Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Review

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: EA
Developer: DICE
Release Date: June 7, 2016

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Mirror’s Edge Catalyst T for teen because of mild language and violence.  This ultra-unique world is quite unlike anything else out there, and while there’s violence, it’s not over the top.  The entire game plays in first-person, however it’s not a shooter, so there are no weapons at your disposal, just your two hands and feet.  I could see some pre-teens really enjoying this and given the subject matter it’s really not much of a stretch to allow them to play it.  That said, really young kids likely wouldn’t be able to come to terms with the complex controls.

Plays Like: If you experienced 2008’s Mirror’s Edge you know exactly what to expect here, with the main difference being Faith’s new adventure is featured within an open world.  You still have access to a wide assortment of Parkour moves, as you make your way through the game’s scripted storyline.

Review Basis: I picked up the Collector’s Edition, which is incredible by the way, and played through the storyline, tackled a wide assortment of dashes, and finished all of the side-missions.  Total play time was around 12 hours or so.

I’ve got to be open about something, I absolutely loved 2008’s Mirror’s Edge, I really did, however I sucked so badly at is.  It’s one of those games that you love to play, even though you aren’t any good at it.  The same is true for Catalyst.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I died while I playing through the game, and yet at no time did it ever become frustrating.  That says something, it means the game comes together in such a way that it remains fun throughout the adventure regardless of your skill level, and that is excellent news because there’s some real fun to be had here.

The Great:

There’s nothing else on the market quite like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.  The game is inspired by the incredible feats of Parkour practitioners.  Faith, the protagonist, can whisk alongside walls, vault over obstacles, and roll to safety from high jumps.  When all of the pieces come together, it’s breathtaking to see and play, because you truly feel empowered to travel anywhere in this open city, however you’d like.  It really is an amazing feeling of freedom.

The Good:

  • The more you play, the better you get.  Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is one of those game where the player’s skill level dramatically improves as they play.  While at first it may seem impossible to run along a wall, leap to another wall, ascend a small obstacle, and then vault over a balcony just to roll land to the questionable safety of a high wire 2,000 feet above street level.  In time, you’ll be doing this and much more with precision you never thought possible.
  • The upgrade system works well, although it feels a little bizarre unlocking some key moves Faith should already have given her skill set from the previous game.  Every time you score 1,000 points you’re able to unlock a new upgrade, which is broken down into movement, combat, and gear trees.  I recommended focusing on movement upgrades first as these allow you to reach your objectives much quicker than your default move list.

  • Freedom to explore and the incredible wealth of collectibles will keep you coming back for more as you get to focus on what the game does best, running, jumping, and using the environment to your advance.  From collecting over 300 gridleaks, to achieving a 3-star rating on the dash missions, there’s enough content here to keep you coming back for a very long time to come.

  • While the city Faith traverses looks quite barren overall, the intricate level design is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  This is extremely evident when you try to hack all of the giant billboards located on some of the tallest buildings in the city.  When you first arrive you’ll scratch your head trying to figure out how the heck do I get up there, only to realize shortly afterwards that if you do X, Y, and Z, you just might be able to make it.  When you finally reach your desired destination, the feeling of accomplishment you get it incredibly rewarding, and the game is littered with these moments, all thanks to the fantastic level design.

  • The animations and overall graphics look very nice and detailed.  Running, jumping, and all other abilities feel spot-on thanks to the little details like the controller vibrating a bit just before you hit the ground from a high jump.  You can almost feel the wind in your hands, which is awesome.

  • The audio is also impressive, beginning with solid voice acting, great musical scores, and fantastic sound effects.

The So-So:

+/- Runner Vision is meant to assist you in showing how to reach your next objective, however I often found it didn’t pop-up quick enough, so there were many moments where I was running along just fine, but then had to stop because I needed to wait and see where I was supposed to go next as it wasn’t overly obvious.  The echo also doesn’t show you the optimal path to follow, which gets annoying when you’re trying to deliver a package or complete a dash challenge.  In those situations I found trial and error to be best, and often would shut off the echo for periods at a time just to ensure I didn’t take the long way to an objective.  A little bit of tweaking could have made this a much better system, such as perhaps being able to upgrade the echo so that its effectiveness was improved over time.

+/- Another element that is sort of a hit or miss is the game’s storyline.  On one hand it doesn’t detract from the gameplay in the least, but it surely doesn’t live up to its potential.  Faith lives in such an incredibly rich and diverse world that the developers could have done so much with the story, and instead it’s clichéd and predictable.  I was truly disappointed by this as I had such high hopes for a sequel that would have dug a little deeper into this near future dystopian city that is controlled by corporations and where people no longer have a voice.  Instead we get something terribly generic.  Such a shame.

The Bad:

  • For everything the game does right with movement, and the fluid nature of the gameplay, the combat feels much less responsive.  I get what DICE was trying to do here, allowing you to use your environment to perform flying wall kicks and things like that, but it never comes together as intended.  The end result is combat feels slow, clunky and stiff, which is directly counter to everything else the game is trying to do.  To make matters worse, there’s a focus meter which once full makes Faith essentially bullet proof, but the only way to fill the meter is by continually moving, however that’s not always an option for some of the combat situation, which drags the game to a halt.

The Lowdown:

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is an incredibly fun game when it fires on all cylinders, however it sputters along at times thanks to some forced combat scenes, and a disappointing storyline.  That said, I’m still a huge fanboy of this universe and I can’t recommend this game enough.  I adore how unique the gameplay is, and I respect DICE for continually trying something new.  Fans of the original game may take some getting used to the open world nature of the game, but I think veterans and newcomers alike will find a lot of fun to be had in this game.

Final Score: 8/10

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review

Odin Sphere ReviewOdin Sphere Leifthrasir (Available on PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware
Release Date: June 7th, 2016

Parent Talk: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (which I’ll refer to as simply Odin Sphere from here on out) is a beautiful 2D action RPG. Originally available on the PlayStation 2, this remastered version has been completely overhauled from the ground up for the PS4. The game has redrawn animations to fit the new 16:9 aspect ratio, refined gameplay, and it even includes a slightly enhanced version of the original game for you purest out there. This is one of the best remasters I’ve ever played, and well worth your time and money.

Plays Like: Odin Sphere plays very much like Princess Crown, a Saturn classic that so few have ever have the honor of playing. In Odin Sphere, You traverse a 2D world exploring beautiful forests, mysterious caverns, and breathtaking mountainsides, all while taking out countless enemies. Each of the five heroes plays completely different from one another. Mercedes has an enchanted bow which makes her portion of the game play something like a shooter, whereas Velvet is more reminiscent of Kratos from the God of War series with her chain attacks. Each character’s story plays out in a storybook, with all stories connected to the larger plot. It’s an incredible 30-hour journey well worth embarking on.

Review Basis: Played through all five campaigns on the PlayStation 4, and polished off all the trophies. Yes sir, this is a game well worth going for the Platinum trophy.

If you’ve never played the original Odin Sphere on the PlayStation 2, do yourself a favor and purchase this game right away on either the PlayStation 4 or the PlayStation Vita as it’s an absolute gem. This remastered version has been completely overhauled, featuring new animations, gameplay tweaks, and it even includes the original version of the game for purists out there.

Odin1The Great:

Seeing Gwendolyn, Cornelius, Mercedes, Oswald, and Velvet again nearly a decade after they made their debut on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007 is a dream come true. Odin Sphere on the PS2 was a brilliant game, but it never lived up to its potential because of tremendous framerate slowdown and other inconsistencies with the combat system. The framerate was by far the game’s biggest problem, but it has been fixed for the remaster and is almost always locked to 60 frames-per-second. The graphics have also never looked as nice as they do here, in beautiful 1080p. The audio is another area that is vastly improved over the original. Trophy hunters will be happy to hear that the Platinum is a fun trophy to strive for and doesn’t require too much backtracking or other silly objectives. Finally I want to touch on the cross play, which is fantastic. There’s nothing like playing this beautiful game on your HDTV while at home, and then uploading your save to the cloud and continuing while you’re on the go. It’s unfortunately not Cross Buy compatible, meaning you need to purchase two copies of the game in order to experience the magic of playing on the go and while at home.

Odin2The Good:

  • The story may not be to all tastes, but I absolutely love the way all five fairytales come together to form one interwoven tale. Characters who may be antagonists in one tale are suddenly protagonists in the next, and only by piecing everything together can you truly finish the narrative. The tone is very whimsical and fantastical, which is what you’d expect from any fairytale. As such most of the twists and turns you’ll see coming a mile away, but for some reason I was hooked from the very beginning all the way through until the end credits. I wasn’t satisfied until I had solved Cornelius and Velvet’s dire situation by attaining the complete ending.
  • Exploration takes place on a 2D field, with new areas connected via branching paths. An extremely useful and detailed map is easily accessible by pressing the tack pad in. The map highlights key items in the current active screen. You will be informed if there’s a treasure chest, a new scroll you have yet to read, a Maury traveling chef bell, or maybe a new piece of equipment.

  • Maury is a chef who travels the world and is your primary source of leveling. Maury takes in recipes you find and converts them to amazing looking meals, if you have the necessary ingredients that is. Recipes are extremely useful for not only Maury’s restaurant, but for alchemy as well. Alchemy allows you to make all kinds of powerful potions that can be used for both offensive and defensive moves. You can throw out a blaze, cyclone, or a volcano eruption to damage enemies, or use an antidote to cure yourself. There are dozens of recipes you can learn and some of the cooking ones reward incredible amounts of experience.

  • The upgrade system is fairly standard fair for today, which allows you to unlock a wide assortment of magical attacks, and passive abilities. These skills are unlocked by using magical orbs enemies drop when they’re vanquished called Phozons. Players also gain skill points as they level up, which are used to unlock extremely useful skills such as being able to earn 20% more experience point from food, to being able to replenish the power meter quicker.

  • Every level in the game is broken up in the same way, there are exploration scenes, combat scenes, rest scenes, a mid-boss, and finally a final stage-ending boss. Each scene, screen, or area, however you’d like to call it, lasts for about a minute or two at most. That includes combat areas, as you’ll often just have to tackle a cluster of enemies all at one time and then you’re ranked on your performance. Depending on how quickly you dispatch enemies, and how high you can raise your combo chain, you can unlock some spectacular goodies. You’re awarded a ranking that determines which extras are granted once the area is cleared. The best rank you can get is an S rank, which always awards you with special Valentine coins, which are used in the Pooka village to purchase special meals, which boost your experience points and help you level up.

  • Speaking of the combat, the new system is much more refined compared to that of the original. The power meter no longer depletes with standard attacks, save for Mercedes, and offensive spells no longer hurt you. These changes fundamentally change the flow of the game, and allow you to play more strategically than ever before.

Odin3The So-So:

+/- The inventory system is a bit restrictive for my liking. If you want to keep every single item drop from enemies, you’re going to have to do a lot of backtracking in order to locate the Resident Evil-style item boxes in order to drop off items. This is especially true for trophy hunters out there as you need to make every food order from Maury’s traveling restaurant in order to get the Platinum.

+/- While the gameplay is spiced up by the inclusion of five unique characters, the gameplay structure remains the same throughout the five different adventures, so by the time you hit the third character, Mercedes, things start to feel a bit repetitive. Fight some baddies, explore a bit, fight a mid-boss, fight more baddies, cook a few new recipes, and then tackle the end boss, repeat the same thing for seven chapters per character and that’s all she wrote.

+/- Cross Buy isn’t commonly associated with retail releases, but I feel this game suffers as a result of this. It’s just such an amazing game to play at home and on the go, that it would have been a wonderful inclusion to have a digital version included with the retail copy of the game on the other system. In other words, if I bought the Vita version physically, it would have been amazing to have had it include a digital download for the PS4 version and vice versa. I can’t take points off for that not being the base, but I surely would have given points had Atlus done that.

Odin4The Bad:

  • One slight missed opportunity is that you can’t play with the original combat system and have the lush new graphics at the same time. It would have been interesting to have had the ability to play the original game with the original combat while enjoying the incredible new presentation. Oh well.
  • The English voice acting is fairly poor, at least in my opinion, but thankfully the Japanese dialogue is present and I highly recommend that’d the way you experience the game.

  • Odin5The Lowdown:

    Odin Sphere on the PlayStation 4 and Vita is a perfect example of how you do a remaster. It features refined gameplay, improved audio visuals, and is everything a fan could have asked for. The Storybook Edition on the PlayStation 4 is also a wonderful Collector’s set including a T-Shirt, beautiful art book, and more. Regardless of which version of the game you purchase, it comes highly recommended.

    Final Score: 9/10

    DOOM Review

    DOOM ReviewDOOM (Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 12
    Genre: FPS
    Publisher: Bethesda
    Developer: id Software
    Release Date: May 13th, 2016

    Parent Talk: I’m going to keep this very short and sweet.  Under no circumstances are you to ever let your children play this game.  It is beyond gory, brutal and mature.  Just don’t let the kids near this one.  It worked very hard to earn that M rating.

    Plays Like: Incredibly DOOM plays very much like the original DOOM, right down to needing to find healing items.  That’s right, no auto-regenerating health here.  You have to earn your health, like you used to have to do years back.  Even the concept is the same, locate the stage’s exit before moving on the next one.  It is an ultra-old concept, but it works perfectly.  Weapons are mostly inspired by the original’s weapons, and that’s excellent since they’re absolutely great fun to use.  There are also new more modern day features that have made their way into the game including being able to upgrade weapons, your armor suit, and more.

    Review Basis: I polished off the campaign and tried some online multiplayer matches.

    DOOM is back!  For those that are old enough to remember the glory day of DOOM, you’ll remember that at its core it was a simple game.  You moved around an open map trying to find keys to access next areas.  Your primary objective was to locate the stage’s exit and move on to the next stage.  It really was that simple.  DOOM and DOOM II were both pioneers of the FPS genre, and will always remain legendary games.  They were followed up with DOOM 3 which was, for its time, the nicest looking videogame ever released.  The problem was those visuals weren’t matched with outstanding gameplay.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love DOOM 3, but you can tell more emphasis was placed on graphics than gameplay.  Today Bethesda has released what amounts to a reboot of the franchise and it takes all the elements that made the original two games great, but doesn’t ignore the technical prowess of the third game.  What you’re left with is a retro-inspired game done right, one of the best games released thus far this year, and a hell of a good time for fans of the genre.

    DOOM1The Great:

    Everything old is new again.  I can’t stress this enough, but this is one of the best retro-inspired videogames ever made.  So let’s start off with what makes DOOM, DOOM.  Gone is the auto-regenerating health all modern first-person shooters use.  Here you have to locate healing items in order to gain lost health.  If you perform a glory kill, which occurs when you melee strike a flashing enemy.  This occurs when they are just about to keel over and die.  Performing a glory kill awards health, and they are absolutely gruesome and in-your-face.  Since it’s one of the easiest ways to get health, you can expect to do this repeatedly and it’s damn satisfying.

    Health is only one aspect though, the very nature of your objectives are reminiscent of the original DOOM.  In essence you’re simply trying to locate the stage’s exit.  Sure there are other objectives scattered around before you do that including locating and destroying key objects, or taking down a central system, or more.  Ultimately though you’ll find yourself searching for a way to move on to the next area.  This is absolutely wonderful as it harkens back to a simpler time.

    DOOM2The Good:

    • The gameplay as a whole is just fantastic.  Sure the levels are linear, but there’s a great sense of verticality to them, well certain levels at least.  One in particular has you climbing to the very top of a giant spire, and the sense of freedom you have is wonderful.  There are 13 stages in total and the whole game can be wrapped up in under ten hours if you just hightail it to the exit, however there are a ton of secrets to be found.
    • The Metroidvania elements, which aren’t very Metroidvania to be honest, are a great way to sink more time into the game.  There’s a wonderful map system that allows you to easily spot where secrets are lying for you to discover, however actually getting to them is often extremely tricky.  I found myself returning to previously completed levels once I had acquired more equipment just because it made exploration that much easier, however I’m fairly certain you can locate all secrets in a level the first time through.
    • Weapons and gear play a big part of the game.  Classic weapons such as the shot gun to the BFG and many more.  Each weapon has two upgrade sockets, well except for the double-barrel super shotgun, which has one upgrade slot.  These upgrades can add different functionality to your weapons including everything form explosive rounds to tracking tech and much, much more.  The chainsaw also returns, however that weapon gets allocated to its own face button for quick use and doesn’t feature an upgrade slot, much like the BFG.
    • Exploration is rewarded.  Every stage not only features a wide assortment of hidden goodies for you to try and collect, which often reward you with a weapon upgrade point, which can then be used to expand a weapon’s ability to hold more ammunition, etc. but each stage also features three challenges.  These range from everything like performing five unique glory kills on a specific type of demon to locating a set number of secrets.  You can also locate special armor suit enhancements that make you a better killing machine if you explore the stages enough, which is how I got addicted to doing so.
    • If all the action and gunplay weren’t enough, the soundtrack is absolutely awesome.  It’s non-stop heavy metal which gets your adrenaline pumping like no tomorrow.  I didn’t really have any expectations for DOOM, and it just blew me away.
    • Graphically the game is stunning and all of the legendary enemies are back, but look better than ever before.  It’s just incredible how well the environments, animations, design, and effects come together.  I was honestly impressed from the opening all the way to the end credits, and even those credits managed to impress me as the developer did something very special with them.
    • Before moving on to what some might find disappointing, I should mention there is a semblance of a story here, but I found it existed only to give you justification for being where you were and why you were hunting down hell spawn.  I won’t go into detail of the story here but it has to do with a link between Mars and hell.

    DOOM3The So-So:

    +/- About the only negative thing I can say about DOOM is that it is a tad repetitive in that every new area will always have a breakout battle sequence before some more exploration and fighting.  It’s extremely cyclical, although I found it never got boring, just predictable.

    +/- The multiplayer is fun in short bursts.  Don’t expect a Call of Duty replacement here.  You can expect a few simple modes that are best enjoyed in small doses.  There’s Soul Harvest, Freeze Tag, Warpath, Domination, Team Deathmatch, and Clan Arena.  Most of these are extremely simple, but again, they’re fun to play.

    DOOM4The Surprise:

    • I’ve never done something like this before in a review for a new game, but I want to introduce a new element to the reviews called The Surprise.  DOOM features one element that really surprised me, Snap Map.  Forget about multiplayer, this is where the future of this game lies.  Snap Map is a gameplay mode that allows you to quickly creature maps for either single player or multiplayer.  The interface is quite intuitive and the community creations thus far have been nothing short of incredible.  One person created a MOBA out of this mode, which is incredible.  Give this mode a try and you just might be playing DOOM for months to come.

    DOOM5The Lowdown:

    Hands down my single favorite feature of DOOM is the return to form.  While DOOM 3 looked incredible, I always felt like that didn’t belong to the series as it felt so different.  It was creepy as hell sure, but the original games were something else.  This game matches that original feeling perfectly.  It’s a fantastic videogame that comes highly recommended and when you throw in the Snap Map mode, I can see people playing this bad boy for a very long time to come.

    Final Score: 9.2/10

    Valkyria Chronicles Review

    VCValkyria Chronicles Remastered (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    Publisher: SEGA
    Developer: SEGA
    Release Date: May 17th, 2016

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Valkyria Chronicles Remastered T for Teen, ages 13 and up.  It was rated as such because of mild animated blood, mild suggestive themes, the use of tobacco, and violence.  The game takes place during a fictitious world war, and it doesn’t hold anything back in terms of who lives or dies.  The game does a superb job of showing just how war affects and ruins people’s lives.  That being said, it’s not overly realistic so the warning is rather accurate.

    Plays Like: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered doesn’t play like many other games out there.  It’s a cross between a third-person shooter and a hardcore strategy RPG.  It’s all wrapped up in a beautiful package.

    Review Basis: SEGA was kind enough to send over a digital review code for us to play through, and I did just that.  Having played through the original on the PS3, it was nice to revisit this classic game.

    Back in late 2008 SEGA released a strategy RPG that was so unlike anything else out at the time.  It featured stunning graphics, killer gameplay, and a beautiful story with a world war backdrop.  It was powerful, addicting, and challenging, and now almost a decade later, they’re re-releasing Valkyria Chronicles for the PlayStation 4.  I can tell you now, if you missed it the first time around, this is an incredible game that has aged perfectly and is well worth playing.

    VC1The Great:

    The gameplay is exceedingly addicting.  Before starting a mission players have to select which troops to deploy.  There are a total of five classes you can select, Scout, Shock Trooper, Lancer, Engineer and Sniper.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and some classes are much more effective on certain missions compared to others, so it’s wise to mix and match based on the intel you receive for the upcoming mission.

    Once your troops are deployed, that’s where the game’s unique gameplay really shines.  At the start of a player’s turn, all troops are displayed as icons on a large map, and at the very top of the screen there are Command Points (CP) displayed, these are represented by golden medals.  Each class requires one CP to activate, however the tank requires two.

    Once you select your unit the camera zooms in to a traditional third-person shooter view, where you can actually move your unit.  Each unit can only move a certain amount based on their Action Points (AP).  That means you can take a Scout for example and race on ahead to see which enemies lay in wait.  Some of the stronger units like the Shock Trooper or Lancer don’t have as many AP and therefore are unable to move quite as far.

    Once you spot an enemy, you can go ahead and engage in combat.  This system isn’t based on points, but rather on your ammo.  Each unit can fire only a select number of times per turn.  This is why it’s so important to ensure you match your units correctly.  In other words, don’t have a Scout go up against a Shock Trooper or that will not end well for the Scout.  You don’t need to always engage in combat either, healing, or repairing your tank all work exactly the same, one action per turn.  Once you’re done with a unit, you end that turn and move on to the next unit until you have exhausted all of your Command Points, and then it’s the enemies turn to proceed.  It is extremely simple to get into, but let me tell you, it takes a very long time to master.

    VC3The Good:

    • The minor details add up.  You learn very early on that terrain is important, and so too is unit placement.  Some units have a natural affinity to grass, earth, etc. and by ensuring said unit is in their desired spot ensures you will have an advantage, or what the game calls Battle Potential and Personal Potential, basically special abilities.  As time goes by units will even develop bonds for one another, making them stronger as a pair, both defensively and offensively.
    • Taking cover will save your life.  I can’t stress how important it is to crouch down behind sandbags, or position your units behind wood fences, behind the tank, or other areas of cover.  When it’s time for the enemy to move, you can bet they will single out the lone unit that is unprotected.  If your units fall in combat, you have three turns to reach them for an emergency evacuation, or else they’ll be dead for good.  You have a reserve of about 20 units, but still, you form bonds with these troops and won’t want to let anyone die.
    • You unit base can be used to call forth new units in the event your troops fall and battle or are being healed by the evacuation team.  This is extremely important to remember as you don’t want to be at a disadvantage while in battle.  Be warned though, calling in new units uses up Command Points.

    VC5+ Each missions is unique, forcing you to think on your feet.  You might have to take out an enemy leader, take over a base, and wait a set number of turns for reinforcements to arrive, or clear out mines so your tank can make its way to an enemy base.  There are countless ways the game throws curveballs at you in what appear to be simple missions.  What I really enjoyed was how simple strategy RPG mission-types like the ones I mentioned all feel incredibly fresh and unique here because of the fantastic gameplay.

    • The unique gameplay all comes together in a very unique way.  The entire game takes place within a storybook.  Players view each chapter as a mix between cutscenes and gameplay.  I absolutely loved this as it makes the game feel incredibly unique.  The storybook allows players to easily navigate through the campaign, but also allows access to other areas of interest including Skirmishes, Training Field, R&D Facility, and more.  Each of these is used for a different purpose.  Skirmishes are missions where you can build up experience and money.  Experience can then be used in the Training Filed to level up your classes.  One of the best features of Valkyria Chronicles is that you don’t level up single units, but rather the whole class, meaning all characters under that class will all level up together.  Money is used in the R&D Facility to purchases upgraded weapons, armor, and tank parts.
    • The story is just fantastic.  Valkyria Chronicles oozes charm at every corner, and while some of the voice acting can be a little stiff at times, the story is always riveting.  The story deals with a small country trying to prevent a military superpower from invading and stealing a special resource that fuels virtually everything from weapons to medical supplies.  You take on the role of a military strategies who is trying to push back the enemy and even though you’re in the militia and not the grand military, you’re still doing your part.  That’s what makes the story so captivating, you’re essentially a group of townspeople that are doing what they feel it right by protecting their homeland.  The greater world war conflict going on outside their country is no stranger to them, and once the ravages of war are at their home front, they’ll do anything to save the people they love.  Wrapped inside this intriguing tale is one where a couple slowly starts to fall in love, which may seem a bit cliché, but ultimately it comes together in a very powerful way.
    • The audio visual presentation is phenomenal.  This game looked amazing on the PlayStation 3, and now in 1080p 60 frames-per-second it looks even better.  It looks incredible.  There are no technical hiccups whatsoever, from the smooth framerate, to the lush graphics, it all comes together in a beautiful package.  The art design alone is amazing, from the painting-like atheistic to the little touches like seeing burr written on the tank tracks as it moves along.  It’s wonderfully put together.  The audio is even better than on the PS3.  There’s something about the PS4 that really makes games sound incredible, and that’s no different here.  The soundtrack is sweeping and powerful, and the audio effects are exactly as they should be.  Overall this game has it all.

    VC2The So-So:

    +/- The AI can make a few questionable moves at times.  For the most part they will take advantage of every mistake you make, however at other times they’ll pass on an incredible opportunity to destroy you.  Here’s an example, my tank only had two shots worth of life left in it, and the enemy knows that, just like you know how much life enemies have.  Instead of using all of their Command Points to finish me off, they spent them moving around the map.  That foolish move allowed me to position an Engineer near the tank and repair it back to full health.  That never would have happened against a live player.

    VC4The Lowdown:

    I’ve played a lot of Strategy RPGs in my day from Fire Emblem to Shining Force, and I can say without hesitation that Valkyria Chronicles is one of the very best I’ve ever played.  This remastered version should be purchased by everyone even remotely interested in the genre.  As a matter of fact I would recommend even those that dislike the genre give this one a try as it has such wide reaching appeal.  It’s an incredible videogame and a true achievement SEGA should be very proud of.

    Final Score: 9/10 

    Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review

    Uncharted 4 Review Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Available exclusively for the PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
    Developer: Naughty Dog
    Release Date: May 10th, 2016

    Parent Talk: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has been rated T for teen, due to blood, language, tobacco, use of alcohol, and violence.  As with the rest of the series, A Thief’s End features violence, but not overly gruesome like you’d find in an M-rated game.  The puzzles can be a bit much for younger players, but with enough persistence they should be able to figure out how to solve these brain teasers.  Given the amount of action in the game though, the T rating is spot on.

    Plays Like: The Uncharted formula has been the same since the very first game, explore, solve puzzles, and take out hordes of enemies.  Wrap all of that in a beautiful package, and a strong narrative and you know what you’re getting into.  This time around the action is tighter than ever before, stealth can be used to great effect, and the story is the best the series has ever seen.

    Review Basis: Sony sent us a review code prior to the launch of the game, and I completed the single player story on Hard mode within three sittings.  I will be waiting for the servers to go live in order to review the multiplayer portion.

    U4_2This is it ladies and gentlemen, the final Uncharted game.  Boy what a ride it has been.  During the PlayStation 3 generation, the Uncharted series was my personal favorite new franchise introduced, and having it wrap up like this is an absolute dream.  I couldn’t have imagined a better way to send off Nathan, Sully, Elena, and the rest of the crew.  This game will go down in history as nothing short of a masterpiece.  It is hands down the best game of the current generation, and well worth purchasing a PlayStation 4 for.  This review is simply here to confirm what you had hoped, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is amazing.

    U4_1The Great:

    Everything old is new again.  Naughty Dog is one of the world’s top developers for a reason, they take what worked well previously, and always find new ways of making it fresh again.  The same can be said for Uncharted 4.  Keep in mind that Naughty Dog just came off the success of The Last of Us, and could have very easily made Uncharted 3.5, but instead they went all out making A Thief’s End their grand opus.  The core gameplay structure remains the same as the rest of the series, explore your environment for hidden treasure, and as a means to move on to the next area.  Environments are always vast and open, although linear by design.  There is almost always only one way to proceed, which allows the narrative to remains focused.  The same witty banter you’ve grown accustomed to from Nate is prominently featured and will have you laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

    U4_3After you’re finishing exploring, you often stumble onto a new puzzle to solve or large action set pieces break out.  Puzzles are often challenging, without being punishing.  There are a few that will leave you scratching your head, but with a little ingenuity, you should be fine.  As for the combat, it feels so much more refined than any of the previous games in the series, and for good reason.  Naughty Dog has learned a lot over the past decade.  The same cover-based gameplay is here, however stealth mechanics have been greatly improved.  While this isn’t meant to be Metal Gear Solid, you can now hide in tall grass, perform vertical stealth takedowns, and use the newly introduced grappling hook in order to move from one cover to a far-reaching cover on the other side of the map.  This is important too as most of the available cover is destructible and won’t last long, particularly on the higher difficulty settings.  It’s also possible to mark enemies so you can see their location while in cover, another extremely useful tool on the more challenging gameplay modes.

    You can also see The Last of Us’ influences almost everywhere.  During key exploration scenes the NPC following you will have a communication prompt appear which usually fleshes out their backstory a bit, or gives more context to their current feelings or situation.  There are also areas where things slow down to a walk, where the characters get to talk to one another, and this also gives the player the chance to take in the scenery, which is just incredible.

    U4_4The audio visual presentation is absolutely amazing.  This is by far the nicest looking game running on the PlayStation 4.  The environments are gorgeous and massive, and even the little touches like how nature has slowly taken over a crumbling building, or how animals traverse some hidden city, are a sight to behold.  The game runs consistent throughout, even with a ridiculous amount of special effects from all of the explosions and whatnot happening.  The audio is superb too, and not just in terms of music, but also the sound effects and dialogue.

    The entire game comes together in such a way that I often found myself often just sitting back taking it all in.  Combat can be challenging, but never frustrating or unfair, exploration is always rewarding, and the new dialogue options are a great way for you to help mold conversations in the direction you see fit.  They don’t change the overall narrative, but they add an element of nostalgia to many of the cutscenes.

    U4_5Speaking of nostalgia, the first three chapters of the game do a fantastic job of reminding you why you loved this series to being with, while at the same time introducing you to a brand new tale, one that combines Nathan’s past with his future.  This time around Nathan is out to find the long lost treasure of Henry Avery, and the mystery of a lost pirate city where there could potentially be hundreds of millions of dollars in long lost gold.  Without giving away spoilers, there is so much more to this apparently simple tale.  From betrayal to the true meaning of love, A Thief’s End has something here for everyone, and acts as a wonderful closing chapter for an incredible cast of characters.

    Naughty Dog has even gone way beyond the call of duty in terms of nostalgia, not only for reminding fans of the previous three games, but also a bit about Naughty Dog’s legacy as a whole.  When you discover this gem for yourself, you can’t help yourself but smile.  In many ways it represents Naughty Dog’s legacy, and reverts this review back to what I was saying at the beginning, everything old is new again.  While Uncharted 4 doesn’t rewrite the book on combat, exploration, or puzzle solving, it comes together in such a way that you can’t help but be impressed.

    U4_6The Lowdown:

    Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is not only the best Uncharted game to date, it is also one of the finest videogames ever made.  It ends one of gaming’s best franchises, and while I have no doubt this will be the last Uncharted game made by Naughty Dog, I can’t help but feel this isn’t the last time you’ve heard the name Nathan Drake.  Ladies and gentlemen, do yourself a favor and go buy this game right away and experience the masterpiece that is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. 

    Sic Parvis Magna – Greatness from Small Beginnings.

    Final Score: 10/10

    Ratchet and Clank Review

    Ratchet and ClankRatchet and Clank (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating:
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action Platformer
    Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
    Developer: Insomniac Games
    Release Date: April 12th, 2016

    Parent Talk: The EBRS rates Ratchet and Clank E10+ for everyone over ten. They site animated blood and fantasy violence as the reason for the official rating. This game can easily be played by children as the storyline, action, and overall setting aren’t overly dark. In fact this is the perfect type of game to play with your children as you’ll both get a kick out of it.

    Plays Like: Ratchet and Clank spring into action on the PS4 much like they originally did on the PS2, with action platforming greatness. Instead of just platforming, you also have access to a wide assortment of wacky weapons, which make the action as humorous as it is fun.

    Review Basis: Completed the game in two sittings, and Sony provided us with a review code.

    Let’s get this out of the way right here, this is a reimagined, reworked, and incredibly enhanced version of the 2002 game of the same name, Ratchet and Clank. It’s not an entirely new game, but it has been completely reworked, and stands as a fantastic way of reintroducing a franchise for an entirely new generation of gamers. It’s one of the most beautiful platformers you will ever lay your eyes upon, and if you’re a fan of the franchise, this one is ridiculously easy to recommend.

    Ratchet and Clank1The Great:

    Same excellent gameplay you’ve come to expect. Whether you’ve completed every game in the series a dozen times, or are jumping in for the very first time, Ratchet and Clank features excellent platforming, and crisp and precise action. The original is called a masterpiece for a reason, and now everyone can experience an enhanced version of the game playing better than ever before. Weapons new and old are featured, and they all have that classic Insomniac feel. Whether it’s the Groovitron, or the Pixelizer, you’ll be in for a laugh with just about every available weapon. The classic weapon upgrade system returns as well, allowing you to power-up your weapons to ridiculous levels. As always, the weapons are designed in such a way that you can focus only on the ones that match your play style. There are also a wide assortment of items you can find that make progression easier, and thanks to the context-sensitive item points, which automatically equip items you need.

    Planet swapping and exploration are still highly rewarded. How else are you going to find RYNO design plans? Levels still feel a bit restrictive, and that’s where you can tell the origins of the game stem from the PlayStation 2 era, however the levels are large and offer countless opportunities for backtracking thanks to new found items. There’s also a nice level of vertical exploration to each level which give way to gold bolts, which are hidden in some really creative places. These allow you to activate some fun cheats, and not to mention complete that ever so important trophy list. Speaking of trophies, this is a nice game to platinum for fans of trophies and Ratchet and Clank as a whole.

    Ratchet and Clank2The Good:

    • Nice variety of objectives. From taking down warships, to more puzzle-centric areas, and massive third-person action levels, there’s so much stuff to do, and it never feels repetitive. The game is perfectly balanced in terms of content so you always feel like you’re making progression, even if you’re backtracking to locate the two missing gold bolts from that planet you rushed through.
    • This series has always been known for its incredible charm, and the same is true here. Captain Quark is retelling the story of how he first met Ratchet and Clank, and how he embellishes the facts, or comments on your actions are absolutely hilarious. I had a smile on my face throughout the adventure. All of the characters are witty, charming, and fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • The visual presentation is outstanding. I was absolutely floored by what I was seeing on the screen. Yes it’s true the game runs at 30 frames-per-second in 1080p, instead of 60 fps, but it’s just so beautiful that I can’t knock it for that. The worlds are packed with life, unlike virtually all other games in this current generation of videogames. Just standing in one spot and looking around is a delight because of everything moving around you at all times. Characters animate beautifully, are fully textured, and the game has more color than 99% of the games released on the PlayStation 4. When I think videogame, I think of games like this.

    • Like all PS4 games, Ratchet and Clank sounds incredible in lossless surround sound. The PS4 pumps out incredible audio, and it’s evident with Ratchet and Clank. Each stage is brimming with life, and you can hear all of that through your surround speakers. The sound effects, spoken dialogue, and special effects all sound amazing.

    Ratchet and Clank3The Bad:

    • I surely won’t take points off for this, but it’s worth mentioning. Ratchet and Clank is really a technologically advanced version of the original 2002 R&C game, more so than anything else.  Don’t expect a new game and you won’t be disappointed.

    Ratchet and Clank4The Lowdown:

    Ratchet and Clank is a fantastic recreation of the dynamic duo’s first adventure together. While there are certainly areas where you can see the 2002 origins, but the love and attention to detail that went into this game make it well worth experiencing. Developers do not make games like this anymore, so we need to band together and appreciate when we’re given gems like this. It’s absolutely worth purchasing and experiencing the charm all over again.

    Final Score: 9/10

    MLB The Show 16 Review

    MLB16MLB The Show 16 (Available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Sports
    Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
    Developer: SCE San Diego Studios
    Release Date: March 29, 2016

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates MLB The Show 16 E for everyone.  While The Show 16 is a realistic baseball simulator, there’s no foul language, violence, or anything else that could be offensive to young children.  That said, very young children may have a hard time understanding all of the gameplay nuances that make this such a great baseball game.  Parent and child together both taking turns is the ideal way of bringing the big game home.

    Plays Like: This series has been going on for the past decade and has only gotten better with each iteration.  This year is no different.  The Show 16 is a super realistic depiction of baseball in videogame form, albeit with some excellent arcade-style inspirations and gameplay modes thrown in for good measure.  What truly makes this franchise shine though is the Road to the Show mode itself, where you rise through the ranks of the minor leagues with your dream of eventually hitting it big and making into the majors.

    Review Basis: Sony sent us a review code for the PS4 version prior to release, and this review is based on that review code, however we delayed the review until shortly after the release date in order to see how the servers held up and the day one patch was released to add in all of the different gameplay modes that were inaccessible during the review period.

    MLB16_5MLB The Show 16 is the eleventh game in Sony’s The Show franchise.  It’s hard to believe it has been has been that long.  I remember it like yesterday when I saw Big Papi, David Ortiz on the cover.  Back then in 2006 the game was released on both the PSP and the PS2 and it blew my mind how well put together the game was.  Fast forward to today and we have The Show 16, and the series is better than ever before.  It’s been refined to the point where it’s just as fun to watch as it is to play.  This year’s game hits the PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3, yes the PS3 is still getting new games ladies and gentlemen.  Sadly the Vita didn’t make the cut this year, which we’ll get to a little later on.  If there’s one sports game you should really play this summer, it’s this one.

    MLB16_1The Great:

    The Road to the Show mode has always been a highlight, but this year San Diego Studios has gone all out.  This year there’s a scout day where your batting, catching, and other drills are measures and reported on.  From there you get drafted, and start your long road to superstardom, or at least you sure hope for the stars.  Along the way you level your character up in a wide assortment of stats where they slowly but surely become a force to be reckoned with.  On top of that, you can also unlock passive and consumable perks which grant you a wide assortment of abilities which can make hitting that home run a tad easier.  Perks serve a lot of other uses as well, because they allow you to strategize your plays.  So while they certainly make things easier, ultimately you still have to make the play, which means you’re never handheld and feel rewarded when you manage to get a home run when bases were loaded.

    MLB16_2The Good:

    • ShowTime is excellent.  ShowTime is a feature where essentially the game slows down allowing you to throw the ball to a baseman with perfect precision.  It enhances those big game moments, and is a fantastic addition.  I should point out that this feature as well as perks are completely optional, and can only be used in Road to the Show mode.  So if you want to experience a 100% simulation baseball game you can certainly do so, but I found these elements made the game that much more fun.
    • Franchise mode players’ have a new rating system that’s affected by realistic outcomes, plays, and emotions.  It makes trades extremely complex because now you have to think of the morale behind each player.  For example what are existing contracts, how is the team performing, and how far is the player from hometown.  Little details like this make decisions extremely challenging because the angrier a player gets, the more their stats take a hit.  This is all without mentioning all of the stats that are tracked, which I can sum up as, everything you can possibly think of.

    • The attention to detail is stunning.  The new graphics’ engine is fantastic.  Stadiums look better than ever before, and lighting is superb and causes reflections to look more realistic than ever.  Players look more lifelike, animations are crisp yet fluid, and textures are the best they’ve ever been.  The way players move and position themselves is so much more lifelike than ever before, that my significant other actually thought I was watching a baseball game at one point.

    • Following up on the attention to detail theme, the menu system has been completely reworked so this year you can play an entire series, including being able to level up your character, without having to traverse back out to the main menu.  This means you spend more time actually playing the game than navigating menus.

    • Gameplay modes worth playing.  Diamond Dynast has been completely overhauled, but works the same as before.  You collect cards to fill up the roster of your fantasy team of your dreams.  There are also other returning modes including Home Run Derby, Postseason, Play Now, Challenge of the Week, and Practice Mode.

    • There are two brand new modes in The Show 16, starting off with Battle Royale.  Battle Royale has you draft a team and head online to win as many one-on-one matches as possible.  There are 25 rounds, and you get to select one random player per round, although players are assigned a rank, and you can’t have more than a certain number of each rank.  This prevents you from essentially creating an unstoppable monster of a team.   Games are three innings long, however players will react accordingly.  In other words pitchers will tire extremely fast compared to regular games.  Joining Battle Royale mode costs in-game currency, and if you lose twice you’re out.  This enhances the strategy you need to use for each trade you want to make in this mode.

    • Conquest mode is the second new mode featured in The Show 16 and works like a turn-based strategy game where you try and take over the country by winning games, and fans.  You can allocate fans to specific regions to make them friendlier, which in turn makes winning easier, although I didn’t really notice that.

    MLB16_3The Bad:

    • Sony has publically stated they will no longer release first party games on the PlayStation Vita, but it’s still sad to see.  The little portable never really had much of a chance to shine before it was shelved.  This is extremely evident this year as the PlayStation 3 received a port of The Show 16 while the Vita didn’t.  Sadness.

    MLB16_4The Lowdown:

    MLB The Show 16 is a fantastic baseball game, but better still is the fact that it’s just a great videogame all around.  From the improved graphics, to the great gameplay additions and new gameplay modes, The Show 16 is a game you’ll be coming back to for a long time to come.  If you enjoy baseball, this one comes highly recommended.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Review

    FEFire Emblem Fates: Birthright (Available Exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Developer: Intelligent Systems
    Release Date: February 19th, 2016

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright T for teen because of animated blood, fantasy violence, and suggestive themes. I’ve personally been playing this series since the early 90’s, and it’s truly not a damaging game for young audiences. There is violence to be sure, but there’s no gore, and the violence is completely fantasy-based. Even the suggestive themes are mild at best.

    Plays Like: The Fire Emblem series hasn’t changed very much in the twenty plus years its been around, it remains a strategy RPG at its very core, regardless of how many new gameplay mechanics are thrown into the mix. This means you move your characters around a grid-based map taking out enemy units. Each character class has pros and cons and by properly taking advantage of your units you can destroy your opponents.

    Review Basis: I purchased the Special Edition at launch, and played through Birthright. To give myself an extra challenge I played on Normal, and on Classic. This means if a character dies, they’re dead for good, which has been a staple of the series since day one.

    I’m a longtime fan of the Fire Emblem series, having started with the series back in 1990 when the original game hit the Famicom and all the way through to this very day. I always enjoyed the chess-like gameplay a strategy or tactical RPG has to offer. Fire Emblem Fates is especially special in that there are actually three different versions of the game out there, Conquest, Revelation, and Birthright. Today we’re going to be talking about Birthright, which is actually the easiest of the three games. So let’s jump in and see what makes this game tick.

    FE2The Great:

    I’m sure I will say the same thing for the other parts, but Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is an incredible game to play. The gameplay is absolutely spot-on. You move your units across a grid-battlefield in order to successfully complete objectives. Each chapter has a specific objective, but unfortunately Birthright stumbles in this category, which I’ll discuss later on. The gameplay is where it’s at though. The legendary weapon triangle has returned although it’s slightly changed now. Swords and Magic have an advantage over Axes and Bows. Axes and Bows have an advantage over Lances and Hidden Weapons. Lances and Hidden Weapons have an advantage over Swords and Magic. To make things ultra-simple the triangle is also color-based, red has the advantage over green, green over blue, and blue over red.

    As you level your units up, not only do they become more powerful, but they also learn skills such as counter attack. Each unit can hold a maximum of six skills. It’s also possible to change classes, of which there are many, if you happen to locate a specific class-changing item. Classes can also be advanced to a stronger class, for example a ninja can become a master ninja, and so on. The support system, first introduced in Fire Emblem: Binding Blade, which was unfortunately never released outside Japan, and is on the Game Boy Advance. Character build bonds based on whether they fight side-by-side with one another. Characters that form strong support for one another can use special items in order to change classes that reflect this bond. That’s nothing to mention the stronger characters support one another, the better they fight alongside each other. Then there’s the weapon system, which can change a very weak character into a powerhouse if they increase their weapon rank from E to S. There’s so much depth here it’s just incredible.

    FE1The Good:

    • I really enjoyed the storyline in Birthright, and I can’t wait to jump back into the other two game and see all the differences. You play as Corrin, either a male or female, who lives in Nohr with her loving family. Her father, an absolute monster of a man, is hell-bent on the destruction of Hoshido, the neighboring kingdom. I really don’t want to spoil any of the storyline, but needless to say things are not as they appear, and after the sixth chapter the player has to make a very important choice, and this is ultimately what separates the three different versions of Fire Emblem Fates. Players have to decide if they stay with their family in Nohr, defend Hoshido, or decide to veer off on their own. If you purchase Birthright on its own, your choice is made for you, you will defend Hoshido, if you purchase Conquest, you’ll side with Nohr, and if you purchased the Special Edition and play Revelation, you will decide to stand on your own. Revelation is available as a downloadable game from the Nintendo eShop for those who weren’t lucky enough to snag the Special Edition. Whichever game you decide to pick, the story unfolds based on the choice you made during this pivotal moment.
    • The 3DS, much like the DS before it, is perfectly well suited for this genre. The bottom screen displays your projected battle outcomes and percentages of achieving a critical strike, as well as displaying the map and the location of all the units.

    • Units selection is fantastic allowing you to select between archer, cavalier, knight, paladin, ninja, monk, and countless others. Selecting which units to bring with you into battle is the key element in Fire Emblem because you have to balance all of the different gameplay elements I mentioned above. Do you bring in your most powerful units all the time, and let the others stay at a low level? Doing so could put you at a serious disadvantage later on when specific classes have advantages over your mighty few. Thankfully Birthright eases players into things by allowing them to scout for challenges, which essentially allows you to grind levels. It’s entirely possible to max out each unit to level 20, then use a Master Seal to promote said unit to their advanced class, think cavalier to knight, and then level that class to 20 and get another seal to boost it to 25. If you take the time to do this for each of your units you will be virtually unstoppable.

    • Outside combat you’ll spend a lot of your time customizing your castle. Not only will you decide where to play your armory, jail, and all manner of other buildings, but this is where you’ll develop bonds with the different characters. Eventually you can even marry and have children, which causes new events to take place throughout the game. While in your castle hub you can purchase accessories for all of your troops which gives them stat buffs, and you can even fortify your castle with powerful armaments. You can even purchase permanent stat boosts by making statues of each specific unit. All around there’s a wealth of things you can do while not in combat.

    • A great start for newcomers. There are three core difficulty settings you can choose from, Normal, Hard, and Lunatic, and these control the strength of the enemies you face. Then there’s the whole permadeath subject, which is what most people dislike about Fire Emblem as a whole. On classic, it’s enabled, meaning if a unit dies, they’re gone for the duration of the game. Casual brings fallen units back once the chapter is complete, and finally Phoenix mode brings them back after their next turn. This is by far the most forgiving mode to play the game on, but if you’re seriously stuck, by all means go ahead and give it a try in Phoenix mode.

    • DLC isn’t mandatory for any of the Fire Emblem Fates games, but it’s certainly worth it. Not only do you get to play through some great maps, have a chance to level some of your characters, but you also get access to some extremely rare weapons, which can make certain units almost god-like in power. There’s a mixture of free and paid DLC for those interested and it’s accessible through the standard ‘next battle’ menu upon leaving the castle.

    The So-So:

    +/- I didn’t find the intimate moments all that special, and to be honest they come across as cheesy more often than not. You’re supposed to use the microphone to blow away steam from another character’s face, or caress your lover’s face so they wake up, things like that. It just comes across as bizarre to me. Most of these scenes were censored compared to what you were able to do in the Japanese version.

    +/- The dialogue can also be a bit cheesy. While the story itself is great, and there are moments where you will truly feel sorry for what happens, often times the dialogue gets in the way of some of the more romantic moments.

    +/- While I love the story, I can’t help but notice there are plot holes absolutely everywhere, which I can’t go into detail about for fear of spoiling the game.

    The Bad:

    • While I understand Birthright was designed for people just getting into the Fire Emblem series, I find it can leave a bad taste in your mouth because the mission variety just isn’t there. This entire game is essentially broken up into two segments, destroy all the enemies, and defeat the boss. There might be one or two extra objective types but in the 27 missions, virtually every single one was one of these two types and that ultimately gets repetitive.   I’m sure new players would have appreciated more diverse objectives.

    FE3The Lowdown:

    Fire Emblem was one of the pioneers of the strategy RPG genre, and it’s incredible that after 26 years the series is better than ever before. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is a great entry point for anyone looking to see what all the fuss is about, and for longtime veterans, it’s a great story to experience before you jump into the harder games. Having three games to play in this wonderful installment is a delight, and I can’t recommend the game enough. It’s worth buying a 3DS for it’s that good.

    Final Score: 9.3/10

    Final Fantasy Explorers Review

    FFE Final Fantasy Explorers (Available exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Square-Enix
    Developer: Racjin & Square-Enix

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Final Fantasy Explorers E10+, for everyone over 10 years of age. The content warning includes alcohol references, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. Honestly I wouldn’t worry about the content whatsoever. If someone can understand the class system, and how quests work, they should be able to enjoy everything this game has to offer. There is a lot of information this game throws at you, and children younger than ten may find it hard to come to terms with everything.

    Plays Like: Imagine if you took the gameplay from the Monster Hunter series and infused it with Final Fantasy fan-service, and that’s what Final Fantasy Explorers is. You take on quests from a central hub, head out into the wild and hunt down a wide variety of classic Final Fantasy enemies, summons, and more. You can even purchase skins so that your avatar looks like key characters from the series such as Cloud, Squall, and others.

    Review Basis: I played up to twenty hours before I had experienced everything this game has to offer. While the core game remains unfinished, I’m at the point where I feel comfortable awarding the game a score.

    If you’re a huge fan of the Monster Hunter series, but absolutely love Final Fantasy, this may very well be your dream come true. While it would be unfair to say this is just a simple Monster Hunter clone, it’s close enough. What separates the two is that this game is clearly aimed at the hardcore Final Fantasy fan, the one who wears FF PJs, has played through all 13 of the core games and can tell you exactly how to acquire a Golden Chocobo in Final Fantasy VII. We’re talking about the rabid fans. I’ve only played a few games in my life that have had this much fan-service, so if you love this universe, this may very well be the game for you.

    FFE1The Great:

    Hands-down the best aspect of Final Fantasy Explorers is the fan service. You can purchase armor that will make you look like Cloud, Squall, Lightning, and countless other characters from the Final Fantasy universe. You can trap classic summoning creatures and use their abilities in combat, and all of the enemies and monsters you fight are based on existing creatures from the popular series. There are surprises everywhere here from items and weapons you can acquire, to surprise characters you will meet on your journey. If you have ever enjoyed a Final Fantasy game before, and you like the gameplay from the Monster Hunter series, you’re going to love this game.

    FFE2The Good:

    • The core gameplay is quite solid. The concept is extremely simple, you accept quests from a central hub area, head out into the wild and complete the quest. Simple enough, no? Quests include taking down powerful summoning creatures like Shiva, Ifrit, Odin, and more, all the way to locating key items, or taking out a group of enemies.
    • Job classes are deep, varied, and rich. New classes unlock as you progress through the main storyline, but can only be switched out in the main hub. This isn’t a bad thing per say, but you’ll have to keep it in mind as you progress. Every class has access to different weapons armor sets, but it’s their unique abilities that really separate them from one another. Some classes will level up to the point where they can perform incredible magical attacks, whereas others focus on physical strength. Weapons are also highly dependent on specific classes. Several classes may be able to use swords, for example, but depending on the class your abilities with this weapon vary greatly.

    • The breakdown in classes works something like an MMO, where you have a tank or defensive character, damage dealers, and support classes like mages. You can switch to new classes without penalty, which encourages you to try new ones until you find a set of skills you really like playing with. Thankfully you can save presets so you can switch back and forth with ease. The best news of all is that you don’t start back at level 1 once you switch to a new class, meaning there’s very little reason not to try out multiple classes.

    • While there are a wide variety of abilities, you can only use eight of them at any given time, with four of them being mapped to the face button while holding down the L button and the other four mapped to the same face buttons while holding down the R button. Each ability eats up Action Points, which are represented by a yellow meter. These points are also used for running, which is important as you’ll be running a lot while in battle with larger creatures. In order to replenish Action Points you either have to manually attack an enemy, or wait for the meter to refill. There are also special abilities that you can use periodically which directly impact your future abilities as these abilities are mutations of your core abilities. That’s a mouthful to say that if you use a generic ice attack, eventually you may unlock a special ability where your ice spell adds an additional factor such as potentially a decrease in magic defense. These abilities can then be purchased for Crystal Points, which are one of the two currencies in the game.

    • The party system can be extremely overpowering, but it remains fun. You can have up to three partner monster characters join your party if you happen to locate their amalith, which is to say their spirit. These somewhat rare drops only occur once and a while, and you can use these amaliths to revive fallen monsters and have them join your party. The thing is that they can become insanely powerful after you level them up high enough. In the later portions of the game it’s not uncommon to have your monster partners be significantly stronger than you.

    • The absolute best way to experience Final Fantasy Explorers is with a friend, or three friends to be precise. There is something to be said about screaming at your buddies to help protect you. That’s something else that’s important to mention, each player should take on a specific class, so one or two can be damage dealers, one a tank, and one a healer. When you play online it’s often very difficult to set roles or get people to actually follow each other. The other little caveat is that you can only participate in quests completed by the weakest member. In other words if your party has four players, but one player hasn’t progressed very far, you have to start on those extremely low quests.

    The So-So:

    +/- The narrative is alright, but nowhere near as deep as something you would find in say a core Final Fantasy RPG. The focus here is on the Grand Crystal and how it powers civilization. Your mission is to establish new pathways to this crystal and ensure civilization can carry on. Like I said, the focus here isn’t on storytelling, but more on getting you out in the wild and hunting down new creatures.

    FFE3The Bad:

    • Within a few hours of playing you will have experienced everything the game has to offer in terms of quests. While the difficulty increases over time from one star to ten star ranking, the core quests are always the same. Go hunt down creature X, or collect a certain number of item Y. It all gets extremely repetitive very, very quickly.
  • Forging new equipment often requires you to farm key items that only drop from specific enemies, or are quest rewards meaning you could have to repeat the exact same quest ten times in a row in order to make that fancy new piece of gear you’ve been eyeing.

  • All quests and sub-quests you pick up are tied to the currencies, both Crystal Points and Gil. If you don’t have enough of one type, you can’t take on the quest. This can become quite annoying in the early portions of the game since Gil can be a bit hard to come by at first.

  • The Lowdown:

    Final Fantasy Explorers is an extremely fun game to play for die-hard fans of the Monster Hunter series, or those that eat up everything Final Fantasy related. The problem is that the game is extremely repetitive, and if you’re not into grind-based game, chances are you’ll tire of this one very quickly. The absolute best way to enjoy the game is with a group of friends with each taking on a key role and just having a blast together. These days though it may prove difficult to find four people with the game, which is where online play should have saved the game, but given the somewhat basic feature-set, that’s not really what happens.

    Final Score: 7/10

    Street Fighter V Review

    SF5Street Fighter V (Available on PC and PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: Capcom
    Developer: Dimps & Capcom
    Release Date: February 16th, 2016

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Street Fighter V T for teens because of suggestive themes, violence, and mild language. The series has its own unique art style, and isn’t overly realistic in its depictions of violence and everything is over the top. The suggestive themes are mainly because of the scantily clad female fighters, but that too isn’t as far reaching as some other fighters out there. Honestly if you’re old enough to understand how to play fighting games, you’re old enough for Street Fighter V.

    Plays Like: I’d hate to say that if you’ve played one Street Fighter you’ve played them all because that would be a flat out lie, but the core gameplay mechanics and structure have remained largely the same since the original Street Fighter II. Yes the series has greatly evolved since then to introduce advanced combos, parrying, and so many other concepts, but those original gameplay mechanics like best of three rounds, unique joystick motions to pull off special moves, and more are still featured here. Street Fighter V is a wonderfully compelling game that will take hours upon hours of your time to get competent at, and will takes years to master.

    Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy to play in advance of the official release date. I played through the entire story mode, I played a bunch of versus matches locally, and got destroyed online.

    It has been since the Super Nintendo that a Street Fighter was exclusive to a home console. That sure didn’t last long back then before the series hit the Genesis, and every other platform known to man shortly afterwards, but for a short period of time Street Fighter II was only available on the SNES, and that changed the landscape of the console wars forever considering how big of a success Street Fighter II was in the arcades.

    Today Capcom and Sony have partnered up to bring Street Fighter V exclusively to the PlayStation 4. Yes it’s also getting released on PC at the same time, but having console exclusivity is a really big deal. Whether or not it helps further the divide between the PS4 and Xbox One is up for debate, but the fact that the PS4 will now become the de facto fighting game system of choice for fighting game fans the world over speaks volumes.

    Having sat out Street Fighter IV for most of its existence means I’m reviewing this game having stepped away from the series after the Street Fighter II, III, and the Alpha series. Those series were incredibly influential in my understanding and enjoyment of fighting games. So does V have enough special to make me want to devote time, effort, and energy into the latest Capcom fighter? Let’s find out together!

    SF5_5The Great:

    The complete package. That’s the first thing I think of when I think of Street Fighter V. There were four different versions of Street Fighter IV, the original release also known as vanilla Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Each of these games added new characters, costumes, backgrounds, and gameplay tweaks. The problem was, and one of the key reasons why I stayed away from that game for so long, is that if you missed out on the original release, you always felt like you were playing catch up. If you wanted the complete experience, it always felt like it was just out of reach.

    With Street Fighter V, it’s clear that Capcom designed the game from the ground up to be upgradable. Capcom has built a game that will allow players to constantly add new characters, new costumes, new gameplay tweaks, and even new gameplay modes, without forcing the player to purchase an entirely new game. New gameplay features will be free to everyone via downloadable patches. Characters, costumes, and stages will be purchasable DLC, however you can use the in-game currency, Fight Money, to purchase these goods. Yes you can purchase the goods via the Season Pass, or real-world money (Zenny), but the fact the option is there to use an in-game currency makes all the difference in the world.

    At launch Street Fighter V has 16 playable characters, with a nice roster of new characters and returning favorites from previous games in the series dating back all the way to the original Street Fighter. The line-up includes Ryu, Chun-Li, Nash, M. Bison, Cammy, Birdie, Ken, Necalli, Vega, R. Mika, Rashid, Karin, Zangief, Laura, Dhalsim, and F.A.N.G. First year DLC characters have been confirmed to include Alex, Guile, Balrog, Ibuki, Juri, and Urien. That’s quite a nice roster if I do say so myself, and who knows how this will play out in the years ahead.

    The current gameplay modes include a Story Mode, Versus, Survival, Challenges, Training, Ranked Match, and Casual Match, but as I said before, there’s room for additional gameplay modes in the future. Capcom has already confirmed a Cinematic Story expansion will hit in June for free to all players. It’s what’s available right now, plus the promise of future support that ultimately makes this an exceptional fighter. The future looks exceptionally bright for this one.

    SF5_4The Good:

    • Interesting story mode. Unlike traditional story modes where you fight through a lengthy roster of characters, here you battle your way through three or four opponents and that’s it. Each character has a very detailed, almost comic-book style infused cutscene-based storyline that details some part of their past leading up to the current events of the game. The overall storyline will be fleshed out in an update coming out this June, but it does act as a nice starter. The artwork is also fantastic, and will tickle the nostalgia bone of long-time fans of the series.
    • Online play is very responsive and the net code is great. Playing this prior to launch I had very little problems connecting to online matches, and there wasn’t any noticeable lag. I played through a bunch of matches and they all went off without a hitch.
    • The Capcom Fighters Network is awesome! It highlights where battles are happening all over the world, you can view player profiles, match statistics, designate rivals which allows you to keep an eye on their performance, register your friends and follow your favorite players. You can even find out about the latest tournament news, watch replays, and best of all, send battle invites out. Overall, this is a phenomenal way to keep everyone connected and up-to-date, which is crucial considering this is supposed to be the only version of Street Fighter V ever released. With this system, Capcom has created a key way of allowing them to update everyone in a nice, clean, and elegant manner. Hardcore fighting game fans are going to absolutely love this.
    • Combat is smooth, with good weight to the various characters, and the fighting feels tight and responsive. Classic Street Fighter moves are present throughout, however the new aspect to this iteration is the Variable or V-system. Each character has a V-Trigger, a V-Skill, and a V-Reversal. The V-Skill is completely different based on the character, some perform an offensive, defensive, or mobility enhancing move. V-Reversals are very similar to Alpha Counters in the Street Fighter Alpha series and allow a player to counter an incoming attack. They take some time to master, but can allow you a chance to start up a wicked combo. The V-Trigger works like Ultras from Street Fighter IV in that they’re designed to allow one player to turn the tide on the other. Once triggered they unlock a character’s true potential. They can make standard moves more powerful, and they can turn a super special move into an ultra-move. Take Ryu for example, if you have full V-stock and EX stock, you can trigger a Denjin Hadouken, by far his most powerful singular move. You may have noticed I said EX stock, and that’s right, you can keep stock of EX as well, which allow for more powerful version of standard special moves. Overall the system is fairly easy to get into, and robust enough that when coupled with the deep combo system, players should be able to spend countless hours seeing what’s possible.
    • The audio visual presentation is excellent. You can really tell they put the Unreal Engine 4.0 to good use here, and yes it’s true there’s a distinct style to the game that doesn’t go for realistic fighters, this is still the prettiest Street Fighter ever made. The backgrounds in particular look great, and the comic book-style cutscenes in the story mode are just great. The most important part, the entire game is running at 60 frames-per-second in wonderful 1080p resolution. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the new renditions of some of the classic tunes sound wonderful. Even the voice acting is pretty good, which really surprised me. Overall, it’s Street Fighter you know and love, but in glorious next-gen HD.
    • PS3 arcade sticks work! That may not be a big deal to some, but considering professional sticks are often around $150 and up, I can tell you many people will be extremely pleased with this aspect of the game.

    SF5_3The So-So:

    +/- The training mode is your basic training mode, where you can set some features like move displays, frame boxes, command inputs, etc. What it lacks is what made the training mode in Killer Instinct so exceptional on the Xbox One, it fails to teach you how to string combos together, or how to understand the fundamentals of the game. This won’t even be a blip on the radar of series veterans, but it is an important element missing for brand new players to the genre. Understanding the basics before getting online is crucial.

    SF5_2The Bad:

    • While the game does offer a lot of options for fighting game fans, it feels a bit barebones at launch. The roster is nice, the backgrounds are great, however the story mode is over in a flash, and there’s not much else here except for online combat, the survival mode, or local versus multiplayer. Sure the future promises to increase the content dramatically, but for now, there’s nothing to unlock, and thus very little else to chew into outside online play. Mortal Kombat X felt much richer in terms of sheer content at launch.

    SF5_1The Lowdown:

    I have to admit that it was really nice being able to sit down, whip out the old arcade stick, and just lose myself to a fantastic Street Fighter. It feels like I haven’t done that in far too long, and that’s the truth. This is one I want to devote more time, effort, and energy on because it feels like it deserves it. This is an absolutely excellent game that is well worth the price of admission, and with the promise of no new Street Fighter V releases, and loads future content delivered directly through this one game, fans of the series may have just found the ultimate Street Fighter experience. If you like fighting games, honestly, this one’s a no-brainer and is likely already on your pre-order list.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Crossed Swords II Review

    Crosswed Swords II ReviewCrossed Swords II (Available on Neo Geo MVS, AES, and CD)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: ADK
    Release Date: May 2nd, 1995 (Original CD version), August 28th, 2015 (AES and MVS versions)

    Parent Talk: This is an independent release of a Neo Geo game from 1995 that has been converted from the Neo Geo CD to the Neo Geo MVS and AES. It features a wire-frame character facing off against countless mystical enemies. While there are depictions of violence and blood, it really isn’t damaging for children to play the game. In fact this is exactly the sort of game I would have played in the arcades when I was younger, and I turned out just fine…ok that’s debatable, but honestly it’s perfectly suitable for E10+, even though the ESRB didn’t rate the game.

    Plays Like: If you’ve played the original Crossed Swords you know what to expect, and if not, why haven’t you? Players take on the role of a knight, a warrior, or a ninja and make their way through multiple levels of non-stop combat. Combat is special in that you have to defend and attack whenever your enemy has an opening. It’s a very defensive style game, which makes it highly addicting. There are multiple paths to take, and a progression system wrapped around an in-game shop where you can level up, purchase upgrades, and more.

    Review Basis: Completed the game multiple times, and tried every possible route.

    Crossed Swords II highlights just how amazing the Neo Geo community really is. The game was originally released exclusively on the Neo Geo CD, however has since been converted to the AES and MVS formats. The conversion was handled by the main man behind the infamous Neo Geo UniBIOS, Razoola. Together with Jeff Kurtz from NeoBitz, they converted the CD exclusive over to the MVS and AES in style. Let’s find out how it all turned out.

    CS1The Great:

    Not only is the conversion spot on, but thanks to NeoBitz’s involvement, the two released a full MVS kit including artwork, dip switch settings, and a mini marquee, as well as a full AES release including a Shockbox. This is exactly why the community is so incredible, because fine folks are willing to go the extra mile. The quality is absolutely top notch, and you would have no idea wasn’t an original cart from back in the day because of the sheer quality of the product. They both need to be commended for a job well done.

    Instead of just converting the game over to the MVS/AES, Razoola did something extra, he fixed graphical and audio bugs, game glitches, and even some translational problems. In short, he went all out. While I don’t have access to a full list of improvements, he did specify that 33 Sound FX were added, and 53 Graphical fixes were made. I should mention that the original CD-soundtrack to Crossed Swords II was not transferred over, instead the music was ripped from the original version of Crossed Swords.

    CS2The Good:

    • The storyline in Crossed Swords II is minimalistic, but gets the job done. Essentially the main baddie from the original game returns to wreak havoc on the country, and only you can stop him. Ok sure it’s nothing original, but it gives some context as to why you’re fighting all of these enemies.
    • Multiple playable characters! Unlike the original game you now access to the original knight, a female warrior, and a ninja. Each character has different stats, with the knight having the strongest physical attacks, and the highest defense stats, but also low magic and the lowest speed. That means his recovery isn’t great either. The female warrior has low attack and defense, but the highest speed and magic attacks, making her play style quite different. Finally the ninja has balanced speed, attack, and defense, but the lowest magic attack skills.
    • Multiplayer is vastly superior to the original game. This time each player has full access to the entire screen. In the original one player was stuck on the left portion of the screen, and the other player the right portion. Now both players can gang up on enemies, or quickly dash to the other side of the screen.

    AES+ Jumping and dashing are fantastic additions. Both are extremely useful techniques to master early on. With the proper weapon a jump attack can be devastating to your enemy. The dash allows you to quickly cover ground, or get out of your enemy’s line of fire. You can also dash in at an enemy, strike, and then dash out.

    • The core gameplay is utterly fantastic. Enemies block repeatedly forcing you to wait for an opening before you attack. You have access to magical attacks and traditional attacks, but when coupled with the new jump and dash moves, you feel just powerful enough for the task at hand. Make no mistake about it, it’s not just the enemies that defend, you have to do the same as well if you want to survive. This defensive style gameplay is addictive and forces you to stay on your toes.
  • Branching paths extend replay value. Much like the original, you can select multiple paths to take, which change which bosses you will fight, and how you will progress through the game. You’ll have to play at least twice in order to get a true sense of what the game has to offer. There are also two different gameplay modes, one is the main story, and the second is a boss battle mode where you can challenge any of the bosses to learn their strategies, which also enhance the replay value.
  • MVS+ You can purchase new items and equipment from shops. That means you can save up and purchase that sword you’ve been eying, replenish your health and magic attacks, or even level up. That’s right, you level up at the shops, which adds an interesting elements of strategy to the game because you need to balance whether to improve your gear, or your vitality.

    • The graphics for the most part look very similar to those in the first game. There are a lot of recycled enemies with simple color palette swaps, but the sprites are massive, and feature great animations and color. The backgrounds also look very detailed and nice. The sound effects are fantastic, and the music, while taken from the original Crossed Swords, fits perfectly within the game.

    CS3The Lowdown:

    Crossed Swords II is an extremely fun game in its own right, and it is absolutely amazing being able to play this in a Neo cab, or on your home TV via the AES. Razoola and NeoBitz did two runs of the MVS version, and one run of the AES version, and sadly they’re completely sold out meaning if you like what you see in the video review, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Maybe one day the game will be reprinted again, otherwise you may have to resort to purchasing it from the second hand market and good luck with that as prices will most likely be astronomically high. I tip my hat off to Razoola and Jeff for a job well done. This is hands down one of the best videogame products released in 2015.

    Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

    Rise of the Tomb Raider ReviewRise of the Tomb Raider (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Square-Enix
    Developer: Crystal Dynamics & Eidos Montreal
    Release Date: November 10th, 2015

    Parent Talk: the ESRB rates Rise of the Tomb Raider M for mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. You shoot, stab, and kill in every way imaginable in order to survive this harsh world. You hunt animals for their pelts, throw grenades to take out small hordes of enemies, and much more. Even though you take part in all of these overly violent acts, this isn’t Gears of War so don’t expect pools of blood everywhere. That said, this is certainly not a game you would want your children to play.

    Plays Like: Rise of the Tomb Raider plays almost exactly like 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, except the controls are tighter, the action is more refined, and the exploration feels more natural. This is an action game with puzzle elements, some light platforming sections, and an emphasis on action during the latter half of the game.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code, and I played through the entire game on Normal difficulty.

    2013’s Tomb Raider was a fantastic game. I absolutely loved it, as it was the Tomb Raider experience I had always envisioned, ever since playing through the original Saturn version of the first game way back in October of 1996. Back then the controls were finicky, the graphics were clunky, and the game, while fun, required one to use their imagination for some of the finer details. When we got the reboot though, everything changed. The developers took what I loved about the Uncharted series and applied it to the Tomb Raider franchise. The end result was something truly special, and now two years later we have a sequel that lives up to my lofty expectations. Imagine everything Tomb Raider did right, and refine it even further, and you have Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s hands-down one of the best games of 2015, and if you own an Xbox One you owe it to yourself to purchase this game.

    TR1The Great:

    The setting and story are absolutely the highlight. As per usual you play as Lara Croft as she makes her way around the world in search of an artifact grants immortality. The interesting elements this time around are why she’s on this particular quest. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it deals with a treasure her father was looking for, a new mysterious group called Trinity, and a bitter betrayal. The villains are grounded and have purpose, and this only makes things that much more interesting. The key difference this time around is that Lara isn’t a scared survivor, here she knows exactly what she’s doing, and is actively jumping into danger because she considers the cause righteous.

    As for the setting, the bulk of the game takes place in an old soviet country. You can expect to find derelict soviet equipment, bases, and vehicles, on top of ancient ruins, and even a tribe of people that appear untouched by the modern world. All of these elements come together to create a truly unique game world. There is nothing more impressive than seeing a wide expanse open up when Lara unlocks new abilities, and you realize that wow you can actually reach that mountainside you’ve been looking at for the past two hours. It’s incredible.

    TR2The Good:

    • Exploration is key. I’ve always described this new Tomb Raider series as a cross between Uncharted and Metroid. You may wonder why Metroid, and that has to do with the semi-open world nature of the game. As the story progresses you’ll move from one massive area to the next, however as you learn new abilities, or earn new items, you can backtrack (via camp fires for quick travel) to previously explored areas to unlock vast new ones to explore. Tombs also make a return, and force you to think of logical ways to solve some rather challenging puzzles. These were a highlight in the previous game, and they shine brightly here too.
    • The action is tighter and more refined than ever. Lara has to make use of cover and be quick about dispatching her foes as the AI is smart, and enemies will constantly throw grenades at you, or try and circle around you to flank you. It makes every enemy encounter feel threatening, but you’re always equipped to take out even the most challenging foe. Lara has access to a wide assortment of weapons from her trusty bow and arrow, to hand guns, shot guns, and more.

    • Perfect learning curve, and experimenting is rewarded. In the beginning of the game you can take out enemies with a simple headshot, however as you progress enemies start wearing heavy armor, and that’s when you realize there are so many different ways to take out enemies. You can hide in bushes, in branches on trees, and take them out stealthily, or you can use explosives and heavy weapons to go balls to the wall and take the threat on head-first. The choice is left up to you, but whatever you do, it’s a blast and you’re constantly rewarded for trying new things.

    TR4+ The same upgrade system from the first game returns, where you can harvest collected goods from nature in order to upgrade your equipment. You can take out a bear, take its pelt and then combine it with some tree branches you find in order to make a new quiver capable of holding more arrows. Lara can also have her core abilities upgraded. These skills are broken up into three categories, hunting, brawling, and survival. Each category strengthens Lara in one way or another, making her a better hunter, a better killer, and a better survivor.

    • There are quite a few extra features thrown in for good measure to keep you coming back. There are time trials where you can try and finish key areas as quickly as possible and challenge your friends to beat your times. There are also cards you can purchase with both real-world money, and in-game currency which allows you to customize how levels are played. There are a wealth of customization options already available for use in your own unique adventure, and then there’s the promise of future DLC to expand the storyline which sounds very exciting.
  • One of the most beautiful games ever made. No joke, this game is absolutely stunning. The environments you interact with look so detailed I often just stood in one spot and moved the camera around just to take it all in. The special effects are also superb, seeing fire, smoke, and water in such high detail is outstanding and really impressed me from the onset to the very end of the adventure. The character models are also made up of countless polygons and look very impressive.

  • The soundtrack is sweeping and powerful. You feel as though you’re really on a mysterious adventure. Once the action set pieces begin, the music really cranks up and will raise your adrenaline.

  • TR5The So-So:

    +/- Resource gathering can become a bit tedious if you’re trying to maximize everything.

    TR3The Lowdown:

    Rise of the Tomb Raider is a sensational game, one of my personal favorites of 2015. This has been a pretty awesome year for videogame fans what with Batman: Arkham Knight, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Forza 6, Halo 5: Guardians, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and now Rise of the Tomb Raider. I can’t stress this enough, if you enjoy action adventure games, this is one you can’t miss. It comes very highly recommended.

    Final Score: 9.4/10

    Ghost Blade Review

    Ghost Blade ReviewGhost Blade (Available exclusively on the SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Publisher: Hucast Games
    Developer: Hucast Games
    Release Date: September 27th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The ESRB doesn’t rate independent releases, but I can tell you right now this would get an E for everyone rating as it’s a 2D sprite-based shoot ‘em up, that doesn’t feature any harmful violence except the explosion of thousands of tiny ships.

    Plays Like: Ghost Blade is a vertical shooter that pits you against a massive onslaught of enemy ships. Dodge all the bullets you can, and destroy everything that moves. Simple as that. Ghost Blade shares a lot in common with other shooters such as DoDonPachi and Mushihimesama, although is nowhere near as difficult. As a matter of fact, this game is directly aimed to introducing new players to the genre.

    Review Basis: Completed the game on Novice and Normal modes.

    In 2001 SEGA officially discontinued the Dreamcast in North America, it’s now 2015 and the platform continues to see new releases thanks to the efforts of independent game developers all over the world. Ghost Blade is another in a long line of indie releases that shows the dedication and love the community has for the Dreamcast. Many of the Dreamcast games that get released today are shoot ‘em ups that aim at pleasing fans of the early 90’s, and this release is no different. That being said, it’s not without its controversy too.

    Ghost Blade was announced back in April 2013, with pre-orders opening for a limited to 300 (eventually raised to 500) copies of a Collector’s Edition. After that, the game saw one delay after another, and eventually its Caravan mode was completely scrapped before the game was eventually released in September 2015. Sadly those that did pre-order the Collector’s Edition still haven’t had their version of the game released, as only the regular and limited editions (contains the game’s musical soundtrack) are currently in stock. What we’re left with is a five-stage two-player shmup that was delayed by over two years. So as I said, lots of controversy. Controversy aside, let’s see how the game holds up.

    Ghost Blade 1The Great:

    If you enjoy shooters, you’re going to really enjoy this one. You begin by selecting one of three female pilots, each who controls a different ship. Your mission is to destroy a rogue AI that is out wreaking havoc on everything. Each ship has a different firing system in-place, as well as movement speed. There’s the classic spread shot, a wide shot with a missile-combo, and finally the all-powerful straight laser shot. You also have access to a screen-clearing bomb. The weapon system is rather unique. If you press the A button to shoot, you end up earning stage stars which boost your score, however if you use a focus attack, the X button, all of your firepower is streamed into a forward attack, which also slows your ship down, and that nets you tech orbs. These orbs fill a meter that, once full, grants you another stage-clearing bomb. So it’s nice how you juggle between the two modes of fire, which becomes even more important once you factor in the point system, which I’ll tackle in just a few.

    Ghost Blade 2The Good:

    • Novice mode is a complete cake-walk, especially if you use the focus fire and continuously get new bombs. As an added bonus in this mode, if you happen to be touched by an enemy, you automatically deploy a screen-clearing bomb instead of blowing up. If you run out of bombs, that’s when you lose a life. I really thought this was a great way of introducing new players to the genre. Even those who have never played a shooter before should have little trouble clearing the game on Novice mode.
    • Normal mode doesn’t automatically release a bomb, but I still found it fairly simple to navigate the game within a few hours of practice. This isn’t a hard shmup, and that’s ok, because it plays very well. If you’re here for difficulty, this won’t be the shooter for you.

    • The point system is based a combo chain system. The more enemy kills you string together, the higher your combo. If you die, it reverts back to zero, so you really don’t want to do that. This isn’t a game where your main goal is to finish it, as honestly you can do that in under half-an-hour. Instead this is a game that requires you to play it over and over again to chase that ever illusive high score.

    Ghost Blade 4+ I hope you enjoy kick-ass music, because you’re going to get it. Rafael Dyll who composed the music for other recently released Dreamcast games such as Last Hope, Gunlord, amongst others, is back to give this game a rip-roaring soundtrack that will stay with you long after you finish the game. I would highly recommend you check out the Limited Edition, because it comes with the game’s soundtrack on a separate disc. There were only 1,000 of these printed, so be sure to act fast before they’re all gone.

    • Graphically the game shines in VGA-mode, although there is a lot of slowdown when too much is going on. There are also times where you really have to pay attention to differentiate between enemy bullets and orbs and stars flying towards your ship. It isn’t too bad after a short period of time, but all of these sprites make the Dreamcast come to a grinding halt, especially if you shoot out a bomb while all of this is happening on-screen. Backgrounds are varied, and detailed, and overall the game looks quite sharp, and runs well for the most part. I should also mention Ghost Blade supports a TATE mode, where you can play on a vertical monitor for the optimal experience.
  • As you’d expect the game supports the VMU, where little icons are displayed, as well as the arcade stick. This is extremely important for those of us that like to relive the glory days of the arcades in our homes.

  • The packaging is classic retro goodness. If you’ve purchased any other games from Hucast you know what to expect. You get a DVD case, which fits nicely with Hucast’s other offerings like DUX and Redux: Dark Matters. You also get a full color instruction manual, and in the case of the Limited Edition, you get a fantastic pressed audio CD featuring the game’s soundtrack. Speaking of pressed discs, the game disc itself is also professionally pressed.

  • Ghost Blade 3The So-So:

    +/- A training mode, two-player co-op mode, and the five-stage campaign is all she wrote for Ghost Blade. While it’s fun chasing high scores, I can see people wanting a little more after a few days with the game. Unless people want to partake in a high score tournament, I just don’t see this being in one’s Dreamcast for months to come.

    Ghost Blade 5The Lowdown:

    Ghost Blade is a brand new Dreamcast game released in 2015, you have automatically get brownie points just for that. Sure there was some controversy surrounding the release of the game, and yes some might say the game can be a little light on content, but it remains a truly enjoyable shooter to play, and that’s key here. New fans to the genre would do well in checking this one out as it makes for a great introduction. I can’t wait to see what Hucast has in-store for Redux 2.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Halo 5: Guardians Review

    Halo 5 ReviewHalo 5: Guardians (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 24
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: 343 Industries
    Release Date: October 27th, 2015

    Parent Talk: Halo 5: Guardians has been rated T for teenagers 13 and up. The only disclaimer mentioned is for blood, mild language, and violence. The Halo franchise isn’t overly realistic, and while violent, there aren’t ample amount of blood. Typically you’re fighting aliens, robotic enemies, and creatures that sort of fit in-between those descriptions.

    Plays Like: It seems obvious to say the game plays like the rest of the Halo games before, but I should really say that it plays very closely to Halo 4, which was a more modern take on the series. The same evolution made to the gunplay and mechanics returns here. You have access to a wide assortment of weapons, vehicles, and some fun extra abilities such as a running dash.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code, and I played through the entire campaign on Normal difficulty, as well as tried out the various multiplayer modes and maps on scheduled multiplayer days. I’ll edit the review once the game is live so that I can experience the multiplayer under normal conditions.

    It has been almost three years since Halo 4 hit the scene, and a lot has changed since that time. First-person shooters have continued to gain popularly, and the Halo franchise is larger than ever. 343 industries proved they were willing to take risks with the series after Bungie left with Halo Reach, although they did stumble a big with the Master Chief Collection. Is Halo 5: Guardians their way of making up for the lackluster collection, or is this another game that just don’t quite hit the mark?

    Halo 5_1The Great:

    Multiplayer has reached new heights of awesome. From the incredible four-player coop campaign, which I touch on a bit later on, to the extensive competitive multiplayer modes, Halo 5 has got what it takes to stay in your Xbox One until Halo 6 is released, and no I’m truly not joking. From the absolutely fantastic 24-player Warzone mode, to all the customization options make this one a keeper. Warzone offers the largest maps ever seen in a Halo game. Matches often last upwards of 30 minutes, and you score points not only from achieving your primary objective, but also from capturing key locations, taking down difficult NPCs, and much more.

    As you play you earn REQ points, which can be used to purchase powerful weapons and items. You have to be very careful how you spend these points though, do you save them for a Scorpion tank, or does your team improve their initial loadout with more powerful weapons? I love how strategy is built into everything now. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a dominate strategy as players get used to this mechanic.

    Customization options are intense, allowing you to select from 15 multiplayer maps, 8 gameplay modes including Slayer, Capture-the-Flag, Stronghold, Breakout, SWAT, Free-for-All Slayer, Shotty Snipers, and Neutral Flag. Then there are all the options for loadouts, etc.

    Halo 5_2The Good:

    • The storyline is interesting, and the new villain is far deeper than all other enemies previously introduced in the Halo universe. The story is far less black and white, and by the end you may find yourself actually siding with the protagonist saying their motives are actually quite sound.
    • The banter between Locke and his squad is quite interesting. Because Cortana is no longer a central character, it’s refreshing to hear new voices, and get some backstory to some of these new characters. Sadly Master Chief’s squad is far less developed, and I never found myself caring about any of his teammates. It’s true that Blue Team’s backstory is part of the expanded universe, so there is a way to catch up on this group for those interested. I still think a few missions should have been dedicated to this group just so I would have felt their comradery more.
    • Four-player co-op multiplayer is a blast. It’s online-only this time around, which I’ll get to later on in this review. The missions don’t feature the largest maps ever seen in the series, but they do feel much more open and less linear. There are multiple ways to tackle each objective, which makes these missions perfect for replay. I loved that each player could tackle a different aspect, one could be snipping, another could be working with a partner in order to take down a Hunter, etc. Variety is the name of the game this time around, and it’s great!
    • Speaking of your teammates, even while the AI controls your squad mates, I loved having rudimentary command options at my disposal. Being able to tell the squad to focus their attacks on a single enemy or turret is fantastic, as is telling them to press on ahead.
    • Weapons are absolutely top notch. Typically I stick to the tried and true when it comes to this series, but not this time around. There were a good five or six weapons I always wanted to have on me, which is fantastic.
    • The core gameplay is great fun. Missions are primarily made up of the go to this location and kill everything that moves type, but given the wealth of options available for you to take out your enemies, I never found the missions to get repetitive or dull, even though I was tasked with doing the exact same thing over and over again.
    • Jumping has never been so fluid. There’s a fantastic climbing mechanic that is great in both multiplayer and single player. Trust me when I say you’ll never miss another jump ever again, because so long as you’re close to a ledge you can grab on and pull yourself up.
    • The audio visual presentation is absolutely top notch, not that you weren’t already expecting that. You can clearly tell this game was built from the ground up for the Xbox One. The environments are chalk-full of details everywhere from little critters running around some of the alien planets, to gorgeous particle effects. There’s always something to keep you impressed. The audio is also a show-stopper. The soundtrack is phenomenal, and the sound effects are exactly where they should be in terms of pulse-pounding explosions, and great use of surround sound.

    Halo 5_3The So-So:

    +/- Some will love this, and some will hate it, but this isn’t a Master Chief game. This is the first time in a numbered entry in the Halo series where you don’t really play as Master Chief, instead you play as Spartan Locke for over 80% of the adventure. I didn’t mind this, but I know some will. Be warned of this in advance if you’re a die-hard Master Chief fan.

    +/- The artificial intelligence can be quite good, especially if you highlight an enemy target for your squad to take down, however if you yourself get downed, don’t expect your squad to always come to your rescue. I purposely put myself in harm’s way, died, and tried to get resuscitated, and instead of taking out the enemy standing over my corpse, they simply stood there trying to say me and thereby getting killed themselves. Also, don’t ask the AI-controlled squad to drive, they like to ram into walls and other stationary objects, because why not.

    +/- There’s an odd breakdown in the missions. Three of the 15 missions can be completed in 45 seconds or so. These act as somewhat interactive story missions where you’re challenged with finding someone, talking to them, and then talking to someone else. Boom, mission complete. It feels a little jarring, and doesn’t add anything that a minute cinematic couldn’t do.

    +/- While the overall storyline is good, you absolutely have to know the Halo lore if you’re going to get the most out of this game. It’s expected from a sequel, but a nice overview of the entire franchise would be nice as we’re now five games in and there’s a ton of story to digest here.

    +/- Spartan Locke isn’t Master Chief. His motives are far less interesting than the Chief’s, making him out to be nothing more than a typical soldier.

    Halo 5_4The Bad:

    • The lack of local multiplayer hurts. 343 Industries says this was done to ensure the game didn’t run at 30 frames-per-second (fps), but rather a steady smooth 60 fps. The problem with this is that the Halo series was founded on its strong support of local multiplayer including LAN. This is the first game in the series to completely do-away with local multiplayer including LAN, split-screen, etc. If you want to play with another human being, they’re going to have to own an Xbox One, and a copy of Halo 5.
    • There’s pretty much one boss in the entire game, and you go up against him over and over again during the campaign. This enforces the game was made for multiplayer, as his only weak point is on his back. With or without live players I found the battles to get repetitive by the forth encounter.

    Halo 5_5The Lowdown:

    Halo 5: Guardians does a lot right. The campaign is enjoyable, the multiplayer is outstanding, and the storyline can be thought-provoking, however it’s what the game does wrong that ultimately bring down the package. This isn’t a bad game, not by a longshot, but it’s not great either. The lack of local multiplayer is what truly hurts the most. Sure it’s 2015 and everything is online, however LAN matches are still a very big part of Halo, and not being able to have those, or even have a friend come over and play through the campaign really is disappointing. Halo fans will love the game, no question about it, however the most diehard fans will likely walk away wanting more.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Rare Replay Review

    Rare Replay ReviewRare Replay (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Compilation
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: Rare
    Release Date: August 4, 2015

    Parent Talk: Rare Replay is a compilation featuring thirty classic Rare games, with a few notable omissions due to licenses being owned by Nintendo. This compilation contains thirty games, some of which are mature themed, thus the M rating. Most are perfectly fine for children of all ages with the exception of a few, so just be mindful of which ones your children want to play.

    Plays Like: As a compilation game, each game plays differently, however there’s a genre here for everyone from shmups, to beat ‘em ups to fighting games and action platformers.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code and I played around with a wide assortment of the thirty included games.

    Rare Replay is a love letter to videogame fans. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of Rare, there’s no denying the incredible wealth of influential games included in this compilation. It’s an amazing bargain too at only $30. The overall package is incredibly well developed. You can tell the people who worked on this game really loved the source material, because the incentives to try some of the older games is just amazing. This very well could be the best compilation this side of Super Mario All-Stars.

    Rare1The Great:

    30 games for $30. What’s not to like about that? Here’s exactly what’s included in the package.

    Jetpac, Lunar Jetman, Atic Atac, Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, Knight Lore, Gunfright, Slalom, R.C. Pro-Am, Cobra Triangle, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Digger T. Rock, Battletoads, R.C. Pro-Am II, Battletoads Arcade, Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, Viva Piñata, Jetpac Refuelled, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, and finally Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

    Some of the included games are certainly better than others, but the overall package is extremely impressive. Being able to play Battletoads Arcade in the comfort of my own home is fantastic, as is reliving great Perfect Dark and Killer Instinct Gold moments from my younger years.

    Something else that has to receive our highest compliments is the game’s presentation. It’s likely the games included in this package had never looked as good as they do here, but that’s only a fraction of the story. The real shocker is the way the games themselves are presented together as a whole. The whole game takes place in a gallery, with each title representing one painting or section of the gallery. For games that were designed for 4:3, a cool looking border is applied around your play session window. There’s also a CRT filter, which warps the image and adds a bit of contrast to the edges, which nails the look of an old-school tube TV. You can also save anywhere, and you have a rewind function which completely kills the challenge of some of these old-school gems, but that’s part of the compilation’s charm. It removes the barrier, and allows you to just sit back and enjoy some classic videogames.

    Rare3The Good:

    • If there’s one feature that really surprised me, it was the way this game almost forced me to play games I wasn’t even curious about. Snapshot challenges highlight key areas of a game, and allow you to sample what you might otherwise have ignored. The video features are also superb as they unlock a lot of the mysteries behind one of gaming most famous developers. The only downside is you have to earn them, but then again, it goes back to what I was just saying, it’s a means to get you to play games you might have no interest in.

    Rare4The So-So:

    +/- Some of the games have extremely sloppy and sluggish controls.

    +/- Several games, including Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, both Viva Piñata games, Jetpac Refuelled, and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts are not featured on the game disc, instead requiring additional downloads. While that isn’t too troubling, it’s a bit annoying that if you select those games from within the compilation, you’re kicked out of the game, booted into 360 backwards compatibility mode and then have access to the games. It’s a bit jarring, and questionable why they weren’t added to the disc.

    Rare2The Bad:

    • Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts features some severe framerate issues.
    • No online multiplayer support for legacy games, which I think would have been awesome, particularly for the Battletoads games.

    Rare5The Lowdown:

    Regardless of your thoughts on Rare as a modern day developer, there’s no denying they were at one point one of the world’s best developers, responsible for a wide assortment of excellent classics. This compilation is a testament to those games. While I would have loved to have played GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong Country, amongst others, what’s offered here is plenty. This game will keep you busy for weeks, if not months to come.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

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