Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Game On! - Spring 2017

'Sup, kitties? I'm back in school once again and opportunities to write come few and far between, but since I am a hopeless video game addict I'm still gonna make my best effort to check in periodically and let you know what I'm playing. With that in mind, I thought it would be silly to keep calling this feature "My Month In Games". There's no way in Hell I'm going to have the mojo to post once per month (have I ever been consistent about that?), and let's be honest, "My Month In Games" has got to be one of the all-time laziest names for a column. With that said, let me unveil the successor to my monthly check-in....Game On! Only slightly less lazy of a title than "My Month In Games", but unless someone starts paying me for this shit (send cash) I reserve the right to bask in the glory of minimal effort and an undying devotion to slack. Okay, first up in the hopper...

Resident Evil 7 - PS4


Regular readers likely know the drill when it comes to me and Resident Evil, but for the uninitiated I'll break it down like this: I HATED the original PSOne-era RE games because tank controls, bad acting, and heavy doses of obtuse puzzles and inventory management just aren't my jam. Resident Evil 4 is a goddamn masterpiece, RE5 is right up there with it when you factor in the refinement of the RE4 gameplay formula and it's transcendentally addictive multiplayer mode "The Mercenaries", and RE6 isn't nearly as bad as everyone thinks it is.

In much the same way that Resident Evil 4 signified a change in the gameplay formula from the original, PSOne era entries in the series, Resident Evil 7 shakes up the series by shifting the perspective to first-person. I was very skeptical about this when I first began hearing about it, but it actually works pretty well for this game...with a few caveats.


I've long maintained that the divide between folks who prefer the original trilogy to REs 4, 5, and 6 is the latter's shift away from puzzles, exploration, and general creepiness to more straightforward action and shooting. I think that developer/publisher Capcom actually tried to bridge this gap in Resident Evil 6 by featuring multiple storylines, each with varying ratios of shooting to ...puzzling (?), but this didn't seem to satisfy anyone except maybe me. So back to the drawing board they went with the result being RE7's emphasis on exploration, stealth, and the return of everyone's favorite fucking thing...resource management!!


Honestly though, for as much as I like to rag on the concepts of resource management and limited inventory, I will say that they're well implemented in RE7. The game does a good job of rewarding those who take the time to explore with plenty of ammo and healing items, and the game's environments are so well constructed that I actually found myself wanting to explore every nook and cranny. I liked the larger, "set-piece" locations of 4, 5, and 6, but I think it was wise of the developers to return to the series' roots and bring it back to a single terrified character roaming the dilapidated halls and overgrown grounds of a crumbling estate. The moment to moment tension is heightened greatly by the creepy rooms and dimly lit corridors of the Baker house, and the outdoor areas are filled with foreboding signs that the people and things you'll encounter inside just 'aint right.


Sadly, the well-tuned gunplay of 4-6 doesn't really make the leap to the first-person perspective all that well. You've still got guns, and you're still using them to blast away at weird ass shit, but the aiming is slow, your ammo is weak, and there's no satisfaction of nailing a well placed headshot before moving in to deliver a coup-de-grace melee attack while the enemy is reeling. As a matter of fact, if the melee attacks of 4-6 were something you enjoyed you should know that they're nowhere to be found here. You've got a knife that you can use to slash away at weakened enemies in an effort to finish them off without wasting ammunition, but there's nothing in here that's reminiscent of the limb stuns and melee finishers that were such an integral part of the combat in last few games in the series. Put simply, the combat system succeeds at feeding into the overall vibe of the game and making you feel like an average terrified dude exploring a house of horrors, but it's nowhere near as fun as it has been in the last few numbered entries in the series.


Speaking of the game's "vibe" and story, I can definitely say that I enjoyed those elements quite a bit. Everyman protagonist Ethan Winters is nothing to write home about in the personality department, but he works as a stand-in for the player, and since you rarely see him (again, the game is in first-person), that's just fine. In fact, it's all the better because he's not some 'roided out, wisecracking superhuman distracting you from the truly creepy Baker family as they stalk and taunt you on their home turf. As creepy and powerful as the Baker family are, it's worth noting that the rest of the enemies in this game do leave something to be desired. There's just very little variety in the enemy design as compared to the rest of the games in the series, and it's kind of a bummer. The shorter length of the game overall does help to soften the blow of the lame enemy designs, but there it is. It took me just a bit over 10 hours to complete the game, which felt like just the right length for this style of game. Any longer and the scenario, gameplay, and characters would have really started to wear thin.


All in all, I'm fairly cool with the new direction of Resident Evil. I didn't find the moment to moment gameplay nearly as fun as is it is in REs 4-6, but the game succeeds at presenting a compact, compelling tale and serviceable gameplay that mostly feel worthy of the Resident Evil name. In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure that I would have been motivated to play this game at all if it wasn't a RE title, but I'm glad I gave it a shot. It does what it does fairly well, and it wrapped up before I had a chance to get bored!

Grade: B

Nier: Automata - PS4


I never did play the original Nier (or its antecedents, the Drakengard series), but I was motivated to check this out after I heard it favorably compared to Furi, my game of the year in 2016. This game doesn't really have much in common with Furi, but it is an open world RPG/action/shooter hybrid with some interesting elements, so I stuck with it through the end.

The stylish combat sequences look great, even if they are a little too easy.

In terms of gameplay, Nier: Automata plays a lot like GTA meets Dynasty Warriors meets Raiden. It's a 3rd person open world experience featuring simplistic button mashing combat and some twin-stick shooter sequences thrown in for flavor. There are weapons to collect and upgrade, skills and buffs that can be equipped, and dozens of sidequests to tackle, but the meat of the game lies in its hack n' slash combat....and boy howdy do I wish that aspect of the game were better. The game carries a veneer of genuine depth and strategy to the combat, but no matter which weapons you use or which skills you equip, combat always seems to boil down to equipping the strongest weapon at your disposal and mashing away on the attack button. Defense is a little too forgiving as well. Your playable characters have a few too many evasive options during the heat of battle, and most enemy attacks can easily be dodged, regardless of the size or strength of the foe. In other words, it's an easy game.

A memorable boss encounter.

The sci-fi story about androids and robots battling it out over the future of Earth was intriguing at the outset, but by the third act it falls apart into a mess of cliches and somewhat inscrutable plot twists. I genuinely cared about the characters and what was happening to them during the first 20-30 hours of the game, but the endgame really loses the thread and wraps up in a most unsatisfying way.

The game does some interesting things with regard to the color palette.

The visuals and music are genuine high points, and there are some intriguing nuggets in the story and gameplay, but Nier: Automata feels underwhelming overall. Makes me wish that I would have picked up something meatier like Horizon: Zero Dawn instead.

Grade: B-/C+

Blaster Master Zero - 3DS


The original Blaster Master is one of my all-time favorite games and easily one of the best games to grace the NES. The series continued on throughout the 16- and 32-bit console generations and most recently saw a serviceable sequel as a downloadable title for WiiWare, but the general consensus is that none of the games released after the original were ever quite able to deliver on its tremendous promise.

The story and dialogue are far more fleshed out. 

Here now is Blaster Master Zero, a pseudo-reboot/remaster of the original game released for the 3DS and Nintendo Switch consoles. Zero does a fine job of recapturing the spirit of the original; even expanding on the source material by adding loads of additional items, weapons, sub-bosses, and even a few new characters. The original's bizarre story about a boy who chases his mutated pet frog into a massive hole in his backyard that leads to a vast underground landscape is left intact, but it's fleshed out in a way that gives it a fun, anime inspired vibe.

Overhead perspective dungeons and giant bosses make a comeback.

As a fan of the original and its Metroidvania-style mashup of platforming and exploration, I had fun with this title. It's fairly short (I beat it in around 7 hours of total play time) and relatively easy - especially when compared to the original - but it's a good time. With so many other retro-styled Metroidvania platformers out there these days, I might have a hard time recommending this to all but the retro gaming and Blaster Master faithful, but it's not a bad effort. I certainly enjoyed it more than Axiom Verge, and everybody was all over that game's dick. It's somewhat slight and it doesn't do anything to push the series forward, but I enjoyed my time with it, and it truly is a love letter to fans of the series.

Grade: B-


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Console Glory! 2016 Year-In-Review

Image stolen from Skippy Sigmatic via YouTube. Pissed? Let me know and I'll take it down.

It's March, so I figured that now would be the absolute BEST time to do my 2016 year-in-review post! I'm horrible. Just like in previous years, I'll start by ranking the games I played that were released in 2016 and finish by ranking the games that were released prior to 2016. Here we go!

2016 Games

1. Furi - PS4 - A


Oddly enough, my game of the year is once again something that I got for free with my Playstation Plus subscription. Like Rocket League in 2015, Furi wasn't even on my radar as something I wanted to play, but I gave it shot because a) it was free, and b) I was intrigued by the music and visuals. That music and those visuals certainly are a treat, but the real meat of this game is the ultra tight gameplay and the steep-yet-fair challenge level. Loved it, got the platinum trophy, really can't recommend it enough! And don't sleep on that soundtrack either!


2. Doom - PS4 - A



After the debacle that was Duke Nukem Forever I certainly had my reservations about what a Doom reboot might look like in 2017, but I was thrilled to discover that my fears were misplaced. To be fair, Duke Nukem always kinda sucked, but yeah, this new Doom is really great. Amazing single-player campaign with enough classic elements to stoke nostalgia, yet several innovations that make it feel fresh. If you have ANY love for classic Doom and you still haven't given this a try, you really owe it to yourself.

3. Downwell - PS Vita - A



Yes, this game originally came out in 2015 on iOS, but it didn't get ported to console/handheld until 2016, so shut up. This charming, twitchy action platformer is so solidly constructed that I just couldn't get it out of my mind until I got the platinum trophy. Special shout out to the moody soundtrack that brought me back to the TurboGrafx-16 days.

4. Broforce - PS4 - A



Another game that was originally released for PC in 2015 but ported to PS4 in 2016. Fuck it, my house, my rules. Broforce is a tremendous and hilarious send-up/homage to 80s and 90s action films with rock solid controls and the perfect level of challenge. They could release new "bros" and levels as DLC forever and I'd probably play this gem until the end of time.

5. Final Fantasy XV - PS4 - A-


Final Fantasy makes its triumphant return as a gorgeous open world (and still very Japanese) RPG. With any game of this scope there are some nagging issues here and there - most notably its undercooked story - but it shines overall and ultimately feels worth the wait.

6. Rhythm Heaven Megamix - 3DS - B

7. Megaman Legacy Collection - PS4 - B

8. Worms W.M.D. - PS4 - B-

9. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright - 3DS - B-


Though I appreciated the effort that went into making this latest installment in the Fire Emblem franchise, this game just didn't grab me. I even tried picking it up again more recently, but it just feels like a slog. Good game, but not for me.

10. Mighty No. 9 - PS4 - C


Poor Mighty No. 9, things just really didn't come together for you, did they? Uninspired level and weapon designs, flat graphics and sound, and sluggy controls all came together to sink this promising title from the creator of Megaman. Still, it's not a complete disaster, and I wouldn't mind getting a sequel that does what it can to right the wrongs of this underwhelming title.

Older Games

1. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse - 3DS - B


My first experience with a Shantae game was quite a pleasant surprise! Shades of Metroid-vania and Megaman mixed with SUPER charming characters, visuals, and music have me thinking that I've been missing out on this series. Probably gonna have to get that newer PS4 title fairly soon!

2. Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational - PS Vita - B

3. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved - B

4. Shadow Complex Remastered - B-


This Metroid-vania title adds an air of modern military realism to the mix which results in a game that is well executed, if a little light on charm. I had a good time with this game overall, however, and I'm curious to see what a sequel might bring to the table.

5. Sega Classics Collection - B-

6. Tricky Towers - B-

7. Nidhogg - B


This simplistic-looking, yet strikingly deep 1-on-1 fighter definitely caught my attention, even as someone who generally sucks at fighting games!

8. Axiom Verge - C+

9. Ultratron - C+

10. Laserlife - C+

11. Galak-Z: The Dimensional - C+

12. Metal Slug 3 - C


I always thought I liked Metal Slug games - and they do bring a lot of charming aspects to the table - but after playing through this one start to finish I've realized that only the hardest of hardcore players would ever have a chance to beat this game without unlimited continues, and as such I've had to reappraise my appreciation for this series.

13. Q*Bert Rebooted - C


Poor Q*Bert. Your latest game kinda sucks. Generic, bland, really not much fun to play. Skip it!

Thanks for reading in 2016! I love you.










Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Month(s) In Games: October - December 2016

Final Fantasy XV - PS4


After over 10 years in development - and a name change from Final Fantasy Versus XIII (?) -  Final Fantasy XV has finally seen the light of day...and I gotta tell you, I kinda love this game! Though it signifies a fairly major change in direction from the turn-based roots of the series, the new gameplay formula feels like a welcome addition to the series, even if it isn't exactly breaking a whole lot of new ground for video games in general. With a more open world style and an emphasis on real-time combat, the whole affair reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy meets Red Dead Redemption. It's Final Fantasy in that it's still very much a JRPG; replete with beautiful anime boys, wacky hairstyles, and a somewhat enigmatic story, but it's Red Dead in that it features a vast, open (and somewhat empty) world, tons of sidequests, and more than a few compelling characters.

Though I don't typically review games this way, I figure that if you're reading a review of this game on a random blog you've likely played a few Final Fantasy games before this one. With that in mind, I thought I'd just break it down to its elements and offer a few thoughts on each.

Combat



Final Fantasy XV's combat is among the biggest departures from the games that preceded it. Full disclosure: I never did play FF XI or FF XIV (the MMOs in the series), so if they featured real time combat then you might want to take my observations here with a grain of salt. That said, I enjoyed the combat mechanics in FF XV, even though they are a TOTAL MESS at times. There are four main members of your party, yet you really only have full control of the main character, Prince Noctis. Combat generally consists of choosing a weapon or spell type that the enemy is weak to, doing your best to get behind the enemy ("blindside" attacks deal more damage) and holding down the attack button to perform an automatic combo. Noctis also has the ability to attack enemies at distance by using ranged weapons like firearms or by performing a "warp strike" move that quickly closes the gap and can boost the damage dealt by the blow. In addition, you can roll-dodge away from and/or defend and parry most enemy attacks, perform aerial combos while equipped with certain weapon types, and call upon your comrades to perform special moves that do big damage or provide defensive buffs.


Depending on the enemy, there's a fair amount of strategy you can employ in a given battle, but the vast majority of the encounters boil down to a few quick warp strikes to close the distance, a whole lot of laying on the attack button to perform combos, and maybe casting a spell or two to score big damage on larger enemies. When they're not performing special moves at your command, your comrades generally run about the battlefield randomly, taking pot shots here and there. Your pals are generally helpful to have around, but the majority of the real fighting is done by the hero. Though the flow of battle takes a bit of getting used to, and generally appears on-screen as a disorganized scrum, you get used to it quickly and it's actually pretty fun most of the time. The MESSY part of combat is, without a doubt, the camera. Though the game tries its best to give you the best view during battles, the environment often obscures your view of the action as the camera swirls about. If you're fighting in a wooded area, for example, the camera is likely to be obscured by the trees, and I occasionally found myself cursing the game's inability to automatically adjust for this in some way. You absolutely CAN (and will often have to) control the camera manually during a fight, and I never died as a result of the occasionally wonky camera movement, but there is definitely room for improvement here.

Music



Scoring the music for FF XV is a bit tricky. In a series long known for its sweeping scores and catchy themes, the music in this game is surprisingly spartan and somewhat generic at times. In some ways this feels appropriate; you're in an open world after all, and the ambient sounds of the various environments do a lot to immerse you in the experience of being outdoors, but I did occasionally find myself wishing that there was a bit more charm to the original music when it was playing. That said, a big part of this game revolves around the concept of car travel. At the various "rest stops" and towns that you encounter, you can purchase soundtrack "albums" from previous Final Fantasy games to play on the car stereo. It's pretty dope rolling to your next destination with the theme to FF IV (or whatever) bumpin' in your whip, but in some ways this also feels a bit like a cop out.

Visuals



No complaints here. This game looks fantastic. Really really solid visuals done with an eye toward realism. So many beautiful vistas and lots of attention to detail, especially in the towns. Gorgeous! There may be a few "better" looking games out there, but it's clear that a good deal of effort went into making the world of FF XV feel immersive.

Characters



I had a really good time hanging out with Noctis and the boys during my 100 hour playthrough. As a character, Noctis plays the brooding prince at first, but before long he begins to lighten up. He cracks jokes with his comrades, communicates his feelings honestly, and is just generally likable. He is neither the stern enigma that is FF VII's Cloud, nor the emo jerkoff that is Squall from FF VIII. He doesn't laugh annoyingly like Tidus from FF X, and he doesn't wear out his welcome like Lightning from FF XIII. Noctis is...pretty cool, fairly fleshed out, and I actually enjoyed spending time with him. His three comrades are also rather likable. There's the buttoned up intellectual Ignis, the brutish-yet-sensitive Gladiolus, and the plucky moppet Prompto. Together, they work well as a party; spouting words of support, cracking groan-worthy puns, and even engaging in the occasional bout of good-natured ribbing. It's lame that the the banter repeats itself as much as it does, however. By the end of my playthrough I'd heard all of the jokes and all of the encouraging words DOZENS of times. It's notable, I think, that I wanted MORE banter, but I can't help feel that the charm of the characters might have burned a little brighter if they'd only recorded a bit more dialogue.


I also rather liked the main villain, though he's not nearly as fleshed out as Noctis and company. It's worth noting that I had this same feeling regarding many of the side characters as well. Just about everyone is likable in their way, but most of the supporting cast feels as though they were only sketched out. This isn't as much of an issue when you're talking about the random cat who teaches Noctis to fish (yeah, there's fishing), but many key side-characters could have done with a bit more polish if you ask me. And speaking of things that needed some polish...


Story



The story of FF XV is straight up undercooked. It's a bit of a bummer because the game is actually fun to play, but there's no getting around it. The main villain is only evil because we're told he is, and the powerful empire that he represents is barely even seen. The events that spur the story forward are often only heard in audio-only form by interacting with radios that are found in towns and outposts, and the love interest (Noctis' original destination at the game's outset) barely makes an appearance at all. With so much time in development, it's hard to understand why the narrative plays out this way. I realize that the 10-year development cycle was fraught with difficulty, but the story here is just plain weak. The saving grace in all of this is the main characters and they way they interact with one another. Thinking back on my experience with previous Final Fantasy games, I think that characters have always been the series' strong suit - with the overall storylines being down on the list below combat/job systems and even the music - but beware, the story isn't compelling as much as it is serviceable. It's my understanding that a patch set to arrive in March of 2017 will address this issue and add some additional cutscenes and story development, but yeah...


Reading this review, you might feel that I'm being mostly critical of this game, but I think that's just the natural result of having spent so much time playing it. My 100+ hour journey toward the platinum trophy game me a lot of time to digest everything I was experiencing and though I genuinely love the game and characters as a whole, there are certainly some facets of the experience that could have done with just a bit more polish. At the end of the day, if the idea of Final Fantasy meets Red Dead Redemption appeals to you, you really should put aside your doubts and jump into FF XV.


Grade: A-


Downwell - PS Vita


I love a good, twitchy, retro-styled platformer, and Downwell fits that bill quite nicely, thank you! Originally released in the Fall of 2015 for iOS devices, the game eventually saw a release on Playstation Vita in the Spring of 2016. And thank goodness for that, because touchscreen controls for a game that requires the precision of Downwell are still a total joke. I mean, sure, you technically CAN fumble your way through the game's precise, challenging gameplay while your fat thumbs take up valuable real estate on your mobile screen, but you really shouldn't.

In Downwell you take control of a "curious man" who jumps down a well in search of ...adventure, I guess? Armed with a pair of "gunboots" that allow him to both stomp and shoot at enemies as he falls, the goal is to make it through the game's 12 stages (and one memorable boss encounter!) while racking up combos for taking out as many enemies as possible before landing safely on the various platforms and outcroppings that line the walls of the well. As you make your way down through the depths, you can pick up various upgrades for your boots (3-way shot, laser, and burst fire to name a few) that each bring a new level of strategy to the proceedings, and players pick up additional power-ups at the end of each stage that enhance movement and grant other abilities as you make your way toward the final encounter.


Screenshots capture the spartan, retro aesthetics of the game quite well, but I also have to give a special shout out to the music. Evocative, foreboding, and even a little funky, the atmosphere lent by the music and sound effects really add a level of polish to this game that makes it feel like so much more than your average mobile game port. That's to say nothing of the tight controls and carefully balanced gameplay and challenge, which are tuned to perfection. 

I spent a lot of time with this game over the past few months, chipping away at the various challenging achievements until I eventually scored the platinum trophy. Perhaps the most ringing endorsement I can give to Downwell is that even now after I have done everything there is to do, I'm still playing this wonderful little gem on the regular. Highly recommended!


Grade: A

Rhythm Heaven Megamix - 3DS


Nintendo's long running rhythm-based minigame series has always appealed to me, especially as an avid fan of the WarioWare series. This particular installment features a large number of minigames that have been recycled from previous installments in the series, though there are a few dozen all new games here as well. Many of the older minigames have also received a facelift, so even experienced players would do well to check this puppy out. Also, my favorite game in the whole collection - perhaps unsurprisingly - is...



Grade: B

Friday, October 14, 2016

GameTracks: Bit Brigade Play The Mega Man 2 Soundtrack Live


Since I mentioned it in my previous post, I thought I'd give a little love to the Mega Man 2 soundtrack in this edition of GameTracks. For my money, the soundtrack for MM2 is easily the best in the series, and the video below features an excellent live performance of the entire soundtrack by the Athens, GA-based band, Bit Brigade. One of the coolest aspects of Bit Brigade's performances is that they play video game soundtracks live while a speed runner plays the game in real time. It's a great gimmick and these cats have some serious musical (and gaming) chops.

Enjoy the set, and be sure to check out Bit Brigade's other performances of the soundtracks to Contra, Castlevania, Metroid, and Ninja Gaiden.

Friday, September 30, 2016

My Month In Games: September 2016

Mega Man Legacy Collection - PS4


After putting in my time with the underwhelming Mighty No. 9 last month, I had a hankering to cleanse my palate and revisit the original Mega Man series, so I picked up this collection of the six original NES Mega Man games for the Playstation 4. Before I get into what I thought of this package however, let me give you some of my general thoughts about the current state of the Mega Man series. The Mega Man games have always been known for their quality, and most entries feature tight controls, solid visuals, and exceptional music. Since the release of the original game in 1987 we've had ten mainline Mega Man games, eight or nine games in the Mega Man X series, four games in the Mega Man Zero series, and various other spinoffs, remakes, collections, and side stories from the franchise. That's a lot of Mega Man games!


With that in mind, there's something about the series that's been bugging me lately. Well, to be more accurate, my beef is more with the fans of the series rather than the series itself. Mega Man fans have been crying lately about developer Capcom's seeming lack of interest in supporting the franchise. They look to the departure of series co-creator Keiji Inafune from Capcom in 2010 as a starting point and point to the fact that there hasn't been an all-new title in the franchise released since Mega Man 10 in 2010. Here's my message to those folks, I JUST COUNTED OFF 23+ GAMES IN THE SERIES that were released in the span of 23 years! Have you played ALL of those games yet? Can you stop to consider, just for a moment, that Capcom has maybe slowed down to let the series breathe for a few years? Give us fans something to look forward to for when the next game surfaces? Shit, Mega Man even caught a break with the disappointing nature of Inafune's Mighty No. 9. The game that was supposed to make Capcom look stupid for taking a step back from the - I'll friggin' say it - somewhat tired Mega Man formula stumbled out of the gate. What does that mean? That means that when blue bomber does come back Capcom will likely double down on all of the things that fans love about the series in the first place, and you'll have had some time to build up a little anticipation! I realize that I'm engaging in some conjecture on that last point, but doesn't it stand to reason? There are loads of other great action platformers out there. Go play one or two of those and chill...Mega Man will be back.

You can maintain the original 4:3 display ratio if that's your jam.
Now that I have that off my chest I'll get into what I thought of Mega Man Legacy Collection. It's good. All of the original NES era 8-bit games with artwork/concept galleries, trophies, and even a bonus "challenge" mode that tasks you with completing some of the series' most iconic moments as quickly as possible. It's a good package at a fair price, and if you have any love for the series and don't already have these games on an emulator, you really should check it out.

You thought the box art for the NTSC version of the original game was bad?

Check out the art for the PAL version of Mega Man 2!
Finally, I want to say that I still think the original Mega Man is still the best game in the series, as it really nails the right combination of challenge, playability, and aesthetics. Mega Man 2 did a few things better than the original (best soundtrack of ANY Mega Man game by far) but it's just a bit too easy, and Mega Man 3, while somewhat lacking for me in the character design department, rounds out my top three games in this six game collection. Entries 4, 5, and 6 - while still quite good - feel a little stale and formulaic, and I think there's maybe a bit too much looking back through rose-colored glasses from the fans regarding those titles. 

Grade: B

WORMS W.M.D - Playstation 4


Speaking of long running formulaic series', here's a new entry in the Worms franchise! I dig me some Worms and I've never owned a version that featured online matchmaking, so I decided to pick this up. It's Worms all right! Take your team of cutesy invertebrates (I named mine after the members of N.W.A) and wage war against players from around the globe in two, three, or four player matches...it's a blast! *sigh* I missed my calling as a writer of back-of-the-box copy for video games.


Yeah, this is a fine entry in the series. There's a fairly deep single player challenge mode to augment the main course of player vs. player online battles, and it looks and controls about as well as it always has. The janky, somewhat unintuitive menus and spartan presentation that the series is known for are once again on display here (somewhat surprising given the limited scope of these games), but overall it's a quality effort.

Grade: B-

Monday, August 29, 2016

My Month In Games: August 2016

Mighty No. 9 - PS4


Ever late to the party, I'm just now getting around to Mighty No. 9. By now I'm sure that EVERYONE knows the backstory of this game's development, but for the uninformed I'll break it down like this: the co-creator of Mega Man launches a highly successful Kickstarter for this spiritual sequel to that vaunted franchise, game is beset by numerous delays and development troubles, game finally releases to tepid reviews and general disappointment. That pretty much sums it up. One of the things about me though, is that I seem to have a bit of a contrarian streak in my wiring. When a film, TV show, or video game seems universally loathed, it just makes me want to see/play it all the more. I don't know why I'm like this exactly, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that when I see the masses piling on the negativity toward something artistic, I tend to feel that I need to see it for myself and try to give it a fair shake. There's just something about having my expectations lowered that allows me to view things with a more open mind. Sadly - and much to my general annoyance - I usually tend to agree with the haters, and it only rarely ends up that I find some aspects of the thing that I truly love. When it comes to Mighty No. 9, I should have listened to the masses, but unlike many of the generally negative reviews I've read, I do think there's room for this property to grow into a successful franchise.

Backgrounds are kinda stark.
Without going into it too much, Mighty No. 9 just doesn't have the same tightly constructed gameplay or much of the charm of the Mega Man series. The platforming and level design seem uninspired, most of the weapons you gain by defeating the bosses are fairly useless, and the graphics are surprisingly spartan. I did find the cast of characters fairly charming, and I also appreciated the Osamu Tekuza (Astro Boy)-style look of their design, but this alone wasn't enough to really grab me. To be sure, Mighty No. 9 is not a broken, unplayable game - far from it - it's just that it simply doesn't measure up to Mega Man by any metric you'd care to compare.

The "absorption dash" mechanic is a nice addition to the Mega Man gameplay style.
In the end, Mighty No. 9 feels like a well made fan game. It mostly works, and you can tell that there was some measure of ambition behind it, but whether it was a shorter development timeline or an overall lack of inspiration, the whole thing winds up feeling just a bit flat. Despite this, I wouldn't mind giving the designers another chance to make a more fleshed-out and enjoyable sequel. From my perspective, this game could be great with a few tweaks, but as it is Mighty No. 9 simply doesn't have the stuff.

Grade: C

Tricky Towers - PS4


This challenging and engaging puzzler might resemble Tetris in screenshots, but unlike in that game the goal isn't to clear lines but rather to create towers using the familiar Tetris shapes. Seems easy enough in concept, but here the pieces have weight and physics, and they don't automatically stick together when they make contact with one another. Build your tower up too much on one side and the whole thing will come crashing down. Place a "T"-shaped piece stem side down and it's going to list to one side. Make sense? Tricky Towers also features several play styles. There's your basic mode where you must balance a set number of shapes, a puzzle mode where you have to fit the shapes together in a specific way without piling them up too high, and a race mode where you have to get your shapes down quickly in order to reach a certain height before time runs out. There's also a head-to-head mode where you can challenge a human player. As usual I didn't try this mode out (I have no friends), but it seems like it would work well as a tense, thrilling 2-player experience.

Multiplayer looks fun! I didn't play any... :(
I rather enjoyed Tricky Towers. It's a good game to pop on and play for 15-20 minutes at a clip when you feel like getting your puzzle on. I wasn't in love with the pastel color scheme and the odd looking character designs, but the core of the experience is solid, challenging, and fun in short bursts.

Grade: B-

Ultratron vs. Geometry Wars³ Dimensions Evolved - PS Vita

I don't normally review and compare two games at once, but since I played these games within a few weeks of each other and they both have a similar feel, I thought it might be appropriate to smash them together into one review.

Ultratron
Both of these games draw their inspiration from classic 80's arcade titles. In fact, it's probably fair to say that they both draw most of their inspiration from the same title: Robotron 2048. Both are twin stick shooters, and both feature retro-style visuals and gameplay aesthetics. Of the two, Ultratron is the game that reminded me most of Robotron. It's not just because of the title either, as much like its distant cousin both games feature single screen stages and a robot protagonist who is fighting for the human race against hordes of evil droids. The retro soundtrack and pixelated visuals played heavy on my nostalgia for the old days, but I had to dock some points for a combination of odd visual design choices and an overall lack of variety in the level design. Truth be told, it's actually more accurate to say that there is NO variety in the level design, as each stage is a simple, square 2D room, and your objective is always just to blast away at every enemy until the screen is clear. The strangest thing about Ultratron, however, is the way the enemies are often the same color as the stage itself. It makes the bad guys hard to see and feels like a major flub considering the limited scope of the game. It's definitely fun for awhile, but I feel it could have been much better with some visual tweaks and a little more variety to the level design. By comparison, Geometry Wars³ Dimensions Evolved is a much sleeker affair. The sound and visuals don't feature the same 80's-style retro charm as Ultratron, but there is a tremendous amount of variety to the stages, the presentation is crisp and inviting, and you are given incentive to revisit stages and get better scores.

Geometry Wars 3
Both games feature a currency system that you can use to upgrade your firepower and augment your main character with drones that follow you around and help you shoot the bad guys. What's interesting is that in both cases, the drones follow you in a way that makes them difficult to distinguish from incoming enemy fire. Put bluntly, this sucks. I guess it gives the little drones a bit more "personality" to have them fly about and not have them locked into a static orbit around your ship, but I don't think it would have hurt to find a way to make it more easy to tell them apart from enemy bullets.

At the end of the day I'd have to give the advantage to Geometry Wars. It has a better presentation and it just feels better to play overall.

Grades:

Ultratron - C+
Geometry Wars - B