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PS Vita

J-Stars Victory Vs+ is a shallow masher, but it's fanservice done right

Apr 15 // Chris Carter
J-Stars Victory Vs+ (PS3, PS4 [tested], Vita) Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentRelease: TBA 2015 So what the hell is this game? Well, it's a 2v2 brawler that's set up a lot like Bushido Blade. All battles take place in large arenas in a 3D format, so you can run around to your heart's content as you try to chase down or escape your foes. According to Koji Nakajima, the game's producer, the "core focus" is strictly on 2v2 fighting, with AI taking the place of a partner if you aren't engaging in two-player co-op. The cast is probably the most impressive part, hosting well-known characters like Kenshin, Goku, and Naruto, alongside of more obscure ones like Toriko and Gintoki Sakata, who only dedicated anime fans may know of. The good news is that you'll likely find a lot of favorites regardless as the final cast is massive, weighing in at 52 characters. Even better news -- Nakajima states that there are "no plans for DLC." If you want some background info on the roster, you can check it out by way of an in-game gallery, which details their personal story. The demo I played hosted matches in Hidden Leaf Village from Naruto, furthering the Bushido Blade comparison. Environmental objects like houses can be blown up, paving the way for more destruction, and there's a lot of room to move around. All told, there's over 10 stages in the final build and given the open-ended nature of just the one I played, that seems like more than enough. I did have some camera issues when the action took place in more enclosed spaces, but there is a lock-on feature, and blowing up those spaces made things more manageable. Blowing up stuff is always a good idea in J-Stars. The way the game works is that each team of two needs to achieve three kills total, at which point the round ends and said team is declared the victor. It's simple enough, especially when the control scheme is so easy to pick up. In addition to your typical "weak and strong" attacks there are also a few supers, as well as team ultimates -- in the case of Goku, a Kamehameha and a Spirit Bomb would fulfill those roles respectively. There really is no finesse in J-Stars Victory -- it's a masher through and through. Although there's a lot of nuance in terms of animations (Goku's flight dash is completely different compared to Kenshin's run), every character pretty much operates in the same fashion, mashing either of the two attack buttons when their opponent is open. Attack animations are very lengthy and advanced tactics like canceling are few, so the opportunity to punish is near constant. What's really impressive though is the commitment to how the characters are portrayed in-game. I asked Nakajima to elaborate a bit on how they came up with some of the movesets, and he replied that "it was a really tough thing to reproduce. Since a lot of the cast wasn't strictly action based, we needed to improvise. Take Kankichi Ryotsu, a police officer. His character really likes remote control cars, so we implemented that as an attack in the game." This isn't just a statement to fluff up J-Stars -- it's absolutely true. Although I'm not thrilled by the lack of depth when it comes to the combat system itself, each character feels like a different experience in terms of their animation. J-Stars Victory Vs+ is set to arrive on June 30 in 2015 in the west, and its release is nothing short of a miracle. Just don't go in expecting a deep fighter, and you'll likely enjoy it.
J-Stars Victory Vs+ photo
Damn if it doesn't feel good to beat up Naruto as Goku
It doesn't take an otaku to see the appeal of J-Stars Victory Vs+. It features a host of famous anime characters, from Kenshin to Goku to Naruto. It's like the Marvel vs. Capcom of Shōnen Jump properties, a mag...

Review: Titan Souls

Apr 13 // Steven Hansen
Titan Souls (PC [reviewed], Mac, PS Vita, PS4)Developer: Acid NervePublisher: Devolver Digital  Release: April 14, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 Titan Souls is simple. Its art is in pixels and you wouldn't need much more than an NES controller to accommodate its two-button layout. One button serves as a run (hold) and roll (tap), the other shoots and retrieves a lone arrow. That's some pared down resource management: one. The land is in ruin with pleasantly varied color palettes. The goal is to kill all the monsters guarding fragments of the Titan Soul so you can put it back together. Groups of titans are sequestered around checkpoints in various themed areas and you'll have to walk around a bit to stumble on them. You might not even hit them all because you don't need to kill every titan to beat the game. I am sitting at 16 slain and a nice credit sequence, but no unlock of the conspicuous "TRUTH" achievement that seems to hint at more story resolution than is otherwise present. Mostly though it is a game about killing monsters -- yetis and brains and treasure chests and cursed predecessors -- with your one arrow, which you can retrieve by picking up or by holding down the shoot button and calling it back to you. Of course, you can't move while doing this, which makes it a dangerous tactic, but it is also a necessary way to use the arrow sometimes. [embed]290383:58146:0[/embed] Shadow of Colossus was about endurance, down to the grip gauge. Here, a fight can be over in two seconds, either in your favor or the AI's. This is not about endurance as much as it is relentlessness. About trying again and again and again. Because when enemies are killed in one hit (some take work in exposing weak points), they need to hit hard to compensate. I killed a few titans on my second try. Seconds of effort. Others took a couple dozen tries. The last two made up the bulk of my 306 deaths and it was a thoughtlessly loosed arrow that brought me to the credit sequence. Aside from the last two fights and maybe one other, I found it quickly obvious what to do -- shoot it in the brain, shoot it in the butt. Winning was dependent more on execution than puzzle solving, though there are some inventive uses of your bow's recall power. The one, two seconds of swelling music before somber death or quick success is almost farcical. The brief, but cumulative, walks back to the individual bosses, even from nearby checkpoints, kind of became a nuisance. What would've been nominal loading stacks in rapid succession (compared to the immediate "one more try" return of an Olli Olli or Super Meat Boy). Titan Souls, with its arcane aesthetic and sweeping music, plays at being a moody and thoughtful piece, but it is a punishing, reflex-oriented affair and I'm not sure why boss fights couldn't have just restarted in the boss lairs. It disincentives and punishes death, but in the most annoying way, and walking up the same seven seconds of path over and over after death lacks the tonal poignancy of, say, Shadow of the Colossus's treks between golems. Trying to realize boss patterns a couple seconds of life at a time takes patience. Completion unlocks Hard mode, which is still kicking me around (no more smooth second try victories thus far) as well as Iron (one life) and No Rolls (or run). You can toggle any or all three of these settings on for a more brutal time, but hamstringing myself, leading to more deaths, just exacerbates the problems of unnecessary loads and walks back to bosses.  My normal difficulty run through, save for some exasperation at the final two titans, did make for good pacing. Death or victory come quickly because, for the most part, the titans are designed to leave you few opportunities to win. Running around and staying alive isn't an impressive feat because you're no closer to winning. The moments of opportunity are designed to put you in harms way -- surely killing you should you miss the shot -- doubling down on an intense thrill. The quickness with which these things kill you leaves you always feeling unsafe. That you often have to stare down these charging killers, like drawing an arrow against an oncoming train with a baseball-sized weak point, is exhilarating. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Titan Souls review photo
In the shadow of Shadow of the Colossus
I've always clamored for the all-boss-fights game. Shadow of the Colossus, an inescapable inspiration here, did it right and others have done it wrong, like Prince of Persia (2008), but I love the idea of removing fluff encou...

Review: MLB 15 The Show

Apr 09 // Steven Hansen
MLB 15 The Show (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita, PS3)Developer: Sony San DiegoPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Release: March 31, 2015 MSRP: $59.99 (PS4), $39.00 (PS3), $19.99 (Vita) I don't think there are baseball fans who care about what brand of jockstrap players are wearing (just its inability to fully conceal Josh Reddick's testicles). I didn't, anyways, but now I am doubting myself. Someone who makes big money decisions on a big money release thinks there are and probably paid these brands big money. And yet the giant Coke bottle slide sticking out of left field at AT&T Park reads "Enjoy Cola," like when an anime flips the McDonalds logo upside down.  When one of your biggest new selling points -- it's right under "gameplay improvements" in its own "new features" list -- is that I am being advertised to, it suggests a lack of ambition. But maybe players do want to crawl through inventory screens to equip a Rawlings® Adirondack® Ash bat that features "great performance wood, professional profile, and great value." But I still play catch with a mitt I found in a park 20 years ago because I like it better than any of the others I've had. So maybe I'm old-fashioned. Still, that you'd have to periodically unlock these things, or buy them with in-game currency (which you can buy with real world, rent-paying currency) rather than have them thrown at you by these companies who'd like famous athletes to rep their brands doesn't follow the "striving for authenticity" excuse.  [embed]290093:58102:0[/embed] The Show has leaned into its effective MLB monopoly like its going for the hit by pitch and some of it is worthwhile. I do enjoy the virtual tourism of visiting new stadiums, or even being back in downtown San Francisco mainstay AT&T Park without forking over the cash. I'd take a Candlestick memorial, too, winds and all. But MLB The Show has many little, longstanding problems hurting its tone, gameplay, and even its authenticity than the now fixed lack of pages and pages of adverts. Take the lack of any corporeal collision physics that sees uncanny replays where players phase through one another or, if in uninterruptible animation, as if they are necking action figures or a cheap electronic football toy. Without it, how do you simulate a 12th inning playoff collision between outfielders? There's the only somewhat improved squirreliness of wondering whether your fielder will do an electric slide out from underneath a dropping pop fly. The in-game commentary that is only there to be turned off, maybe? Instead, a new "directional hitting interface" is trumpeted as fresh. You can pair it with timing and analog swings in the options, using the left stick to aim your hits (rather than as the plate coverage indicator). Except this only adds visual feedback and a few new directions to what The Show has always told me I could do, press up to induce flyballs, down for grounders. Meanwhile, analog hitting has been reduced, as you no longer pull back on the analog stick to stride, just flick forward to hit. Mostly things are intact and the on-field baseball simulation is as satisfying as last year. The game pushes Diamond Dynasty hard in an attempt to make EA-type money with people buying card packs to field an ultimate team. However, my risible satisfaction at naming a team the "San Francisco Existentialists" (after deciding against "Lizzards," the spelling of which always confuses me) and the angelic, plain white pajamas your team starts out with were short-lived novelties to me. I've never had the means or desire to be a collector, though. Online play felt somewhat smoother in limited goes, but I'm on a different (real good) internet connection this year, too. Others have reported the same old problems. The PS4 version's horrendous load times from last year are reduced to just a nuisance, at least, even with a hefty install. It was particularly trying in my new Road to the Show (I couldn't be bothered to upload my PS3's file to the cloud and then import on my PS4) trek through the minor leagues as an under appreciated starting pitcher. This was partly my fault as the slow moving Dynamic Difficulty, one of the great sports game fallbacks as far as new features go, gave my 22-year-old rookie a near-0 ERA. I ended up starting quickly in AAA, where my manager would routinely leave me hurling with a pitch count around 120. After a few of these, with one out to go in the 9th inning of a shutout, my player (a rare #69) fractured his arm. When I was healthy, the manager refused to start me, instead starting a bullpen guy and always inserting me in the second or third inning, from which point I'd usually finish out the game anyways, while in the "Interactions" screen he's tell me I wasn't ready for a starting role. In the bigs, I'd go from starter to an even longer bullpen stint post-injury, which made for a hell of a lot of loading and unnecessary screens between games worth one inning of work. I was also awarded a perfect game for leaving with elbow soreness having made one out in the first, which is when the Nationals were even more adamant about using a bullpen platoon as a fifth starter rather than a starting pitcher with an actual 0 ERA.  The discounted PS3 and Vita versions might be more dollar valuable as more transparent roster updates, provided you don't mind the technical limitations. MLB 15 The Show is still good by virtue of the systems laid down over the last decade, but it has no ambition. Produced on third base thinking it hit a triple, it wouldn't even bother running in a sac fly. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
MLB 15 The Show review photo
Born on third thinking it hit a triple
The Giants have won and lost back to back one-run ballgames to open the 2015 baseball season. They lost a starting pitcher and right fielder to the DL, scratched a first baseman and another starter with injury, called up a ro...

Review: Axiom Verge

Mar 30 // Conrad Zimmerman
Axiom Verge (PC, PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita)Developer: Tom HappPublisher: Tom HappReleased: March 31, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Axiom Verge is a 2D exploration platformer set on an alien world. The player controls Trace, a scientist who awakens in a machine on the as-yet undiscovered planet Sudra with no understanding as to how he got there, tasked by the remnants of an ancient race to save them from destruction. As the story develops, through psychic conversations, scripted exploration sequences, and collected texts, Trace will learn some of the history of the planet, its decline, and the role it plays in the universe, discovering that his arrival there isn't the accident he believes it is. The narrative of Axiom Verge functions best in its negative space, the aspects which aren't made explicit. Trace is character who does exhibit a change over the course of events, but it's not a satisfying transition. Initially viewing events with the kind of healthy skepticism one would expect of his scientific profession, he erodes quickly into a one-note good guy figure. That's a bummer because his position in the plot suggests a much more nuanced personality and raises a number of interesting philosophical questions regarding humanity's potential, ambition, and morality. Ultimately, however, he feels as two-dimensional as the sprites comprising him. Setting Trace aside, Sudra and its inhabitants are fascinating. Every part of the planet incorporates biomechanical technology in some way, and the environments pulse eerily with power. The Rushalki, the race of living machines slowly dying with Sudra, are monstrous, beautiful creations made all the more impressive by their 16-bit style of sprite rendering. [embed]289696:57976:0[/embed] The gameplay design follows a familiar pattern of defending against myriad creatures and discovering environmental obstacles for which new equipment is required to pass. With rare exception, the tools collected are useful both for exploration and combat. A drill acquired early on to destroy certain weak blocks can also function as a short-range weapon, for example. The most interesting item, the "Address Disruptor," is a sort of hacking beam which can be used in places where the environment seems to exhibit graphical glitches to clear a path through them or make invisible platforms appear. Enemies are also affected by the Address Disruptor, and every creature responds to it in a different way. Some become easier to kill, others harder, and some develop other exploitable, beneficial traits which are fun to discover and experiment with. Many of these items will also require upgrades along the way, and every such upgrade has a dramatic effect on the player's ability to travel across Sudra. One of the best examples is the remote drone, a little spider robot which can be launched to crawl through narrow spaces and collect items. With upgrades, the drone functions as a teleportation beacon which instantly warps Trace to its current position. Not only is this ability useful for getting into areas the drone's limited capabilities alone can't access, firing the beacon into the air and teleporting to it at the peak of its ascent makes climbing vertical areas much faster and easier. The depth to which the game design incorporates every possible function for each piece of essential equipment is one of its most impressive qualities. In addition to equipment, weapons abound in Axiom Verge. There are dozens of them to collect, all distinct, and the seemingly constant acquisition of them quickly develops into an arsenal. Standard fare, like short-range spread weapons and projectiles which explode on contact are nestled alongside the "Tethered Charge," a ball of electrical energy launched like a yo-yo. Weapons can be switched at any time, either through the main inventory screen or a selection wheel, with the option to assign weapons to two quick-select buttons as well. The variety is interesting, but players will likely find two or three mainstays to use through the majority of the game and only experiment with most of the weapons when first acquired or when faced with one of the game's brutal boss encounters. The real merit of the quantity of killing implements is in how their acquisition affects the seeming pace of play. Discovering these, along with a steady stream of upgrades which increase all weapon damage, range, and projectile size makes the game not only feel dense with content but that it's moving at a constant, rapid pace. Every collected item, even seemingly unreadable text files, helps to provide a forward momentum that pushes the player on and keeps them engaged. Bosses are grotesque, mutated monstrosities and are amazing to behold. These big fights are likely to be overwhelming on the first attempt, as boss enemies typically do a considerable amount of damage relative to the amount of health Trace has when he encounters them. Their patterns are never very complex, making it easy to develop an approach to fighting them based on available weapons, but they have loads of health and maintaining proper execution of the plan while they're slowly worn down is where the challenge lies. There is one exception to this in the largest of the game's bosses, featuring numerous weak points to target and tactics which change with their destruction, where the situation demands a more complex plan than "dodge and shoot." Apart from this standout battle, the bosses are much more interesting to look at than fight a lot of the time. While many games of this style will occasionally lock a player in a few small rooms until they collect a necessary ability to escape, Axiom Verge utilizes this level design technique in some very large areas. At roughly the midpoint, for example, it becomes impossible to leave the two regions at the eastern edge of the world map, a considerable expanse of the game's space which will be returned to and further explored later. With such a large area open to the player to explore, but so many unacquired abilities necessary to explore it, it's an aspect in which the game risks interrupting that sense of steady progress it establishes early on. There are scant tools available when this happens. The game map, a grid-based flat representation of the world's room structure common to the genre, is functional but feature poor, and it can occasionally be difficult to distinguish the light pink wall outline color from the darker pink background used for most rooms. Unfortunately, those gaps are basically the only clues the game gives. While dialogue gives information on what Trace's next objective is, it provides absolutely no useful geographical guidance, which you'd think would be the least that an ancient machine race could do to help. That becomes less of a problem on subsequent playthroughs. Axiom Verge is in many ways built for replay, specifically speed runs, and includes a gameplay mode which eliminates the game's plot pauses and randomized elements to ensure an easy standard for such competition. Many obvious opportunities to exploit the game's design become quickly apparent, such as the save system which returns Trace to the most recently used save room upon death but without eliminating any progress, and it's easy to see how a savvy player could cut down a lot of travel time by collecting an item and seeking a quick death. Axiom Verge is a fun, challenging game. While some aspects of the narrative -- particularly its protagonist -- have rough edges to them, it remains intriguing and mysterious through to its climax. It looks and sounds great, and offers a diversity of weapons rarely seen in games of its type. Easy to get lost in, its sizeable world has a density to match, with hidden rooms and collectibles only available through creative application of acquired abilities. And while the basic gameplay will likely be very familiar, there are a fair few fresh touches which should pleasantly surprise players. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Axiom Verge review photo
Verging on greatness
It seems like a foregone conclusion when looking at Axiom Verge that comparisons are going to be made to Metroid. It is, without doubt, similar in more ways than it differs from Nintendo's iconic franchise. The differences matter, though, and Axiom Verge merges classic environment design with new mechanical twists, producing a game that feels both familiar and fresh at the same time.

Atari bullying indie developer behind Tempest 2000

Mar 19 // Kyle MacGregor
Shortly after TxK's launch last year, Atari began to browbeat Minter and Llamasoft over the game. In a letter dated June 9, 2014, the company's legal representation argued TxK infringed on Atari's intellectual property, calling the game a "blatant copy of the Tempest games" utterly devoid of any semblance of originality. Atari demanded TxK be removed from the market, and requested any copies be destroyed, deleted, or delivered to Atari along with the title's source code. Nearly a year later, Minter decided to let the world know, allowing months upon months of frustrations boil over via Twitter. "I am beyond disgusted," he wrote. " I could never have imagined one day being savaged by [Atari's] undead corpse, my own seminal work turned against me." Minter was also taken aback by the tone of the letter, which asserts Minter merely updated the original game, downplaying his involvement with the revival. "No amount of legal mumbo jumbo can erase the fact that I designed and coded Tempest 2000," he retorted. "The fact that they are willing to pay someone to wilfully [sic] distort the truth in that fashion says it all about them really." It isn't the first time Minter's former employer distorted something to his detriment. Over on his website, Minter rebuffed Atari's arguments regarding TxK's originality, or lack thereof. He recalled there is actually precedent regarding how distinct games must be to be considered different under the law, which, funnily enough, involves both Tempest 2000 and Atari. Do you remember there was a PlayStation port of Tempest 2000 called "Tempest X"? I always wondered why the name was changed, and other little aspects of the gameplay were altered. years later I managed to chat online with the guy who did the port, and he told me that the changes were made "to reduce the royalty burden." How so? Well, my original arrangement with Atari was that I was to receive a royalty on any ports of Tempest 2000. "Tempest X" was made exactly enough different that it would be legally considered a different game, cutting me out of any royalties. Minter notes Tempest 2000 and Tempest X share the same source code, soundtrack, and power-up progression. Tempest 2000 was even included in X as a hidden unlockable. "Yet now," Minter writes, "Atari claim that TxK is in fact *closer* legally to Tempest 2000 than Tempest X was." Destructoid reached out to Atari for comment and received the following in response: Atari values and protects its intellectual property and expects others to respect its copyrights and trademarks. When Llamasoft launched TxK in early 2014, Atari was surprised and dismayed by the very close similarities between TxK and the Tempest franchise. Atari was not alone in noticing the incredible likeness between the titles. Several major gaming outlets also remarked at the similarity of features and overall appearance of TxK to Tempest; one stated of TxK, “This is essentially Tempest.” There is no lawsuit. Atari has been in continuous contact with the developer since the game launched in hopes that the matter would be resolved. Atari also quoted a trio of reviews from IGN, GameSpot, and Gaming Nexus to support its point. However, while the company claims says its doing this to protect its marks, Minter points out there are many Tempest clones floating around the mobile space "unmolested." The man now seems to want the company to just leave him alone. Minter says he is working on a new project that is "literally another world away from anything 'Atari.'" [embed]289241:57853:0[/embed] Perhaps Atari will spawn a Tempest MMO, like the recently announced Asteroids: Outpost.
TxK photo
New ports of spiritual successor TxK 'will now never see the light of day'
Atari thought it was "absolutely rubbish," the Jaguar designer told developer Jeff Minter in 1993. The man felt compelled to pull Minter aside at the console's launch party and let him know how little Atari thought of Minter'...

What Samus Wants photo
If she did, her game would probably look a lot like Axiom Verge
Dan Adelman worked for Nintendo for many years, and was one of their unsung heroes for much of that time. While he has consistently voiced affection and respect for the company, he did end up resigning last year, in part bec...

Samus wants to be in Shovel Knight

Mar 11 // Jonathan Holmes
What Samus Wants photo
Like Stella, Samus wants her groove back
When we last checked in with Samus, she was trying to score an interview with Tim Rogers, co-creator of Videoball. Despite the fact that she's been appearing in videogames for over 25 years, he still didn't know who she was....

Review: OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood

Mar 10 // Kyle MacGregor
OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita)Developer: Roll7Publisher: Roll7Released: March 3, 2015MSRP: $14.99 (Cross-Buy, Free at launch via PS Plus) OlliOlli 2 seems nearly identical to its predecessor, or that was my initial impression, at least. My memories deceived me, though. After spending many hours comparing the games side by side, I can confidently say OlliOlli 2 is a great leap forward. This feels like the game Roll7 always wanted to make. Outside of the sleek, new art direction, the most apparent distinction at work here is the manual, a trick where skateboarders balance on their back wheels while moving forward. It may sound like a small difference, but it makes for a world of difference. Landing a manual after pulling off a grind or trick allows players to keep a combo going, allowing you to string together a series of maneuvers into a single, colossal trick.   The manual introduces a critical element of risk and reward, daring players to keep a combo going throughout an entire level and punishing those who deliver anything less than excellence. It really reinforces a key tenet from the original OlliOlli: precision. The experience demands players land or grind in a very particular way if they want to be successful and get the most out of their efforts. OlliOlli 2 has a smooth learning curve. The campaign starts out with an in-depth tutorial covering the basic systems at play, then throws players into a series of five worlds, each with five levels, all of which have five special challenges to complete. The difficulty ramps up at a steady pace, easing players in with straightforward stages and concluding with stages even veterans will be lucky to just survive, let alone pull off any impressive combos. Along the way the challenges do a great job at encouraging players to experiment and try various play-styles that may not arise naturally. This goes a long way toward expanding one's skillset, which will come in use once you start focusing on climbing the leaderboards. Once a level's five objectives are completed successfully, a more difficult version of that stage will unlock. There's even a third tier (which unlocks upon completion all five challenges in every level across both Amateur and Pro modes), which is apparently so difficult it only goads players to endure. The new-look visual design is a real treat. This time around the aesthetic is far brighter and more colorful, thanks in large part to the more varied and fantastical settings. OlliOlli 2 takes players on a journey through sun-drenched Southern California landscapes with movie studio backlots, the Wild West, a Central American rainforest dotted with Aztec pyramids, a futuristic cityscape, and a post-apocalyptic amusement park. It's a brilliant collection of backdrops with a lot of personality. The art retains the simplistic vibe of the original game, but moves away from the muddy pixels in favor of a far cleaner presentation. This, combined with the silky smooth animation and impeccably tight controls makes OlliOlli 2 handle like a dream. Even at its most difficult, the experience seems fair. When I wipe out, I'm upset with myself, rather than the developers, realizing it's poor execution on my part that's at fault, not shoddy design. Honestly, it's difficult to levy complaints against Roll7 for creating a more absorbing and beautiful follow-up to one of my favorite titles of last year, but it feels a bit safe. It might have been nice to see some new modes or something. Aside from career mode, spot challenges, and daily grind competitions, the only new addition is local multiplayer, which didn't release with the game. The studio promises to add in the feature later on, but its absence at launch is a tad disappointing.  Despite those minor gripes, Roll7 has easily outdone itself with this one. OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood is a massive step up from the original game. It's a gorgeous, worthy successor that's even more absorbing and difficult to put down. Get ready for your next gaming obsession. [This review is based on an retail build of the game acquired via PlayStation Plus.]
Review: OlliOlli 2 photo
Sicky sicky gnar, bro bro!
OlliOlli was a pleasant surprise. A year ago, the minimalist skateboarding game materialized out of nowhere, deconstructing the genre and distilling its essence down the barest essentials. It stripped away any traces of exces...

Review: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Mar 10 // Chris Carter
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number  (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Vita)Developer: Dennaton GamesPublisher: Devolver DigitalReleased: March 10, 2015MSRP: $14.99 For those of you who didn't play the first game, Hotline basically functions as a top-down shooter with a completely open-ended style of play. Each map features a host of different enemy types and weapons, all of which can be used in an almost endless combination of ways. Your goal is to simple destroy an entire floor of foes, move on to the next part, and repeat the process until everyone is dead. It's that simple. After the very first broken-down door I was hooked again. Heck, even when I proceeded to die five times in rapid succession immediately, I had a blast. It's still amazing to me how many different ways you can approach a room, and no two methods between players are the same. That's due in part to a slight randomization for each spawn, where select enemies may not have the exact same weapons or may vary in their patrol routine -- but for the most part, the maps are technically laid out in the same manner, allowing you to divine a plan of sorts. Of course, plans almost never go off without a hitch, and you'll constantly have to reinvent the way you approach every level. While it may seem like going in guns blazing in a certain room is the quickest way to clear out the guys impervious to melee attacks, it's easy to miss a window right where you're standing that leaves you open to gunfire. It's variations like this that cause you to think twice before doing anything, and patience ultimately wins out in most circumstances. It's not just a shooter, it's a thinking man's game. There are still are some cases of poor AI though, where luck will win out above all else. While most enemies will come running if they hear gunfire, some are oblivious to muzzle shots two feet from their face. In very rare occasions, baddies glitched into doorways, rendering them invincible for a few seconds, only to re-materialize and take me out when I wasn't looking. It's maddening to die repeatedly, especially on tougher stages, but these instances are so few and far between that they didn't impede my overall enjoyment. [embed]288703:57643:0[/embed] One of the big draws of Hotline 2 is the addition of more masks, which function as playable characters. Powers like roll dodging can change the game up significantly. Another character can't use lethal weapons, and ejects bullets from guns Batman-style. A different style, one of my personal favorites, focuses on lethal punches, but cannot use weapons at all. "Alex and Ash," another standout mask, actually features two people at once in an Ice Climbers-like situation. If Alex dies both perish, but the duo wields a chainsaw and pistol, respectively, that are controlled with two different buttons. Without giving away the context, there's also a number of jungle scenes that really remind me of the old-school MSX and NES Metal Gear -- the character featured here can even switch between CQC at will. There's also a cool "heist-like" level featuring multiple perspectives and rapid character switching. Thankfully, Hotline 2 has plug-and-play controller support for those of you who prefer it -- it just worked. You can also fully customize your keyboard or gamepad controls. Musically, Hotline Miami is still at the top of its game, and Hotline 2 is easily one of my favorite gaming OSTs in recent memory. The hard-hitting electronica beats fit perfectly with the high-octane atmosphere, and artists such as M|O|O|N, El Huervo, Perturbator, and Magic Sword absolutely nail their compositions. From a narrative standpoint, Hotline 2 jumps around a lot more than its predecessor. There's no cohesive "Jacket" and "Helmet" tale this time around, as Dennaton is content on shifting the perspective to multiple gangs, a corrupt cop, a soldier, and a few other surprises. The entire affair is framed around a violent action movie, and once again the concept of what's real and what's not comes into play. There are a select few cutscenes of sexual nature, but the latter can be turned off, and everything is par for the course for the series in general. The story is often engrossing, but the content not surprising in games where you brutally murder hundreds of people to "win." When Hotline 2 is said and done, there's 25 levels to play with. And in case you're worried: no, the totally manageable stealth level that everyone hated for some reason does not return -- it's all action all the time. There's also a hard mode to tinker with if you're so inclined, which restarts your journey back to the first level and functions as a new playthrough. In addition to the inherent score-attack element built into the game, you'll also have the level editor to play with, exclusive to the PC version. It's shockingly easy to use, and right now, the interface reminds me of '90s first-person-shooter editors. Everything is an instant click away, from furniture to stairs to enemies, meaning pretty much anyone can craft stages without advanced programming knowledge. While I'm not super keen on creating my own puzzles, I'm anxious to see what the community comes up with. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is more of the same, but that's not a bad thing if that's all you want out of it. After beating the sequel I was immediately inspired to go back and play the original, which in turn inspired me to start playing Wrong Number again. Between the level editor and the iron-clad gameplay, I'll be enjoying this franchise for years to come. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hotline 2 review photo
More of the old ultraviolence
For some, Hotline Miami was an existential look at the current macro-state of videogames. You were told to commit random acts of murder seemingly without remorse, and at the end, you get a bit of interesting commentary on the...

Volume is a more thoughtful approach to Metal Gear Solid VR Mission-like stealth

Mar 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]288637:57627:0[/embed] You do move around in real time, somersaulting over low walls and sticking to others for cover, but Volume isn't about hunting, human-like AI (especially not with the standard pawns). If you're spotted and cut enough corners to get away or duck into a locker, guards will simply reposition and you'll have another chance to get past them correctly. Thanks to plentiful checkpoints, each level -- there will be 100 -- acts as a series of connected stealth puzzles that tasks you with getting all the little blips and getting out.  Locksley will also be outfitted with gadgets picked up on the scene. You can hold one at a time and they add to the mind teasing. The Oddity will attract the undivided attention of any guard in sight, Figment sends a ghost clone running in a line, Mute will silence your footsteps so you can run, and so on. One other nice thing about the checkpoint system is that every time you die and get sent back, the stage timer reverts to whatever time it was at when you first activated the checkpoint. That way one screw up won't kill a leader board run or require you to replay the entire level from start. While I was enjoying sneaking about and feeling out how Volume plays, there is some story here as a, "near future retelling of the Robin Hood legend" starring the voice talents of Andy Serkis (Lords of the Rings, Enslaved) and Jim Sterling (Destructoid). There will also be hefty map-making and customization options to play with.
Volume preview photo
From the creator of Thomas Was Alone
Volume is a fitting name for a polygonal, Metal Gear Solid VR Missions-looking stealth game with enough rectangles to feed a geometry class for the entire year. In the case of Mike Bithell's Thomas Was Alone follow-up, howeve...

Review: Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines

Mar 03 // Josh Tolentino
Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (PS Vita [Reviewed], PlayStation TV)Developer: Alfa SystemPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentReleased: March 3, 2015 MSRP: $19.99 About that "dead soon" thing: It's the premise of the game. Players start as the head of a Japanese clan (that they construct themselves in a rather detailed character-creation interface), murdered to a man in a gruesome ritual of human sacrifice after being framed for the disasters rocking 12th-century Kyoto. Fate is kind, though, and a few members are brought back to life to exact revenge upon the wrongdoers. Unfortunately, everything has a cost, and the price for a second chance is the dual curses of Ephemerality and Broken Lineage. The first curse dooms all members of the clan to drop dead two years after their birth. The second prevents them from having offspring with humans. Talk about a double-whammy!  Thus the mission is set: Continue the family line long enough to break the curses, by having children with willing gods and spirits (sidestepping the "Broken Lineage" part), and having those children have their own children before their two years are up, in addition to becoming strong enough to defeat the villain that cursed the clan in the first place. It's a morbid and deliciously effective premise, so much so that one wonders why it hasn't been thought of before. [embed]288441:57592:0[/embed] Except...it has, for Oreshika is technically a sequel to 1999's Ore no Shikabane wo Koete Yuke, an influential PS1 RPG that involved largely the same concepts. That said, the game never made overseas, which makes it completely new to most players. Its relative age, though, would explain why Oreshika feels like a pleasant throwback to the early years of Japanese RPG-making, when the primary influences on design came from free-roaming dungeon-crawlers like Ultima and Wizardry. That same narrative-light, systems-heavy approach largely defines Oreshika's play experience, which should delight fans who've begun to chafe under the typically linear storytelling of most JRPGs. That isn't to say the story beats are absent. Oreshika has its own complement of directed cutscenes and dialog sequences, most involving named, voiced side characters. They appear during certain missions to drop some exposition or plot twists, and in some cases join the party. The meshing of traditional narrative with the game's more free-form structure isn't perfect, and it's during these moments that the player's own created clan can feel like extras in what is ostensibly their story. The missteps are mostly inoffensive, though, and to be fair, the story does end up going deeper than might have been possible without the benefit of more defined characters to fall back on. Then again, perhaps that more traditional story wasn't that necessary at all, because for me, the most memorable moments in Oreshika come with each passing minute of my family's short, short life. The game is conducted on a month-to-month basis, either raiding or preparing to raid one of the land's many labyrinths. The preparation involves buying gear and items for use during the raid, improving the local town to upgrade the various shops' offerings, or performing the "Rite of Union" with many gods and goddesses to create offspring and ensure the family's continuation. That might sound like a lot of babies to magic up, but considering that thanks to the rigors of dungeon-raiding many of the clan's members will kick the bucket long before their two years are up, a deep bench is critical. Longer games can go for hundreds of generations, and every death can hurt, thanks to the "XCOM effect" of growing attached to people one had a hand in creating and customizing themselves. Dying family even leave semi-randomized "parting words" upon their passing. Oreshika's also quite adept at making that customization feel like it matters. Every new addition to the family takes on the characteristics of their parents, including inheriting physical features (which can turn out hilariously when uniting with some of the less "human" gods), and statistical traits. The game's item creation system allows "heirloom" gear to be created that gains power every time a departing family member bequeaths it to a new generation. And the game is all too happy to use the PS Vita's built-in screen capture function to take "family album" photos and collect them like fond mementos of bosses beaten and dungeons delved. It's almost strange that for all the time one spends preparing for dungeon raids, Oreshika's combat and exploration are designed to be over and done with as quickly as possible. When out in the world, players are literally on the clock. A real-time counter ticks down towards the end of a given month, which lasts between five and ten minutes, depending on how many battles one gets into. At the end, players are given the option to go home, or continue the raid through the next month without rest, increasing the chance that tired or injured party members might die permanently. Given that every character is already born with a very short lifespan, the timers instill a kind of frenzied pace and tension to what could otherwise have been a ponderous affair. "Frenzied" is also a good way to describe Oreshika's visuals, which are a riot of color and animation. The game's watercolor tones and melding of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock style, traditional folkloric creatures, and anime character design make it one of the best-looking titles on the platform, and possibly one of the prettiest "anime" games since the original Valkyria Chronicles. And thankfully, unlike many games that involve procreation as a concept, Oreshika lacks much of the prurient undertone that make such titles slightly embarrassing to play at times. As lovely as the characters are environments don't fare quite as well, as the pace at which a typical dungeon run is conducted doesn't leave a lot of time to admire the sights. A limited camera setup and frequent use of revisiting (often to unlock a shortcut using a key found in some other dungeon) can also sap locations of their initial charm. Despite the fact most of us will never have played the game it's a sequel to, the quality of Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines shines through its gorgeous visuals and deep mechanics. Come to think of it, there's no more fitting way for a game that's about leaving a worthwhile legacy to conduct itself. [This review is based on a digital retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Oreshika Review photo
Generations of phwoar
Like many games of its type, Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines features a tiny graphic in its text boxes to remind players they can press a button to advance to the next line. Usually the graphic is of an X or O button pressi...

Review: Helldivers

Mar 03 // Conrad Zimmerman
Helldivers (PS4 [reviewed], PS3, PS Vita)Developer: Arrowhead Game StudiosPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment AmericaReleased: March 3, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Helldivers is a squad-based sci-fi shooter, presented from an overhead perspective. Players take the role of a Helldiver, a special forces soldier trained to drop onto enemy planets from orbit as the tip of humanity's conquering spear. Given command of a ship, Helldivers are directed to venture into star systems controlled by three alien races which threaten Super Earth's way of life, pressing forward in an effort to conquer alien homeworlds. While there's an absence of any real plot, the setting of Helldivers does enough to establish itself as a pointed satire of American exceptionalism, colonialism, and military pride. From propaganda messages promoting the idea that Super Earth is spreading "democracy" through the galaxy (by the totally legitimate means of conquest), to the flavor dialogue spoken by Helldivers in the midst of a firefight ("Have a nice cup of liber-tea!"), it presents a scenario in which it's made perfectly clear that there are no "good guys" in this war, only conquerors. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the sparse but effective setting material does just enough to allow the player to consider what they're engaging in without distracting from the action, while delivering wry chuckles here and there. [embed]288491:57587:0[/embed] Gameplay takes the form of planetary assaults, planned from the player's orbiting ship. Choosing between one of the three fronts of the galactic war, players are presented with a range of incrementally difficult worlds to attack, each with missions which must be completed to deliver it into the control of the Super Earth government. Missions consist of objectives which, while varying based on which race is being fought, boil down to defending control points, activating Super Earth technology already on the planet, escorting people and supplies, and destroying enemy installations. It's a decent variety, and missions tend to offer a mix of objectives across the maps, rarely weighing too heavily on any one type of activity once the player is taking on missions with three and four objectives to complete. Escort tasks will probably still be everyone's least favorite thing to do, whether it's leading a group of survivors or following a supply train, but there isn't a whole lot of punishment received for failing objectives on a mission, so long as you can get off the planet. Every mission ends with a last stand scenario where the team must hold out against oncoming enemies for an extraction shuttle to carry them safely away, and at least one Helldiver must extract for the mission to succeed. On the ground, Helldivers plays with an interesting balance of stealth and combat. Enemy patrols roam the map, looking for your squad. At worst, these are small packs of a few enemies that can be easily dispatched, but they're a tremendous threat to the mission. If a patrol spots the squad, they have to be killed immediately. Within seconds, patrol units can call in reinforcements to do real damage. And, while those troops are being dealt with, more patrols are moving in and calling their own squads of heavy hitters, snowballing into an massive conflict. Before long, the only options available become retreat or death. This system allows the game to produce two distinct, potent forms of tension for the player. Combat encounters are exhilarating, with enemies actively working to flank and surround, Helldivers firing madly into hordes. That's all good stuff. But the system of patrol units makes it equally tense to be out of combat, knowing that an encounter with the potential to escalate into an unsalvageable mess could happen at any moment. The three enemy races, Bugs, Illuminates, and Cyborgs, are all distinct entities. Illuminate patrols consist of lone scouting robots, while the Cyborgs have a pack of light troopers surrounding a sturdier commander and Bugs use units of four scouts, all able to call reinforcements. Cyborgs focus more on ranged weapons and Bugs take up a hard melee approach to combat. All of the races have their light, medium, and heavy enemy types, but that and a common enemy in humanity is about all they share. Helldivers can access many implements of destruction to help bring democracy to the galaxy. Players select a primary weapon before missions from a pretty standard selection of assault rifles, shotguns and submachine guns, though more exotic flamethrowers and laser cannons are options too. All of the weapons are fun to play with and there is no weapon with disadvantages that cannot be overcome by skillful use. In addition to guns, players complete their loadout with four "strategems," special abilities provided by the Helldiver's vessel in orbit. Strategems come in many shapes and sizes. Some drop in a pod with extra ammunition, powerful secondary weapons, or even vehicles. Others provide defensive countermeasures, like enemy lures and antipersonnel mines, while more offensive strategems lay down strafing fire or drop explosives. They're even used to heal and return fallen comrades to the battle. Coordinating with your squad in selecting them further enhances their power, as more squad members means more options. These powerful tools also come with some downsides. Deploying a strategem is a two-step process which begins by using a communication device to input an authorization code, achieved by correctly tapping out an onscreen sequence for the desired strategem with the directional pad. This puts a targeting beacon in the player's hand, which may be thrown into the field to indicate where the strategem should be deployed. Here's the hitch: If one wanted to get technical, one could say it's actually a three-step process, in that the first step is putting down the gun. If you're tapping away at codes, you are not shooting that horde of cyborgs bearing down on you, and you're certainly not going to be able to take out that patrol creeping up from behind. And then there's gravity. The Helldiver's requisitions arrive on the planet essentially the same way the Helldivers themselves did; they're dropped in from orbit. And while it seems obvious that you would avoid the immediate area around a beacon to which a phone booth sized hunk of metal is expected to plummet any second now, that little beacon can be overlooked when the bullets are flying (this is, of course, also a useful tactic for eliminating more troublesome enemies). It's especially risky when reviving squad members, as there's always doubt as to exactly where in the proximity of the beacon one to three people are going to suddenly crash on. Losing one Helldiver in the act of reviving another is a common occurence. There is a certain measure of glee to be taken from Helldivers' unsympathetic attitude toward its rules of engagement. Friendly fire isn't a possibility; it's a certainty, but it's one the game applies to all living things and can be exploited as a combat strategy. Defensive turrets are able to distinguish friend from foe, but they cannot distinguish between foe and friend standing in front of foe. They'll just cut down anything in the direction of a target, knocking a hapless Helldiver prone and struggling for life. Death happens so often and so quickly, it becomes a source of constant humor. You will eventually see someone crushed by an extraction shuttle as it lands and you will probably laugh. They will probably laugh too. Completing missions earns experience points toward increasing rank, with higher ranks gaining access to more powerful weaponry. Weapons and strategems can be upgraded by spending resource points, earned with each rank and by collecting samples scattered throughout mission areas. Finishing all of the missions on a planet provides its own reward, either a new strategem or bonus experience points. Missions also award influence, representing the player's contribution to the larger galactic war participated in by all players. Influence is earned by finishing all mission objectives successfully, escaping with the full squad intact, and keeping casualties to a minimum, with higher difficulties multiplying the amount of influence earned. These points are used to determine leaderboard rankings, but also to determine the course of the war. A single war will last four to six weeks, with the results affecting the difficulty of the war to follow. Each front is represented by a map with sectors separating Super Earth and the enemy homeworlds. Sectors become controlled by Super Earth when enough influence has been earned by all players, eventually extending all the way to the enemy homeworld. Reaching a homeworld triggers an event during which players have a limited amount of time to assault the source of an enemy race in the hope of conquering them completely, a feat which will require far more people than the small group playing in pre-release. The galactic war doesn't have a huge impact on the game, other than providing an excuse for event missions to occur. Yet, it does make you feel as though you're contributing to the accomplishment of a goal, and it's satisfying to see the rundown of which sectors have been taken and lost since the last time you played. It feels like something's happening around you, even if that something may just be statistics. Helldivers is best experienced as a multiplayer game, and joining an online session is about as quick and easy as starting a mission of your own. A couple of quick menu selections and you will, quite literally, drop in on another player's mission in progress. Local multiplayer is also an option and, in the absence of outside life, it's still enjoyable solo. Playing alone requires different strategies and offers less flexibility in strategem selection, which does make the already brutal higher difficulties seem even more insurmountable, but the satisfaction of single-handedly conquering a planet cannot be denied. Unrelenting and brutal, Helldivers delivers fast-paced combat, epic standoffs and a comical approach to death. Its enemies are varied, powerful and a constant threat to the players. While the full impact of the larger multiplayer experience remains to be seen, it still adds a nice little scratch to the progress itch. The strategem system provides great flexibility in squad building with many ways to build out team roles to maximize defensive and offensive capabilities. With procedural map generation and just enough mission and enemy variety to prevent a sense of repetition, the twelve levels of difficulty ought to keep players challenged for a good long time. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Helldivers review photo
In the grim darkness of the near future...
Mankind has expanded throughout the galaxy, having come together under one government, a "managed" democracy. From the Super Earth homeworld, humanity spreads its message of liberation and freedom to every planet they land upon; the liberation of their natural resources and freedom from human opposition, that is. And if you don't like it, expect them to spread a whole lot of ordinance instead.

Review: Blackhole

Mar 02 // Conrad Zimmerman
Blackhole (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One)Developer: FiolaSoft GamesPublisher: FiolaSoft GamesReleased: February 27, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Blackhole tells the story of the star ship Endura and its crew who, tasked with saving the Earth from impending doom, find themselves trapped inside a multi-dimensional entity. Only the ship's most menial laborer and its artificial intelligence, Aluria, can rescue the crew, repair the Endura, and finish the mission. As "the coffee guy," players will explore the entity's varied dimensions, collecting "selfburns" (nanobots capable of fixing the ship) while looking for critical ship components and missing crewmembers. The writing in Blackhole is surprisingly good, with an intriguing mystery behind the origins of Aluria and the true purpose of the Endura's mission slowly revealed as the player progresses. Peppered liberally with jokes riffing on pop culture and sci-fi tropes, conversations with the crew are fully voiced with solid performances throughout. Occasionally corny but never dull, it scores big on charm despite suffering a bit in presentation due to its stage-based progression. [embed]288460:57582:0[/embed] Each dimension in the game contains a central hub area with about ten stages to explore, each containing multiple selfburns to be collected and ending with levels in which a crewmember can be rescued and a missing ship part retrieved. And this is where the plot progression becomes a bit of a hassle, as finishing a level opens up a new dialogue with a crewmember (who is supposed to be locating the next part or crewmember), but the player is expected to travel back to the beginning of the hub area to speak with them and get an update on their progress. It isn't mandatory that you speak with crew members immediately, and the hub stages are designed to loop back to their origin point (so the player will get to them eventually if they just keep moving forward), but then those conversations just stack up and the player has to sit through them all right after the high of accomplishing a dimension's most challenging stage. It kills the pacing and has the potential to turn what should be a light break from the action into a chore to be endured. Blackhole offers puzzles and platforming through its central mechanic, gravity platforms. Touching a gravity platform rotates the world around the player, usually opening a new route through the same environment they just traversed. Every stage in the game features this mechanic as a central component, tucking selfburns into areas only accessible when approached from the proper stage orientation. Only one selfburn has to be collected from a stage to unlock the next (and there's usually one that's significantly easier to nab), which allows the player to progress past levels which present a struggle. Eventually, stages will have to be revisited to collect more selfburns, as each dimension has a minimum requirement before allowing progress to the next set of levels. The gravity platform mechanic puts a tremendous demand on level design, and Blackhole delivers brilliantly in this respect. Every stage brings a new challenge that feels fresh and each dimension is unique, with its own stage elements that utilize gravity platforms in new ways. These include pulley systems, climbable walls, trampolines, and more, all of which function in different ways based on the stage orientation. The variety is broad and each environmental object is explored thoroughly, as levels squeeze every bit of potential use for them through the course of the dimension. It's a thinker's game, but equally demanding of platform skills. Knowing how to reach a selfburn is one thing, while actually executing that plan can be quite another. Simply collecting the selfburns isn't enough either; the player must also exit the level from where they started it and death returns the coffee guy to the stage entrance to start all over again. Only the selfburns collected in the best run count toward the total, meaning that to actually earn all of them requires a perfect, single run through the stage in which all selfburns are picked up and the exit reached. It often means executing a variety of difficult maneuvers, one after another, and completely finishing a stage feels like a real accomplishment. Packed full of challenges in an endearing package, Blackhole is an excellent 2D platform adventure which succeeds in nearly every aspect of its design. It's polished, visually attractive, and doesn't skimp on variety or difficulty. While the story could be delivered in a more convenient fashion, its writing is of a quality rarely seen in action/puzzle titles, performed skillfully by its actors and accompanied by catchy stage music. In a time when there seems to be a sudden rush of 2D platform titles, Blackhole is a cut above the rest. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Blackhole review photo
In space, no one can hear you giggle
There certainly have been a lot of creative 2D platform games releasing over the last couple of months, enough that there seems to be some genuine competition in the genre. If you're finding yourself in a position where it has become difficult to choose, allow me to make it easier.  Get Blackhole. Problem solved.

Review: Roundabout

Feb 24 // Brett Makedonski
Roundabout (PC, Xbox One [reviewed], PS4, PS Vita)Developer: No GoblinReleased: September 18, 2014 (PC); February 20, 2015 (Xbox One); TBA (PS4, PS Vita)MSRP: $14.99 Behind the wheel of this luxurious, tumbling vehicle is Georgio Manos, a silent but savvy type. See, she knows that in the business world, personal #brand is everything and differentiation just might be her meal ticket. As such, she's become the world's first revolving limousine driver (although, not the last). It's a marketing strategy that probably comes off as illogical at best and wantonly reckless at worst, but Roundabout isn't the kind of game whose motives you question. No, it's the sort of game where you just enjoy the ride. Manos, who's taxiing -- err, limoing -- passengers around, ironically takes a backseat to the wacky citizens of the keenly named town of Roundabout. Through full motion video scenes before and after every trip, we are introduced to the likes of a DMV instructor who, oh yeah, also happens to be an unintentionally racist baseball coach (what's it to ya?), and an activist who definitely didn't do anything wrong, but we should probably make a getaway as quick as possible. And then there's Beth, who's, well, she's Beth. Every encounter with Roundabout's characters is awkward and forced; it's labored and sometimes cringe-worthy. Make no mistake, though -- that's precisely what makes it so lovable. No Goblin nailed the amateur production values that watermarked FMV games of decades ago. Each bizarre clip ranges from chuckle-worthy to memorably funny, and drives the desire to pick up yet another passenger as soon as possible. [embed]288106:57476:0[/embed] However, once in control of the limousine (if ever truly "in control"), Roundabout continually proves that it's no joke. The very first attempt at steering it along through a rudimentary driver's education course feels like an impossible undertaking. The clunky, erratic car just can't be effectively guided. That's saying something for seasoned videogame players that have essentially spent the better part of a lifetime moving an object from Point A to Point B as efficiently and problem-free as possible. Minutes later, maybe a half-hour at most, something clicks. Suddenly, it kind of makes sense. This behemoth is still unwieldy, but there's a method to mitigating damage. Weaving in and out of obstacles in an odd, elongated manner becomes second nature. Well, it does until a temporary relapse when trying to brute through a section; that never, ever ends well. As crazy as it might sound, once able to somewhat control the limousine, Roundabout transforms from a bout of reactionary reflexes to a puzzle game that relies on pathfinding. Don't get me wrong: execution is still very much key, but it's a much simpler affair by comparison. Then, a jump maneuver is learned approximately one-third of the way through, and we can add a healthy dash of platformer, if we're trying to nail Roundabout down to a genre. Really, the fact that Roundabout eventually isn't unendingly frustrating is a testament to No Goblin as a developer. By all means, this should be a game that's incredibly off-putting, where its quirky humor is the saving grace. That's not the case. It takes a while to get the hang of, but once that aforementioned click happens, it's so supremely rewarding. In fact, it's not until someone wants to really dig deep into Roundabout that any of No Goblin's missteps will become apparent. Every passenger ride comes equipped with a set of optional constraints to complete for those who fancy themselves the best damn revolving limousine driver in the land. These range from relatively simple (don't use any upgrades) to incredibly difficult (don't hit anything, complete very quickly). In the process of trying to tick these off one by one, any particular mission may have to be attempted several times. Each go starts with the same few seconds of video (as short as you can mash through to skip) and the ride is marred by the same dialogue over and over. Suddenly, all of Roundabout's charm has turned irritating. Likewise, Roundabout does a poor job of telling the player what the objectives are until after a ride has been completed. There's no way to get a quick refresher on-the-go. In a broader sense, there's no indication that a mission has been completed and that there's no need to travel to that spot on the map anymore. While those complaints are niggling to perfectionists, it's not the takeaway here. What's remarkable is that No Goblin took what had all the makings of a gimmick mechanic and turned it into something that feels like a legitimately useful staple, something that requires patience and skill to figure out. Roundabout manages to be simultaneously cumbersome and stiff, and brilliant and endearing -- chances are you'll go 'round and 'round. Actually, that's precisely what you'll do. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Roundabout review photo
Merry go-round
For its first game, developer No Goblin seemingly subscribed to the K.I.S.S. school of thought: "Keep it simple, stupid." But, perhaps the studio misunderstood the acronym to mean "keep it simple and stupid." That'd explain h...

Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary

Feb 22 // Josh Tolentino
htoL#NiQ: The Firely Diary (PS Vita)Developer: Nippon Ichi SoftwarePublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $19.99 First, to that bit about minimalism: htoL#NiQ has virtually no written or spoken dialog, or even text. Apart from some prompts explaining the basic controls and a brief crawl in the opening, players won't even encounter so much as a lettered sign in the background. The plot, such as it is, is delivered almost entirely in-game, via environmental clues and lightly interactive flashbacks.  The game screen itself is largely free of HUDs and icons, and combined with low-lit environments that flicker as if beaming from a vintage film projector, gives off a universally gloomy, unsettling aura that contrasts well with the cutesy character design. The flashback scenes are rendered in a totally different, isometric style that recalls older RPGs like Contact. [embed]287859:57450:0[/embed] Exploring this downbeat dystopia is Mion, a silver-haired waif with big eyes, a pair of branches growing from her head, and all the self-preservation instinct of a videogame lemming. Accompanying her are Lumen and Umbra, the titular fireflies and the only means by which players can guide Mion through the wilderness. Players can use the touch screen to move Lumen, with Mion following her Navi-esque companion wherever it goes. Lumen can also signal Mion to throw switches, push boxes, and other puzzle-solving interactions. Umbra, on the other hand, resides in Mion's shadow, and can only be controlled by shifting to an alternate dimension with a tap of the rear touchpad. From there, Umbra can move through shadows freely - including those cast by Lumen's glow - and interact with objects too far away for Mion to reach. Manipulating the environment and using the firefly duo to help maneuver Mion past various hazards forms the bulk of htoL#NiQ's mechanics. This all sounds simple enough, but the game in which these mechanics are employed is an artifact of what I can only describe as gleeful, knowing sadism. htoL#NiQ is one of the most difficult games I've ever played, and the bulk of my playtime has been spent dying, over and over and over again. That's not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the last few years have brought a new renaissance for tough, uncompromising game design, but the type of pain dealt by htoL#NiQ is of a very particular type, one that's been justifiably abandoned by most modern titles. Simply put, this game trades in pure, trial-and-error frustration. Thanks to a combination of deliberately lethargic controls and deathtrap-obsessed level design, virtually no challenge the game poses can be passed on the first try - or the 48th try, for that matter. That's how long it took me to overcome just a single checkpoint in the second level, a checkpoint that, performed successfully, takes about a minute to transition through.  Since Mion can only be moved by moving Lumen ahead of her, a slight delay accompanies every movement, and Mion herself hits her top speed at "leisurely stroll", even when pursued by rampaging hellbeasts made of shadow. The awkwardness of using the touch screen and rear touch pad to control Lumen and Umbra can be alleviated somewhat by switching to an optional control scheme that uses the analog stick and face buttons, but the precision and sluggishness in movement remains. Worse still, some challenges demand precise timing to trigger environmental actions using Umbra, but the pauses that accompany attempting to switch to Umbra's dimension make that timing even tougher to nail down. Add in hidden enemies, barely-telegraphed hazards, instant death, and occasional randomized factors that cheapen every death, and htoL#NiQ ends up embodying a strange sort of videogame Murphy's Law: Anything that can kill Mion, will kill Mion. Several times.  To clarify, there's nothing wrong with deliberate, "slow" controls. As a fan of Monster Hunter and the Souls games, I can appreciate that style, and intention behind them being in this game is fairly clear. htoL#NiQ aims for the kind of dynamic that defined the likes of classics like Ico. The problem here is the decision to combine the tension of having to escort a helpless charge with such demanding level design. The stress of both having to keep the charge safe as well as perform feats of precision timing and speed is almost too much that would stand to gain the most from the game's low-key storytelling and unique aesthetic. Extending the comparison further, if htoL#NiQ were to be compared to Ico, the difference between the two in terms of difficulty would be akin to trying to shepherd Yorda through the Tower of Latria from Demon's Souls.   It simply isn't fun to have to redo every section just to pass - or replay certain portions perfectly just to access all the game's collectible flashback scenes (which form its most substantial narrative payoff), but then again, I did retry a single section forty-eight times in a row, so there may be something to htoL#NiQ, after all. The creepy atmosphere and interesting visuals were just enough to keep me hooked alongside its grim, intriguing story. And of course, there's the stubborn, bitter, vengeful thrill of finally defeating a game that's seemingly designed with the middle finger extended towards its players.  I won't lie: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary feels like an ordeal to play, but it is worth noting that historically, surviving an ordeal was often taken as a sign of being blessed by a higher power. That notion may appeal to some types of players, and it's they who'll find the fun in this gorgeous, cruel game. Everyone else should just hang back and ask how it went. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
htoL#NiQ Review photo
Oh Dear, Diary
No, that isn't an encoding error up there in the headline: "htoL#NiQ" is indeed this PS Vita game's title, and is essentially a very stylish way to type "The Firefly Diary" in Japanese. Whatever personal peculiarities led the...

Review: Pix the Cat

Feb 03 // Steven Hansen
Pix the Cat (PC [reviewed], PS Vita, PS4 ) Developer: Pastagames Publisher: Focus Home InteractiveReleased: January 29, 2015 MSRP: $9.99 The main attraction is the arcade mode and its Main Grid. Pix is always moving, you pick the direction. You start on level one, collect eggs, gain a trail of duckling, deposit them into targeted holes without crashing into them or a wall. Once the plane is egg-free, you tunnel deeper and repeat until time runs out.  The rest is arcade perfectionism. If you pick up all the ducklings before depositing them into the holes, you get a combo bonus. More points. Stringing together planes of Perfects is the key to topping leaderboards. Impeding that is the occasional puzzle-like design of some levels, that organically encourage you to snake in on yourself unless you exercise on the fly route correction. You also pick up speed as you play -- you even get a speed bonus by grinding on walls if you make your turns well in advance -- which is the pure reflex-testing part. Going faster ensures you go deeper and have more opportunity to score but it's harder to keep from running into a spike, or your own tail, breaking your combo and the remaining eggs on the board.    [embed]287131:57148:0[/embed] That's about it. The Main board changes slightly every time you play -- the board will be flipped upside down, egg placement slightly offset -- just so the game can't be machine-memorized, but it's all about incremental improvement. And it's a heck of a lot of frantic, neon fun. You can also choose your announcer voice (Doctor Doom is great, but Lady Bot sounds like an older Beemo), turn various ghosts on or off (friends' best, your best, global best). My only real complaint is that this is the sort of game that begs for an arcade joystick. Playing with the Xbox 360 analog feels much looser than I'd like, while I couldn't be quick enough with three fingers on the keypad. Let's not talk about the 360 d-pad. Maybe those of you who picked it up free on PS4 or Vita have better luck in that regard.  Pix comes with three other modes as well. Nostalgia, with its 1920s animation aesthetic, is all about speed, with you picking up a board (or a few) worth of eggs within the time limit, no drop off needed. Laboratory slows things down and emphasizes the puzzle portion. You move in whatever direction you choose until you run into something that stops you, like a lot of games with icy floor puzzles, all the while collecting eggs to deposit only once you've nabbed them all. You're graded based on how many moves you make on the board. There's also an amusing two- to four-player competitive multiplayer mode that pits robot Pixs against once another. You collect eggs to use as single-shot ammo to stun your opponents and make a point by dashing into them. The Arena rounds out a varied package that, some looseness to the controls aside, manages to be fun in a few different ways.
Pix the Cat reviewed photo
Infinite nest
Pix is a mix of the two most saccharine basic emoticons, :3 and ^_^, a face for the forgotten mascot age. Just too cute, and not in a way that ever betrays the fiendish score-chaser underneath. Sincere cuteness. A real testam...

Review: Brandish: The Dark Revenant

Feb 02 // Kyle MacGregor
Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP, PS Vita and PS TV compatible)Developer: Nihon FalcomPublisher: XSEED GamesMSRP: $19.99Released: January 13, 2014 Despite having a history spanning decades, Brandish doesn't have much of a tale to tell. The adventure centers on Ares Toraernos, a young warrior who finds himself lost in a labyrinthine spire deep within the subterranean kingdom of Vittoria. His only interests are survival and escape. Brandish isn't without its charms, though. There's an endearing roadrunner and coyote dynamic between the protagonist and his nemesis Dela Delon, a vengeful sorceress who spends most of her time falling into pits. It's a game largely bereft of narrative, almost happily so. Falcom seems more than content to thrust old school dungeon crawling squarely into center stage.  Traipsing through mazes in search of the next staircase is the primary focus. However, the journey to the surface isn't as simple as it sounds. As one might expect, the tower is teeming with monsters, traps, and pitfalls. The treacherous setting is almost the principal character of this yarn. [embed]286365:57119:0[/embed] Brandish is difficult, but unlike the original, it's not challenging for the wrong reasons. While nearly identical in most respects, massive improvements have been made to the camera controls. Both versions share a top-down perspective. The hero is positioned in the center of the screen and can move forward, backward, and side to side using the control pad. Turning to the right or left is handled with the shoulder buttons, which actually pivot the world around the character. The design initially seems clumsy and odd, though it's never as bewildering as it was back in the day. The original game rapidly transitioned from one perspective to the next in a jarring fashion, whereas the remake has a clear twisting animation. This is definitely the version you want to play. Again, Brandish is all about surviving long enough to find your way to the next staircase, and there are a myriad of traps, foes, and puzzles along the way to prevent you from achieving that goal. The action-heavy combat actually reminds me a little of baseball. It has this rhythm, a comforting repetition that gives rise to the unexpected. Ares' shield automatically blocks most attacks, allowing you to focus on when and how to attack. It's a fairly simplistic setup, which is good because you'll frequently be combating more than one enemy at a time while avoiding environmental hazards. Another concern you'll have in battle is weapon degradation. Most arms can only be used a set number of times. This means you'll probably want to keep that powerful sword in reserve in case you come across an imposing adversary, as opposed to needlessly annihilating a common grunt. Yes, there are bosses, but they're rare. These encounters serve to punctuate the journey and test your mettle more than anything. While it can be quite tough, Brandish is rarely unforgiving. Falcom does an admirable job of showing you the ropes, gradually increasing the challenge and adding new elements as soon as you get handle on the old ones. The only major spike in difficulty occurs in the Dark Zone, which seems to have more pitfalls than walkable terrain, a limited field of view, and devastating enemies. Even if you're constantly dying, Brandish isn't discouraging.  It has a save-anywhere feature and checkpoints at every floor. It also backs that up with an item called "retry bread," allowing you to respawn at a particular location should you fall in battle. Taking advantage of these tools will help mitigate most of your frustrations, especially when things get a tad onerous later on. As much as I enjoy Brandish, it probably isn't for everyone. Those looking for a sweeping story about legendary heroes are barking up the wrong tree. This game is about marching through trap-laden mazes and solving puzzles at a deliberate pace. Go in with the right mindset and you will discover a well-crafted role-playing game, one which has aged surprisingly well. It may have taken forever to get here, but Brandish: The Dark Revenant was worth the wait. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Brandish PSP review photo
What's old is new again
Antiques possess a magnetic quality, an appeal to our imaginations, a false nostalgia for a time most of us are too young to remember. There's a comforting allure to these relics. They offer a window into the past, a living h...

Review: Nihilumbra

Jan 30 // Greg Tito
Nihilumbra (iOS, Mac, PC, Vita [reviewed])Developer: BeautiFun GamesPublisher: BeautiFun GamesReleased: June 28, 2012 (iOS, PC, Mac) / January 27, 2015 (Vita)MSRP: $2.99 (iOS) / $7.99 (PC, Mac) / $9.99 (Vita) The nature of existence certainly could be well-explored in a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer but Nihilumbra never really makes it work. It's a difficult genre to tackle such intricate subjects as the nature of consciousness and creation because there's no real choice offered to the player - you either continue moving to the right or stop playing. The ham-handed narration desperately wants the puzzles to mean something, but all it does is distract from the fun of solving them. You begin playing as a tiny blob inside a purple black force called the Void. Moving to the right, as you do in a platformer, you escape from this void somehow and enter the real world. A disembodied voice speaks to you with incredulity that your little blob exists at all, but then it proceeds to give you hints in a vague tutorial-esque way. After traveling past a few obstacles easily leapt over, the blob encounters a scarecrow with its garments flapping in the wind, and with no explanation your blob transforms into a vaguely humanoid shape.  "Even if you change your shape to match this world, you are still an outcast," the narrator says. Why? Who made the scarecrow? Why can't I transform into a dinosaur or something? Meh - it doesn't matter. There are puzzles to be solved! That said, the bleak atmosphere of Nihilumbra is refreshing, and the use of slowly unlocked "colors" you can fingerpaint onto the ground using the Vita's touchscreen feels imaginative and interesting. Just don't go in thinking you'll figure out the secret of life as the narration incessantly suggests. The dev team at BeautiFun Games might have been better off just relegating it to tutorial duties and allowing the game to speak for itself. Do we need a gruff voice saying "Fear" or "Run" in tense moments? The narration commits the worst crime in storytelling - it tells you what's going on and how to feel instead of just simply showing. You start in the Void and that massive purpley force seeks to find you and pull you back into itself. To do so, it has belched out a bunch of weird void monsters with inexplicable names like Shyphoniths. To get past these enemies, and through the other environmental puzzles, you must use the ability to paint colors onto the landscape. The first you learn is blue, which makes the ground slick like ice. In true platformer fashion, you can use it to slide faster than you can normally to gain the momentum needed to make larger jumps. Or you can use it to make the enemies slide into chasms so you can pass. Painting the colors with your fingers is a nice use of the touchscreen, belying Nihilumbra's roots as an iOS game. Painting the colors is intuitive and easy to understand, but the mechanic is used in pleasantly complex ways as you progress. There are five levels and you learn a new color in each one. As expected, the levels focus on puzzles which can be solved with its distinctive color, but I liked that as you progress you uncover interesting synergies. Combining the use of green, which creates a bouncy trampoline surface, and brown, which you can stick to, allows for some super high bouncy jumps. By the finale, you'll have to use all five colors to keep progressing right in the 2D universe. Always to the right. Keep going right (That's not something the narrator says but it should). While some of the puzzles took a few attempts to suss out, or demanded some tricky finger work to pull off, you can make it through the whole game in just a few hours and those who demand brain-busting may be a little frustrated with the simplicity. That is, until completing Nihilumbra's main story and unlocking "Void Mode." Here, you go back to the five level environments to solve a series of much more difficult puzzles and situations using all five colors. The biggest bonus to these grueling challenges? The narrator isn't talking over them. Nihilumbra is a quick diversion for these who need a puzzle-platformer in their gaming lives and have ran out of things to do on the PS Vita.
Nihilumbra review photo
The puzzle-platformer for Nihilists
There's a nugget of a solid game here in Nihilumbra. Unlike many of the PlayStation Vita's offerings, it uses the touchscreen in a novel way that doesn't feel tacked on or forced. And the puzzle-platforming is supported well by an ethereal art style, score, and sound design. You just have to wade through a jumble of pseudo-philosophy to get to it.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 brings Barry Burton and Raid mode center stage

Jan 27 // Alessandro Fillari
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (PC,  PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: February 24, 2015 (Episode One) MSRP: $5.99 per episode / $24.99 season pass (including DLC) / $39.99 retail disc Taking place between Resident Evil 5 and 6, Claire Redfield and Moira Burton (daughter of S.T.A.R.S veteran Barry Burton) have been kidnapped and trapped on an abandoned prison island filled with deadly creatures known as the Afflicted. Using their wits and teamwork, they fight their way through the facility and manage to send a distress signal to the mainland. Realizing that his daughter has been kidnapped, Barry Burton journeys to the island ready for battle. Once he reaches shore, he meets a young girl named Natalia, who possesses strange powers and close ties with the mysteries on the island. Barry and Natalia's story picks up about halfway through Episode One. Once Claire and Moira reached a certain point in the plot, the perspective switches over to the second duo. Though Barry is definitely up to the challenge, he'll have to combat with nastier variations of the Afflicted. Similar to Resident Evil's crimson heads, these new creatures are more aggressive and are far more mutated than the ones Claire and Moira encountered. Some use neat tricks such as invisibility, and some have pustules that explode after being damaged. Like its predecessor, Revelations 2 will show different perspectives to the story. With Claire and Moira leading the charge while Barry and Natalia witness the aftermath of their ordeal and make their own unique way through the island, you'll experience multiple sides of the story as it unfolds. Additionally, decisions and actions made throughout the story will have an impact on the other team. For instance, while in a room filled with traps, Claire and Moira used to them cover their escape from the Afflicted. Unfortunately, as Barry and Natalia enter the facility in an different way, and they find themselves on the receiving end of the traps and must deactivate them to proceed. Much like the dynamic between Claire and Moira, Barry and Natalia use their own unique skills together to overcome the odds. With one focusing on all the fighting, the other offers support with finding items and reaching spots that the first cannot. Things are a bit different for the second duo. As Barry has come to the island prepared and ready for battle, he brings with him a lot more firepower than Claire had. Moreover, Natalia possesses mysterious abilities that allow her to track nearby enemies, even through walls. One moment during Barry's trek outside the facility showed just how important teamwork was. While moving through a seemingly empty wooden storage house, the duo senses another creature nearby. Not knowing where its coming from, Barry pressed on. Once we got to a wooden door that was jammed, the creature began to get closer. Though I could have ignored it and continued with the door, I chose to investigate the surroundings. Eventually, I discovered the creature in the ceiling, which was a mutated version of the Afflicted known as the Revenant. Using Barry's arsenal, including his trusty Python, I was able to take down the creature. It was a pretty tense moment, and if I had chosen to ignore the creature, then it would've gotten the jump on Barry and Natalia. At this point, my time with the campaign came to a close. It was incredibly exciting to finally play as Barry Burton in a legitimate entry in the series. Yes, there's Resident Evil Gaiden, but that's regarded as non-canon, largely ignored on account of it being unceremoniously released on the Game Boy Color. Barry is such a bro, and seeing him take charge and kick ass was pretty great. Even though his side of the story feels largely the same as Claire's, it was still pretty exciting stuff.  My time with Revelations 2 didn't end there. After switching off the campaign, we moved right over to the new and improved Raid Mode. As one of the biggest successes with the original Revelations, Raid Mode was something of an experiment to see if they could try something new with the standard RE bonus mode. As an alternate take on the popular Mercenaries mode, Raid Mode tasks players with battling through a gauntlet of enemies while leveling up, acquiring buffs, and collecting new weapons. Think Monster Hunter, but with Resident Evil shooting and waves of enemies to take down. It was easily the most time I spent with the original game, and Capcom has decided to expand upon it in a big way. Now featuring a light story to offer some context to the chaotic battles, you play as an A.I. within a battle simulator from the Red Queen Alpha database. Within the digital HUB area, represented as a vestibule within a mansion, you're tasked with collecting data from different characters while running simulated battles against challenging foes. As you complete tasks, you'll find audio-logs that reveal more about Red Queen Alpha and its connection to the outside world. As you conquer challenges, the A.I. gains gold which can be spent on upgrades, new weapons, and new missions to engage in. Moreover, the A.I. can take the form of many different characters from RE's past and present (including Wesker and Hunk), and use their unique skills in digitally recreated areas from the main campaign, and even from previous Resident Evil titles. Instead of just running through a single gauntlet of missions, there are several different types to select from. Main Missions are the central focus in Raid Mode, but cost currency to take part in. In order to prevent players from repeated loot runs on specific missions, you'll have to take part in daily missions and event challenges to gain more cash to re-enter the main missions. Each main mission pack has six levels to fight through, each with their own medals and rewards to find.  Every playable character can level up (maximum level 100) and has individual perks to acquire and strengthen. Much like the previous titles, you can find new weapons and upgrades for existing gear. Just like the original, Raid Mode spices up the cannon fodder by making the foes a bit beefier. Some of them possess buffs that increase speed, strength, size, and even bestow them with force-fields that soak up damage. The stages I played in were set in Tall Oaks and Edonia from Resident Evil 6, and the objective was to clear waves of enemies while making it to the end goal. I had a blast playing through the Raid Mode in Revelations 2. Not only is it far more comprehensive than Mercenaries mode, but RE:R2 ups the ante with new features and content. It was great fun battling through Tall Oaks with Barry, and the variety of different enemies I faced kept things pretty interesting. Though I'm a bit worried that repetition could detract after the long haul, and that Raid Mode will not have online co-op play available until sometime after the release of the final episode, Capcom seems to be pretty headstrong with supporting the game. The idea of daily challenges and updates makes me look forward to what's to come. With the release of the first episode of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 next month, it's going to be interesting to see how Capcom's experiment with episodic gaming will turn out. The plot certainly feels as though it wants to evoke discussion and debate among fans, and coming off the win the publisher just had with Resident Evil Remastered, it's looking like there's a bright future ahead for the once troubled Resident Evil franchise.
Resident Evil photo
Sans Jill Sandwich
Capcom has been on quite a roll lately. With the announcement of Street Fighter V, new releases in the Devil May Cry series coming, and the recent success of its HD Remaster for Resident Evil, it seems like the once trou...

Review: Grim Fandango

Jan 26 // Steven Hansen
Grim Fandango (PS Vita [Reviewed], PC, PS4) Developer: Double Fine Publisher: Double FineReleased: January 27, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 Manny Calavera is a grim reaper, which in this art deco Land of the Dead means he's a travel agent, sending dead souls to their final resting place through a variety of fine travel options. Most prized is the Number Nine, an express train reserved for those who've led sterling lives. Manny isn't one of them, which is why he's working off his sins as a reaper, but a string of bum, low-commission clients has him treading water in this literal limbo.   I've never felt more emotionally connected to a videogame character than when Manny picks up a ceremonial Day of the Dead baguette and sticks the whole thing in his inner jacket pocket. And then another. And then another. And then another. Dios mio. Why is it letting me pick up infinite bread. I need boundaries. Surely all these breads aren't going to show up as individual inventory items I'll have to scroll through--oh, they do. Fine. I made my bread and I'm going to rye in it. I love bread--okay, I knead to stop with the bread. Grim Fandango is so playful, though, it gets me into a good mood. This is a world of travel-agent skeletons, giant cat races, and biting birds that comes off so comfortable you almost wonder why anyone is making miles towards the afterlife. Of course, it's an easier stay for the enterprising Calavera than the poor souls trekking for years on a walking stick. Then again, it's all about the journey. Grim Fandango is stuffed with sharp dialogue and you're encouraged to go through all the options, a bit of quick unlearning needed if you've been on a "he will remember that" diet of choice-heavy adventure games. Nothing feels throwaway, though. It's gags, pertinent information, or, more likely, a mix of both. The economy is impressive. Ancillary characters will reappear over the lengthy journey and it feels like seeing an old friend. It is not massive in the open-world, "you can walk to those mountains" sense, but it manages to feel both full and intimate, like a warm dinner in small, friend-filled kitchen. Tony Plana deserves enormous credit for voicing Manny and making even repeated item description lines feel natural.  About the only thing in Grim Fandango that isn't bleached-bone smooth is its puzzles, which are bound to trip you up eventually. For me it was a mix of my failed lateral thinking (stupidity) and the means of interaction. On the Vita, point-and-click with the touch screen works best in puzzle-solving situations, though I still ran about mostly with traditional controls. One puzzle had me using my scythe and in doing so with the X button, Manny just kept waving it around in the generally correct area. Clicking on what must have been a slightly different spot with the touch controls and opening the UI allowed me to progress. Wildly tapping until the UI pops up is also the best way to take stock of what you can interact with in an area, rather than relying on button clicks and Manny's neck craning towards objects of interest. PS4 users might face an added challenge sans touch controls. On the technical side, I did experience a couple crashes on Vita and one instance of Manny getting locked in place that necessitated a restart, so remember to save often. Figuring out how you're supposed to interact with something probably falls somewhere in between stupidity and means of interaction. Having to replace an item you might have picked up before essentially combining it--without any sort of traditional inventory screen and "combine" option--broke my brain a bit. Luckily the game is 17 years old and you can do a little cheating if your conscience can take it.  The comedic beats Grim Fandango hits in the opening cinematic alone are delightful. Reminds you how rare "funny" is in games. Some adventure game puzzle logic and Glottis' chunky orange polygons aside, it doesn't feel dated. It's well-written, rich, heartfelt, funny, and I'm glad as heck it's readily available for everyone to play. [This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the developer.]
Grim Fandango reviewed photo
Spooky scary skeletons send shivers down my spine
Grim Fandango didn't need a remaster as much as it needed a re-release. Many, myself included, have found it difficult to track down a copy to play. We've had an entire digital catalog--GOG.com--devoted to getting good, old g...

Review: Citizens of Earth

Jan 20 // Brittany Vincent
Citizens of Earth (PC [Reviewed], PS4, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U) Developer: Eden Industries Publisher: Atlus Released: January 20, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 The game puts you in the shoes of the newly elected Vice-President of Earth, on vacation after his arduous first day in office. Your dear mother wakes you up and after grabbing your brother, you're on your way. There are protesters, rival politicians, sentient coffee beans, and loads of opposition out there and it’s up to you to… do something. There’s a story in there somewhere, but it kind of gets lost in the many, many, sidequests in the game. There are tons of characters to add to your entourage, and each of them typically requires a short-to-medium length quest to convince them to join your party. Each recruit has a specialty: your brother as a delivery man allows you to order items from anywhere, the homeless man can dig in places that would disgust others, and the mascot can change the difficulty level on the fly, and so on. This game is busy. Usually I’m thrilled to death by the aspect of tons of content and new characters to recruit, but Citizens of Earth throws out busy work as if more content means good content. Quests are tracked by a very vague “Agenda” on your tablet/menu, which isn’t very helpful at all. In some cases, I’ve quit playing for the day and came back and had no memory of what I needed to do to complete some things. An early quest has you “collecting evidence” to help get a potential party member out of jail. That’s all the quest log says: “collect the evidence.” What no one tells you in the game (or at least no one I talked to) is that to “collect evidence” you have to seek out and fight three crazed Java Beans which drop the “evidence” once they’re defeated. These obscure requirements plague the game, and almost every recruit and story mission has these same objectives you have to complete to progress. After a while I felt like I wasn’t really headed anywhere at all, and just moving for the sake of moving. [embed]285619:56954:0[/embed] That brings me to the biggest problem I had with Citizens. I didn’t care about any of the characters. I don’t mean I hated them, I mean I had no feelings whatsoever about them. They’re vapid and offer nothing more than superficial representation of their various occupations. The world itself is the same way. Lame puns abound, and after the first few chuckles it starts to wear. In just the first chapter of the game, I’d heard enough about “Moonbucks” and “Java Junkies” to never want to drink coffee again. It tries too hard to capture the modern setting and hip weirdness of EarthBound without ever trying to develop its own strong identity. The battle system is one of the worst I’ve seen in an RPG, despite having played numerous titles with similar mechanics. It’s based around “energy.” Every action except for running from battle or item usage requires you to pay close attention to the amount of energy you have. Some attacks have characters gaining energy, and some require energy to utilize. This makes battles incredibly slow as you’re forced into a constant cycle of using your weak attacks to build energy so that you can use the more powerful attacks that cost energy. In practice it can be like auto-battle, and although there are items and equipment that help with energy restoration or reduce its cost, it’s a tedious process and I really disliked it. Perhaps these long, drawn-out battles could be forgivable, but there are always swarms of enemies in each dungeon-type map, and there’s a very small invincibility window, so if you’ve just defeated an enemy and one is right near you, guess what? You’re forced into battle. Again. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, and this becomes endlessly frustrating after a while. The leveling system is also unbalanced and I found that enemies that I was getting destroyed by were chump change after only gaining one or two levels. Then, upon entering a new area I was nothing but a weakling all over again. The difficulty can be raised and lowered at will through a party member you can recruit near the start of the game, but I feel like I should be able to play the game on one difficulty the whole way through and not have to worry about changing it due to the lack of developer efforts to balance it. It’s important to note that if you’re at a high enough level, you can send your team to “charge” at an enemy and defeat it automatically, but if you’re in a new area, that option is rarely available. It’s unfortunate that Citizens of Earth fails so badly in the character and story department, because superficially I love it. The art style is wonderful and there’s so much potential. It’s here that the developers really lived up to the EarthBound name. The character design is excellent, comprised of beautiful sprites, and one of the things that kept me playing was wanting to see new NPCs and enemies and what they’d look like. The world itself has a lot of style as well, and its design meshes with the characters quite well. It would have been great to have played a game with a script of similar quality to match this bright, fun setting. Other small bugs and inconsistencies abound. The default keyboard controls are unintuitive, and the triggers between maps can be a bit too large. This usually results in accidentally leaving buildings because you get too close to the door, while other doors require you to use the interaction key to activate them. Citizens of Earth is a mess, and the quality of its various components vary widely. However, there’s still a somewhat decent game beneath the frustrating amalgam of boring, grinding gameplay and bizarre design decisions. There's a lot of potential behind the scenes that could be reworked into a much more satisfying experience. As-is, Citizens of Earth is at best a semi-mediocre journey with lots of quests to complete. Alas, it seems that while it tried its best to do so, it just couldn't quite grasp EarthBound's true form.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Citizens of Earth review photo
Bound to earth
The Fifth Element came on TV the other day, and it really got me thinking about mise-en-scène versus characterization. It’s one of my absolute favorite movies, and is an exemplar of sci-fi in cinema without being...

Project Scissors dev: 'Working with a renowned film director could easily become a nightmare'

Jan 14 // Jonathan Holmes
Dtoid: The Ju-on series is largely psychological horror, where Clock Tower is more physical. In short, Ju-on plays upon my fears of insanity, mortality, and crushing guilt/depression/shame, where Clock Tower mostly makes me afraid that a small man will stab me. How do you plan to combine these two brands of horror into one game? Kono-san: I intend to focus on the atmosphere along with the physical fear from the Clock Tower franchise. That is, focusing on the psychological fear in the process leading up to the murder. Also, being killed with scissors will have an additional significance. This kind of fear at a deeper level comes from Ju-on and the influence from Mr. Shimizu. Dtoid: Hideo Kojima and film director Guillermo del Toro are teaming up for the next Silent Hill. What do you think of their collaboration, and do you see this pairing of game and film directors becoming more and more common? Kono-san: Upon seeing the movie starring the ghost of Mr. del Toro (The Devil's Backbone), it felt like a Japanese film with a fateful confrontation between the characters. I've heard he has a deep understanding of subculture, including games, so I think it has great potential for a successful creative collaboration. Working with a renowned film director without a proper understanding of games who might force his off-the-point suggestions could easily become a nightmare. However, if it is possible to establish a partnership with mutual respect for the culture each party embraces, these kinds of collaborations may become more common. It goes without saying that my relationship with Mr. Shimizu is this kind of positive partnership. Dtoid: What's truly going to set Project Scissors apart from other games in the genre? Why will audiences want to play it? Kono-san: Since this game is a point & click "adventure game," it is possible to create a cinematic effect in the storytelling, more so compared to games that emphasize action. As such, similar to my previous work, there are many in-game events with a touch of dark humor being prepared. Moreover, I think there is no game that emphasizes "escaping" and "hiding" as much as this game does. The anxiety when playing hide-and-seek, or playing tag. I would like to deliver entertainment that evokes the sense of butterflies in your stomach, at its purest. [Part 1] [Part 2]
Project Scissors photo
The final part of our interview series with Nude Maker
[Art by Mariel "Kinuko" Cartwright] We're closing out our Project Scissors: NightCry pre-release interview series with director Hifume Kono by bringing the focus back on the historic pairing between developer K...

Porn numbers photo
69 isn't the only porn number
Pornhub, which I am told by other people familiar with the webpage is a site for viewing adult, pornographic films, has released its statistical year in review. It's not as detailed on the videogame console side of things lik...

Destructoid's most wanted games of 2015

Jan 06 // Steven Hansen
Steven Hansen, Persona 5Release: 2015   I had two options here. Talk about Gravity Rush 2, a game we still know nothing about save that I will love it, for the second year in a row. Or, talk about Persona 5, a game we know little about save that I will love it.  Gravity Rush and Persona 4: Golden came out in the same year. It was a good year for me. Looking for that to happen again. Also looking to see if the Persona team's writing on the series has matured at all post Catherine, another game I love to death. Everyone's problems will still probably be solved by your being the ultimate listener (a patient mute) and the power of friendship will win out in the end. That's fine as long as there are good characters, good music, and I can mainline dungeons in one day to get back to what matters, virtual friends.  And holy shit Metal Gear Solid V looks weird and good, full of fine detail and idiosyncrasy. Runners-up: Gravity Rush 2, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Kentucky Route Zero, getting decapitated, Tetsuo & Youth, baseball Chris Carter, BloodborneRelease: March 24, 2015   Every year in one of these things I choose a Souls game and every year I am happy with my choice. Everything about Bloodborne looks great so far. On top of the From Software patented atmosphere, I'm loving the idea of randomly generated dungeons. The biggest thrill of the Souls games for me is the notion of exploring completely unknown and uncharted territory. Once I've done a few New Game+ runs, that bit sort of loses its luster. But with Chalice Dungeons, I may be playing this game for the entirety of 2015. Runners-up: Gravity Rush 2, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Darren Nakamura, SeaFallRelease: 2015 Back in 2011, Hasbro released Risk Legacy, which accomplished what I thought was impossible: it got me to enjoy Risk for the first time since 1996. The key to its critical and commercial success was the invention and implementation of legacy mechanics. Where other board games start over from session to session, Risk Legacy "remembers" things that happen over the course of a campaign. Particularly brutal battles scar the world (literally--stickers and Sharpies are used to mark the board), and new rules are introduced as the game progresses. It was such a wild idea with so much potential to expand upon that I said it would be the next big thing in board games. And while it hasn't caught on as quickly as I had expected, there have been other games that have adopted the idea. The most notable currently available title is probably Viticulture's expansion Tuscany, but the one I'm looking forward to most is an original game by Risk Legacy's designer Rob Daviau called SeaFall. SeaFall is set to be a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) strategy game that takes place on uncharted seas. Past that, there is not a lot of information out there aside from a press release from 2013 and sporadic reports from playtesters that it is totally rad. It was originally scheduled for release last year, but as time went on with so little news (except for the announcement of Pandemic Legacy, developed in part by Daviau), it became clear that the release would be pushed back. I can only hope now that it does release this year. Runners-up: The rest of Tales from the Borderlands, Heart Forth, Alicia, There Came an Echo, Paradise Lost: First Contact Laura Dale, Broken Age: Act 2Release: Early 2015, apparently. I really wish they'd give a solid date already.   I finished my first playthrough of Broken Age: Act 1 and instantly started over from the beginning of the game, not taking so much as a break to grab a glass of water. As someone who at all times has a backlog of games to tackle for work and too little time to cover them all, that's saying a lot. Broken Age: Act 1 was a really well-written comedy point-and-click adventure with charming memorable characters, hilarious writing, great world design, and a fantastically interwoven pair of nontraditional hero narratives. The pair of protagonists broke a number of expected tropes, they had layers of depth, and were consistently interesting to play as. Oh, and the last five minutes or so completely threw the entire experience on its head for me, forcing me to replay from start to finish so I could see all those well-hidden clues that changed the tone of the experience. While Act 1 worked incredibly well as a standalone experience, I can't wait to see where the universe-flipping changes will send the plot of Act 2. Seriously, such an amazing cliff hanger to tease a narrative sequel with. Runners-up: Zelda Wii U, Persona 5, Life is Strange, Bloodborne, Xenoblade Chronicles X Bill Platt, SplatoonRelease: 2015  I spent just about an hour going over all of the currently known game releases for 2015 to see which game I am most excited about playing. I already have a game in mind, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing anything, especially with how jam-packed 2015 is shaping up to be. My choice will most likely come as no surprise to most of you, particularly if you had a chance to read over my favorite games of 2014. Without question, the game I am most excited for is Splatoon from Nintendo. From the very first time I laid eyes on those cute little squid kids, running around and inking each other, I was hooked. This is the Nintendo I love, when they are at their silliest and taking chances on something new. There are certain things you can always be sure of when expecting to play a first party Nintendo game. These include quality, polish, fun, and solid controls--all of the makings of a good game. From the videos we've seen as well as all of the hands-on impressions, I have no doubt that we are in for one hell of a good time. Runners-up: No Man's Sky, Zelda Wii U, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Adr1ft, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Uncharted 4, Yoshi's Wooly World. Josh Tolentino, No Man's SkyRelease: 2015 One of the first games I ever played was Moonvasion, a Defender clone on the Apple II. After playing it, the first thing I ever wanted to "do" beyond what a game allowed was to land that ship, get out, and walk around on the damn moon. That in mind, even if Hello Games' new baby turns out to be nothing more than the bare minimum of what's been shown in the trailers, No Man's Sky pretty much has me covered. Granted, it's not the first game ever to have exploration, planetary landings, and space, but only a few have done it and looked that pretty at the same time. Runners-up: Persona 5, Bloodborne, Satellite Reign, Metal Gear Solid V, Heat Signature, Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, Flagship, Uncharted 4 Caitlin Cooke, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong NumberRelease: Q1 2015Hotline Miami came out in October of 2012, but I didn't end up playing it until a year later. In an alternate universe I would have waited until this very day to start, because a year without animal masks and pixelated murder is unacceptable. In the meantime I've survived off the amazing soundtrack, but I still yearn for that sweet adrenaline rush I get every time I kick open a door. Thankfully, Hotline Miami 2 unleashes upon us soon with even more sweet tracks in the mix.  Fun fact time -- did you know that 6,858 people played Hotline Miami on June 24, 2013? Were you one of them?  Nic Rowen, BloodborneRelease: March 24, 2015 I can't wait to get splattered with gore and assorted monster viscera in Bloodborne. The latest spiritual successor to the Souls series is taking all my favorite masochistic adventure action out of the fantasy milieu and dropping us into a Gothic-Victorian inspired nightmare city. As much as I love fighting dragons and manticores, I think the new setting will do the series some good. I'm excited to hear that Bloodborne features a much faster pace, ditching the gigantic tower-shields and huge sets of armor of the Souls series for a riskier and more offense-based take on monster slaying. I'm really hoping it shakes things up enough that I'll be just as terrified and lost as I was the first time I played Dark Souls. Mostly though, I'm excited by the return of lead designer Hidetaka Miyazaki. While Dark Souls 2 was one of my favorite games of 2014, it lacked some of the special je ne sais quoi of the original Dark Souls. I'm hoping Miyazaki will bring back the magic, and with everything we've seen so far–horrifying feral werewolves, unsettling mobs of villagers, and spooooky ghost doors–it looks like he's right on track. Runners-up: Star Citizen, Evolve, Batman: Arkham Knight. Brittany Vincent, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainRelease: Probably Pretty Sure Definitely 2015  Hideo Kojima’s opus is and always has been the Metal Gear Solid games, and the fifth entry in the series is heading our way in 2015—at least, we’re hoping it will. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain looks to combine every single thing fans love about the series, from the epic cinematic touch Kojima lends to every inch of the production to the characters that we yearn to hear from again and again. If the near-perfect “Nuclear” trailer is any indication, this is going to be one of the most cryptic and engaging departures for the series and hopefully tie up some loose ends we’ve had for quite some time. It's going to be a thrill ride from start to finish, but hopefully it won’t break our hearts like Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots did. Or if it does, hopefully it’s in a good way. Hey, I sang "Snake Eater" before. Maybe I'll sing "Nuclear" for you guys, too.  Runners-up: Persona 5, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Amplitude, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Criminal Girls: Invite Only, Day of the Tentacle The Badger, Drawn to DeathRelease: Who-the-fuck-knows o'clock More game "journalists" had more to say about David Scott Jaffe's fucking dumb use of the word "fucktard" during the announcement of Drawn to Death than they did the actual videogame in question. Hopefully everyone will get their priorities straight before the game is released on the PS4 later this year, because getting Jaffe back into the third-person character action/deathmatch genre is a big deal. Jaffe on an action/deathmatch game with a decent budget and total creative freedom has never happened on consoles like this. It could turn out to be the game equivalent of Green Day's American Idiot, or that semi-shitty Metallica orchestral album. That's worst case though, and a semi-shitty worst ain't bad. It's more than you can say for most of the games people are hyped about for 2015, let me tell you.  Jonathan Holmes, Zelda Wii URelease: Whenitsreadyvember 14, 2015 I have enjoyed every new 3D Zelda game more than the previous one, so I have every reason to be excited about the upcoming Wii U title and its Nausicaa-esque interpretation of Link. There are a lot of other games coming in 2015 that I'm even more sure of, like Wattam, Majora's Mask 3D, Resident Evil Revelations 2, and the final build of Nuclear Throne, but Zelda Wii U is the game I'm most on pins and needles for. It's got me feeling incredibly optimistic and curious, which isn't always an easy combination to pull off. Zelda Wii U looks both alien and familiar in just the right order. That's my favorite formula for adventure.  Like with Splatoon, Zelda Wii U looks to take a genre that has been largely dominated by Western developers and "Nintendo-ify" it. They are clearly taking inspiration from the first game in series while pushing the core concept of Zelda in all new directions. While Skyward Sword worked to make your physical interactions with the game the star of the show, Zelda Wii U puts the spotlight on Hyrule itself. Thanks to the amazing art direction, interplay of serenity and excitement, and incredible sense of scope and scale, Zelda Wii U could be the Zelda game to end all Zelda games. Hopefully we'll find out for ourselves before 2016 rolls around.  Jordan Devore, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainRelease: Not soon enough When Steven first prompted us to contribute to this list, I expected to land on Bloodborne for many of the reasons Chris and Nic have described. I've played an early build of the game, and it feels terrific in the ways you'd expect -- also quick, brutal, and even unnerving. I actually jumped! But The Phantom Pain has the slightest edge. Kojima's lead-in game, Ground Zeroes, marked the first time I made it to the credits of a Metal Gear Solid. I've flirted with the series before -- most notably Peace Walker -- but never committed. Everything I've seen of The Phantom Pain makes me want to commit. We know it's going to be a grand, eccentric adventure, but how grand? How eccentric? Kojima has my curiosity like no one else. Runners-up: Yoshi's Woolly World, The Witness, Splatoon, Hotline Miami 2, Just Cause 3 Kyle MacGregor, Persona 4: Dancing All NightRelease: God dammit Atlus, give it to me now!  I like weird Japanese games, and they don't get much weirder or more Japanese than a dancing rhythm game based on the Persona franchise. My real answer is probably Persona 5, but Steven already talked about that and I don't have much to add aside from "HNNNNG PERSONA!" Shoji Meguro, it's your time to shine! Runners-up: Xenoblade Chronicles X, Titan Souls, Majora's Mask 3D, Evolve, Splatoon Brett Makedonski, Life is StrangeRelease: January 30, 2015 Man, I can't even explain the feeling I get when I think back to my gamescom 2014 demo of Life is Strange. It's this weird combination of giddy, anxious, nervous, and calm. It's completely inexplicable. I was just so immediately invested and entranced in the lives of the young women on screen that I had completely drown my own world out. Mind you, this is at the world's largest videogame convention when I'm supposed to be acutely alert. I can't say that 20 minutes with any other game has ever had that exact effect on me. That's why I'm impatiently anticipating my trip to Arcadia Bay, Oregon. I don't know if five episodes of time-travelling, indie-tinged self-exploration will live up to my initial exposure. Frankly, I don't care. These girls have so much life to discover, and I want to do it right alongside them. - What are you looking forward to? Ciao, amiche
Most anticipated 2015 photo
Oodles and noodles
Ugh. Mondays, am I right? They're a day that people don't like because you have to do stuff and things after (maybe) not having to do those things, you know? Lame. Let's turn our frowns upside down and instead talk about some...

How did Destructoid's most anticipated games of 2014 come out?

Dec 15 // Steven Hansen
Brett Makedonski, Tom Clancy's The Division HAHAHA, I said I wanted The Division? God, early 2014 me was dumb. Let's revisit that in 2018. For now, let's pretend I said my most anticipated game was Valiant Hearts. Wow, was I ever spot-on with that one. It's one of the most important war games ever, and my hands-down pick for game of the year in 2014. Golly, I'm super good at picking these. Darren Nakamura, Starbound Going back and reading about Starbound being my most anticipated game of 2014 almost makes me a little bit sad. The game is still great, and the team at Chucklefish has been doing a fine job providing constant updates on its progress toward official release, but at some point my interest in keeping up with the minutiae just dropped off. I am still utterly fascinated by the concept, and I could still see myself losing hours to it if I started it up, but at this point I just want to wait until the final release so I can experience the universe it has to offer to its fullest. I am not even sure if the final release is scheduled for 2014 any more. Wake me up when it's ready. Until then, I can't dedicate my attention to it as much as I used to want to. It's not you, Starbound; it's me. Jordan Devore, Yoshi's Woolly World Unsurprisingly, my choice, Yarn Yoshi, didn't come out this year. Good-feels take a long time to make. But it did get a new name and a stage in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Having revisited the E3 trailer for Yoshi's Woolly World just now, yep, it's still my most anticipated game. Josh Tolentino, Watch Dogs Well, that was kind of a wash, wasn't it? Watch Dogs wasn't terrible, certainly, but it didn't set the world on fire like Ubisoft was hoping. Hell, I haven't even finished the story campaign yet, and the name "Aiden Pearce" is already a punchline in my mind. That said, the most intriguing parts of Watch Dogs' setup, namely its shared-world competitive multiplayer, did hold up to an extent. It's a real rush whenever someone invades my game, or I invade theirs, and there's nothing quite like pulling off a perfect one of the little cat-and-mouse hunts that come from the Online Hacking mode, or acting like a proper NPC to accomplish Online Tailing. If there's one positive that Watch_Dogs  may be able to leave in its legacy, it's that its best concepts may at some point come in to populate future, possibly better, Ubisoft games, because that's just how they tend to do things these days. Jonathan Holmes, Cat Girl Without Salad I have pestered WayForward about the missed release date of Cat Girl Without Salad for the past year. I have asked them questions like, "Why did you lie to me?" and "Do you enjoy making people feel glad only so that you can later make them feel sad?" In response, WayForward has said things that I can not tell you.  Cat Girl Without Salad is my most anticipated game of 2015.  Abel Girmay, Destiny So when we did the "Most Anticipated of 2014" list, I picked Infamous: Second Son as my most anticipated because Brett Z beat me to it when he called dibs on Destiny. Not knocking Second Son of course, it's just really difficult to talk about how a game turned out when you only manage to work through the first two hours. What I did play a lot of, though, was Destiny. Oh boy. What's left to say of this game that hasn't been already between all the reviews, Reddit posts, and parody Twitter accounts. Destiny was not a terrible game of course, but it was a deeply flawed one. Where we were promised a rich lore, we got 343 Dinkle Spark talking through a nonsensical narrative. Where we were told each weapon and armor piece would have a unique player story behind them, we got the endless grind for Strange Coins, hoping that Xur would have something good for our class. The latter touches on my biggest issue with Destiny, the endgame. Amidst promises of "the real game" starting after level 20, all that was waiting was a hamster wheel loop of grinding through the same missions, praying for that one good drop. Destiny has no postgame, just a grind that demands more than most modern MMOs, and no content to make the grind make it feel like anything but. I pushed my Warlock to level 25 and my Titan to 22, so it's not as if I didn't give Destiny a chance. Looking back at it, I just wish I would have given Second Son some of that time. Chris Carter, Dark Souls II The anticipated follow-up to From Software's Souls legacy was pretty much everything I wanted. While there were a few nasty tricks like tracking on some bosses, the actual environments were true to the series and, as always, the combat and itemization aspects were incredibly deep. There are too many memorable zones to count, and I can still map them out in my head as I type this. The new directors  Shibuya and Tanimura did right by Miyazaki, and even the three DLC bits were good in their own way. While I'm expecting a bit more variety from the next chapter, I'm happy to add Dark Souls II to my replay list for years to come right alongside of the other two Souls brothers. Steven Hansen, Gravity Rush 2 Not a damn word. Not a even a, "hey, how's it going?" phone call all year. I joked about waiting on word from Gravity Rush 2 to save a middling E3 (eventually saved by Metal Gear footage and Alien gameplay). I was actually let down to see nothing at Tokyo Game Show 2014 (it was announced at TGS 2013). By the time PlayStation Experience happened, I stopped getting even mild hope up.  There is a pulse. A mild blip of "this game is still being developed." Gravity Rush 2 is the fluttering eyelids of a comatose system and with last week's reassurance comes a doctor telling you, "don't get your hopes up yet," we don't know when it'll come out of this. Could be years. RIP PlayStation Vita.   -- I guess the good thing is that we can recycle half of last year's entries for "Most Anticipated Games of 2015" next month.  What were you looking forward to in 2014? Did it actually come out? Was it everything you ever wanted, setting your heart a flutter? Are you now planning the perfect Roadhouse theme wedding with it? Just make sure you do not tell me what you're anticipating in 2015. I will upload another post for you to do that in. Please understand.  
Anticipated retrospective photo
Mostly they didn't come out at all!
Want to feel old? January 2014 was just about one year ago. That's one whole season of a TV show or a complete Earth's orbit around the sun. Way back then--I can hardly remember it in the shadow of the god awful year--the Des...

The Vita needs more games like Freedom Wars

Dec 12 // Chris Carter
That's why I've been spending so much time with Freedom Wars. I was a bit late to the game with this one having picked it up last week, but man is it good. The dystopian theme that punishes you with more prison time for taking too many steps or running without a license -- gold. The Attack on Titan gameplay that lets you swing onto giant enemies and slice them to bits -- amazing. Although it shares many similarities to hunting games like Monster Hunter, it's actually more streamlined and action oriented than that, and honestly, it's all the better for it. Although you won't spend 100 hours hunting and crafting that perfect spear (which, lets face it, can get old), it's incredibly addicting to pop in for a few missions, reduce your sentence, and pop out. It's literally perfect for the portable format. The gameplay is incredible slick and very fun, and most importantly -- it makes you feel like a badass pretty much out of the gate. There's no need to grind before having fun, and it's easy to pick up and play. After a few hours everything starts to open up, and you can begin customizing your weapon style a la Monster Hunter, as well as your trusty whip mechanic and your social standing. There are only a few weeks left in 2014, but Freedom Wars is easily one of my favorite games of the year, and it just feels great on the Vita. I am incredibly grateful that SCE Japan Studio decided to make such a great game for the Vita, and I've spent countless hours playing it despite only picking it up last week. If more games like this can hit the Vita more often that I can't get anywhere else, more and more people will start to notice it. Now announce some more info on Gravity Rush 2, please.
Freedom Wars rocks photo
You know, exclusives
At every Sony event this year, the portable rhetoric was identical -- the Vita is getting games, but they're ports, or in rare cases, multi-platform releases of existing games. As an original Vita and 32GB memory card owner s...

Shovel Knight on PS photo
Nice!
Coming off of Yacht Club Games' 300k sales of Shovel Knight on the Wii U, 3DS, and PC, they have just announced that the game is coming to PlayStation platforms. It'll arrive on the PS3, PS4, and Vita sometime in the near fu...

Review: Tales of Hearts R

Nov 11 // Kyle MacGregor
Tales of Hearts R (PlayStation TV, PlayStation Vita)Developer: Bandai NamcoPublisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: November 11, 2014 (NA), November 14, 2014 (EU)MRSP: $39.99 Tales of Hearts R, true to form, is a familiar experience. It contains all the trappings one might expect of the series, never doing anything particularly new or unexpected, save perhaps the elegant transition to PlayStation Vita. The narrative, though not without its twists and turns, most likely will not surprise you. It centers around a young woman Kohaku, who is attacked by a witch, shattering her Spiria -- the manifestation of her heart and soul -- and scattering her emotions to the winds. The task falls to Kor Meteor, a sheltered boy from a small village, Kohaku's brother Hisui, and an increasingly large company of friends to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Of course, the witch has a darker purpose than merely attacking a single damsel, and the fetch quest snowballs into a matter of global importance. [embed]283289:56283:0[/embed] Much of the world is afflicted with a condition called "despir," which causes a myriad of emotional issues. These run the gamut from simple depression to giving people sociopathic urges to commit mass murder. Regardless of how severe the malady, saving the day usually involves travelling inside an afflicted person's soul and fighting their inner demons. Literally.  The story itself is a slow burn, taking several hours for the plot to meander much of anywhere and for cast members to exhibit anything more than well-worn tropey mannerisms. The most troubling character in this regard is Kohaku, who, robbed of her emotions, is effectively rendered an automaton for much of the game, one reliant on a bunch of squabbling men to protect and save her. It gets better, though. Innes Lorenzen, who runs a courier business called Wanderlust, is a highlight. A multidimensional entrepreneur, she sells magical weapons to groups in exchange for their indentured servitude. Then there are all these vignettes between story sequences -- little lighthearted asides to the main story where the characters are fleshed out and act like actual people, rather than clear-cut archetypes. Battle is the highlight of the experience, of course. Tales games always have marvelous combat, and Hearts is no exception. The battle system is both action-heavy and strategic, asking players to delve into the fray while also managing the party on a macro level. Encounters are random, with battles taking place in isolated arenas where you field up to four party members at a time. This time around, Bandai Namco has implemented a system where successive hits can stun an enemy, allowing you to launch them into the air. There, foes can be juggled with standard melee attacks and artes (spells) until such a time as you see fit to slam them back into the earth. It can be quite fun. As always, there are a vast number of ways to customize your party. Once a character levels up, you get to allocate statistics and further tailor them to particular roles with various passive abilities on top of their weapons, armor, and palette of artes.  [embed]283289:56278:0[/embed] The actual enemies you'll be fighting along the way look uninspired, as do many of the game's dungeons. While there isn't much to actually explore in Tales of Hearts' massive world, there are a handful of secrets to find should you wish to wander off the beaten path. The towns themselves have a lot of character, which managed to be surprisingly inventive on occasion. My favorite of the bunch was a city built on islands in the middle of a lake, though the village built around a communal Japanese bath house had its charms as well. The least enchanting aspect of the experience is the collection of puzzles strewn about the dungeons, which are banal speed bumps at best and exasperating road blocks to progress at worst. These chores are in no way mentally stimulating and seem to exist merely to pad out the length of the experience. The localization may be an issue for some, as Bandai Namco opted to forego an English dub and just subtitle the game with the original Japanese voice work. While I personally didn't find it to be a point of contention, having the option to choose is always preferable. Tales of Hearts R isn't going to shatter anyone's perceptions of the genre. But it isn't trying to do that either. It's a solid, traditional experience that should satisfy fans of classic JRPGs.
Tales of Hearts review photo
This old flame still burns
The Tales series may not have the same cachet in the West as do other prominent role-playing game franchises, but its renown is definitely on the rise. Bandai Namco has expressed more confidence in the franchise in recent yea...

Review: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Nov 11 // Nic Rowen
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (PC [reviewed], PS4, Vita)Developer: Nicalis Inc, Edmund McMillenPublisher: Nicalis, IncReleased: November 4, 2014MSRP:$14.99 Everything about Binding of Isaac is crazy and feels like it somehow shouldn't exist. But it does, and there is a kind of naughty thrill in that, like getting away with a rude joke at the dinner table. For those unfamiliar with the original, Isaac is a roguelike twin-stick shooter/dungeon crawler where you play as a small naked boy named Isaac, whose mother, believing she has heard the commanding voice of God, is trying to kill him. He desperately flees into the basement where he encounters deadly insects, mutated siblings, and every sort of grotesquery you could care to imagine. He fights them with his tears. Yup. Every run is a new experience, a single chance at heaven or hell. If you die, it's back to scratch. The game is deeply mysterious, featuring no fewer than 16 different ending, at least 8 unlockable alternate characters, 4 bonus levels, and literally hundreds of items to discover, unlock, and experiment with. It's a deep, dark rabbit hole and if you have any kind of completionist streak it will ruin your life (take it from me). Isaac may present itself in the familiar sheep's clothes of a Zelda clone, a fun romp through some old-school top-down action, but that's just the skin-suit pulled tight around the beast. At its heart, Isaac is its own twisted, beautiful monster. The most notable difference between Rebirth and the original Isaac is the shiny new engine and graphical overhaul. The original was made in Flash, giving the game a distinctly smooth and cartoony look, and with no shortage of technical problems to boot. Rebirth ditches Flash (and thankfully all of the bugs and glitches associated with it), dropping the smooth lines for a more detailed, SNES-era pixelated look. More importantly than the faux 16-bit trappings, the new engine allows for a smoother and more stable experience. Where the frame rate of the original would drop through floor like a bowling ball when too many shots or enemies got on the screen, that's no longer an issue. Rebirth runs at a flawless 60 FPS come hell or high water. With the smoother graphics come some gameplay changes. Rebirth is a much more shooty (to use my highly technical vocabulary) game than fans might be used to. The dependable frame rate allows for much more intense fights than the original ever dared to attempt, veering into bullet hell shmup territory on occasion. All of the new bosses introduced in Rebirth (and there are a lot of them) are much faster and aggressive than the old guard, and some of the returning enemies, particularly the final bosses, have been overhauled to be FAR more trigger happy than they used to be. I never thought I'd be happy to run into the likes of Loki or Peep, but I'll take them any day over the new recruits in Satan's army. Thankfully, bullet hell is a knife that cuts both ways. Rebirth does not shy away from crazy item combinations that completely break the game. At one point I had a fully upgraded rate of fire with floating anti-gravity tears mixed with ricocheting rubber cement and a boomerang effect. I would step into a room, hold down the fire button for about a second or two, let go, and watch the entire room be enveloped in tears and instantly eradicate everything. The game might have gotten more difficult, but there are also more items to help turn it around. Along with the other technical advancements, there is more variety in the shape and size of the dungeon chambers in Rebirth. Rooms are no longer limited to the single screen rectangular format they used to be. You will come across long hallways rigged with traps, huge arenas filled with enemies, big multi-screen affairs that will scroll along with Isaac's movement. These massive rooms have hosted some of the most intense moments I've had with Rebirth, the added space allowing for multiple mini-boss battles or elaborate traps. Rebirth includes a small, but delightful, two-player mode. At any time player two can join in as a tiny, floating ghost baby at the cost of one of player-one's heart containers. Ghost baby is definitely second fiddle, unable to plant bombs, walk through doors, or pick up items (no cheating and grabbing something from across a gap), but he will benefit from whatever kind of shot upgrade Isaac has collected. It won't become the new way to play Binding of Isaac any time soon, but having a wingman is loads more fun than it has any right to be. Rounding out the new additions are a few quality of life tweaks. Control pads are now supported on the PC version, and work perfectly fine if that's your preferred style. You can choose between “Normal” and “Hard” modes now, letting you somewhat regulate what brand of insanity you're looking for. Hard mode, of course, hides its own set of exclusive items and enemies, so anyone looking to collect all the goodies should prepare to suffer for the compulsion. Rebirth graciously now allows you to quit mid-way and return later, instead of holding you hostage to a good run. (“I'm going to be late but I have fully powered tears and twelve heart containers! I mean, the divorce rate around here is like 55%, so I can probably get another shot at being my brother's best man, right?”). It is potentially a life-saving addition for the truly possessed. Rebirth surfaces the randomized “seed” of each run, a small series of numbers you can input to generate the same map/item pick-ups. You can replay particularly great runs, near misses, or swap favorable map layouts with friends. This is a shockingly generous addition that seems to run counter to much of the game's otherwise unforgiving and hard-nose posture. It seems so out of place that the idea rankled me. I respect the purity of the one-chance, perma-death run. Watering it down with de facto do-overs cheapened the experience for me faster than fall of the Berlin Wall devalued the Soviet Ruble. As an addict of the first game, my favorite enhancement is also the least consequential, Rebirth is able to visually stack multiple items on Isaac with fewer conflicts than before. It may seem silly, but watching Isaac's strange transformation from a tiny naked boy to a pustulating, winged, blood trailing monster, or failed Siamese twin with a chemical burn, or lipstick wearing cyclops being followed around by the floating head of his dead cat, or whatever, is one of the greatest pleasures in the game to me. My heart always broke a tiny little bit when one item would overwrite another, or just not appear at all. I love just about everything about Rebirth and (if you couldn't already tell) I can't recommend the game enough. But I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the poop. There is a lot of poop in this game, a lot of tasteless dead baby jokes, gross out gags, and weird Christian imagery, all of which might rub some people the wrong way. Personally, I don't mind that stuff and I think the game earns some of it's nastiness (the very core of Isaac is a sad story of child abuse as seen through the eyes of the child experiencing it after all, it's going to be horrifying and juvenile), rather than just being gross for grossness sake. Still, it's going to be a deal breaker for some people. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is hands down the best version of Isaac. It improves upon the original, a fantastic game in its own right, in every conceivable way. If you haven't played Isaac yet, this is the version to get. If you are a fan of the original, these are so many new items, enemies, and experiences to be found in Rebirth that it feels far more like a sequel than a remake. Rebirth is an incredible experience that can't be missed. Descend into the basement, lock the trapdoor behind you, and don't look back.
Rebirth Review photo
The best game you'll ever play about washing poop out of a basement with your tears
In 2011, I lost a chunk of my life. An insidious tendril of addiction, despair, and obsession caught me by the ankle and dragged me into the The Binding of Isaac's darkened basement. I lost dozens of hours, whole days at a ti...

Review: Samurai Warriors 4

Oct 21 // Chris Carter
Samurai Warriors 4 (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], PlayStation Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Tecmo KoeiReleased: October 21, 2014MSRP: $59.99 (PS4) / $49.99 (PS3) / $39.99 (Vita) Samurai Warriors 4 is the biggest game in the series yet with 55 total characters, and 12 full story campaigns. It's massive. Old favorites return, such as Geomon Ishikawa, Kojiro Sasaki, and Musahmi Miyamoto, and there are a number of characters who make their appearance for the first time in the series. Whether you're a newcomer or an old fan, this is a great place to start. Warriors 4 follows Omega Force's tried-and-true two-button combo system, with both light and heavy attacks that morph into stuns, area-of-effect, or juggle attacks depending on the order of operations. The neat thing about Samurai Warriors is that it opens up an entirely new combo system with its heavy attacks, called "hyper combos." Instead of using the same light-to-heavy moves you'll also have the reverse available, which gives each individual character at least ten unique powers. This is added on to the fact that every combatant has their own signature power, which can be a special grapple or even a grenade attack. Omega Force has done a great job of further mixing it up with a rock-paper-scissors system, where enemies, officers, and generals may be more prone to normal, hyper, or special attacks. In Samurai 4, you can to use more advanced moves like air recoveries, shadow dodges, guard breaks, and ripostes. You can also switch between two characters at will, which is a nice touch for instant fast traveling. While it's not overly complex, it still offers another layer on top of the traditional Warriors formula. [embed]282659:56010:0[/embed] Having said that, missions can blend together over the course of each campaign. There are a lot of actual venues that range from indoor palaces to vast expanses of woodlands, but at the end of the day you're still going to move from officer to officer, slaying all who are in your way as you carve your path towards the boss character. Past Warriors games have mixed the action up with siege weapons and additional tactics, but Samurai Warriors 4 brings things back to the basics, for better or worse. While the actual combat system has more legs, missions tend to be linear affairs. Playing on hard will force you to try more, like kill enemy banner holders to lower morale, but it's still not as deep as prior games. Thankfully there is full split-screen support for the console versions, as well as online play for the entire campaign and free mode to help alleviate the feeling of repetition. Even if you start to feel in a trance due to the blending mission structure, the sheer variety of the roster will keep you interested for a while. Samurai Warriors 4 does a great job of making you feel like a badass with faster gameplay (especially on PS4, with more enemies on-screen and a superior frame rate). Characters can employ ninja tactics (Kotaro Fuma), use demolition-like weapons (Ujiyasu Hojo), glowing demon swords (Nobunaga Oda), or more traditional methods of combat -- odds are you'll find a style you'll like. The actual quality of the stories vary, but they tend to all have some form of cheeseball humor characteristic of the franchise. It's performed by way of Japanese audio, which is actually perfect for the Samurai line, but there's just one problem -- it's tough to follow what's going on in-game with constant babbling, so you have to constantly look at subtitles to figure it out. While the story and free modes had me occasionally stopping for breaks, the new iteration of the "Chronicle" mode had me playing late into the night. Simply put, it's an Empire-like open-ended gametype that allows you to take your created character on a tour across Japan. You can start off serving the lord of your choice from the story, and from there, you'll begin your travels as a foot soldier into something greater. Not only do the missions themselves have greater variation from the core modes (instead of grand battles every time, you might just stop a band of thieves, for instance), but you'll also have a small amount of choice in terms of how your story plays out. Whether it's denying certain missions from your superior officer or expanding your personal army, there is an element of unpredictability involved. It helps that the character creation process is robust. Not only does Omega Force provide you with a large amount of customization options, but the studio also offers over 20 different weapon styles, from polearms to dual daggers. When everything is said and done, odds are you'll be able to create a male or female avatar you're happy with. Samurai Warriors 4 suffers from the same pratfalls as the rest of the Warriors series on occasion, but the strong offering of content and robust Chronicle mode will keep you interested for quite a while. If you have a friend available to play with locally or online as well, you can expect to play even longer.
Samurai Warriors 4 photo
Goemon is back, baby
While the Dynasty Warriors series is often heralded as the pinnacle of Omega Force's hack-and-slash catalog, the lesser-known Samurai franchise has been churning out some of the best games in the stable. Based aroun...


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