I Am Setsuna Review

i-am-setsunaI Am Setsuna (Available on PC, and PS4)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Release Date: July 19th, 2016

Parent talk: The ESRB rates I Am Setsuna E10+ for everyone ages ten and up.  The ratings board sites fantasy violence, alcohol references, and mild language as the reason for the rating, and if you have ever played the early-to-mid 90’s classic RPGs like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and Super Mario RPG you know what to expect.  The violence isn’t realistic, the characters are all animated and fantastical in design, and overall this is the type of game I used to play all the time when I was younger and I turned out just fine in the end.  Ok that’s debatable, but truly, parents have little to fear with allowing their children to play this game.

Plays Like: I Am Setsuna was heavily inspired by the likes of Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger.  It plays very similarly to both of those games, with a touch of Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system thrown in for good measure.  It’s a turn-based RPG, meaning you have to wait your turn before you can enter your commands to engage in combat.  Exploration is done in traditional RPG style, whereby you explore a vast overworld, however unlike RPGs of yore, there are no random encounters, and instead battles begin when you tag an enemy.

Review Basis: I completed the game, and unlocked the coveted platinum trophy.  When all was said and done, I logged in about 35 hours or so.

I’ve seen many people say that I Am Setsuna is a great nostalgia trip for RPG fans who grew up playing Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis classics like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and Phantasy Star II to IV.  While it’s certainly true the game borrows many elements from those classic games, I like to think that it fits perfectly alongside those classic games.  So while it may have been influenced by the greats, it does a really good job standing on its own two feet.  If you enjoy turn-based command-style RPGs, you will absolutely love I Am Setsuna.  While it doesn’t necessarily break the mold, it reminds players of a simpler time when the emphasis was on story and killer gameplay.

set1The Great:

The story and cast of characters are great.  The story in I Am Setsuna revolves around a young woman named Setsuna who must journey to The Last Lands in order to be sacrificed to appease the monsters that grow more and more dangerous every day.  The ritual has been going on for centuries, and every decade one sacrifice is chosen to keep the monsters at bay.  This is a tragic tale, and all the characters involved know it.  The Sacrificial Guard is made up of a group of would-be heroes that join the party for different reasons.  While the game doesn’t spend too much time developing these characters, unless you opt to partake in end-game side quests which flesh them out somewhat, there is a lot of banter and back and forth dialogue that helps give each character a lot of personality.  I would highly recommend you take part in all of the side-quests offered before completing the game to really experience everything the story has to offer.  It will leave a huge impact on you.

The bulk of your time will be spent in combat, and it’s a great thing I Am Setsuna was so heavily inspired by Chrono Trigger as the end results are fantastic.  Battles are engaged once you tag a monster on the overworld.  That’s right, no random encounters, so you choose whether you want to fight every few seconds, or every few minutes.  I should also quickly mention that everyone gains experience, even those not in your active party, however those inactive members get about 50% less experience as those that are in your party.

Once combat is initiated, the active time battle meter will slowly start to fill.  There are two different gameplay modes available, wait and active.  Wait mode means the second you click on a command, the active time battle meter stops filling for the rest of your teammate and enemies as well.  In active mode, the meters of everyone involved continues to fill, meaning enemies can attack regardless of how long you take to enter commands.  The default mode is wait.  There are only a handful of commands available, which include Fight, Tech, and Item.  Fight and Item commands works just as you’d expect, with the Fight command allowing each character to use a standard physical attack.  The Tech command works much like Chrono Trigger’s Techs, in that you can not only use magical attacks, but also combination attacks.  Combination attacks are based on your party members and the Spritnite, also known as magic stones, they have equipped.  A quick example would be having Endir equipped with the Aura Spritnite and Setsuna equipped with the Prayer Spritnite, which allows the two to use the combo Tech Heal.  Far more advanced techniques become available once you have three party members, and more powerful Spritnite.

set5Spritnite works something like Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system.  As you level up you gain more and more Spritnite slots.  These start off with two distinct types, Command and Support Spritnite.  Commands Spritnite are offensive and defensive spells, buffs and debuffs, and more.  Support Spritnites are more passive abilities such as gaining magic points from damaging enemies, and things like that.  The higher you level, the more All Spritnite slots you unlock, which allow you to equip whichever Spritnite you’d like.  Talismans also contain Spritnite slots, allowing you to equip even more Spritnites, plus gain whatever ability the talisman has.  These abilities are often passive skills or modifiers such as displaying enemy health.  Talismans also have a very important secondary function, the ability to mutate or flux as the game calls it, your Spritnite.

You’ll notice in the video a circular gauge called the Momentum meter that slowly fills once the active time battle meter is filled, or whenever you get hurt.  This meter will eventually be able to stock up to three Setsuna Points or SP.  If you wish to trigger momentum mode, you need to press the square button at the precise time your character takes action.  The window for the button press is quite long so after a few battles you’ll get used to the timing.  This is where the game reminds me of Super Mario RPG a little.  If you use momentum often enough your talisman might flux your Spritnite.  I say might, because there is no guarantee this will happen, it’s completely random, although there are items you can use to increase the chances.  So what does fluxing do exactly, it adds an additional bonus to your Spritnite.  Let’s say you’re using the Fire Spritnite, and you trigger momentum mode every chance you have, and your talisman has a flux bonus of MP Consumed.  If the flux occurs, the Fire Spritnite will now require less MP to use every time you use it.  There are a wide assortment of awesome flux bonuses you can get, but the limit per Spritnite is ten.  If you do this to all of your Spritnites you can form a truly powerful team in no time.

set2The Good:

  • Weapons and core stats work a little different in I Am Setsuna than in other RPGs.  There’s been some misinformation out there on the stat system for some reason.  When you level up your characters all of their core stats increase as well as HP and MP.  It’s been reported that base stats do not increase as you level, but that’s incorrect, they do.  Weapons add unique elemental status to your attacks as well as boost your basic attributes.  So you might find a sword that will add fire elemental damage on top of raising your attack power, etc.  Weapons can also be further enhanced by blacksmithing them with core materials.  With the best materials you can take even the earliest weapons you purchase and make them powerhouses.  This becomes important later on when you’re trying to gather the best materials for creating new Spritnite as all enemies drop different materials based on how they were defeated.  Defeating an enemy with fire elemental damage as opposed to ice elemental damage will result in a completely different loot table.
  • The audio visual presentation is fantastic.  I Am Setsuna takes place in a world covered by snow, during an endless winter.  There’s a really nice graphical effect that shows your characters plowing snow and leaving behind them a nice path.  It looks great, and never gets old.  Even though all of the locations feel very similar given the constant snowfall, it’s impressive how Tokyo RPG Factory was able to give each new area its own distinct look and feel.  This is primarily done through unique architecture and lighting effects.  I was really impressed by what a great job the developers did overall.  The audio is also fantastic, and the somber piano themes that play throughout the game really lend to the emotional impact of the storyline.  This is not a cheerful game, and the music helps emphasize that.  I would have appreciated a few more instruments in the soundtrack, but overall it’s a powerful composition that suits the game perfectly.

set3The So-So:

+/- The materials you gather from enemies can then be sold to the Consortium representative, which then allows you to purchase additional weapons, items, and other goodies from the other vendors.  Gold is only attainable by selling materials, which is a bit odd, but it fits in with the crafting system.  Each material you sell to the Consortium not only allows you to earn gold, but since he stocks these materials, you then have the requirements to make new Spritnite.  This allows you to easily make a dozen simple Spritnite spells like Cyclone, and grants you the ability to see the requirements for making some of the more powerful Spritnite stones later in the game.  There’s also a fantastic companion book in the main menu that allows you to see all the enemies you’ve faced and what items they drop.  This is particularly useful when determining which enemies you need to defeat in order to gain the few previous materials you’re missing.  That said, if you have not defeated an enemy with all of the different elemental attacks, you will not see what they drop for that particular element.  The system works, but I feel it could have been refined ever so slightly in order to streamline the crafting element as I had to look online in order to determine which enemies dropped certain supplies as I found myself using the same core techs over and over again.

+/- You can polish off the final boss at around level 40 to 45.  The super boss of the game can be tackled closer to the mid 50’s.  I ended the game with my main party at level 70 and the inactive party members at around level 60 or so.  Grinding really isn’t mandatory unless you want to tackle some of the end-game content.  For the most part the enemies on the overworld can be polished off with one or two powerful tech skills, however the bosses can prove to be quite challenging if you don’t spend much time fighting.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying the game is unbalanced, but just be warned that you may find yourself struggling with some of the boss fights if you just plow through the game.

set4The Lowdown:

I am a very big fan of traditional role-playing games.  I grew up with the likes of the original Final Fantasy, and Dragon Warrior series, and experienced the wonder and joy of the Super NES classics like Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and Final Fantasy VI, and I’m very pleased to say that even though I Am Setsuna is only around 20 hours or so long, it fits nicely alongside those classics.  It may have been inspired by some legendary RPGs, but in the end it manages to separate itself just enough to stand on its own as a fantastic RPG that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.  I Am Setsuna comes very highly recommended.

Final Score: 9/10

ABZÛ Review

ABZÛ (Available on PC, and PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre:
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Giant Squid
Release Date: August 2, 2016

Parent Talk: ABZÛ is a game where you explore the beautiful and lush ocean floor.  It’s absolutely breathtaking, and there is only one particular scene that children may not like, and that’s when a shark dies.  It’s not graphics, but it certainly is emotional and young ones may be upset when they see that one scene.  Everything else is completely harmless.

Plays Like: The closest game I can compare ABZÛ to is Journey.  The two are more alike than they are different.  You play as an intrepid explorer who swims the world’s oceans taking in countless wondrous sights.

Review Basis: I finished off the game and got all of the trophies.

Flower and Journey art director Matt Nava formed his own development studio, Giant Squid, shortly after the completion of Journey and this is his studio’s first game.  Journey composer Austin Wintory joins the fray and together with the rest of Giant Squid they have made an absolutely breathtaking experience with ABZÛ.  Make no mistake about it, if you enjoyed Journey, you’re going to love ABZÛ.

The Great:

ABZÛ is absolutely breathtaking. From its incredible visuals, to its level design, to all the aquatic life, every moment of ABZÛ is mesmerizing. There’s something majestic, something inherently beautiful about this game, and while screenshots and videos may impress you, actually playing the game is even more impressive. That’s because of the superb controls and weight your nameless character has. You elegantly move around the ocean with ease, and because everything is so full of life, you’ll often want to explore each of the game’s 6 chapters.

Exploration is certainly encouraged, but not mandatory. Nothing is mandatory in ABZÛ. You do what you want. Sure you’re moved towards one ultimate goal, and the stages are linear in design, however they’re massive and open, allowing you to spend hours looking at all the finer details the game has to offer. There are hidden pools you can unlock that release additional fish, there are little robot buddies that have crashed that you can resuscitate, and there are even ancient statues that you can sit on and meditate.

Meditation serves no purpose other than to see the ocean from the perspective of those creatures you’re swimming around with. It’s serene, peaceful, almost zen-like, and that’s the best way to sum up ABZÛ.

There are also several very well-hidden seashells that once collected unlock a new diving suit, which allows you to swim incredibly fast. This is super useful for additional playthroughs. You can polish off the whole game in under an hour, but if you’re looking for all the secrets, it will take you between three and six hours. So while the experience is over rather quickly, you are encouraged to go back and experience it again. When I have a stressful day at work, this is the perfect time of game to come home to and relax.

There’s no real enemies, no way to die, no combat at all truth be told. There are mechanical objects that omit an electrical surge when you get close to them, but that’s the extent of enemies. The gameplay as a whole is incredibly simplistic, but again, this is more of an experience than a videogame and I’m perfectly ok with that.

The way the camera and musical score accompany the visuals and gameplay is fantastic. Often times the camera will pull back to show you the true scale of your location. Swimming alongside a fully matured blue whale is absolutely incredible. The way the soundtrack is so perfectly fine-tuned to exactly what you’re doing at any given moment left me feeling incredibly impressed. It literally hits all the right notes when it needs to. When you start to feel threatened by your surroundings, the music will change its styles and tone, and when you’re free and flying through the water because you want to catch up to a school of fish, it too will change its composition.

The Lowdown:

Overall ABZÛ is a short and simple videogame, but it’s an experience that will leave you incredibly impressed if you can appreciate what Giant Squid was trying to do. This artistic approach to game creation was perfected with Journey, and ABZÛ proves that the formula can continue to work in other games. It’s certainly worth checking out.

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

No Man’s Sky Review

No Man's SkyNo Man’s Sky (Available on PC, and PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: FPS/Space Sim
Publisher: Hello Games
Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: August 9, 2016

Parent Talk: No Man’s Sky has been rated T for teen from the ESRB because of fantasy violence.  There’s no blood, but you do shoot at enemy ships, creatures, and machines.

Plays Like: Harvest resources in order to craft supplies, and occasionally shoot down enemy ship, kill hostile creatures, or those pesky sentinel droids.  You do all of this in a procedurally generated open universe that is filled with countless planets.

Review Basis: I played the game for nine hours before the repetitive nature of the game took its toll.  In order to see some of the near end-game, I went over to a friend’s place who has logged in 47 hours and counting.  The gameplay I saw was identical to what I had experienced in the first 9 hours, so I figured this review was appropriate, however I wanted to be as open and transparent with all of you.

Going into No Man’s Sky I had virtually no expectations.  Sure the trailers looked interesting at E3 and other game shows, but I never really paid any attention to what the game was actually about.  When Sony sent me a review code, I gladly accepted it and jumped right into the game.  About an hour and a half later though, and I was ready to move on to something else.  I hung on until about 9 hours, then I just couldn’t continue.  So what was it about No Man’s Sky that turned me off almost immediately, and will you feel the same?  That’s what makes reviewing this game so interesting, as your experience will be vastly different than my own.  What I offer you here is perspective on my experiences with the game and how the core fundamentals work, and my thoughts on them.

No Man's Sky 1The Great:

The procedurally generated open universe is a thing of beauty.  Every new planet you explore is rich with its own unique wildlife and plants.  The graphics and animations are top notch, and the textures are nice and detailed.  When you combine all of this together, you’re left with an absolutely massive open universe that looks and feels different every time you step out of your ship and onto the surface of a new planet.  There’s absolutely no way you can’t be impressed by the sheer size of the universe.  Discovering new planets and solar systems is truly unique, and naming them something witty never gets old.

No Man's Sky 2The Good:

  • No Man’s Sky was built upon four pillars, exploration, survival, combat, and trading.  Exploration is the best of the four by far, as each world is so unique.  While you’re in space or on a planet’s surface, you have the ability to scan for new goodies to seek out.  These can be resources, or they could be unidentified areas.  The unidentified areas are the most exciting because you never know what you may find.  There might be some fallen space debris, or perhaps an alien mining facility.  These surprises are an absolute blast when they occur, and it’s the unknown that keeps you pushing forward.

No Man's Sky 3The Bad:

  • Unfortunately the other elements of the game are problematic.  The survival pillar means regardless of what you’re doing, your resources are constantly whittling away.  Take your space suit for example, over time it slowly but surely will lose life support systems and shields, so you need to harvest resources in order to recharge it.  The same is true for many elements of your spaceship.  The shields use resources to remain charged, all weapon systems use resources, and well, absolutely everything in the game uses resources that will slowly deplete over time.  In order to mine resources, you have a special weapon that acts as a gun and a mining tool.  Guess what, yup, you need to mine resources in order to even use the mining tool, and to craft bullets for the gun mod.  It often feels like there’s just too much resource gathering for no justifiable reason.
  • When you’re in combat taking down sentinel droids or hostile alien animals, the last thing you want to happen is to run out of ammunition.  Remember this isn’t an action game, so there’s no ammo lying around.  The only way to create new ammo is by harvesting resources and crafting ammo.  Thing is, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to craft new ammo right in the thick of battle.  Once that happens you start to ask yourself if there wasn’t another way this could have been handled.  Combat as a whole isn’t anywhere near as tight as a modern FPS, and neither is the space fighting.  Ultimately combat feels secondary to all the harvesting and crafting you’ll be doing.
  • So that’s three of the four pillars, what about trading?  You can sell and purchase items from aliens, at space stations, and all over the place.  While the system works just fine, the inventory management system is a pain.  Each of your three primary pieces of tech, your mining tool, space suit, and space ship all have separate inventory slots available, but they fill up quick.  Not only that, but as you start to upgrade your equipment, you run out of space as one upgrade costs one precious inventory slot.  One could argue this was done for strategic purposes, but when absolutely everything requires resources, why put such limits?  I understand trying to decide whether to increase the rate of fire of your gun or keep that spot empty for more resources, but again, the restrictions are simply way too tight.
  • The menu and inventory interface uses a reticle system, which is cumbersome on the PS4.  Sure it works, but it’s not as fluid as it should be.

No Man's Sky 4The Ugly:

As problematic as some of these gameplay systems are, the worst thing about No Man’s Sky is the repetition.  It doesn’t matter if you’re one hour in, or twenty hours in, you’re always doing the exact same thing with regards to resource management and harvesting, crafting, and trying to inch your way ever closer to the center of the universe.

No Man's Sky 5The Lowdown:

No Man’s Sky has some incredible tech running it, and is an extremely ambitious game.  The wonderful surprises that occur every now and then are a delight, but when the first hour and a half of the game play out exactly like the next ten, you know something’s off.  It almost feels like for every step forward on a bold new world I took, resource gathering and crafting items pulled me backwards by about a light-year.  So while I progressed, I never felt like I was truly going anywhere.  Your millage may vary, but I think this is one of those games that shot for the stars, and wasn’t even able to reach the clouds.

Final Score: 6.2/10      

Dex: Enhanced Edition Review

Dex ReviewDex (Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Badland Indie
Developer: Dreadlock Ltd.
Release Date: May 7, 2015 (PC), July 8, 2016 (Xbox One), and July 12, 2016 (PS4)

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Dex M for mature, for players 17 years old and up.  They make mention of violence, blood, sexual content, drug references, and strong language.  The game is a 2D action RPG that certainly has mature themes in it, in the way of a brothel, but it isn’t overly gory.  Mature teens shouldn’t have any problems playing the game.

Plays Like: Do you recall the action platformers of years past?  Well imagine those, but infuse them with some lite RPG elements and you have yourself Dex.  The incredible world created here is unfortunately overshadowed by some poor gameplay decisions.

Review Basis: I finished the game, and got all the trophies.

In November 2013 indie developer Dreadlocks Limited launched a Kickstarter asking for 14,000 British pounds.  They showed a trailer revealing a fairly awesome looking cyberpunk RPG with a lot of dialogue options and a rather basic combat system that incorporated traditional action platforming elements from the 16-bit era.  The campaign was extremely successful, ending up with £30,647 total, and a promise to bring the game to just about every platform under the sun.  Here we are in July 2016 and the game has been released on PC, and now an enhanced edition has hit home consoles in the form of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.  The game retails for $19.99 USD and ultimately people are going to want to know if it’s worth picking up.  The short answer is…yes and no.

Dex1The Great:

The world of Dex, Harbor Prime, is absolutely phenomenal.  I am a huge fanboy of everything cyberpunk, and that includes this unique world.  You’ve got high powered corporations doing illegal things, futuristic drugs, cybernetic implants, and clones.  What more could you ask for?  The world is fully realized too, meaning every single detail has been extremely well thought out.  Everything is planned, and everything is connected.  This is a brilliantly cohesive world that comes together in a wonderful way.  The fact it’s 2D is even better because it looks outstanding.  Dreadlock Limited should be commended on creating such an incredible universe with Dex.

Dex2The Good:

  • The environments are just as awesome as the combined setting.  Level design is excellent and is actually infused with Metroidvania-style gameplay elements.  You can’t traverse the entire world until you’ve unlocked new cybernetic implants that allow you to jump higher, for example.
  • Fast travel will save you countless hours as you travel from one end of the city to the next.
  • RPG elements are simplistic, but fun.  As you gain levels you earn skill points which can be allocated to a wide assortment of stats.  You can improve your hacking, your combat skills, or even things such as your charm so you can convince people to do what you tell them too.
  • The storyline, while convoluted at times, is actually very interesting.  There are countless branching paths to every discussion you take part in, and these all have consequences.  Some characters you insult will not help you later on, and some missions can be nullified outright just by saying the wrong thing.  I actually really loved this aspect of the game as it kept you on your toes.

Dex3The So-So:

+/- Main story missions are few and far between.  In fact there are only about five main missions in the whole game, however there are a vast array of side missions.  Each of these are highly entertaining and interesting.  Even the most trivial side mission turns out to be extremely interesting.  The problem with the quest system is that you’re not limited in any way.  If you just play through the main storyline you’ll likely find the game brutally difficult, and if you complete too many side missions, the final stages of the game are an absolute breeze.  So while the content offered here is wonderful, the fact there’s no balance really hurts the end game.

+/- The combat is rather bland.  There are several systems at play here, and none of them are well balanced.  Initially you have to make do with the gifts god gave you, your fists.  Melee combat consists of nothing more than throwing one type of punch, rolling out of powerful attacks, and blocking lesser attacks.  Gunplay isn’t much better as it’s extremely cumbersome to aim at enemies.  Using guns is rather pointless too as enemies almost always run up to punch you in the face.  Now both of these systems eventually get much more interesting if you allocate precious skill points to melee or gun stats, however you don’t level up enough to try all the different skillsets out, which goes back to the balancing problem.

+/- Hacking is the other huge gameplay mechanic that could have been awesome, but fell apart thanks to a nasty bug.  During key moments of the game you have to hack computer terminals in order to progress the story.  At these sections, the game transforms into a basic twin stick shooter, complete with power-ups and more.  The problem is that every single time you would enter one of these sections you would get stuck in a wall and killed, which means you have to renter the computer except this time with zero hit points.  Thankfully this has been fixed with a recent patch, but that doesn’t change the fact that these sections just aren’t very interesting, unless, once again, you allocate skill points to make hacking more fun.

+/- Not being able to use the d-pad for movement is unfortunate.  Instead the d-pad is reserved for quick access to items.  I never used the d-pad for that reason as I always found myself going into the main menu.  I would have rather had access to the d-pad for movement as this is a 2D game after all and using the analogue stick for moving a 2D character never feels right.

Dex4The Ugly:

  • I already mentioned the stuck in the wall bug while hacking terminals, but there was even a bug at launch that prevented players from attaining the coveted platinum trophy.  This has since been fixed, but what kind of initial impression does that leave when you realize that you can’t even get the platinum trophy.  It makes the game feel rushed, and it looked that way too what with all the screen tearing that was in the initial release.

Dex5The Lowdown:

Dex had a ton of potential to be one of my favorite games of 2016, but alas it comes up short due to some balancing issues.  I would have also mentioned the bugs and glitches, but those have since been fixed.  I wish there were more missions or a different structure to allow players to enhance their character just a bit more.  Combat and hacking becomes so much more interesting towards the end of the game, but just as you start to enjoy it, the game ends.  That is very unfortunate as I really wanted this game to be something special.  As it is now, it’s a fun game in short bursts, and it’s a game where you can see potential, even if it is never reached.

Final Score: 6/10

Gone Home: Console Edition Review

GHGone Home: Console Edition (Available on PS4, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Fullbright, and Midnight City
Release Date: January 12, 2016

Parent Talk: The ESRB rated Gone Home: Console Edition M for mature because of sexual themes, drug references, and strong language.  They recommend that only players 17 and up play the game.  While there is no blood, no gore, and no violence to be had, the subject matter at hand may offend some people.  This is a coming of age story, and all the good and bad that goes along with that.

Plays Like: The entire game is played from a first-person perspective, as you explore a large mansion picking up items to piece together what’s going on.  It’s incredibly simple, but features a superb storyline.

Review Basis: I finished the game multiple times and polished off all of the trophies.

Every now and then a game comes along that really surprises me, and this is one such game.  It connects on such a level that very few games do.  Gone Home is a game from 2013 that was designed for PC, and it took two and a half years before it made its way to home consoles via the PS4 and Xbox One.  It was even canceled at one point, but I’m pleased to say it managed to get released, and it’s one of the most unique experiences out there.

Gone Home 1The Great:

The concept is incredibly simple.  You play as Kaitlin, the eldest of two daughters who is just returning from a European trip.  A lot has happened since she’s been away, based on the note you find on the front door to the house.  The note was written by Kate’s sister Sam and implores Kate not piece together why Sam has left, and to just let her be.  Naturally you can’t possibly do that, the human brain wasn’t designed like that.  You need to know why no one is here to greet you, and why Sam left.

The entire game takes place in first-person, and challenges you to piece together the story by interacting with all the household items you find in the large Oregon mansion.  What immediately struck me was how familiar this house felt.  Sure I never grew up in a mansion, but the game takes place in 1995, when I was still living at home.  All of the items scattered around the house were the same items I had in my house.  All the videogame references to the Super Nintendo, the rock music, the term papers that were sarcastic, the class notes with scribbles on them, these were all things I had at the same time.

I’ve played countless videogames over the years, but I’ve never encountered a videogame world that felt this real.  This was my house, and it very well could have been me wondering around a friend’s mansion back then.  While my parents were tidy, my room was always a bit of mess, so seeing this in the game was incredibly nostalgic.  Picking up a cassette and placing into a boom box brought me back to a time where we didn’t yet have the ability to just restart a song from the beginning, we had to rewind it.  Little memories like these are all over the place in Gone Home, and that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

The entire game or experience as I like to call it can literally be completed in under one minute, however I found myself playing for hours looking in each and every drawer, trying to see if there were any other memories tucked away I might discover.

Another element I loved is the way the game tricks you into thinking this could be a new installment in the Resident Evil series.  What with a powerful thunderstorm raging outside, flickering lights, and creeks and moans of the mansion.  The funny thing is, that feeling of dread is just in your head as there’s nothing to fear here, it’s just a large mansion and you happen to be all alone in it.  This actually acts as a great metaphor for the larger story, about a young girl’s coming of age.  The whole narrative is exceptionally well-told and I actually played through the game a few times in order to ensure I understood all the connections between Samantha and her story, but also Kate’s reasons for going to Europe and exactly what my parents were up to.

The audio visual presentation is also extremely well done.  The voice acting is absolutely superb and draws you into the narrative like very few games have done before.

Gone Home 2The Good:

  • The trophies deserve to be mentioned as one of them challenges you to complete the game in under 60 seconds, and believe me it takes quite a few tries to get the timing just right.  I love how they incorporated a speed run into a game like this, because for many this won’t be a game, but more an interactive book of sorts.

Gone Home 3The So-So:

+/- One of the only negative comments I have is that some of the household items repeat themselves rather often.  Seeing the exact same box of tissues repeated time and again was a little jarring, but is completely understandable given budgetary constraints.

Gone Home 4The Bad:

  • There are a few bugs that made it into the final release which pertain to the secret passageways throughout the mansion.  Some of the doors don’t open regardless of what you, and that can get incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to speed run the game.

Gone Home 5The Lowdown:

While some gamers may take offense to the subject matter of the larger tale being told, I absolutely loved this experience.  I reviewed this game when it was part of the PlayStation Plus free game selection for the month, and was completely blown away.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the $20 asking price given it’s the type of game you will likely play and master in under three hours, but the experience is certainly worth enjoying at least once.  Most definitely this will not be for everyone as the whole thing is wrapped up in no time, and there’s no action to be had here.  This is much like a deep drama, where you live through a powerful narrative.  If you enjoy powerful dramas, or are looking for something unique, give Gone Home a chance to impress you.

Final Score: 9/10

Mighty No. 9 Review

mighty-no-9-box-art-446x640Mighty No. 9 (Available on Wii U, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and PC)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Comcept, and Inti Creates
Release Date: June 21, 2016

Note: This literary review is specifically covering the Wii U version of the game.

Greetings everyone!  Cranberry here with a guest review!  Well then, let’s get right to it!

MN9_1Parent Talk:  Mighty No. 9 is a Japanese action “run and gun” platformer that features robots.  The gameplay is quite similar to the classic Mega Man games, and features a comparable level of violence.  Beck, the player-controlled character, is a robot sent on a mission to stop eight other robots that are rampaging through the city.  The battles are neither graphic nor gory; nothing here that should be inappropriate for children.

No human or living characters are ever fired upon by Beck, all destroyed enemies are robotic.

The History:

One cannot discuss Mighty No. 9 without mentioning how it came to be.  Mighty No. 9 began as a Kickstarter project, started by Keiji Inafune, a former employee of Capcom that is one of the most influential people behind the Mega Man franchise.  Mighty No. 9 was created to be the spiritual successor to the Mega Man franchise.

With more than 70,000 backers, this was one of the most anticipated games from Kickstarter.

MN9_2

After a turbulent development phase, the game has been released.  How does this Kickstarter-birthed game fare?  Let’s take a look!

MN9_3The Good:

Mighty No. 9 has a fair number of features available.  In addition to the normal single player story mode, there are a number of challenges, an online co-op mode, an online race, and a mode featuring a different playable character.  There’s a fair amount to do beyond just the main story.

There are a lot of familiar elements incorporated from the Mega Man series that inspired this game.  You get to choose which level you wish to enter, and may complete the first eight levels in any order you wish, along with an optional bonus level.  Defeating the boss at the end of your chosen level will reward you with a special weapon that you can use in other stages.

The characters in the game have a lot of personality, especially the bosses.  One of the more interesting characteristics about this game is that when you defeat a boss, you not only gain their power, but you gain their assistance as well.  While they are not playable, they can appear in other stages and help you through them.  You may see them defeating enemies or disabling certain stage hazards to help your mission.  They also provide clues for you before entering a stage.  This helps provide a sense of teamwork and makes you feel not so alone out on the battlefield.

MN9_4This gives the boss characters more screen time and makes them more than merely the boss of a level.  The world feels more alive and connected as you see the relationship between Beck and his fellow Mighties portrayed on-screen.

This game features the old-school Nintendo-era level of challenge.  Depending on how you look at it, this can be both good and bad.  You can definitely expect to experience a lot of game over screens as you learn the stages and patterns of your enemies.  Many of the stage hazards require precise timing and careful movements to clear, and the bosses show no mercy.  If you love old-school difficulty and pattern memorization, you will definitely find it here.
MN9_5The Bad:

The graphics in this game would look right at home on the Dreamcast; they don’t have the look and polish you might expect for a game released in 2016.  While they get the job done, they tend to look rather plain and uninspired.

Sometimes, the active objects on the stage blend in with the background, and sometimes it can difficult to determine what is part of the stage, and what is background.  It can be frustrating to leap towards what looks to be a ledge you can stand on, only to fall through it.  Other times, narrow passages you need to squeeze through can blend into the background and be difficult to spot.

There are a number of stage design problems too.  Several times the game will throw a new stage gimmick at you without teaching you how to use it, or you’ll be expected to use your special transformations in an unusual way without ever being given any indication that you could perform this task beforehand.  These issues range from platforms behaving in unexpected ways over dangerous terrain, secondary abilities for your weapons that were never revealed, to certain miss-able power-ups being required in order to clear a stage.

There is also a dash mechanic that is used both for traversal, and for battling enemies.  Once you’ve inflicted enough damage on an enemy, it becomes stunned and you can dash into it in order to destroy it, and to potentially gain temporary power-ups.  It’s not particularly natural or intuitive for a run and gun game to encourage you to deliberately collide with your enemies, though this does encourage speed-running and gives the game a mechanic all its own to set it apart from similar games.  That being said, this mechanic does present problems all its own.  In addition to defeating weakened enemies, dashing into them collects power-ups as well.  The power-ups collected from dashing can alter your speed and control in mid-jump, and it is quite easy to go sailing off a ledge because the speed of your character suddenly changes.  You often fight enemies on narrow platforms where dashing is dangerous and undesirable.  The dash mechanic can lead to a lot of lost lives from accidental dashes off a cliff.

Bosses are the biggest examples of the flaw with the dash mechanic.  Once you damage a boss enough, it stops taking damage and begins healing itself until you dash through it.  Frequently, a boss would take damage, and then go and fly around at the top of the screen where none of my weapons could reach it and recharge most of its HP.  This was quite frustrating, and happened frequently.

The Ugly:

Mighty No. 9, at least on the Wii U, features some horrendous load times.  Each time you lose a life, it takes 20 seconds or more to load the next life; sometimes considerably longer.  This is most definitely not okay, and is quite aggravating in a game that features such a high degree of difficulty and trial and error.

The game also suffers some frame-rate issues that can adversely affect gameplay.  While fortunately this was mercifully rare, it was quite noticeable when it occurred.

The game’s online co-op mode is perhaps the games biggest swing and a miss.  In this mode, two players cooperate to clear challenge objectives.  The problem is, one player will find that the game plays normally, but the other player will find the game to suffer such extreme lag and button input delays, that the mode is completely unplayable.  If you are not the “host player” hosting the room, many times your button commands are ignored entirely, and even if the game does respond to the command, it does not do so properly. It took me five attempts to jump onto a ledge directly above me when my character would leap up onto the ledge, and then fall right through it. While the feature is a fantastic idea, it’s simply unbearable in this broken state.

MN9_6The Roundup:

Mighty No. 9 aspires to be the spiritual successor to the famous Mega Man series, and while it captures a lot of the elements that made that series great, it doesn’t quite hit its mark.

Despite having a lot of the right elements, it doesn’t use them well.  The stages lack the quality design of its predecessor and the enemy selection is rather plain and boring.  You face the same few enemies throughout the game which gives all the stages a similar feel.  The stages themselves are pretty generic standard fare types of environments.

While Might No. 9 is not a terrible experience, it is a very mediocre one.  Nearly everything the game does, its predecessor did better.

While the multiplayer mode is unplayable, the single-player campaign, if you can tolerate the loading screens, can give you a decent run and gun experience that will indeed be reminiscent of that old-school Mega Man feel.  One thing that can help ease the frustrations of this game is to go into the options menu and increase the number of lives that you have.  This gives you more opportunities to start from the last checkpoint and more chances to attempt the trial-and-error based challenges this game loves to throw at you.

All in all, Mighty No. 9 is a very middle of the road game, which has earned it a middle of the road final rating.  My final score for Mighty No. 9 is a 5/10.

Song of the Deep Review

Song of the DeepSong of the Deep (Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players 1
Genre: Action Adventure
Publisher: GameTrust Games
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: July 12, 2016

Parent Talk: Song of the Deep has been rated E for everyone.  While there are portions of the sea that some very young children may find a bit scary, for the most part this is a childish fairytale so everyone should be able to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Plays Like: Have you ever played a Metroid game?  If so, you know what to expect here.  You traverse a large underwater universe that is blocked off by a series of obstacles that can only be removed by certain items.  These items are scattered all over the place, and by exploring you not only become more powerful, but you’re able to traverse more and more of the sea.

Review Basis: I finished the game and unlocked all ten trophies.

Song of the Deep is the first game from Gamestop’s brand new publishing branch, GameTrust Games.  Gamestop is doing everything they can to ensure they have a future when games are eventually 100% digital.  Their first publishing project is a game from Insomniac games called Song of the Deep and it’s a new Metroidvania-style game, the likes of which don’t get released too often these days.  It’s a fun, albeit flawed game that is certainly worth looking into given the low cost of entry.

SOTD1The Great:

What impressed me the most about Song of the Deep was its incredible audio visual presentation.  This is a stunning game to look at and listen to.  It looks like an illustrated children’s book came to life.  The entire game takes place underwater and the amount of colors that shine through each scene will take your breath away.  The game pops, and comes alive with each new area you unlock.  It’s a beautiful game all round and the audio compliments the incredible visuals.  The Celtic-inspired themes add an entirely unique element to the game, and the sound effects enhance the aquatic gameplay perfectly.

SOTD2The Good:

  • The story, while not Oscar-winning caliber, it extremely interesting.  Long story short, you play as Merryn whose father, a fisherman, tells her fantastical, almost fairytale-like stories of his adventures of the sea every night before she goes to sleep.  One day, her father doesn’t come home and Merryn dreams that he’s being held captive under the sea.  She quickly builds a submarine and goes off on an adventure to rescue him, and quickly discovers that everything her father said…was true.  It’s a very simple, yet surprisingly powerful story about a daughter’s love for her father, and the incredible adventure she embarks on.  The story is never bogged down, and is a perfect example of limited environmental storytelling with only a few cutscenes and narrations thrown in for good measure.
  • The Metroid-inspired gameplay is fun, although it never reaches the level of maturity I would have liked.  What ends up happening if you just start to feel powerful enough to start fully exploring each and every nook and cranny of the sea, when you realize the game’s over.  This was by design choice, not due to the length of the game as it’s around ten hours or so.  New weapon upgrades are attached to your submarine as you find them.  You have access to a hook or claw which can not only be used to defend the sub from enemies, but you can also pick up items, and trigger certain environmental obstacles like switches.  There are also a variety of torpedoes available, which can all be upgraded via an in-game store which uses coins you find all over the sea.  Each new item you find allows you to access areas you couldn’t pass before, and as a whole the exploration elements are fantastic.

  • Combat is also interesting, although there aren’t very many different enemy types.  I liked the fact that you can customize your ship in such a way to fit your playing style.  Prefer to use torpedoes over the claw, no problem you can do that.

SOTD3The So-So:

+/- The problem with Song of the Deep is that puzzles repeat themselves far too often.  There are two different types of puzzles in the game, ones where you have to get a bomb and bring it to a certain location, and the other is to locate the head of a statue.  The bomb puzzles are simple enough at the beginning of the game, but later on you need to freeze them in order for them to float and if anything touches them, they explode, so you have to be ultra-careful.  Many puzzles are designed in such a way that you’re guaranteed to play through them quite a few times in order to get the timing right.  The statue puzzles also start off simple, where you just have to locate the head of the statue and return it to the rest of the statue, but later on you also need to find the torso.  Throw in the fact that eventually Merryn can leave her sub and is forced to in order to locate certain statue pieces and these elements start to bring down the pacing.  Thankfully the light reflection puzzles are a little more interesting, but overall the puzzles as a whole aren’t the game’s strongest feature, and it’s a shame too because if a few different types of puzzles would have been added, the whole game would have ended up being that much better.

+/- Having only two real bosses in the game is a bit of a disappointment even if they are very fun to play through and are as large as the screen.

SOTD4The Bad:

  • There’s one mini-boss that is repeated around five times, and is terribly repetitive.  Why Insomniac didn’t design different mini-bosses is beyond me.

The Ugly:

  • Trophies.  This one completely shocked me.  Song of the Deep doesn’t feature a full complement of trophies.  There are only ten trophies and no platinum.  How that’s possible for a game like this I will never know.  I consider this one of the biggest letdowns in the history of trophies/achievements.  This is the kind of game that is begging for players to play through multiple times, and without a great trophy list it’s highly doubtful anyone will do so.

SOTD5The Lowdown:

Song of the Deep scratched an itch I’ve had for some time now.  I love Metroidvania-style games, however this one left a lot to be desired.  There was a lot of potential here that never seemed to be capitalized on.  With a little more thought behind it, this very easily could have been one of the best games of 2016, but now it’ll be remembered as a fun game that was so close to being something special.

Final Score: 7/10

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

Adventures of Mana Review

Adventures of ManaAdventures of Mana (Available on Android, iOS, and Vita)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix
Release Date: June 28, 2016

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Adventures of Mana E10+ for everyone over the age of ten. Fantasy violence and alcohol references are sited in the game’s description. Given the fantasy-based nature of the setting, the lighthearted storyline, and the limited violence, anyone could play this game and enjoy it. Even the youngest children out there can have a lot of fun with Adventures of Mana.

Plays Like: Adventures of Mana is a screen-for-screen remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, which was originally released on the Game Boy back in 1991. An updated version was released on the Game Boy Advance in 2003 under the name Sword of Mana. This remake takes elements from both versions to make the ultimate version of the first game in the long-running Mana series. You move from one screen to another, taking out enemies, solving minor puzzles, tackling dungeons, and other action RPG activities. If you’ve played any of the overhead Zelda games, you know exactly what to expect here.

Review Basis: I polished off the Vita version, and even decided to go for the elusive Platinum trophy.

Adventures of Mana is a screen-for-screen remake of the very first Mana game, Final Fantasy Adventure released on the original Game Boy in 1991. It also incorporates elements from the previous remake, Sword of Mana released on the Game Boy Advance in 2003. While originally released on Android and iOS, it has finally made its way over to the PlayStation Vita, and the results speak for themselves. If you own a Vita, this is the ultimate version of the game, and shouldn’t be missed by both Zelda fans and Mana fan alike.

Adventures of Mana1The Great:

What I love about Adventures of Mana is that it is able to scratch that retro itch, while incorporating lush new visuals, and a reworked soundtrack that sounds amazing. Square-Enix built a new 3D engine purposely for this remake as they intend to release all the Mana games on modern platforms for the series 25th anniversary. While some may not like the new 3D graphics over 2D sprites, I like the unique style the game has, and am eagerly awaiting the rest of the series. I would most certainly prefer the lush and beautiful pixels 2D sprites offer, but this new style has a certain charm to it. The new audio arrangements are fantastic, and will have long-time fans very pleased by the end results.

Adventures of Mana2The Good:

  • Quick question for you, do you like the original overhead Zelda games? If so, you’re going to have a lot of fun with Adventures of Mana. The gameplay is exactly like that classic series, where you traverse an overworld, visit towns, enter dungeons, and collect new armor, weapons, and spells in order to take out the evil Dark Lord of Glaive from destroying the Tree of Mana. The world is filled with maze-like areas that require certain items to bypass such as an axe to cut down trees, a sickle to sheer long vine growth, or a Chocobo to access waterways, and more.
  • If you get lost, which can happen quite easily, you can make the most out of the newly included mini-map, which is quite helpful to keep track of where you’ve been and where you need to go. For traditionalist out there, you can remove the map if you’d like to go it alone.

  • Combat as you would imagine is quite simple. Given Final Fantasy Adventure was originally released in 1991, and was released for the original Game Boy, it’s a basic affair. X is your one and only attack button. Combat is spiced up by the inclusion of different types of weapons, which are useful against different types of enemies. So for example you may need to use the sword against a magic cloud of doom, and an axe against a heavy armored foe. There’s a morning star, flail, sickle, and more.

Adventures of Mana3+ While there may only be one core action button, there are actually four buttons that can be used for whatever you want. Circle can be used for a second weapon, a magical spell, or a useful item. You then have three on-screen touch buttons, which can also be used with traditional buttons if you so desire (R plus Triangle, Circle, and X) and can also be mapped to either equipment, items, or spells.

  • Adventures of Mana also features some RPG-lite elements. Every time you gain a level you can set skill points towards strength, intelligence, vitality, and mind. These stats boost things like how many hit points you have, mana points, etc.
  • The game is also very portable friendly, with the ability to save anywhere. As such you can come and go as you’d like.

  • Trophy support and tactile buttons are fantastic. Thanks to the fact that you can use buttons for everything on the touch screen, this the best version released to date.   Being able to use the d-pad or the analogue stick on top of buttons is so much better than playing this on a smartphone. Better still is that you have access to both, so you can use the face buttons and d-pad, but you can always use the on-screen touch buttons to quickly access additional items. It’s the best of both worlds. Added trophy support is a bonus, although the trophies are a bit basic.

  • The PlayStation TV is supported, which is fantastic because if you’re like me and want to capture footage, it’s a complete breeze to do so. I hope more Vita games follow in its footsteps.

  • Adventures of Mana4The So-So:

    +/- While the updated audio visual presentation is welcome, it would have been nice to have gotten just a bit more. For example, whenever you change armor, it is not represented on your in-game character. This means he will look the same throughout the game, which is a bit unfortunate as there are only a handful of armor choices in the whole game, so it wouldn’t have been that much work to have created several character models.

    Adventures of Mana5The Bad:

    • There are several very old-school gameplay mechanics that likely should have been overhauled. Everything in the game resets the minute you leave the screen. Unless you defeat all the enemies, they pop right back up the second you reenter the screen, and this is true for locked doors, or stones which require a mattock to destroy. So here’s a fun situation you can find yourself in. You’re making progress in a particular dungeon only to run out of keys right before the boss fight. Simple, you just leave and go buy some more in the town located nearby right, well not quite as you also don’t have any mattocks left so you can’t escape the dungeon because the room you’re in is full of rocks that need to be destroyed. So what do you do? Thankfully you just load your last saved game and go buy some more, but this archaic gameplay design choice really stands out as something that could have easily been changed today. It’s not game-breaking, but it does get annoying when you forget to purchase one set of keys and only discover it when you’re already 20 minutes into the dungeon. Later on in the game the Morning Star makes mattocks useless, and Skeletons have a chance to drop keys so the game balances itself out, but early on stock up on keys and mattocks so as not to get yourself stuck.
  • The game was clearly not optimized for the PlayStation Vita. If you put your system into sleep mode, the game’s in-game timer continues to tick away, so don’t be surprised if your save file tells you you’ve been playing for 40 hours, when in reality you’ve been playing for maybe 4 or 5. All extra Vita features are not operational while the game is running, which is kind of funny since full retail releases such as Freedom Wars and others allow you access to other applications on the Vita at the same time as the game.

  • Adventures of Mana6The Lowdown:

    Adventures of Mana is a fun game, but it certainly has some issues. One gameplay tweak could have made the game a bit more accessible to the masses, at least early on what with the key and mattock issue, and the fact the Vita port wasn’t optimized for the system it’s on is a bit of a disappointment. That said, the game remains fun to play throughout the eight hour or so adventure. If Square-Enix is going to bring the rest of the Mana series to the Vita, I’ll gladly say thank you very much even if there are a few issues. If you’re a fan of classic Zelda, the original Final Fantasy Adventure, or are just looking for a solid action RPG, you could do a lot worse than Adventure of Mana.

    Final Score: 7.5/10

    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

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