Friday, February 24, 2017

Review #375: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D

 The Kong returns... now in 3D!
 A few years ago I played and reviewed Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Nintendo Wii, and you could say that I liked it quite a bit. Turns out it had a 3DS port, and seeing how my biggest pet peeve with the initial release were the motion controls, if this game traded them with proper button inputs... it was bound to be brilliant. But alas, it was not meant to be, not exactly.

 Firstly, a brief description of what the game is for the uninitiated: This is a 2.5D platform game styled after the Donkey Kong games of old(Or rather, the SNES era). You jump, and roll-attack your way through the game, but can also come across a barrel holding Diddy Kong, which works as a few extra hits as well as letting you hover for a while with his jetpack. The game is quite challenging, specially if you factor all the collectibles per level. It's pretty good. A lot of care and love went into bringing Donkey Kong back into modern standards, level design is fantastic and almost every level has its own gimmicks, only to be revisited if to offer a new twist on it.
 So, what's new with this version? There's a 'New Mode' which translates as Easy Mode, Donkey Kong can tank three hits instead of three, and Diddy doubles it up to six hits instead of four. There're more and better power ups for you to buy at Cranky's store as well. It will probably let newer players ease themselves into the game, since later in the game, most deaths will come from bottomless pits or 1-hit-kill obstacles, so it's not an absolute cakewalk. The 3D effect works beautifully with this game, one of the very few games I'd actually recommend playing in 3D.

 And then, what matters most, the new control scheme...s. It would've been too smart to let the player pick and choose what buttons does what, but instead, you've got to choose: Either use the analog stick and X/Y to attack and R/L to grab stuff or use the digital pad and L/R to attack and X/Y to grab.... What? I don't get it, you should've been able to indistinctively use either Digital or Analog pad at a whim, y'see, the analog stick is too imprecise for a platformer on a 2D plane, but I also wanted to use X/Y to attack... What a baffling design choice! Attacking felt unresponsive as well, I think that it's because the attack button also works as the ground-slam, so unless you press the button while moving, you won't attack. I dunno, but on more than one occasion I meant to attack but nothing came out, not even the slam. And I know for a fact that it wasn't my buttons' fault, since they work fine with other games. It might also be because the game now runs at 30FPs instead of 60...
 The game also promises a new world with 8 new levels... but you have to collect every KONG letter in every single stage. No thank you. I already played the Wii version, so... no thanks, I'll pass on that, I've more important stuff than forcing myself to replay levels in order to find all the letters. This was a bad, bad design choice as well, why lock the new content behind busy work? Maybe later down the road I might feel compelled to unlock these levels, but right now I've better stuff to do.

 I'd love to be able to say that this is the definitive version of DKCR, I'd love to say that it fixed the unreliability of the motion controls.... but I can't. The new stuff? Locked behind busywork. The new control scheme? It has its own kinks. If you ask me, I'll stick with the original release, but either version will suffice, as both are great versions of the same great game.
 8.0 out of 10

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review #374: Dillon's Rolling Western

 Rolled me to sleep it did.
 Dillon's Rolling Western is an action/tower defense game that also happens to be pretty boring. It received a lot of publicity ever since it was first released, heck, somehow it managed to earn itself a sequel as well as a cameo in the prestigious Smash Bros franchise.

 Taking the role of Dillon the Armadillo, you must defend 10 different towns from attack. Each town will be under siege by Grocks throughout 3 days and you must stop them. Each day begins with you going out into mines, gathering minerals to fortify the town's walls, repair or equip different towers with weapons to aid you. After a few minutes it will turn dark, and you will have to defeat the Grocks. Towers will either weaken or destroy Grocks that pass through their crosshairs, but you'll have to do most of the work. Bumping into an enemy will take you into a small square arena where you will have to do battle with a few enemies, however, as you partake in these fights, the enemies will still be on the move, so you must be quick and efficient.
 The game is very repetitive and boring. While there are a bunch of different enemy types and ways to deal with them, everything takes a while to perform. After you roll into an enemy, to attack it, you can either grind on them, for bonus drops or perform slash attacks, which are stronger but won't reward you as much. Rolling around through the terrain should've been fun, but it feels like a drag... literally, as 90% of the controls rely on the Stylus. Regardless, the game does attempt to alleviate the tedium, every level introduces something new, be it a new attack, a new enemy or a new item, there's always something new waiting for you.... but it doesn't help! Stages take way too long to complete, Stylus-only controls are gimmicky and the enemy AI is simple.

 You can upgrade your equipment before each day, but equipment breaks frequently, so you must always invest more on upgrades that you lose, which manages to make you feel as if you are never progressing. It's not a fun mechanic, and if all your equipment breaks during a raid, you are all out of luck until you make it to the next day, if you make it to the next day. It will also force you to grind, y'see, unlocking new stages isn't simply a matter of beating the previous stage, you must also score high enough to earn stars. Initially, making it through with three stars out of five will cut it, but the final stage requires at least a four star ranking(assuming you got all threes), so if you are short of stars... you will have to replay another, long, boring stage and hope to make a better score. Idiotic.
 In short, Dillon's Rolling Western isn't very fun and the gameplay leaves something to be desired, but at least it's not an absolute mess of a game. For what it's worth, I think that maybe with some polishing, it could make for a good game, so maybe, maaaaaybe the sequel is a better game.
 4.0 out of 10

Review #373: Moon Diver

 It's a Square-Enix game, so of course it's gotta be presumptuous!
 You could say that I'm a bit of a fan of Strider, particularly Strider II. Moon Diver looked right up my alley, fast-paced, arcadey run-and-slash flashy gameplay. It was the first Digital-only game I felt like I had to had. It was also a disappointing mess that took me around 4 years of playing it sporadically and casually to finish.

 The game offers a 12-level romp as well as a 'chain-kill mode'(Free DLC update) and four playable characters at a base level, as well as Score attack and fifth, overpowered, character as paid DLC. The DLC extras feel a bit... cheap, both as ways to nickel and dime the player(Even if they only amount to two dollars) as well as the overpowered extra character considering how hard the game is.
 The game is fast-paced, that much is true, but it's also very, very repetitive. Enemies take a few hits to go down, and the feedback from your hits isn't satisfying at all. All five characters play more or less the same, but they have different stat growths as they level up, but all of them have the same exact spell-pool to pick from when setting up before a mission, so picking a character is mostly aesthetics. Speaking of stats, every time you level up you'll get a single stat point to invest on HP, Mana and Attack, but, honestly, except magic, increasing my HP and Attack power gave negligible results: Enemies would still take quite a few hits before going down, bosses still had to have their HP chipped away and I would go down in more or less the same few hits.

 The game is meant to be played by four players at the same time. I played the entire game as a co-op duo, and on the latter stages we had a bad, bad time. Anything short of four players will result in a very grindy, unfun experience. It's not a matter of skill when you are peppered with bullets and lasers left, right, front and center and enemies take so many hits to go down. We had to resort to cheeseing the game by exploiting respawns. And the last level is an absolute nightmare that has you fighting every single boss again while going through the same repeated areas. Disgusting.
 Level design is also pretty bad. It's as if they came up with the levels before deciding on how the game would play, as it's pretty easy for your characters to accidentally cling onto walls or ledges you didn't mean to. A game like this should have simple, responsive controls, but oh so many times it felt as if I was fighting the controls as well as the level design. It's not a good game.

 I did not like Moon Diver. I didn't even have fun writing about it. At least I can commend the developers on trying to imitate such a fantastic game as Strider 2, as there aren't many games like it. But the game is plagued with bad level design, clunky controls, repetitive and unsatisfying gameplay and a very unfair difficulty setting. My advice? Stick to Strider 2, stick to Strider, stick to Osman, but forget about Moon Diver.
 2.5 out of 10

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review #372: Tony Hawk's - Proving Ground

 Grey Hawk's Grey Ground.
 This is it, rather, this was it. The last traditional Tony Hawk game ever made before they decided to reboot the franchise with Pro Skater 5. Proving Ground is... more of the same, building upon some of the worst aspects of Project 8 while adding even more mechanics on top of the already plentiful amount that the series has amassed over the years. It's... it's understandable why it underperformed and Activision saw fit to reboot the franchise.

 There're only two main modes: Story and Multiplayer. The multiplayer offering has the usual suspects, so it's not worth delving into that, as it's same old, same old. Single Player is where it's at, however, as it's been the norm since Underground, the story follows your created skater, male only since it seems female characters became too expensive! You are thrust upon a very grey, dull looking open-world-ish city as you skate around looking for missions, which come in four varieties: Career and Hardcore, which are more or less your traditional Tony Hawk objectives, like amassing points or performing certain tricks over certain spots, Rigger, which involve altering the environment and Street, which are the same challenges from Project 8, that have you finding markers on the streets and walls and trying to figure out how to do them. There're also Arcade Machines with let you play the 2-minute, goal-based format from the first games in the franchise.
 There're certainly a whole bunch of stuff to do, but most if it isn't particularly fun. The difficulty follows the same scheme as Project 8, in which you can organically choose the difficulty for each objective by performing different things during the same mission, which is brilliant. Regardless, these missions feel very mundane in nature, with most of the punk-humor from previous games pretty much gone, aiming for realistic objectives, like taking pictures of your tricks. It doesn't help how grey and boring the entire world looks, every 'skate park' lacks personality, soul and color! It's not a fun place to skate around, even Project 8 had more distinctive looking environments.

 The game has also received a whole slew of tiny tweaks. Skaters no longer lean when you hold the X button, which is jarring to say the least, and some controls have been changed in order to make room for the new mechanics, so long time players like myself may find themselves a bit annoyed at first, and, honestly, I don't think the new features were worth changing the controls. The first new addition is the Aggro Kick, done by pressing the R1 button rhythmically in order to build up speed, the game does a poor job at telling you how to perform it correctly, but eventually it becomes rather fun to pull off. L2 is used to hit NPCs, which is rather satisfying as well. 'Nail the Trick' has been expanded into Nail the Grab and Nail the Manual and... I didn't really care about them, but hey, new, easy ways to score points! Lastly, now you can slash-grind pools and carve them as well... and I couldn't care less about these two. Basically, nothing game-changing.
 The video-editing tools have been revamped and expanded upon, if you are into that, for whatever reason, and the create-a-park is back, but relegated to a single area, the Skate Lounge. That said, now you can add ramps and rails at your whim over the entire overworld, however, there's a limit to how many items you can add to the game's world, so you might have to remember where you put what so that you can remove it later down the line if you want to do more modifications. Be wary too, as the game tends to slow down when there's a lot going on at the same time.

 Proving Ground is... not as disappoint as it could've, since it's a follow-up to the already disappointing Project 8. Objectives are dull, the game's world is bland but at least the gameplay is top-notch, thanks to years of building upon what worked, although your mileage may vary on the new additions and tweaked controls. I think Project 8 was slightly more fun since it had a bit more personality, but either way you're better off playing the older games.
 6.0 out of 10

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review #371: Painkiller - Hell & Damnation

 Painkiller, with less levels, less enemies, less framerate and more graphics.
 What was Painkiller? It was a fantastic PC First Person Shooter that harkened back to the era of older FPS game, guns had no ammo clips, circle strafing was the norm and it was all about mowing down hundreds upon hundreds of demons. It was pretty dope, and it's one of my favorite games ever made. Quite a few expansion packs and spin offs would be developed, but they were pretty mediocre or downright bad, probably since, except Battle out of Hell, none of them were developed by the original team. Hell & Damnation doesn't break the trend, it's yet another disappointing attempt at milking everything they can out of the first game.

 While the story picks up after Battle out of Hell ended, the game doesn't contain a single new level, heck, 3 out of the 4 bosses are recycled from the first game. This is never addressed in the game, Daniel simply treads older ground, but doesn't seem to notice. Anyways, Daniel continues to be trapped in limbo, so Death offers him a deal: Gather 7000 souls and have Catherine resurrected. Simple, to the point, it's everything that a game like this needs. That said, I don't remember Daniel being such an immature tryhard prick, he is as unlikable as it gets, not surprisingly being voiced by the guy that voices Duke Nukem.
 First, the good news: This is Painkiller as you know it... more or less. This isn't Half-Life, there're no puzzles to be solved, it's just you, your weapons, and arenas filled to the brim with enemies. There's no regenerating health, but you can find gold souls to restore some health back, or pick up souls from fallen enemies to restore 1 hp a piece. Gathering 66 souls will turn you into an invulnerable demon for a few seconds, allowing you to easily lay waste on your enemies. Fulfilling certain conditions will unlock Tarot Cards, that can be equipped at the cost of some gold coins, found by destroying inanimate objects, that grant you all kinds of extra abilities.

 You are outfitted with only eight weapons, but each has two entirely different functions, so it feels more like eighteen weapons, with a few of them having a third function by pressing both buttons together. Hell and Damnation includes the first game's five weapons, Battle out of Hell's two additional weapons as well as the new Soul Cutter weapon, which is kinda cool... at the cost of the game's Signature weapon: The PainKiller. You seen, using the PainKillers main function, the melee shredder attack, doesn't feel half as satisfying as it once did, back in the original games, you could feel the the crunchy shredding of an enemy's body thanks to the audiovisual feedback, this time around, enemies feel like butter against it, lacking the crunchy sounds or the devastating feedback from before, heck, in order to make the Soul Cutter's main function useful... they had to nerf the PainKillers third attack. Basically, while using the PainKiller used to be fun, now it's disappointing, if I could, I avoided using it, since there was nothing for me in it.
 But let's get into why this fails as a remake: the back of the game's cover boasts that it's a remake of both Painkiller and Battle out of Hell. And it's a shameless lie, Painkiller had about 25 levels, Battle out of Hell added 10 more levels, Hell and Damnation has a paltry 13 levels. THIRTEEN LEVELS out of over 30. Granted, the PS3 version has an additional 14th level, only accessible through Level select. Want to play the missing levels? Gonna have to pony up some extra cash, since they're DLC. Levels have received minor changes, mainly to add the new ammo type for the Soul Cutter, or to accommodate for the new rate at which you acquire the weapons. Also, I'm pretty sure, but can't confirm, some of the enemy types are missing, since I don't remember the original game recycling these many enemy types. Oh, don't worry, you can have more enemy types if you buy the DLC!

 Another way in which this remake takes a hit is in the framerate. Painkiller used to run at a silky 60 fps, but Battle out of Hell runs at 30, with the occasional frame drop when it gets hectic or you use the flamethrower. Lastly, there's a local co-op mode, which makes the framerate suffer even more, as well as online VS modes, if you're into that.
 If you've never played the original Painkiller game, Hell and Damnation may seem like a pretty awesome game. It's a fast-paced, arcadey shooter that favors action over thinking, and emulates older FPS games, before they turned so generic and samey. But, if you have played the original game, then you will know what it's missing. So, it doesn't matter how good the game's foundations are, which are really good, the fact of the matter is that you can get original game at a much cheaper price, and get double the amount of levels. Heck, you can get Painkiller and Battle out of Hell and get everything this game has and more. At a cheaper price. Or you could get Painkiller: Black Edition, which contains everything Painkiller, at a cheaper price. So what if this game has HD graphics, it looks awful for its era and can't even run at a steady framerate. Disappointing.

 If they were gonna go about it this way, a much better idea would've been to make entirely new levels. Don't have the resources, or the will, to translate all the levels from the previous game? Then give us new levels. Sure, they run the risk of falling short of the original, but at least it would've been new content. Why do I want to play this game? I can play the SAME levels, at a faster framerate with the original games. And I get more levels to boot. This is easily the worst way to experience the magnificence that was the original Painkiller. The saddest part about it, is that when it gets down to the brass tacks, this is still Painkiller, it's got the same great gameplay as well as some of the best levels that the franchise has to offer, so at worst, you'll still be able to have a blast with the game... if you decide to get the barest Painkiller package possible.
 6.0 out of 10