A few weeks ago I published Part 1 of my 2017 game log. For those interested, the link is HERE. Now, here are the games I played from April through June of last year.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
Developed by Nintendo
Published by Nintendo
2017, Wii U / Switch
Completed March 31st
Everyone seems to have loved Breath of the Wild, and within good reason. The game is one of the most expansive single player experiences to date, with a wonderfully designed overworld and a distinguished level of polish that only the masterminds of Nintendo could accomplish. But instead of gloating over everything that this impressive Zelda title does right, I want to highlight many of the things that it gets wrong, if only to make a more interesting review.
1: Enemy variety. The Legend of Zelda series has been known to offer loads of loot, and an even greater amount of enemies to guard said treasures. Breath of the Wild has more dungeons (if we count the shrines), more treasures, and more secrets than any game in the franchise’s history, thus it would be no surprise if Nintendo dialed up on the amount of villainous creatures to keep these secrets safe. Alas, it seems that despite boasting such a massive world, the inhabitants of this Hyrule just don’t match up to those of the past. Quintessential foes such as Tektites, armos, skulltulas, poes, redeads, and darknuts are all absent from this fantasy locale, and long time fans will certainly note their absence. Sure, moblins, lizalofos, and lynels all offer a good challenge, but Hyrule just isn’t the same without some of its most classic baddies.
2: Gear durability. I had a love/hate relationship with weapon durability. I can understand weapons and shields breaking after a lot of use. I like the idea of having my sword break and scrambling to find a replacement while in the heat of battle. But I think that especially early on weapons are far too weak and collapse much too quickly. For the first five to ten hours of my journey, weapons were reduced to dust sometimes after a single battle, and because of this I was fearful of using any of the more powerful weapons that I had acquired simply because I didn’t want them to break. Which leads me to my next point…
3: Quest rewards. Many of the rewards for finishing a shrine, raiding an enemy camp, or completing a quest was a powerful weapon or shield, which would inevitably break not long after I employed it in battle. Thus, a lot of these just sat in my inventory until I had either found better equipment or was forced to use them. I would have loved it if these rewards felt, well, more rewarding. Perhaps giving some of these weapons a type of “charging” system like the Master Sword would have been more beneficial. For example, with one of these weapons, after so many uses the player must wait until it regains its charge. This would have made these items feel special, rather than something that will crumble to nothing after a few battles.
4: Dungeons are underwhelming. The dungeons are some of the most memorable, most epic moments of any Legend of Zelda game, and in Breath of the Wild they could have met these standards. The thought of each dungeon being a massive, walking (or flying, or swimming) battle tank just makes my palms sweat from the excitement of what may lie within. Unfortunately, each dungeon takes approximately a half-hour to finish, is filled with enemies that can be found just about anywhere, and include no unique tools to collect like in previous games. It doesn’t help that while each boss fight is challenging and entertaining, these bad guys all look the same physically from one dungeon to the next. I’m all for changing up the Zelda formula, but this feels like a step back rather than a move forward.
5: Rain. Rain. Go Away. And don’t come back. I understand why rain makes Link lose his grip while climbing. It makes sense that a wet surface would be much harder to climb, and I appreciate Nintendo’s immaculate attention to detail in this game. But this “feature” of the game made me rage more than any battle against an over powered foe ever did. Too many times to count, I was near to top of a tower or cliff, making my long climb steadily upward when the clouds suddenly burst. There was nothing I could do any time this happened other than watch helplessly as the Hero of Time just slid down from where he was climbing and all that progress was lost. There’s no item to use to make climbing in the rain easier, or even simply doable. Instead, I either had to come back at a time when it was fairer weather, or make camp and wait until the storm passed. This could have been handled so much better, but apparently Hyrule is situated in the middle of a rainforest during monsoon season.
With all this said, Breath of the Wild accomplishes so many other things right that it can honestly feel like a perfect game. Yes, there are problems, but despite the lack of enemies, lackluster dungeons, item fragility, and the torrential rain, Hyrule has never been a more joy to explore. Nintendo has arguably crafted the greatest open world of all time, with a seemingly endless amount of places to explore and secrets to uncover. No place on this large map seems to be wasted, as there’s always something to discover, and that is the core of the Zelda experience. Nevermind saving the princess or the kingdom, Zelda is about discovery, and Breath of the Wild has that in spades.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix (PS3)
Developed by Square Enix
Published by Square Enix
Completed on April 2nd
Note: I nearly had this completed when Breath of the Wild stole all my gaming time away from me. I did not complete Kingdom Hearts II in two days.
When the original Kingdom Hearts came out on PS2 back in 2002, I was simply ecstatic. I had always been a fan of Disney, but the prospect of seeing Cloud, Squall, and other characters from the Final Fantasy series again in full 3D and fully voiced had me jumping with glee. The game had it’s problems, but I still enjoyed it for what it was. Yet, as the series went on, I lost more-and-more interest in the Kingdom Hearts games. Final Fantasy, for the most part, became a series that I grew more frustrated with over time, with nearly every title after 10 being a big disappointment. Disney, while bolstering it’s name with the Marvel and Lucasfilm properties, not to mention stellar Pixar and other movies, has practiced questionable business practices for decades that have turned me off from the company as a whole, even if I enjoy their movies from time-to-time.
Kingdom Hearts II originally came out in 2006 in America, at a time when Final Fantasy was just beginning it’s downward spiral, coming off the heels of a mixed-reviewed Final Fantasy X-2. Disney on the otherhand was undergoing some financial troubles, and had yet to even consider adding Spider-man and the likes to it’s roster of properties. After seeing the collaboration between Square and Disney the first go around, I wasn’t too thrilled to jump into the Kingdom Hearts world again. Sure, the animation is beautifully done, with that signature Disney prestige to character movements. Levels were also awesomely detailed and colored, feeling more true to the Disney films than even directly licensed materials. The Final Fantasy characters, for the most part, are well done with great voice actors portraying fan favorites, although I never understood why some (namely Cloud) differed so much from the source material. All this is to say that production values for the Kingdom Hearts games are the cream of the crop. But gameplay has always felt cumbersome and unrewarding to me. The level design too, regardless of how well it looks, feels extremely limited and uninspired. The story above all I find uninteresting. It’s hard to understand it, especially with so many re-releases of old titles and spin-offs to keep track of. Even when I do understand what’s going on, it just doesn’t appeal to me. It comes across as a poor effort to tell a complex story by simply making it far too grand than it needs to be. How hard is it to tell a story about various Disney worlds linked together and their characters losing their hearts? Apparently, much harder than I think.
I think the only real part of Kingdom Hearts I find appealing is also what I like best about the Super Smash Bros. series: the property reveals. Playing Smash is loads of fun, but seeing that first trailer of Mega Man being included beats just about anything I have ever experienced actually playing the game. The same can be said about Kingdom Hearts, although I enjoy it much less. The first go around, it was exciting to see different characters from across franchises team up, but even by the second game that momentum had run out for me. I admit, it was cool seeing Captain Jack Sparrow from the then newly released Pirates of the Carribean movie included, and eighties classic Tron making an appearance was thrilling, but few other surprises came from the Disney side of things. Final Fantasy inclusions were even less plentiful; aside from Seifer and Vivi in the opening hour of the game, there was little to get excited over as the only others were the ones you knew would be included. How cool would it have been to have Sorceress Edea team up with Maleficent? Or a world inspired by VII’s Midgar? Or simply a Gunblade Keyblade?
The pacing in Kingdom Hearts II is what ultimately made me never finish it when it first came out. The game’s opening is a monotonous, confusing three or four hour affair before players even get to control protagonist Sora. Even after the game opens up, the pacing doesn’t get much better. Each level is littered with combat rooms with little area to explore, followed by a lengthy cutscene upon exiting, over-and-over again until the level ends. Whenever I felt like I was getting into a flow in the battles, I would be hit by another long cutscene that made it hard to jump back into the fray.
The HD re-release is of the previously Japanese exclusive Final Mix, which includes some new additions. First and foremost, that includes puzzle pieces that one can collect across their adventure with the game, and can lead to great rewards once a puzzle has been completed. Unfortunately, I think that this good idea is handled rather clumsily. Many of the puzzles can only be finished towards the tail end of the game. Futhermore, far too many are in plain site but require the player to come back much, much later to retrieve them. Some games, like Metroid, handle backtracking really well, but Kingdom Hearts does not.
While I think Kingdom Hearts certainly has charm, the misshandled plot and gameplay just doesn't do it for me. This is obviously not true for everyone, as the franchise is beloved the world over with tons of fans. I just think that after replaying this last year, I can easily wait longer for whenever the third numbered entry finally hits store shelves.
Persona 5 (PS4)
Developed by P-Studio
Published by Atlas
2017, PS3 / PS4
Completed on May 2nd
The Persona series has graduated from a rather niche JRPG franchise to near system seller in a relatively short period of time. Had you asked any gamer in the mid-two thousands if they had ever heard of the long running series, most would have answered “No.” Now it’s hard to escape the Persona games, which have become examples of excellence in the RPG community. The titles are beloved for good reason: intelligent and entertaining combat systems paired with a mystery plot taking place in modern Japan and starring school kids battling against evil forces and the adversity they face in their everyday lives. It appeals to a wide-range of people, and that’s a great thing. Many longtime fans have likely made more playthroughs of this title than I can count, and I can say this review isn't for you. However, if you are a fan of good games and curious as to what this buzzworthy title from Japan has to offer, well then read on.
Persona 5 has an engaging plot that perhaps lends itself to the school kid scenario better than any of the previous games. As a new student at Tokyo's Shujin Academy, the player happens to awaken the powers of persona, becoming able to alter their appearance into that of a powerful thief, and along with a group of other student outcasts, set out to change the hearts of evildoers. The plot mimics that of popular “gentlemen thief” serials popular throughout the twentieth century, and the characters' secret identities represent that well. Students change into exaggerated forms of historical and litererary thieves such as Zorro, Goemon, Arsene Lupin, and Captain Kidd, among others. Although thieves, characters are more akin to superheroes. By day they are mild-mannered students, but at night they transform into their alter-egos, fighting evil while becoming infamous enough to be targeted by authorities themselves.
The characters in Persona 5 are very likeable, if a bit of a cookie cutout of anime tropes. You have the tough guy who is a softy at heart, the shy girl coming out of her shell, the hot chick who is down to Earth on the inside, and others that you have likely seen in any anime or JRPG imaginable. Still, each is presented with great care, and the dialog is written in such a way that they often manage to come to life despite their sometimes shallow depth. The protagonist is perhaps the most well done in the franchise’s history. Though mostly an avatar for the player, and silent except for a few grunts and yells, he comes across as being more real due to his intricate background. His past is explored much more deeply than past protagonists, and his coming to Tokyo and being a new student is more directly tied to the main plot than ever before. Thus, it’s easy to get invested in the main character this time around rather than the events happening around him. Persona 5’s protagonist feels more like he’s meant to be there saving the day instead of just randomly becoming a skilled user of fantastical persona.
While most of the game’s plot is well-written and intriguing enough to see it to the very end of this 100+ hour long adventure, there are moments where it falters. The inevitable betrayals, “mystery” character identities, and ulterior motives of the villains are mostly evident to any but the most novice of players. While these reveals aren’t handled clumsily, the majority of these twist I had figured out long before they were supposed to come to light. It's not enough to derail the plot, as the dialogue is masterfully written, but it's enough to lessen the impact of what should be monumentous scenes.
There have been upgrades to the battle system, although most of it is still there. The Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) battle system of exploiting enemy weaknesses is just as brutal as in any past game, with enemies that will gladly exploit any opportunity they get should the player lower their guard. The turn based battles begin and end quickly with attacks that are devastating, which makes it all the more satisfying. Players can control the actions of any of their party members just like in Persona 4, but also returning from the SMT series is the aspect that should the protagonist ever fall in battle it is an instant game over. This makes every battle feel important, thus players can never truly relax while exploring a dungeon. The good news is that this doesn’t always kick you to the title screen after dying, and instead allows you to pick up at the start of the battle in which you’ve died in, making some cheaper deaths a little more bearable. Persona 5 also borrows the bargaining aspect from SMT in which to capture persona creatures for battle. Previously, in Persona games, after a battle the player will sometimes receive a creature they've battled to use in combat, often through a short mini game. This has felt far too random and unsatifying compared to it's SMT counterpart. Now, player's can engage in conversation with the monsters they are fighting, and after offering them money, items, or answering questions in a pleasing manner, that monster will agree to join your team. It might be just as random as it was previously, but this is handled with much more polish than the old method.
If Persona 5 ever actually disappoints in any area, it’s in the lack of overall freedom the player has over the entire scope of the game. The Persona games have always given the player some general control over how they spend their time, and that’s one of the best parts of the series. Strategizing whether or not to go explore a dungeon or improve a friendship with a party member is surprisingly fun, and as much as I enjoy fighting villains as a phantom thief, sometimes I want to just be an average school kid making friends on campus. Thus, it’s unfortunate that too many times the school setting feels like an afterthought. Gone are the numerous clubs and sports teams one can partake in, thus there’s no thrill of deciding to join basketball or baseball, band or theater. It seems that half of the school’s rooms and activities are left completely untouched by the player, leaving Shujin Academy to feel quite empty compared to other institutions in the franchise. What was also bothersome was the frequent times in which the game simply will not allow the player to have control of a given day. Plenty of times I would look at the in-game calendar, make a rough plan of what activities I wanted to accomplish, only to have most of those be wasted because of short story events. I can understand if the events were significant and made sense to the story, but often these were simply conversations that somehow left the protagonist too exhausted to do anything but go to bed. At these moments I felt less like playing an RPG and more like reading a visual novel.
Graphically, Persona 5 is pleasing but isn’t awe-inspiring. The anime inspired characters and environments are displayed better than they ever have in the series previously, but there has been an entire console generation since the last major Persona release. For a PS4 title, there are plenty of noticeable jagged edges on characters and objects. It’s still enjoyable to see many longtime Persona monsters, such as Jack Frost, appear as full 3D models in an HD game. Still, on PS4 the game feels somewhat dated already. I know that it was designed with the PS3 in mind, but with it being released so late in that console’s lifespan, and available as a PS4 game, I am inclined to judge it as such. The fact of the matter is, is that while Persona 5 certainly isn’t an ugly game, the Wii U exclusive Tokyo Mirage Sessions (developed by the same studio in 2016) is often more impressive graphically and stylistically.
The music is certainly a highlight, with it’s jazzy, funky themes calling to mind the eras in which gentleman thieves were most relevant. You can’t listen to these tunes and not think of icons such as James Bond, Lupin the Third, or Mission: Impossible. Composer Shoji Meguro has always been praised for his work with the franchise, and his compositions for Persona 5 may just be his best yet. Persona 5's soundtrack feels like the perfect marriage between the previous two entries, with the hard rock sounds of 2 and the liveliness of 4's tracks. Meguro employs masterful emphasis on bass and strings, sometimes uniting classical undertones with the pop of disco, and it just simply works in this world.
Don't let any of the negatives I've pointed out stop you from going out and grabbing Persona 5. If you like JRPGs, this is a must play, and if you enjoy role playing titles in general than Persona 5 is likely to not disappoint much at all.
Call of Duty: Ghosts (PS3)
Developed by Infinity Ward
Published by Activision
2013, PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii U/ PS4 / Xbox One
Completed on May 3rd
When Ghosts originally came out, I had begun to grow tired of the Call of Duty franchise. As a history major, I loved the original games and their impressive portrayal of the Second World War. Modern Warfare’s plot and setting didn’t entice me as much, but the remarkable graphics, intense firefights, and expertly crafted single player campaign made me swoon. However, over time the experience began to feel stale. Objectively, I don’t think the Call of Duty games are bad, but eating the same prized sirloin at the same Michelin star restaurant for every meal can make one crave something different, even if it is of inferior quality. Thus, after Black Ops II I decided to step back from the predictable gunfights with terrorists and scripted action scenes in order to have a breather. This was easy to do. For starters, there is in no way a drought of first person shooter titles on the market, and if I wanted to get my military shooter fix in I could always boot up any of the plethora of other franchises that provided that. Secondly, Ghosts didn’t really appeal to me. The plot of America being invaded by some enemy army has been done many times in recent years, even in the Call of Duty franchise, and thus seeing it play out yet again didn’t have me itching to load this into my gaming console. Finally, I caved after someone gave me the title on PS3. I figured if I was disappointed, well, at least it was free.
What I can tell you is that Ghosts… is a Call of Duty game. If you enjoy shooting enemy soldiers, the game has that. If you like varied environments, and explosive set pieces that seemingly play themselves, Ghosts has that, too. What I enjoyed most were the stealthy, almost SWAT team openings to most missions, in which you and your military comrades coordinate a planned attack, taking out guards in quiet unison, and overall infiltrate enemy HQ like a soldier unit named "ghosts" should. Then, all goes to hell and like any CoD game you are blasting your way out, leaping from an exploding building and grasping the ladder dangling from a helicopter at just the last minute. If this sounds fun to you, then you should enjoy the single player campaign enough. The problem is that it as all been done before, and much better, even in it’s own franchise. I can only remember perhaps half of the set pieces in the game, which isn’t saying much for it’s impact on me. Thus, I think I’ll let the CoD series rest for a bit longer before I saddle up for the next one.
Grow Home (PS4)
Developed by Ubisoft Reflections
Published by Ubisoft
2015, PC / PS4
Completed on May 4th.
Grow Home is an experimental platformer in which the test, while interesting in concept, simply doesn’t succeed in crafting a worthwhile experience. Players control a robot named B.U.D. whose task is to harvest “star seeds” from a rare “star plant” on an small planet. In order to harvest these seeds, B.U.D. must grow the plant from a simple sapling to a massive beanstalk that stretches above the clouds. Players must climb this beanstalk in a vertical platforming adventure that seeks to change how 3D platformers are done.
The minimalistic graphics of Grow Home are certainly charming, calling back to early 3D platformers like Jumping Flash! on the original Playstation. Characters and environments are large, bright, and blocky, making for a unique look in the modern scope of flashy, realistic graphics. The archaic look doesn’t mean Grow Home is lacking in graphics however, as the title employs an impressive draw distance that allows players to see the activity on the ground while being miles above.
Sadly, the experimental concept begins to falter when it comes to controlling B.U.D. The robot has a realistic style of movement, meaning that once he has picked up momentum he must take several steps to come to a full stop. Jumping is also complicated in that B.U.D. cannot change direction while in midair unlike most other platformers. This means that before the player leaps, they must make sure they’ve planned their jump, otherwise they will be in for a long fall. These two control attributes, coupled with the rigged, blocky environments, makes vertical platforming more infuriating than fun. Too often I would land on a jagged platform with substantial momentum, forcing B.U.D. to stagger forward several steps, slip on the sharp polygonal environment, and then tumble to his death.
The open world gameplay is somewhat amusing to explore until one realizes that there really isn’t much there. There are a couple of hidden caves and locations, but nothing substantial to retrieve within them. The only collectables in the game are small orbs which are used to power up B.U.D.’s abilities, such as granting him additional fuel for a short range jetpack. Not long into the adventure though B.U.D. gets a gadget that allows one to pinpoint the location of these orbs, thus rendering self exploration to “going to the place marked on the map” or “following the vibrations of the controller.”
These shortcomings are made worse by the fact that Grow Home took me approximately two hours to complete. Maybe that’s actually a positive, as any longer and these concerns would have compounded to an even messier issue. As it stands though, a two hour adventure with limited scope and only partial enjoyment makes for a hard recommendation.
Batman: The Telltale Series (PS4)
Developed by Telltale Games
Published by Telltale Games
2016, PS3 / PS4 / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PC / IOS / Android / Switch
Completed on May 5th
I played this game over the course of a few months, and I meant to write reviews for each individual episode. And then I didn’t. So now I’m writing a short one to summarize my views with the entire season. Sue me.
Telltale games have—like Activision has with Call of Duty—found a successful formula and stuck to it. The good thing about this is that the company can produce many games over a short period of time using the same engine. The bad thing is that the company can produce many games over a short period of time using the same engine. The publisher’s games can vary in theme, from The Walking Dead to Minecraft to Batman, and yet all feel relatively the same due to the little variation in the gameplay. Batman attempts to shake things up to a degree, but ultimately feels just like the rest. If you like Telltale games, then great. If not, move along.
One thing that the Telltale games is able to add to the Batman video game universe is extensive playtime as Batman’s alter ego, I.E. billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. This is something that I’ve personally wanted to see in a game of some sort for a long time, as the everyday counterpart of any superhero is a major part of them. Unfortunately in most other games playing as an “innocent” civilian doesn’t always amount to much fun, but Telltale can make that a reality. The bulk of Telltale games is involved in conversation and plot, and it is here that the game really shines. I’m surprised to say that playing Bruce is much more enjoyable than controlling Bats in this case because I felt that I had much more control. Sure, Telltale games ultimately don’t give the player as much choice as they are led to believe, but at least I was brokering deals and shaping the future of Wayne industries in the way I felt Mr. Wayne would have done, and that’s awesome. I’d love for a future title to break from traditional Telltale formula and create a Bruce Wayne simulator, where the player must research, investigate, and attend meetings during the day while battling crime at night. Maybe one day.
Playing as the Dark Knight unfolds as one would expect. Battles are for the most part Quick Time Event (QTE) filled scenes like other Telltale games, where players must hit a button in time to the animation on the screen. Batman attempts something new in which if the player doesn’t perform enough of these, they will fail the segment and have to try again. This oddly means that the action on screen doesn’t always correlate to the buttons being pressed. Plenty of times I missed a button prompt only to have Batman block an attack, as well as have him get hit when I did perform the action correctly. Thus, it doesn’t really matter if you hit all the buttons, only enough to advance to the next segment.
I was surprised at how involved and unique the plot for the first season of Batman turned out. At first I wasn’t all that excited about seeing yet another origin story for Batman, this game taking place roughly after his first year of fighting crime, yet the story quickly begins to head into uncharted territory. A new terrorist group called the Children of Arkham are threatening some of the most important figures in Gotham, including the legacy of the Wayne family. As a young owner of a multi-billionaire company, Bruce must try to win back the trust of those within his company as well as the public while hunting down those responsible as the Caped Crusader. It’s intriguing stuff, involving many of the DC hero’s top villains, including the Penguin, Catwoman, and Two Face. I especially liked the interactions between Bruce and the villains civilian selves, such as Selena Kyle and Harvey Dent. The one character that never really clicked for me was Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin). Here, he is from England and speaks with a Cockney accent, which is the only time I’ve ever heard him do that other than in the Arkham games. Oswald also never resembles his comic book self, as he is neither fat or short. I believe that Telltale has taken inspiration from the TV show Gotham’s portrayal, but that one’s saving grace is the incredible acting by Robin Lord Taylor. Not so, here.
Lastly, I just want to point out that for as long as Telltale has been working with this engine they still haven't ironed out all the bugs. I had the game crash on me several times, forcing me to exit to the Playstation’s main menu, go back into the game, and replay entire chapters. On more than two occasions I had characters completely disappear in the middle of a scene, leaving nothing but shadows in their place. Another time I had to quit because Batman’s animation stopped completely and he moved around like a stiff statue. These types of bugs should never have been fixed a long time ago, much less even included in a released game to begin with.
Jet Force Gemini (Xbox One)
Developed by Rare
Published by Rare
1999, N64 / Rare Replay: 2015, Xbox One
Completed on May 9th
I want to let it be known upfront that I did not finish Jet Force Gemini. I wanted to. I made it up to the final level of the game. I saved, I turned the game off, I came back, and my file was erased. This is no fault of the actual game itself, but Rare Replay’s strange method of keeping data. Saving the game in the conventional means through the pause menu apparently isn't enough, and thus one must exit the game back to the Rare Replay main menu for the game to register the save. Keep this in mind should you embark on this space quest.
With that being said, Jet Force Gemini is one of Rare’s properties that is often left out of the conversation when speaking about their excellent catalog ofNintendo 64 titles, and I don’t think that’s fair. It may not have been as revolutionary as Goldeneye 007, as ambitious as Banjo-Kazooie, or had the marketing of Donkey Kong 64, but it was still a competent title that showed that Rare knew what they were doing when creating games in the 64-bit era.
Often, when people make the claim that the 64 lacked a Metroid title, I say that while they are right, there was still Jet Force Gemini. Samus Aran may have been replaced by two twins and their dog, but there are so many similarities: they are both action platformers set in space, focus on exploration and discovery, and require vast amounts of backtracking to complete. If that doesn’t scream Metroid, then I don’t know what does.
For the time, Jet Force Gemini had stellar graphics on the Nintendo 64. The game looked dark and brooding, like an eighties sci-fi flick such as Alien or but with a sprinkle of Saturday morning cartoon humor. The game does earn it’s Teen rating however due to the surprising amount of gore portrayed when battling oversized insect aliens. The player’s laser pistols can rip off limbs and send heads flying while explosives will scatter body parts about and leave behind a green, gooey mess in their wake. The game is less impressive today, and actual feels relatively tame to what’s included in even the softest of T rated games, but for the time this was top notch action if there ever was any.
The controls for the Rare Replay version handle even better than the original, but only if you choose the new control scheme over the old. The game defaults to an “original” control pattern that attempts to make the Xbox One controller handle like the N64. One can only imagine how horrible that is. After struggling in the first stage, unable to accurately hit targets or make precise jumps, I nearly gave up on the game until I noticed there was another control option. This option isn’t available in the main game, but only in the Rare Replay main menu, where you select which game you want to play. Highlight Jet Force Gemini, go to controls, change it to the modern control scheme, and you’re good to go. The right stick allows for precise targeting, making it much easier to pull off that difficult headshot. Go to this control scheme and never look back.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of the game comes in the second half, when the player must go to every level and rescue the Ewok-like Tribals that are hidden in each stage. I’m all for backtracking, and can fully support seeking out collectibles, but finding the Tribals is tedious in all the wrong ways. For starters, Tribals must all be found in a single go of the level. It doesn’t matter if you found 8 of the 9 in the stage the first time you went through, you must replay the whole level and find each and every one again. This becomes troublesome because some levels require a certain item in order to find that last, illusive Tribal, thus without a guide you’ll be playing levels again-and-again to complete them. It also doesn’t help that Tribals can be killed. Yes, accidentally shooting one of these alien bears will make it impossible for you to find them all, and you must restart the level to succeed. The designers abused this in some quite vile ways, such as hiding some behind explosive red barrels, or at the feet of an alien armed with a rocket launcher, or programming certain ones to run out from their hiding spots towards you, getting cut down in the cross fire instead of being rescued. I wouldn’t be surprised if some controllers were laid to rest next to their furry corpses because of this.
What’s most fun in Jet Force Gemini is tearing through hordes of enemies with the expansive weapon options. There are plenty of artillery to choose from here, from standard pistols and machine guns, to rocket launchers and shotguns. One of my favorites is the shuriken, which will lop off the heads of most enemies when thrown, sometimes multiples if they are close to one another, before making it’s way back towards the player. I would have enjoyed a few more inventive weaponry like in the Ratchet and Clank series of games, but I still think Rare was going in the right direction with this. In fact, I think that the Ratchet games are perhaps the best example of a sequel to this series, much more so than Metroid. If you liked those games, give Jet Force Gemini a shot. You won’t regret it.
Chibi Robo! Zip Lash (3DS)
Developed by Skip Ltd. / Vanpool
Published by Nintendo
Completed on June 1st
When I embarked on my honeymoon for New York, I needed to take some gaming with me. The Switch was still relatively new and I didn't have that much of a library for it. Thus, the 3DS was my go to system. Zip Lash, a game that I bought just for the exclusive amiibo pack-in, also became my game of choice. I chould have chosen better, but it seemed to be an appropriate game. More on that later.
The Chibi Robo series is a partially obscure but well loved Nintendo franchise, often tasking players to assist humanity as the titular miniaturized robot. I haven’t played much of the series, but what I have played I’ve really enjoyed, which is why I was excited to dive into the 3DS platformer Zip Lash which promised to bring Chibi Robo to a whole new audience.
Nintendo is the king of making memorable, charming platformers, which is why it’s shocking that Zip Lash is so dull. Chibi Robo has a trivial amount of moves in his repertoire to help him explore levels, none of which feel especially inspired. Chibi can curl up into a ball and make a quick dash forward, but cannot remain in a ducking position. Players can hover Chibi by having him spin his extension cord quickly overhead like a helicopter (similar to Dixie Kong’s ponytail twirl), but this is extremely short ranged and if not timed right it will lead to many deaths. Chibi’s main attack, and perhaps the game’s biggest draw, is the use of his extension cord as a whip to attack enemies. In each level, Chibi’s cord starts out very small, but collecting items along the way can power it up to stretch across the screen and beyond. Hitting walls and other objects will make the cord ricochet, allowing players to attack villains behind cover or even on higher or lower ledges. Many platforming segments involve this technique, too, having the player carefully angle and time their throw so the extension cord’s plug-in will connect with a point and pulling Chibi towards it. Sadly, for as extensively Zip Lash relies on Chibi’s whip, it’s not that much fun to control. Chibi can only sling his cord in two directions (forward or at an upper angle), unless players stop to guide Chibi’s hand in a very precise direction. Too often enemies appear directly overhead or at a hard angle that attacks miss or simply can’t hit, leading to damage. Controls similar to Super Castlevania IV, where players have a full 360 degree of control of their whip throws, would do wonders here.
Levels are, for the most part, boring in design with simple platforming and uninspired enemies. Collectables are plentiful, but do little to elevate stages from being tedious. The one part I particularly liked was finding the “snacks” hidden in each stage. These snacks are real world candies, chips, pastries, and more and come with interesting comments and factoids about them. It’s fun seeing PEZ and Pocky sticks make an appearance in a video game, as well as others from around the world. While visiting New York, I was fortunate enough to have access to some of the foreign snacks advertised in the game at some stores located near where I was staying. In a strange way, trying these richened my experience if only somewhat.
My biggest gripe with Zip Lash is with the obtuse level select. Instead of going in order, or choosing to play one of the six levels in each of the game’s worlds, players must spin a wheel to determine which level they will play. This might work fine if finished levels were removed from the wheel but they aren’t. Instead, players run the risk of repeating levels several times before they get the level that they want. What also creates a headache is that sometimes, due to the collectables, sometimes a player may actually want to repeat a level, only to be unable to due to the stupid wheel. The whole system is a mess.
In the end, Zip Lash can be fun in very limited bursts, and it’s not an unplayable game by any stretch of the mind, but it simply falls short of the high Nintendo quality of platformers.
Silent Hill Shattered Memories (Wii)
Developed by Climax Studios
Published by Konami
2009, Wii / 2010, PS2 / PSP
Completed on June 6th
I had long been looking to add this game to my collection, and found it in a small gaming store while in New York. As soon as I got home to my Wii U, I had to play it. As a fan of the Silent Hill series since it’s original release, I’ve long come to terms that the series has become a shell of its former self, and have learned to look past many of the recent games’ shortcomings to see the brillance tucked away deep inside. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that with Shattered Memories.
This title follows the general plot of the first game, with Harry Mason trying to find his lost daughter Cheryl in the haunted town of Silent Hill. This time however, there are many changes to the story due to the protagonist recalling the tale to their psychiatrist as a means of uncovering their inner demons. The psychiatrist scenario isn’t just a simple plot device, but shapes the very nature of the game itself. For example, should the player’s answers to questions reveal some deep seeded sexual frustration, then monsters will take on a more sexualized representation rather than grotesque or violent. Other characters, such as officer Cybil Bennet, will also appear more sexualized, with larger breasts and an unbuttoned shirt during cutscenes. These are more than just Easter eggs, but aim to reveal the psychological state of the player rather than the protagonist of the game. Shattered Memories thus aims to get to the heart of psychological horror, crafting an experienced tailored to the player, which at times can be much more haunting than what’s in the mind of a video game character.
Shattered Memories forgoes the clumsy combat of past games by forcing the player to run from encounters with monsters rather than battle them. This has it pros in that the player never has to feel the frustration of clunky controls, but I do miss bashing a creature over the head with a two-by-four. In these sections, the player must run through a maze of sorts, dodging and outmaneuvering monsters that are in heated pursuit. It’s an intense experience, but I wouldn’t say it’s very scary. The only real downside to these sections is that the Wii remote doesn’t always feel responsive when shaking off creatures once they’ve latched on. At times I’ve flailed the controller repeatedly but to no avail, but that’s more a problem with the Wii hardware than the game itself. Also, players will realize early on that monster encounters are restricted to only these sections, thus the fear of accidentally stumbling upon a horde of vile creatures while exploring is lost. These are minor complaints, though.
Graphically, Shattered Memories looks about as good as it can on the Wii. Characters and environments are amazingly well detailed, thus Silent Hill continues to feel like a living, breathing town even when devoid of most all life. The film grain filter aids in masking the jagged polygons and standard resolution textures as well. Akira Yamaoka returns to compose his last full Silent Hill soundtrack, providing even more memorable, original songs for the franchise. His masterful, melancholic melodies and thumping, industrial scores are all here for fans to ingest with their ears. It may not be his best work, but it’s certainly suiting for a Silent Hill game.
Longtime fans of the Silent Hill series may feel inclined to shrug this title off due to the numerous changes done to the original game’s plot and the lack of combat. Don’t. Shattered Memories provides some splendid psychological horror that is the root of the Silent Hill experience, and shouldn’t disappoint.
How does this format for my game log play out for you, as a reader? Is it too lengthy? Are the reviews too indepth? Not indepth enough? Should reviews be split into individual blog posts, or does this quarterly update work for you? Please let me know so I can continue providing good content.
In the next week or two I should have Part 3 of my 2017 Game Log up and running. Want to know how I felt about Mass Effect: Andromeda, Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy, and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle? Then stay tuned!