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Review: Sonic Runners

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

Review: Fallout Shelter

Jun 15 // Chris Carter
Fallout Shelter (Android, iOS [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: Free-to-playRelease Date: June 14, 2015 (iOS) / TBA (Android) The gist is that you'll basically need to build your first vault from scratch, with a power source, a water treatment plant, and a cafeteria to serve food as a baseline. As you play the game, more citizens will line up outside of your vault, ready to suit up and get placed into a new room. As time passes, said NPCs will work and earn you resources, which can be gained by tapping on the location -- simple stuff that I'm sure you've seen before. Other than a few nuances like the ability to place male and female NPCs in a living space and potentially create children or ship off inhabitants to scour the wasteland off-screen, that's it. It's a lot like SimTower, or its mobile successor, Tiny Tower. Tapping is the name of the game. Unlike many games though, Fallout Shelter actually forces you to keep up with your resources. If you don't power your vault enough, rooms will shut down. If you don't keep your NPCs fed, they will lose health and productivity. A low water resource will cause your citizens to become irradiated, and so on. Your personal hamster-wheel involves completing objectives and upgrading rooms to earn caps, which in turn allow you to build more rooms to take in more inhabitants, which unlocks more advanced buildings. It's all pretty straightforward, but sometimes objectives are a bit broken, as you'll need to re-do things you may have already completed (specifically in the case of equipping an NPC with a certain item in my game). The entire process is enhanced by the fact that visually, Fallout Shelter is far more impressive than most resource-management games on the market. I love how when you double-tap on a particular room it does this 3D-like zoom, which looks great when juxtaposed to the cartoony art style of the vault inhabitants.  It's very easy to click on everything, and although the scrolling sensitivity could use some tweaking, the game as a whole is responsive. During its E3 conference last night, Bethesda noted that it didn't have any underhanded sales tactics with Fallout Shelter, as it was playable offline "without energy meters." Now, that's technically true (it works in airplane mode), but you will have to wait to earn more caps from rooms to actually do anything substantial with your vault other than look at it. What's actually cool about Shelter is that you can "hurry up" activities by taking a chance rather than spending premium currency (like every other game on the market) -- the catch is that room might explode or cause an "incident," which may kill off citizens or spread to other rooms. These can involve things like fires, or even radroach infestations. In the latter case, I had just equipped my mess hall officer with a handgun, which she used to fight off said roaches. It's a nice risk-reward feature that you don't see often. For a game like this the pacing is decent, as most early-game resources take one to three minutes to earn. It's slow though for sure in terms of earning caps and building new rooms in the long-term, as Fallout Shelter is an experience that's meant to be played over time -- so much so that many of you may give up on it after all the waiting involved. There are optional microtransactions however in the form of "lunchboxes," which range from $0.99 per box to $19.99 for 40 of them. You'll earn "Shelter Cards" for your trouble, one of which is guaranteed to grant you a rare item "or better." For the purposes of science (and this review) I purchased one, which granted me a stimpack, a 10mm pistol, 100 caps, and a sturdy piece of battle armor. All of these items aren't particularly game-breaking, and you can earn a few lunchboxes yourself by completing objectives. Faster world progress hinges on earning lots of 500 cap boxes on a whim, so I see the obvious slot machine draw here that Bethesda is going for. Fallout Shelter is a pretty inoffensive mobile resource management game. While it could have exploited fans at every turn like EA tried to do with Dungeon Keeper, it's actually a nice little way to spend an afternoon while you wait for Fallout 4 to come out in November. Just don't expect anything particularly exciting, as it is slightly skewed towards enticing you to spend money on it -- lest you wait to enjoy it in short spurts. [This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game. $0.99 of in-app-purchases were made by the reviewer.]
Fallout Shelter review photo
Free-to-tunnel-snake
Last night at Bethesda's press conference, we got our first surprise of E3 2015: a brand new mobile game set in the Fallout universe called Fallout Shelter. It looked innocent enough, hearkening back to classics like XCOM as ...

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: Sons of Winter

May 26 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: Sons of Winter (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: May 26, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] Those following along with the series shouldn't expect any major changes in how events play out. There is lots of dialogue, lots of split-second decisions, a handful of quick-time events, a little bit of exploration, and not much else. The split between the four living playable characters stays about the same as well: Mira's sections are almost entirely dialogue-based and Asher's are generally more action-focused. Despite being the Forrester known better for stabbing first and asking questions later, Asher's story in Meereen comes with some of the more interesting this-or-that decisions this episode. Where Rodrik has to choose between murder and mercy, Asher has the more nuanced quandary of loyalty to the family that exiled him and loyalty to his sellsword partner Beskha. Parts of Beskha's past come to light in Sons of Winter that give the situation more gravity. Of all the decisions in this episode, Asher's handling of the mission in Meereen is "the big one" for me, and I'm most anxious about the potential fallout from my choice, which won't show up until next episode at least. [embed]292557:58611:0[/embed] Mira's tribulations in King's Landing continue to be a high point for the series. Though this episode lacks the big names -- neither Cersei, Tyrion, nor Margaery makes a significant appearance -- the way Telltale handles Mira shows genuine understanding of what makes the source material so great. Any game could have quick-time swordfights, but a Game of Thrones game ought to be more than that. Her best scene is at Tommen's coronation feast. It comes closest to being like a classic adventure game. She must navigate the celebration cautiously, eavesdrop on conversations to gain information, and use that information at the right time. Even if it turns out not to be the case in the end (as Telltale games often do), the feast scene felt like it could have ended with a much different outcome. As it stood for me, I came out of it laughing, pleased with how clever I felt to have achieved what I wanted and particularly smug about the last line I had Mira say to close out the scene. It reinforced the idea that in King's Landing, shrewd manipulation of information is just as powerful as a sword, if not more so. Rodrik has his own share of politicking to deal with on the home front. A new opportunity lands in his lap that could help return control of Ironrath to House Forrester, and he has his own decisions to make, though they seemed a bit more obvious. Satisfy a desire for petty revenge near the beginning and he loses some leverage for later on in the episode. I'm curious to know how things shake out with other choices; in contrast to the first few episodes I feel like I made the best decisions for Rodrik this time around. There is a tense scene as Rodrik at Highpoint, the Whitehill stronghold. Not only are the stakes high, but it also rewards an attention to detail. Prior to the meeting with Lord Whitehill, some light exploration can help to reveal information that can be used in the encounter. It's another instance where proper intel beats physical force that feels right in place in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. Gared's scenes were the least interesting this time around. Where prior episodes set him up to be part of the party that goes to Craster's Keep, he ends up with a blander story. It still has room to get better once the importance of the North Grove is revealed, but in this episode it felt a bit like he was stagnating. The oil paint aesthetic that turns people off remains, though it does feel like Telltale has tuned down the baffling polygon edge blur effect that plagued the first two episodes. It's still present, but not nearly as distracting as it used to be. There aren't any heart-stopping moments or dramatic twists like there were in the early episodes, but Sons of Winter sets a good pace and keeps it up throughout the episode. It's great to see the continued focus on shrewdness over brute strength for most of the characters, especially considering House Forrester's situation in Westeros. What the family lacks in soldiers, it must make up for in cleverness. Being party to the events makes me feel clever, whether I truly have much of an effect or not. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
Son of a...
At the end of Episode 3: The Sword in the Darkness, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series was in an interesting place. Nearly all of the playable characters were in tough spots, but all of them ended the episode with some h...


Review: Til Morning's Light

May 21 // Chris Carter
Til Morning's Light (Android, Fire OS, iOS [reviewed])Developer: WayForwardPublisher: Amazon Game StudiosReleased: May 21, 2015MSRP: $6.99 At the start of the tale, Til Morning's Light feels like it's going to be a typical teenage adventure, with two "popular" girls and an outcast -- otherwise known as our hero, Erica. After being made fun of as a potential fan fiction writer, she's pushed into an abandoned mansion, and the door is boarded up behind her. Those are some pretty sick bullies! It gets even sicker when she realizes that the mansion isn't abandoned after all, and is actually inhabited by ghosts and gross insect-like creatures. Cue the Luigi's Mansion parallels. Armed with only a flashlight out of the gate, Erica will roam about, discovering the secrets of the mansion, filling in various bits and pieces as she goes. She'll go about this by wandering around, which is accomplished by simply holding the screen and moving towards a direction, or tapping where you want to go. Whatever feelings you may have towards touch controls, let me just say, they work wonderfully here. In fact, the entire game is filled with fairly inoffensive touch gimmicks, like rotating pieces of paper around to find more hints (a la Resident Evil), or flicking the screen to search pantries and the like. The whole affair is built upon a really fun atmosphere, as the characters (ghosts, mostly) you meet all have personality, and for the most part, are likable. Their personalities lack depth and the character building is pretty light fare, but it feels more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon, which a lot of potential players will dig. Erica jokes about there being a lot of keys to sift through though, but there's plenty of truth to it. You'll embark upon plenty of fetch quests, with a healthy mix of box puzzles (evoking more Resident Evil parallels) and basic problem-solving. For instance, one old-timey picture has a timestamp on it, which clues you in to the placement of the hour, minute, and second-hands on a nearby clock. If you find yourself stumped, you can pick up coins along the way, which can purchase hints, as well as items from an in-game store. Combat is another big part of the game, taking place on a rhythm-like stage. It's a lot like Elite Beat Agents (but less engaging), starting off with timed taps on the screen, then swipes, and so on. I like the idea in theory, but there's a lot of enemies to fight in the game, and since the battle system isn't super deep, it can occasionally feel tedious. It can get really tough even early on, and as the game states after booting it up, you'll probably want to use headphones. While the mansion isn't exactly open-ended and tends to be a tad too linear at times, you eventually will make your way to more interesting areas -- like the greenhouse wing, which features plenty of holes to dig up for hidden items. It's at this point in the adventure that you'll also unlock the Spectral Phone, which can spot hidden spirits in the wild, with 20 in all to find. That's about as deep as the exploration-angle gets, but it thankfully never gets to the point where it's straight-up dull. Think of a wheel with only one or two spokes on it, and you'll have an idea of what to expect. Til Morning's Light never really goes the full mile with any of its concepts, but they all mesh well together and the presentation is enjoyable enough. I don't think it's going to make headlines or change the horror game in any way, but it's a fun way to spend an afternoon and another respectable showing for Amazon's game division. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Til Morning's Light photo
Nancy Drew meets Luigi's Mansion
WayForward has stuck to doing what it does best -- platformers -- for most of its career. But every so often it branches off and does something a bit different, like Silent Hill: Book of Memories, and now, Til Morning's Light. As an odd mix of Luigi's Mansion filled with rhythm-based combat, it mostly works.

Review: Knights of Pen & Paper 2

May 13 // Zack Furniss
Knights of Pen & Paper 2 (Android, iPhone [reviewed], PC)Developer: Kyy GamesPublisher: Paradox InteractiveReleased: May 14, 2015Price: $4.99 (Android, iPhone) Knights of Pen & Paper 2 takes the concept of tabletop gaming and squashes it into something that fits comfortably in your pocket. Miniatures, character sheets, and multiple reference books aren't required to enjoy the world of Paperos. Instead, you'll play as both the dungeon master and up to five adventurers. As dungeon master, you will set up encounters, choosing where your quest will lead and how many/what type of enemies the adventurers will fight. Adventurers must be created by making choices in three different categories: the player's high-school archetype, their character's race, and their character's class. Each choice factors into the adventurer's combat prowess. That's a picture of my cheerleader dwarf barbarian up there for reference. The core stats are now based on the three 20-sided die you see above: red is body, green is senses, and blue is mind. Body determines damage, threat, and how quickly you shake off status effects. Senses is in charge of critical hits, initiative, and attribute rolls. Mind rolls affect health, energy, and your success when you try to investigate an area to find secret items. It's always satisfying to watch these little dice roll, and I'm glad to see they made the stats a bit more clear this time around. After assembling your party, you begin your quest to stop the Paper Knight, a player who is using the 2nd edition of the role-playing game against the wishes of the dungeon master. The residents of Paperos are suffering from the clashing of the 1st and 2nd editions and it is up to you to restore the balance. Having any familiarity with how drastically different editions can be between actual tabletop games goes a long way towards how much you'll get out of Knights' plot. To reach the Paper Knight, you're going to be fighting all manner of beasts ranging from lowly snakes to sky pirates. The turn-based combat has been beefed up since the first game, where the tactics mostly boiled down to finding your favorite ability and putting all of your skill points into it. Character classes still feature four abilities each, but it no longer feels like there's only one obvious choice. The sequel is more focused on status effects such as wound, weakness, stun, and poison. I was happy to find that the RPG sin of useless status effects wasn't implemented here -- the majority of enemies can be targeted by these abilities, and they even begin to feel necessary as the plot progresses.  Spamming one high-level spell isn't the only way to win anymore. My fights frequently went something like this: my Ninja would throw a smoke bomb to stun a crowd, my Thief would throw a barrage of knives to do double damage to the stunned enemies, and then my Warrior would cleave through a row of enemies. My Paladin would hold the threat from remaining monsters and my Mage would finish them off with chain lightning. The variety of character classes helps to reduce repetition, though I eventually got tired of the random encounters sparked by traveling on the world map (there's a roll for that too, of course). Like any good RPG, there is equipment to find and buy, though the crafting system is somewhat odd. While the first Knights had you waiting for real-time hours to pass before you could upgrade a weapon, you can now combine certain items to make better weapons and armor. What's strange is that by the time I had finished the campaign, there were still only a few recipes and I hadn't even seen a couple of the items that could be used. You are able to combine a weapon with an enchantment scroll and a charm to improve its stats, but I never found any charms, at least to my knowledge. It feels as if there are going to be more items to find later on when more content is added. Knights 2 isn't heavy on microtransactions like the first. Though you can buy gold to create more adventurers first or to buy better gear, it never feels required. Kyy Games has found a fun way to provide more content along the way that doesn't force you to pay real money. At any time you can press a magazine button in the top-left corner to see this month's edition of Modern Dungeon, an in-game tome that allows you to buy new character classes, archetypes, and trinkets while also providing silly lore. You can grind for in-game currency to buy these, and there's supposed to be an issue every month. I'll be checking in June to see what's been added. Paperos looks clean and crisp in the new 16-bit style. I played most of it in portrait mode because the interface is larger, but it does cut off most of the environments and I ended up missing some details. Landscape mode is better on the eyes but the buttons become so small that they are difficult to consistently and accurately press. The music is simple and catchy but much too repetitive. I hope you like hearing the same five songs over and over.  I can't help but wish that the jokes were kept to being about the intricacies of editions in Dungeons & Dragons instead of trying to be "sooo random." I realize humor is subjective, but hearing players accuse the dungeon master of making things up on the spot is more entertaining than finding a pixelated Bill Murray who wants your help to "bust" a "geese" because he's a geesebuster. Between Game of Thrones puns and trolls engaging in Internet-speak, I found myself rolling my eyes more than chuckling. If you're a Family Guy fan you'll probably find a lot to love here, but I'm judging you right now. Knights of Pen & Paper 2 is by no means a serious game, and this lightness can be as refreshing as it can be annoying. The refinement of the combat has gone a long way to mitigate the tedium of the first game, but the humor and plot won't do much to keep you engaged. I had enough fun with it that I'm looking forward to next month's Modern Dungeon. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] http://www.destructoid.com//ul/292095-/barbarian-noscale.jpg
Knights of Pen & Paper 2 photo
Fun, but it ain't funny
I played the majority of the original Knights of Pen & Paper on various toilets within the boundaries of Southern California. It was an enjoyable if shallow take on pen-and-paper RPGs with some cringe-worthy, referen...

Review: Forgotten Memories: Alternate Realities

May 07 // Jed Whitaker
Forgotten Memories: Alternate Realities (Android, iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 6 Plus], Playstation Vita, Wii U)Developer: Psychose Interactive Inc.Publisher: Psychose Interactive Inc.Released: April 23, 2015 (iOS) / TBA 2015 (Android, PlayStation Vita, Wii U)MSRP: $4.99 Rose Hawkins wakes up after being shot in the face, only remembering that she was searching for a missing girl named Eden. She doesn't recall who shot her, how she is alive, or where she is.  Upon exiting the room Rose is greeted by a hallway formed in red curtains, the kind you'd find at any theater. An antique dictation device is waiting for her, and a message plays automatically from a woman named Noah who has been waiting for her. Noah knows Rose by name, and promises her more information on Eden if she can free her nurse friend from the asylum she is about to enter. Rose comes face to face with Noah in a throne surrounded by mannequins one last time before entering the asylum, Noah still talks through audio dictation for some reason. This is the kind of tone you can expect from Forgotten Memories. [embed]291661:58457:0[/embed] Like any psychological survival horror game, the story is deep, twisted and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Most of the lore you'll come across in case files, notes, and a couple of cutscenes. Forgotten Memories is very old school in this regard, but still manages to have an engaging story worth searching for. Old school is a  word that can be used to describe most parts of the experience, for better or for worse. I almost didn't finish the game due to how difficult the game is, just because the developers felt the need to shove in old school mechanics for old school sake. Saving the game requires tracking down a computer and using a floppy disk, an item that is extremely limited in the game. While classic survival horror games used this save game mechanic, most notably the original Resident Evil series, it sucks for a game on mobile, especially when the game is brutally difficult. Forgotten Memories' app store description originally warned prospective buyers to only purchase the game if you are a hardcore gamer due to the level of challenge involved. They weren't joking -- I almost didn't finish it to how quickly and often I'd die. Luckily I must not have been the only one as the developer quickly released an update that included an easy mode. It provides players with unlimited saves, more ammo, easier enemies and more medkit pickups, among other tweaks. Even with this easy mode I found myself in situations with a sliver of health, no medkits and some distance between myself and the nearest save point.  Touchscreen controls were a mistake, plain and simple, and hopefully they don't carry over to the Vita and Wii U versions of the game. The left side of the screen controls character movement, while the right side controls the camera and aiming. The first place touched on the left side of the screen acts as a center axis, and Rose will move in the direction of your fingers position in reference to said axis. Camera and aiming control seems inconsistent on how much movement there is, often times leading to needing multiple swipes just turn around. On the right side of the screen are also icons that allow you to run or go into an aiming mode with your flashlight or weapon. With a weapon drawn tapping anywhere on the screen will cause Rose to attack. The pipe, the only melee weapon I found in my playthroughs, can be used three times consecutively to perform a powerful combo attack that pushes enemies backwards. Since this piece of junk is your main weapon, combat boils down to letting enemies get close enough to attack, performing the combo, rinse repeat. It leaves a lot to be desired. Shitty controls aside, Forgotten Memories nails the survival horror atmosphere unlike any game I've played in years. Haunting violins can be heard as you search for clues and keys, pounding drums mixed with noise play during combat, and the intro music is haunting, a mainstay of the Silent Hill series. I found my heart beating in my chest with my breath held as I ran past enemies to escape rooms. Hearing distorted singing coming from a shadow-like child that is just down the hallway where you need to go is fucking horrifying. While it is indeed a horrifying affair, it ends all too abruptly at just under an hour and a half on my first playthrough.  Having been in development for years, Forgotten Memories feels like it was purposely cut short to allow for sequels or download content. That being said, the pacing is tight and there is no filler whatsoever, but it still feels like the first chapter of a longer game. Aside from the brevity, awful controls, and dull combat, the game is easily recommendable for those looking for that Silent Hill feel. Though only the desperate should pick up the mobile version, or those that have a compatible controller, otherwise wait for the console and PC releases sometime this year. While the graphics are some of the best I've seen on mobile, they can only be better elsewhere. Forgotten Memories: Alternate Realities is about the best you can do for survival horror currently, if you can stomach the control scheme. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Forgotten Memories review photo
Horror-ible controls
Survival horror has always been one of my favorite genres, with Silent Hill being the absolute king. When I heard about a game inspired by and with voice actors from Silent Hill 2, arguably the best in the series, I was ...

Review: Cosmophony

May 05 // Darren Nakamura
Cosmophony (Android, iPhone, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], PlayStation Vita, Wii U)Developer: Bento StudioPublisher: Bento StudioReleased: May 5, 2015 (PlayStation systems)MSRP: $4.99 The setup is about as simple as it gets. Fly/glide/hover/whatever down a seven-lane tube. Avoid smashing into obstacles. Optionally shoot black triangle "enemies." That's about it. There are a couple of different measure for success. Getting through a level without dying is enough to unlock the next level. Doing that while destroying every black triangle along the way is worth a full rating. Each level can be played in Practice Mode or Normal Mode. Aesthetically, Practice Mode takes out the color and some visual effects, but the big difference is that it allows the use of checkpoints and gives the ability to fast-forward or rewind to replay tricky sections. Normal Mode is the real deal: make it through a level from start to finish; any mistake means restarting from the beginning. [embed]291451:58420:0[/embed] Cosmophony's unique hook is that it functions as a rhythm game, but the reliance on rhythm is hidden at first. In the early levels, there is a lot of room for error. Firing a shot at nothing carries no penalty and timing is irrelevant as long as moves are made before crashing. Often I would take out enemies before they were even on screen by spamming the fire button knowing which lane they would be in. That changes by the third level. There is still a little bit of leeway allowed for certain decisions. There is space to overshoot, moving three lanes left instead of two. However, after playing and replaying the same sections a few times, it dawned on me that every button press corresponds to a musical element. It's not just the shooting, but also the movement. Once that became clear, I was able to reach the zen state of concentration where my fingers were doing what they were supposed to be doing before my conscious brain could tell them. So few games hit that sweet spot, where the sound and light and difficulty all come together to create an intense mental experience. Level three of Cosmophony does that for me. Sadly, that falls apart for me at the fourth level. The difficulty ramps up consistently across the levels, but it goes too far to be enjoyable. Where previous levels allowed room for minor error and contained lighter sections for the player to refocus, it turns into a relentless exercise in rote memorization and execution. I was no longer finding my happy place where time slows down; I was only finding frustration. Cosmophony is like a firework. As it's flying up and sending out sparks, interest builds. Once it detonates it's an awesome show of color and sound. After that it's over and everybody goes home. It's short and intense, but it stops being interesting once it oversteps the line between fun and frustrating. I played it and enjoyed it until it felt unfair, and now I probably won't ever touch it again. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Cosmophony review photo
The difficulty sure ain't phony
I had been lulled into a false sense of security. I finished the tutorial and the first level of Cosmophony with a perfect rating in about 15 minutes. "Four more levels of this?" I thought. "Child's play." Cut to an hour and ...

Review: Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain

May 01 // Chris Carter
Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentReleased: April 2, 2014 to April 30, 2015MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions) For the entire month of April, Blizzard slowly unlocked each of the four wings of Blackrock Mountain expansion. The entire experience is finally available for $24.99 (or 700 in-game gold per wing), and I'm happy to report that it was worth the cash, as it's a step up from Naxxramas in most respects. The key to success with Blackrock is the commitment to the lore and having it fit within the confines of Hearthstone. That classic nostalgic rush you got as a raider in vanilla World of Warcraft is still there when you fight Ragnaros, Nefarian, and their crew, but with all of the goofy quips and dialog you'd expect from a card game that takes place within the same universe. In fact, it's still there even if you're meeting these characters for the first time. What really surprised me is how well Blizzard adapted these boss fights into engaging encounters. There were some bright spots in Naxx as well, but a few Blackrock battles really blew me away. Take Garr, who constantly destroys his own minions in an effort to take you out by way of Deathrattle damage. The catch is that each minion that dies on the same turn does an exponential amount of damage, forcing you to either whittle each enemy down individually, or just go for the all-out kill in four turns. Majordomo Exectus is another amazing confrontation, as he has a specific 8/8 card that he can summon for free if he drops below a certain amount of health. You have to strategically keep him alive until you have enough cards to take him out in one swift blow, or risk fighting an army of super-powered cards. The latter situation is doable with the right deck, which highlights how versatile Hearthstone is in general. There are plenty more unique levels too, like one that only lets you and your opponent play one card per turn of any value -- with concepts like these, the Heroic mode (unlocked after beating each wing) presents the biggest challenge yet. Class challenges are also back, and reward you with two class-specific cards after conquering an enemy with a pre-set deck. Mechanically this is probably the best part of Blizzard's Hearthstone expansions, as they allow you to step out of your comfort zone and experience new styles of play while rewarding you appropriately. It's a tradition that I'd love to see continued. The main aspect that I felt was a step down from Naxxramas however is the general theme of the expansion itself. Naxx felt like a completely different game, with bright hues of green, purple, and red. The cards were utterly unique and unlike anything you had seen before from a design perspective, and I still use many of them today solely based on their aesthetics. With Blackrock there are a lot of great cards as rewards, but a lot of them share the same artwork as the rest of the core set. While it may not look as dazzling as Naxxramas, Blackrock Mountain expansion is still the best add-on yet, edging out the card-only Goblins vs Gnomes. I'm still chipping away at the Heroic fights, and with how many card options are available at this point, I'll probably be messing around with custom decks for weeks. [This review is based on a retail build of the expansion provided by the publisher.]
Hearthstone DLC review photo
The best expansion yet
As I've described in the past, my history with Hearthstone is pretty much inline with how Blizzard wants most of its customer base to enjoy it. I'm loving it in spurts, as it's perfect for quick pick up sessions with fri...

Review: Lost Within

Apr 23 // Chris Carter
Lost Within (Android FireOS [reviewed on a Kindle Fire HD], iOS)Developer: Amazon Game Studios, Human Head StudiosPublisher: Amazon Game StudiosReleased: April 17, 2015MSRP: $6.99 The setting of this spooky affair is the old Weatherby Asylum -- an abandoned relic of the past, set to be demolished in one day's time. Of course, your stupid idiot police officer avatar winds up "checking it out" one last time to see if there are any stragglers, and you get sucked into a hellish underworld of scary fun. It's a setup you've seen a million times before, but Lost Within has a level of polish rarely seen from the genre, not to mention that it's a mobile-only affair. Using touch-style controls you'll navigate the labyrinthine tunnels of horror, and they are surprisingly responsive. All you have to do is touch an area to get there, double-tap to run, swipe to turn, tap to use defensive items, and you can even use your device to lean around corners with an optional gyro setting. Mobile games have really come a long way, and co-developers Amazon Game Studios and Human Head should be commended. That polish extends to the visual style as well, which is stunning on an Amazon Fire HD tablet. The crazy writing on the wall that you'd expect out of an asylum is clear and concise, and every environment looks like there was a lot of work put into it. Screenshots don't really do it justice, as the framerate and smooth engine are the strongest aspects of Lost Within. [embed]290846:58289:0[/embed] This is a jump-scare game under-the-skin though, and it won't really offer up a lot that you haven't seen or rolled your eyes at before. I really like the literature that narrates the history of the asylum and its inhabitants, as it strays from the typical "diary" setup often with things like newspaper clippings, but once you're done reading up, it's back to a corridor simulator with "scary" monsters. In case you couldn't pick up on that obvious sarcasm, those creatures aren't really all that threatening, or nearly as interesting as the lore bits. Said corridors are often fun to roam through thanks to the mechanics, and freaky flashbacks are a constant source of entertainment beyond running and outwitting the baddies in the "real" world. What Lost Within really thrives on is the ability to tell a compelling story in an easily-digestible way throughout the experience. In-between the jumps and frights I had a burning desire to unravel the game's various mysteries, and press on to the next area. Amazon Game Studios only has a few games under its belt, but it's already making a name for itself in the industry. With a little more creativity Lost Within could be a full-blown retail game, which could be where the publisher is heading with the acquisition of Double Helix and a few other talented developers. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Lost Within review photo
Warning: it's another asylum game
Jump-scare horror games, or "YouTube Bait" as they're often now called, are a dime-a-dozen. Especially ones based in an asylum. Lost Within is a jump-scare horror game that takes place in an asylum (cue the laugh track). Thankfully, it has a handful of redeeming qualities that elevate it above the competition.

Review: Attack the Light: Steven Universe

Apr 02 // Ben Davis
Attack the Light: Steven Universe (iOS, Android [reviewed])Developer: Grumpyface StudiosPublisher: Cartoon Network GamesReleased: April 2, 2015MSRP: $2.99 Attack the Light's story could easily have been its own episode in the television show. The game takes the Crystal Gems on an adventure to bring down an army of light creatures, which Steven accidentally created by touching a prismatic gem artifact. Pretty standard for a Steven Universe episode, and it works really well as a videogame with each color of light being represented by a different world. The game never strays from the established canon of the Steven Universe universe (heh). There's plenty of references which only the fans of the show will understand, but the story itself is simple enough that players new to the franchise won't be too confused. Many of the items, attacks, and locations are taken directly from the show, such as the Cookie Cat items for healing, Amethyst's Purple Puma attack, and the strawberry field where an ancient gem battle took place. I loved how they even managed to naturally work in references for some of the more "videogame-y" aspects, like the loading screens which take place inside the warp streams. [embed]289907:58032:0[/embed] Attack the Light is an RPG featuring turn-based combat and light puzzle-solving segments. It takes a lot of inspiration from games like Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario. Things like timed hits and badges should sound very familiar to people who have played the Mario RPGs, and these are the main mechanics which make the combat in Attack the Light so interesting. Timed hits, or action commands, are crucial to winning a battle. While attacking or defending, a star will briefly appear around the enemy or character, indicating when the player should tap the screen. Tapping at the right moment will allow the Crystal Gems to follow up with an additional attack, or take significantly less damage from an enemy's attack. There are also certain moves which require special actions to perform, like pulling back and aiming Pearl's spear or tapping as many times as possible to charge up Amethyst's rolling attack. Stuff like this should be all too familiar to Paper Mario fans, and it works particularly well for an RPG on mobile devices. The actions taken during the player's turn are determined by the amount of star points available. Each turn grants five star points, which can go towards Crystal Gem attacks or Steven actions. Players can distribute these points any way they want; for example, a turn can consist entirely of Garnet's attacks, or be spread evenly between each of the Crystal Gems so that every character takes an action that turn. Players can also end their turns whenever they choose, and unused star points will be carried over into their next turn. Additional star points can also be obtained by using items or defeating enemies. While Steven himself can't actually attack, he still holds a very important role on the team as a healer-type character. He can give the Crystal Gems some words of encouragement to heal them, use his shield bubbles to block attacks, play songs on his ukulele to provide stat bonuses, and he also has access to a plethora of items hidden inside his hamburger backpack. He is the backbone of the team, so it's wise to take advantage of his abilities often. Leveling up grants the Crystal Gems new abilities and stronger stats. Each of the Crystal Gems starts at level 9000, except for Steven who starts at level 1 (this doesn't actually mean anything in regards to gameplay, but I thought it was funny). The Gems can gain experience through fights and also through dialogue. At certain points, Steven will be given dialogue options, and each choice will give a certain Gem an experience boost, depending on who was the most pleased with Steven's words. In addition to leveling up, badges can also be equipped to increase the Crystal Gems' stats or give them other bonuses, like immunity to status effects or bonus defense against specific enemy types. Overall, I felt the combat in Attack the Light was very well implemented. It provides just the right amount of challenge and variety. Skill with the action commands is necessary for success, different tactics will need to be employed for different enemy types, and each character has their own unique qualities to add to the team. Garnet is the powerhouse who breaks defenses and dishes out damage, Amethyst is great at dealing damage to multiple targets, Pearl is best at focused attacks usually aimed at single enemies, and of course, Steven provides the backup. The combat offers complexity without being confusing, and I feel any type of gamer, whether casual or hardcore, will be comfortable with it. Outside of battle, the team will be navigating short maps. Players swipe left, right, up, or down to move to the next section of the map, where they might encounter enemies, find treasure chests, or run into a puzzle. The puzzles are all very simple; usually they involve finding a key to continue forward, or tapping a string of symbols in the correct order to open a door, with clues scattered around the map. Hidden rooms can also be discovered by swiping in the direction of special walls, which will shimmer slightly to alert players of a possible secret. Map exploration is straightforward, so levels can be completed relatively quickly. Being on mobile devices, I think this works in the game's favor. Players should be able to easily complete a level in a short period of time, making it perfect for quick play sessions while you're riding the bus or waiting in the lobby, and it's easy to pick back up again where you left off. The problems I encountered were very few, and most may have been due to my phone. Certain touch screen movements were a little difficult to get right at times. In particular, the swipe motion for Pearl's spear-throwing attack often took a while to register, and once it registered, it would sometimes be difficult to aim it correctly without moving my finger off of the phone itself. (I used this attack frequently, since I found it to be quite powerful, so this one stood out to me the most.) I also found it slightly annoying when all of the characters would clump together on the map, mostly because this made it difficult to select the right character to give healing items to without moving to a new section of the map, which could trigger an enemy attack. It would have been preferable if they automatically spread out. But aside from these few small issues, I didn't notice anything major. For the most part, controls were very accurate and responsive. Attack the Light's strongest quality is its personality. Part of this comes from the voice cast, featuring the same actors from the show, and part of it comes from the writing. The Crystal Gems behave in their usual ways, with Pearl being the voice of reason, Amethyst goofing off and getting pumped, and Garnet remaining mysterious yet reassuring. Steven, in particular, is great in this game. His unwavering optimism is truly infectious; hearing him encourage the Crystal Gems and express his excitement about their adventure brings a smile to my face. He's just so nice and happy all the time! There's no doubt in my mind that fans of Steven Universe will be pleased with Attack the Light. It stays true to the show and gives players a chance to explore and fight alongside these great characters, all while offering a fun, if at times simple, gameplay experience. Even for non-fans, it's still a solid mobile RPG. And if you're not a fan of Steven Universe yet, then I bet you will be after playing Attack the Light.   [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Attack the Light review photo
Neato burrito!
Videogames based on television shows can be pretty hit or miss, but usually they miss. The same can also be said for mobile games in general. This makes something like Attack the Light, a mobile game based on the popular cart...

Final Fantasy: Record Keeper is out today, and it kicks the crap out of All the Bravest

Mar 26 // Chris Carter
Unlike Bravest's soulless narrative, Record Keeper's setup is actually kind of cute. Individuals in a mysterious realm are charged with protecting the records of countless lands, literally framed within various paintings. After an evil darkness descends upon the world the records have been seemingly lost, leaving it to you, a titular record keeper, to bring them back. Under normal circumstances, only a master would be allowed to tinker with said records, but a top Mog in the order grants you permission to save the day. Like I said, cute. So let's get right to it -- the game is free-to-play, but follows a much different strategy than the aforementioned disaster of a game. There is an energy system (stamina), and items can be purchased by way of microtransactions (IAP), but you can completely enjoy the game without having to resort to buying anything. The core of Record Keeper's success is that stamina refills at a pretty respectable rate, which keeps you playing more often than most titles with the same mechanic. Additionally, the premium currency can be earned in-game through normal play by doing well, and the story doesn't feel gated to goad you into paying to win. The experience itself is fanservice at its finest. You'll dive into various classic Final Fantasy titles, reliving key moments like the bombing of the Mako Reactor, leveling up, and acquiring new party members (like Cloud) and equipment. Keeper's active-time-based combat isn't just a swipe fest, as you can use magic and abilities, as well as defend and use limit breaks of sorts called Soul Breaks. Although it doesn't get as involved as the core series there's a bit of strategic depth to it with mechanics such as elemental weaknesses, and the tap-based controls are precise. [embed]289548:57917:0[/embed] The best part about the combat system is that it doesn't really feel unfair, to the point where if you play smart, you should be able to overcome most of the tasks placed in front of you. Square Enix could have easily sleazed this bit to get you to cough up some cash, but at least with this collaboration with DeNA (yep, that DeNA), it seems to have learned from its mistakes. The reward loop is generous for a free game, which should encourage players to want to spend money. It may not make as much cash as All the Bravest as a result, but it feels a lot less criminal. You can find Final Fantasy: Record Keeper on iOS and Android today if you want to give it a shot.
FF: Record Keeper photo
Great in short bursts
Final Fantasy: All the Bravest was a travesty. It played itself, it was pretty abrasive in its pandering, and the microtransactions were so pushy that it was hard to enjoy it without feeling like you were constantly being sold something. Final Fantasy: Record Keeper is another free-to-play game in the same vein, but it's a much better effort that doesn't feel straight-up insulting to fans.

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: The Sword in the Darkness

Mar 25 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: The Sword in the Darkness (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: March 24, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] Like the previous episode, The Sword in the Darkness opens with Asher across the Narrow Sea. Hothead that he is, his sections always seem to be more action-oriented than the others. As an introduction to the episode it sets an energetic tone, though most of the other sections follow the more subdued light exploration and dialogue trees Telltale is known for. Asher is presented with a major this-or-that decision early on, and it comes during such a panicked situation that I was actually caught off guard by it, despite knowing what to expect by now. The scene does a good job of getting the adrenaline pumping and then presenting players with an impossible decision. I think I shouted some profanity at my monitor when it showed up. Well played, Telltale. Though Asher is charming and fun, Mira's tribulations in King's Landing continue to be the most interesting. Cersei, Tyrion, and Margaery all show up, and each wants something from the eldest Forrester daughter. Though the audience with Cersei in episode one was nerve-wracking, the politicking here provided the most sustained tenseness in the series. [embed]289414:57887:0[/embed] Cersei doesn't want Mira associating with Tyrion, Margaery wants her marriage into the Lannister family to go smoothly, Tyrion wants to team up with Mira to make some money, and Mira wants to give her family the best chance at survival by manipulating relationships in King's Landing. Keeping everyone happy while still achieving Mira's objective requires delicate balance, and there are very real consequences presented for crossing any of the major players. Mira's navigation of nobility politics feels more like Game of Thrones than any previous encounter. Previously, Gared hadn't been too important in the overall story of House Forrester, but now his purpose is made clear. The North Grove plot point introduced in episode one and ignored in episode two is revisited, and it sets a more tangible goal for future episodes. Where before it seemed like Gared being sent to The Wall was just an excuse to show scenes with Jon Snow, now it seems like a carefully calculated decision, both in-universe by Duncan and outside by Telltale. I'm much more interested to see where Gared's story goes now than I was coming into episode three. The most focus is placed on the events at Ironrath, where the Whitehill soldiers are becoming increasingly unruly. There are a couple of different approaches to take, but even if the player decides to go down one path, there are a number of scenes that test resolve. The smart choice for the long run is rarely the one that feels right in the moment. It's a strange situation, because Ironrath's state by the end of The Sword in the Darkness is obstensively worse than it was at the end of The Lost Lords, but I feel more optimistic about the future. As Rodrik, I made choices for the greater good that I thought might let other characters down, but the team all appeared to be on the same page. For the first time in the series, I don't feel like I have made all of the wrong choices. For sure, sacrifices had to be made. Not everybody ended up happy. By some metrics, each of the playable characters is worse off than before. But as a whole, the group finally has direction. Where the first two episodes took their time setting up the narrative machine, The Sword in the Darkness finally puts that machine into motion. Telltale's initial promise that each character's actions will ripple out and affect the others is coming to fruition. I only expect to see that even more with the next episode. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
The wheels are in motion
Telltale seems to be getting into the swing of things with Game of Thrones, in more ways than one. For starters, it only took seven weeks since the last episode for this one to come out. If Telltale can keep up that pace, the...

Review: Tales from the Borderlands: Atlas Mugged

Mar 17 // Darren Nakamura
Tales from the Borderlands: Atlas Mugged (iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: March 17, 2015 (Mac, PC)MSRP: $4.99, $24.99 (Season Pass)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] To its credit, Telltale owns up to the long wait between episodes. The opening line is Marcus commenting on how long it has been since the last part of the story. Then he goes into a recap of the main events from Zer0 Sum, leading into the beginning of Atlas Mugged. Hyperion executive Rhys and Pandoran con artist Fiona have stumbled onto some unknown but hopefully valuable Atlas technology, just in time for a digital reconstruction of Borderlands 2 antagonist Handsome Jack to load into Rhys's mind. Jack comes and goes over the course of the episode, typically when Rhys suffers head trauma, and he often offers his brand of morally bankrupt help. Though he only appears during certain scenes, Handsome Jack sort of steals the show. Rhys, Fiona, and the rest of the gang have some good lines, but Telltale's treatment of Jack is on point. He is simultaneously deplorable and hilarious, which serves the concept of Telltale adventure games well. In Borderlands 2 he was a likable villain; in The Pre-Sequel he was a detestable hero. Here, he can be either, allowing the player to choose whether to heed his more outlandish suggestions or to risk progressing without his aid. [embed]288757:57654:0[/embed] Episode 2 has the two protagonists separating and reuniting again and it still works great as a narrative device. Seeing the what from one perspective and then the why from the other gives extra insight to events, though Atlas Mugged lacks some of the punchier revelatory moments that Zer0 Sum had. There are still some secrets set up for later, like the function of the Gortys Project or the identity of the paddy hat-clad character. Fiona gets an upgrade to her single-shot pistol in this episode, allowing it to deal an elemental damage of her choice among incendiary, shock, and corrosive. Knowledge of the shooters in the series seems to help with knowing which element to use in which situation. Another kink thrown in is in addition to having limited ammunition, each element appears to be usable only once, so players may be locked out of one they want for the future. It's the kind of inter-episode mechanic that may or may not pay off intellectually until later. Neither of the established characters who made cameos in the first episode show up again here, but a few new ones do. Scooter and Athena are among those who make an appearance, and I hope for the narrative's sake that this isn't the last we see of them. Given her background with the Atlas corporation (see: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx) Athena plays a particularly interesting role that brings up questions I hope to see answered. From a gameplay perspective, this runs by the standard of modern Telltale titles. It includes the unique Borderlands hooks like Rhys's bionic eye and Fiona's management of money, but they are less emphasized than in the previous episode. Tales still feels like a Borderlands game, but slightly less so now than before. Though puzzles have basically been expunged from Telltale's modus operandi -- and I have come to terms with it -- there is one section where it still stings a little to think about. In it, Rhys has to restore power to an electronic system and it skirts the edge of requiring just a touch of critical thinking, but it ends up being a simple exploration exercise. The setup almost begged for some sort of puzzle; it was disappointing that the solution was so mundane. Past that, the main gameplay is exactly what we all expect from Telltale. Dialogue trees, quick-time events, and the occasional big choice to make. Keeping consistent with the first episode, the writing is sharp, the jokes are plentiful, the plot is intriguing, and the action is over-the-top. What it lacks is easily forgiven because what it contains is really good. Visually, Tales from the Borderlands is as great as ever. The bright colors and hard edges still work well with Telltale's engine, and they juxtapose against the dark comedic themes in a way that never seems to get old. I did experience a couple of minor graphical glitches, but 99% of it ran like a dream. In the end, Atlas Mugged is not quite as good as Zer0 Sum. It had me chuckling five minutes in, but there were fewer laugh-out-loud moments. It maintained high intensity in its action sequences, though none quite compared to the earlier death race. It used the unique Borderlands mechanics just a bit less. Its narrative lacked any jaw-dropping twists or powerful moments of clarity, but it still remained engaging throughout. Though it is slightly less than excellent, it is still great, and I can hardly wait to see where it goes next. Telltale, please don't make me wait so long before Episode 3. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Borderlands review photo
It's here Atlas
[Disclosure: Anthony Burch, who consulted on the story for Tales from the Borderlands, was previously employed at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] Tales ...

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: The Lost Lords

Feb 03 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: The Lost Lords (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: February 3, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] That is to say, one of my versions of House Forrester is doomed. For Iron From Ice and now The Lost Lords, I have run through with two separate save files. I do not recommend doing this for a couple of reasons. For one, playing through more than once lifts up the curtain on which choices actually make any sort of difference in the story and which ones lead to the same place regardless. Most choices do not have any immediate impact; only a select few shape the narrative into something unique to an individual player. This is standard Telltale modus operandi at this point, so it should not surprise most who have been following the developer for the past few years. For two, it shows how utterly inept I would be in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. For my initial playthrough, I live in the moment and make the decisions that feel right. Sometimes I mouth off, sometimes I am defiant, but often I keep cool and try to maintain allies. My second save is labeled "Jerks" and in it I play House Forrester as a group of inconsiderate, self-serving assholes. For my first save, I find myself sparing lives when I should kill, making promises I should never keep, and helping others before helping myself. For my second save, I do the opposite. By most measures, the Jerk Forresters are in much better shape than the True Forresters. [embed]286540:56983:0[/embed] Where Iron From Ice set the stage for the series, The Lost Lords begins to put everything into motion. The Stark-esque scattering of the members of House Forrester is deliberate, planned to coincide with major events from the novels. Mira continues to serve Lady Margaery in King's Landing just prior to King Joffrey's wedding. Gared has completed his journey to The Wall to begin training before Mance Rayder launches his assault. Newcomer Asher is traveling between Yunkai and Meereen just as Daenerys is campaigning to liberate the slaves in Essos. Of course, plenty of focus is given to Ironrath, the seat of House Forrester, in the aftermath of Episode One. In a way, it works against The Lost Lords to be set precisely when it is. The build-up will likely be worth it once everything is in place and it all starts to hit the fan, but in the moment it feels like a lot of waiting. Consequences for some of the major choices from the last episode show up here. If Mira asked Margaery for help last episode, then Margaery will be unwilling to provide any assistance now. Ethan's choice of Sentinel in Iron From Ice affects how the Whitehill soldiers are treated in The Lost Lords. The former consequence seems like a major one; an entire avenue of intrigue involving the Queen of Thorns may be locked away in the future. The latter does not appear as important; Lord Whitehill is ornery and spiteful regardless. Thus far, Mira had only been exposed to the diplomacy, secrecy, and espionage of King's Landing. In The Lost Lords, she gets her first taste of the more overt awfulness of Westeros. Her story is still the most subdued of the playable characters. Her audience with Queen Cersei in the first episode was chilling and tense, but there are no comparable scenes in this episode. Gared still holds the cryptic information given to him by Gregor in the beginning of Iron From Ice, and he hopes to become a ranger in the Night's Watch in order to investigate that further. It only comes up optionally, but it seems like he will be the center of that subplot in addition to being present during the huge battle at The Wall. Asher was teased in the first episode as the hothead exile brother, and his scenes show as the most action-oriented. He is apt to fight his way out of trouble, but he does have a sharp wit when he needs it. His story about returning to Westeros from Essos to help save his house has potential to be interesting, but it is only starting out. The oil paint aesthetic remains constant, with both its pleasing 2D backgrounds and distractingly fuzzy 3D objects. I did experience a few typical Telltale glitches, like teleporting character models, but nothing gamebreaking. Overall, The Lost Lords is a fine episode for Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series, but it does not stand out. It is not exactly filler, but it does feel like it exists almost entirely as exposition, putting the pieces into place for all of the really exciting stuff to happen in a future episode. It does begin to demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of each character's choices, but it lacks the truly memorable scenes found in the first episode. If Iron From Ice felt like a punch to the gut, The Lost Lords is the throbbing pain afterward. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
Feeling the Ironrath
I would not last a day in Westeros. My best hope would be to spend some time in Oldtown to train as a maester, and even though it would help to protect me from personally going to war, I would probably be too close to the pol...

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...

Review: Neverending Nightmares

Oct 08 // Nic Rowen
Neverending Nightmares (PC [reviewed], Mac, Ouya)Developer: Infinitap GamesPublisher: Infinitap GamesReleased: September 26, 2014MSRP: $14.99 Neverending Nightmares is a psychological horror game all about mental illness. A direct result of lead creator Matt Gilgenbach's personal struggles with depression, OCD, and intrusive thoughts. While he has dealt with bouts of instability throughout his life, it was the failure of his last game, the critically well-received but commercially ignored Retro-Grade, that sent him into a tailspin of depression that eventually became the inspiration for Neverending. Gilgenbach took all of the darkness swimming around in his head and poured it into a game he could use to express the confusing, disturbing, and emotionally draining experience of coping with it. The game puts you in the role of Thomas, a deeply troubled man who has just woken up from a horrific nightmare about killing his sister. You set about exploring his mysterious and spooky home to try and find her, only to constantly reawaken into a downward spiral of even more disturbing nightmares. It's intentionally vague on story and context, and all the better for it, letting the play mechanics shoulder the narratives' heavy lifting. It's a refreshing use of the medium's ability to convey a message without literally spelling it out. Thomas's strange home loops and winds around itself in impossible ways. A seemingly endless supply of doors and nearly identical hallways dissolve any sense of place and direction. Even when moving in a consistently straight line it's easy to let doubt creep in and start to feel lost. As the game is entirely centered around exploring the ever worsening locations Thomas finds himself in, that nagging, unsure feeling hangs over the entire experience. Thomas is not an action hero. He shuffles through the hallways of his psyche with a hesitant step. Pajama clad and utterly defenseless, any encounter with one of the monsters (all various manifestations of his uncertain trauma) that wander the halls will result in his immediate disembowelment, or face devouring, or rib splitting, or whatever other horrific end is inflicted on him. But even death isn't a release from his suffering. Thomas will simply wake up in the nearest bedroom, always just a short distance away. His utter lack of combat prowess means running and hiding are your only options. You can sprint, but only for short distances. Jog too long and Thomas will double over in agonized, wheezing pain from an asthma attack. Thomas's asthma doesn't just make it more difficult to run from monsters, it's a constant frustration, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. You can't rush in Neverending Nightmares, even when backtracking over previously cleared ground -- you'll be forced to travel at a cautious pace. There is one sequence in the game that has you chasing after an apparently friendly apparition, only to be left lagging helplessly behind due to his illness. It's incredibly agitating, and that is the entire point. As someone who dealt with asthma as a child, I have to admit that sequence got to me. It reminded me of the terrible sensation of feeling betrayed and hindered by my own lungs. The fantastic gothic art style inspired by Edward Gorey's illustrations sets an incredibly oppressive mood. The sketchy black and white style fashions the characters with a cartoonish look, while the backgrounds and world objects are filled in with a fanatical attention to detail. The closer you look, the more hostile the world becomes -- family portraits are laced with the implication of violence, there are skulls subtlety embedded in the wallpaper. It's mesmerizing and terrifying at the time. The bleak monochrome color scheme is broken up by the occasional splash of color. Sometimes this is helpful, like highlighting intractable objects with colored trim. More often, it's disturbing. Bright red spurts of blood sprayed across a child's bedroom, raw meat left to rot on the kitchen counter, a blue vein torn out of flesh. Neverending is careful about doling out its horror. It doesn't revel in bloodletting like a slasher-film, at least not at first. The violent imagery is measured out in slow and deliberate helpings, which only makes it more jarring and horrible when things turn nasty. The brilliant sound design works hand-in-hand with the visuals to foster paranoia, whispering from the darkness. An ominous ambient soundtrack mixes with sound effects designed to put you on edge -- distant footfalls, the wayward chime of a music box, a glass shattering somewhere down the hall. There is a special audio mode for playing with headphones and you'll definitely want to take advantage of it to get the full experience. Neverending Nightmares is a slow burn, a creeping dread. This isn't a game about zombie dogs suddenly crashing through windows, it's about unending, inescapable tension. Being caught in a perpetual flinch, waiting for a blow that you are so sure is coming it might almost be a relief to take the sting and get it over with. When the rare jump-scares finally occur, they feel completely earned. That is the thing about the experience, it all feels earned. The tactics it uses aren't entirely unique or novel. This isn't the first horror game to use dis-empowerment to ramp up the tension, or to rely on great visuals and sound design to set a mood. But, it's all done with such fantastic execution it feels like the result of a specific vision, not just a mish-mash of popular horror game gimmicks. By the time I was done with Neverending Nightmares, not only did I have a great scary time, I felt like I understood a little bit of what Gilgenbach and others struggling with the illness feel on a daily basis. Make no mistake, it's still a horror game first and foremost, but that extra little bit of dark knowledge is unsettling. The terror feels more real, more concrete, than any other horror game I've played in recent memory. For everything I love about the style and atmosphere, I can't help but feel the actual content was unfortunately thin. While wandering around the exquisitely distressing locales is rewarding in its own right, the game is starved for things to do in them. There are a few small puzzle elements, but they are so brief and understated I hesitate to call them puzzles. The odd intractable objects you can examine for finer detail are creepy and intriguing. The artwork for these moments is always fantastic, but there are just so few of them, and even fewer that ever payoff in a meaningful way. The length is also concerning. It took me around two hours of playtime to unlock all three endings. I can respect a game that is able to offer a tight, concise experience that does what it sets out to do and is done before it overstays its welcome, but sadly, this is not that game. While the total length is short, some of the areas drag on well beyond their prime. The Asylum level in particular, despite featuring some of the most disconcerting visuals of the game, brings things to a grinding halt. It's filled with endlessly repetitious cellblocks and enemies that force you to slow the game's already languid pace to a crawl. It's also one of the key branching levels if you want to see all the endings, so you'll have to slog through it multiple times. By the end of that, you might be fit for institutionalization yourself. The three possible endings all offer some perspective on Thomas's psyche, but feel rushed and undercooked. One of them was so short and abrupt I thought I accidentally skipped it somehow. Short endings aren't the end of the world, it's the journey not the destination that matters, but they still left me cold. A happy ending that wrapped everything up in a neat little bow would have been a disservice to the rest of the game's commentary, and I wasn't looking for one. But, some kind of closure at least would have been welcome. I admire the sheer artistic bravery of Matt Gilgenbach. It isn't often that a game developer will tear his heart out and lay it down for everyone to see. Despite its flaws, Neverending Nightmares offers a striking and unforgettable horror experience, combined with an uncomfortably intimate look into the true torment of mental illness. However, its lack of content and uneven pacing prevent it from being the classic it feels like it could have been.
Neverending Nightmares photo
Into the mind of madness
Mental illness is terrifying. Depression is a soul vampire that will suck the light right out of you. Obsessive compulsive disorder does not make you a supernaturally great detective like it does in the movies. It makes you p...

Review: Skylanders: Trap Team

Oct 07 // Chris Carter
Skylanders: Trap Team (3DS, Android, iOS, PS3, PS4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Toys for Bob / Beenox / Vicarious VisionsPublisher: ActivisionReleased: October 5, 2014MSRP: $74.99 (Starter Pack) The premise is basically the same as it always has been with the Skylanders series. Once again an ancient evil (The Doom Raiders) has awakened, and it's up to the Skylanders and their new allies (the Trap Masters) to put them away. Players will do this by using all of the toys released so far, as well as the new Trap Master figures that can access unique crystal areas, and the trap pieces. To be clear, all of the toys from the first three generations of Skylanders can be used here, which is a pretty neat way to keep a collection relevant. At this point it's hard to believe that Toys for Bob is still coming up with unique characters and movesets, but pretty much every new toy I've used shines in its own unique way and has its own personality. Visually, Trap Team has taken some strides since Swap Force, which is a big accomplishment considering how great that game looked on newer consoles. Everything looks like a legitimate Dreamworks or Pixar animated film, and the idea of the franchise transitioning over to the big screen is completely believable based on the game alone. The script isn't as sharp as Swap Force, but it's still perfectly acceptable for kids, and completely skippable for adults. Gameplay-wise the series still holds up, with addictive hack and slash gameplay that deserves to be respected with any modern action release. Characters will naturally grow their abilities as time goes on and most of them will have a tool for every situation, making every toy feel fun and viable. Higher difficulties also help ease in veteran gamers who may view Skylanders as a kids-only franchise. On the other hand, there's nothing really new that justifies spending $75 to get the Starter Pack, which includes the game, the new portal, two traps, and two characters. It sounds ridiculous, but while Swap Force technically innovated with the ability to jump and a few other elemental mix-up mechanics, Trap Team doesn't really add anything exciting to the mix. Well, the "new" bit is found in the traps themselves, but I was pretty disappointed with how they actually play out. The concept involves the new Traptanium portal, which has a tiny slot to fix in plastic traps that are shaped like pegs. The game has 46 special villains in it that can be captured as you make your way through the story, and if you have a trap toy handy of the correct element (the game comes with the Life and Water traps), you can collect them to re-use from that point on. The trapped character also "talks" by way of the peg, which lights up in the portal. Traps are a bit of a letdown in two ways. One, the actual use of trapped villains involves summoning them for a limited amount of time as a playable character. Said time is linked by way of a special meter, and at the end of the day, it amounts to nothing more than a temporary power-up. It would have been much cooler to have each villain as a fully playable character at all times with their own level system and custom movesets. Whereas the hulking  giants and the swap combos fundamentally changed the game, traps don't feel nearly as innovative. Additionally, adding traps to the game is just too much in terms of the physical collecting aspect. While all eight elements of traps can be purchased now in stores, two "mystery" elements are not for sale, and thus those villains cannot be captured until those are released. While I'm generally okay with gating off small bonus rooms by way of elements, giants, swap doors and Trap Master crystals, gating off characters while juggling the similar looking trap toys doesn't really make for a fun time. Taking off and putting on toys feels intuitive. It doesn't matter if the toy is big, small, or has interchangeable parts -- simply placing a new character on a surface and playing instantly is a fun and well designed activity. The traps on the other hand will leave many people confused as to who is in what trap, and since they're only truly used at certain points of the game to capture enemies, they often feel like they're sidelined. Thankfully, all of the other mechanics I mentioned earlier from past games are still readily available, and you can still complete the game only using the traps from the base kit. In true Skylanders fashion there's plenty to do though, even for those who don't dig the traps. The Kaos Doom Challenge is probably the biggest addition, and expands the arenas from Swap Force into a full-on horde mode with tower defense elements. Why the series didn't have this sooner is beyond me, but it's a ton of fun to play with friends, and a great way to get more use out of your whole collection of toys. Skystones, the in-universe card game is also back in a bigger capacity, battle arenas are still in, and a few more minigames like a 2D platformer diversion are available to unlock. While I never really connected with the trap mechanic or the new Trap Master toys, Skylanders: Trap Team is still a well-oiled machine. On newer consoles it looks fantastic, the action gameplay is still exciting, and the charm is still there. I just hope that Activision and its ilk have more interesting concepts in mind for the next iteration.
Skylanders 4 review photo
Same great gameplay, not so great new gimmick
Toys For Bob has found some rather interesting ways to evolve the Skylanders franchise. While the conceit the first time around was simply interactive toys, the developer mixed things up with giants on the second go, and...

Mistwalker's new RPG is unlike anything we've seen before

Sep 07 // Kyle MacGregor
Terra Battle is an upcoming strategy role-playing game for mobile and tablet devices, but it doesn't bear much resemblance to Final Fantasy Tactics and the like. Actually, the battlefield looks more like a chessboard than anything, which Sakaguchi tells us is by design. It takes inspiration from shogi, a popular board game, otherwise known as Japanese chess and the general's game. One way of playing shogi involves capturing stones by flanking them on both sides, a concept developer Mistwalker is incorporating as the centerpiece of Terra Battle's combat system. In order to attack enemies in Terra Battle, players will need to make quick and purposeful finger-swipes to position their units on the battlefield. However, since characters cannot fight alone, players will need to bump into and corral their allies into formations around monsters. That's the only way to vanquish your foes and emerge victorious.  [embed]280518:55533:0[/embed] In some small way, Mistwalker is also taking notes from Puzzle & Dragons. Sakaguchi told us a story about how we went drinking one night with the team behind GungHo Online's incredibly successful mobile game, and how it helped spur him to create Terra Battle. Sakaguchi gleaned insights on how to build an experience for a vertical screen from swapping stories with these folks. The conversations helped him address challenges like how to condense a rewarding experience into something easily enjoyed here and there while on the go. These types of problems seem to genuinely excite Sakaguchi, who wishes to use his forays into the mobile world to explore new ideas in the medium. Part of that involves a more fluid development process, where, unlike console games, the developers can continue to add content long after the game first ships. Mistwalker is using a "download starter" model with Terra Battle, which means the developer plans to add new content upon the achievement of certain milestones. These upgrades include new music courtesy of famed composer Nobuo Uematsu, co-op and versus battle modes, and even a console game based on the world and characters in Terra Battle. Mistwalker seems concerned with the stigma attached to mobile games, and hopes to ensure Terra Battle is not overly simplistic. Something we were more anxious about was how the developer plans to monetize the game. Terra Battle will be free-to-play and uses a stamina mechanic that limits the number of battles players can engage in quick succession. Energy regenerates over time, but impatient players will always have the option to pay. This shouldn't be overly alarming, as the title is designed to be played in short spurts, but it's something to keep in mind. Sakaguchi assured us players will never feel forced to part with their money. We were excited by what we saw of Terra Battle and are eager to give this unique take on tactical role-playing games a try when it arrives on iOS and Android devices this October.
Mistwalker's new RPG photo
Terra Battle is something else
Hironobu Sakaguchi is best known as the creator of Final Fantasy; a man responsible for some of the most influential and well-respected role-playing games of our time. His sprawling worlds and epic adventures have touched mil...

Reviews In Review: Watch Dogs, Monochroma, Wolf Among Us

Jun 01 // Ben Pack
World End Economica Episode 1 (PC)Developer: Spicy TailsPublisher: Sekai ProjectRelease: May 5, 2014MRSP: $12.99 World End Economica has so much going for it: an interesting premise, a protagonist with an actual design and personality (even if it is a little rotten) and the opportunity to capitalize on a business rarely (if ever) explored in video games: stock trading. Unfortunately, it squanders the opportunity to capitalize on these great bullet points and winds up a generic, muddled mess of pacing issues, bland dialogue, and characters too difficult to connect with. Verdict: 4/10 - Read the full World End Economica Episode 1 review  Watch Dogs (PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease: May 27, 2014 / TBA 2014 (Wii U)MRSP: $59.99 Despite the fact that Watch Dogs hasn't made any meaningful impact on the genre, I found myself having a ton of fun with it. Between the deep levels of customization and the sheer breadth of content, there's no shortage of things to do. If Ubisoft can take the game's core fun factor and marry it with an actual "next-gen" experience the next time around, they'll have something truly special. Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full Watch Dogs review The Wolf Among Us: In Sheep's Clothing (iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesRelease: May 27, 2014 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360) / TBA (iOS)MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) Having said that, Wolf Among Us continues to wow me with all of the details therein. From the Little Old Lady who lived in a shoe in a random painting to Curds and Whey in a jar, there's lots of lore building, and all it makes me want to do is read the comics proper. While The Walking Dead always feels like more of a micro-tale with each individual group, Wolf Among Us feels like something greater, and bigger than Telltale -- and that's a good thing. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full The Wolf Among Us: In Sheep's Clothing review Monochroma (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Nowhere StudiosPublisher: Nowhere StudiosReleased: May 28, 2014MSRP: $19.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The narrative itself is generally engaging overall, but it suffers from a few holes. Aside from being told that the little brother is in fact the protagonist's little brother, the player is given no intrinsic reason to want to help him, and in fact, the player can grow to resent the character. Otherwise, there is not a good reason given that the two brothers decide to walk to the city and infiltrate a corporation instead of staying home and calling for medical help. Verdict: 4/10 - Read the full Monochroma review Worms Battlegrounds (PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Team17Publisher: Team17Released: May 27, 2014MSRP: $24.99 Like most Worms games, you'll need other people to play with or risk monotony. Enemy AI still isn't the sharpest tool in the shed even this far in the game, and they can take far too long between turns, leading to boredom. Given the price tag of $25, it's perfect for those of you who haven't played a Worms game in years and have the itch. But if you've been playing along for the past few years, you might be able to skip this slightly upgraded collective of recent entries -- unless you're a fanatic, of course. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full Worms Battlegrounds review  
REVIEWS! photo
Plus World End Economica
Reviewer? I hardly know her! This week's reviews in review goes out to Steven Hansen. Check out the video and all the reviews below.

Reviews In Review: Wolfenstein The New Order, Transistor, Drakengard 3

May 24 // Ben Pack
Kero Blaster (PC [reviewed], iPhone)Developer: Studio PixelPublisher: PlayismReleased: May 11, 2014MSRP: $7.99 (PC) $4.99 (iPhone) If Cave Story was Amaya's answer to Super Metroid, Kero Blaster is his Mega Man X. It's dense and perfectly paced, just begging to be replayed over and over. If I were to have to introduce someone to the genre of 2D action/platformers, it is probably the game that I'd give them, as it starts off easy-yet-engaging, and ends with giant bosses, swarms of enemies on screen, and everything else you could want in the genre. It's a game you may beat in a day, but will be playing off and on for a lifetime.  Verdict: 9/10 - Read the full Kero Blaster review Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 (Nintendo 3DS)Developer: Renegade KidPublisher: Renegade KidReleased: May 15, 2014MRSP: $8.99 It's really difficult to give Moon Chronicles a strong appraisal one way or the other. It's far from a stellar experience, but isn't a bad one either. There just isn't anything here that hasn't been done better elsewhere, and I can't see anyone other than FPS-starved 3DS owners or hardcore fans of the original being too interested. Verdict: 6/10 - Read the full Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 review Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: MachineGamesPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksRelease Date: May 20, 2014MSRP: $59.99 In many ways, Wolfenstein: The New Order is "First-Person Shooters: The Game," but it gets most of the important details right. It's still weird to me seeing Wolf games developed over and over by new devs, but MachineGames did a great job adapting the franchise in its own way. With a few tweaks, the next iteration could be something truly special. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full Wolfenstein: The New Order review Drakengard 3 (PS3)Developer: Access GamesPublisher: Square EnixRelease Date: May 20, 2014MSRP: $59.99 It's not too challenge of a game all things considered, because the difficulty curve is meticulously designed to not overwhelm or frustrate players. It's well made to the point where you won't feel like everything is too easy, and if you really need that extra edge to overcome a certain task, you can go back and level-up with sidequests. If you want to do everything you'll probably find yourself around a 100-hour completion rate, but the story is roughly at the 40-hour mark. Drakengard 3 is a bit unconventional at times (like its developer) with tales of extreme hair cutting and dragon piss, but action fans will want to seek this one out immediately. Within 15 minutes I was drawn into its world and its cast of characters, and I wanted to see Zero's journey through from start to finish. If you like games like Nier, you'll loveDrakengard 3. Verdict: 8.5/10 - Read the full Drakengard 3 review Transistor (PS4, PC [reviewed])Developer: Supergiant GamesPublisher: Supergiant GamesRelease: May 20, 2014MRSP: $19.99 / £14.99 While Transistor initially feels like a whole new game, structurally it sticks closely toBastion. Both games feature a beautiful but abandoned city that has undergone huge tragedy. In Bastion it was called the Calamity; in Transistor, it's dubbed The Process. Both feature areas where the player can rest and take stock; Red finds special doors which take her to a deserted island where challenge rooms are located (much like the Proving Grounds in Bastion). If the game isn't sufficiently challenging, Limiters can be installed that will make things harder for Red but at the benefit of gaining extra XP or other bonuses. These can be installed like Functions, swapped in and out at access points, but work the same way as the Idols in Bastion.  Verdict: 8.5/10 - Read the full Transistor review R-Type Dimensions (PS3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)Developer: Irem, Tozai GamesPublisher: Tozai GamesReleased: May 20, 2014MSRP: $9.99 If you have any fondness for the series, or if you're just looking for a solid side-scrolling shooter that's about as hard as can be, R-Type Dimensions faithfully re-creates the original experience and before long you'll be wondering why you did this to yourself. Verdict: 9/10 - Read the full R-Type Dimensions review  
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And more!
Look, E3 is coming up soon and that means we're about to get super excited about games. Let's take a minute and be thankful for the games we have right now, ok?

Reviews in Review: Mario Kart 8, Super Time Force and more!

May 17 // Ben Pack
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 1Publisher: NintendoRelease Date: May 30, 2014MSRP: $59.99 Mario Kart 8 is my favorite series entry since Double Dash, and if it gets arena battle tracks at some point by way of DLC, it will be a near-perfect package. Its vibrant visuals will hold up for years to come, ensuring that the game will withstand the test of time, and it will be a staple in my household for a long, long while. Verdict: 9/10 - Read the full Mario Kart 8 review Ether One (PC)Developer: White Paper GamesPublisher: White Paper GamesReleased: March 25, 2014MRSP: $19.99 Ether One nails its puzzles, atmosphere, and sound (ambient and voice acting). It also nails its story -- whether or not you decide to fully unravel its world and its mysteries -- culminating in a, well, refreshing, smart finale that will stay on my mind for years to come. Verdict: 9/10 - Read the full Ether One review The Walking Dead Season Two: In Harm's Way (iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesRelease: May 14, 2014 (PC, PS3) / TBA (iOS, Vita, Xbox 360)MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) Episode three was probably my favorite from season one of The Walking Dead -- so far, I'm feeling the same way about In Harm's Way. Based on the preview the next tale seems to be a buffer of sorts before an explosive end, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how Clementine's journey ends. You hooked me yet again, Telltale. Verdict: 8.5/10 - Read the full The Walking Dead Season Two: In Harm's Way review Super Time Force (Xbox 360 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Capybara GamesPublisher: Capybara GamesRelease date: May 14, 2014MSRP: $14.99 All told, Super Time Force is a satisfying run-and-gun game made even better with a fun (and funny!) take on time travel. It's as enjoyable to play as it is to look at. You'll likely be able to burn through the game in a few hours if you're not going for full completion, but it has such a winning personality that you'll find yourself coming back for more. Verdict: 9/10 - Read the full Super Time Force  review Demon Gaze (PS Vita)Developer: Kadokawa GamesPublisher: NIS America Released: April, 2014MRSP: $39.99 You'll have to have plenty of patience and a pretty good imagination to get the most out of Demon Gaze. The dungeon crawling is great and the NPC interactions outside of the dungeons are fun, but it's insanely challenging (even on the easiest setting) and the high level of repetition and mostly static presentation could get to you after some time. And you'll also have to be okay with the game's many horny NPC situations as they didn't skimp on the fan service. Verdict: 7/10 - Read the full Demon Gaze  review Cloudbuilt (PC)Developer: CoilworksPublisher: Rising Star GamesReleased: March 20, 2014MRSP: $19.99 Cloudbuilt is frustrating. It's frustrating to play and frustrating to recommend. I like the style, I like the parkour mechanics overall, but there's a lot of junk to contend with. The antagonistic design (minefields everywhere) is one thing, but the unforgiving checkpoints and limited lives lead to a lot of repetition. Meanwhile, the combat ends up about as unsatisfying as Mirror's Edge, with worse enemies that either absorb too many bullets or deflect them with shields anyway. If you want something that is going to fight you every step of the way as you shave seconds off of run times (and you have a strong pinky finger), this is for you. Verdict: 6/10 - Read the full Cloudbuilt  review JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle (PS3)Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Bandai Namco GamesRelease Date: April 29, 2014MSRP: $49.99 Overall, despite its shortcomings, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle is a colorful spectacle that both fans of the anime and future fans of the anime will want to pick up and experience, even if just to watch a man use only his upper body strength after hopping off his horse to hold his own in combat. It's funky, gorgeous, and oozing with style. And where it comes up short, it simultaneously delivers in terms of fanservice and content. You won't be putting it down for quite some time, unless, you know, you need some time to eat a few more breads in your life. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle review
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Plus The Walking Dead, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Hey, what are you doing here! There's a ton of good games that came out this week! No wait, come back and watch this video for a couple of minutes, read the article, then you can go play those games.

Reviews in Review: Sportsfriends, Amazing Spider-Man 2

May 12 // Ben Pack
Bound By Flame (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360)Developer: SpidersPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveRelease Date: May 9, 2014MSRP: $39.99 The game is actually on your side when it comes to whipping your character into shape, too, as if to compensate for dim AI and the repetitive grind that some may not find as rewarding as I did. There's plenty of loot scattered throughout the multiple winding passageways and easy-to-navigate dungeons, giving you numerous chances to craft new potions and other necessary items for use in battle. While gold isn't exactly in short supply, you'll still be faced with enough opportunities to make your own fortune rather than looking for your next payday. Verdict: 7/10 - Read the full Bound By Flame review Hitman GO (iOS)Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixReleased: April 17, 2014MSRP: $4.99 Still, I was more than enamored with the numerous nods to classic Hitmanmoments, additional costumes, and the amount of polish lavished upon this bizarre yet savory addition to the Hitman universe. It's not perfect, and it certainly won't appeal to everyone, but if you're jonesing for your next taste of the life of an assassin, Hitman GO is the hippest way to emulate everyone's favorite sharp-dressed agent.  Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full Hitman GO review Republique: Metamorphosis (iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 5], Mac, PC)Developer: Camouflaj, LoganPublisher: CamouflajReleased: April 30, 2014 (iOS) / PC (TBA)MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) I had my doubts about the Republique project as a whole, but it's clear to me now after two episodes that Camouflaj "gets it." The studio is finding a way to improve upon the core tenets of the game while maintaining an episodic format, which many other developers don't tend to do. While I wouldn't recommend that everyone rush out and buy the Season Pass right now, I'm looking forward to seeing what the next episode brings to the table. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full Republique: Metamorphosis review Sportsfriends (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Die Gute FabrikPublisher: Die Gute FabrikRelease Date: May 6, 2014MSRP: $14.99 Despite the fact that I don't think I'll be playing Barabariball or Super Pole Riders for very long, Hokra's level editor gives it legs, and Johann Sebastian Joust shouldn't be missed by anyone who enjoys having company over. It's a very uneven package in the sense that there could have either been a few more games and a few could have been better, but honestly -- $15 isn't a terrible price just for Joust alone. Verdict: 7/10 - Read the full Sportsfriends review Raiden IV: OverKill (PS3)Developer: MOSSPublisher: UFO Interactive GameReleased: April 29, 2014MSRP: $19.99 Raiden IV: OverKill could have used a few more extras, but the fact that you can get it cheaper than the Xbox 360 version when it launched (it's $20 now digitally as well) is a compelling reason for genre fans to pick this one up. While theRaiden series in general isn't my favorite collective of shmups, it's been a steady staple for over two decades for a reason. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full Raiden IV: OverKill review The Elder Scrolls Online (Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One)Developer: ZeniMax Online StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksRelease: April 4, 2014 (Mac, PC) / June 2014 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One)MSRP: $59.99 ($14.99 subscription fee, with 30 days included in base game) I think right now, the most prudent thing to do is to wait for ZeniMax to iron out all of The Elder Scrolls Online's kinks (including how it handles post level 50 content to make it less grindy), and play the console version of the game. Not only will it arrive with all of the updates from the PC version in tow, but it'll also have full native controller support -- which feels more natural than a mouse and keyboard in this instance. Verdict: 6.5/10 - Read the full The Elder Scrolls Online review Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developer: Big Finish GamesPublisher: AtlusReleased: May 7, 2014MRSP: $19.99 / £14.99 The humor doesn't always work and the puzzle design is still rooted in the series' 1990s adventure game roots, meaning it feels archaic in spots, but there are some welcome concessions to modern design with the flashlight and hint system. Tex Murphy might be alive in 2014 but he'll need to learn a few more tricks if he's to stay around for another adventure.  Verdict: 6.5/10 - Read the full Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure review  
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Plus Tesla Effect, Raiden IV: Overkill
Hey some dude in the comments said I should do this drunk so Max made me drink malt liquor. Anyway here are the reviews I reviewed last week (as well as a couple more that went up after the video).

Reviews in Review: Child of Light, Daylight, Kirby Triple Deluxe

May 04 // Ben Pack
LEGO The Hobbit (3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PSVita, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Xbox One, WiiU)Developer: TT GamesPublisher: Warner Brothers InteractiveRelease Date: April 8, 2014MSRPP: $29.99 (3DS, Vita), $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One) Still, there is a good bit to like about the game as well. If you've enjoyed the many other LEGOadaptations, this one is not without it's charm. The characters and backgrounds match the films well, and the game follows the story of the movies very closely, down to the questionable bonus material padding. Though again, being a bit limited by the original voicework may not allow for the normal LEGO slaptick-type humor, and a few scenes of real tension and whimsy from the films seem to fall a bit flat. Verdict: 6.5/10 - Read the full LEGO The Hobbit review Kirby: Triple Deluxe (3DS)Developer: HAL LaboratoryPublisher: NintendoReleased: May 2, 2014MSRP: $34.99 Kirby:Triple Deluxe is yet another winning entry in the franchise. It delivers the core Kirby experience alongside of a few very well done extras, which is pretty much everything a fan could ask for. While the Kirby formula could easily be getting stale for some, it still represents a whimsical corner of platforming games that's centered around one central ideal -- fun. Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full Kirby: Triple Deluxe review Child of Light (PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: April 30, 2014 Child of Light will satiate pretty much everyone but the most hardcore of RPG fans, and even then, they'll find plenty of enjoyment. There are a few minor issues here and there that hold it back from instant-classic status that could be enhanced in a sequel or future work, but regardless, Child of Light is a noble effort from Ubisoft Montreal, and another win to put in the studio's diverse portfolio. Verdict: 8.5/10 - Read the full Child of Light review FRACT OSC [Mac, PC (reviewed)]Developer: Phosfiend SystemsPublisher: Phosfiend SystemsMSRP: $14.99Released: April 22, 2014 FRACT OSC is a game where you need to be willing to go in blind and just explore; this might be something that puts a player off within the first 10 minutes, as there's no tooltips or tutorial to tell them what to do, unlike most modern games. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the strange, geometric landscape and understand the structure of the puzzles and progression, then you'll be rewarded with a great experience. Verdict: 8.5/10 - Read the full FRACT OSC review Life Goes On (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Infinite Monkeys EntertainmentPublisher: Infinite Monkeys EntertainmentReleased: April 17, 2014MSRP: $12.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Life Goes On might not start with the most mindblowing hook, but the idea is solid and Infinite Monkeys develops it well. By constantly adding new tricks into its repertoire and not dragging itself out unnecessarily, it maintains a good quality throughout. Puzzle difficulty ranges from easy to medium-hard; it rarely gets diabolically difficult, and when it does it is only when completing optional objectives. Although it is not particularly nice to look at, the underlying gameplay is worthwhile for any puzzle platformer enthusiast. Verdict: 7/10 - Read the full Life Goes On review Borderlands 2 Headerhunter 5: Sir Hammerlock Versus the Son of Crawmerax (Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Gearbox SoftwarePublisher: 2K GamesReleased: April 15, 2014MSRP: $2.99 As with the other entries in the Headhunter series, Sir Hammerlock Versus the Son of Crawmerax is a short experience with a relatively low price tag. Although it does not complete Borderlands 2 with a bang, it does a decent job of rounding out the series and setting up for the next one. Those particularly interested in the path of the characters moving forward will enjoy what this DLC does toward that end, but most other Borderlands fans would be just as well waiting for the release of the Pre-Sequel this fall. Verdict: 6/10 - Read the full Borderlands 2 Headerhunter 5: Sir Hammerlock Versus the Son of Crawmerax review Daylight (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4)Developer: Zombie StudiosPublisher: Zombie StudiosRelease: April 29, 2014MSRP: $14.99 Overall I felt as if Daylight was made as a jump-scare machine with a loosely tacked-on plot. I never felt invested in Sarah or cared much for the mysterious man rambling through her phone. In fact, I was more concerned with getting Miss Ghost off my back so she’d stop screaming, more so out of annoyance than fear. Daylight would have benefited from a fresh set of spooks rather than intermittent scares and muddy plot lines, but at the end of the day if you’re looking for a cheap thrill you've found it. Verdict: 4/10 - Read the full Daylight review Destiny of Spirits (Vita)Developer: SCE Japan Studio, Q EntertainmentPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentMSRP: Free-to-play Released: March 25, 2014 As is the case with any free-to-play game, you really have nothing to lose but time by trying outDestiny of Spirits. It helps if you're a hardcore Sony fan and strive for some of the more unique characters, but otherwise the pace is far too slow, and the rewards are far too little for the amount of time you need to invest in it. Verdict: 6/10 - Read the full Destiny of Spirits review The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (3DS, PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: BeenoxPublisher: ActivisionMSRP: $59.99Released: April 29, 2014 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't a complete disaster, and I can easily see fans of Spidey enjoying it at a deep discount. It's just a shame that Beenox somehow got worse at makingSpider-Man games over time, and that the powers that be insist on rushing them as movie tie-ins. Somehow, someway -- we will get our Arkham of Spider-Man games again. Until then, you can just pick up a used copy of 2004's Spider-Man 2. Verdict: 6/10 - Read the full The Amazing Spider-Man 2 review Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer:  Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month, with a free PS3-to-PS4 license transfer) Released: August 27, 2013 (PC, PS3) / April 14, 2014 (PS4) Despite those issues, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is my favorite MMO since World of Warcraft. It has a lot of things going for it, tons of content to explore, and best of all -- lots and lots of support. I have no doubt that the popularity of A Realm Reborn will continue to rise with every major update and expansion, and I wish Square Enix nothing but the best. I didn't think it was possible, but they have absolutely atoned for the original mess that was Final Fantasy XIV -- and then some. Verdict: 9/10 - Read the full Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn review
Reviews! photo
Plus LEGO The Hobbit & More
It's the end of the week which means that it's time for another episode of Reviews in Review. This week a TON of games came out, so if you missed any of our reviews just check out the video for a quick recap. Seriously, what else are you going to do for four minutes? This week I use some really bad accents.

Reviews in Review: FFXIV, Arkham Origins DLC & NES Remix 2

Apr 26 // Ben Pack
Batman: Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Heart (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montréal / Splash DamagePublisher: Warner Bros.Released: April 22nd, 2014MSRP: $9.99 (part of the Season Pass) Cold, Cold Heart feels like a legitimate addition to the Arkham Origins lore, and not just a cheap cash-in. It's definitely a side story that's too big to be shoved into the core game, even if it doesn't really innovate in any meaningful way. While I wouldn't go out of my way to buy Arkham Origins just for it, I'd implore any current owner to take a look. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full Batman: Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Heart review NES Remix 2 (Wii U)Developer: indieszeroPublisher: NintendoReleased: April 24, 2014MSRP: $14.99 This is something that I'm going to be playing for quite some time with friends every so often, comparing scores until the cows come home. I wish this mode was a bit more fleshed out overall though (two Mario games is a bit much), and I'd love to see it as a standard in future iterations of this franchise (SNES Remix, perhaps?). In other words, I wouldn't buy it just to play Championship mode, but it's enjoyable all the same. Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full NES Remix 2 review. Disney Magical World (3DS)Developer: h.a.n.d.Publisher: NintendoReleased: April 11, 2014MSRP: $29.99 That's the theme of Magical World -- simplicity. There are no secret times you need to get to a club to hear a certain song, no special residents that will only grant you a rare item on a certain hour of a certain day (there is a clock, but its effects are mostly aesthetic). For those of you who like min/maxing turnip prices and the like, you won't scratch that same itch here. It's not like that's a bad thing in my book -- I think an increased amount of accessibility is great -- just be wary that it can affect the game's longevity. Verdict: 7/10 - Read the full Disney Magical World review Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)Developer: CamelotPublisher: NintendoRelease Date: May 2, 2014MSRP: $29.99 Mario Golf: World Tour's presentation is strong, especially when it comes to the varied characters and costumes. The course designs are colorful and exciting, and they're packed with little secrets to find. The low resolution of the shot grid is the only place where the presentation of World Tour lets you down. Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full Mario Golf: World Tour review  
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Review these Reviews in Review
Reviews in Review is back, and due to the fact that this is episode 2, it officially has lasted longer than that time Fox tried to bring back The Osbournes after it got cancelled.  Anyway, onto the reviews. This week I talked about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Batman: Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Hearts, NES Remix 2, and Disney Magical World. Check 'em out.

Reviews in Review: Steins;Gate, Half Minute Hero 2, Trials Fusion

Apr 19 // Ben Pack
Trials Fusion (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: RedLynx, UbisoftPublisher: UbisoftReleased: April 15, 2014 / April 24, 2014 (PC)MSRP: $19.99 / $39.99 physical release with Season Pass (Xbox One, PS4) Trials Fusion is a good game -- and I can only see it getting better over time as user-made levels excel and DLC is released -- but what's there now, at launch, is a step down from Trials Evolution. It's disheartening, then, to see the game come in at a higher price point than its predecessor and also try to sell users on a $19.99 Season Pass in-game right out of the gate. Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full Trials Fusion review. Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars (PS Vita, 3DS)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: AtlusReleased: April 15, 2014Price: $39.99 As the game progresses, the ritual scenes become a bit longer and naughtier. Toward the end of the game, when you've maxxed out the bonds with the girls, the scenes of baby making become even more horny. You'll see hands against walls, rears out, with girls wincing. Again, nothing is happening as far as contact is concerned, but depending on your tastes, these scenes could be offensive. I've been around the block a few times and have seen way worse. For me, these scenes were more silly than anything. Verdict: 7.5/10 - Read the full Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars review. Steins;Gate (PC)Developer: 5pb., Nitroplus Publisher: JAST USAReleased: March 31, 2014MSRP: $29.99 And things will indeed get intense. Steins;Gate is a taxing game, but it's also quite beautiful, from the talented Japanese voice cast (no English dub, unfortunately) to artist huke's unorthodox visuals. It's an exemplary visual novel with a thrilling premise, memorable characters, and a fantastic "true" ending that may very well move you to tears. Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full Steins;Gate review. Putty Squad (3DS, PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Vita)Developer: System 3 SoftwarePublisher: System 3 SoftwareReleased: March 11, 2014MSRP: $29.99 You should only pick up Putty Squad if you're a fan of the original, and have an unhealthy affinity towards platformers. Everyone else need not apply unless the game drops to a rightful price of $10 or less. Verdict: 5/10 - Read the full Putty Squad review. Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming (PC)Developer: Marvelous AQLPublisher: Marvelous AQLRelease: April 4, 2014MSRP: $19.99 Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming makes a number of improvements on an established formula. It's endearing, provocative, and silly. But it lacks variety and never quite recaptures the magic of its predecessor. No longer a breath a fresh air, The Second Coming settles for being an enjoyable lark. And I'm perfectly okay with that. Verdict: 8/10 - Read the full Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming review.
Review in Review photo
Review these Reviews in Review
"Reviews in Review" is a new show that releases every week where I will go over the reviews published this week on Destructoid, as well as give a score to the week in general. This week I talked about the reviews for Steins;...

Amazon announces its $99 set-top box Fire TV

Apr 02 // Jordan Devore
[embed]272769:53235:0[/embed]
Amazon Fire TV photo
On sale now with the Game Controller sold separately
Amazon has finally announced its long-rumored media device and it's available for purchase as of today. The $99 Amazon Fire TV supports expected streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Prime Instant Video, and Pandora, bu...

Epic Games announces new $19.99/mo Unreal Engine 4 subscription plan

Mar 19 // Dale North
Here's a message to Sweeney himself: [embed]272174:53046:0[/embed] Some notes from a Q&A session after the announcement: Sweeney says that free-to-play games will not have to pay any royalties While support platforms' source for past projects will be provided with the plan, console support and source will not be available. For console access, Epic negotiates on a case-by-case basis "We are not shipping an Unreal Tournament game" alongside this engine announcement
UE4 goes subscription  photo
$19.99 a month, 5% of revenue, starts today
Anyone can gain access to Unreal Engine 4 now with a new subscription plan, priced at $19.99 a month. This was announced this morning in a GDC press conference by Epic co-founder Tim Sweeney.  With this new plan, users c...

The best and worst games of the week - A Bravely January

Feb 02 // Wesley Ruscher
The Banner Saga (Windows PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: StoicPublisher: StoicRelease: January 14, 2014MSRP: $24.99 This game feels like a project created by artists. It's uncompromising to a fault. Tiptoeing its way around trite conventions and hackneyed design choices, I have no doubt that the team at Stoic created the game they wanted to make. By the end of the journey, I cared for my banner like a shepherd tending to his flock. I commiserated with their hardships, as the thread of despondency wove its way throughout virtually every aspect of the experience. Read the full The Banner Saga review  Nidhogg (PC)Developer: MesshofPublisher: MesshofMSRP: $14.99Release Date: January 13, 2014 Nidhogg is a perfect game wrapped in a not-so-perfect package. When playing locally against another human, it is the epitome of competition. Playing online is a mixed bag of lag, disconnects, and a weird chat system. Hopefully some of the bugs get ironed out over time, especially whatever stopped the tutorial from functioning, to make everything more functional as a whole. Read the full Nidhogg review  Muramasa Rebirth: Fishy Tales of the Nekomata (PlayStation Vita)Developer: MarvelousAQLPublisher: Aksys GamesReleased: January 14, 2014 (US) / January 22, 2014 (EU)MSRP: $4.99 I heartily enjoyed my time as a cat in Muramasa Rebirth, and I can't wait to see what the other DLC stories can do. Vanillaware ingeniously was able to tie the heart of the game into its first Genroku Legends side story, while giving it a fine heart of its own. It's so well done in fact, that I could easily see a full game starring Okoi one day. Read the full Fishy Tales of the Nekomata review  Two Brothers (PC)Developer: Ackk StudiosPublisher: Ackk StudiosReleased: December 3, 2013MSRP: $14.99 It's very much the type of game you play for the story, which has flashes of brilliance that can only be effectively realized in an interactive medium such as this. Unfortunately, it's tied to lackluster mechanics, technical problems, and a disappointing lack of polish. Two Brothers may not be an overall success, but its best moments are worth experiencing first-hand. Read the full Two Brothers review  Continue?9876543210 (Linux, Mac, PC[reviewed])Developer: Jason OdaPublisher: Jason OdaMSRP: $9.99Release Date: January 3, 2014  Continue?9876543210 truly does feel like a personal and emotional experience: someone else’spersonal and emotional experience. It did not connect to me the way it was seemingly intended to. Good “experience” games either have super simple controls so that the player never has to think about them, or the controls and mechanics tie directly into the game’s central themes. Continue?9876543210 does neither. Read the full Continue?9876543210 review  OlliOlli (PS Vita)Developer: Roll7Publisher: Roll7Release Date: January 27, 2014MSRP: $12.99 There's a lot to love about OlliOlli. The game is in the sweetspot of "simple to control" and "just difficult enough" to keep you playing without tearing your hair out. The Daily Grind and Spots challenges will keep the score-centric crowd happy, and Career mode will have you blistering your thumbs as you try to perfect each level. A masterpiece. Read the full OlliOlli review  Broken Age: Act 1 (PC)Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsRelease Date: January 14, 2014 (for backers) / January 28, 2014MSRP: $24.99 (with free update for Act 2) I haven’t felt this surge of nostalgia and excitement about a game in a long time, and I truly thinkBroken Age will be looked back fondly as one of the greats. That being said, the first Act is only a few short hours and ended on a nail-biting cliffhanger with no word on how long we’ll be waiting for the rest of the game. In some ways I feel cheated, but in the end it’s the heart of the game that matters - and that certainly isn't broken. Read the full Broken Age: Act 1 review  Dead Rising 3: Operation Broken Eagle (Xbox One)Developer: Capcom VancouverPublisher: Microsoft StudiosRelease Date: January 21, 2014MSRP: $9.99 As it stands, there is literally no reason to get Broken Eagle. It's criminally short, you can't enjoy it with a friend, there are no real benefits if your character is maxed out from already playing the core game, and it doesn't add to the overarching lore in any meaningful way. Hopefully the other Season Pass offerings will be an improvement, since we still have three to go. Read the full Operation Broken Eagle review  Soul Fjord (Ouya)Developer: Airtight GamesPublisher: Airtight GamesRelease: January 28, 2014MSRP: Free, with microtransactions Soul Fjord started with a good idea, and even has a few redeeming qualities, but in the end, it is just too dull to be enjoyable for longer than a few minutes. The free-to-play aspects don't ruin the experience, but they don't particularly help it either. If nothing else, Ouya owners should probably give this a try since it costs nothing upfront, but this is not the system savior that we have been hoping for. Read the full Soul Fjord review Bravely Default (3DS)Developer: Silicon StudioPublisher: Square EnixRelease: February 7, 2014MSRP: $39.99 Bravely Default gave me an experience that seemed to put me right back in my bedroom in the middle 1990s, where I'd sit in front of a small Hitachi television set and play the day away with a Super Nintendo controller in hand, so engrossed that I'd forget to eat. It harkens back to a time where we were all in love 16-bit Japanese role-playing games, and couldn't get enough of them. Read the full Bravely Default review Call of Duty: Ghosts: Onslaught DLC (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Infinity WardPublisher: ActivisionReleased: January 28, 2014 (Xbox 360, Xbox One) / TBA (PC, PS3, PS4)MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) I was pleasantly surprised by Onslaught, especially considering the fact that Ghosts was so underwhelming. Although it won't do too much to change your mind if you're an adamant Call of Duty hater, the new Extinction episode is promising, and there are three solid maps here for the taking. Read the full Onslaught review  Octodad: Dadliest Catch (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4)Developer: Young Horses, Inc.Publisher: Young Horses, Inc.Release: January 30, 2014 (Linux, Mac, PC), March 2014 (PlayStation 4)MSRP: $14.99 ($11.99 until February 6)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit n the end, I would not be surprised to hear that the Octodad community is thriving years down the road. It exudes a certain weirdness and charm that makes it stand out from a lot of other titles out there, and there are tools in place for it to live on past the point when the credits start to roll. Though it has some issues with framerate drops and its approach to control is definitely not for everybody, Dadliest Catch kept a smile on my face for most of its duration. Read the full Octodad: Dadliest Catch review Dungeon Keeper (Android, iPad, iPhone [reviewed on an iPhone 5])Developer: Electronic Arts, Mythic EntertainmentPublisher: Electronic ArtsReleased: January 31, 2014MSRP: Free It's a huge shame, because Dungeon Keeper is such a great franchise. I vividly remember getting hooked on the original for the very first time, and hooking in non-strategy fans with its unique perspective and visual style. But you're getting none of that here, as you're instead presented with a hollow freemium shell of what once was. Do yourself a favor and go to GOG.com and grab the original. Read the full Dungeon Keeper review Polk N1 Gaming SurroundBar
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Week ending 2/1
January has come and gone, but that doesn't mean there weren't some great games to play. Just look at all the amazing "indie" games that hit the PC this month. We had the fruition of two KickStarter campaigns finally see the ...

Review: Nvidia Shield

Sep 25 // Jim Sterling
Nvidia Shield Manufacturer: NvidiaReleased: August 29, 2013MSRP: $299.00 The first thing you'll notice about the Shield is how it refuses to compromise on the things handheld gaming systems most commonly acquiesce. This is a big lump of plastic -- it can just about fit in the pocket, but you'll look like you've got the world's worst thigh tumor. It's chunky, and possessed of not inconsiderable weight, but that's because it's a screen sat atop a full-fledged, console-level controller. There's very little difference between it and an Xbox 360 controller, with its full-size, clickable dual analog sticks, face buttons, bumpers and triggers on the shoulder, and D-pad. The center of the controller also features a large button to access Tegra Zone, a back button, a start button, an Android home button, and a button to bring up volume controls. The obvious downside to having a full-on controller as a handheld is that you're, well, carrying a full-on controller around with you. The upside, however, is you've also got the most game-capable handheld system ever made, able to do things other systems simply can't.  [embed]262335:50645:0[/embed] Where it's taken the PlayStation Vita over a year to get one first-person shooter to get it right, and even then it has to compromise, the Shield launches with a rock-solid alternative right out of the gate, one that doesn't have to skimp on functionality in the least. While Dead Trigger isn't exactly the most impressive shooter ever made, it's nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable to be able to play a handheld FPS that actually feels like a real FPS, rather than a developer's noble approximation. Games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Sonic the Hedgehog, and The Bard's Tale are all simply better here than they are on other Android devices, making the Shield a viable choice for those who want to try some of the souped-up Android releases, but aren't into the idea of touchscreens.  This is also where the Shield humiliates its closest comparative system, the Ouya. Like Ouya, the Shield is a dedicated gaming system that gives you physical controls for Android-powered games. Unlike the Ouya, the Shield's native controller is responsive, the system itself is incredibly powerful, games feel like they belong on it, and the system is overall just more pleasant to use. The Shield also has full access to the Google Play store, with a real Android OS that can run any app. Of course, games not designed specifically for Shield controls are awkward to run on a touchscreen with a great hunk of plastic hanging off it, but the fact it has the option to access so much more than the Ouya makes it a superior alternative.  Comfortable in the hands and capable of running games at their highest settings, Shield is a lot of fun to play around with -- and this is not taking into account its ability to run a range of emulators for old games that you totally already have the physical copies of.  So far, my only real complaint with the physical design of the thing is the D-pad. The Shield really did elect to imitate the Xbox 360 controller in every way possible, including a rather dreadful and imprecise directional disc-thing. For the most part, it's not too much of a problem to deal with, but it can make twitchy platform games more of a hassle than they should be, and it certainly doesn't make playing something like A Link to the Past any easier.  Android games specifically designed for the Shield are thinner on the ground, and while more Tegra-powered games are appearing on the Shield Store, it's going to need a lot more support. There are already some solid titles worth getting, with the aforementioned Dead Trigger, Vice City, and Bard's Tale all good choices, but there's a very real risk at this stage that the game's library could suddenly dry up. I hope it doesn't happen, but it's not uncommon for a handheld system to become a software wasteland in a short span of time.  As well as the physical controls, the Shield's screen supports multitouch, and you can even use the right stick as a mouse, bringing up a cursor for menu and web browsing. The left stick acts as a traditional console controller would, meaning you have three methods of input and can interact with the system as you would a console, PC, or smartphone.  The screen itself is a five-inch display that flips up and rocks a 1280x720 resolution. On top of such a large controller, it feels comparatively flimsy, but it's all solidly built stuff. Games, naturally, look pretty damn good on the screen, and it does a more than adequate job of showcasing the Tegra-4 titles it was built to support. Audio is where I was really impressed, however. The two front-facing speakers are situated neatly above the face buttons and D-pad, and are capable of blasting out some damn loud sound. Handheld systems typically fail when it comes to providing sufficient audio, but these speakers are frankly incredible.  Another plus point is the battery life. Up to 20 hours of life can be gotten out of the system when streaming content from a PC, with a fair few hours of regular use available too. I want to say you'll get at least five hours from the thing if you're running games from the device itself, and altogether I found this machine working far longer than any comparable device.  As well as utilizing a full Android OS, the Shield also run's Nvidia's own little playground, TegraZone. Here, you get quick access to your Shield game library, as well the Shield Store, which collects those Google Play games customized specifically for Shield controls. Not all of these games are as elegant as they could be -- some confusingly utilizing touch-only menus or requiring a full recustomization of the buttons (looking at you, Shadowgun Deadzone) -- and some of them are straight-up garbage. Still, the titles worth getting are really worth getting.  TegraZone's biggest feature, however, is its "PC Games" section, allowing users to stream games from their PC directly to the system using Steam. The feature is still in beta, something Nvidia warns users about with good reason. While a fantastic idea, it is currently unreliable, as well as a complete pain to set up. To even get a game to work, it requires diddling around on your PC first. You'll need to make sure everything is updated, download TegraZone to your computer, run your desired games at least once, ensure you've a fast enough wi-fi router, and potentially fiddle with your Firewall and DPI settings. Even when you have everything in order, sometimes messages can pop up on your PC that interrupt streaming, or the connection could terminate for unknown and seemingly arbitrary reasons.  The beta status also limits the amount of games that currently work, and even among the ones that do, only a few work very well. Sleeping Dogs, for example, puts a mouse cursor in the center of the screen while it streams, and an attempt to move it using the Shield's touchscreen will disable all controller input. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is just laggy, and suddenly stopped working completely after only two successful attempts to get it running. Also, the less said about Half-Life 2, the better.  However, all complaints aside, when the planets align and the thing actually works as intended, it's seriously impressive stuff. BioShock Infinite runs pleasantly, with only vaguely perceptible controller lag, while Borderlands 2 is almost perfect. If it weren't for the mouse cursor issue, Sleeping Dogs would also be triumphant, looking lovely on the Shield's screen and running at an impressively silky pace. When everything comes together smoothly, there's definitely a magical quality to the process.  A lot of critics have been down on the Nvidia Shield, but I honestly don't know why people have been so harsh. Games look great and run superbly, the controller is big but beautifully functional, and its wide range of features makes it superior to dedicated systems like the PS Vita in several ways. It delivers on several of the Ouya's promises better than the Ouya ever did, and while the PC streaming is still highly problematic, it at least works, and one would hope its post-beta performance is far better. Of course, it has to be said that it's an expensive little toy, with an asking price of $299, and that's really going to be the dealbreaker for a lot of people. For an Android system with an unsure future and no guarantee of continued software support, three hundred bucks is going to be too rich a gamble for most. As a piece of hardware, I feel the Shield fully justifies its asking price, but these days it's so much less about the hardware, and more what you can do with it. That said, having full access to Google Play, and its range of emulators (most of which work with the physical control options) severely opens up what the Shield can do beyond its "official" uses.  The Shield's biggest feature needs to get itself out of beta soon, and it will need a lot more Tegra-powered games under its belt before it can be a real competitor. However, the device is quickly becoming one of my favorite handheld gaming systems to date, and as a generally big fan of portable gaming, that says a lot. It was never going to appeal to everybody, but to the right buyer, the Shield may be the perfect handheld.  You've just got to be the really, really niche type of buyer it's gunning for. 
Nvidia Shield review photo
Come back with your shield, or come back on it
[Disclosure: Nvidia has provided Destructoid with a number of computers for PC game review purposes in the past. If you feel that may make our reviews of any of their products "biased" or "paid off," you are welcome to.] The ...

The Ouya is a nice idea ... at least

Jun 25 // Jim Sterling
The most adorable console ever At a squat little 3x3", and designed as a cube with a curve toward the bottom, the Ouya is certainly a cute little thing. In terms of visual design, I like the box very much. Streamlining and ease of use is a core philosophy of the design, with a setup process so intuitive it'll take all but the least tech savvy of troglodytes to get it working. Simply pop the provided HDMI cable in the right slots, do the same for the power, and you're away. I do wish the included cables were longer, but for most homes, that shouldn't be a problem.  The back of the system -- and it's so small it's hard to even consider it a "back" -- has only ports for the power and HDMI cables, standard USB, micro USB, and an ethernet lead. The one single button is place directly on top of the unit -- a large round one for the power. It's really all you need.  Losing control Things fall apart at a basic fundamental level, however -- the controller. Reports of lag and a cheap, sticky feel to the controls were a major part of reviews of early "beta" units, and while the Ouya team has gone to lengths to improve these problems, they're still pretty damn noticeable. First of all, having to remove two separate faceplates to inset batteries on either end of the device makes no good sense to me, and the way the plates ostensibly slough off do little to discredit the "cheap" impression the lightweight plastic gives.  It only gets worse when you actually use the thing. In navigating menus, I found lag to be unnoticeable, and it was fine for playing regular action or role-playing games. As I got further into games like Deep Dungeons of Doom, however, where timing and precision become more important, the Ouya controller simply is not up to the task. Even worse, the face buttons tend to get stuck inside the removable faceplate fairly easily, requiring an extra flick to get them to snap out of their holes.  It's reported the controller lag gets worse the further away from the system you get. I was actually playing with the Ouya maybe three feet away from the controller, and still found it insufficient for playing games with any degree of precision.  The controller is also worthless when it comes to turning the system off. Every single time I attempted to remotely power down the Ouya via the controller, it switched itself back on. It got the point where I yanked the power cable out of the wall to make sure the bloody thing stayed off.  The real shame is that, as a controller, it's not badly designed otherwise. It feels comfortable in the hand, the analog sticks and buttons are well spaced out, and the touchpad is a nice idea, even if it is too small to be useful and suffers even worse lag than the buttons. Many recommend you pair the Ouya with a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller, and I find it hard to disagree -- though the lack of a touchpad may screw you over for some games that inexplicably demand its use in menu navigation. Inside the Ouya The UI is about as straightforward as you can get. Once you go through the process of downloading any firmware updates (which can take a long time) and entering your credit card information (which I don't appreciate being asked to do as a first action), you're tossed into a bright orange menu screen with four distinct items -- Play, Discover, Make, and Manage. They all do exactly what you expect, one being the game library, one being the store, one being for developer content, and one housing all the system settings.  Libraries and the store front are simply rows of pictures of games, not enticingly set out, but at the very least functional. The store front can be browsed by genre, though most space is given up to eShop-like gatherings of games by contrived type, such as "couch play for friends" or the confusingly titled "sandbox" group of games that have nothing to do with sandbox play. An elegant layout it isn't, but it's no worse than any other console storefront, and it's generally pretty quick to load as well.  Ouya mandates that every game provide a working demo, and while that's a noble goal, in practice it leads to a convoluted purchasing system. You cannot buy games from the Ouya marketplace, you can only download demos, and then purchase the full version within each game. Downloading The Bard's Tale involved downloading the free demo, buying the game from within its main menu, and then waiting almost an entire day for the "additional data" to download -- a process that hogged the wi-fi in the house, and kept needing to be jumpstarted due to "connection errors."  Downloading a large game like The Bard's Tale, by the way, exposes how little space the Ouya actually has for games. It wasn't long after nabbing the game that I started being informed the system was too full for anything else. An external hard drive is one storage solution, but in doing so, we must admit the Ouya is a console that needs a third party controller, and a third party storage solution, in order to be viable. Not exactly a great selling point.  Games, Games, and ... Amazing Frog  Ouya boasts over 170 games and counting, and while it's tantalizing to think of playing some awesome mobile games on an HDTV, it only takes a short while to remember exactly why iOS is given more attention as a gaming platform than Android. Most Android games are absolute crap, and some real garbage is already all over the Ouya. Even among the storefront's most promoted exclusives, there are maybe one or two games worth checking out for even a second. Others, like No Brakes Valet or The Little Crane That Could, are embarrassing.  Ouya's proprietary market does not have access to the full range of Android games available on Google Play, yet somehow it managed to get its hands on some astoundingly bad dreck. Amazing Frog. Have you tried Amazing Frog? I sincerely urge you, if you're getting an Ouya, to try Amazing Frog. Go try it now, and come back here. What the FUCK was that, right? It's not all bad, of course. In fact, Ouya's scored some nice games that I love playing on a television. Canabalt, Pix n' Rush, and Knightmare Tower are all great fun, and there's some benefit to playing them on a television with a sound system pumping out their genuinely excellent soundtracks. Even so, however, these games are all designed primarily for touchscreens, and as such there's always a sense of subtle disconnect between your physical button presses and the onscreen action, even outside of any perceptible lag.  It must also be said that some of the more graphically intensive games run like shit. The Bard's Tale and Chronoblade, two games that should benefit most from the Ouya, suffer choppy framerates and moments of complete performance breakdown. One hopes further patches can sort this all out, because right now, the games the Ouya needs most to showcase what it can do simply aren't making it look good at all.  And yet ... I still kind of like it This article has been about as unflattering as one could possibly get, but I want to make it clear I don't hate the Ouya -- not yet, anyway. It's true, I struggle to find almost anything truly good to say about the thing, and even my praise is littered with important caveats, but I can at least say it works, and for a crowd funded open platform designed with home developers in mind, working is something of an achievement.  As disappointed as I am with the Ouya right now, I still maintain a flicker of excitement for what it could still be, especially once (if) the market becomes populated with homebrew and garage developers. Of course, it could also become a Wild West of utter trash, the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace in console form, but it could also house some genuinely interesting and inventive things.  The Ouya needs a lot of work still, and one wonders exactly how much of that work can be done in firmware updates alone. As of right now, I'd urge all but the most curious to wait and see before dropping even the relatively minor asking price, but I'd still suggest everybody keep an interested eye on it. I honestly want it to improve, and grow into an excellent, successful platform. It's just not there right now, and it has some ways to go. 
Ouya reviewed photo
Impressions on the little console that almost could
The Ouya is on sale today, and I've spent a few days with the final retail unit. For $99, you can get your hands on a cute little cube that runs a selection of Android games, a handful of apps, and is designed for amateur dev...


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