Also available on DS, 3DS, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows
This review is dedicated to the BCC TruBros - Anna, Ben, Chris, Dj, Matt, Mike, Rob, Robyn, Sara, Tony, and Womble - the most beautifully horrible people I know.
You ever play a game or do something expecting it to be just awful, and you're only doing it so you can laugh about it later? Yeah, that's kind of how this game was for my friends and me. Over the weekend, I was in Virginia Beach for my dear friend Anna's birthday, and there had been some talk in the group chat about some of the shovelware in my Wii U collection, and some of my friends wanted me to bring my Wii U and Barbie Dreamhouse Party thinking that it would be fun to play a hilarious trainwreck of a game while drinking. Then we ended up actually enjoying it. Then we tried watching the show and loved it. Now we're arguing over which Barbie sister is the best and whether or not Ken should be president. This was a rabbit hole I never expected to find myself in, but DAMN, I like it down here.
The game is basically a collection of minigames with a VERY loose thread tying them together. Barbie, Teresa, Nikki, and Rochelle are all chilling in the dreamhouse and playing video games when Rochelle goes and decides to do something stupid and Rochelle-like and accidentally makes Closet, Barbie's wardrobe-managing AI computer system, put the dreamhouse into lockdown. In classic video game logic, the ladies have to complete some bizarre minigames to open up parts of the dreamhouse. The game's plot exists solely to offer some context to the minigames, but the dialogue is well written enough that it doesn't become as bothersome as such things often do.
The game has a total of nine minigames which are unlocked once you complete them during the "campaign" mode (which only takes about two hours), and while the minigames are all extremely simple in nature, they can get surprisingly competitive if you have the right friends playing. One requires you to catch stacks of falling boxes, one requires you to collect the most cupcakes that are being spewed from some bizarre machine, one requires you to bathe and groom a cat, etc. None of them are complex, and you'll probably get bored of them quickly unless you've got a whole group of silly friends with you, but if you DO have that group of silly friends, it can actually be really funny.
Barbie Dreamhouse Party isn't what I would call a "good" game, but it's definitely an entertaining game with the right group of friends. It's basically a gateway drug for the tie-in Life in the Dreamhouse web series (which is a legitimate drug, I swear), but if you have a group of at least three friends you regularly hang out with and who have goofy personalities, then it's definitely worth checking it. It's bizarrely addicting and leads to an even more bizarre legitimate enjoyment of the web series.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is the seventh entry in one of my favorite series of what I call "titty anime games." As is IMMEDIATELY apparently from the box art alone, this is not going to be a game for everyone. A lot of folks will likely find this game offensive, and honestly, I can't blame them. There are different ways to look at this game, and I really enjoyed, but your perspective on it is really going to do a lot to determine how you end up feeling about it.
The Senran Kagura series is about different schools of female shinobi-in-training, and while most of the games are side scrolling beat-em-ups, there are a couple that try on different genres, and this is one of those that deviate from the normal genre instead trying a competitive third person shooter that's not unlike Splatoon in its feel and format. It also brings together the various characters and side groups that have been introduced throughout the series' games in an attempt to tie them together into a single canon universe to serve as a launching point for future games in the series, a point that is made pretty clear at the end of the story mode.
The biggest complaint I've seen with this game is the blatant objectification of women, and that's a valid complaint. There are really two ways of looking at this type of game that determines whether or not one is outraged at the sexism. The first way is the way that folks tend to look at porn - that it turns women into sexual objects rather than people and sets up unrealistic expectations for women. The other way to see the game (the way I see it) is as a caricature. Yes, it objectifies the women in the game but in the same way that dime-a-dozen romance novel covers objectify men - in a way that is OBVIOUSLY unrealistic. No one looks like the women in this game; it's unrealistic to the point of absurdity which makes it, in my view, more caricature than serious objectification. I'm absolutely not telling people that they shouldn't feel offended by this game, but I am saying that some folks see this series as stupidly absurd rather than an attempt at legitimately portraying women. As an added side note, too, the characters, while trope-y at times, are genuinely fairly well developed and legitimately strong female character. They just happen to be strong female characters with massive breasts who are shooting each other with water guns in tiny bikinis.
The visuals are about what one familiar with the company would expect from Marvelous - good but not extraordinary. There's not an enormous amount of detail in the water effects, but you're unlikely to pay any real attention to the standing water when the action starts to heat up. The sound is quite well done, though; the music is really enjoyable, and the voice acting (which is only in Japanese) is well done, although a few characters play up the cutesy high pitched voice cliche a bit too much. The story is pretty simple for the most part; the four squads of shinobi girls - Hanzo, Gessen, Hebijo, and Homura Crimson Squad - are transported to this island and forced to compete in a water gun tournament to build up shinobi energy to keep the seal on some ancient demon from breaking. Individual characters get some deeper motivations throughout the single player, but that's the basic plot.
The game plays a lot like Splatoon except either team deathmatch or survival instead of Splatoon's unique "Turf War" game mode. The single player has a story mode consisting of a prologue and five arcs as well as random side missions, a free tournament, and a survival mode. I had a hard time finding folks to play online with, but from what I can tell, that's either team deathmatch or survival as well. You can equip your girls with any of the water guns that you want, and instead of the shinobi arts they had in the previous games, you get ability cards that you can use to customize a small deck that makes up their skill arsenals. The concept is simple, but the wide array of characters, costumes, and skill cards give the game a lot more depth than is immediately apparent for those who feel like diving in.
Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is definitely a controversial piece of the PlayStation 4's library, but for those not bothered by the fairly sexist nature of the game, it's actually a pretty fun one. The characters have a lot more depth than one would expect from their models and the game's concept, but the gameplay itself is rock solid and addicting. It can get repetitive (as is par for the course for the Senran Kagura series), but that seems to be less of an issue in this game than in most of the entries in the series. I wouldn't say "RUN OUT AND BUY THIS GAME NOW," but if you're into third person arena style shooters and like pervy anime games, check this one out.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and 3DS
Ladies and gentlemen, I have played a lot of shitty games in my day, and I expect licensed games to be the shittiest of the lot. Having played through this entire game...for some reason...I'm actually surprised to say that this isn't one of the worst games I've ever played. Don't get me wrong - it's FAR from being good - but it's really not as bad as I expected when I started playing it. Speaking of starting this game, that needs a story to explain. I asked some of my BronyCon friends what game I should play next, and a handful said (paraphrasing here) "Play that Monster High game! And make your character a whore!" So I started playing the Monster High game, and I tried (and failed) to make my character a whore. With that said, this review's dedicated to Robyn, or as we call her Party Gypsy.
Okay, so let's start with the premise of the game. You're a new student at Monster High, and in what is probably the most unrealistic thing about this game (including having zombies, skeletons, and plant monsters as classmates), everyone in your new school is super nice and welcoming to you. You're more or less pressed into the joining the Student Council and the Fearleading Team, your first indication that this game is going to be full of puns so bad even my mother would groan. From there, you go through your day to day life, starting every day with a student council meeting, then class, then fearleading practice, then more class, and then you usually have to help one of the clubs of which you're not a member do something. You help the comic book club make a new superhero, you help the robotics club build a robot, you help the enviro club do plant...stuff....you help the fashion club settle the age old question of blue vs green, and you help the cooking club fail miserably at cooking. I guess part of being a zombie is having dead taste buds.
The main "story" objectives all revolve around the student council and the fearleading team and really-not-particularly-mysterious curse that starts to take hold of people in the school. Honestly, that was my biggest frustration; this curse is so damn obvious, and everyone in this school is completely brain dead (even the ones who aren't some kind of undead monster). Like, all of a sudden your friends start having glowing purple eyes and start spewing nonsense about pyramids, a king, and tribute? Yeah, something's not right there, and the proper course of action is not "Ignore it and assume it's a character quirk that somehow never manifested before now." This game could have been cut in half if my actions weren't limited to "Talk" and "Jump." Seriously, give me a "Choke a bitch" action button, please.
Graphically, the game is what you should expect from licensed shovelware based on a kid's show - only slightly better than most 3D indie games. The emphasis is very much on the word "slightly." The voice acting is passable for the most part. The sound effects are obnoxious as shit, but they almost got the music right. While it drove me insane at first, the little theme song they have is actually really catchy. I wouldn't describe it as "good," per se, but it's definitely easy to get it stuck in your head. Unfortunately, that only plays when you're doing the REALLY easy and repetitive fearleading minigame; even more unfortunately, that plays EVERY SINGLE TIME you have to do that minigame (which is pretty much every "day" in the game). The rest of the background music is fine in short bursts, but there are like two or three background tracks that play CONSTANTLY with very little variation. The result is that you quickly get sick of all of it even though it's actually not that bad.
The biggest problem I had with the game, as one might expect, is that it just feels pointless. Why do I care about the student council bake sale to raise money for the "creepeteria" renovations? And what the hell kind of cookies are you selling to be able to afford two 4K televisions mounted to the wall and all new seating after one day? Those cookies better be made from black truffle and topped with gold leaf to be able to raise that kind of cash that quickly. Another thing I kept wondering is why everything's a damn fetch quest? What do I look like? Some errand girl? Bitch, I'm a dragon chick; I can roast you with a sneeze. Why am I the one running all over the school looking for plant food, robot cores, and places to hang posters? That really describes the game - 90% fetch quest and 10% rhythm game so easy that someone paralyzed from the neck down could manage it.
Overall, Monster High: New Ghoul in School truly did impress me. Whether you want to read that as a credit to the game or a testament to just how little I expect from licensed games these days is up to you, but I really expected to hate it a lot more than I do. Don't misunderstand; it's still a bad game, and I definitely don't recommend anyone bother playing unless you just REALLY love Monster High. I expected it to be five or six hours of agony, though. What I got instead of ten or eleven hours of mediocrity. If you've got a kid who likes Monster High, sure, pick it up for the youngun; copies aren't that expensive. If you're going for a full system set like I am with Wii U, you can't really get around it. Other than those two reasons, though I really don't see any reason to bother with this game. It's not HORRIBLE, but it's definitely not good, and it gets pretty boring pretty quickly.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on iOS, Android, and Windows
Back in 2001, there was a PC horror game released exclusively in South Korea called White Day: A Labyrinth Named School, and while being released exclusively in Korean and in South Korea kept it from attaining worldwide fame, it did garner somewhat of a cult following. In 2015, the game was remade for mobile phones and released originally exclusively in South Korea before getting a worldwide release a few months later. In August of 2017, it was ported to Windows and PlayStation 4 with a worldwide release.
When I first read that White Day was not only getting released in North America but a physical release as well (though the physical release came out a month after the digital release), I was extremely excited. I'd not heard of the original game before reading about this remake, but I'm a big fan of East Asian horror. Western horror so often relies on serial killers or natural monsters (zombies, werewolves, etc), but Eastern horror is far more likely to be rooted in religious mythology and the supernatural, and I find stories with those themes to be FAR more interesting and frightening.
A little history lesson (since I am, after all, a history teacher) for those who aren't familiar with the holiday White Day (I wasn't before I googled it for the game) - White Day is a companion holiday to Valentine's Day celebrated primarily in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. Valentine's Day, like in the West, is February 14, but it's traditionally just for girls to give chocolates to guys either out of romantic interest, friendly courtesy, or social obligation. White Day, on the other hand, is always one month later - March 14 - and when guys are expected to "return the favor" so to speak. They give chocolate and gifts to girls they fancy, but there's also a social expectation that they give gifts to any girls who gave them something on Valentine's Day regardless of their personal feelings for her. Also, as a bit of fun trivia, there's a social rule of thumb that a guy's White Day gift needs to be two to three times the approximate value of the Valentine's Day gift he was given. Anyway, the premise of the game White Day is that you're this high school student in South Korea who recently transferred to a new school. You notice that this girl you have a crush on left her diary at the school, so you go to the school at night to give her the diary and the White Day gift you got for her (I assume by putting them in her desk or something; that's never made clear). I'm just kind of assuming that showing up at your high school at 9 pm isn't nearly as weird in Japan and South Korea as it would be in the United States because it seems not to be an uncommon setting for Eastern horror games.
To avoid big spoilers, I'll keep the conflict explanation brief, but basically the high school's main building was used as a hospital during the Korean War, and a lot of wounded soldiers and civilians are thought to have died there. There was also a "cursed" pond on the property that trapped the soul of anyone who died in it. The school eventually needed to expand and erected a new building on top of the pond after filling it - the Korean equivalent of building a house on a Native American burial ground, I presume - and eternally screwing up the building's feng shui and basically turning it into the Bobby Mackey's Korean Music World. At 10 pm, the school's doors automatically lock or something, so you and these three other dumb chicks are trapped in this hella haunted school that's patrolled at night by a couple of legitimately psychopathic janitors with baseball bats. Between the pissed off ghosts, insane custodians, and typical high school drama when you've got three chicks and dude trapped in the same building under stress, you have to find a way to escape the school without getting possessed, mutilated, or bludgeoned to death. Unfortunately, the story is only a little more clearly told by than the game than it was in these past two paragraphs.
If I didn't know that it's the remake of a 16 year old game, I'd say that it was inspired by Outlast and Amnesia because the complete lack of combat ability is very reminiscent of those games especially Outlast. Throughout most of the game, you're by yourself as you try to solve the mysteries of the school's dark history, find out what's going on with your classmates, and find a way out of the school. The choices you make along the way determine your ending, and there are 12 possible endings, giving the game a lot of replay value. Fortunately each playthrough only takes between six and seven hours on average, so it's not a particularly daunting game to play through multiple times. Some of the puzzles do bring to mind puzzles in the older Resident Evil games albeit simpler puzzles, and that's absolutely a good thing. The various puzzles and riddles aren't terribly difficult to figure out, but most of them do require you to stop and think for a minute or two. In that regard, the gameplay and overall game design are both extremely well done.
Graphically, the game looks very good when you consider its origins; it is, after all, a port of an Android and iOS game. The sound design, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired; the game may look very nice, but it sounds terrible. The voice acting, while not nearly as bad as Pokken Tournament's, is very hit or miss. One of the characters sounds fine - not great, but not awful - but the others all sound like actual high school students recorded the dialogue for a class project. It's not just the voice acting, either; the sound effects and enemy sounds are horrible. The janitors will whistle this same tune that doesn't even flow particularly well over and over again, and while it's great for giving you a rough idea of where they are in relation to you, it gets annoying quickly. Most the ghosts' sound effects feel rather bland, but the biggest offender is the final "boss." You know those cheap Halloween decorations at Walmart and Dollar General that just go "OoOoOoOoOoOoO" when you press a button, and you're about ready to kill your kid if he pushes again after the second time? That's the boss - completely uninterrupted - over and over again for the entire fight. It's unbearable, and it legitimately put a big ol' mark in the game's "minus" column for me.
One thing that the game does get very VERY right, however, is the atmosphere, and that creepy atmosphere makes up for its serious sound sins. White Day isn't scary because there are hoards of zombies chasing you while you have precious few bullets, and it's not scary because there's a giant mutated behemoth after your blood; it's scary because it establishes the feeling of alienation and isolation extremely well. It's really not even the janitors that are scary although being chased by them isn't pleasant by any means; they're more of an annoyance than anything else. The general feel and mood of the game is what makes it so damn creepy, and that's EXACTLY the kind of feeling that I want from a horror game. The little touches are also done better than just about any game I've ever played. Unexplained footsteps can be heard above you, a knock on the window will jar you from your puzzle solving, and random rattling glass will startle you when the suspense winds you up too tightly. Almost absent are jump scares, and "almost" is the operative word there; there are really only two or three jump scares in the game, and because they're so scarce, the very few that are in the game are used to great effect.
I feel very conflicted about White Day, truthfully. It looks nice, the school's backstory is really interesting, and the atmosphere is almost flawlessly executed; but the storytelling leaves some to be desired, the voice acting is bad, and the general sound effect design is just terrible. All things considered, however, I still think that this is worth playing for horror fans and especially fans of Eastern horror. Preferably borrow it from a friend or wait for a good Steam sale, but despite the game's flaws, it's still a good time. I thoroughly enjoyed my six hours with it, and I fully intend to come back to it later to see some of the other endings.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Wii U
Pokken Tournament was one of the most unique Wii U exclusives and really could have (and should have in my opinion) been a system seller. While part of me is always disappointed to see a game for my favorite underdog console lose exclusivity, it really would have been a shame for Pokken Tournament to have been played by so few gamers relatively speaking, but what would be a bigger shame is for console players (as opposed to arcade) never to have gotten the extra content added over time since Nintendo and Bandai did not deign to give Wii U owners any of the arcade DLC.
For those who aren't familiar with Pokken Tournament, it's a fighting game with Pokemon characters. Given that it was developed by Bandai Namco, it feels a lot like Tekken in many ways, although it's important to note that Pokken definitely does have a very distinctive feel that makes it far more than just "Tekken with Pokemon." The game features 21 playable Pokemon as well as 32 non-playable assist Pokemon (which are bound in preset pairs) as well as a very nice variety of stages with an array of themes. There's a single player mode, online play, local play, and - added to DX given the handheld nature of the Switch - a wireless play mode. The game gives an all around very nice choice of game modes, stages, and characters. The cherry on top is that has a clever "phase" system that will switch between a 3D "Field Phase" and a 2D "Duel Phase" whenever a player makes a strong hit. It sounds like it would get jarring and obnoxious, and I'm sure that there are some who dislike it, but I personally find it to be an extremely clever feature that flows very well and adds a depth and quirk to the game that makes me stand out from the fighting game crowd even more.
Given that Pokken Tournament DX is an enhanced Switch port of the original Pokken Tournament for Wii U, the game is mostly the same as the original release although there are some key differences.
First and foremost, the four characters added post-launch to the arcade game that were omitted from the Wii U port - Croagunk, Empoleon, Darkrai, and Scizor - are all included as well as one character that neither the arcade version nor the Wii U version will get - Decidueye. Also exclusive to the Switch port is a new pair of support Pokemon - Litten and Popplio. My only real complaint with the character roster here is that Shadow Mewtwo is unlocked right from the start; in the Wii U version, you had to finish the story mode in order to unlock Shadow Mewtwo or use the Shadow Mewtwo amiibo card included in the first print of the Wii U game. Not only is it nice to have the "boss" character as a goal to unlock, but it does kind of suck that my sexy Shadow Mewtwo card doesn't really have any use here. Sad face.
While the Wii U wasn't a graphical powerhouse and, as a port, the Switch version doesn't make any big changes to the visuals, the game is still a very good looking game. There's an impressive amount of detail on the character models that make the Pokemon feel more "real," for lack of a better word, and they ever did in the other games. The music - especially on the Magikarp Festival stage - is also fantastic. Legit I think Magikarp Festival has the greatest background music of any stage in any fighting game ever made. It's a light but infectiously catchy EDM beat that you'll start bobbing to without realizing it. While Magikarp Festival certainly stands out as the most memorable, all of the music in the game is quite well done. The sound design in general is, for the most part, quite good with attack sound effects that make the stronger hits really have a satisfying feel to them.
Most fighting games aren't really known or played for their narratives and single player campaigns, but as such things are a big deal to me, I have to address Pokken Tournament's story mode. In the context of fighting games, it's not terrible, but it's certainly not one of the better single player experiences I've played. The story itself is okay - something made Mewtwo turn dark and go crazy and you, for some reason, seem to be the only one able to stop him and turn him back to normal - but it's not particularly memorable or compelling. The pacing is pretty bad; I understand that a lot of developers want to make a single player mode last more than an hour or two, but through a single playthrough of the story mode, I fought nearly 150 battles. When you've only got a character roster of 21 Pokemon, it starts to feel repetitive. I really think the single player could have benefited from some brevity. As tired and stale as the story mode itself can be, however, the greatest sin that this game's single player commits is having what is truly among the worst voice acting of this entire console generation. If HD graphics had been a thing in 1997, I'd absolutely believe that this game was from that year. That's how atrocious the voice acting is. It's bad enough that your "adviser" won't shut the hell up and even her "Please don't talk to me" option just makes her limit her obnoxious voice to before and after a battle, the terrible voice acting makes it extremely cringe-worthy. Just hit the mute button while characters are talking; none of them were voiced by legitimate actors.
While I found the story mode to be every bit as disappointing as I remembered from my Wii U playthrough a couple years ago, this is a game that not even I play for the single player. This is one of the few fighting games that I've found that I actually enjoy. It's extremely approachable with simple controls and easy to learn combos and controls that allow customization. It also supports the Pokken gamepad that Hori released back when the Wii U original came out, and the Wii U controllers are identical to the Switch branded one in all but color scheme and branding; 90% of my playthrough was done with my Pikachu Pokken controller. The online matchmaking is fast and stable, and the array of local play options make this a game that is absolutely able to fill the void until the inevitable Super Smash Bros game for Switch.
Pokken Tournament DX may not be the next Dreamcast Soul Calibur in terms of fighting game masterpieces, but it's an exceptionally well crafted and well balanced fighting game that's had more care put into its development than pretty much any traditional fighting game of this generation. Between its beautiful visuals, its clever 2D/3D hybrid style, and it's nearly perfect gamepad (assuming one chooses to buy one), it's an extraordinary game that is an absolute must-own for Switch owners and especially Pokemon fans. As fantastic as the Wii's Pokemon Battle Revolution was, a fighting game like this really is the closest we'll probably get to the Pokemon battles we all watched on the anime, and that's hella dope.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Shadow Warrior 2 is the sequel to the 2013 Shadow Warrior which was a reboot of a 1997 game. I played the first Shadow Warrior reboot a few years ago, but when I saw that Special Reserve Games was doing a physical print of Shadow Warrior 2 (with the original Shadow Run included, too), I had to jump on that. Needless to say, I was not disappointed in the slightest once I finally got around to playing the game.
The basic plot of Shadow Warrior 2 without spoiling much is that you're an extremely skilled (and extremely crude) mercenary/assassin who has someone else's soul stuck in your body with you and who has to prevent an immortal goddess from opening the gates to some void and destroying the world. It takes a lot of Chinese mythology as its inspiration and strings the most gloriously ridiculous story and dialogue out of it.
At the end of the day, Shadow Warrior 2 is a first person shooter, but it's not a first person shooter like most others. The best way I can think of to describe it is Red Steel 2's gameplay with Duke Nukem's humor and Doom 2016's feel. You're using a triple barrel shotgun to blast demons in the face then finish them off with a sword all while making dick jokes. It definitely doesn't take itself seriously but still has rock solid gameplay and pretty dang good controls, and the dialogue and humor are absolutely the best parts of the game. Granted, you have to have a fairly immature sense of humor, but given that my sense of humor never developed past middle school, I loved every second of the game. There's some pretty decent character development over the course of the game as well, but that's honestly the weakest aspect of the writing.
The game's visuals, while not AAA level, are very good. The guns especially have had a lot of care and detail put into their models, and the enemy designs look great. While it's not exactly precise based on where you attack each time, enemies will have chunks blown or cut out of them if, say, you've shot them with a shotgun or cut them with a sword. You'll occasionally have ninja using one arm to attack you because you've cut off the other arm. When you blast an enemy point blank with a shotgun (especially if it's a triple barrel shotgun that fires all three barrels at once), their bodies explode in a cloud of red mist and viscera. Extremely reminiscent of Doom and exceptionally satisfying.
Shadow Warrior 2 isn't going to appeal to everyone. It's MUCH more goofy than serious, and it's almost as over-the-top with crude humor as Shadows of the Damned, but if you're into sex jokes and ridiculous weapons, it's a FANTASTIC game. There are side missions to complete and a ton of weapons to collect and try, so it's not lacking in content. I had an absolute ball with it, and whether you picked up the Special Reserve Games release or have it digitally, it is definitely worth a playthrough.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Dying: Reborn VR was the other game that I downloaded bundled with Weeping Doll, and at first, I was pretty into it. I quickly discovered, however, that UploadVR was spot-on when they gave their review the header "Should Have Stayed Dead." This is a brilliant example of what's wrong with VR - too short, too basic, and too expensive. Thanks god I got mine in that bundle on sale.
So here's the first issue with Dying: Reborn VR - it's not a full game. Oh, they charge the $10 price tag of a full game, but it's not one. Dying: Reborn on Vita and PS4 is a six chapter game; what you get in Dying: Reborn VR is abridged versions of the first three chapters. You get no conclusion or even the full versions of the first three levels. It's little more than a glorified and premium-priced demo. The story isn't even good, either, so I finished the "game" with zero desire to know how the full story ends.
Thankfully, when compared to Weeping Doll, the visuals are improved in Dying: Reborn VR, and the issue of audio cut out was absent. Unfortunately the sound effects were worse, the music was horrible and way too loud, and the voice acting is legitimately among the worst I've ever heard in a game. Not only that but it seems to have been done all in one take as the voice actors would say things completely different from the subtitles on screen and even stumble over their lines a bit. I actually HOPE it was done in one take because if that's the product of rehearsals, re-recordings, and editing, then I can only assume that they literally grabbed some random guy off the street and said "Here, you're voicing this character that no one will ever care about. You've got five minutes to rehearse."
Dying: Reborn VR managed to be an even worse game than Weeping Doll. It looks much better, and the atmosphere is certainly creepy, but the game just FEELS like a rip-off given that you're paying for what is, in reality, less than half of a game. That's a real shame, too, because the puzzles are actually pretty good. They're not masterful works of a genius or anything, but they make you think and are relatively enjoyable to solve. It sucks that those puzzles are completely undermined by a bullshit business model and no way to get the rest of the story short of buying the non-VR "full" game separately. Don't even bother with this no matter how much you love VR; if you want a mediocre "thriller" game with pretty good puzzles, just buy the normal Dying: Rebirth.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Weeping Doll serves as proof that it's not just the Wii U that has astoundingly bad shovelware. I got Weeping Doll as part of a two-pack download during a recent PSN Flash Sale, and I'm extremely glad that I got the two for $5 instead of the usual $20 because, truthfully, even $2.50 is overpaying for this game.
The basic premise is that you're a maid to some rich family that calls you freaking about something trying to kill them. Naturally, you immediately set to work cleaning the house. Once you start hearing suspicious sounds, however, you realize "Hey, maybe something's amiss here" and start trying to figure out what's going on. 45 to 60 minutes of rudimentary puzzle solving and sub-par voice acting later, you're at the end of the game. About five minutes after that, you actually realize you're at the end of the game. The problem with the ending is that there isn't one, really; the story wraps up, but you're given no prompt that you've finished the game. You just wander aimlessly until you either get frustrated and quit or wander back into the foyer where you started and notice that all of the portraits on the walls have been replaced with the faces and names of the development team (although, truthfully, I'm not sure I'd want my name or face associated with this game). Oh, and when you're doing this wandering? There's no actual "movement" per se; you can pick where you want to go by positioning the character's ghostly looking outline, and then you press X to "warp" there pretty much. It's dumb.
The visuals look terrible even by PSVR standards, the sound effects are bare-bones and uninspired, and the voice acting is so bad that it wouldn't be the slightest bit out of place in the late 1990s. The story itself is moderately interesting for a little bit, but it quickly loses any charm it may have initially held. Add all this to the fact that the sound kept cutting out on me - which I originally thought was my ear buds messing up until I found that no other VR game gave me that issue - and you've got what could graciously be described as "a hot mess."
Weeping Doll is a straight cluster. The visuals are terrible, the sound effects are boring, the story is mundane, and the voice acting is horrendous. The puzzles do little more than insult your intelligence, and there's not a single scare to be found, either jump scare or atmospheric dread. There's seriously nothing redeeming about this game at all except "It's in VR" if you like virtual reality (I do), but even then, with Resident Evil VII's PS VR support, why would you even need this? If you can afford a PS VR headset in the first place, you can afford a game that's actually worth playing because this sure as hell isn't that.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation Vita and Windows
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a spin-off to the Danganronpa series that takes place in the same timeline as the first two games but adopts a totally different genre. Whereas Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair were mostly visual novels (albeit with some adventure and exploration involved), Ultra Despair Girls is a third person shooter. While the storytelling and overall tone of despair isn't quite as well done here as in the first two games, it's still a great game for fans of the Danganronpa series.
The game takes place shortly after the events of Danganronpa 2 and stars Komaru Naegi, little sister of the first game's protagonist, Makoto Naegi, and Toko Fukawa, one of the other characters from the first game. When a Future Foundation mission to rescue a "Captive" goes awry, the clueless and mostly helpless Komaru, recently rescued from an 18 month kidnapping and confinement, finds herself on a hostile island filled with homicidal Monokumas with only this bizarre and rather distasteful girl, Toko, to help her survive. Thus begins her mission to escape the Towa City and find out what the hell has been going on in the world since her imprisonment began.
The game is broken into five chapters, each one filled with a variety of (admittedly simple) puzzles and a boss fight. The game starts out extremely interesting as it gives a bit more backstory to what the survivors of the Killing School Life had been up to since their escape from Hope's Peak Academy. Unfortunately the plot goes from interesting to okay around the end of chapter 2. It's not that the writing suddenly tanks or anything. Rather it just feels like it plateaus a bit whereas the first two games kept taking the drama to new heights with each chapter. I do try to give credit where credit is due, however, and the writers did do an excellent job with Toko's character development. I felt that she was a fairly static character, all things considered, in the first game, and they really delved into her personality and flaws in this game, giving her character a depth that she never quite achieved in the first game.
Visually the game looks pretty much like you'd expect from Danganronpa with only fairly minor enhancements over the first two games. The sound, unfortunately, doesn't quite live up to the first game's masterpiece soundtrack. It's not bad, per se, but it's just pretty average all around. The enemy character designs are quite well done, though, even if the soundtrack doesn't stand out. Over the course of the game, you fight close a dozen different kinds of Monokumas, and different Monokumas require different strategies and different ammunition types. Each type of Monokuma is well designed and much more than just a pallet swap, something that a lot of games tend to fall victim to.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls doesn't really stand out as being particularly impressive, especially for those who aren't fans of the Danganronpa series, but it's a very competent even if average game. Those just looking for a good shooter may not find what they want here, but even if it ranks third out of three in this department, the story is worth playing through. It doesn't quite live up to the high standards set by Trigger Happy Havoc, but it's a good game in its own right. Just don't expect Game of the Year material.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Metroid is a Nintendo franchise that I got into fairly late in the game - not until Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii. I've picked up *most* of the series since then, but one that I still don't have is Metroid II: Return of Samus for Game Boy (although I do have it downloaded on my 3DS). When I saw the announcement this summer of a full remake of the game for 3DS, then, I was ecstatic. Not only do we get another modern 2D Metroid game, but it's a remake of the second chapter in Samus's story, one that I'd not gotten yet.
The basic premise of the game is that, after destroying the Space Pirate's Metroids and putting an end to Mother Brain, she is contracted once again by the Galactic Federation, this time to exterminate the Metroids on their home planet of SR388 to remove the threat that they could ever be used and weaponized again. So basically she's paid to commit a complete and total genocide. Aside from the plot and basic 2D action-platforming genre, however, Samus Returns is pretty much a completely different game from Return of Samus. The levels are completely different, there are power-ups and enemies that didn't appear in the original game, and the game is about twice as long. Both games do come on cartridges, however, but Samus Returns is actually in color, so that's a nice plus.
A lot of folks were disappointed (to put it lightly) when Metroid: Other M came out on Wii years ago, and without getting into that particular debate, I think all of those who felt burned by Other M will be extremely pleased with Samus Returns. This is the 2D Metroid game that longtime fans have been wanting and dreaming of. With one exception, the game plays like a dream with a near flawless framerate and silky smooth movement. My only complaint with the control is the grappling beam. Nine times out of ten, it works just fine and does exactly what it's supposed to, but there is one particular room in which the only way out - either back the way you came or forward - involves using the grapple beam to swing and grab on to a nearby ledge. This particular jump (it's the same on both sides) requires PERFECTION in your jump, and even when I was doing the exact same thing every time (as far as I could tell; clearly I wasn't actually), it was a total crap shoot whether or not Samus would actually grab the ledge. I probably had a 5% success rate on that jump, failing so much that I actually closed my 3DS and googled how to use the grapple beam just in case I was doing something wrong. That one instance aside, I never had a single complaint with the controls; every other screw up with clearly and obviously user error on my part, and with some practice, I managed to correct all of those.
While it really shouldn't surprise me that Nintendo manages to coax every scrap of power possible out of their hardware, I was surprised by just how good the game looks on 3DS. As I mentioned above, the frame rate is absolutely smooth, but the game looks beautiful as well, and those two things don't always go hand in hand. I've not played many Vita games that look quite as good as Samus Returns, and while there have been a few, that number isn't very high. The soundtrack, too, is every bit as impressive as the visuals. At no point, really, does the background music not fit the tone of whatever's going on, be it a boss fight, a sprint through a lethally hot room, or an unnerving gait through a barren clearing. It doesn't stop at the music, though; the entirety of the sound design is superb from the weapon effects to the enemy screeches to the minute ambient sounds, everything is expertly balanced so as to enhance the tone while never stealing the spotlight.
Although it's a late release in the 3DS lifespan, Metroid: Samus Returns is definitely one of the brightest first party gems of the handheld's library and an absolute must-play for fans of the Metroid series. While this is going to be a VERY unpopular opinion, I personally preferred Other M as far as gameplay goes, but Samus Returns is still an absolutely fabulous game. It's not particularly long - one can finish it in less than 10 hours if one foregoes a lot of optional backtracking - but it's an incredible journey with some seriously tough boss fights that will have you screaming in frustration. As is the case with well designed bosses, however, they're extremely manageable once you learn their patterns and their attacks. I absolutely recommend this game to anyone with a 3DS, and if you're a Metroid fan, I'd seriously suggest buying a 3DS or 2DS just for this game. It definitely makes up for the craptastic Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.