. Everything in the paper world world bends, folds, unfurls, and unwraps around you, and does so in a way that you're constantly surprised by what's going on around you. Little touches, like how paper surfaces seem to slightly fold in under the weight of Iota, really help sell that everything is lightweight and pliable.  For Tearaway's design, Media Molecule says that they were inspired by the heaps of paper all over their workspaces. Apparently all of the sketches they worked on for this game in a pile were inspiration themselves. They've taken this papercraft world idea and have gone crazy with brilliant, adorable concepts that are coming together in what's sure to be the PlayStation Vita's most exciting game yet.  
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You couldn't tear me away
Media Molecule debuted a papery present at gamescom last year with upcoming Vita game Tearaway, but they haven't said much about it since. And then, out of nowhere, we finally got our hands on a playable version at a Sony pre...

MLB 13: The Show focusing on bringing the fun

Jan 30 // Steven Hansen
[embed]243457:46589[/embed] MLB 13: The Show (PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita) Developer: SCE San Diego Studio Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Release: March 5, 2013In San Francisco, you don’t have to be a big baseball fan to go to a game. In fact, I would hazard a guess that ardent baseball fans are the minority in attendance at AT&T Park, the picturesque ballpark on the bay. It’s both family friendly and great for getting wasted (public transport as far as the eye can see; drink responsibly!) Also, there’s baseball, which I happen to like quite a bit. MLB 13 aims to capitalize on a less fervent fan base in some admirable ways. “This is the most fun game we’ve made,” San Diego Studios’ Community Specialist Ramone Russell said. “People always say, ‘Oh, the game is really authentic,’ but we didn’t hear that it was fun enough. Now you’re going to have those games where it’s 9-14, 6-9.” Baseball is hard. It's often been said hitting a hand fruit sized target coming toward you at over 90 MPH with wicked movement is the hardest thing to do in sports. I get the desire to see exciting games busted open with offense, though the value of such games in baseball is their infrequency and novelty. I had more than enough big run count games to sate my appetite in last year's The Show despite mostly playing with an anemic Giants offense, so I hope that in the so-called "era of the pitcher" that has succeeded the homerun smashing steroid era, the game isn't tooled too much towards offense. Still, the increased wiggle room in timing windows for hitting should allay a lot of concerns about getting new players into the series instead of leaving them struggling to make contact. At the same time there is, as always, the promise of a complex series of custom difficulty accordance for those wanting to test their mettle. The new Beginner Mode is a welcome addition, meant to help new players get their legs under them in an organic way. I've tried to let new players take a crack at The Show and they always end up ceding control in embarrassment after their batter awkwardly flails at a pitch they had no business swinging at. It's a complex game, and having a mode in place to help organically teach players how to swing in time, how to identify pitch types, and so on is a great move. Back to the side of "fun factor," there is a new Playoff Mode that starts players off smack dab in the post season, circumventing the arduous 162 game regular season. For those in it for the long haul, the finer points of franchise have gotten some love. “We ripped out three core systems. Our budget system, we started from scratch. Player training, we started from scratch. Scouting, drafting, player progression: all new code,” Russell offered. Similarly, Road to the Show has seen some changes, focusing on your individual player more in terms of presentation and point of view. “If you’re making a left fielder, what you hear now -- you don’t hear any audio -- it’s all about the crowd noise. It’s about you trying to run and get a ball and you hearing the center fielder call you off. Or when you’re batting at running to third, you can’t see where the ball is. You’ll hear the base coach telling you to stop.” On top of this, the team will have a comprehensive leaderboard by league and position. Those in the number one spots were promised a cryptic “something special” at the end of the year. One other neat addition to this year’s Show is a new throwing option. “Your initial button press fills up your strength then the meter comes up on the screen. If you stop it in the green, your throw is really, really accurate. If you stop it in the yellow, your throw is offline. If you stop it in red it goes over somebody’s head,” Russell explained. I found it preferable to the plain button presses, which don’t always put the throw outcome in your hand, and analog throwing. The Vita version was also on hand and I'm glad to report its looking good as it’s become my favorite way to indulge in the series. There was noticeably less delay in menu navigation and an aesthetically altered HUD that made things feel snappier. Vita players will be able to play Homerun Derby online with PS3 users this year, but don't expect a cross buy level of parity any time soon. “There’s 6gbs worth of audio [in the PS3 version]. We could fill up the Vita disc twice with just presentation elements,” Russell said when asked about the possible parity between systems in the future. That being said, those with both versions of the game can still shift saves between the two, while a new universal profile tracks stats and experience across both platforms. Online play is also being addressed. Shaky connections have plagued The Show for some time now and delay is hard to get over when you’re trying to hit a pitch coming at you at nearly 100 MPH. To address this, the game focuses resources more purely on the batting/hitting while online. Additionally, a ping indicator can warn you of opponents with bad connections. There is also an online pitcher rotation system in which aces will get tired with overuse, requiring players to go to their lower tiered starters on occasion to keep every game from being an ace on ace pitcher’s duel, which should add some variety and allay some frustration of always having to hit against CC Sabathia. Both versions feel great to play. The added animations, batting stances, and physics-based ball reactions are all as welcomed as ever and making solid contact still feels satisfying. I’m particularly excited to see how the Vita version, now in its second iteration, fairs, especially given how admirably it stood beside last year’s PS3 release. Book your tickets to The Show March 5.
MLB The Show photo
Beginner mode, ramped up offense, and a host of cool new features
October was a hell of a month here in San Francisco. There’s nothing like sports to shore up the bonds of comradely in otherwise disparate, eclectic pockets of the world. Just look at how the Olympics create a national ...

Preview: Street Fighter X Tekken Vita brings plenty more

Oct 08 // Abel Girmay
Street Fighter X Tekken (PlayStation Vita) Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Release: October 23, 2012 The biggest addition to the Vita iteration is the expanded roster -- 12 new characters, to be specific. From Street Fighter, expect to see Dudley, Sakura, and Blanka, among others, while the Tekken roster is buffed by Bryan, Lei, Lars, and a few more. Bringing the total roster to a staggering 55, the new characters are certainly the biggest draw to the Vita version, and the core cast will be getting treated with additional costumes. What's more is that you can use the Vita's Near functionality to send and receive custom costumes with other players. Perhaps the best thing about all the added content is the cross-sharing feature. This lovely little tool allows anyone who owns a Vita copy of SFXT to transfer all of the bonus content between their Vita and PlayStation 3. Personally, I'm really excited to see how this feature pans out. As much as I loved the Vita port of Mortal Kombat, I was always bothered by the fact that the DLC characters' alternate costumes remained Vita exclusives. So seeing SFXT allow us to bring the definitive experience to the version we've already invested months of our time in is a huge plus. While the Vita port does bring the full online and offline suite of modes with it, there isn't a whole lot new in that department, save Burst Kumite. Essentially an endless battle mode, Burst Kumite pits players against the AI in never-ending waves. Not to be confused with a survival mode of any kind, your characters start each round with full health. Enemy AI doesn't gradually ramp up either since you determine your difficulty beforehand. The objective is really to test yourself, seeing how well you can battle and for how long. One interesting feature about it is a quasi-ghosting mechanic where the game mimics your online experience by picking teams that you've recently played against. As the sole new mode, it's looking to be a fun, quirky little addition for those wanting a more intense offline challenge. In terms of gameplay, SFXT on Vita is functionally similar to its console brethren, bringing the same juggle-heavy leanings of the Tekken series with the six-button system of Street Fighter. There are some Vita-specific controls, though, that take advantage of the front and rear touch. Using the touch screen, you can queue up to four moves on portions of the screen for instant access. Additionally, from the options menu you can determine how much space each grid takes up, and even overlap them to form simpler combos. It's an easy, non-intrusive system that works well enough when combined with standard button presses. Not as impressive is the rear touch functionality. With the rear touch pad, players can swipe on the left side to tag characters in and out, while swiping on the right initiates a launcher. More often than not, using the rear touch felt more awkward than useful, and isn't exactly ideal for combos. Depending on how you hold your Vita, it is entirely possible to accidentally initiate the rear touch controls. Thankfully, any and all of the touch controls can be disabled in the options menu, so fighting purist need not worry. While we've seen many fighting game ports on Vita, Street Fighter X Tekken is certainly poised to be one of the stronger ones. Having only one new mode may be a bit of a bummer, but that's hardly a complaint when you take into account the 12 new characters, costumes, and the ability to trade all of that content between your PS3 version. And if you're a content-starved Vita owner who's never played the console version, there isn't much of a reason to hold out.
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The PlayStation Vita's library has already seen its fair share of console ports, especially when it comes to fighting games. Mortal Kombat, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and now Street Fighter X Tekken has made the jump. Havi...

Hands-on with Call of Duty: Black Ops on the Vita

Oct 03 // Steven Hansen
[embed]235909:45249[/embed] Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified (Vita) Developer: Nihilistic Software Publisher: Activision Release: November 2012 If supposed common knowledge is worth going on, a lot of people play Call of Duty games for the online multiplayer (though some don’t at all), and since that was what I got hands-on time with, that’s where I’ll begin. Save for some mindless zombie exterminating in World at War and Black Ops, I haven’t spent extended time with the series since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which feels like it came out ages ago at this point. However, if you’ve played any Call of Duty game, or even a lot of the shooters that have followed the first Modern Warfare, you should be instantly familiar with how it plays, save for a few Vita-specific changes. There are two options for sprinting in Declassified. Running (just by moving the analog stick pressed fully forward) will eventually put you into a sprint. Alternatively, you can map the command to down on the d-pad (you don’t have to hold it). Aim steadying, a necessity for sniping, can be done by pressing anywhere on the back touch panel. In one of the cooler additions, grenades show up on the HUD and by dragging the grenade icon from its corner you can place grenades right on the screen where you intend to throw them, which was rather neat in practice. Kill streak icons, similarly, pop up on the bottom left corner of the screen and are perfectly accessible. With a tap on the mortar strike icon, I brought up the map, and with a tap on the map, I was able to rain fiery death from above. Incidentally, I did so terrifyingly close to my own position so I was able to watch the fires of war consume my opponent quite personally. Tapping any real estate left on the touch screen without a specific function yields a knife swipe -- or a healthy jugular impalement if you’re within striking distance of an adversary. Everything else is pretty much a scaled down version of what you might expect out of a Call of Duty game. I quite like the personal nature of four-versus-four competitive multiplayer, though I’m sure that’s bound to turn some people off. The six maps are more intimately constricted given the maximum player occupancy, but include a variety of thoroughfares and most buildings have multiple points of entry. Of the two I tried out, I was much more fond of the snowy outdoors locale than the war-torn, brown urban decay, although I’ve always had a soft spot for boreal, wintry settings in games. (I live in San Francisco; snow is a vacation, not something that inhibits and burdens my life every winter, and it’s pretty.) As mentioned, Killstreaks are a part of the multiplayer experience, as well as different bits of customization, like creating custom loadouts, and prestige levels, so there will still be the proverbial dangling carrot encouraging play. I was also shown (hands off) a bit of the single-player portion of the game which aims to fill in events between the first Black Ops and the upcoming Black Ops II (random aside, I like saying “Blops”). Ten different campaign missions, some featuring Black Ops characters, are strung together with little cutscenes beforehand meant to fill in story events. Each mission is said to have its own specific “hook,” while their bite-sized nature is geared towards portable play. The one I was shown tasked the player with saving some hostages in a two-minute time frame. In addition to replaying campaign missions on higher difficulties, solo gamers can look forward to a “Time Trial” mode that involves cardboard cutout shooting and “Hostiles,” a survival mode that swarms you with enemies until you die (or until the world runs out of non-descript terrorists, I guess). I’m still just a bit wary of the game, which is being developed by the same studio that developed Resistance: Burning Skies. Just from a visual standpoint, I think it looks strangely less impressive than the latter, but that might be because I find the “modern war” look a bit boring and plain. Still, this game was announced at E3 without even a screenshot or trailer and it’s already dropping this month, which seems to explain the compact nature of the solo components, whereas the online multiplayer needed only to built around the tried-and-true Call of Duty framework. While going hands-on with the multiplayer for half of an hour is enough for me to tell you it plays well enough and familiarly, the success of the final product will be contingent on a number of factors, including how many other people are playing online. It’s going to be interesting to see how well it sells and if it moves systems, which of course should have some correlation to how robust the online community is. There doesn’t seem to be much there in regards to single-player content to warrant a purchase unless you desperately need to play Call of Duty when you’re away from your consoles.
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CODBLOPSD
In the same way armchair economists have explained how the release of a Monster Hunter title would “save” the Vita in Japan, many have espoused the necessity of a parallel big-name release for North America. That ...

TGS: It's all about Soul (Sacrifice, that is)

Sep 23 // Conrad Zimmerman
The hook of Soul Sacrifice is that the player has to be judicious in how they apply the use of magic to the defeating of demons. This is because magic is powered by sacrifice, an offering of a soul for power. That can be your soul, the souls of your enemies, even the souls of your teammates. Should one of your partners go down, you can opt to give them some of your health and pick them up. Alternately, you can kill them to cast a powerful spell, leaving them as a spirit which haunts the battlefield and becomes little more than a nuisance to enemies. The dynamic is kind of interesting, but this demo wasn't a particularly good example of it. The arena we were in was lousy with respawning enemies, so there weren't much in the way of hard choices that I had to make. I never ran out of sacrifices, despite pretty much spamming magics the entire battle. When it comes to magic, there's a solid range of about 30 spells available for the player to take into battle. You can select six before heading off to die, split into two groups of three that you switch between with a tap of a shoulder button. The spells are quite fun. My loadout featured a spell which would lock on to three targets and shoot darts of flame, as well as a grenade-like fireball, and a short-ranged electrical attack. Healing spells are available as well, along with other support magic. Some spells are activated with a tap, while others need a little more time to charge up. My favorite spell had my character lifting stones from the Earth and using them to encase himself in a ball of solid rock. In this state, I could roll around the battlefield and do light damage to whatever I bumped into or spin myself like Sonic the Hedgehog and dash off for a harder hit. The game looks great in a graphical sense. Gnarled, dead trees surrounded the battlefield, structures lay in ruins; it's a dark world out there. The character designs are complex as well. All of the playable characters featured beautifully detailed models, scarred and battle worn. It's interesting, conceptually speaking, and I like the premise of the player's actions coming at a personal cost, having to weigh the benefits of using a powerful spell (perhaps even one which nearly kills the player themselves) against the immediate danger posed by enemies around you. This should make for a difficult and rewarding balancing act. That's not really what I got to see in this demo, though. Cool as it was, this was built for people to be able to complete it, not necessarily to challenge them, and it's hard to get a real sense of what the final product will be like with such a tiny sliver of gameplay. But for a growing platform like the Vita, it represents an opportunity to put something unique on a handheld plagued by ports. And that is something to celebrate. 
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[With apologies to Billy Joel] Soul Sacrifice was certainly one of the biggest games at this year's Tokyo Game Show. I had a chance to play it on the show floor and, well, I'm confused. Demos are always a little bit confusing...

TGS: Open Me, open you, open everything in the room

Sep 22 // Conrad Zimmerman
To keep those bands from popping up, I had to hold them down with my fingers while my partner opened the lid to reveal a coupon in the box. Tapping the coupon to retrieve it, the lid grew teeth and snapped back down, which gave me a bit of a start (and a laugh). The box's lid would need to be held by the other player in order to prevent it from causing injury. A hand with one bandaged finger appeared in the lower right corner of the Vita's display, which serves as a health meter (a second hand pops up once the first is fully injured, for a total of ten mistakes possible before total failure). And that's a very simple example. The next box was metallic, with a button on its top. Pressing this button caused panels to open on two of the sides, one displaying a five digit number and the other a nine button keypad and both with a meter indicating a limited amount of time to properly enter the sequence. There were five of the sequences to enter and, after each, the buttons for the keypad player would change their composition, introducing symbols as well as numbers. Once several of these codes were entered, the box changed again, producing a laser beam which had to be reflected over to a sensor on the opposite end using the two Vitas. This was probably the most challenging to pull off, as it was kind of hard to tell where the laser was in relationship to your partner, and getting the angles right was tricky. I love this idea so much. It's not a complicated game, but the possibilities for challenging and creative puzzle designs is vast. The multiplayer element is really cool, and it's fun to work on a puzzle cooperatively with another player, but I can't help thinking that the chances of my encountering another person with a Vita who wants to play Open Me! when I have one with me are kind of low. So, I'm highly interested, but I'd have to know a bit more about exactly how much single-player content will be available in the release before I would throw my money down. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more on this as something to snag when I finally invest in a Vita.
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"Come on man, WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!"
Augmented Reality games are a neat thing, but there aren't a lot of them which have captured my interest beyond that. But I've finally found one that I'm really into in the Sony booth at Tokyo Game Show. Open Me is a game whe...


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