Pokemon Platinum Review

For some reason, best unlimited hosting has always been my black sheep of the franchise. I recently played through Pokémon Pearl a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised. You can go read my review on this site if you want, as Platinum is basically an update of Pearl/Diamond. Since this isn’t a new entry, this review won’t be as detailed as my usual Pokémon reviews but I thought it was worth it to write one as Platinum does a lot to fix the wrongs of Diamond and Pearl.

The Best

Improved storyline. I actually felt more involved and generally cared more for the Sinnoh in Platinum. The main villain Cyrus is actually a lot more interesting and the game seems to move more fluently. I honestly remember next to nothing about Diamond and Pearl’s plot, but had a genuine good time replaying through Platinum. If you google search the differences between Platinum and Diamond/Pearl, you’ll see that there’s actually quite a lot. In my opinion this is probably the main reason to invest into Platinum.

The Good

  • They fixed two of my biggest gripes with Diamond & Pearl. Surfing is now much faster and the hp bar goes down faster. Simple but appreciated fixes.
  • The distortion world. A puzzle gravity dungeon where you face off against Giratina at the end. Very entertaining.
  • The HM Defog is no longer essential for progress.
  • Last time in the series where the Elite 4 had a specific order. I miss this.
  • Cynthia. One of the best champions of the franchise.

The So-So

+/- Watch out for kock offs! This is probably one of the most pirated games out there. I’d say 75% of the copies on ebay are fakes so be careful.

The Bad

  • For some reason, gyms leaders are now back to full type exclusive teams. That was a feature I enjoyed the most out of Diamond & Pearl.

The Lowdown

Pokémon Platinum is well worth your time if Pokémon is a franchise you love. I for one finished it 17 quick hours in just a few settings as I could not stop playing. There’s easily 40 hours of content in here if you plan to do everything and complete the pokedex. It fixes most problems with Diamond & Pearl so you might want to pick it up if you ever want to revisit generation 4.

Super Bomberman R Review

Super Bomberman R (Available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Genre: Action Puzzle
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami & HexaDrive
Release Date: March 3, 2017

Parent Talk: Super Bomberman R has been rated E10+ for everyone ten and up.  The only notes the ESRB makes is that the game features cartoon violence, and that’s exactly right.  For a name like Bomberman one could expect the worst, but in reality, this is a very light-hearted game that children of all ages will absolutely love.

Plays Like: This is one of those instances where I feel confident in saying, if you’ve played one Bomberman you’ve played them all.  You move around a grid trying to complete a variety of missions from blowing up all the enemies, to locating keys and switches, to surviving for a set amount of time.  There are boss fights, and five great worlds for you to explore, made up of eight stages each and two boss fights per world.  After that there are two final boss fights and that’s all she wrote.  The thing is there are lots of multiplayer options, and that’s where fans will spend hours upon hours having an absolute blast.

Review Basis: I played through the game in a handful of hours, tried the harder difficulty settings and went online to test the stability of the network.

Bomberman is back, and what a huge surprise.  Being an old-school Bomberman fan since the TurboGrafx-16 days, it was nice to see this game grace the Switch’s launch.  Konami has been dead to the gaming industry for some time now, so this really came as a huge shock to me to see them back in action, and with a game I never expected to see again.  While the game doesn’t break from the classic formula in any way, the fact the Switch is so diverse is ultimately what makes the game that much more compelling than previous entries.  Be warned though, the entry price is a bit steep.

The Great:

Bomberman at home, Bomberman on the go, Bomberman everywhere!  The absolute best feature of Super Bomberman R is the fact you can play it everywhere, in any of the three available modes the Switch offers.  At home, you can have up to eight players go to town, in tabletop mode up to four players can share the small screen, and in portable mode you can either play by yourself or you locally connect to eight other systems or head online where up to eight can play.  One note to make is that for all the online matches I played while in console or portable mode, I couldn’t get matches larger than four unless the other players had partners at home.  Whether this is required or not I’m not sure.

The online and local multiplayer are literally a blast.  As with every Bomberman game, you need to experience it with other players.  At first my online sessions were a bit sluggish, however that quickly improved over time.  The more matches I played, the better the connections became.  If you’re unlucky and are stuck with some poor connections, believe me, you’ll feel it.  It makes playing extremely challenging.  Konami has already released a fix to improve the connection issues, and I expect more in the coming weeks.

Multiplayer plays very much like the classic Bomberman of yesterday where you try and be the last man standing.  What’s fun here is that when you’re defeated you can hang out at the border of the arena and lob bombs at the surviving players.  If you manage to blow one up, you take their place and are back in the game.  During the last minute of battle the players who were defeated are kicked out, and the arena starts to fill with spikes, which forces the remaining players to get closer to each other.  It’s an absolute riot, and great fun.

There’s a league match, which is ranked, and then a free play which allows you to customize the match as you see fit.  You can even buy stages with the game’s in-game currency, but be warned the coins you need are not easy to attain.  You get some from winning online matches, and by completing the campaign, but it’ll take quite a few rounds before you can afford anything, and if you decide to want to play the campaign on the harder difficulty settings, be prepared to spend a small fortune to continue.

The Good:

  • Considering the way Nintendo built the Switch, everyone who buys a copy of Bomberman automatically has access to local two-player multiplayer, which is awesome.  The downside is that the Joy-Con are not the best controllers to use for people with larger hands like I have.  I can use them perfectly when they’re docked to the system, but once apart they’re just too tiny for me.  That said, the fact that you have access to multiplayer without having to spend any additional money is fantastic.
  • I mentioned the in-game currency can be used to purchase stages, but you can even unlock addition characters and headgear to really customize your avatar.  There are eight Bombermen by default, but the fact you can really make one character your own is fantastic.
  • The campaign is surprisingly excellent.  Yes it’s a tad short, featuring five worlds made up of eight classic stages and then two boss fights per world, but it’s great fun.  You select from one of the eight Bombermen whose mission is to stop the Evil Emperor Buggler from destroying the universe.  The cutscenes are extremely cute and humorous, which is precisely what you’d expect from a Bomberman game.  Each world has a unique theme, and each stage has different winning conditions.  The majority of the stages require you to defeat all the enemies, but others will require you to find a set number of keys, activate a number of switches, survive for a certain amount of time, and more.   This diversity helps keep things fresh.
  • The level design is also excellent, with certain blocks allowing you to jump to other levels, ice patches that prevent you from standing in one spot, and much, much more.
  • The boss battles are very fun, if not overly original.  The first of the two boss battles is always a one-on-one race battle.  These are extremely challenging as your opponent always knows precisely where to stand to avoid getting blown up, which forces you to try and pin them to defeat them or sacrifice yourself to take them down as well.  The second boss battles are all the same, the boss jump into a mech and tries to take you down.  These boss battles play out the same across all the different worlds, you damage the mech and then inflict damage to the boss.  These are extremely fun throughout the campaign.
  • The graphics look great, even if they aren’t using the Switch hardware to its fullest.  Everything is colorful and bright, which is shocking to see for a game released in 2017.  Where’s all the brown and gray? The audio is also really catchy and fits the game perfectly.

The So-So:

+/- One problem I have with the new isometric camera angle is that it can make it hard to pinpoint your exact location.  I can’t tell you how many times I planted a bomb in one lane and move to the next only to realize I wasn’t full in the next lane, and BOOM there goes a life.  This can also make the elevated areas a bit tough to see, and don’t even get me started on some of those mech boss fights as the buggers will move in such a way that obstructs your view so you can’t tell where you are, and you usually end up dead as a result.

+/- The controls are another area that take some getting used to, much like the camera.  I don’t know exactly what it is, but having 360-degree control over your character feels a bit strange at first.  This is evident when you head online, but after a while you should manage to adjust.

The Bad:

  • The price is a bit hard to justify.  In Canada the game goes for $64.99, which is the same price as Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 & 1.5 Remix on the PlayStation 4.  That game lasts for dozens and dozens of hours, whereas this can be beaten in a handful of hours.  Yes the multiplayer is great, but that’s a lot of money and given the content featured it’s really hard to justify that price point.

The Lowdown:

Super Bomberman R is a game I would recommend to anyone, if it were just a bit cheaper.  I know people have discussed this to death by now, but it deserves repeating.  The asking price gives people certain expectations, and I’ll admit I was surprised by the amount of content when I played through the game.  I kept telling myself, at this price I could have gotten some much meatier experiences, although you’d be hard pressed to find a better party game on the Switch as of right now. If you consider this review useful don’t forget to visit www.hotrate.com for more different products reviews.

Final Score: 7.5/10

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Available on Wii U, and Nintendo Switch)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017

Parent Talk: Breath of the Wild has been rated E10+ by the ESRB for everyone ten years and up.  The disclaimer lists Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, and the Use of Alcohol.  All of the Zelda games fit this criteria, however this one feels slightly more mature than most Zelda games because it deals with death, failure, and an impending doom.  That said, the story is also extremely minimalistic, more so than almost any other game in the franchise.  The violence is about up to par with the rest of the series, and most children will be perfectly fine with the game.

Plays Like:  I could very easily say Breath of the Wild plays just like any other Zelda game, but that would be a flat out lie.  Certain elements play like the older games in the series, but for the most part, the game that this plays the most like is the original Legend of Zelda, and that’s shocking!  Players are free to do as they please from the moment they leave the starting area.  So about thirty to forty minute in, and you can do literally anything you want.  Want to fight Ganon, go for it, want to traverse the world, you can do that too, how about spending the next 90 hours cooking, yes, that’s also possible.

Review Basis: I invested over 90 hours into Breath of the Wild.  That includes finding and completing all 120 shrines, countless side quests, and all of the Divine Beasts.  I explored absolutely every inch of the world map, and tried to do everything I could with the game.  I’m certain there are still tons of elements I know nothing about, but for the most part, I would say now I’m ready to review the latest game in my favorite series.  Full disclosure, I’ve been playing this series since 1987 and am a diehard fan, so you can expect a fan’s perspective with this review.

This review will be completely different than all the other reviews I’ve ever done.  Typically I race to get out the quickest reviews possible, and sometimes, especially in the case of the Zelda series, I get sucked into the hype and come back many years later to question why I reviewed said game the way I did.  With Breath of the Wild I really wanted to invest the time necessary to see what worked, what didn’t work, and what could be improved upon.  Overall The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an incredible game, and a game-changing one for the Zelda series.  Nintendo hasn’t been this bold since The Wind Waker was released on the GameCube back in 2002.  That game was a huge risk for Nintendo because of the graphical direction Nintendo took the series in, but with A Link Between Worlds Nintendo started to change the core gameplay.  They expressed interested early on in trying to take the series in a brand new direction with Breath of the Wild, and they’ve certainly succeeded in doing that.  The question now is whether or not the countless perfect scores media outlets have given the game are justified or has everyone fallen into the hype trap?  Let’s dig in and find out!

Let’s start off with a variety of elements I loved.

  • A true open world. The sense of freedom is unmatched in any other game.  By now you’ve all heard of just how massive Hyrule is in Breath of the Wild.  The size and scale is incredible, but that’s not what makes this impressive.  What is so shockingly impressive is the fact that you’re left pretty much to your own devices.  Unlike Skyward Sword where you were handheld for what felt like an eternity, here after the opening section you can do anything you want.  You can head directly to Ganon, or you could go in the exact opposite direction.  The game points you to Kakariko Village, but the choice is yours whether or not you actually want to do that.  In total I believe there are only around 10 main quests in the game, one for each of the Divine Beasts, one for Ganon, and a few others pointing you to your next destination once you trigger the larger quest event.  Not since the original Legend of Zelda did I ever feel this much free from a Zelda  When I was a kid I recall going off in any direction, with the only limiting factor being key items I required, or the level of difficulty from enemies.  Here you have all the items you need right at the beginning of the game, so the only thing stopping you is your courage.  Yes the game is broken up in such a way so as to help funnel you to different areas through enemy difficulty, but you still have the choice to ignore all of that and veer off in any direction you want, and that is such a welcome change for the series.
  • I just said that enemy difficulty plays a key part in this game, and that’s absolutely true. Right away you feel underpowered to the earliest encounters the game has to offer.  The reason why, you’re literally naked.  Without any defensive gear you’re left at the mercy of every enemy you encounter.  There are a few ways you can fix this.  You can scour the land and try and find gear, or you can master the combat system, which is simple enough that you can actually race straight to Ganon and actually beat him if you’re extremely well-versed in the combat system.  For the average gamer that’s not going to be an option, you’ll have to play through the game as Nintendo intended.  The thing is, having this incredible difficulty is something us long-time fans have been asking for, for years now.  Zelda games have become all too easy over the past three decades, and having this one kick my butt right at the on-set was a welcome treat.  I loved not being hand-held, and having to stumble onto new tactics to defeat each new enemy I encountered.
  • Every enemy encounter is slightly different. While the combat system as a whole is rather simplistic, the way you actually face enemies is always different.  For example, you might see a group of enemies sleeping, so do you just run in and fight them all just like that?  Maybe, or maybe you sneak past all the enemies and steal their weapon stash which makes them defenseless, or maybe you shoot some fire arrows at the pieces of wood that happen to be holding large boulders that will then fall and crush all the enemies.  This may sound exaggerated, but almost every enemy encounter has between three and four obvious ways to tackle the encounter, and countless others you don’t immediately think about.
  • I’ve said the combat system was simplistic, and while that’s true, when you couple it with how many combat options you have available, it never feels stale. For the most part you have the ability to slash at foes by pressing the Y button.  If you use the ZL button, depending on your held weapon you can deflect incoming projectiles with your shield.  Where things get interesting is that if you time it correctly, you can parry an incoming projectile directly back at an enemy by pressing the A button at the precise time.  This is how it’s entirely possible to storm Hyrule Castle right away and take on Ganon, because the full extent of the combat system is unlocked right away.  You have to have perfect timing though, so don’t expect this to be a breeze.  You can also perform charged attacks and more.  Each weapon has a distinct ability when charged, a giant club will allow you to perform a circular spinning attack, whereas a sword will allow you to charge your attack to perform a one-time classic spin attack.
  • Charge attacks are based on the stamina system, which controls so many different aspects of the game. Stamina is what dictates how long you can glide, how long you can climb up surfaces, how far you can swim, and how long you can perform your devastating attacks.  Since Link has the ability to climb up just about every surface in the game, the stamina wheel acts a nice control of sorts.  As you complete shrines, you can also upgrade your stamina wheel to a maximum of three stamina wheels.  With that much stamina there’s no place you won’t be able to reach.
  • Perhaps the biggest addition made to the Zelda series outside the open world is the newly introduced gravity system. Virtually all of the gameplay mechanics are wrapped around gravity.  My previous example for how you could approach an enemy encounter also mentioned gravity indirectly.  When you set fire to certain obstacles, gravity can take over causing objects to fall.  So you can imagine all the possibilities not only in terms of combat, but also in terms of puzzle solving.  The shrines are mostly made up of puzzles that revolve around using magnetic abilities, bombs, freezing time, or creating ice blocks, but each of these is wrapped around gravity.  So you might stop an object, smack it a few times with your sword, and the power will build up in it that when time resumes, it will fly off in a certain directly at warp speed, almost ignoring gravity.  Sometimes a well-placed bomb will causes debris to fall and crush enemies, and there are so many examples where you need to use gravity to your advantage in order to move an orb into position to trigger a door to open.  That doesn’t even being to mention how gravity affects your arrows, which is to say, a lot.  You always have to aim slightly over a target because you have to factor in gravity pulling the arrow down.  It’s absolutely fantastic, and a great new inclusion to the series that I want to see in all future Zelda
  • The Legend of Zelda series has been known to house some fun and distractive mini-games, but there’s one sort of mini-game here that takes the cake, literally. The cooking system, while not perfect which I’ll touch in later on, is highly addictive.  The way it works is simple, you can grab up to five ingredients from your materials inventory and mix them together in a cooking pot to create something magical.  From cold-resistant elixirs to meat skewers that replace 10+ hearts, there’s no limit to what you can cook.  The real fun part is when you start to explore Hyrule and realize there are secret hidden recipes all over the place, some of which will show you how to make incredibly strong potions that can grant you a series of new heart containers, or even up your attack power.  The catchy little jingle is what makes it even better.  In terms of other mini-games, there are some returning favorites like horseback archery, as well as new ones like snow bowling.
  • Traveling the world trying to find everything Hyrule has to offer may seem daunting at first, and while there are a wide assortment of travel options available, I always found climbing up a mountain and gliding to the next point of interest the best mode of transportation, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the other ways you can travel around. If you want to traverse the sea, why not take a raft and a Korok Leaf to send wind at the raft sail and sail away to wherever you want.  Naturally you can try and mount a horse, calm it down, and then register it at a stable if you want to keep said horse.  This is rather common, but did you know you can also find and ride bears, deer, and maybe even skeleton horses?  Yes, there’s no shortage of ways to get around.  The most useful is fast-traveling from one destination to another, which you can do once you unlock a shrine.  This is why I spent dozens of hours unlocking all of the game’s shrines, because they allowed me to move from one area to the next with ease.
  • Speaking of shrines, they take the place of dungeons. I’ll say this right away, they’re not substitute for a classic Zelda dungeon, but they are indeed fun.  Completing a shrine rewards Link with a spirit orb, which he can use four of them to upgrade one of his heart containers or a piece of a new stamina wheel.  I loved the quick-paced nature of the shrines, but after about 80 of them they start to get very repetitive.  Essentially there are two types, combat trials where you fight the same enemy, just different versions of it, and then there are the puzzle-based shrines.  These are usually made up of two or three rooms with a single puzzle in each.  Occasionally there will be more complex shrines, but not often.  They really put your understanding of the game’s Sheikh Slate abilities to the test, which is why I enjoyed them as much as I did.
  • There are several core abilities that the Sheikah Slate has: Bombs, Magnesis, Stasis, camera, and Amiibo. It can be used to locate shrines, or you can take pictures of items and then switch the sensor to search the world for said items.  The sensor can be upgraded, which grants additional abilities, such as that camera scanning feature.  What’s so unique is that you get the main abilities before you leave the Great Plateau, or the starting area.  That means you’re armed to tackle absolutely all of the puzzle-based shrines from the moment you’re able to explore the world, and that’s extremely unique.
  • Amiibo support gave players an early advantage in terms of materials to use for cooking as well as weapons, shields, and bows they could make use of. The biggest gameplay change-up with Amiibo support was the inclusion of Wolf Link from Twilight Princess  Wolf Link can fight beside Link and can be repeatedly used if he falls in battle, by triggering the Amiibo again, whereas the other ones can only be used once per day.  Only the Zelda-based character trigger special drops, all the other Amiibo figures simply drop a few resources.  If you own Twilight Princess on the Wii U, you can even max our Wolf Link’s hearts to 20.
  • One element that I’ve heard a lot of players dislike is the weapon durability system. The truth is that in past Zelda games most players will stick to about five or six weapons in their inventory, and the others they’d use out of necessity to complete a dungeon or some special boss.  What I like with this new system is that it almost forces you to try everything, at least once.  You can try boomerangs, two-handed weapons, wands, swords, and every bow imaginable.  I really liked that.  Yes it’s unfortunate that there aren’t any weapons that last forever, yes even the Master Sword will need to recharge after prolonged use, and the Hylian Shield can and will break over time.  Still, the fact I played with so many different weapons was an interesting idea.  I think what could have made this just a bit better would have been if one of the great fairies could have upgraded weapons besides just upgrading armor.  That way towards the end of the game players could have kept the weapons they liked the best.
  • As I just mentioned, great fairies are back and they can upgrade your gear from collected materials you find all over Hyrule. This is important as it really gives you a reason to explore, and fight each new enemy you encounter.  From mystical dragons to the dreaded Lynel there are always materials you can put to good use at some point.  I spent many hours trying to harvest all of the materials for my favorite armor sets, and doing so pays off, not only in defensive strength, but also in set bonuses.  Some armor sets allow you to be almost invisible while walking, while others prevent you from catching fire, freezing, or being electrocuted.  Believe me when I say, upgrading your gear can turn the tables on your enemies and make you a force to be reckoned with.
  • Hyrule is populated with an incredible cast of characters. I would go so far as to say the generic NPC you see walking around is actually more interesting than the champions you’re supposed to learn more about from 100 years ago.  The reason why is because they share so many similarities with Majora’s Mask.  People in Hyrule live their life.  They all have daily routines, and when it starts to rain, they take shelter and do something else.  This is so fascinating to watch, and depending on what you’re wearing at the time, from nothing to special armor sets I don’t want to spoil, their animations and even dialogue changes.  It’s absolutely incredible.
  • The story takes a backseat in this latest Zelda which was a bit surprising. When I finished off the game and the credit were rolling I realized just how little story there actually was in the game, but then I recalled all the little elements that the NPCs had added to the tale.  You see yes the main storyline isn’t all that deep.  There are a series of hidden memories you can activate which help flesh things out, but it’s actually old journals, and certain NPCs that really add to the storyline and help make the world feel more cohesive.  What’s really interesting is the support and lack of support for where the game fits in the now infamous Zelda Timeline.  We know the game takes place after Ocarina of Time, but that’s all Nintendo is saying at this point.  There are hints it could take place after Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, or fit within the ‘failed hero’ timeline.  That doesn’t help, as each one of those are branches of all three timelines.  I looked high and low for clues, and ultimately I can make an argument for all three, although personally I’m leaning towards the failed hero timeline because of the placement of the Master Sword, as well as all the nods to the original games, but hey, that’s just me.   Where do you think the game takes place in the timeline?
  • Finally, it’s time to talk about the audio visuals. As a Switch launch title, or a Wii U swansong, the game looks fantastic.  This marks the first brand new Zelda game created on an HD console.  That’s staggering that it took until 2017 to get a native HD Zelda, but here it is.  Before anyone says anything, I’m excluding the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess remakes as those were HD-upgraded ports of Wii games.  Breath of the Wild is a completely original Zelda game that was created from the ground up with high-def in mind, and as you can imagine, it looks spectacular.  From the great animation in enemies and Link himself, to all the wonderful weather effects, the game is a standout on both platforms.  In particular the rain effects look phenomenal when you see small lakes starting to form because of the non-stop rain for past a day.  Little touches like that are amazing.  The audio is much more subdued this time around, with ambient noise playing a more integral part of the experience.  As such you don’t really have those classic sweeping melodies from each new dungeon you enter.  Piano is used extensively throughout the soundtrack, and what music is here is extremely well composed and fitting.  I just wish there were more themes.

Now comes the time where I will highlight elements I thought could be improved.  This is where I expect to see some pitchforks and riots breaking out in the streets.  Do keep in mind that the commentary I’m offering here is in hopes of Nintendo taking things to the next level for the eventual follow-up to Breath of the Wild.

  • Rain, rain go away. Come again another day.  If there is one element in Breath of the Wild that annoyed me more than anything else, it happens to be the weather system.  At first it’s absolutely great, seeing beautiful crystal clear days, and then suddenly the sky darkens and a thunderstorm begins.  It’s breathtaking and truly a sight to behold.  What’s annoying and ultimately frustrating, is that rain seems to happen at the most inopportune times.  I can’t even begin to mention how many times I would be gliding to a nearby mountain to see the clouds darken and the rain start just as I was about to hit the face of the mountain.  This is problematic because you can’t climb anything while the surface is wet.  So what ends up happening is I start to slide down the mountain, eventually all the way down to the bottom.  Then I have to fast teleport back to the starting point, if that’s even an option as sometimes it isn’t, create a fire, and progress time until the rain stops.  Its ok when this happens once or twice, but when it happens over and over again, it starts to get very annoying.  A super simple fix would have been the Song of Storms, to clear out that horrible weather.
  • I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was to hear voice acting in a Zelda Not some garbled chatter, but real honest-to-goodness voice acting.  I had already heard Zelda speak in several commercials for the game, and it was wonderful.  I loved her dialogue, even if it was a bit stilted at times.  What I didn’t expect though, was for the rest of the main cast to be so lifeless.  The voice acting is stiff and comes across as amateurish compared to Zelda and all other AAA open-world RPGs out there.  While I commend Nintendo on what they did with Breath of the Wild, this is one element I hope they spend more time on moving forward.
  • Cooking is one of the best elements of the game, as I mentioned above. I just loved it.  What I didn’t love was the extremely limited way Link can cook.  For example if I wanted to make a meat skewer containing five raw meats, that was fine and worked perfectly.  The thing is, what if I wanted to make 15 of them?  This is where I would have really preferred some sort of automatic system where I could have selected from a list of previously made recipes and had the option to make more than one at a time.  As it is here, making the same meal over and over again gets boring.  Even that sweet jingle can’t save it.
  • In total there are 120 shrines, which naturally limits the amount of variation one can expect from these micro-dungeons. I would say about 30 of them are combat shrines, but that number is just from the top of my head so it could be more.  Each combat shrine works exactly the same, you enter the arena, and take on a Guardian Scout.  Once you learn how to fight one, the battles are exactly the same for all four different versions of the Scout, except the Scout has one or two additional weapons.  I felt this was an arbitrary way of extending the length of the game by having so many similar-themed shrines.  The puzzle-based shrines are the exact opposite and felt like they contained some of the very best puzzles ever created in a Zelda game, thanks in no small part to the great gravity system in place.
  • I missed some of the core Zelda While the four divine beast ‘dungeons’ were fun, they weren’t anything like traditional dungeons.  I’ve always adored the dungeons in Zelda games because of how creative they were.  That’s not to say these weren’t creative, just that they weren’t as fleshed out as the ones from past games.  Remember the Fire Temple, Ganon’s Tower, or Turtle Rock?  Yeah, well there’s nothing even close to those dungeons in this game, and I really missed having those experiences.  I also missed weapons such as the hookshot, and felt that could have added another layer to the puzzles as well as the open-world exploration.
  • Having destructible weapons and shields was an interesting gameplay mechanic, and one I didn’t really have any problem with, however I did have one nitpick. Whenever your weapon or bow breaks, it isn’t automatically replaced by the next one in line.  This forces you to have to open the quick menu to select another weapon.  It’s not game breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have been a nice feature to have instead of always having to go through a menu of some sort.
  • Wii U features are missing in action. Of all the things this game did right, this is the one element that really sticks out as a glaring omission.  It’s clear from the various gameplay mechanics that Nintendo originally had a quick menu system on the Wii U GamePad to change items such as your armor.  It’s likely why there are so many different armor sets that are ideal in different situations.  With a touch of your finger you could change Link’s gear from the Zora set to the fire preventing Flame breaker armor set.  It’s obvious this was implemented from the get-go, but alas when the Switch version was announced this was cut from the Wii U version.  Naturally this is just speculation on my part, but it’s if the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time is any indicator, Nintendo likely had this in mind when they started making the game.  As it is now, you spend an incredible amount of time in your inventory menu switching back and forth between armor sets.
  • Boss fights were very lackluster and uninspired. I really would have loved to have seen something different done with the bosses, but I understand the limitations given the scale and freedom offered.  Bosses can easily be defeated with the most basic combat strategies, and this was done because they had to be designed in such a way as to be downed with an arrow, bombs, magnetic powers, stasis, etc.  Without having a boss created where you use the newly acquired dungeon weapon, there was only so much the developers could do.  That said, I think they could have done more.  Even the very last boss battle didn’t invoke the same feeling of badass-ness that just about all the other past Zelda game did.
  • A huge missed opportunity with Breath of the Wild is with the lack of built-in social features. I can’t stress this enough, this game was made for an achievement system and built-in Twitter and Facebook functionality.  The camera function is absolutely awesome, and yet it’s limited to in-game use.  Nintendo could have easily made it so you could send pictures directly through Twitter and Facebook for all the world to see.  The Wii U version has Miiverse, where you can share different pics, and the Switch version has the nifty capture button that you can then use to share pics to social media, but neither of these feels completely cohesive, they feel more like workarounds.  At least Miiverse has a thriving community, while it lasts.  As for achievements, neither version has a built-in reward system; which is a shame as I can only imagine how creative some of the achievements for this game could have been.
  • The very last thing to mention relates back to something I mentioned way earlier, the graphics. While they do indeed look incredible, the game takes a beating on the hardware its being played on.  Whether it’s on the Wii U or the Switch, the framerate can dip down to a standstill for a few seconds before the game resumes.  That’s very unfortunate, and some areas are extremely bad where it feels as though the game is chugging along to keep up with what’s being displayed onscreen.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game, but it also has a few hiccups along the way.  Some will call these genuine problems, others will call them nitpicks, but in the end the pros far outweigh the cons.  Coming from a developer like Nintendo, this is a bold and brash move.  They’ve taken one of their most popular franchises and tried something new, and for that I commend them.  Will this game reach the heights set by A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, for that only time will tell.  Right now it’s an absolute must-buy game for anyone who likes playing videogames.  I can’t wait to return to this game in five years or so to see if I feel the same way as I do right now, once the hype has died down.

Final Score Switch Version: 9.8/10
Final Score Wii U Version: 10/10 

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Developer: Aquria
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita
ESRB Rating: T

 

Introduction:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is the latest in a series of Sword Art Online games that is based off a light novel and anime. The setting of the series is a fictional Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing (MMORPG) game in which players don a Virtual Reality headgear that allows them to fully immerse themselves in this online world. Sword Art Online is the name of this game, which itself has seen several settings during the various story arcs of the series.   The video games are based off the source material, but occur in alternate realities where events did not unfold exactly how they did in the original stories.

In Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, Kirito, the main protagonist of the Sword Art Online series, and his companions are invited to participate in a beta test for Sword Art Online: Origins, a new MMORPG set in a recreation of the world from the original Sword Art Online. Inside this new game, they meet a variety of other players, and encounter a mysterious NPC that offers a quest with an unusually meager reward. Intrigued by this odd and seemingly incomplete NPC, Kirito and his companions aim to solve the mystery of this unusual NPC.

Parent Talk:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has a Teen rating by the ESRB with the following justifications listed for the rating:

  • Drug References
  • Mild Language
  • Partial Nudity
  • Suggestive Themes
  • Violence

This list is very accurate for what is portrayed in the game, especially suggestive themes. The game is full of what is often called “fan service” in which female characters are frequently shown in rather suggestive situations and revealing states of dress.

The battles fought in the game are not bloody or gory and are pretty tame; they should not cause any problems for even younger children.

There are some direct portrayals of drug usage within the game.

The teen rating seems appropriate for the game, younger children should have parental discretion.


Plays Like:

Although there is an online multiplayer feature, at its core this game is a “Pretend” Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). The game simulates the look and feel of a MMORPG, but the core game occurs offline. The game-play borrows a lot of elements from Phantasy Star Online 2 and Final Fantasy XIV.

There are two types of game-play here. This game is an action RPG that plays very similar to Phantasy Star Online 2. You always have direct control of your character. You can run, jump, attack, and evade all in real time. You can perform special skills with your weapons, which often serve as finishers to your combo attacks.

Much like Final Fantasy XIV, you have a pallet where you can set various skills, items, and abilities to grant you quick access to them. Enemies have visual cues and the world maps have special events that occur when you enter a designated area. Fans of these online RPGs will find a lot looks familiar here in Sword Art Online.

The second style of game-play is a visual novel. Story progression takes place through character portraits displayed on screen.   Most dialogue is voice acted, albeit entirely in Japanese. Subtitles display the dialogue in English. Nearly all narration is presented through this visual novel style of play.


The Good:

In terms of visual presentation, the game takes a unique approach. I would describe the aesthetics as looking like Dragon Quest characters inhabiting a Final Fantasy world. The character models have a distinct “anime” look to them, helping them stay pretty true to the source material they come from. The world and terrain you explore looks much like the world of Final Fantasy XIV; a much more realistic look in contrast to the characters.

Speaking of the in-game world, there is no shortage of world to explore. Helping the game simulate the look and feel of a MMORPG, you are presented with some truly massive maps to roam around in. These maps are full of monsters, treasure chests, and special events that will ensure there is always something to do on them. With so much activity, you can easily spend more than an hour on a single field hunting down all its features.

Of course, maps filled with monsters inevitably leads to battle, and fortunately battles are one area where this game shines. Despite a large number of skills and abilities available, you do not have to wade through endless menus searching for your desired move. Basic attacks are mapped to a simple button press, with another button activating your main skill. Further skills can be activated by tapping your special attack button while inputting a direction on the analogue stick. An action pallet can also be customized and displayed or hidden as desired to gain access to even more skills and abilities.

The result is quick access to your desired specials with minimal “search” time, which is essential when you are in the thick of a heated battle. Combat is simple enough that it’s easy to learn, yet has enough depth and strategy to it to make it feel engaging without being overwhelming.

My favorite aspect of the game comes from one of its mechanics designed to help simulate a specific MMORPG experience, and that is the simulated “raid” boss battles.   While there are only a handful of true bosses in the game, when you finally do encounter one, you find you are not the only one gunning for the boss. A whole legion of characters have shown up contemplating how to defeat the boss, and they are more than happy to join up with you for the battle.

Accept the offer, and you’ll begin the boss battle with a 12-member team, and it is truly an incredible experience to see so many characters working together in real-time to achieve an objective. You can even issue commands that your AI party members will follow; you are given a lot of influence over encounters.

Are you a trophy hunter?   If so, there are quite a few to go after. It will probably take you a several hundred hours to collect every trophy this game has to offer. If 100% completion is your thing, this game will keep you busy or quite some time. Obtaining the platinum for this game is quite an accomplishment!


The So-So:

Although the game features a character creation mechanic, no matter what you do with your character, the game still considers you to be Kirito, SAO’s main protagonist. Most of the time, you’ll be referred to by the name you input, but make no mistake. You are Kirito. In all of the cut scenes, you’ll hear Kirito’s voice actor voicing your dialogue unless you go into the options menu and mute the voice. Characters will make references to your past deeds in previous adventures from SAO, and treat you the same way they do Kirito. Even if you create a female character, everyone will still refer to you as a male, and all of the female characters will still hit on you.

I should mention that I am a woman, and it quickly became apparent to me that I am most definitely not the target demographic for this game. Aside from being forced to essentially be Kirito, this game is definitely one that plays the role of a male fantasy. The core cast of the game is almost entirely female side-kicks for Kirito, all of which are ready and willing to hit on Kirito, and frequently present themselves in varying states of undress. In fact, the rewards for many of the game’s side-stories is a snapshot of the girls in a revealing and often seductive state.

Even Asuna herself has realized what this game is really about! Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude and I am not offended by some revealing images, but when the same fully nude female character was shown to me 3 different times, and nearly every other quest line was prominently having the female characters reveal their panties and having suggestive dialogue, it became quite clear that this game was not intended for me.

Further building on the male fantasy design of the game, it includes a dating simulation.   Characters have a friendship level that represents their affinity towards you. Once you are on friendly terms with a character, you can invite them to walk around town with you. Special locations around town will allow you to initiate a private conversation with a character. During these private conversations, you not only get a chance to build up your friendship with them, you get to make out with them as well. You can stroke them, grab their waist, or if you’re really daring, move in for a kiss.   If you are skillful with your making out, you an even bring the characters to bed with you, where you can have a “Pillow Chat” with them as they lay down on your bed so you can continue to make out with them. While the game naturally guides you towards the multiple female characters swooning over you for this, anyone and everyone is fair game. Male, female, it doesn’t matter. As long as your friendship level is high enough with someone, you can romance them. Even Kirito’s family members are fair game. Want to hit on your daughter? The game will let you.

While this mechanic does introduce an element of bonding with characters, which is not a bad idea, the way it’s carried out comes across as so shallow and superficial that it’s hard to feel like you are really building a meaningful relationship with the characters as opposed to just taking advantage of them.

Another area of the game that is rather under-whelming is just how shamefully it borrows from other games, to the point where it almost feels like a knock-off of them. This is especially true when the game is compared to Final Fantasy XIV, where the similarities become so glaring that it has to be intentional.

Monsters look suspiciously similar to enemies encountered in Final Fantasy, and the special field events are virtually identical to the “FATES” encountered in that game.   Enemies even use the same targeting field on the ground to telegraph their attacks that Final Fantasy uses.   When it comes to originality, this game is sorely lacking. But, on the other hand, the things it copied it did so fairly well.

It really does get your heart racing and builds up a sense of excitement when a massive super powerful enemy suddenly appears, and you have to decide if you are going to fight it, or run for your life. These on-field super enemies can be even stronger than the game’s main bosses, and it can take as long as an hour to defeat one.

If you are able to topple your super foe, the rewards are incredible pieces of equipment, giving you a real tangible motivation for engaging these super foes; not just bragging rights. In addition to the super enemies, there are also lesser field events that give lesser rewards but still encourage field exploration and interaction. Despite the lack of originality, these copycat events are executed well and can be fun to play.

While this game is only pretending to be an MMORPG, it does in fact contain a multi-player mode playable online. Multi-player mode is instance based. You create a room that can contain up to 4 people. There is no story progression or special quests in multiplayer mode. It’s essentially free-roaming of the world maps, although it is possible for the super enemy monsters to appear, allowing you to recruit friends to help fight them. There’s also a mode where you need to defend checkpoints while accomplishing an objective. This mode is also available offline, but it is quite fun to play it with friends.   That’s all she wrote for multi-player.   It’s a fun diversion, but it’s features are quite bare-bones. It’s worth mentioning that PS4 and Vita cannot play together for some reason.


The Bad:

For all the things about an MMORPG that the game does right, there’s a lot it gets wrong. First and foremost, the game is extremely dialogue heavy, so much so that it is not uncommon to spend 20 minutes doing nothing but advancing dialogue. While narration is important, the problem is that frequently, the narration is just fluff that has no significance to the story. Many times, its just not interesting to read. All of these characters know each other and are friends, that’s great and all but the game is going to be reminding you of this constantly. What’s worse is, it’s very easy to stumble into these long cut scenes when you’re simply trying to move through town to reach a destination. I once encountered four lengthy cut scenes all while I was trying to walk to the teleport plaza. It quickly became a rather infuriating experience when every one of them was little more than re-affirming that the characters are friends with Kirito.

Even out in the field, you are not safe from these. Frequently, you’ll be traversing a new field and will at last find a significant location; perhaps one you have spent a great amount of time searching for. But just as you approach its entrance, Kirito will halt progress and demand you return to town to “tell the others” about it. You then must go back and sit through a lengthy scene where you explain to the other characters what you already knew. Then at last you can return and continue on, but by the time you get back, that sense of excitement and anticipation has probably turned into one of frustration and annoyance.

That’s not to say that the story is all bad. Over time, you can genuinely start to feel for some of the characters, and some of their events are quite relatable. Occasionally, the events that unfold are surprisingly poignant and can really touch your heart.

While it doesn’t make up for all the fluff, there is some good bits in the narration if you are able to pay attention long enough.

In addition to the length of the visual novel elements, another problem is the means at which they tell their story. Frequently, a cut scene will begin, and end a quest without ever giving you any active input into it. This is true for the vast majority of the main “quests” in this game.   You don’t feel particularly engaged when a terrible monster supposedly shows up and attacks your party, only for it to never be seen on screen. Instead, you see images of your friends as various sound effects play in the background and the on-screen text tries its best to convince you that a fierce battle is underway. Very occasionally, you’ll actually be thrust into an in-game battle during one of these scenes, though this is rare. That’s the most participation you ever get in these visual novel elements. While they are beautifully drawn, they are over-used and way too long, and become more of an annoyance than an engaging story tool.

For as much as these visual novel elements talk about all these quests the game is full of, in truth, the quest system is arguably the most faulty part of the game. There are essentially 3 kinds of quests. The main story, the side stories, and the bulletin board.

The main story is just what it sounds like, the main single player offline campaign. The side stories are triggered by talking to people in town, or visiting a specific location. These side stories are always visual novel scenes. Finally, we have the bulletin board. The bulletin board offers hundreds upon hundreds of quests… all of which fall into one of 2 categories. Hand over some items the client wants, or kill certain monsters.   It never goes any deeper than this, this is how every single quest works from the bulletin board. When you complete a request for someone, they’ll mail you a thank you letter, and may even ask to meet the in town. Meeting them in town allows you to trigger another quest, which is simply another item fetch quest. Clearly the developers did not understand what actually makes for an engaging quest system in an MMORPG. Endless monster hunt and fetch quests become little more than chores.   A proper quest system with interesting characters and objectives could have made what is supposed to be a MMORPG world feel much more alive and interactive. What do you think would happen if in a real MMORPG your party leader decided to do several hundred of these kind of quests and dragged you along for it?

Another problem with the quests is the mail. As I mentioned, every time you complete a quest, the client sends you mail. This results in a huge amount of “mail spam” in which you start receiving hundreds of messages, and everyone sends the same messages. It gets tiring very quickly, to the point where soon you’ll just be ignoring the mail. There’s no quick delete function either, every letter has to be manually deleted.   What’s worse, in many cases deleting someone’s mail simply prompts them to re-send it, which only furthers the problem.

One other glaring flaw about the game are the numerous typos. A few are forgivable, but here they are spread throughout the game, and show up quite regularly. In a game that already has problems of breaking you out of the immersion, this only makes the problem worse. Though, they can be a source of amusement as well, such as this one:

Can Horton hear the Who?

The Lowdown:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a fun, yet flawed game. The target demographic for the game is young men, and the game is not the least bit subtle about that fact. The story is full of visual novel elements that quickly out-stay their welcome and the game features one of the worst quest systems ever seen in a game.

Despite these drawbacks, the core game-play is solid, and the visuals are gorgeous. The world to explore is huge, and despite it’s shortcomings teaming up with friends in multiplayer mode can be fun. The game can be difficult, but is always a fair challenge. There are some truly epic boss battles to be had in SAO.

While the game falls quite short as a pretend MMORPG, if you can make it through its lengthy dialogue and get to the action, there are plenty of good times to be had.

My final rating for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is 7.7 / 10

Atelier Sophie ~ Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

Atelier Sophie ~ Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

 

Available on PlayStation 4 (Japanese version also available on PlayStation 3 & PlayStation Vita via importing)

ESRB Rating: Teen
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America Corp
Developer: Gust Co, Ltd.
Release Dates: JP – November 19th, 2015, NA – June 7th, 2016, PAL – June 10th, 2016

Version Reviewed: North American PlayStation 4

Parent Talk:

Atelier Sophie is a light hearted adventure in a European styled town in which the titular character, Sophie, uses her alchemy skills to help her friends and fellow villagers with their day-to-day lives.   The game features some mild language in the form of a few curse words, and there are some suggestive themes, namely from the “Tess” character. There’s also a few somewhat revealing outfits in the game that are worn by the Plachta character. This has earned the game it’s teen rating, which is probably pretty appropriate for it.   Even children younger than their teenage years should be fine with this game.

Plays Like:

I would describe Atelier Sophie as playing like a cross between Dragon Quest and Animal Crossing. The game-play involves guiding Sophie through various fields in order to collect an assortment of materials to be used in alchemy.   Virtually everything that happens in the game centers on the alchemy. Alchemy is used to create a wide variety of items that affect your performance in battle, advance the story, and develop your relationships with people living in your village.

Much like in Animal Crossing, you’ll often have people request you to create something for them. Delivering the item they request will both improve their opinion of you, and help advance the story forward.

There are also plenty of side quests available, which will earn you rewards and Cole (money) for completing them. This, and gathering materials for alchemy purposes, is reminiscent of the Dragon Quest series. And, there are barrels!

Despite some similarities in how they play, Atelier Sophie still very much stands on its own, and never feels like an imitation of either game.

Review Basis:

 

I must begin by saying that this is the first, and currently only Atelier game I have ever played. This is the 17th game in the Atelier series, thus it has quite a few other titles that it very likely draws inspiration from. Having not played any of the previous ones, this game is being reviewed entirely on its own merits with no comparisons made to previous games in the series.

The Great:

Atelier Sophie is filled with characters full of personality. While this game is not pushing the bar on graphic fidelity, all of the characters still look gorgeous and are beautifully animated. They are expressive and a joy to talk to. Much of the game is voice acted, and you have a choice of using the Japanese or English voices. And you can’t go wrong with either choice, both sets of voices sound appropriate for the characters; I never encountered any cringe-inducing moments due to awkward voice selection.

None of the characters ever came across to me as being overly annoying either. There wasn’t any character that I dreaded seeing appear on the screen, even the ones that have some rather unusual passions and interests. Much like in real life, you can be quite surprised by what someone’s interests are, and this game shows that as well with several characters having some unusual or un-expected hobbies.

The town you live in is bustling with life and even deep into the game, you’ll still be exploring the town and talking to people to see what they are up to.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to help the people of your village too, you are most definitely not a mere visitor passing through, this town is your home, everyone knows you, and you know them.   And you’ll be able to actively help them pursue their goals, for better or for worse…

If you enjoy an active and lively town to inhabit, Sophie definitely delivers.

The Good:

Atelier Sophie features a much different style of story than your usual RPG. There’s no earth shattering catastrophe here that you are setting out to prevent, there is not an evil being plotting the destruction of the world that you are on a quest to foil. You are not on a quest to save the world, you are instead helping Plachta, a mysterious flying book that you encounter, recover her memories, and helping the people of your village.

Both of these things are done through the very thing Sophie is trying to become skilled at, alchemy!

When you aren’t visiting with villagers, your primary activity will be exploring the surrounding landscape in search of alchemy materials.

Initially, your choice of destinations is limited, but you’ll steadily unlock additional locations to visit as the game progresses.   Each provides access to new materials with new traits for Sophie to find. By the end of the game, you have a pretty respectable chunk of land that you can traverse. Traversing the map is easy, simply select your destination, and Sophie automatically runs to the location you wish to go, stopping only for the map events you might encounter on the way, portrayed as red dots on the path. These red dots usually result in a small reward, but sometimes powerful enemies suddenly ambush you, so there is a sense of mystery when you encounter one.

Within each field, you’ll not only encounter items to collect, but monsters as well. Battles are your traditional menu driven turn-based fare, but there is some depth to be found to it. As the game continues, you gradually unlock additional features to the battle mode, such as chaining attacks together and unleashing special super moves. Your characters choose a stance to stand in during battle that either allows them to do extra damage, or focus more on defending themselves. And these stances have a big impact on what kind of moves get chained together. The chained moves can also increase offense against an enemy, or help strengthen your party’s defenses. There’s a lot more to consider than if you want a particular character to reduce their incoming damage or not.

Character growth is also handled in an interesting way in this game. Traditional leveling up only takes you so far. The level cap in this game is fairly low. Rather than grinding out levels, alchemy is your main form of development. Every piece of equipment you wear can be affected by alchemy. In some cases, you’ll directly create some gear in the alchemy cauldron, in others, you’ll provide parts to someone else to craft something for you. You can create these parts through alchemy and infuse them with special properties that will aid you in battle. You might build a sword with incredible attack power, or you might create armor with resistance to a status ailment. It will require a great deal of clever alchemizing and manipulating of materials in order to get the traits you want on the end product.   Fortunately you can transfer characteristics from one ingredient to the next, allowing you to create combinations that can result in some truly amazing items.

Alchemy itself is handled by placing your alchemy components on a grid, in which colored spaces on the board serve as a multiplier for pieces laid over them. The idea is to fill as many spaces of the board as possible and obtain the largest bonuses for the desired characteristics of the alchemy in question.

While it’s simple to get the basic idea down, mastering the system takes a lot of patience and practice. But you’ll definitely have ample time to practice, as alchemy is a fundamental component of the game, and this is a screen you will be seeing often.

The So-So:

One area that Sophie is a bit lacking is the fields in which you explore. Many of them have a similar look of being a small outdoor field, especially in the early areas. Even as the game advances, most of the areas still have a similar look to them. There’s not a big variety of climates, and you can start to get tired of being out in the woods or meadows surrounding the towns. And the fields are all pretty small, sometimes being just 1 small map. Many areas do have sub-areas you can visit, but these sub areas usually look about the same, and are still very small, adding only an extra screen or two to the area. There really is not a rewarding sense of exploration when it comes to the maps. Very few times will you encounter a special hidden treasure hidden in a crafty place. Very occasionally, you can see some subtle changes in a map by special events found through the Rumors system, but these typically relate to a special enemy or item appearing that you wouldn’t normally see.

The game also has a definite lack of boss fights.   While many maps do have a formidable enemy on them, there’s very few major story-driven battles in the game.   If you are looking for compelling narrative and a focused goal, you won’t find that here. While there is a plot, it moves along fairy slowly and your progression isn’t determined so much by overcoming fierce challenges that test your skills, but more by how much alchemy you performed and how many people in town you talk to.

Sophie’s home town of Kirchen Bell is the only village in the game, and you’ll be exploring it repeatedly as the game goes on.   Players looking for fresh areas and new faces to interact with will be disappointed. This game is more about building relationships with the people you know than meeting new faces.

Graphically, the game is not pushing the limits on graphic fidelity. As mentioned previously the characters are colorful and expressive, but there is a bit of a lack of detail to the textures.

The visuals are not bad, and they give a very anime styled look to the game. But some fine tuning of the textures and more attention to detail could have certainly enhanced the games presentation and overall experience. All in all a small price to pay for an otherwise great experience, but one that is noticeable.

The Lowdown:

Atelier Sophie is a delightful experience full of light-hearted charm. The characters are likeable and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in Sophie’s world and the people that inhabit it. The game does a great job of blending narrative, alchemy, and exploration into an adventure that is quite down to earth. Sophie is one of the most relatable protagonists I have seen in a game, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her character development as she learned the ins and outs of being an alchemist, and dedicated herself towards helping her villagers.

With a variety of fields to explore, and a “Requests/Rumors” system that serves a similar role to side quests in other games, you can get a lot of mileage out of Sophie. It’s amazing how much variety can exist within the simple humble village of Kirchen Bell.

While the lack of a focused story and clear direction can be a little jarring at first, give Sophie a chance and let yourself become drawn into her world. Once there, you won’t want to leave.

My final rating for this game is a solid 9.7/10

Mighty No. 9 Review

Mighty No. 9

Available on:
WiiU, PS4, PS3, Xbox360, Xbox1, PC

This review is specifically covering the WiiU version of the game.

Parent Talk:

Mighty No 9 is a Japanese action “run and gun” platformer that features robots. The game-play is quite similar to the classic Megaman games and features a comparable level of violence. Beck, the player controlled character, is a robot sent on a mission to stop 8 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 Megaman franchise. Mighty No. 9 was created to be the spiritual successor to the Megaman franchise.

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

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

The 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 Megaman series that inspired this game.   You get to choose which level you wish to enter, and may complete the first 8 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 stage 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.

This gives the boss characters more screen time and makes than 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.

The 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.

The game has a number of stage design problems. Several times the game will threw a new stage gimmick at you without teaching you how to use it, or you’ll be expected to use to use your special transformations in an unusual way without ever being given any indication that you could perform this task with that transformation. This can 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.

The game features 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 both 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. But 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 WiiU, features some horrendous loading 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 game-play. 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, 2 players co-operate 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 will be 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 5 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 is simply unbearable in this broken state.

The Roundup:

Mighty No. 9 aspires to be the spiritual successor to the famous Megaman 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, the game does not 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 does better.

While the multi-player mode is un-playable, 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 Megaman 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 check-point 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.

Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven Review

Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven

(Available on 3DS)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Role Playing
Publisher: XSeed
Developer: Marvelous
Release Date:
Japan – October 2nd, 2014
North America – June 2nd, 2015
EU- June 4th, 2015

Hey everyone! My name is Cranberry; here with a guest review! Well, let’s get right to it!

Parent Talk:

The Entertainment Software Rating Board has rated this game T for Teen, citing the following: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, & Suggestive Themes. While it’s not excessive, there is some blatant “fan-service” in this game that involves some up-skirt pictures and some unnecessarily skimpy outfits. They aren’t kidding about the suggestive dialogue either; it definitely gets pretty suggestive at times. Of particular note, there is an animated bathing scene that you probably would not want to get caught watching at work.

The battles are not bloody or gory and are pretty tame, although some cut scenes imply some pretty harsh violence at times.

The teen rating seems to be appropriate for this one; I wouldn’t recommend this one for young children.

Plays Like:

This game plays like a cross between a turn based RPG, a strategy game, and a visual novel. The main emphasis of this game is definitely the plot and the interactions between the characters. The game features a lot of cut scenes and dialogue reading, much of it voice acted.

Combat plays a part in this game as well, and combat is played out in a strategic turn-based combat system. In combat, you field a party of up to 4 characters. Each character has different attributes and attack ranges.   Combat takes place on a large field where you can see all of the enemy units. Both you and the enemies take turns moving and attacking. But the field is not a grid. Each character has a circle that appears around them, showing their move range for that turn. You can move freely anywhere within this circle provided there isn’t anything to block your path. When you’re ready to attack, you’ll see a red space that designates the area you can hit.

The game also features an experience point leveling system as well as a crafting system, which adds some RPG elements into its strategy styled combat system.

The Good:

The presentation in this game is quite beautiful. The graphics have a cartoonish feel to them, which is pretty normal for a 3DS game, but they get the job done wonderfully. The 3D effects are not mind blowing, but they supplement the setting well without feeling too “busy” or disorienting.   The characters are likable and full of personality. The story is also pretty well written and engaging. You take the role of an inn keeper, whom you can choose a name for.   He runs an inn on the outskirts of town, and is patiently awaiting the day when his inn at long last receives a guest. The guests soon arrive in the form of characters that will join your party; 7 in all over the course of the game. There is a reason this game is called “Maiden Heaven”, every playable character except for the main character is female. But each girl has a distinct personality and it is quite enjoyable to watch their stories unfold and see their character development over the course of the tale.   These cut scenes are sometimes supplemented by some lovely artwork too.

There are also “heart events” you can access, which are essentially quests that dwell deeper into an individual girl and reveal more about her. There are 21 such heart events, and it will take several play-thoughs to see them all; which fleshes out the story further and gives the game some replay value too.

The music in the game is top-notch. The songs fit the context well and are pleasant to listen to. I received the OST with my game, and I frequently pop the CD in and listen to it. I really enjoy the music.

I really enjoy the combat system in this game. Each character has different roles they can contribute in a battle, and you need to think about how they can complement one another on the battle field. Some characters hit for a wide area in front of them, others hit an area at a distance, some hit an enemy multiple times, and others specialize in support skills.   There are a lot of possibilities even before the battle begins. Once in combat, the strategy-game like field system allows for a lot of tactics that just wouldn’t work in a traditional turn-based RPG. You gain an action point each turn, and you spend this action point to perform your chosen action. This game features an interesting “bowling” mechanic in battle, where enemies you hit can knock down and take out other enemies. If you manage to take down 10 or more enemies with 1 attack, you get a free turn.   It’s quite an interesting and creative mechanic.

If you choose not to take an action, you’ll keep your action point and when your next turn comes, you’ll have 2 action points. This allows you to save up points for special skills.   This makes combat more complex and more engaging than simple “hurt and heal”. You need to carefully consider how best to place your characters, and what action is best for the situation at hand. Do you send one character ahead as a decoy to try and form an opening for the rest of your party to slip through? Do you try and surround the enemy to limit their attack options? Do you fall back and regroup?   All of these and more are decisions you’ll be making in battle, which makes for a very engaging battle system.

The game also features an elemental “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style vulnerabilities system that is similar to the typing system used in Pokemon. This further adds to the strategic combat decisions you make in battle.

An enjoyable story and an engaging well-designed battle system make for quite a good presentation.

The So-So:

The story in this game is both it’s strength and it’s weakness.   While the story is engaging, it’s also very drawn out and you are frequently watching long scenes in which you do nothing but hit the A button to advance through pages upon pages of text.   This can be pretty frustrating if you are itching to get to the action, or if you don’t particularly care about the conversation the characters are having at the time. This is especially noticeable at the very start of the game where you read a huge amount of dialogue before you even gain access to your character. While there is a fast-forward feature, it doesn’t actually skip the cut scenes, but rather speeds through them much more quickly. Doing this does help speed things up, but there’s no “rewind” feature so if you accidentally skip ahead too far, you can’t go back to read what you missed.

The massive amounts of dialogue and the frequent lengthy cut-scenes often make this feel more like reading a book than playing a game; which can be a big put-off for a lot of people. Simply put, playing this game is going to involve reading a LOT of text.

There is a crafting system in the game, and while it adds some interesting customization options by allowing you to create skills for the characters, there’s little else you can make other than skills. There is also very little in-game clues as to what you can craft. You can at least see what the item your chosen ingredients will create before you make it, but there are no recipe books or listings of what can be made. No clues or hints from other characters as to what you should make.   Unless you look up a guide online, it’s entirely trial and error based. The game really needs a recipe list.

This game does not feature equipment to put on your characters. No new weapons, no new armor, no special accessories. Just skills, although some of the skills are passive skills that give you stat bonuses or special attributes, which is similar to what accessory-like items do in many other RPGs.   But it still feels like a real missed opportunity to not include equip-able items in the game.

There are a number of free missions, which allow you to field a team into battle in a variety of settings that you’ll unlock as you go through the story. These missions have some interesting flavor text, but that’s all it ends up being. It’s nothing but a battle against enemies that serves as a grinding or item farming opportunity. The good thing is that these free battles allow you to immediately enter a battle without having to wade through a mountain of text, but it’s disappointing for the missions to be given such interesting descriptions only to have nothing special happen in any of them.

The Bad:

As was already mentioned, the lengthy cut scenes can be pretty jarring, which depending on your tastes can be a real negative. But perhaps the biggest negative is the complete lack of exploration this game allows.

Except for a camp-site that you get to very briefly walk around in, the Inn is the only area you get to explore. Every other area, the only interaction you get with the environment is through battle. No exploring the territory, no searching for treasure, no searching for hidden secrets, no chatting with NPCs in town. There is a town in this game, and your visits to it are entirely scripted. For an RPG title, this is a glaring flaw. Nothing is more frustrating than setting foot on these beautiful maps, and not being able to explore them.

99% of the battles mandate that you have the main character in them, even in free battles. This unnecessarily restricts your party selection, and can be frustrating when you start getting more characters available and want to experiment with a variety of character combinations. In a game that is already quite linear with no exploration, the last thing you want is even more limitations.

The Lowdown:

This is almost a love it or hate it game. The story is an engaging tale full of mystery, drama, and suspense.

There’s a fair amount of customization you can do with the character’s skills, and the combat system is magnificent.

But, the frequent extremely lengthy cut scenes, the lack of exploration, and the lack of equip-able items are pretty significant flaws that are quite noticeable and glaring during play.

If you are looking for an engaging tale full of lovable characters, I recommend this game whole-heatedly. But if you’re looking for action and adventure, or your traditional RPG experience, this game won’t satisfy you.

That’s why my final rating for this game is a 7/10.

Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Horizon: Zero Dawn (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Guerilla Games
Release Date: February 28, 2017

Parent Talk: Horizon: Zero Dawn has been rated T for teen from the ESRB because of alcohol and tobacco references, blood, mild language, mild sexual themes, and violence.  Horizon is a breathtaking action RPG where players take on the role of Aloy, a young outcast that hunts majestic mechanical beasts to stay alive outside the safety of the populous cities.  The mechanical animals she hunts do not bleed, however enemy tribes you go up against are made up of humans, and while attacking human enemies you can expect a certain level of violence.  The game is never tremendously gory, even though the violence is realistic.

Plays Like: Have you had the chance to play through 2013’s Tomb Raider or Rise of the Tomb Raider yet?  If so, those two games give the best impression of what you can expect from Horizon in terms of general gameplay.  Horizon is a gargantuan open world that is fully realized in a way very few open world games achieve.  There is a wealth of open world tropes such as unlocking towers, except here the towers are giant moving dinosaur-like creatures.  Side quests, vehicular combat, and more are all featured.  It’s the way that everything comes together that is truly impressive.

Review Basis: Sony Interactive Entertainment was kind enough to send us an advanced review code.  I put in well over 35 hours with the game and completed the main storyline.  I played through the game on a regular PlayStation 4.

Horizon: Zero Dawn has been in development since 2011.  Guerilla Games wanted to work on something different after the release of Killzone 3 on the PlayStation 3.  While it’s true the company would go on to release another Killzone on both the PS4 and the Vita, internally the team was secretly plugging away on what would become Horizon.  At E3 2015 the game was shown off to the public for the first time and I knew then that this was going to be a special game, and now having completed the game, I can proudly say it is indeed one special game that all PlayStation 4 owners should experience.

The Great:

There are have countless open world games released since Grand Theft Auto III hit the scene way back in 2001.  Some goofy, some serious, some kid-friendly, others not so much, and some come together in such a way that leave you speechless.  This one falls in the latter category.  It comes together in such a way that will truly take your breath away.  There have only been a few games where I stop and move the camera around because I am so in awe of what I’m looking at.  I’ve done that at least a dozen times while playing this game.  Aloy’s world is incredibly unique, and without spoiling anything, you will see mountain ranges that are so vividly detailed you won’t believe you’re not watching a cinematic.  The dynamic weather system will have it snow one minute, and pour rain another, but in a realistic manner where it doesn’t just rain for no reason.  You’ll see the clouds start to move in, the sky gets dark and then it starts to rain.  It’s amazing to see in action.  When it rains and you’re running through the dense forest areas, you can’t help but stand there in shock at the sheer beauty of it all.

Each area of the environment has been meticulously put together so that there’s a logical sequence to the placement of villages, mountains, desert areas, etc.  You don’t just see a mountain pop out of nowhere, you’ll slowly see the land incline and then as the elevation increases that’s when the weather starts to change and it gets cold.  It may seem trivial, but it’s this attention to detail that runs through every aspect of the game.

The storyline is one area I can’t speak much about, but it’s far more interesting than the trailers have led you to believe.  Aloy is an outcast, she doesn’t belong to a tribe.  Her guardian, Rost, used to belong to the Nora tribe many years back but something happened as he was cast out.  Typically, criminals are shunned this way, but in the case of Rost there’s much more to his backstory than meets the eye, much like everything in Horizon.  Eventually Aloy sets her eyes on an event that will allow her to become one with the tribe and learn more about where she comes from, who she is, and what her place is in this unique world.  What happens next changes the scope of the game and over the next thirty hours or so players will try and piece together exactly where these machines come from, why they were built, and just who are these ancients everyone keeps talking about.  It’s all fascinating stuff, and classic elements such as finding detailed information hidden away in the game’s world can be exposed if you’re willing to explore every nook and cranny.  Believe me, it’s worth it as the back story the game doesn’t tell you is just as, if not, more compelling than the one you’re taking part in.

The gameplay is excellent.  The game that most closely matches what Horizon does is the reboot of Tomb Raider, where you explore a massive open world, take on main storyline quests, side quests, and harvest resources to expand your arsenal and increase the number of items you can hold.  Fear not though, you don’t actively have to look for resources, they’re scattered everywhere.  You’ll see trees, plants, and animals all over the place that you can run up to, press triangle and harvest the resource.  Animals must be hunted, but you can see them with your Focus, which works something like Detective Mode in the Arkham games.  That means you don’t really have to put much effort into hunting or harvesting, which is good because it could have easily detracted from the rest of the game.

There will be certain animal resources you will need to find to upgrade your quiver for example.  When you hunt boars, turkeys, foxes, racoons, and fish they have a random number generator which dictates which resources the animal will drop.  Often you will need either the green uncommon or blue rare drops.  Because there are so many animals everywhere though, it never becomes a hindrance or burden and very early in the game you will be able to upgrade most of your gear at least once so long as you invest a good twenty to thirty minutes hunting.

The combat system and to a larger extension the weapons are incredibly fun and engaging.  For the most part you’ll be using your bow and arrows to hunt down the bulk of your adversaries.  From hunting wild animals, which require one arrow to take down, to taking on human and mechanical beasts alike, the combat is incredibly fun to partake in.  There are several elements to the combat depending on the situation at hand.  So, let’s break down each one.  Wild animals we already discussed, use your Focus to see where they are, highlight them with a quick press of the R2 button and take them out.

Human enemies are smarter and require some finesse to take down.  Once again you can use the Focus to see through walls, and plan your attack as you can mark enemies, but you can also see their walking pattern which is incredibly important for when you’re hunting the machines.  I typically stay far back, mark all the enemies and then take them out with precision arrows, one of many different types of arrows available to you.  Like everything else in the game, ammunition needs to be made from resources you find.  Absolutely everything in the game requires resources, but fear not, you can also buy goods from traders you meet along the way.  The form of currency is metal shards which everyone carries so when you defeat a human enemy and loot their corpse you’ll likely find some shards as well as potions and other items of use.  The one wrinkle to watch out for with human enemies is that they can bring in reinforcements if one of them reaches the strategically placed alarm signals.  A good tactic is to snipe all the enemies surrounding the alarm, then use stealth to deactivate the alarm and wipe out everywhere else however else you want.

Stealth is important because Aloy has a wild array of weapons as her disposal so she doesn’t just need to use the bow and arrows.  You can also use her trusty spear.  If she sneaks up on a person you can press the R1 button to activate a stealth kill, which is not only satisfying, but incredibly useful as no one hears the sounds, but they may see the body so be careful where you perform the takedown.  The world is covered in beautiful long flowing grass, which is just perfect for Aloy to use as cover, and this is important when taking on the mechanical beasts.  This is where the combat changes dramatically.

The wonderful creatures you’ve seen in all the trailers may look majestic, but when you must take one of them down, things get nasty.  Each type of machine needs to be handled differently, and this is an element I absolutely loved with the game.  The simple Watcher enemies can be defeated with a nice clear shot to their front lens, but before long you’ll be facing much stronger enemies that require multiple strategies to take down.  One enemy I fought was something like a giant worm that burrowed into the ground and popped up rather unexpectedly.  He ripped me to shreds the first time I faced him, but then I looked through my inventory to see what options I had available.  The first thing I did was I used the Focus to highlight any potential areas of weakness on the creature.  These areas become highlighted in yellow.  The thing is you can’t just shoot them and be done with it.  Sometimes these spots are protected and the creature needs to be immobilized first so you can target that specific area.  Some enemies are weak against one of the three elemental attacks in the game, fire, ice, and electricity.  Some are weak against a specific weapon you have, so you really must plan your attack before just jumping in and going crazy or you’ll be destroyed.

In the case of the worm fight, I decided to use my Ropecaster, which shoots a rope into an enemy and ties them to the ground, but wouldn’t you know it, he just burrowed underground so that didn’t work. I then tried to use the Sling to shoot frozen grenades at the creature to see if I could freeze him, which typically causes extra damage, and while it was working, I found it was taking too long, so I finally used my Tripcaster, which shoots out a trip-line with a small explosive attached to it, and boy did that work.  Every time the creature would lunge at me, I would have it setup up so he would trip the line and cause an explosion.  Shortly after, the creature who once destroyed me, was now dead.  Talk about a feeling of satisfaction.  Every time you stumble onto a new machine, you will do the exact same thing, try and find a good strategy to use against it.  The best news of all, your strategy could very well be completely different than mine, and that’s where the game shows its biggest strength.

As you complete more and more missions you’re awarded with experience, which slowly levels Aloy up over time.  Every time she gains a level she unlocks a skill point which can be allocated to a wide array of unique and helpful abilities.  You might be able to harvest more resources from a single source, reload your weapons faster, run while staying in stealth and much more.  Speaking of upgrades, your weapons and gear can be retrofitted with enhancements that cause extra damage, or give some other perk in battle.  The best thing to do is mess around and have fun with these unique elements as you never know what the results will be.

As you progress far enough in the game Aloy will eventually learn to hack creatures so they fight for her, she can learn to ride some as mounts, and so much more.  One of the more incredible aspects of these features is that they come together in a game with virtually no loading at all.  It’s an impressive sight to behold.  When you die there’s a short load time, and the same when you first boot the game but outside that there’s virtually no loading whatsoever.  The only exception to the rule is when you fast travel somewhere.  Even saving your progress can be done in about two seconds at campfires, either manually or automatically.  It’s impressive considering how incredible everything looks.

And oh, those looks.  I already mentioned I stopped to look around a dozen or so times, but really, I can’t stress this enough, this game looks incredible in motion.  It’s breathtaking how amazing everything came together.  If you thought last year’s Uncharted 4 looked amazing, wait until you see this.  Keep in mind I played the game on a regular PlayStation 4, so I can only imagine how much better it looks in 4K with HDR on the PlayStation 4 Pro.  I won’t get into the finer details, but Horizon is one of the nicest looking videogames I’ve ever played, period.

The sound design is also superb.  From excellent voice acting to a beautiful soundtrack, the audio came together in such a way as to compliment the visuals.  The audio is also dynamic meaning it will change based on the environmental situation, so not only battles, but whether the weather is really coming down hard, or if there’s something critical Aloy happened to figure out while she was on-mission.

The So-So:

There are a few elements that didn’t come together quite as well as Guerilla Games may have hoped for.  The first of these is the dialogue tree.  While it’s great being able to ask questions, and get more information out of NPCs, the choices you make feel as though they don’t really have any consequences.  The system works great from the perspective of information gathering, but there’s little to no weight behind some of the choices you make.

Another element that is ok, but nothing overly special is the mission variety, particularly if you take part in the side quests.  Too often Aloy must race off to a location, Focus on the area to find tracks and then follow those tracks to eventually fight either a mechanical beast or a bunch of humans.  This was offset by what I mentioned earlier though, that each new enemy encounter is unique in and of itself, and I suppose that was Guerilla’s argument for perhaps not having more mission diversity.

One area that cracked me up on more than one occasion was the acrobatics system.  Much like in the Uncharted series, Aloy can perform some rather impressive acrobatic feats, however these are always scripted.  She can only jump up to a specific spot if it happens to have a yellow border, if not she can’t.  It’s bizarre when there are areas she can’t reach that are shorter than the ones she can, all thanks to this mysterious yellow border.

Finally, the last elements of the game design that you must watch out for are with very specific resources not always available everywhere.  Under most circumstances, you will easily be able to craft whatever you want; however, ammunition is the one exception and that can force you to fast travel back to another area to harvest a few specific resources you’re missing so that you can continue with a mission that requires you to hunt down certain creatures.  This rarely happens, but when it does it can be slightly annoying.  Thankfully you can always buy what you’re missing from traders, however I like to save my shards for big upgrades and often the prices can be a bit steep for ammunition.

The Ugly:

Much like most open world games, I experienced a game breaking bug while playing the game, that Sony had to send me instructions on how to revert to a previous save point and avoid the bug.  If not for cloud saves I wouldn’t have been able to review this game for you as I was already 14 hours in and wouldn’t have had the time to restart from the very beginning.  The good news is this bug has been squished in the day 1 patch, but be warned that there will likely be other bugs present.

The Lowdown:

Horizon: Zero Dawn is an outstanding accomplishment from Guerilla Games.  While I had a few nitpicks with the game, overall it came together in such a way that few new IPs do.  It is also a technical achievement that will leave countless PlayStation 4 fans floored when they see it for the first time.  It comes with my absolute highest recommendation.  If you dislike open world games, give this one a chance as it may surprise you.  If you’re a longtime fan of the genre, this is a no-brainer.  Horizon: Zero Dawn is already a contender for Game of the Year.  Job well done Guerilla Games.

Final Score: 9.5/10      

We Got Hacked, But We’re Back!

For those of you who still frequent the site, you may not know this, but a few days back we got hacked so we were unable to login to the site and make any updates.  Thankfully we had a backup, so we’re back in action.  The bad news is that we lost a year’s worth of content.  Thankfully we now use YouTube to host all of our content so everything is still there: https://www.youtube.com/projectcoe

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Review

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

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

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

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

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

FE2The Great:

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

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

FE1The Good:

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

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

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

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

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

The So-So:

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

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

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

The Bad:

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

FE3The Lowdown:

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

Final Score: 9.3/10

Final Fantasy Explorers Review

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

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

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

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

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

FFE1The Great:

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

FFE2The Good:

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

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

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

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

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

The So-So:

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

FFE3The Bad:

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

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

  • The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 7/10

    Street Fighter V Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    SF5_5The Great:

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

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

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

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

    SF5_4The Good:

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

    SF5_3The So-So:

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

    SF5_2The Bad:

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

    SF5_1The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 9/10

    Crossed Swords II Review

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

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

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

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

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

    CS1The Great:

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

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

    CS2The Good:

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

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

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

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

    CS3The Lowdown:

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

    Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

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

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

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

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

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

    TR1The Great:

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

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

    TR2The Good:

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

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

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

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

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

  • TR5The So-So:

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

    TR3The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 9.4/10

    Ghost Blade Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ghost Blade 1The Great:

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

    Ghost Blade 2The Good:

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

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

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

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

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

  • Ghost Blade 3The So-So:

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

    Ghost Blade 5The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 8/10

    %d bloggers like this: