Friday, May 29, 2015

Month Overview: May 2015

 Games finished in May 2015:
Bleach - Shattered Blade           3.5
Touch my Katamari                   6.5
SoulCalibur Legends                 4.5
Uncharted Golden Abyss          8.0
Soul Reaver 2                            8.5
Jeanne D'Arc                             7.5
Legacy of Kain - Defiance        8.5
Borderlands 2(VITA)                2.5
Animal Crossing                        5.5
F-Zero GX                                 8.0
Maximo - Ghosts to Glory        8.0
Silent Hill 4 - The Room          9.0
The Orange Box                        10


 Another Month I'm cutting short since I'll be away when June begins. I don't even know how I managed to cram so much into May, supposedly, it was 'test month', so, supposedly, I had to study tons.... and yet, I seem to have played tons! The best part about it, is that I finally finished the Legacy of Kain series, and man oh man, how good it was. I feel like I might've been a bit too.... generous with Defiance, but the thing is, if you've been playing the games from the start, the pay-off is immense, to fully appreciate Defiance, you need to have played the previous games. And I replayed some old favorites from my past, Maximo, Silent Hill 4 and Half-Life 2, they were all so, so good.


Game of May:
 Half-Life 2 is every bit as good as it once was, and once you are done with it, you've got the two Episodes, which while they aren't as good as the whole of HL2, they basically add up to the previous game, which translates into a whole lot of Half-Life 2 to go through. And then you've Portal for dessert, short and sweet. What I'm trying to say here is that The Orange Box is amazing.

 Runner-up:
 I dislike Survival Horror games, but Silent Hill 4 is all kinds of awesome. The premise is creative, and the overall execution leaves nothing to be desired. Remember when Konami was awesome? I do.

Review #237: The Orange Box

 The cake is a lie... and I'm really late with that joke.
 The Orange Box is a 5-games-in-one kinda deal, featuring five first-person games that run on Valve's Source engine. It might sound a bit of a cop out, but the camera and the engine are the only things these games share(Well, technically Half Life Episode 1 and Episode 2 are pretty much Half Life 2 expansions), as they couldn't be more different from each other... Which is why it's better to talk about each one separately.

 Half-Life 2 - As far as I'm concerned, this is The Orange Box's centerpiece. It's over 10 years old, and the game only shows its age when it comes to graphics, otherwise, it has aged as gracefully as it gets. HL2 comes from an era before 'regenerating health', and the somewhat realistic, if completely anti-fun, two weapon limit.
 The thing about Half-Life 2, is that it feels like a big epic. You never lose control of the character, there are no cut-scenes so to speak, so you are always seeing stuff as Gordon sees it. The pace and the sense of adventure is something I really, really like about this game, you are always pushing forward, through a large, interconnected world. Even more impressively, the game always keeps it fresh, you'll go from traversing water on a boat, stopping only to open gates, to commanding an army of 'ant-lions' and laying wreck on a prison, to driving a buggy through deserted land and then traversing the abandoned, trap-ridden town of Ravenholm. Needless to say, you won't be doing the same thing for long.
 As much as I love the game, the PS3 port has a couple of shortcomings. Loading screens are rather frequent, as they were on the PC version, but they feel a tad longer in this one. The somewhat lame graphics, lame nowadays anyways, wouldn't bother me, if only there weren't a couple of frame rate issues. They are rare, but they are there. Then there's the vehicles' controls... The sand buggy is fine, but for some reason the boat's controls are all messed up. It's hard to explain, but it's a bit too sensitive, and both accelerating and steering is done with the left analog stick, and for some reason, when you go backwards, if you push left, it turns you right, but if you are accelerating, it turns you left... the game come be veeeery finicky as to how the boat is moving before deciding whether it's gonna turn you left or right. It made the fun boat sequence into an absolute mess.
 Consensus: Half Life 2 is every bit as good as it once was, but the PS3 isn't as good as the PC version.
10 out of 10.
 Team Fortress 2 - There's no point to playing this version, as it's awfully outdated. It's missing alternate weapons, hats or any kind of customization item. I mean, the PC version is free and it offers everything this game has and then some. And it's hard to find full rooms in the PS3 version. Really, Team Fortress 2 is awesome, but there's no reason what so ever to play this particular version.
 3.0 out of 10
 Half-Life 2 Episode 1 - I'll say it now before I even dabble into Episode 2... I don't think the Episodic format works for Half-Life. Heck, it's hard to judge just a piece of a bigger thing, a bigger thing that isn't even finished as of now. On it's own, Episode 1 is a decent, if very short, game. Chapter 1, of 5, can be a bit frustrating, but it gets decent-ish later. Thing is, it reuses mechanics from Half Life 2, sure covering Antlion's nests with cars is fun at first, but it kinda runs its course the third time around. I did appreciate the first three chapters, as you are limited to the pistol, shotgun, machine gun and Gravity gun, and ammo is very scarce, as you trudge through very dark areas filled with zombies... it certainly lends it a very unique flavor, when compared to Half-Life 2.  But then again, and due to its episodic nature, it's missing some of the things that made Half-Life 2 so good, its pacing and its sense of progression. It only adds one new enemy type, the Combine Zombie, and the facial animations have been tightened up.
 Don't get me wrong, it's not bad, a game that basically adds upon Half Life 2 can't be bad, but it certainly leaves a lot to be desired.
 6.0 out of 10
 Half-Life 2 Episode 2 - It fares slightly better than Episode 1, but it still suffers from its episodic format. It's a bit longer than Episode 1, 7 chapters instead of 5, and while it doesn't introduce any new weapons either, it has a new item, the Magnusson Device, which is an anti-Strider sticky-bomb like weapon. It's only used in Chapter 6 though. There're two new enemy types, an larger sized Antlion, and the Hunters(Which behave like 'Guardians', but they have a new attack). What I liked about this one, more than Episode 1, is that it feels more like Half-Life 2. It has a vehicle section, the aforementioned chapter 6 in which you get to use the Magnusson Device, or even a 'defense the base' section... it keeps things fresh, keeps you doing different things, I really liked that! Still, it's very short, the blame once again falling on the episodic format.
 Episode 2 is a step up from Episode 1, but I still think that Half-Life shouldn't stick with with Episodes.
 8.0 out of 10 
 Portal - It's hard to truly judge Portal for what it was, considering how much of what made it so good has been spoiled on the Internet... unless you are lucky enough to have been living under a rock for the past 7 years.
 Basically a first-person puzzle game, in which you have a gun that can create two portals, an exit and an entrance, upon certain surfaces. The rules are simple, and puzzles get increasingly more complex as you go along. The funny, if creepy, quips from GlaDOS while you adventure certainly add to the game's charm.
 It's a fun, original, creative and a bit short game. Personally, while I think it was pretty good, I wasn't left awestruck, contrary to most people on the Internet, but I think it has to do with how familiar I was with it before I even played it.
 7.0 out of 10.
 Here's the thing about The Orange Box, not only does it contain one of the most influential First Person Shooters ever, in Half-Life 2, it also contains one of the most influential games in Pop Culture ever, in Portal. There really is no going wrong with The Orange Box. Unless you are looking for a multiplayer game, in which case, well, it can't offer much, seeing how awfully outdated this version of Team Fortress 2 is!
 10 out of 10

Monday, May 25, 2015

Now Playing: The Orange Box

 Whoever designed this cover... fire him.
 Half-Life 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, and I've been aching for a physical version... and since I consider myself more of a Console duebro, why not the Orange Box? I'm up to the Water Hazard chapter, and it's every bit as good as I remembered. If I could say one bad thing about it, it'd be the frequent loading times...

 That said, Half Life 2's got to have one of the most epic, action-drive opening scenes ever. The chase through the roof is as memorable as it's fun to go through. Man, there's so much to like about Half-Life 2, and it gets good right from the start, only getting better going forward.

 Then there's the other benefits of getting 'The Orange Box', Half Life Episode 1 and 2, both which I have never played for... well, reasons. As well as Portal, a game I've never, ever been interested in, but hey, it's an extra.

 There's also Team Fortress 2 but... It's very outdated, no custom weapons, which means no custom presets.... I mean, the PC version is free and has everything this version has and then some, plus, highly populated servers, so... Yeah.

Review #236: Silent Hill 4 - The Room

 The Room of AWESOME that is.
 Everyone and their dogs(If you know what I mean(Hint, it's a reference.) knows Silent Hill 4's story, it was supposed to be a gaiden/spin-off game, but somebody decided to make it a numbered sequel yadda yadda. And it's true, it might be a terrible Silent Hill game, but it's an awesome game.

 The game's premise is easily what I like best about it. You play as Henry Townshend, a character that it's as flat as they come--but that's alright, he's supposed to be an everyman, an unlucky sod that finds himself trapped in his apartment. The door leading outside is chained up, the windows are shut, it doesn't matter how much he screams or punches... nobody outside can hear him. It's genius, it's original and it's immediately engaging. The game does a great job of letting you feel as trapped and isolated as Henry, as a matter of fact, while the game is played in third-person, whenever you enter your apartment, it goes into first person. You can stare through the windows, you can look through the door's peephole, and watch as the world goes by. Oh, and I did mention 'entering' the apartment, y'see, not long after the game starts, a hole opens up in his bathroom, a whole that leads into the outside world. Everything about the game's story kept me hooked all the way through the end, as a matter of fact, this was the second time I played through the game, and I was every bit as invested on the story as before. It can be argued that Henry isn't a very good character, but I don't think that's fair. Henry is supposed to be a flat, one-dimensional character, not unlike Gordon Freeman(Foreshadowing), Henry is the medium through which the player interacts with the world and learns Walter Sullivan's story. That said, the game is very loosely tied to Silent Hill, you do travel near Silent Hill, and Henry claims to have visited Silent Hill before, but that's as close as you'll get to the fog-infested hell.
 Most of the game follows a pretty clear structure, you start off on your apartment, which serves as your personal stash, as Henry can only carry up to ten items, and it's the only place in which you can save your game and even restores your health.... initially, anyways. As you go through the game, your previously thought safe haven will start getting possessed by the outside world, and you'll have to get Holy Candles if you don't wanna take damage while on your apartment. Regardless, you will go through the hole on the bathroom to the zone of interest. You could argue that the game is made up of different chapters, which each takes place in a different area, regardless, in these outside areas is where most of the game takes place. Where you'll explore and solve most puzzles(Some require travelling back to your apartment!), fight monsters and collect weapons and other miscellaneous supplies. You may also come across holes that allow you to go back to your apartment, so that you can save, peep through the windows or the door or reorganize your inventory.

 Fighting is fairly simple and a bit clunky. There's two types of weapons, melee and ranged. There's only two ranged weapons, a pistol and a revolver, but there's a lot more of variety when it comes to melee weapons, from a pipe, golf clubs, an aluminium bat to a cardboard cutter or a hand-axe. Melee weapons not only offer different speeds and damage, but Henry will swing them in different ways, plus, you can hold the attack button to charge for an stronger attack, and each weapon will produce its own, unique charge attack. The thing about the combat, is that it's fairly slow, you can only attack while holding the R2 button, which enters you into targeting mode. Henry can't run while targeting, and his sidesteps feel off. Fighting enemies in numbers can be a bit daunting, they can take a fair bit of punishment, and unless you finish them off by stomping them, they will rise back up for another beating, when facing larger numbers of enemies, getting an opening to stomp a downed enemy can be difficult! But that's OK, a large amount of enemies are actually immortal, so you'll have to get used to running.
 Moving around isn't all that bad, except when the camera decides to get in your way. Y'see, most of the game is seen on a third person-angle, but sometimes the game decides to throw fixed angles into the mix... and some of these are a bit... bad. Heck, sometimes the it won't be a 'fixed' angle, so there's actually a button to move the camera behind Henry, which is all kinds of odd, it managed to throw me off quite a couple of times, as the switch isn't done very smoothly. Still, besides one or two cheap hits, the camera didn't really get in my way when it mattered. The puzzles in the game were quite simple, but then again, I didn't play on the hardest difficulty setting, which apparently, changes the hints to make them more vague!

 So, you made it through half of the game, which is about 3-4 hours in, and then... the game turns into a massive escort mission all the way to the end. And you have to go through all the previous areas. Sounds terrible, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. The person you are escorting can't actually die, though if you want the best ending you'd better do your best not to them get hurt a lot, although they seem to fall behind very easily, so sometimes you'll have to go back into the previous room to fetch'em, or wait until they are closer to you before getting through a door... and in those rooms filled with unbeatable enemies, waiting for them to get closer can be a bit of a pain. As for retreading old ground, you'll go through new areas and rooms, plus, all the puzzles are different. As a matter of fact, your first visits through the different 'worlds' are pretty short, with 1 or 2 simple puzzles, it's on your second time around when you'll actually have to do most of the thinking and exploring!
 As far as visuals go, it's nothing short of excellent. While I usually like my games colorful and vibrant, this game was aiming for creepy, so the dark, dry colors are welcome. The game also has a grainy filter applied to it, that heightens the creepiness. As for the art itself, the monsters are all abominations that look and sound the part. And then there's your apartment, which gets possessed, and all the various hauntings are both creative and scary, I mean, there's zombie ghosts trying to come through your walls, that's enough to merit a visit to the big boy's room! Sound design is top notch as well, what little music there is fits the scenes when it play, but the ambient noises? Holy chipotle. The voice acting however... Let's just say that it's passable at best, but Henry? Either the guy is the most badass everyman ever, who manages to keep his calm and stoicism regardless of what is going on around him... or the voice actor just didn't know what he was doing. I think it's the latter.

 Look, I don't care if the game 'isn't really a Silent Hill game', as far as I'm concerned, Silent Hill 4 - The Room is excellent through and through. The premise is original and creative, and they managed to make the most of it. And there's something to be said for a game that makes you go through the same areas twice, that half of it is a massive escort missions, and remains being fun.
 9.0 out 10.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Now Playing: Silent Hill 4 - The Room

 Thank god it ain't ma room.
 Genre's that are not 'my thing': Racing, Sports, Simulation and Survival Horror. And yet, Silent Hill 4 struck a cord on me. I don't know why it did, but I know why it does today. Silent Hill 4 retains the honor of being the very first Survival Horror game that I beat, brings a tear to my eye really. First things first, I am playing on Easy, and there's two reasons for that: A) I beat this game previously, so yeah and B) I am a coward. No, really, it's not the game that scares me, but the idea that I might get stuck in an impossible situation. Sue me.

 Secondly, I love the premise. The idea behind it is pure genius, the whole deal with the locked room, and how a hole 'transports' him near future victims and what not. I loved, LOVED the story of the game, so much so that I'd tell my father(I was young and easily impressed, sue me) about the story as it developed. That hasn't changed one bit, since the game's start, it's got me hook, line and sinker. And the enemies? Creepy as hell. The grainy filter applied to the game works towards that as well. The gameplay is a bit clunky-ish, as expected of a Survival Horror, but the story and premise are so good that I can ignore what few annoyances it could cause, y'know, like the less than optimal camera(Leagues above Maximo's though!).

 Basically, I'm in love.

 PS: Henry's voice actor is terrible.

Review #235: Maximo - Ghosts to Glory

 Not a single Red Arremer in sight!
 Remember Ghouls and Ghosts? What about Ghosts and Goblins? Quite the games they were! While most would assume that the franchise died after the SNES-era, they'd be wrong. Maximo is the spiritual successor to the franchise. And that's just fine, it's a game that doesn't ride on the coattails  of the franchise in order to carve its mark.

 Maximo, hardened warrior king, returns to his Kingdom, only to find Achille in charge, as well as having stolen his Queen. Maximo tries to attack, but is killed in action... not before Grim AKA Death, strikes a deal with Maximo, since both want Achille's head, Maximo wants his bride and Grim isn't too happy about Achille taking souls from the underworld. A simple premise, and not too different from the 'Ghosts' series.
 This is a 3D action-adventure game, with pretty obvious roots in 2D platformers. Maximo is armed with his armor, sword and shield and double jumps, as well as other skills he may acquire. Maximo's health bar is split in up to four segments, each segment standing for a piece of armor, more or less, 1 segment has him on his underwear, two with his armor, three adds a helmet and there's an optional fourth if you've the skill. The thing is, if you lose an entire segment, you can't restore it unless you find a new piece of armor, which means that grabbing health potions doesn't restore segments. The Shield has a separate endurance gauge, which decreases every time you block a hit, or if you have the skill, throw it against an enemy. Then there's the sword, which can slash, dice and thrust(If you've the skill).

 Maximo has a very interesting Skill system. You can find 'skills' by defeating enemies or buying them from altars, and these greatly enhance Maximo's repertoire of moves, from a two hit combo, allowing Maximo to throw his shield, turning his shield into a Magnet for power ups or even one that allows him to have up to four armor segments in his health bar. Thing is, if you die, you lose some of them. At the start of the game, you are given 3 'lock slots', skills placed in these will stay with you even if you die, and every time you defeat a boss, you are given an extra lock slot, for up to seven. I thought the skill system was excellent, it forces you to play carefully, but also gives you some leeway so that you can keep your favorites if you screw up. Plus, these skills offer a real advantage to Maximo, expanding his moveset, you want to keep these powers.
 Spread throughout each level there are two form of currency that you'll want to gather: Coins and Fairies. Coins are of utmost importance, not only do they let you buy items from altars, you also need 100 of them to save, yep, it's one of those games, your game or travel to previous worlds. Then there's the Fairies, on their own they do nothing, but collect 50 of them and you get a Grim Coin. Grim Coins are basically continues, kinda, the first time you lose all your lives, it'll take one Grim Coin to come back, but every time you 'continue', the price goes up. And it's worth mentioning that most people consider this game kinda hard. Personally, I died about 20 times and only used a continue once, which means... I thought the game was pretty much standard, not easy, not hard, just right... but not for the right reasons.

 The things that make the game 'hard' isn't the design itself, but rather it's flaws. The camera is terrible, no right-analog support and the only way to 'control' it is to press L1 and hope that the camera can position itself behind you, which isn't always possible. Most of the hits I took were because I couldn't see what was ahead of me. Then there's the overall movement, which feels rather slow, as if Maximo was weighed down by... something(Probably his armor? heh!), which means that it's easy to underestimate or overestimate his jumping prowess until you get used to it. Mind you, the platforming isn't too bad, it's just decent, it could've used some more polishing. As a matter of fact, there's this jump in one of the latter stages, in which you must jump from a huge siege tower towards a cliff, which is just plain evil. Must've died about 5 times, I even considered that, despite the trail of coins, it just wasn't the way to proceed. But it was. Honestly, both of these issues can be attributed to its age, and none were dealbreakers as far as I'm concerned.
 For an early PS2 game, it looks fine. Environments are simple, but varied, and characters are based on horror themes, but done in a charming, goofy manner. There're Skeletons frozen in ice cubes that slide through the ground trying to poke you with their harpoons, and wizards that turn Maximo into a little baby or an old man. The soundtrack I found lacking, there's about... 3-4 different tunes? And a ton of remixes of the game's main theme(Which might be mighty familiar if you are a 'Ghosts' fan!). I don't see it needed to talk about sound effects, but something about the sound your sword makes when it hits the skeletons is very, very satisfying. Heck, everything sounds really good, it's almost another reason to collect coins!

 What can I say? I enjoyed my time with Maximo - Ghosts to Glory. It is a bit dated, but nothing that can't be overcame. With that in mind, I thought the difficulty was just right, but I've read that some people thought it was a bit too tough, so, y'know, be ware.
 8.0 out of 10

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Now Playing: Maximo - Ghosts to Glory

 Yet another trip to my childhood.
 Maximo Ghosts to Glory is another one of the first PS2 games I played, a group made up of Metal Gear Solid 2, Okage: The Shadow King and Dynasty Warriors 2(And I believe Final Fantasy X as well?). And just as with Okage and Dynasty Warriors, I didn't know what I was getting myself into... yet it was another homerun. I remember that Maximo was considered one of the toughest games around back then, and even though I played the Japanese version(Considered to be the easiest one!) I had trouble with it, I don't remember ever getting past the Ice World!

 But lo and behold, I already defeated the first boss, have 7 lives and 7 Death coins to my name! I must've died twice or thrice, which means... It's not THAT hard. Or maybe F-Zero GX makes everything else look easy, heh. But I digress, time has not been kind to Maximo. It's one of those weird PS2 games that don't make use of the right analog stick for the camera, and the camera itself leaves a lot to be desired. Movement is very slow, it feels as if Maximo is treading through mud the entire time. And the combat? Simple and a tad clunky. Oh, and it also happens to be one of those games that require in-game currency in order to save.

 And that's about all the bad things I can say about it, it's still a charming little game, true, I fear for my life every time I have to platform, but I haven't had a single death due to platforming yet, so I just need to believe in Maximo's prowess! I also happen to like the skill system, and how you can have three of them locked, so that you don't lose them upon death. I doubt I'm ever gonna swap Double Strike, Magnet and Shield throw. Double Strike is almost a necessity, at least to my gaming style, Magnet is so dang useful, particularly to gather all the spirits that are used to get Death Coins(Continues) and Shield Throw? Well, it made the first boss a complete push over, so it might aid me on further bosses.

 Still, it's funny, it was considered challenging back in the day, but... I wonder if it's for the same reasons I think? Right now I blame the camera. I blame the slow as molasses movement that interfere with the platforming. I blame the simple combat.... and I think all of these can be attributed to it's age. So then... why was it considered a challenging game back in the day? I might read some reviews after I'm done with it, just out of curiosity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review #234: F-Zero GX

 Forever he will be my hero~♫
 Remember F-Zero? Y'know, that little SNES racer that featured all kinds of Mode 7 hijinks? You probably don't, while it does have a bit of a cult following, the last game in the franchise was a GBA game, and the last console iteration was the one featured here, F-Zero GX. What makes F-Zero awesome, what makes it stand out from the crowd, is its futuristic setting, as well as the incredibly fast speeds it boasts.

 The game features 4 main modes: Grand Prix, VS(Up to four players), Time Attack and Story Mode. There's 4 cups of 5 tracks each, as well as a 'super secret' fifth cup, for a total 26 tracks(There's a bonus one!). There's also 41 different racers, all with different pilots. And allow me to ramble for a bit, I'm a huge fan of character design, and this field is both to be commended and criticized in this game. The male characters are all hilariously over the top, there's Super Heroes, Aliens, Skeletons what have you, and they've the mannerisms, unlockable endings and backstory(Which can be read in the 'Pilot Profile' in-game!) and they are awesome! Female characters don't have it as good, the backstory, some of the endings and even some of the mannerisms are equally as good, but... they all share the same body with a different head, all humans by the by. All of them wear a colored top and a colored metal thong, the colors might be different, but the designs are the same. A couple of them actually bare their midriffs, but that's as different as it gets. It's a bit disappointing, since they did such a great job with the others! Lest I forget, each of the 41 racers gets their own unique theme song, and 10 different phrases for when they win a GP, how's that for attention to detail?!
 In this game, you will race your ship though all kinds of tracks, filled with tubes in which you can ride the walls, when you are riding inside them anyways as sometimes you'll race over tubes, there's gaps in the tracks, sometimes even forks that take you all over the place through hoops and loops.... Needless to say, the tracks are all sort of insane and designed with style in mind, and they are so amazing thanks to that. There are no weapons in this game, although you can ram the other racers and even destroy them, retiring them out of the remainder of the race, instead the focus is on speed. Throughout the track there are dozens of Boost pads that'll give you a boost in speed, and once you reach the second lap, you are allowed to boost in exchange for health(You can restore it by going over purple tiles over the tracks). The game can get pretty exhilarating as you reach higher and higher speeds, as you try to keep said speed, but also being careful not to fall off the track, remember, that'll retire you out of the race completely!

 Which brings me to the game's biggest issue, or asset if that's your thing, the steep learning curve. You'll have to learn how to best drift in order to keep your speed going, you'll have to learn the tracks so that you know what is coming and how to best deal with it, as well as when to or not to boost, so that you don't end up flying off-track into your game. This is a racing game that hates your guts and will kick your butt, but, but if you get the hang of it, it's also one of the most exciting racing games you'll ever play. Sadly, the game is a bit too hard for its own good. In order to unlock the fourth cup, you have to beat the first three cups in Standard or harder. Fair enough. The problem with Grand Prix is not the racers, not the rubberband AI, but the track itself. Falling of track or having your ship destroyed will cost you the race. You get 2-5 continues depending on the difficulty setting. Unlocking the 5th Cup is a pain in the butt for many reasons. You have to place first in every cup in the Master difficulty setting, no easy feat, and then you have to buy them, which more likely than not will involve farming 'Tickets'. This holds true for 10 of the unlockable racers, these can only be unlocked by finishing each chapter of the Story Mode in Very Hard. Story Mode is all kinds of insane hard, sure the cut-scenes are phenomenal and worth it, but Very Hard requires almost perfect precision. Oh, and each chapter of the Story Mode must be bought with the very same tickets, and unlocking 'Very Hard' means finishing the chapter on the other two difficulties.
 So you see, unlocking stuff is both tedious and hard. You earn tickets by placing 1st-3rd on Grand Prix Cups or unlocking and defeating Staff Ghosts in Time Attack(These only pay out one time), and these Tickets are used to buy everything. The game has a nice little 'customization' feature that lets you build your own ship. Pretty cool, but parts must be bought with the same tickets you use for Characters, AX tracks and Story Mode chapters. It doesn't matter how much you liked the game, grinding for all these tickets is not fun, and coupling it with the incredibly hard difficulty, if you plan to unlock everything, as well as the high difficulty curve... let's say that the game can be frustrating as well. Oh, and the 'Death Races' in which you had to be the last racer standing through unending laps from F-Zero X are gone, which made me all kinds of sad.

 The graphics are not as good as you think, but better than you'd expect. The backdrops are pretty gorgeous, but if you pay attention, tracks and ships are made up of pretty simple shapes. Hard to fault it, as it keeps the framerate at a steady 60 no matter how fast you are going, with 30 racers on the track at the same time. Pretty impressive. The CG cutscenes are a bit... dated, some cross the uncanny valley, particularly the females trying to be 'sexy'(Which is all of them, sadly). It's... it's creepy, particularly Jody. And the animation... well, at least they are funny and have nothing to do with the gameplay! The soundtrack is made up of Techno-Rock, and it's amazing, it's the kind of music that wouldn't be out of place in a Dynasty Warriors game, and I love it. And did I mention that each racer of the 41 gets their own theme song? And each track has its own song?
 F-Zero GX is on of the most exciting racing games you'll ever find. The difficulty curve is steep, and unlocking everything may be an herculean effort, but the game is oh so much fun, provided you can get the hang of it.
 8.0 out of 10

Friday, May 15, 2015

Now Playing: F-Zero GX

 Vroooom
 I'm not the biggest racing game fan around, I'm no good at them and I'm not particularly interested in them. F-Zero in particular is not a franchise I'm particularly fond of, but I did play the hell out of F-Zero X on the N64. Fast forward a couple(Or about 10) years, and here I am playing the sequel, and the last entry on a home console.

 F-Zero is usually praised for the sense of speed... I played the Ruby Cup on Novice and Standard and... I can't see it. Outrun 2006, now that game was fast, but this one? It feels rather tame, maybe the next courses will offer more chance for speeding? Plus, I remember all these killer loops, and tubes you could race over... I hope they are in this one again, 'cause that sh...stuff was badass.

 All in all, not particularly impressed, but it ain't too bad.

Review #233: Animal Crossing

 In which I dig my grave and sleep in it.
 Animal Crossing on the Gamecube is a game that I've been wanting to play for a long, long time, and now I finally did and... It's most definitely not my kind of game.

 In the game you play as a little dude, or a little dudette, who moves into a town filled with adorable little animals. As soon as you arrive, Tom Nook, the town's merchant raccoon, gives you a home... and a debt to pay. Your next goal is to pay the debt, so that he can expand your house and... leave in debt you again. And that's the gist of it, there's no major story arc, no major goal, it's a pretty laid back game, with no particular purpose.
 When you first start the game, the town is randomly generated so that no two playthroughs are the same. At the start of the game, there'll only be 5 villagers, but each day a new one moves in, up to 15, and then some may move out to make room for new ones. These villagers have slightly different personalities, and may give you little errands to fulfill, delivering an item to another villager, finding them a bug or fish, etc, rewarding you for their completion with clothes, money or even furniture. As far as I could tell, these errands are pretty much infinite and randomly generated, and you may not be able to get jobs all the time, so you might have to wait.

 Besides these jobs, you can also buy a shovel, to dig for treasure and fossils, a bug net, to hunt bugs, a fishing rod, to fish, or an axe to cut down trees. You can also plant different trees wherever you want. There's another 'sidequest', so to speak, of filling the Museum with the different fossils, fish and bugs, if you are so inclined. Still, your main obsession will be making money, which is done by selling stuff, fishes, fossils, bugs or even seashells, found at the beach, or the clothes and furniture that you do not want. And then invest the earned money so that you can expand your house or buy whatever Tom Nook sells.
 That's all fine and dandy, if that's your thing, but the game runs in real time. If you skip a day, the villagers will notice, if you play at night, it will be night during the game, and if you play during winter, there'll be snow all over town. Heck, there's even holidays that you can celebrate in the game. That sounds nice, but it can put a halt to your activities. Things like fossils come in limited amounts per day, so after you dug all 3 or 4, you have to wait an entire day. Bugs go away during the night or during rainy days, so that's another activity you can't do. Heck, the first few days are pretty much a bore, you can buy a shovel, and only a shovel, on the first day, the option to buy a bug net will only be available on the next day, and the fishing rod? On the next day. Basically, the first few days really don't let you do much. Even worse, Tom Nook's shop closes at night, so you can't sell your excess stuff, so you might as well not even play the game then, remember, limited inventory space! And while you can just drop stuff on the ground and it'll stay there, it still feels like you aren't doing any progress. In this way, the game almost feels like a mobile game with its artificial barriers.

 And even then, that's about as much as you can do in the game. Do errands, fish, hunt for bugs, dig for fossils and that's it. Maybe furbishing your house with furniture and ornaments is your thing, but at the slow pace in which new items are available, or money earned... I really wasn't to invested on it. And if you look online, you can find codes to get whatever piece of furniture you want, or even the much coveted NES games, like Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight and Clu Clu Land, which were the highlight for me.
 The game has a very simple, minimalist presentation, done on purpose, which kinda works. Your characters and the animals are very cute, simple and small. Even their blurry expressions are a bit adorable. Music is made up of simple, upbeat tunes that set the mood for the game, and every villager has their own tone when they talk, and they do talk, in simple autotune-like chipmunk voices.

 I'm sure that there's an audience for Animal Crossing, it did make it all the way from the Nintendo 64 to the Nintendo 3DS after all! But sadly, for me, it just isn't the kind of game that I like to play or spend time on, not anymore anyways.
 5.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Now Playing: Animal Crossing

 'bout dang time.
 Animal Crossing has been called a 'sim' game, but issit really? I think 'Slice of Life' is more adequate, but then again, wouldn't that fall into the 'sim' category? Regardless, games like thesea re not my kind of games, and yet I own 3 Animal Crossing games, but I wanted to start the series with this one. I mean, this one was the first AC game I bought, but the Memory Card data required was kinda steep, so I had to get another Memory Card, and then I came along Animal Crossing on the DS(Which I didn't play) and then on the 3DS(Which I also didn't play, yet) and here I am.

 But there's a reason as to why I wanted to play the one on the Gamecube specifically: The NES games. I understand why they were removed, potential lost sales on the Wiiware store, but I think it's such a cool touch... I really wanted THIS Animal Crossing.

 I dunno how I feel about a game with no goal. I mean, I like Harvest Moon quite a bit, but even though it's rather open ended, the goal could be considered 'Become the very best farmer the world has ever seen', but what's my goal in Animal Crossing? Pay the house, and then expand, and then? Do the jobs for the townspeople? And what about these jobs, are they randomly generated or are they finite? I dunno.

 Basically, I played an hour, and I liked it, but I dunno how much life a game like this will have on my hands.

Review #232: Borderlands 2(Vita)

 Oh boy...
 Fact: Borderlands 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. Fact: Borderlands 2 on the VITA almost made me hate it. Seeing how I already wrote about Borderlands 2 in this little blog o' mine, I'll just go over what makes the Vita version so terrible.

 First, the good, it's Borderlands 2 on the Vita. No, really, when the game is at its best, it's awesome. Plus, the fact that they managed to cram such a massive game on a tiny Vita cartridge is nothing short of amazing. And that's just about the best thing I can say about it. Y'see, the game made me go from ecstatic to miserable oh so many times that it ain't even funny. There's a lot of problems with the port, that I'll elaborate on shortly, but the biggest issue are the freezes. The game crashed/froze on me over 10 times before I stopped counting, the Lynchwood area being particularly terrible about it, almost, if not all, of my play sessions in that area ended on freezes, and half of my total freezes where in that area. If it was one buggy area it'd be one thing, but this can happen ANYWHERE. Admittedly, some areas are worse than others, but the issue remains, I was scared of playing Borderlands 2, as I didn't want to end up miserable and frustrated. And when you really get into the game, it's so much fun that you forget about your fears.... and then it crashes. And this is one of those games where you can't save manually, so you'd better learn to force the game to auto-save every now and then, by crossing certain checkpoints, in order to keep your progress in case the worst happens. From what I could gather from boards, other people suffered the same way I did: At the game's beginning, it's all fine and dandy, but after you cross 10 gameplay hours, give-or-take, the freezes become a common occurrence.
 Having such a broken mess is inexcusable, but the game is further gimped by other factors. The framerate is pretty shaky, and can reach single digits for a couple of seconds. Honestly, I was having so much fun, when it wasn't crashing, that I didn't mind. I was playing Borderlands 2, on the flippin' go, framerate be damned! Multiplayer has been reduced from 4 to 2 players, understandably, it's hard to fault it for this, but it's somethin' to keep in mind. Another issue are the controls, while you can map any function to any button, fact is the PS Vita doesn't have as many buttons as the PS3, so 2 actions will have to be mapped to the touch screen, and another two to the rear touchpad. You can get used to it, I did, but it took more than a fair share of grenade suicides when accidentally touching the screen. And then there's the Cross-Save feature with the PS3, you can only transfer characters one by one, so that you can't clone them, and while the PSVita version doesn't have access to all the DLC, you can transfer a character that is equipped with DLC equipment, however, he won't be able to use it. Levels carry over, even if you don't have the +11 Level DLCs, but you won't be able to level up the character.

 Then we have the DLC, oh boy... The game has been abandoned by Iron Galaxy, the guys that did the port, although it seems it wasn't their choice. This means that Borderlands 2 on the Vita only gets 5 of the DLCs that matter: Pirate Scarlet and her Pirate Booty, Crater of Badassitude, VaultHunter Pack(+11 levels) and the two DLC characters. This is all the DLC that is available and 'included'. Kinda. Y'see, even if you buy the physical version, the DLC is download only. Some people claimed that 'the cart couldn't hold all the data!' and that's a lie, both DLC characters and the headhunter pack are 100 KB each, you are downloading keys. And in an effort to discourage buying the game used, you can't buy the DLC separately, want the DLC? You better hope somebody has an unused code.
 And this is the honest truth, during the first 10 or so hours, I was ready to score the game a 9 out of 10. I was having a blast, it was Borderlands 2 on the go, it was amazing. After the first few crashes, I was gonna score it a 7, because they were annoying but not a deal breaker. After I hit the double digits I was ready for a 5-4. But after experiencing this roller coaster of bliss and misery, I decided that this is unacceptable. The game is broken, sure, at times I was relieving all the fun I had with Borderlands 2, all over again, but... it's not worth it.
 2.5 out of 10.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review #223: Legacy of Kain - Defiance

 Time t'finish the fight!
 This is it! The big pay off, where the four previous games had led to. The final game in the Legacy of Kain series, Raziel and Kain's quests come to an end! Kinda.

 It's hard to talk about Defiance without spoiling stuff, but what really matters is that almost every loose end from previous games is explained, and the few bits that aren't, well, you can search online for Amy Hennig's, the writer, words on these things, stuff like Vorador being alive in Blood Omen 2(Which this game was supposed to answer, but had to be cut), or even stuff that happens in-game. If you've been following the series since Blood Omen, or at least Soul Reaver 1, this game will satisfy you, it gives a more than worthy conclusion to the quest of these unlikely anti-heroes. That said, there was to be a sequel that would offer further insight into what happened after Defiance, but it never came to be. But I digress, unlike the previous two games that ended on cliff-hangers, this one gives us a more... open ending, but an ending non the less.
 The gameplay has suffered a major shift since Soul Reaver 2. Most notorious, now you play as both Kain and Raziel, through alternating chapters. While Soul Reaver 2 was mostly and adventure game, Defiance borrows a lot from Devil May Cry, this is an action game with some puzzles here and there. As a matter of fact, the puzzles have been dumbed down considerably, being mostly of the 'Find X item to open Y door' variety. As a rule of thumb, Raziel's chapters tend to feature more puzzles than Kain's, which in turn make his chapters much longer. Unlike Soul Reaver 2, you are now rewarded for exploring, Health upgrades, TK upgrades and unlockable extras are hidden throughout each level, waiting to be found if you explore. The combat system now allows you to juggle enemies into aerial combos or pull and push them around with Telekinetic abilities, and I really like it. Sure, it's much more limited than Devil May Cry, but I liked performing simple, stylish combos on the enemies. Personally, I like prefer direction over any other game on the franchise... but it did need a few more work.

 Raziel and Kain behave almost exactly the same in combat, their attacks might look different, but on a technical level, it's the same. As you slay enemies you eventually unlock 5 special moves with each character, and they are the same for both characters! Regardless, my biggest issue isn't that these moves are the same, but that they are too few of them. Since the game is now focused on combat and combos, it should reward you for fighting and doing well, particularly since enemies can take quite a bit of punishment. But after you earn these five moves there's little reason to waste time fighting. Late in the game, I avoided fights as much as I could, whereas during the earlier parts of the game I was enjoying trying to come up with different ways to end my enemies!
 Throughout the game, both Kain and Raziel will earn specialized versions of their weapons, and not only are they used for puzzles, but they give their attacks special properties! For instance, Kain's Dimension Reaver makes it so that once the Reaver Gauge is full(By dealing a ton of damage), attacks will spread out throughout nearby enemies, or Raziel's Water Reaver will freeze the enemies it attacks, or the Earth Reaver makes him heavy, so he can walk on water. This sounds very promising, but it's slightly underdeveloped, take Raziel's Light and Fire Reavers, they add nothing to his basic attacks, just a different special move. Don't get me wrong, I liked what they did, but they could've done much more to make each weapon feel unique.

All that said, to say that Kain and Raziel are exactly the same is wrong. The way in which they explore Nosgoth is much different, not only are they 500 years apart, but both possess certain traits unique to each.  Kain has stronger Telekinetic powers, at first, allowing him to break weakened structures or pull enemies towards him instead of just pushing. Metal Bars are not a barrier to Kain, as he can simply turn into mist and walk through them. Plus, Water is deadly to Kain. Raziel on the other hand can swim, and his TK powers only lets him push enemies. And while he can't turn into mist, Raziel is the only one who can access the Spectral Realm.
 With the new style, also come a few quirks to get used to. The game moves much faster than before in every way, except climbing which is slow as molasses. But I digress, I really liked how everything was much faster now, both combat and exploring. A consequence, perhaps, of this is that controls feel much looser than before. New to the series are fixed camera angles, which can be a bit of a pain. There's a very few angles which are terrible and makes you wonder just what where they thinking, plus, it's possible for the camera to sometimes get confused and get stuck on very weird angles, and then you have to move around hoping that you can reset it. Not to mention that as a consequence of the fixed camera angles, sometimes it's possible to get some very unhelpful angles during fights, sometimes obscuring your position or the enemies. But that isn't even the biggest offender of the new camera, it's the platforming. To put it bluntly, the platforming in this game can be horrid. To be fair, few times is the penalty for missing a jump or what not fatal, but as a consequence of both fixed camera angles and the loose controls, jumping can potentially be the most annoying thing in the game. There were some 'simple' jumps that I had to retry over 6 times, and sometimes the issue was simply getting to the platform from which to jump.

 Weirdly enough, graphics are better in some ways, and worse in a very few others, than Soul Reaver 2's. Character models have been stylized, and they look slimmer and cooler than before. All the big players look better than they ever did. But it seems that some detail was lost, easily observed by comparing the backside of Raziel's cape on Soul Reaver 2 with Defiance's, hardly a deal breaker though. The environments are less colorful than before, but much more detailed and intricate, a fair trade off I'd say. Still, the locations visited in this game feel a bit more... mundane, or down-to earth than the more fantastic areas from the previous games. As a whole, I think the game looks fantastic, there's a couple of framerate drops here and then, but they are fairly uncommon. The music is an overall high for the series, you may recognize some of the songs that play, and they manage to set the mood for the game perfectly. Award winning? Hardly, but little to complain about. As far as the voice acting goes... It's Legacy of Kain, of course it's among the best that videogames have to offer, from the major characters to the secondary cast.
 For the final entry in the series, Crystal Dynamics sure went out with a bang. I loved the new direction they took with the gameplay, even if it needed a bit more work put into it, and the story payed off big-time. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best game in the series, but in order to fully appreciate it, it requires one to have followed the story from the beginning.
 8.5 out of 10

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review #230: Jeanne D'Arc

 Viva la France.
 Jeanne D'Arc is an Strategy RPG for the PSP developed by Level-5. It's a loose retelling of Joan of Arc's crusade against the English, Japanese style!

 The story might be based on Joan of Arc's story, but it's set in a widely different universe, one in which Elves, Dwarves, Beastmen and monsters coexist alongside humans. Yep, this isn't your average history lesson. That said, it does follow Jeanne's crusade against the English in order to protect France, except that in this version she gets to have super powers. Mainly the five Heroes, men chosen by the armlets, which are granted special powers and allowed to don a magic suit of armor, henshin a-go-go baby! As for how the story develops, I felt it starts a tad dull, but gets better and better as it goes along, and it can get pretty dark. The characters themselves don't get much development though, but they do get a couple of lines here and there to add some individuality to each of them.
 The game is a fairly standard Strategy-RPG, each battle has two bands, yours and the enemy, and in your turn you can move each of your units, after your turn, the CPU does the same with its units, fairly straightforward. Attacking a unit from the sides or behind confer the usual attack and accuracy bonuses, so positioning is important. In fact, the game's unique mechanics are based around position: Burning Aura and Unified Defense. Every time you attack an enemy, it'll drop a 'Burning Aura' in the opposite tile, and if you place a character in that tile(Or if he was standing over it when the Burning Aura fell), you'll get a damage buff on your next attack. As for Unified Defense, you might think that spreading your units is a good idea, but it might not always be the case here, as leaving your units close together will confer a defense bonus when taking damage, so it's up to you to decide how you want to deal with defense depending on the enemy units.

 This is one of those Strategy RPGs in which you get preset characters and can't create any units. While each unit can equip specific weapons(Jeanne, for instance, can only equip swords), as far as skills go, each character is a white canvas. You get about 8 slots that you can outfit with gems, found by slaying enemies, that confer anything from passive bonuses, to physical skills or spells. I thought it was a pretty neat idea, and you can create some very powerful combos to decimate the enemy. Speaking of decimation, the five armlet-wearing characters get a unique gauge, and they gain one point on this gauge every turn that passes. Using this gauge they can, temporarily, transform into a super powerful state, with exclusive skills and the incredibly useful 'Godspeed' skill, that grants you another turn if you kill an enemy. I swear, having one of your Heroes massacring the enemies in just one turn feels SO GOOD.
 The game lasts about 27 hours, and finishing it unlocks a couple of extra stages. While it is pretty cool, I did have a couple of gripes with it. For starters, the game is pretty slow, not only can the framerate get a bit low, but the way battles pan out is fairly slow. Everything from going through the menus, to the characters moving and executing their attacks feel as if comes with a slight delay, which slowly adds up for a quite a bit of waiting. I think the UMD is at fault as well, as sometimes you can tell that the game is taking a second or two to load the next action. Then there's the fact that you will need to grind. For over half of the game you are limited to only 5 characters on the battlefield, and after hitting the middle point, you'll be granted up to 7 characters. It means that at least two characters will be lagging behind, even though everyone gains a little experience after each fight. As a matter of fact, there's three characters that temporarily leave your ranks, so you might be forced to use even more underleveled characters. As a matter of fact, and this might be a minimal spoiler, Roger leaves the party at some point, and he returns at a set level 47... when most of your main party should be hitting 55. Even worse, I'm pretty sure Roger was 49 when he left.... Regardless, the point stands: You will need to grind the optional battles, and it will get boring when you couple it with how slowly the battles unfold.

 The graphics in the game are colorful and detailed. Character models employ a slightly deformed look, with big heads and smaller bodies, it's a bit off putting at first, but I got used to them pretty fast. Their little bodies hold all kinds of little details in the armors and faces, which I really liked. The game also employs some gorgeous anime cut-scenes every now and then, and they do feel like a treat. Music, as expected of an RPG, is really good, with a particularly memorable main theme. There's not a whole lot of voice acting, but what little there is is pretty good, everyone has fake french accents which I thought was endearingly amusing.

 Jeanne D'Arc is not the best Strategy RPG I've ever played, but it's pretty good. I loved being able to customize my units with the gems, and while it took me a while to get hooked on the story, once it gets good, it gets really good. The slow-pace of the battles did put me off a couple of times, the reason I took so long to finish it was that sometimes I'd get bored of grinding, either for experience or skills, so I took breaks from it. Still, when it's at its best, it's really good, and at its worst it ain't all that bad.
 7.5 out of 10

Now Playing: Legacy of Kain - Defiance

 Time to finish the fight!
 Ah! Now this one I did finish, and I loved it. I really don't know how I made heads and tails out of the plot, considering I hadn't even defeated Soul Reaver 1's first boss, but I clearly remember having a blast playing it.

 But I digress, what's new? Everything. The moment you start playing, it's like everything is set on Turbo. Everything moves much more smoothly and swiftly. Even things like crossing metal barriers, which used to take 3-5 seconds, now it takes a second at most. I like the speed, I like my games fast after all. It's funny how much it borrows from DMC, but can you blame it? Still, the combo system is, or at least so far, watered down when compared to it, but it's still a huge step up from every other LoK game. Visually, it seems like environments took a hit? I think the textures aren't as detailed? I'm not sure, but on the other hand, the character models now look amazing.

 But the most important thing? After two games, it's back to Kain, and god, has he evolved. He looks like a proper badass, and fights like one as well. I remember them, Raziel and Kain, having mostly the same abilities, but at least the combos look different. Kain has powerful yet swift slashes, unwavering in his posture, while Raziel's slashes in a more acrobatic, loose way. I dig it.

 Not gonna lie, as much as I enjoyed every other game, sans Blood Omen 2, this is the game I've been looking forwards the most, and after playing the short, introductory Kain chapter, my hopes for this game are higher than ever. Hopefully it proves to be the definitive Legacy of Kain game that I remember.

Review #229: Soul Reaver 2

 History abhors a paradox.
 Soul Reaver 1 ended on a cliffhanger, and luckily, it was very well received by the press, back in the day, so a sequel wasn't so much of a 'if' but a 'when'. And so with the shiny new technology that the PS2 offered, Soul Reaver 2 came to be.

 The game picks up exactly where the last one left off. Actually, it recreates the final moments of the last game, which is quite amusing to see the last exchanges between Kain and Raziel, but now with a higher polygon count! While the last game was a story about revenge, Soul Reaver 2 is about time travel. Time travelling Vampires and Wraiths, doesn't get any better than this. It's hard to talk about the game's plot without spoiling the last one, or this one, but needless to say, the story is fantastic, and the dialogue is incredible. To be fair, the story can get pretty convoluted, and you may end up asking yourself more questions, but with a little legwork(Internet), you can make perfect sense of it. And by the by, there's no point in playing Soul Reaver 2 without playing the first, you will get lost, and a lot of the beauty of the series' lore will be lost on you.
 Soul Reaver 2 is an almost-entirely different beast than the first one. While Soul Reaver 1 was a huge game, filled to the brim with secrets and optional areas rewarding those that explored or backtracked, Soul Reaver 2 is a very linear almost on-rails experience. There are no secrets, and exploration isn't rewarded, so there's no reason to veer off the given path, not like there's anywhere else to go mind you. Amusingly, the game now finally adds a compass and the much needed map than the previous game should've had... but in this game, it's impossible to get lost or not to know where to go(Just follow the only path available to ya!) so really, there's no use for either of those.

 But hey, there are a bunch of noticeable improvements, most important of them all, the framerate. It's almost glorious 60 fps all the way to the end of the game, with a couple of moments where it could dip, but never below 30. It makes everything run so much better! And the camera is much more manageable than before, it doesn't need constant baby sitting and you can move it with the right analog stick. About damn time! The save system has been revamped as well, now you can only save at certain savespots, and you loading your file starts you back at whichever savespot you last saved. Teleporters are gone, but then again, they are not needed in this game. The way the Reaver works has also been tweaked, now you lose health constantly while on the material realm, but the Reaver can be turned on or off at will. Using the Reaver too much will make it zap your health alarmingly fast, but it's counterweighted by how strong it is.
 Much of the game is spent puzzling, just like the first game, but this time around the puzzles are much simpler. Perhaps a bit too simple, but I'm not complaining, the first one had one or two that were a bit too obtuse. Raziel retains all the abilities he gained from his fallen brethren in the last adventure, but most of the new puzzles revolve around the new Elemental Reavers: Dark, Light, Wind and Flame. As far as I could tell, they don't confer any enhanced damage in combat, but each one has different uses when it comes to traversing Nosgoth. The Wind Reaver is the only one that can destroy doors, while the Dark Reaver can activate bridges, for instance. At the end of the day, I enjoyed the puzzling, they may not have been as hard as the previous game's, but I can appreciate the creativity they spent on them, coming up with widely different puzzles than those seen in Soul Reaver 1, so it doesn't feel like you are treading old ground.

 Combat is the only thing I really disliked about Soul Reaver 2. In Soul Reaver 1, combat was simple, but it was easy to forgive as combat wasn't the game's focus. Enemies in this game aren't vampires, so you don't need to impale or burn them... but they got annoying in other ways. First and foremost, Raziel's attacks are very slow, it doesn't matter if you are using one of the many different weapons that you can find on the material realm, fact of the matter is: Raziel hits slower than any of his enemies. In the previous outing you could make short work of enemies by spamming triangle with the Reaver, not so here. Triangle is an alternate, physical, attack now, an attack that can be blocked. And enemies love to block, and there's no way for you to break their guard, besides using the Reaver(That you really don't want to use unless you really have to due to the new limitations). So, it'd make sense for you to wait until they drop their guard? Wrong. Enemies attack faster than Raziel can sidestep, and unlike Raziel, enemies can and will break your guard. It's a good thing Raziel can't really die, but the combat was dull and boring, to be honest, after the first couple of hours I just decided to skip fighting as many enemies as I could, only stopping by to recharge my Material energy. I guess it's a good thing that the game doesn't have a single Boss!
 The game doesn't look particularly well. Raziel and Kain do look fairly badass and detailed, but the rest of the secondary characters don't fare as well, not to say that they are bad or anything. Common Enemies on the other hand are a bit blander, with fairly forgettable designs and a some rather wonky animations(The 'spin on the air' animation after a 3-hit blade combo is particularly hilarious.) The world of Nosgoth is very pretty, and with the improved draw-distance, it's easier to appreciate the detail that went into designing the game's world, even if it's noticeably smaller than Soul Reaver 1's. It wouldn't be a Legacy of Kain game if it didn't have stellar voice acting now would it? The soundtrack is a bit mediocre for the series standards however.

 As far as I'm concerned, Soul Reaver 2 is an excellent game that only falters in the Combat department. It could've used a few hidden collectibles, boss fights and other elements that the previous game had, but I didn't miss those features as much as I thought I would. The change from an exploration-centric game into such a linear one might throw some people off, but the story was so good, that I kinda appreciated getting to advance the plot much faster.
 8.5 out of 10

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Now Playing: Soul Reaver 2

 Huh, so we are abandoning the 'Legacy of Kain' moniker?
 I-I'm amazed. From the moment you fire up the game, the improvements are huge and notorious. The first thing you are treated to is a reimagining of  Soul Reaver 1's ending, and then... let's see... The camera, that used to be tied to R2 and L2, is now turned with the right analog stick. Genius. I remember whining about how little information it gave you to orient yourself, not anymore. Not only do you get a compass, which I suggested, but you also get a map, which I also suggested. And the framerate? Silky smooth. With new technology, also comes better graphics, and Nosgoth has never looked better(Well, maybe Blood Omen 2 looks slightly better, but it came after this one), it's very colorful, and the draw distance? You can see EVERYTHING. Remember in Soul Reaver 1 how short the draw distance was? That's a thing of the past.

 If I had one thing to complain about... it'd be that they change how the Reaver works. The previous game rewarded you with it if you did good in combat... now you can use it at any time, but you need to put it in 'cooldown' unless you want it to zap your HP constantly, plus, now the Reaver doesn't sustain your material form, so back to constantly feeding off souls. I dunno, it worked so well on the previous game, why fix what ain't broken? Also, and this is a nitpick, the graphics reek of early PS2, with slightly ugly models, and some wonky animations. The environments fare much, much better though.

 As a side-note, I know for sure that I never got out of the Sarafan Stronghold when I was younger, how do I know that? I don't remember ever getting out of it! I'm pretty sure it has to do with me not knowing how to save the game, probably, since that puzzled me at first. Turns out you can't save the game after well 30-40 minutes into the game. I'm not kidding. Which reminds me, they also changed how you save your game, instead of 'save anywhere', it uses save points, and they seem to be slightly too far apart from each other, but then again, I only came across two of them, so I might be wrong.

 What else can I say? I am completely enthralled by the game. I love the script, love the dialogue and love the delivery. I'm fully hooked by the lore of the series, and can't wait to see how it unfolds... barring the fact that I did finish Defiance back in the day that is.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review #228: Uncharted - Golden Abyss

 More like 'Unswiped', am I right?
 So, Sony launched the new Vita, and it needed something to sell it, and something that would showcase it's capabilities.  Uncharted Golden Abyss was the answer to both questions(were they even questions?), the 'Uncharted' brand is easily a system seller, and Golden Abyss uses about every single feature of the Vita.

 Golden Abyss takes place before the very first Uncharted, which is probably for the best, and has Nathan teaming up with Sully as well as newcomers Marisa Chase and Dante. The plot is... well, it's your typical Uncharted game, there's a mystery surrounding ancient stuff, Nate is in it for the money at first and then it gets personal. The major villain is caricaturesque, as per usual, but it's the dialogue and the interaction with the supporting cast that really makes Uncharted, well, Uncharted. The dialogue between Nate and Sully is pure gold, and it's great to see Sully before he got 'too old for this stuff', Chase and Dante's is full of colorful banter while Dante and Nate keep taking jabs at each other. Needless to say, the writing for the dialogues is top-notch, up to the series standards, while the plot itself... well, it's your typical Uncharted plot, and as I said before, it's hard to break away from the formula when your main character is supposed to be an explorer.
 With Uncharted on the Vita you get the usual third person shooting and platforming the series is known for. There's a fair amount of shooting segments, platforming segments and even a few puzzles here and there, whether you prefer the shooting or the platforming, I think there's enough here to satisfy both. Now then, there's a few things I liked and a few I disliked about this particular entry, both tied to the new buttonless controls. Every optional feature is OK in my book. You can aim with the right analog stick or by moving the Vita itself, and believe it or not, moving the Vita actually makes precision aiming a bit easier, to fine tune your aim after using the right analog stick. You can also swipe your finger across parkour obstacles to have Nate do them by themselves, it's amusing at first, but I stuck with the buttons for the most part. You can also tap on the back of the Vita to climb ropes, instead of using buttons, which I didn't care for, but it was optional, so I didn't mind. Another cool thing, is that the game has a ton of collectibles, and many of these have touch based mini-games. Like rotating and object and cleaning it by swiping it, or rubbing charcoal over paper, and even a couple of literal puzzles, in which you have to rotate and accommodate the pieces, which is cool, because they are optional. All in all, I'd say this is the Uncharted game with the most collectibles of them all.... but then again, Uncharted 1 and 2 rewarded you with points to unlock cheats, there's no such thing in this one!

 But then there's the mandatory gimmicks. While walking over planks, Nate will most likely lose his balance, requiring you to tilt the Vita sideways to regain it. It wouldn't be an Uncharted game if it didn't rework the melee, and on this fourth iteration, after pressing Square a bunch of times, a touch-based QTE will take place. This was annoying and I could've done without. Also, during some platforming sections Nate will lose his grip and... yes, Touch-based QTE. There's another segment, only one thankfully, that has Nate drop through falling rapids, and you have to move Nate by tilting the Vita. Then there's the much-talked about moment in which you have to hold the Vita against a light source to make letters appear on a parchment. Yeah, it's cute, but say you are on a car, at night, playing... now you can't advance in the game because there's no flippin' light source strong enough nearby! And grenades must be thrown by touching the screen, but this I can forgive since they probably run out of buttons, heh! I'm sure that some people won't mind all of these, but I did. This is supposed to be a handheld game, a game you should be able to play anywhere, but forcing you to tilt around the Vita like a dolt doesn't sound to me like something I'd want to do in public. Everything optional about touch controls is great, but when they become mandatory, that's an issue, at least as far as I'm concerned.
 As far as the game itself goes, it's a blast. It lasts between 8-10 hours, which makes it pretty lengthy. The set pieces aren't as amazing as, say Uncharted 2, but that's not to say that the game doesn't have exciting moments. A lot of the shoot outs are very intense, with some great level design. There's also some great platforming segments that keep the action going even though bullets aren't flying... most of the time. It also keeps the series' trademark bullet sponge enemies, makes you wonder how they can keep moving after having 5-6 bullets encrusted on their bodies! I also suffered a few moments were Nate just slipped out of my control into his death, which once again, kinda comes as a given with Uncharted games. One point of contention is that there's much extra stuff. All the collectibles are neat, and many have descriptions which tie up into the game's story, but there's no cheats, unlockables or multiplayer mode. As if I haven't made it clear, the game is pretty much in-line with the rest of the series, the scope may be a bit smaller, but it's as faithful to the franchise as possible.

 Golden Abyss is gorgeous, plenty of times I found myself, mouth agape, in awe at the beautiful environments and vistas. It's a beautiful game. While the textures aren't as great as Uncharted 1's, I'd say the character models look even better. The polygon count is definitely smaller, but at least they don't look as if they were made out of wax. Music and voice acting are up to the game's usual standards, it sounds just as good as any other Uncharted.
 The most surprising thing about Uncharted: Golden Abyss is that you wouldn't be able to tell that it wasn't made by Naughty Dog if you weren't told so. Everything about the game reeks of quality, in which it matches the main entries of the series. That said, while I feel this is a great game... I also feel like it's not a good portable game. Tilting the console itself, or having to rely on a light source for that one moment just isn't my thing when it comes to a handheld. If I were to rank this one, it easily surpasses Uncharted 1(But then again, I disliked that one) and it almost reaches Uncharted 2.
 8.0 out of 10