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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

    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

    Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Review

    Gears ReviewGears of War: Ultimate Edition (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
    Developer: The Coalition
    Release Date: August 25th, 2015

    Parent Talk: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is rated M for mature because of strong language, intense violence, and blood and gore. This is a game that features an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached to it. That chainsaw isn’t for looks, it’s used to literally cut your enemies in half. So naturally this isn’t the type of game you should let your kids play.

    Plays Like: The original Gears of War was responsible for really bringing the cover and shoot gameplay the series is now known for to the forefront of gaming. It works much like it sounds, you run from one cover to the next, taking out enemies as quickly as possible so you don’t get flanked. The game features an excellent two-player co-op mode that is an absolute blast to play.

    Review Basis: Having finished the original game multiple times, I played enough of this one to see what improvements had been made.

    Gears of War is one of my favorite Xbox 360 titles. It was the first game on the 360 that really made me go wow this is next-gen. It was a stunning look at a dystopian future and I had some of the best moments of my gaming life in this game with Steven, that other wacky COEr. We still talk about a few classic moments from our hours-long play sessions via Xbox Live. So returning to this classic almost a decade later was both entertaining and nostalgic.

    Gears1The Great:

    I have to admit I was shocked at just how well Gears of War has aged. The cover gameplay still feels fresh and exciting. The co-op mode is just as excellent as you remember, and the overall experience is just as powerful today as it was when the game first was released back in 2006. There’s something special about revisiting the game that started it all. Breaking Fenix out of his prison cell, seeing the world all tattered and decayed again for the first time, is just an amazing experience and depending on your level of enjoyment with the original title, you may very well find yourself smitten with Gears of War all over again.

    Gears2The Good:

    • Respect and devotion went into this remaster. The graphics have all been given fresh coat of paint, to a blistering 1080p resolution and 60 frames-per-second gameplay. The Coalition didn’t go crazy though, and there are plenty of rough edges here and there to harken back to the Xbox 360, and therefore preserve your nostalgia. I really appreciated that. Overall textures, models, and even the cutscenes have all been redone, but with care, and it shows. The game has never looked this good.
    • Remembering the past, but embracing the future. One of the best aspects of Ultimate Edition is that modern day features have made their way into the game. Take the co-op mode for example, it now supports drop-in and out gameplay. Your friends can join you mid-chapter, and both players can play on separate difficulty levels.
    • The five additional segments from the PC version have been added, which chronicle Dom and Marcus’ journey to a train station through an assortment of abandoned factories. It’s a fantastic addition that many, myself included, didn’t even know existed beforehand.
    • Horror roots. I completely forgot how much the original game was based on the horror genre. When the second game in the series hit, it was all out war, but here you’re just a small group, making your way through dimly lit hallways with scary monsters around every corner. This really makes me wish Gears of War 4 will return to this style because it’s much more personal and in your face.
    • Multiplayer feels much fresher and faster than ever before, likely thanks to that 60 fps boost. There are a few new modes, and a new map, but classics like Gridlock, Tyro Station, and Depot all hit that nostalgia sweet spot.

    Gears3The So-So:

    +/- It’s understandable that there wouldn’t be a lot of gameplay variety in the first entry in the series, but because you’re playing this today, I found myself wanting to do a bit more than just kill every enemy in one section before moving on to the next to repeat the exact same situation all over again.

    Gears4The Bad:

    • As amazing of a job the developer did, there is one area that truly hasn’t aged well whatsoever, and that’s the AI. I can’t tell you how many times my partner character would purposely veer off to an area where just moments before he said not to go, thereby instantly killing himself. There were also a few instances where the AI character wouldn’t trigger a scene, such as pressing a button or opening a door, which led to me having to restart a checkpoint.

    Gears5The Lowdown:

    Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a great remaster. The fact that the initial release of the game also included digital downloads of the four Xbox 360 Gears games was a special treat. I can’t tell you how many times I smiled or laughed at key scenes because of all the nostalgia I have for this game. If you even remotely enjoyed the original, I highly recommend you give this one a go.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Review

    Uncharted ReviewUncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: SCEA
    Developer: Bluepoint Games
    Release Date: October 7th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates the Uncharted Collection T for teen because of blood, language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, and violence. While there are certainly mature themes throughout the series, it’s not ultra-violent. Think of it like going to see a PG-13 action movie and you know more or less what to expect.

    Plays Like: Let’s see here, there’s stealth, cover mechanics, gunplay, platforming, and puzzle solving to be had. The action takes place in third person, and personally I’ve called the Uncharted series the franchise that Tomb Raider should have been since the beginning. It’s kind of ironic that now the Tomb Raider series is a derivative of the Uncharted series, but that’s a topic for another day. This is as close as you will likely ever get to playing an Indiana Jones movie.

    Review Basis: The Uncharted franchise is my favorite franchise established during the PlayStation 3 generation, so I know these games well. I played enough of each game in this collection to compare the remasters to their original counterparts and report back.

    Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a remarkable collection of games. People tend to forget but the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune shipped back in 2007 from a developer mostly known for their mascot characters such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. To see them branch out into a more realistic action adventure was shocking. Nathan Drake had to prove himself, and prove himself he did. Today the Uncharted series is the jewel in Sony’s first party developed crown. With the forth entry in the series gearing up for release early next year, having a set like this hit now is fitting. Not only does it remind us of how far the series has come, but also where things are going.

    Uncharted2The Great:

    The fact this collection exists gives me an excuse to go back and play through all three of these games back-to-back-to-back one more time before the next installment is released. I consider that the very best feature of the game, giving me one more chance to experience these absolutely incredible games.

    Uncharted3The Good:

    • Evolving gameplay. The cover mechanics of the first game get better and better as the series evolved, and that’s highlighted in this collection. The gunplay also got tighter the further the series went. Regardless of the improvements made, the series was fun from the very beginning. The mix of action and puzzle solving, and phenomenal storytelling make this a series you will want to play through again and the gameplay evolves at a natural pace, meaning you don’t ever feel completely restricted.
    • The incredible action set pieces are just as memorable today as they were when you first played through these games. If you never experienced these games from the previous generation, then you’re in for a real treat. From the dilapidated train wreck in Uncharted 2 to the incredible desert in Uncharted 3, it’s just amazing to behold in 1080p.
    • The amazing story flows from one game to the next in such a way that you really have to play the games one after another in order to tie the themes together and get the most out of the trilogy. This marks the first time I’ve ever played the games one after another, and I enjoyed the story more now than I did when the games were new. The first game is by far the weakest of the bunch in terms of the narrative, but it sets the stage for things to come.
    • The advances in motion capture technology came a long way from Drake’s Fortune to Drake’s Deception, and so too did the Naughty Dog’s cinematography skills. I find it interesting how a game based so much on the past, has itself a little history lesson in technological advancements. Naughty Dog became more and more comfortable in their newfound skills as the games progressed, and that’s evident as you play through them.
    • The 1080p resolution and smooth 60 fps gameplay are the way these games were meant to be played. I actually had to connect my PS3 because I never remembered these games looking this good, but to my surprise they were quite impressive even on the PlayStation 3.

    +The soundtrack is also just as incredible as I remembered. The game also supports 7.1 surround sound, and it sounds superb. These games have never sounded better than they do here. The voice acting is also a highlight.

    • New features and modes make these games better than ever. For beginners there’s a new super easy mode called Explorer Mode, and then there’s the Brutal difficulty which makes Crushing look like child’s play. There’s also a Speed Run mode which keeps track of your progression versus your friend’s times, which is nice. There’s even a photo mode, and all new trophies. Finally there’s a render mode, which unlocks new skins allowing you to play as some of your favorite characters from the series.

    Uncharted5The So-So:

    +/- One element this series has always struggled with is the disconnect between the protagonists that are so rich and lively, and the mass murdering they perform throughout the three adventures. These games are filled with deep storylines and complex characters that are emotionally charged, yet none of them have any problems killing thousands of people.

    Uncharted4The Bad:

    • Sadly all multiplayer modes have not been carried over from the original games, which will surely disappoint some fans of the series.

    Uncharted1The Lowdown:

    Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection proves Drake’s motto is true, Sic Parvus Magna or, Greatness from small Beginnings. This set is an absolute must buy.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

     

    Tearaway Unfolded Review

    Tearaway Unfolded ReviewTearaway Unfolded (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action Platformer
    Publisher: SCEA
    Developer: Tarsier Studios and Media Molecule

    Parent Talk: Tearaway Unfolded is the perfect game for children of all ages. It has been rated E for everyone by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and the only disclaimer is mild cartoon violence and that sums it up. You take on the role of Iota, or Atoi, a little paper crafted messenger trying to deliver your special message to the real world.

    Plays Like: Tearaway makes full use of the DualShock 4 controller, which is no surprise considering the original version on the Vita made use of that system’s unique capabilities. There’s also a companion app you can use in order to have even more control over the game’s environments and creative tools. The PlayStation Vita itself can also act as an input device, which is fantastic for those of us who experienced the original. Your objective is to make it to the real world by traversing countless action platforming stages until you reach your destination. Combined with intelligent puzzles, terrific action and platforming, Tearaway is a fantastic game that everyone in the house can enjoy.

    Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy two weeks before release. I went back and played through the Vita version to compare and contrast Tearaway Unfolded with the original version and to get a better feel for how the new controls work.

    When Sony announced Tearaway would be coming to the PlayStation 4, I would a little disheartened. It meant that the Vita version likely didn’t sell as well as Sony had hoped, which is really a shame. I was also perplexed because how could they take a game that was created from the ground up for the Vita and port it over to a console where you’re using a controller instead of a system with a touch screen, track pad, built in camera, microphone, etc. The answer is the developers got creative, and that’s what the true spirit of Tearaway was always about, being creative. I’m happy to the report the end result is a game that remains just as charming and fun to play on the PlayStation 4 as it was on the Vita.

    TU_4The Great:

    This is the Tearaway you remember, but with a twist. Sony didn’t just take the Vita version of Tearaway and quickly port it to the PS4. It’s clear that love and devotion went into the development of Tearaway Unfolded. For one thing huge sections of the game have been added in order to flesh out the storyline, which is now more focused on the journey of Iota or Atoi reaching the You, as in the real you, the one reading this review. In the Vita version, which I thought was excellent (http://www.projectcoe.com/2013/12/28/tearaway-review/), the game did a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the game world and the real world, and that translates well to the PS4. It’s better if you own the PlayStation Camera because you can take pictures of yourself or even short clips. Even without it though you can make use of the companion app which works on tablets and smartphones, and serves the same purpose. If you own a Vita you can also use that to help further enhance the game’s features.

    The focus has been changed somewhat this time around because the level of interaction isn’t as native to the PS4 hardware as it was with the Vita. For example all the touch screen elements have largely been replaced with either light-focused elements, which are done by holding down the R2 button on the controller and the light from the controller magically appears on-screen to assist your little paper messenger. With the Vita version you would likely have had to touch the screen to move a platform out of your way. I will give the developers credit though, they did a good job of making use of the DualShock 4’s track pad. You can click it in to cause large drums to bounce, or sweep your finger along the trackpad in order to change the direction of the wind. While not quite as natural as the Vita’s gesture features, it does work fairly well thanks to the motion controls and built-in features of the DualShock 4.

    TU_2The Good:

    • Solid gameplay. I love the interactive concept Tearaway plays with, but it really wouldn’t mean much if the core gameplay was lacking, but it certainly isn’t. Behind the unique exterior lies a very fun and addicting action platformer. As you progress in the game you unlock more and more abilities, and you can return to previously visited areas in order to unlock a wide assortment of goodies from real world paper crafts, in-game confetti which is used to purchase additional customizable items for your avatar, to trophies and more.
    • The fantastic customization options from the original game are back. You can change every aspect of Iota and Atoi. There are sections of the game where you have to create wonderful pieces of art, and admittingly it can be a bit difficult with the small surface area of the DualShock 4’s trackpad, but thankfully the companion app works very well if you’re using it on a tablet. You can even get a second person to help you out with the app, which I found to be quite useful.
    • Creative world never looked so good. Featuring lush 1080p visuals at a smooth 60 frames-per-second. It was a true sight to behold on the Vita, the way the levels peeled back, the way every object was made of paper and reacted realistically to wind and your interactions, and now on the PS4 the details are sharper than ever. While I wouldn’t say this game is pushing the PS4 to its limits, it looks and runs perfectly. The world feels more alive on the big screen, and the audio is just incredible. The soundtrack is fantastic, with melodies that help bring this special world to life. There’s also some great voice acting and perfectly matched sound effects.

    TU_3The Bad:

    • No matter how much effort was put into this version of Tearaway, it could never fully match the original if only because the game was conceptualized for a system with specific features. While this version works great, and is indeed fun, it doesn’t come across quite as revolutionary as the original. It also puts the final nail in the Vita’s coffin as its single best reason for owning is no longer exclusive.

    TU_1The Ugly:

    While not frequent, I did run into a few areas where some bizarre graphical glitches occurred whereby a small piece of paper from the environment wouldn’t float away as scripted, it would instead stay floating in front of a characters face or other really minor anomalies like that.

    TU_5The Lowdown:

    Tearaway Unfolded is a really fun game to play, it’s creative, original, and makes perfect use of the DualShock 4’s features. It’s even better if you own the PlayStation Camera or download the companion app for your smartphone or tablet. The problem is that it also destroys the best exclusive Sony had for the Vita as now you can pick the game up on the PS4. I don’t blame Sony as it makes perfect financial sense, so do yourself a favor and since the odds are you skipped out on the Vita, pick this one up instead. You won’t regret it.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Until Dawn Review

    Until Dawn Box ArtUntil Dawn (Available exclusively on the PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action Adventure
    Developer: Supermassive Games
    Publisher: SCEA
    Release Date: August 25th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Until Dawn M for mature players aged 17 and up because of blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language. Ever watch a movie franchise like Saw, well if so you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, this is a horror videogame where you see people get ripped apart, decapitated, and much more. Under no circumstances should children be anywhere near this game.

    Plays Like: The best way I can describe Until Dawn is if someone were to take the episodic nature of Alan Wake and apply that to a horror-themed version of Heavy Rain. The game plays almost exactly like that mash up. For those that don’t know either or those games, you are largely interacting with a seven to nine hour movie. You can move one of eight characters around a limited environment, correctly hit the right buttons during quick-time events, and study various objects in the environment. This isn’t your typical third-person shooter, no here it’s all about immersing the player in a highly disturbing world. The big twist is that your choices literally affect everything in the game from the storyline to segments of the game you’ll actually play through.

    Review Basis: Sony Computer Entertainment Canada sent us a review copy a week in advance, and I played non-stop until I had not only completed the game, but went through it several times to see how I could affect the storyline.

    I really enjoyed the heavy narrative of Heavy Rain. It was a tremendously unique experience. It didn’t play like your typical third-person action game, instead making you interact with the environment in bold ways uncommon for the genre. Until Dawn is very similar in-style to Heavy Rain, but instead of trying to solve the riddle of the origami killer, here you’re wrapped up in a terrifying tale of murder, suspense and dread, where your every action changes not only the storyline, but the entire game. Until Dawn is the butterfly effect realized in videogame form, and it will absolutely blow you away.

    Until Dawn1The Great:

    The one element that really makes Until Dawn standout from its peers is its incredible use of the butterfly effect. In reality the butterfly effect amounts to the smallest choices we make could have dire consequences in the future. Step on a blade of grass and that could bring about the apocalypse sometime down the road. Until Dawn excels at this because during any given moment there are literally dozens of choices you will have to make. Do you get angry at one character for something they did or said? Do you take the left path instead of the right path? Do you ignore the quick-time event and see what happens, or do you try your hardest to keep up with the ever increasing prompts? Some of these choices may seem trivial, but their consequences can be felt as you progress through the game.

    There’s an extremely helpful butterfly effect menu system where you can see how each choice you made affected the outcome of the game. On one wing you’ll see the initial choice you made, and then you can swipe to the right using the DualShock 4’s trackpad to see the next outcome. This is extremely useful to keep track of where branches were made, especially if you want to experience the game again by going down a different path.

    I should also mention the choices you make are permanent. There are no checkpoints here, no do-overs. Once you’re make a decision you have to stick with it throughout the entire game. If that choice leads to a character dying, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. This means there’s no Game Over screen, and that allows you to get extremely experimental during your future play-throughs.

    Until Dawn2The Good:

    • You will be afraid, count on it. The first six chapters of the game are genuinely scary. You have no idea what’s going on, you know there’s a presence out there, something that’s hunting your friends down, but you don’t know exactly what. There are countless jump scares where I almost dropped my controller out of fright, and then there’s the genuine dread that starts to creep in as you’re all alone making your way to some foreboding area. I can tell you I actually had my hands start to shake at one part because I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. The tension slowly eases off towards the end of the game as more and more is revealed about what’s actually going on, but let me tell you, the first half is absolutely petrifying. That’s not to say the latter half isn’t scary, it’s just that you start to acclimatize to the jump scares, and the game really wants to flesh out the story so you get the complete package.
    • Speaking of the story, it’s great. A very traumatic event occurred a year ago in a cabin in the woods on a mountain side. Now everyone who was present is back to pay their respects, but all is not what it seems and now each of the eight friends are systematically being taken out. What is going on? Who is doing this? Will anyone make it until dawn? There are quite a few horror tropes featured and many clichés, but what separates the game from your run-of-the-mill teen horror story are the deep and fleshed out characters. By the end of the game you will absolutely hate some of them, and feel true pain when you let others die because of your poor decisions that led to them being massacred.
    • Core gameplay works perfectly. This is the one area that won’t be for everyone. Gameplay is broken down into several sections, each specifically designed to draw you further into the narrative. There are areas where you play in third-person, usually at times where you have to explore dark and scary places, then there are decision bubbles where you have to move the right analog stick to select one of two decisions, which will completely change the course of the game. There are also quick-time events that play out during key cinematic scenes, and finally there are targeting sections where you have to aim a reticle at a target very quickly or something awful usually happens.

    Until Dawn3+ A surprising amount of replay is featured. There are quite a few collectable goodies you should be on the lookout for as these flesh out the storyline, and some can only be found in sections of the game that are unlocked by making certain choices. You can also go back and create new branches in the storyline that affect relationships between characters by changing the choices you make in each chapter. So while the game consists of only 10 chapters which last for at most around seven to nine hours, you could be playing for much longer if you decide you want to experiment with all the different story branches.

    • Fantastic cast of characters. Like Beyond Two Souls, Until Dawn features Hollywood actors such as Hayden Panettiere), Peter Stormare, Brett Dalton, Rami Malek, Meaghan Martin, Nichole Bloom, Galadriel Stineman, Noah Fleiss and Larry Fessenden. Each actor does a superb job of capturing the essence of the characters they play.
    • The audio visual presentation as a whole is absolutely incredible. From the dynamic camera angles that heighten the tension and suspense, to the sublime particle effects used to highlight snow and fog, it’s just a stunning game to look at and admire. Because of the limited interactivity, Supermassive Games were able to push the PS4 to its limits by creating breathtaking environments and one wonderful setting after another. This very well could be the nicest looking game of this current generation thus far.

    Until Dawn4The Bad:

    • For someone like me, not having the option to use inverted aiming controls really hurts, and there’s one scene in particular where the only way to save a character is to very quickly aim at a specific spot, and because I’m so used to inverted controls my brain told my thumb to move the stick down, instead of up, thereby causing the character to die. That was very annoying to me as I was so close to saving him. I can only hope this gets patched into the game ASAP if it isn’t a day-one update.

    Until Dawn5The Ugly:

    I have to mention this because it occurred once, yet never again. During my very first gameplay session with the game I went through eight of the game’s 10 chapters, and since there’s no exit to main menu option I quit the game from the dashboard using the ‘Close Application’ command. When I tried to resume my game I got the following message: “Recovering partially installed data. This may take up to twenty minutes.” It took about seven minutes for the file to get recovered and then I was back where I left off, but it was odd just the same.

    The Lowdown:      

    Until Dawn truly surprised me as I had no expectations for it. I remember it being announced for the PlayStation 3 as a Move game (thankfully that decision was scrapped and the game now features either motion controls or traditional controls), but it really flew under my radar. So imagine my surprise when the game arrives and it absolutely blows me away. If you enjoy a good scare, close the lights, raise the volume on the TV and prepare yourself for one hell of a good time. Until Dawn might just be the very best PlayStation 4 exclusive of 2015. Don’t miss it!

    Final Score: 9.2/10

     

    LittleBigPlanet 3 Review

    LBP3LittleBigPlanet 3 (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Platformer
    Publisher: SCEA
    Developer: Sumo Entertainment
    Release Date: November 18th, 2014

    Parent Talk: LittleBigPlanet 3 has been rated E for everyone, meaning absolutely anyone can play this charming game. There’s really not much here anyone could find offensive, although there are a few cutscene that the really young might be frightened to see. Characters are all made out of cloth, or other real-world materials, but the action is so charming and harmless that I think this makes a perfect game for both children, and the young at heart.

    Plays Like: Much like the rest of the series, the game is a platformer at heart. You move between three distinct plains, running and jumping all over the place. To make things even more interesting, you also have access to a wide assortment of powerful editing tools where you can create your own levels.

    Review Basis: Finished the game, and tried my hand at creating a masterpiece of a level. That last part didn’t turn out so well.

    When LittleBigPlanet first hit the PlayStation 3 it ushered in Sony’s unique marketing strategy of Play, Create, and Share. YEAH! Local, an up and coming marketing think-tank has studied and reviewed their tactics, they noted how this simple concept has been applied to quite a few games over the years, but it all started with LittleBigPlanet. You could make your own levels, share them with others, and play through a wonderfully crafted campaign. The same holds true with LBP3, except everything has been enhanced and tweaked to a near pitch perfect level. If only a few nasty bugs would have been squashed prior to release, and some of the gameplay choices been a little different, this likely would have been one of the best games on the PS4, but as it is now, it’s just a damn fun one.

    LBP3_4The Great:

    The three new characters introduced in LittleBigPlanet 3 are a sheer delight to use. Oddsock is quick, and can be used to wall-jump, which makes him particularly useful. Toggle can switch between large and tiny versions of himself, which make him perfect for getting to hard to reach places, and finally Swoop can fly and carry objects. You have full access to all three new characters in the creation mode, however a major omission is that they’re not all playable in the main campaign for some reason. Instead you’re limited to where and how you can use the characters, but outside that limitation I love all of their new abilities and how they allow you to get truly creative when creating or trying to create your own masterpiece.

    LBP3_1The Good:

    • I really enjoyed the cheerful story in LBP3. Sure it’s the similar to what we’ve seen before, but it’s still charming. You can on the role of Sackboy, who has been whisked away to Bunkum by a lightbulb named Newton. Newton tells the story of ancient Titans who sucked all the creativity out of Bunkum, but were thwarted by three unlikely heroes, Oddsock, Toggle, and Swoop. Sure enough, the Titans returns, and Sackboy has to locate these three heroes and save the kingdom. It’s simple, cute, and charming, which is perfect for this kind of game.
    • The campaign is divided into four main areas, one for the prologue, and then one for each of the three hero characters. Each new area has a series of levels, and then a boss fight in the last. There are countless hours of platforming goodness is each level, and once special items are introduced you’re rewarded for revisiting previously completed levels. There are secret challenges which require two or more players to attain, and you’ll almost always have a reason to come back and play because of missed stickers or other goodies you skipped on your first play through.
    • Speaking of creativity, as with all the other LittleBigPlanet games, this one features an incredibly robust level editor. I say level editor, but it’s so much more than that. You can build your own levels, an entire map, mini-games, and just about everything else you can possibly imagine, and then share those creations with the rest of the community.
    • Popit Puzzles are featured on their own planet, and act as a giant tutorial. Each level introduces one new tool, and forces you to understand how said tool works within the context of creation. So while technically you’re being challenged to overcome puzzles, in the back of your mind you’re also learning how and where to place traps, the best way to conceal a certain danger, and more. For lack of a better term, it’s brilliant.
    • There’s so much to do in this game that you feel like you’re truly getting your money’s worth. There are tons of NPCs in every hub world that offer mini-games, stickers for you to collect, and so much more. Then there are all the community aspects, such as playing through levels other players have built, of which there are literally hundreds if not thousands.
    • Coop has always been one of the game’s strengths and that holds true here. While most levels have two-player areas to them, only a fraction were designed for up to four players. That said, every level can be completed with four players, and it’s a blast doing so.
    • Environments are all extremely creative. One minute you’re in a Hollywood-inspired world filled with the frights, and excitement that come with the movies these levels are based upon, and the next you’re underwater in an area that doesn’t look anything like where you just were. That’s the creative genius of this series, and it’s still impressive. Everything is made up of real world materials such as wool, wood, or steel, yet everything is overly cute and cuddly. It’s a beautiful game to look at.

    LBP3_2The Bad:

    • I really was sad to learn that you can’t switch characters at a moment’s notice during the campaign. You’re only allowed to do so at key spots, and even then you’re typically only allowed to switch to one of the characters, whichever one you happened to unlock in that area’s hub world. That’s very disappointing as it could have unlocked a wealth of options, almost making the game have a Metroid-like essence to it. Technically it already does with the in-game items you acquire such as a weapon that allows you to push certain items out of the way, or a teleporter that only works at certain spots.

    The Ugly:

    • As with just about every modern videogame, LittleBigPlanet 3 is littered with bugs. Thankfully most of these have been patched, however while I played through the game I had frequent issues whereby I would fall through the floor of a level, would appear in the background, or would get stuck unable to explode myself or restart at the desired checkpoint.

    LBP3_3The Lowdown:

    LittleBigPlanet 3 is a really fun game, although it would have been so much better had the new characters been utilized a little better. I would have loved to have been able to switch to whichever character I wanted, whenever I wanted within the stages. This would have increased the replay factor by about a hundred percent, and really would have helped make this feel like the ultimate LittleBigPlanet. I loved all the new creation tools, the Popit Puzzles, but the bugs were annoying. Overall this is a fun game and fans of the series should most certainly check it out. It’s also a good jump on point for those curious to see what the series is all about.

    Final Score: 7/10

    Far Cry 4 Review

    Far Cry 4 ReviewFar Cry 4 (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 10
    Genre: FPS
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
    Release Date: November 18th, 2014

    Parent Talk: This is a viscous game, both in its narrative and in the acts of violence depicted. From slicing someone’s throat, to seeing people get tortured at every turn, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart. It features drug use, alcohol, and strong language and is most certainly the type of game that deserves its M rating. Keep the kids away from this one at all costs.

    Plays Like: If you were a fan of Far Cry 3, there’s a good chance you’re going to love this one. You take on the role of Ajay Ghale, and are put to the task of essentially taking on open-world missions for the two co-leaders of the Golden Path, a separatist group that is trying to overthrow the current dictator, Pagan Min. The story takes itself very seriously, but once the more traditional open-world side missions open up, things become far sillier. Most open world games these days follow a specific path, you can tackle a wide assortment of crazy and wild side quests, or focus on the main storyline. The same is true in this first-person action romp.

    Review Basis: Finished the main storyline, and tried my hand at all the various side quests and activities offered.

    Far Cry 4 is wild, it’s crazy, it takes itself too seriously at times, but above all else, it is a really enjoyable game to play, so long as you enjoy open-world games. There’s nothing quite like barging into an enemy camp, on top of an elephant, and throwing grenades all over the place. It’s sheer chaos, and yes it’s often hard to take anything the game throws at you too seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the fictitious Himalayan province of Kyrat.

    FC1The Great:

    If I had to say what I enjoyed the most with Far Cry 4, it would have to be the co-op mode. This game is crazy enough playing by yourself, but grab a friend, or a complete stranger and prepare to go all out bat shit crazy. You can have one player fly the gyrocopter, while the other swings off it with a grabbling hook picking off enemies. You can purposely rush enemies while both players are riding elephants, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. To say you feel like a total bad ass would be an understatement. It’s completely ridiculous, and that’s most likely why it’s just so much fun to play.

    FC2The Good:

    • While the narrative takes itself too serious, I did find the tale to be a solid one. You play as Ajay Ghale, on a quest to scatter your mother’s ashes in some unknown area of Kyrat, a fictitious Himalayan province. Once you arrive things go downhill quickly as you’re forced to watch a madman named Pagan Min do unspeakable things.   As the story progresses Ajay finds himself choosing between two co-leaders of The Golden Path, a separatist group trying to bring balance to Kyrat. Do you go the more technical route and support Amita, or do you always put out fires by supporting Sabal? While these elements were great, sadly the antagonist was severely underused and that’s a crying shame because he had so much potential.
    • Great activities and mission variety. One moment you’re trying to get to the top of a giant radio tower, which acts almost like a platforming puzzle game, and the next you’re taking down wave after wave of enemies trying to liberate an outpost. There are racing activities, you can attempt to escort munitions to The Golden Path, and then there are the actual story missions which vary just as much as the side missions do.
    • Everything about Far Cry 4 is about causing chaos to ensue, and this couldn’t be more evident by the animal luring and elephant riding. If you’re sneaking up on a group of enemies, you can lob what amounts to animal guts at your enemies, which will lure in a vicious bear, tiger, or some other predator to make short work of Pagan’s forces. If that’s not really your style, why not hop on an elephant and ram the outpost to hell, all while spraying enemies with bullets.
    • The player progression system in place is deep and rewarding. As you complete more and more missions and activities you earn experience which will eventually grant you skill points which can be used to upgrade your core abilities. Things like having an extra life bar, being able to reload while running, and standard FPS-fair are all featured here, and act as an excuse to tackle just one more mission before bed.
    • 5v5 competitive multiplayer is a blast to play because it features so many aspects of what makes the open world gameplay in the main campaign so much fun to play. The two opposing factions are quite different, one featuring supernatural elements such as invisibility, and the other using the more traditional guns, explosives, etc. Combining these two groups with the open world elements from the main campaign was surprisingly fresh and exciting, no matter which objective the game throws at you.
    • The audio visual presentation is certainly worthy of the next-gen moniker. The environments are beautiful, and well-populated, and the character animations are great. At times there are a few scenes that are a little rough around the edges, but for the most part this is a great looking first-year title for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Naturally if you have a powerful PC you can really make this game look stunningly beautiful. The audio fits the bill perfectly, although I absolutely detested the radio announcer. I didn’t find he added anything to the narrative, and wasn’t funny at all. The soundtrack matched the setting perfectly, feeling majestic and mysterious at times, and pulse pounding and energetic at others.

    FC3The So-So:

    +/- Is there such a thing as too many things to do in a game? Picture thing, a giant map with about two dozen radio towers on it. You know that if you liberate those towers you’ll unlock new activities, and new areas to explore. So you start to do that, you manage to liberate one of the towers and purchase several maps which show the locations of treasure troves, posters, and much, much more. Suddenly your map has about 100 different icons on it, and that’s all from just one tower. Now imagine what happens when you start unlocking more towers. Before too long I found myself a little overwhelmed by how much stuff there is to do in the game. This is all on top of the interesting story missions, the hunting missions that you’ll set yourself on in order to craft items of great use such as a much larger bag for holding skins, loot, and ammo. It’s very easy to get distracted, and it feels like Ubisoft was purposely going out of their way to jam as much as they possibly could in the limited real-estate available. Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on you.

    FC4The Bad:

    • Far Cry 4 feels an awful lot like many of Ubisoft’s other big games such as the Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs franchises. It’s all starting to blend together into one big giant ‘been there, done that’ mess. This is still a fun game, but Ubisoft is going to have to be careful not to overdo it. I can very easily see all of their big franchises collapse under the mighty weight of each other if each of these series receives yearly iterations.

    FC5The Lowdown:

    Far Cry 4 borrows a lot from Far Cry 3, and like I mentioned just above, Ubisoft will have to be careful how to proceed from here. It’s one thing to have three great franchises, but something else entirely when all three start becoming a bit too alike. Right now Far Cry 4 is a ridiculous game that is so much fun to play, however it can also be a bit daunting when you realize just how much stuff there is to do in this massive open world. If you’re looking for a videogame that you can invest dozens of hours into, this will most certainly scratch that particular itch. If you’re hoping for next innovative franchise that breaks the mold, this isn’t going to shock or amaze you. What it does it does well, it just doesn’t do anything particularly new.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Freedom Wars Review

    Freedom WarsFreedom Wars (Available exclusively for the PlayStation Vita)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
    Developer: SCE Japan Studio, Shift, and Dimps
    Release Date: October 28th, 2014

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Freedom Wars T for teen because of blood, mild suggestive themes, and violence. It’s not overly gory, but you’re challenged with taking down giant robot-like enemies with all manner of weapons.   The story also touches on some mature themes so the teen rating is just about spot on.

    Plays Like: Freedom Wars is an interesting game, it plays similarly to Monster Hunter in that you have a wide array of weapons at your disposal, there are tons of resource gathering, and how you complete each mission is entirely up to you. You can charge in using nothing but projectile weapons, or you can get up close and personal and deliver striking melee attacks. The freedom offered is extremely impressive, and over time you will develop your own play style. Missions take typical shooter fair and mix things up just enough to give the game its own distinct flare. You typically have to rescue captives from giant Abductors (mech-like robots), but sometimes you’re pitted against another team which plays out more like a team deathmatch. There’s a ton of mission variety, but we’ll discuss that in further below.

    Review Basis: Finished the campaign using both the AI and real-life cooperative teammates.

    Freedom Wars is one of the best PlayStation Vita games to come along in a while. The fact it’s an original game makes it even more impressive. It’s a perfect pick-up and play game, but also has the chops to keep you glued to your Vita for hours on end. If you’re a fan of Monster Hunter or Soul Sacrifice, you’ll love this game. From the incredible game world that pulls you in with each and every aspect of the game, to the great weapon and combat system, Freedom Wars absolutely shocked me with how much fun it is to play. If you haven’t played a Vita game in a while, this is one to look into.

    The Great:

    I’ve played a lot of games over the years, but very few have pulled me into their game world like Freedom Wars did. Everything about the game makes you want to know more about this unique world. First off, you play as a Sinner, basically someone that has been imprisoned for being a worthless drain on society. Because you’re so useless, you’re sentence is a small one, a million years of forced voluntary military service. I love the way the game continuously reminds you of just how useless you really are, and how you’re ‘volunteering’ for everything, even though you have absolutely no choice. Completing missions will slowly decrease your sentence, but until you’ve earned enough money the restrictions placed upon you are hilarious. You’re not allowed to pace more than five steps in your cell or else you’ll be charged with another decade of imprisonment. Want to go to sleep, no problem, but you can’t lie down. These seemingly ridiculous restrictions play into this insane world perfectly, and help flesh out the Entitlement system which eventually allows you to fast-travel, change your characters clothes, and more. You will eventually your stay more habitual, but it’ll take a while before you’re truly free.

    The core gameplay also plays into this unique theme perfectly. Each Panopticon, which is essentially a city, is represented by a group of Sinners. I selected Los Angeles because Montreal wasn’t an option. For shame! The more missions you complete, you not only reduce your imprisonment, but you gain notoriety for your Panopticon. There are 50 in the game, and these act almost like leaderboards. The higher your placement, the better rewards you get for in-game events. It gives a true sense of belonging to this messed up world. One important way to improve your Panopticon is to steal citizens and resources from rival cities. There are giant mech-like machines all over the place called Abductors, and you’re constantly charged with bringing these giants down in order to snatch the civilian inside. Once you have the person, you make a break for the closest transport tube. Securing these people will raise your Panopticon’s rating, lower your rivals, and again, lower your sentence.

    The Good:

    • Weapons are a joy to use and you’re gameplay style will directly alter the way you play the game. Let’s say you want to focus on melee combat, well that’s an option, select all the weapons that fit your fighting style and you’re all set. The same is true for projectile attacks. Each weapon feels genuinely unique, and no two players will play the game exactly the same.
    • The Thorn, is a grabbling beam of sorts, which you can use to propel yourself to high up platforms, but can also be used as a weapon. You can latch on to the Abductors to slash away at their armor, you can pull them to the group for a team attack, and more. What’s interesting with the Thorn is that there are three distinct types, one for healing, one for traps and barricades, and one for grabbles. Yet again your play style will determine which variation you use most often. The Thorn also gives the game an incredibly fast-paced feel because at any moment you can zip along the side of a building, you can pull enemies off platforms, propel yourself to a specific target, and so much more.
    • There’s also a great variety of missions. While the bulk are about you rescuing captured civilians, you will also experience unique takes on capture the flag, king of the hill, and more, but all wrapped around the citizen rescue theme. For example there might be a mission where you and an Abductor are racing towards a runaway civilian. Your goal is to grab the person, and race towards the rescue tube before the Abductor can stop you, therein lies your capture the flag game. I adored the way the game played on this classic gaming conventions.
    • Team-based gameplay rocks whether or not you have real friends in your party. Every mission you go on is a group affair. Your teammates will typically follow your lead, so if you bring down an Abductor, they’ll do all in their power to finish it off. You’ll have a great time if you decide to bring some friends into the mix because only by working together can you effectively take down three or four Abductors at once. Doing so is a huge reward too.
    • Full PlayStation TV support. Being the very first Vita game I’ve played from beginning to end on my new PS TV was a delight. Using a DualShock 4 proved a perfect way to play the game. It controlled flawlessly, and looked beautiful upscaled to 720p.
    • While on the subject of graphics, the game looks extremely detailed. It’s amazing how much juice the Vita actually has under the hood. There’s great use of color, the environments look wonderful, and the action is always rock-solid, with the frame-rate being constant throughout.
    • The soundtrack is fast-paced to match the action, and die-hards will be happy to hear that the original Japanese voice acting remains in-tact. Some serious production values went into the development of this game.

    The So-So:

    +/- The story is alright. It’s a shame too because the game world is so perfectly tied to the gameplay and overall theme that you would think the story would fit just as well, but it doesn’t. It ends up slowing things down, forcing you to walk around and listen to dialogue. There’s a ton of lore here too, but I found myself constantly skipping the dialogue sequences just to get on to the next mission because the gameplay is so much more entertaining.

    +/- The camera lock-on mechanic takes a little getting used to. You can tap it on or off, but that’s not the issue, the issue comes in when you’re locked on a target and move too close to said enemy. Suddenly the camera is turning and spinning out of control all over the place.

    +/- There’s an overly complex crafting system here that yields random results. Over the course of the game you’ll acquire massive amounts of supplies, however you’re only ever going to use a handful of weapons so there’s very little need for all the resources at your disposal. I think a reworked crafting system would have added even more to an already impressive package.

    The Lowdown:

    Being Japan’s number one selling new IP on the Vita, and a Monster Hunter clone Vita owners can be proud to call their own, it’s a sure bet Freedom Wars will get a sequel sometime next year. With any luck the developers can fix some of the minor complaints I raised here and deliver the Vita’s true killer app. I also hope that game reaches Western shores as well because this is a game that truly surprised me by how deep and genuinely enjoyable it is. If you own a PlayStation Vita, do yourself a huge favor and check out Freedom Wars.

    Final Score: 8.8/10

    Hyrule Warriors Review

    Hyrule WarriorsHyrule Warriors (Available exclusively on Wii U)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Developer: Omega Force, Team Ninja
    Release Date: September 26th, 2014

    Parent Talk: Hyrule Warriors has been rated T for teen by the ESRB. That makes Hyrule Warriors only the second Zelda game of all time to be rated T, the other being Twilight Princess. The reason why it was rated T is because of fantasy violence and suggestive themes. The suggestive themes are mainly some of the character’s provocative costumes, and the violence should be obvious. You play as any number of classic Zelda characters and take out hordes of enemies with powerful weapons. There’s no blood or gore whatsoever though, so even kids could get a lot of enjoyment out of this one, especially if they’re fans of the series.

    Plays Like: Have you ever played a game in the long-running Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors series? If you, know what you’re getting here, well…for the most part. The game mashes the Dynasty Warriors’ series tactic and time management gameplay with Zelda’s objective-based gameplay. It also acts as the very best fan service I have ever played. You move around a large map trying to secure key forts, take out legendary Zelda bosses, and defeat legions of classic enemies from every single game in the Legend of Zelda franchise. This is a love letter to the fans.

    Review Basis: Finished the Legend mode, and played through the Adventure mode.

    The Dynasty Warriors series has spawned a number of spin-offs over the years including one based on Gundam, Fist of the North Star, and One Piece. While all great fan services in their own right, as a diehard Zelda fan, I have never played something like this before. It perfectly balances the classic Warriors gameplay of properly securing your position, and making the most of the little time you have available with Zelda’s objective-based gameplay, such as getting a new weapon to access a new area or take out a boss. It’s a beautiful looking game too, featuring the most detailed designs ever seen for these legendary characters, and from the moment the intro screen plays you know you’re not just playing some cheap mash-up between two franchises, you’re actually playing the perfect combination of two excellent series. Warriors fans will appreciate the amount of polish that went into the development of the game, and Zelda fans will adore all the little nods to their beloved franchise. I never expected this experiment would turn out to be as awesome as it did.

    She's in deep thought.
    She’s in deep thought.

    The Great:

    Do I really have to say this? The fan service is hands-down the best part of the game. From the rocking remix of the classic Zelda theme, to the 13 playable characters it’s all just awesome. Have you ever wanted to play as the warrior version of Impa? How about actually taking part in one of the epic wars mentioned in many of the previous games? Everything is possible here. Battles take part in some of the most memorable dungeons and areas from key games in the franchise and the characters you get to play as are nothing short of incredible. From Midna to Ganondorf himself, no characters are off-limits. I also really loved all the little touches like how all the characters hold treasure they find in chests above their heads, all the classic sound effects, and the remixed tunes of epic themes from years ago. This is the ultimate fan service and I really couldn’t imagine anything better.

    Link is ready for anything!
    Link is ready for anything!

    The Good:

    • Keeping the choices from the Dynasty Warriors games is excellent. You’re constantly challenged with making choices. Do you hold the current fort you’re fighting in, or do you go and try and locate the Gold Skulltula that just popped because you killed 1,000 enemies? How about the mid-boss that just dropped in the middle of the filed; they usually drop tons of rupees when they die. All these choices coupled with the more traditional objective-based gameplay of the Zelda series, such as locating a powerful weapon inside a hidden cave, or downing King Dodongo, help bridge the gap between the two franchises.
    • There are currently 13 playable characters, some of which I’ve already mentioned, and the promise of more to come. This helps keep the action fresh as each character has their own unique skills and abilities. From Princess Zelda, to Sheik, and even Darunia, the assortment of characters is brilliant. Each character also has an elemental affinity, which means certain characters will be more useful on certain stages, and this is great because it almost forces you to try new characters.
    • There’s a surprisingly deep crafting system in place where you can enhance your characters’ with powerful new combos, or skills. It’s excellent making a bottle with a potion, or unlocking some new skill for one of your favorite playable characters. I also loved being able to use rupees to level up characters that I didn’t use in a while. It prevented me from having to grind out levels on characters I wanted to use in the next mission. I did find myself going back to earlier missions to farm crafting supplies though, but that was a personal choice, not one the game forced upon you.
    • Boss fights might not be too challenging, but they round out the package perfectly. From the minute you see King Dodongo on the first mission, to Gohma, and the Imprisoned One, Hyrule Warriors keeps surprising you. While the mechanics used to defeat boss characters may be somewhat disappointing, I still found it awesome to have all these characters in the same game.
    • Adventure mode is a true delight. Not only does it perfectly recreated the 2D map from the very first Legend of Zelda, but each ‘screen’ is actually a battle area. You move around the map, selecting an area you’d like to jump into. From there the action reverts to standard Hyrule Warriors gameplay, but gives you specific mission parameters to meet. There are plenty of secrets and goodies to be found in both Legend and Adventure mode, and I loved how the two were so perfectly connected. You might find new weapons, new characters, heart pieces, and more and everything you do in one mode transfers to the next. It’s brilliant!
    • Off-screen gameplay is fantastic, as always. The footage you’re watching in the video review was made possible because of off-screen mode. Without it, this review would have been delayed for quite some time.
    • Hyrule Warriors is the nicest looking Zelda game ever, at least from a technical perspective. Characters look incredible, and the amount of enemies on the screen at once is amazing. I didn’t experience slow-down in the single player campaign, and the nods to the previous Zelda games are literally everywhere. While the level design isn’t anywhere near as complex as in traditional Zelda games, it really doesn’t matter when the cohesive world comes together this well.
    • The soundtrack is fantastic. All the remixed tunes are spectacular. I especially love the rock version of the classic theme, and the sound effects are mostly ripped from the previous games in the series, so you know you’re going to feel right at home.
    • I was absolutely shocked to hear any sort of voice acting in a Zelda game, and while it’s only one narrator that speaks during the game, it was more than enough for me. I hope one day Nintendo adds real voice acting in the Zelda franchise because it felt right at home with just the narrator.
    Yes there's even a brand new character waiting for you to check out.
    Yes there’s even a brand new character waiting for you to check out.

    The So-So:

    +/- Some will say the core action of repeatedly killing enemies in the same manner over and over again gets old, but since you can play as so many different characters, and all the fan service, I truly can’t complain. I enjoyed every minute I spent with the game, even if I only had to press the same few buttons again and again.

    +/- I thought I would love the coop mode, but there are a lot of technical issues that pop up in this mode such as major from frame rate drops. It remains a fun diversion, but I eventually stopped playing in coop because I wanted to experience the game as it was clearly intended to be played.

    +/- While this acts as one of the best Zelda spin-offs ever made, it doesn’t do very much to push the Warriors series forward. The gameplay remains largely unchanged since the last major Warriors release, and while new fans to the series might not even notice, longtime fans will. It’s not bad though as this current formula works perfectly.

    Adventure mode is an absolute blast.
    Adventure mode is an absolute blast.

    The Bad:

    • I would have loved to have played this game with Steven, but alas that’s not an option.
    Classic bosses make a welcome return.
    Classic bosses make a welcome return.

    The Lowdown:

    Hyrule Warriors is a fantastic tribute to one of the best videogame series ever made. If, like me, you’ve been a fan of the series since the original NES game, then this is a no-brainer. In fact I’d say this is a game Nintendo fans as a whole should check out. It’s absolutely incredible, especially for the fans. Since I am a fan I’m not going to sugar coat it, this feels like it was made for me, and I’m now about three times more excited for 2015’s Dragon Quest Heroes than I was before. There are so many other series that could get the Warriors treatment, and so long as Omega Force treats said series with such love and respect as they’ve done here, they’ll have tons of success. I can’t stress this enough, if you enjoy action games or the Zelda series as a whole, go buy Hyrule Warriors. It’s one of the best games of 2015 in my eyes!

    Final Score: 9.2/10  

    Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review

    Disney Infinity 2.0Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes (Available on PC, PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Disney
    Developer: Avalanche Software
    Release Date: September 23rd, 2014

    Parent Talk: Imagine a game where you play through a story as one of many Marvel characters, or even better, an interactive toy box where you can create your own games, and use a vast array of characters in silly mini-games, highly competitive races, or pretty much anything else you can think of. That’s Disney Infinity in a nutshell. It’s the perfect family game, and one that features nothing but cartoon violence. I can easily recommend this one to anyone with young kids at home as it’s really simple to learn, and you won’t be bored to tears while they have a blast. There’s real enjoyment to be had here for all.

    Plays Like: The one included play set (Avengers) is an open world Grand Theft Auto-like story-driven game where you pick up simple missions and complete them to earn experience and currency, which you use to purchase additional goodies for the Toy Box mode. It’s in this mode where you can create your own games using wonderful assists that do almost all the hard work for you.

    Review Basis: Disney sent over the PS4 Start Pack, and I played around with the Toy Box mode and finished the main story campaign that shipped with the Avengers play set. I also plan to cover additional toys that get released for the three current play sets available (Avengers, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy).

    Last year I thought Disney Infinity was the perfect games for kids. Yes the Toy Box mode was a little cumbersome because it required you to really know what you were doing, and it was a little sneaky forcing parents to buy a second character in order for their siblings to play together, but hot damn was it a fun game to play. This year Avalanche software has mixed things up a bit, and the end result is a fantastic iteration on what was already a wonderful kid’s game. If you have children at home, this will make for one hell of an amazing Christmas gift.

    The Great:

    The Toy Box mode has been dramatically improved. While you can still customize and make your own games, now the game tries very hard to help you out by offering up some great templates. You can even let the game build mini-games for you if you’re not feeling overly creative, or if you don’t have the time to devote to the game. I loved this aspect as it allowed me to focus on what I really enjoyed, just playing around with all the different creations other people have built. Giving me the confidence to build my own games just made the experience that much better. It’s now easier than ever to submit your creations to Disney, which once approved, can be downloaded by the entire community. Sadly I lack the skill and time to make something really worthwhile, but I have been enjoying what others have created, just as I did in the first Disney Infinity.

    Something else I really appreciated was the fact the Starter Pack includes three Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and Black Widow. You also get the Avengers play set, plus two Toy Box games, which are basically mini-games. That means two kids can play together straight out of the box, whereas last year you had to buy an additional character from one of the three included play sets in order to play together. If you don’t understand the way the system works, it’s quite simple. Each character is associated with a certain play set. Currently there are three play sets available, the Starter Pack’s included Avengers, and two ‘sold separately’ play sets, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Some characters can be used in different play sets if you located 10 character coins in the current play set. This was done to unlock exclusive stories for that character in a play set they wouldn’t normally be associated with. Each play set is a self-contained story mode. Disney has set up a Disney Infinity website (https://infinity.disney.com/en-ca/characters) that will show you all the toys available, and which play sets they work with. Most Marvel characters will work with all the Marvel play sets, but not necessarily all of them. Be sure to check the site before purchasing additional characters. Classic Disney characters only work in the Toy Box mode, so keep that in mind before expecting to use Donald Duck in the Avengers play set.

    Assault on Asgard, and Escape from Kyln discs unlock cute little mini-games that are best played in short bursts. If you’re looking for additional discs, you can purchase what are called Power Disc packs. Each pack sells for $5 and includes two unique discs, either a Toy Box disc (hexagonal shape) which could unlock new textures, features, or items for your Toy Box, or you could get a character power disc (circular shape), which gives your Infinity character a stat boost or some other in-game goodie. Because these packs are completely random though, you could spend hundreds in order to collect them all, and in fact you can purchase the complete set of 40 discs for the low asking price of $200 on eBay. Why this is great is because it helps bring the physical toys and discs you collect in real life to the virtual world, and that addictive nature associated with collecting anything really shines through here. Not only can you collect all the toys, but also all the Power Discs, and some of which are extremely rare.

    Thankfully you don’t absolutely need the Power Discs to get the full enjoyment out of the game, and if you bought a bunch of figures from the original Infinity I’m happy to report they all work with the Toy Box mode, and all characters have skill trees now! This means you can level them up while you tackle any number of creations in the Toy Box mode. That was a really great, and much appreciated touch.

    Personally it’s the figures I love. They’re expressive, detailed, and sturdy enough to actually be played with. While some of the paint work lacks the quality you’d expect on a $14 action figure, they look good just the same. I kind of which they were articulated, but for $14 you can’t expect too much these days, and the poses are fantastic and fitting. I’ll be honest, I’d love to display these on my desk at work because they look that fun. I would gladly spend some extra money to pick up a few extra figures just to have lying around. Disney already has three different waves of figures planned, with who knows how many planned for the future.

    Oh and did I mention the game now features Marvel characters? Yeah, that’s clearly great, and coupled with all the existing toys available, this series has just become an instant classic for children all over the world.

    The Good:

    • Each character feels completely unique to the last. While Iron Man and Thor can fly, they both have radically different move sets. Each character has a level cap of 20, but their level trees allow players to evolve them as they see fit. When you reach level 20 you won’t have unlocked all the skills, which gives the game some much needed depth. Level progress is saved to the toys so you can bring them to your friend’s house and be just as strong as you were the last time you played.
    • Local co-op is a blast and fitting for parents with their children. There is online play, but it’s for the Toy Box mode only. That’s not a bad thing as that’s the best mode in the whole game.

    • The audio visual package is fairly impressive. I’m a big fan of the way the toys look, and their in-game personas look exactly like the figures. The voice actors do a great job, and there are a few surprise voice actors you may not expect to be here. The music is fairly standard, but there are some good sound effects thrown in making all the special moves sound powerful.

    The So-So:

    +/- Your children will get a kick out of the play sets, but odds are you’ll be bored to tears very quickly. While it’s great being able to play as all the different Marvel super heroes, the truth is that the missions within the play sets are extremely repetitive. It’s always escort this bus, take this package, or help these people to reach a certain location, or fire up generations, beat back these baddies, etc.

    +/- While playing in co-op the framerate frequently drops, and the open city, while fairly nice to look at is made up of the exact same cars and pedestrians. Sure this is a child’s game, but one would expect it to run a bit better than it does.

    +/- I love having different characters to play with, but it’s clear some will be better than others. Black Widow is such an interesting character in the comics and in the movies, and while her sculpt on the figure is great, her in-game persona just isn’t anywhere near as interesting as Iron Man or Thor. She unfortunately has to drive to get to different locations, take elevators to reach rooftops, etc. This doesn’t really make her feel very super, or as powerful as the other Avengers do. I have a feeling the other characters you can purchase would be much the same, so keep that in mind. While they might be awesome to look at, they could be really boring to use in-game.

    +/- Having to unlock toys in the Toy Box mode never sat well with me, and it remains the same here. It forces you to go back and play through the play sets over and over again. Children won’t mind, but adults will. It limits your creativity until you can purchase new toys and design elements.

    The Bad:

    • Some issues occur when playing Toy Box games, including but not limited to full game crashes.

    The Ugly:

    I really shouldn’t be this into the figures, but damn I love me some Marvel, and these figures are just too awesome to pass up. Gotta Collect ‘Em All!

    The Lowdown:  

    Disney Infinity 2.0 is a fantastic way to spur one’s imagination. While the core gameplay still needs some fixing, the addictive nature of the Toy Box mode will keep your children glued to the TV screen. If they get bored of watching Daddy try and make new games, they can always play with the physical toys, or jump back into one of the three available play sets. I can’t recommend the game enough for young children, or parents that are looking for a game to play with their kids. If you’re a fan of Marvel, I highly recommend you take a look at the figures, you might just fall in love with the designs and end up purchasing all of them.

    Final Score (General audiences): 8/10
    Final Score (Kids): 10/10

    World Exclusive: Knight’s Chance Review

    Knight's ChanceKnight’s Chance (Available exclusively on the Neo Geo MVS)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Gambling/Card
    Publisher: NeoBitz
    Developer: NeoBitz
    Release Date: April 29th, 2014
    MEG Count: 132

    Parent Talk: Knight’s Chance is a game for absolutely everyone. It’s a compilation title containing four classic casino gambling games, but set within a medieval fantasy setting. While there are skeletons and dark images, children ten and up shouldn’t have any problems with the content. The rules of the various games will likely be too complex for anyone under ten as well.

    Plays Like: In essence the four games mimic a flip card memorization game, poker, blackjack, and a dice roiling game. That’s pretty much it, nothing more complex than that.

    Review Basis: Spent over five hours playing through the various games, taking turns with a friend of mine. Needless to say, I think I’m more than qualified to give the game a recommendation or not.

    Knight’s Chance is literally a one-of-a-kind game. It is the only game on the Neo Geo MVS platform that features four gambling games. For those that don’t know, the MVS was officially discontinued in 2004 by SNK Playmore. As such the only new games that get released are indie releases, and that means passion. Everyone who works on exclusive games for retro consoles has more dedication and passion for the craft than almost anyone else in the industry. These people aren’t doing this for millions of dollars, but instead for the pure pleasure of giving the community something new to play, and hey if they can make a few bucks at the same time, why not. So the $300 question is, is Knight’s Chance worth your hard-earned money for lifelong Neo Geo MVS fans and collectors?

    Knight's Chance1The Great:

    Dragon’s Hollow – This card game has you placing your bet, and then being dealt five cards. What you want to do is essentially get a good poker hand, so have a flush, straight, etc. You have to have a minimum of a pair of Jacks in order to score any points. This one is entirely luck based, as you can only get new cards once before the call happens. Play your hand wise and perhaps luck will be on your side, or if you’re anything like me, you’ll never be able to crack the top scores.

    Cursed Mynd – Test your memory with a really unique tile game that challenges you to continuously select the correct icons from covered tiles. When the game starts you’re shown the entire board, but then all the icons turn around and you have to match like-icons for an increased multiplier. The six by five grid also includes a Seeing Eye gem which will grant you another chance to see the entire board. This is one of the best games in the compilation because it really challenges you to pay attention and memorize where all the icons are located.

    Mystic Dice – This luck-based game is really unique and challenging! You have ten turns to get the highest possible score. To do that you have to roll six dice, and based on what you roll, keep whatever dice grant you the highest points. That might be two ones, three sixes, etc. Whatever you don’t want to keep you can roll again, however depending on how many dice you have left there’s a very good chance you might forfeit your turn and therefore lose all the points you had scored on the previous roll. So there’s always this give and take between keeping your first roll’s points, and trying your luck for more points on the second or third roll. You have ten turns after all so there’s lots of opportunity to play it safe and take chances.

    Demon’s Hold – Blackjack, that’s what this one is, simple as that. You place your bet before the round begins and then try to beat the computer to 21. Every hand you win nets you points for your high score, and earns you more cash.

    All four games are very fun to play, but I think the dice game is my personal favorite because you always want to push your luck and do one more roll, which could screw you over completely. I love gambling games like that.

    Knight's Chance2The Good:

    + The visuals are fantastic. I love the splash screen intro, which shows a Knight on a horse and a wizard about to face off against one another. The sprites in the game are nice and detailed, which is especially true for the backgrounds. The animations are spot on, and there are some nice special effects throughout. It’s all the little touches that I loved like the Dragon breathing fire in Dragon’s Hollow, or the way the hand animates in Mystic Dice. The Game Over swirl effect after each game also highlight the polish that went into the development of this game.

    + Surprisingly there are lots of voice samples that come off clean and loud in Demon’s Hold, and they don’t repeat very often. I didn’t expect that whatsoever. The rest of the sound effects also come across perfectly, and the ambient noises enhance the setting. This really feels like a fantasy-based videogame.

    + The soundtrack mostly takes a back seat to the sound effects, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. The track that plays during Mystic Dice, for example, is fantastic, but the others also feel perfectly in place in a fantasy-based game.

    Knight's Chance3The So-So:

    +/- One of the only portions of the game that I found a little annoying was that you have to sit through the High Score screen before you get to the Game Over screen. It would have been nice to have been able to skip that and go straight to the Game Over screen so I could jump back into the action. It’s only a minor gripe though.

    Knight's Chance4The Lowdown:

    If you enjoy casino games, gambling or card games, Knight’s Chance features four truly excellent takes on some classic games. Each is a game of chance vs skill. While it’s true that Neo Geo MVS games are extremely expensive compared to your typical console release, the truth of the matter is that the level of polish and dedication that went into this release is evident in that it feels like you’re playing an authentic SNK game that just so happens to have been found in 2014. That’s an incredible feeling, and I encourage all Neo Geo fans to go support NeoBitz because thanks to their efforts the Neo Geo lives on.

    Final Score: 9.3/10

    Child of Light Review

    Child of Light ReviewChild of Light (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: RPG
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Ubisoft
    Release Date: April 30th, 2014

    Parent Talk: Child of Light is a beautiful RPG that features fairytale-like fantasy violence as well as the use of tobacco and alcohol, but again, in a whimsical sense. The entire game is told through the eyes of a young girl, and the backdrop is a painting world come to life. There is very little damaging with this game, however I do recommend parents heed the warning of the ESRB because very young children might be scared by some of the darker elements in the game.

    Plays Like: Child of Light was designed from the ground up to be reminiscent of RPGs from the 16-bit console generation, however with modern sensibilities. That means there are no random encounters, but action is entirely turn-based. Everything is streamlined here from the basic inventory system, to the relatively simple battle system, however it all comes together in such a way that it proves there’s still a place for turn-based RPGs in today’s overly action RPG world.

    Review Basis: Finished the PS4 version of the game.

    If you’re looking for a beautiful game for any of the modern platforms from the PS3 to the Xbox One and Wii U, this is a game you should pay attention to. It features some of the liveliest settings I’ve seen in years, and the gameplay, while nostalgic, is extremely balanced and fun to play. It feels extremely rewarding when you time your attacks correctly and prevent a boss from attacking during the entire encounter.

    CoL1The Great:

    There are two distinct elements that really stand out in Child of Light, with the first being the incredible battle system. What makes it so unique is that it combines real-time elements and classic turn-based commands. At the bottom of the screen is an action bar which show icons for all the characters on the screen, typically two icons for the two heroes and three for the enemies. On the right side of the action bar is a red portion which is the command entry or cast build-up portion. The second your character’s icon hit the left portion of the red section you’re given your turn to enter your command. From there your character will prepare to attack, only doing so when their icon reaches the very end of the meter. The twist is that should you be attacked before your character gets their attack off, it acts as an interrupt and your icon gets blasted back to the left, therefore causing you to essentially lose a turn. What’s so great about this is that you can do the same to enemies as well, and even bosses. This adds an incredible amount of strategy to a deceivingly simple looking combat system.

    Things get even more interesting when you include Igniculus, who is controlled with the right analog stick of a real-life coop partner. Igniculus can fly around the screen healing allies, or slowing down enemies, on top of picking up health and mana orbs from the environment. If that sounds like a lot to manage, keep in mind that this doesn’t even include the fact that you’ll be switching your party members almost every other turn later on in the game because each has unique abilities catered to a specific type of enemy.

    The other fantastic element are the beautiful graphics. Imagine a hand painted piece of art come to life, and that’s what you get here. Child of Light was deeply inspired by Studio Ghibli and the spectacular art of Yoshitaka Amano. From the backdrops, to the enemy and level design, everything has been meticulously pieced together in such a way that you always feel like you’re playing within a child’s fairytale book and it’s wonderful. Each new area you explore looks dramatically different than the last, and yet they all fit together perfectly. It’s hard to describe in words just how incredible this game looks, and the feeling it will give you as you first step foot in the magically world of Lemuria.

    CoL2The Good:

    + The story is quite unexpected as it features a young girl named Aurora trying to save her father, and not the other way around. Each new cast member you meet strikes off on their own, instead of following archaic archetypes from RPGs of old. As such you automatically feel connected to these characters as they all feel important and unique.

    + Incredible sense of style from not only the lush visual presentation, but also the way in which the dialogue has a deeply Shakespearian feel to it. This further enhances the game’s unique feel.

    + The soundtrack feels much like the visuals, organic. The melodies are bold when you’re in combat, and surreal when you’re running by a waterfall. I haven’t played a game where the soundtrack complemented the visuals like this in a very long time.

    + The simple inventory system allows you to easily get the most out of potions and special gems, which you can augment to your weapon, defense, and overall stats. These gems can even be combined through a very basic alchemy system. If you attach a blue gem to your weapon you’ll gain a water attack bonus on all enemies you attack through melee, and if you attach said gem to your defense you’ll gain a certain percentage of water elemental resistance. For the stat bonuses, they can range from increasing your HP and mana, to grant you a limit-break type attack and so much more.

    + Upon leveling up players can unlock one new skill in the level-up tree. Later on it will take two levels to unlock the most powerful abilities. What’s nice is that you always have at least three different directions you can select from on the tree. Typically one area will be most focused on magic attacks, one for melee attacks, and one for overall bonuses, but each character has a unique tree, and often there are skills from all three sets located within each branch. Another bonus is that your entire party gains experience even if they’re not in combat.

    + Igniculus isn’t just useful in battle situations, but also helps Aurora solve puzzles. He can light the way to secret caves, or helps her activate switches she otherwise would never be able to reach. In the end he feels like a true companion.

    + One of the biggest problems people have when they have a family, or begin their working career is a real lack of time to devote to playing videogames. Thankfully Child of Light is around 12 hours long, which is absolutely perfect because even if you can only devote 30 minutes a day, you’ll always feel like you’re making progress and before long you’ll see the end credits.

    CoL3The Lowdown:

    Child of Light is one of the year’s freshest and best RPGs. Don’t let it’s download-only moniker fool you, this is an incredible journey that’s well worth taking. The combat is balanced and extremely deep for appearing so simple. The graphics and soundtrack are absolutely fantastic, and the story is deeply personal. I don’t know what else I can say except, go give this one a download right away. It comes extremely highly recommended.

    Final Score: 9.8/10