Among Pokemon fans, the two newest games in the series, Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee, are pretty controversial. A lot of the more hardcore fans don't like how "dumbed down" the game is in a lot of ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's essentially a remake of Pokemon Yellow, but the 3D visuals and the jump to HD make this the most immersive Pokemon experience for me personally to date despite the simplified mechanics and strictly Gen 1 Pokedex.
As the titles suggest, your starting pokemon with either Pikachu or Eevee depending on your version. You quickly get the opportunity to catch the three traditional Gen 1 starters, though, and they became the bedrock of my team. My team ended up being Pikachu (whom I nicknamed Marth), Venusaur, Charizard, Blastoise, Gengar, and Starmie. While some folks have criticized the game for being too easy, I found it to be relaxing more so than childish. That's not to say that the game is completely devoid of challenge. You still need to use some strategy - you can't go fight Lt. Surge with a team of water and flying types and expect it to go well unless you're way over leveled - but it's not nearly as challenging as some of the older entries.
The highlight of the game in terms of my immersion is definitely the HD visuals and having a pokemon of your choice follow behind you. Being a remake of Yellow which was inspired by the anime, the game features the images we've come to know and love for Professor Oak, Jessie and James, Blue, Nurse Joy, and Officer Jenny. The nostalgia here is real for millennials like me. It's not just for my age group, though. In a lot of ways, Let's Go, Pikachu/Eevee is for Pokemon what Mystic Quest was for Final Fantasy. It's designed intentionally to be an entry level game to bring newcomers to the series into the fold. As such, the biggest drive was accessibility. From that perspective, yeah, it's much simpler and less challenging than the mainline entries in the series. If you let that dissuade you from playing it, however, you're making a big mistake.
One of the ways The Pokemon Company tried to make these games accessible is by only including the original 151 pokemon. Part of the reason for this is obviously that diving in head first to nearly 1000 pokemon is going to overwhelm potential newcomers. As a longtime fan, I was personally disappointed that the later pokemon are totally absent from the game, but I can hardly hold that against it; it would be judging the game on what I wanted it to be rather than what it was intended to be. That's what a lot of the user reviews I've seen seem to forget. This isn't a game for the established Pokemon fanbase. There's a lot there for us to love if we stop looking for flaws, but the game isn't for us. It's for newcomers who may have been hooked on Pokemon Go but never played a Pokemon game otherwise, and that's no small group of folks.
What really sets Let's Go apart from the other Pokemon RPGs (as the title should suggest) is its links to Pokemon Go. First and foremost, it uses Pokemon Go's catching mechanic. With the exception of a few boss pokemon, you don't battle wild pokemon, and even those that you do battle, the battle is a separate phase from the catching. The actual capture consists of throwing PokeBalls at the wild pokemon until they decide to stop breaking out. You can do this by "throwing" the Joycon or PokeBall Plus controller as if you would throw a PokeBall or by playing handheld and using the system's gyroscope to aim and pressing A to throw the ball. I personally preferred the latter, but I did get the bundle with the PokeBall Plus controller to try it out. Then my dog ate the controller. It still works and everything, but it looks all chewed up and terrible. So I bought ANOTHER controller! It's fine, though, because you can put a pokemon in the controller (think the PokeWalker from HeartGold and SoulSilver) and "take it for a stroll," using the internal pedometer to level up your pokemon and collect items the more you walk.
In addition to the shared catching mechanic, there are more direct connections with Pokemon Go. First and foremost, you can link your Pokemon Go account with your Switch and transfer pokemon from Pokemon Go to your Pokemon Let's Go game. It's not a two-way transfer - you can only transfer FROM Go TO Let's Go - but it's still super cool that there's a connection. You can also use your PokeBall Plus controller (if you bought one) as a Pokemon Go Plus accessory when you're playing Pokemon Go. These are all pretty small things, but given that the intention is to pull in those Pokemon Go players to the mainline series, it's a really nice touch, and it's a cool little extra feature.
Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee aren't the games that established fanbase was wanting, but it's not the established fanbase for whom the game was made. This is a game that was designed to be a more casual, approachable experience to bring new players to the mainline series, and it plays like that. To expect a competitive game with deep battle mechanics is to expect the game to be something it was never intended to be. There is a LOT to love here. 3D visuals in 1080p. Pokemon followers some of which you can ride. A more relaxed experience. Nostalgia for the days of the 90s with the original anime and Gen I games. Even for Pokemon veterans like me, there's a lot to love. As I said with Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, if you let the accessible difficulty level and relatively simplistic mechanics deter you from giving it a play, then you're seriously missing out. This isn't going to challenge an experienced tactical mind, but it will definitely please the nostalgic child from the 1990s trapped within the bodies of cynical and underpaid adults. Really, that's all I need in life.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4
One of the big surprise games for me was Persona 4: Dancing All Night when I played that a year or two back. It was...beautiful. Definitely one of my favorite rhythm games probably second only to Elite Beat Agents. When ATLUS announced rhythm games for Persona 3 and Persona 5, I was naturally ecstatic, and being a collector and a Vita fanatic, I naturally had to import the Japanese copies for my shelf and dove into the P3 game almost immediately. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to the high standard that its predecessor set.
Part of the reason why this game impressed me so much less than the Persona 4 dancing game in addition to the fact that it didn't have the excitement of being a "new" thing going for it involves the direction ATLUS took with the game. Dancing in Moonlight (or, as it's called in Japan, Dancing Moon Night) is much more like Hatsune Miku in its design. It have a few little dialogue scenes in the very beginning, but it doesn't have any kind of story mode like Dancing All Night had. Obviously a rhythm game doesn't NEED a story, but with the writing talent at ATLUS, Dancing All Night proved that a rhythm game can definitely benefit from a story, and unfortunately for Dancing in Moonlight, it just doesn't seem to stand out from the crowd as much without that added narrative element.
One thing that the game does have going for it is the soundtrack. As anyone who's played a Persona game can tell you, the soundtracks are always phenomenal. Again, though, following in the footsteps of Dancing All Night is a hindrance for Dancing in Moonlight; Persona 3 had a great soundtrack, but Persona 4's soundtrack was legendary. The tracklist just can't stand up in a comparison. There are a few truly killer remixes in Dancing in Moonlight, but all in all, while it's an terrific tracklist, again it just doesn't really stand out from the crowd for the most part. Visually, however, the game is great. Seeing the characters from P3 return in such a jovial and musical setting is wonderful, and the choreography for the characters' dance moves is great. While I loved playing it on the go with my Vita, this is definitely a game that would also benefit from being played on PlayStation 4 or on a PlayStation TV if you have friends over as the dancing itself is good fun to watch.
The most important make-or-break aspect of a rhythm game is going to be the quality of the input controls, and while I may have had some arguably nit-pick disappointments with other aspects of Dancing in Moonlight, the controls give me absolutely no cause to complain. It's quick and responsive inputs are everything you'd want from a rhythm game. That input factor is also another reason I went with Vita over PS4 for this one; while the DS4 is a great controller, having controls hardwired to a handheld rather than wireless via bluetooth is always my preference when it comes to rhythm games. I'm sure it plays brilliantly on PS4 as well - ATLUS isn't one to release a sub-par product from my experience - but it's hard to beat a good Vita game.
Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight doesn't quite live up to the monolithic Persona 4: Dancing All Night, it is still an excellent rhythm game in its own right. The soundtrack, while the least impressive of the three most recent console Persona games in my opinion, is still terrific with some truly great remixes of those songs thrown in for some variety and genre diversity. It doesn't do a whole lot to stand out from the crowd in any meaningful way aside from being based on Persona 3, but that doesn't mean that it's not a fantastic game. It's just perhaps not the most memorable rhythm game you'll ever play. It is, however, definitely recommended for fans of Persona or just folks looking for a good rhythm game to pass the time.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Xenogears is the one game in the "Xeno" series that I don't have, but with my new attempt to embrace digital games, I decided to buy it on PSN and dust off the ol' PS TV. I was SUPPOSED to be playing this in tandem with Colin, but as usually, he flaked out on me and decided not to play it. -insert sadness-
Xenogears is, in a lot of ways, a perfect example of Square's late 1990s JRPG offerings - it's too long, the story is convoluted to the point of confusion, and it's so much damn fun that you can't just quit. The BASIC story (and this is a bare bones synopsis) is that a colony ship of some sort crashed on this planet 10,000 years ago when some super weapon went haywire and blew it to pieces. Human survivors established an advanced civilization until some major war destroyed a bunch of it 4,000 years ago, and then some other giant war destroyed even more stuff 500 years ago. There are like three specific people whose souls are apparently so important that they get reincarnated infintely, and their memories get passed down as well, and then there's some split personalities, and there are giant robots, and somehow the giant doomsday weapon is god but also god doesn't exist but at the same time god is core to everything and...yeah. It doesn't make any sense. Unfortunately, it's also a perfect example of what ruins a lot of otherwise good games - plot holes, huge leaps of logic, and cut funding that led to a rushed and frankly terrible second half (or, in this case, last third). Imagine if the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential campaign were a JRPG. On paper, it should be amazing and a hole in one. Certain aspects of reality, however, forces it to crash and burn. I love games that incorporate ancient Judeo-Christian mythology into their story. I don't love it when it's done poorly and doesn't many any sense whatsoever.
The tragic story of Xenogears' production is that it was originally intended to be a four disc game as several other Square JRPGs were. The first disc is a long and epic 40-50 hour adventure full of world building and character development, and if the game were judged just on the first disc, it would be a great game. Unfortunately, when they finished the first disc, they were out of money... and only about a third of the way through the story. So the rest of it got slimmed down beyond the max and crammed into one disc with the bulk of the story being either skipped entirely or relegated to boring vignettes between boss fights with the occasional dungeon or two (compared to the dozen solidly fleshed out dungeons in the first disc). There's a ton of potential there, and had the story elements in disc two been given the same treatment that the first disc received, it would probably be remembered as one of the best JRPGs of the era. As it is, however, the second disc totally sucks and ruins the game.
The games visuals are largely so-so in my opinion with a decent 3D world but 2D sprite characters. Character attack animations are cool, but the game overall fails to match Square's Final Fantasy offerings of the era (probably because of the cut funding). The music, however, is quite good. Again, not on the level of the PS1 Final Fantasy games, but it's a solidly second tier soundtrack. The piece of the presentation that really falls apart, though, is the anime cutscenes. There are some full anime cut scenes, but the English dub is like something straight out of a 1950s Godzilla film; you'll see mouths moving a mile a minute with no words whatsoever, and you'll hear talking when no one's mouth is moving. I understand that it's extremely difficult to get English even half synced with Japanese animation especially with a depleted budget, but regardless, the effect is that is just looks sloppy and half-assed.
Xenogears is a Shakespearean tragedy of game development; the first disc is SO exceptional and well done in almost every regard that they blew their whole budget and were left with a second disc that tries to do way too much with way too little to work with and, as a result, ruins the overall product. I really can't overemphasize just how soul-crushingly disappointing that second disc is. It truly does ruin the game for me and leave a bad taste in my mouth for the whole game. I honestly have a hard time recommending this one just because of how much of a let down the last 20 hours or so are, but I'm going to err on the side of a recommendation simply for how excellent the first 40 or 50 hours are. If I were rating each disc on its own, disc one would definitely get a 4/5 with disc two being given a 1/5. Unfortunately, that's not how multi-disc games work. The experiences on each disc may be of RADICALLY different quality, but it's still one single game.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android, Linux, and OSX
Banner Saga is everything I want in a game. Seriously, I let it languish in my Steam library, fated to remain unplayed for far too long, until Colin said "Dude, this game is dope, you gotta play it. You'll love it." As is usually the case when Colin recommends stuff for me - Gundam, a rewatch of Deep Space Nine, Castlevania - he was absolutely right. This game is straight fire. While it's not quite "perfect," per se, it's definitely got my name written all over it.
Banner Saga is an SRPG, but not quite like any that I've played previously. It's extremely similar to a lot of others in a lot of ways, but it's just different enough to stand out as unique among the games I've experienced. Imagine, if you will, the game as a math equation. It roughly boils down to:
Fire Emblem + a Norse theme - permadeath + TellTale style choices + Oregon Trail = Banner Saga
It plays a LOT like Fire Emblem with the square-based grid, the turn based movement, etc. but with vikings and horned giants instead of a more central European medieval setting. It also lacks Fire Emblem iconic permadeath at least as far as combat is concerned. Your characters can and will still die for good through the choices you make and plot points, but if they fall in battle, they're simply "injured," not killed. Speaking of choices, the game is all about choice and consequence. Much of the game's dialogue provides you with multiple choices that affect the direction that the story takes. The Oregon Trail aspect comes into play with your caravan. For almost all of the game, you're moving towards one city or another as your quest progresses, and you have a small army with you in your caravan. You also have a finite amount of supplies and a constantly declining caravan morale. If you try to conserve supplies and not stop to rest unless the game forces you, your morale will decrease, putting you at a strategic disadvantage in battle. If you stop frequently to make sure that your morale stays high, you'll burn through supplies, and if you run out of supplies, your clansmen and troops will start to die every day. If you use your renown to promote your units, you may find yourself short on funds for much-needed supplies when you get to the next town's market; likewise, if you use all of your renown on supplies for your caravan, you may not be able to promote all of your units, leaving you with a weak and underleveled army against a far superior foe. Where do you strike your balance? That's part of the strategy of the game's decision making.
As far as visuals go, the game is done in an almost hand drawn cartoon style. While this particular art style is sometimes rather "hit or miss" for me, this is definitely an example of a "hit." The characters are beautifully drawn, the visuals are bright and colorful when they need to be while dark and foreboding when the situation calls for it, and the way the scenes unfold give the whole game a storybook-like feel as if you're being told an epic adventure tale as much as actually playing a game. That storybook feel is, in large part, thanks to the fantastic narration. Not only does the narrator himself do an excellent job with the delivery, but the amount of narration is perfect - enough to set the stage and advance the story at key points but infrequent enough so as not to break the player's immersion.
Difficulty in the game seems almost an afterthought, a factor placed on the backburner to focus on the story and its delivery. There are a few different difficulty settings to cater to the spectrum of player ability levels and desires for challenge, but since more of the game is spent on decision making and managing your caravan supplies and whatnot, the combat difficulty never felt to me like it took center stage the way it does in many other games of the genre. That's not to say that the difficult was unbalanced or poorly implemented - it definitely wasn't - but the focus of the game always stayed far more on the journey, the characters, and their experiences and tribulations than on challenging the player in battle unless, of course, you specifically seek that out by putting the game on the highest difficulty. It was honestly a breath of fresh air for me to have a fun and compelling strategy RPG but have it place the emphasis on story more than challenge. That aspect is certainly not going to be to everyone's liking, but it turned out to be everything I didn't know I wanted from the genre.
Banner Saga is the perfect type of SRPG in my opinion. Story and atmosphere always take priority over the combat challenge, and the art style, sound direction, and narration are done in such a way that brilliantly enhances that atmosphere. The only thing about the game that really didn't sit well with me was that the perspective switches between a couple different parties throughout the game before the parties (or remnants of them) meet up at the end. It certainly wasn't bad, but I tend to prefer having a consistent set of protagonists rather than switching back and forth between two groups. That aside, however, it's one of if not the most enjoyable indie games that I've ever played. It has the indie game hallmark bits and pieces that could have used a bit more polish or could have been expanded upon a bit, but even so, it's an absolutely remarkable game, and it absolutely deserved the Switch, PS4, and Xbox One releases that it and its two sequels got. With availability on all three home platforms, all three major computer OSs, and both major smartphone OSs, there's nary a gamer out there with no way to play. I absolutely and whole heartedly recommend this game for any who are fans of strategy or fans of a good Norse tale.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Girls und Panzer: Dream Tank Match is a tank combat game based on the anime film, but since my first time hearing about Girls und Panzer in general was when I impulse bought this on Play-Asia, so I'm going to ignore that for the most part. The story, unfortunately, is more or less completely incomprehensible if you're not familiar with the source material. It's told in a flashback sort of manner; there's some festival following a big tournament of some sorts that was depicted in a movie, and the girls who participated in the tournament are telling stories of their experiences, and those stories are told through the game's levels. After the third level, though, I gave up on having any idea what was going on other than "Cute anime girls blow each other up in tanks to learn how to be good women, wives, and mothers." But there is, at the end of the day, lots of cute anime girls blowing each other up in tanks, so do you really NEED to understand what's going on?
The game's different stages have different objectives. Some levels require you to destroy all of the enemy tanks, some will require you to reach a certain area, some will require you to survive for a certain amount of time, etc. Between the varying objectives and the variety of tanks that you're made to use, the levels are different enough from one another to keep from becoming stale. Unfortunately, while the game doesn't become stale per se, it never really "grips" you, or at the very least, it never really gripped me. The gameplay is fun enough, but because familiarity with the source material is so important to understanding what's going on, it's hard to get into the game.
The visuals and sound design are about what you'd expect from a run of the mill weeb anime game - decent. They're not great. They're not terrible. They're just decent. The graphics push the PS4's capabilities in no way, shape, or form, but the models are smooth with nice animations. The voice acting is good, and the soundtrack is fine. That's the problem, though - nothing about the game's presentation ever surpasses "fine." It's entirely dependent on the concept of cute anime girls blowing each other up with tanks. Which, in fairness, is exactly why I bought the game, so job well done at hooking your target demographic, but actual overall quality of the game? Eh. It's fine.
With my affinity for games revolving entirely around anime girls, I really want to love this game. I want to say that it pushes the envelope of what thirsty neckbeard gaming can be. I want to be able to recommend it not just to forever-alone types like but to gamers in general. Unfortunately, I can't do that. The gameplay itself is fun enough, but I can't say that it's fun enough to recommend. Given that the only English language release is an Asian import, it's not exactly a bargain bin game, and the game's overall quality is solidly bargain bin. It's on the high end of bargain bin, sure, but it's still bargain bin. Truthfully, I wouldn't pay more than $15 for this game, and I doubt we'll see the price drop that much. Unless you're already a fan of Girls und Panzer, I just can't recommend this game. If you are a fan, then maybe there's something here for you, but for newcomers to the IP like me? Pass.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Mario Tennis is my absolute favorite of the various Mario sports series, and of the sports that have been Mario-fied, tennis is the one I find the most entertaining to watch. With the exception of hockey, tennis games are just generally my favorite sports games. It's because of that that left me SO disappointed with Wii U's Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. It was just...okay... That's it. And that's coming off the heels of the INCREDIBLE Mario Power Tennis for Gamecube and revised for Wii with motion controls. Thankfully Nintendo decided to make up for the lackluster Ultra Smash and gave Switch owners what may well be the best Mario Tennis game to date (although Power Tennis is a DAMN hard game to beat).
One of my favorite aspects of Mario Tennis Aces which, if I remember correctly, is a first for the Mario Tennis series, is the inclusion of an actual story mode. It's not a gripping tale with deep character development, but it does have an actual story. There's this evil tennis racket that possesses anyone who holds it and seeks to collect five power gems to restore its full power to take over the world. By beating people in tennis. Like I said, not a thrilling narrative, but it's good enough. In addition to standard tennis matches against opponents, the story mode also includes various training/challenges as well as legit boss battles. As you progress through the story mode, you'll unlock new characters to play as (although you're always Mario in the story mode), new rackets to use, and new courts to play on.
Nintendo seems to be adding more characters over time as there are two currently on the roster that the game says you can unlock early by participating in online tournaments, one in October (that one unlocked Birdo) and one in November (not sure what character that is). I don't know for certain if more characters will continue to be added over time, but it wouldn't come as a surprise to me. Speaking of the online play, I haven't done this extensively, but the few matches I have played worked brilliantly. I found matches quickly, and there was absolutely no lag whatsoever; it felt as if I were playing a match against a CPU.
Visually, Mario Tennis Aces probably isn't pushing the Switch quite to its limits, but it does look extremely nice, especially when playing as a handheld. Motion is fluid, frame rate drops are either non-existent or so negligible that the average person likely wouldn't notice, and the colors really "pop" on screen. The soundtrack also really excels for a sports game. The various themes - forest, desert, tundra, Boo house, etc - are all varied and fitting. The sound effects are also fitting, although honestly, there are only so many sound effects you need a tennis game. The real start of the audio show is, obviously, the soundtrack, and there's nothing left to be desired here in that regard.
All in all, Mario Tennis Aces is the game that Mario Tennis fans deserved after the slap to face that was Ultra Smash. Everything wrong about Ultra Smash is fixed in Tennis Aces. What little was right about Ultra Smash is improved in Tennis Aces. The online play works fabulously, the game controls smoothly, the soundtrack is superb, and the visuals look beautiful. I'm not going to go as far as to say that Mario Tennis Aces is a perfect game, but it is definitely a high point for the Mario sports games, and I would call it a must-play for Switch owners.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
I have been waiting for Valkyria Chronicles 4 for years. The first game was absolutely incredible, but the second game was good but disappointing, the third game never got released in North America, and Valkyria Revolution was....not what I was wanting. Finally, though, Sega has graced me with a true successor to the series, and not only that, but in a first for the series, it saw a release on a Nintendo platform.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes place during the Second Europan War along side the events of Valkyria Chronicles and Valkyria Chronicles 3 and two years before Valkyria Chronicles II. What makes Valkyria Chronicles 4 different, however, is where in Europa the game is set; whereas the first three main series games (Revolution was set in a completely different fictional universe) cast the player as a soldier fighting for the small kingdom of Gallia against the autocratic East Europan Imperial Alliance (basically Russia), Valkyria Chronicles 4 has one assume the role of a group of soldiers fighting for the Atlantic Federation, a seemingly confederation-type of alliance of democratic nations in western Europa (basically NATO). I guess that makes Gallia kind of like Yugoslavia if we're going with a Cold War analogy (although Yugoslavia tended to get along a little bit better with the Warsaw Pact than with NATO...eh, an imperfect analogy, but whatever). It's worth noting , though, that most of the game's main characters are Gallian-born and joined the Federation army to protect Gallia from the Empire before Gallia was invaded.
Following Squad E of the Federation army's elite Ranger Corps, you fight your way east as you try to repel the imperial invaders and, eventually, attempt to push to the imperial capital and bring the war to a close. Of course, being a Valkyria Chronicles game, the focus is always more on the individual characters than the overarching war itself, and that's part of the reason I love the series so much. That's not to say that the war itself is just glossed over; the game's story reveals a lot about the context of EWII and expands a lot of the lore that the first game provided. The way the story is told, however, always has the player caring more about the soldiers' individual struggles, triumphs, and relationships than the Federation vs Empire war, especially once the Federation's dirty secrets start to come to light.
While I've only played the game on Switch and, therefore, can only speak from first hand experience about that version, I have seen several side by side comparison videos that have me feeling confident when I say that the graphical differences between the Switch version and the PS4/XB1 versions are negligible. There's some shadow and lighting effects that are diminished on Switch, and there's a tiny bit more detail on the PS4 and XB1 versions, but given the watercolor art style used in the game, I doubt anyone would b e able to tell one version from another without a direct side-by-side comparison. Frame rate is usually where I would expect to see some major differences given the art style chosen, but Sega seems to have locked it to 30 FPS on all versions (not sure about PC; that can probably be unlocked). With a common frame rate across the board and visual differences that are negligible at best, it seemed pretty clear to me that the portability and cartridge load times of the Switch version made it a pretty easy choice which platform to go with, and I have no regrets whatsoever. This is probably the best third party experience I've had on the Switch to date.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is an exceptional strategy game that continues the series' brilliant blend of turn based strategy with real time combat. It allows carries on the series' tradition of putting character development above all else, propelling the game to an experience that is virtually impossible to put down once you get started. There's a lot of exposition between each battle - that takes at least as long as the battles themselves if you don't skip anything - but very rarely does it ever feel superficial. The story has a few plot twists, and while few of them came as unexpected, the delivery is such that even if it's expected, it still retains impact because of how it happens more than what's happening. The game's sound designed - especially its soundtrack - are stellar, but the real star of the show here is the visual design. The watercolor art style is truly phenomenal and reaches a level of artistic beauty that I've only seen from Okami and Muramasa. I cannot recommend this game enough especially on Switch. It showcases spectacularly the system's ability to delivery beautiful and engaging home consoles experience right along side the big boys of the industry. It is, in my opinion, the best of the series.
BONUS PRO! The game teaches you valuable life lessons about consent.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Wii U via Virtual Console
Advance Wars seems like the first in the series to those of us in the West, but it's actually an entry in a long running series called Famicom Wars; this is just the first entry that got localized. It's a turn based strategy game, but don't confuse with a SRPG like Fire emblem because Advance Wars has none of the traditional RPG mechanics such as levels or experience or changeable weapons. It's much closer to a 4X strategy game; you take control of cities and factories, manage your resources, and build up your units while balancing power and cost.
One of the big differences between Advance Wars and most strategy games like it is the tone of the story. It's story is inherently fairly silly. The nations involved are Orange Star, Blue Moon, Yellow Comet, and Green Earth. The COs are all unique and have their goof eccentricities, but none of them really give off a "serious" realistic vibe you would expect from an army general. While it's obviously understood, the concept of death is never mentioned explicitly; your units just fly off screen during the battle animations, and when a unit is defeat, it just explodes and disappears. No blood, no gore, no remains. It's about as non-offensive a presentation as war could possibly have.
The basic story is that you play as Orange Star fighting off an invasion from Blue Moon. As you're pushing back Blue Moon's advance and retaking Orange Star territory, you end up a couple of skirmishes with Green Earth. Eventually, you find yourself fighting Yellow Comet, too, and start to realize that something's off about the whole situation. That's as far as I'll go into the story, but it's a pretty decent story despite being fairly silly all around. The characters are likable, and the frivolous world minimizes the importance of lore. While I personally consider that to be a negative, it does allow one to jump straight into the action without worrying about each nation's background or anything.
Advance Wars is a fun, fairly light hearted strategy game. It starts off extremely easy, but the last three or four missions will provide some legitimate challenge (especially the last one, dear god). It's not a gritty, serious war story, so if that's what you're wanting, look elsewhere, but the strategy gameplay is solid, and it's definitely a lot of fun to play. You can also save in the middle of battles, so it's perfect for short bursts (or save scumming if you're like me and suck at games). Given the ease of access on Wii U, I'd definitely recommend a playthrough for folks who enjoy strategy games especially if you're also a general fan of Nintendo.
My Rating - 4 Neps
One of the great things about my Everdrive GBA is that someone made a Game Gear emulator for it. I have a Game Gear as well as the Master System/Master System card/Game Gear adapter for my Retron 5, but what I don't have is the ability to acquire some of the prohibitively and out of reach Game Gear imports - Panzer Dragoon Mini, for example, a Japan-only Game Gear exclusive that seems to fetch prices around $300 and up on eBay these days.
Panzer Dragoon Mini plays almost exactly like its Saturn counterparts just scaled down to fit the capabilities of Sega's handheld. I'd heard all sorts of gloom and doom about how bad it is online, but having played through, I can't imagine why. It's not a masterpiece or anything, but it's quite a competent game for the system, and I had a lot of fun playing through it. It's broken into five stages each of which is composed of random enemies that attack you, usually a mini boss with some more enemies following, and then an end boss. The final stage is largely a boss rush with an extremely brief interlude and a handful of enemies before the next boss.
I'll be the first to admit that my experience with the Game Gear isn't particularly extensive, but of the Game Gear games that I have played, this is definitely one of the better looking ones. The sprites are fairly simple as are the backgrounds, but the scaling gives a nice impression of a three dimensional environment, and the colors and animations are all well done. I was playing this one in public without headphones, so I can't speak to the sound effects or music, but as far as the visuals and gameplay go, it's a great game. The criticism it frequently gets online is totally bizarre to me.
Panzer Dragoon Mini is a seriously good handheld game to play if you have an hour or two to kill. My playthrough took just a bit over an hour - maybe 70 or 75 minutes if I had to guess. The visuals are nice and colorful, and while the artstyle does takes a super deformed approach to the dragons, it fits with the handheld and looks totally fine. It plays well and controls fine, and with a password after each stage and three difficulty settings, it's a very accessible game for players of varying skill levels. Given the hefty price tag, most folks won't get to experience this one, but if you're open to emulation or Everdrives, then I strongly suggest playing this one if you're a fan of on rails shooters. For me, at least, Panzer Dragoon Mini did not disappoint.
My Rating - 4 Neps
When I recently bought an Everdrive GBA, the very first thing I did was start loading promising-sounding Pokemon ROM hacks, and of all the ones I downloaded, Pokemon Vega looked to be the most promising. One of the things I was looking for was a hack with well designed Fakemon, the community-given name for new Pokemon a hacker creates and puts into his or her ROM hack. From what I'd read, Vega was pretty much the best of the best as far as Fakemon go, so that's where I began. Fortunately, there's an English translation that's readily available given that the hacker is Japanese.
It's obvious from the first few minutes that Pokemon Vega is an exceptionally well made fan hack that had an enormous amount of care and skill put into it. It's an all new region, about half of the Pokemon in the game are Fakemon, and something like a half or a third of the real Pokemon had to be added in by the hacker as they're from DS and later generations (I think they're all or mostly Gen IV). Not only that, but the game features a handful of entirely new moves. Despite all this, it feels completely natural; one could be forgiven for mistaking it for a legitimate Pokemon game made by Game Freak. No half-assed sprites, no only-somewhat-tweaked world map, no obviously self-insert characters. It all feels completely natural and organic. The best part, though, is undoubtedly the creation of the most glorious Pokemon past present, or a future, and the TRUE evolution of Pikachu - the almighty Electric/Fighting type, Machu (pictured above from the intro sequence)!
Story-wise, Vega picks up where its predecessor, Pokemon Altair and Sirius, left off. As such, there are references to the protagonist's exploits in Hoenn from Altair and Sirius, but there are never any tie-ins major enough to necessitate playing the previous game; I've never touched it, and I had no problem following what was going on aside from not knowing what the "Hoenn Catastrophe" referenced a few times was. I've also seen a lot of folks on Pokemon ROM hack forums suggest just skipping straight to Vega as it's apparently a FAR superior game (which makes sense given that the hacker would have honed his skills a lot during the production of Altair and Sirius).
You start the game immediately encountering new Fakemon as your starter choices are all new. Your fire starter ends up Fire/Steel, your water starter ends up Water/Poison, and your grass starter ends up Grass/Flying. I won't go into details of the story as it's actually one of the more interesting ones I've seen in a Pokemon game (although not quite as interesting to me as Diamond/Pearl or Black/White), but be warned - this game is BALLS hard. Expect gym leaders to be 10 to 15 levels above you when you get to a new town while the surrounding Pokemon are going to be 10 to 15 levels below you, making grinding a pain in the ass. There also exists a fan hack of the fan hack called Vega Minus that is essentially exactly the same except that gym leader and Elite Four levels have been lowered so that they're only 5 to 10 levels above you. That's the version I played because I'm impatient when it comes to grinding, and even with the lower (read: less brutally high) difficulty of Minus, it's still an extremely tough Pokemon game that took me about 68 hours to beat (and by beat, I mean clear the Elite Four and become the new Champion).
While Vega is extremely difficult, it's absolutely worth while. It's a hack of FireRed which I, personally, consider to be the best game in the Pokemon series (although it FireRed/LeafGreen and HeartGold/SoulSilver always swap for #1 every few weeks for me), so it's already got that going for it. Even with those, though, I'd still say it's a better Pokemon game than any of Game Freak's Pokemon games after the GBA era (except for the aforementioned Gen II remakes). It's not for the faint of heart or those unwilling to bash your heads against a brick wall grinding, but it's absolutely worth the struggle if you have the patience. Everdrive, emulator, reproduction cartridge, whatever - however you do it, just play this game if you're a Pokemon fan.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
I have a lot of feelings about the Kelvin timeline in Star Trek. I've been watching Star Trek literally my entire life. I don't like prequels, and I don't like alternate timelines; Jar Jar Abrams' reboot film is both, and this game takes place shortly after that movie. So how does this 2013 Star Trek game stack up for a long-time Star Trek fan and a Prime timeline elitist? Well...it's not terrible.
Have you played Gears of War? Imagine that with the steroids and chainsaws removed and replaced with space ships and Vulcans. Throw in a pinch of unpolished game mechanics, and that's basically Star Trek. It's a third person cover based shooter geared towards co-operative multiplayer in the same fashion as Resident Evil 5 - two protagonists one of which is AI controlled if playing solo. Unlike Shiva in Resident Evil 5, however, Spock is not helplessly stupid and a bigger threat to you than the final boss. Also unlike Resident Evil 5, Star Trek is actually rather fun to play.
Unfortunately, being a licensed movie ti-in game, Star Trek is just pretty good. It's not great. It's not memorable. It's not innovative. It's fun, but it's little more than a decent way to pass time. It doesn't offer an experience of any true depth. I only played solo, so it may well be a fantastic co-op experience, but from my time with the game, it was good, but not amazing. It looks nice. It plays decently although the cover mechanics are annoying and not nearly as smoothly polished as Gears of War or Mass Effect. If you're a fan of the Abrams movie, then you'll probably really like it. If you're a fan of real Star Trek, you'll probably find the game decent but annoying.
Star Trek is an enjoyable game, but it's an extremely okay game. It's a run of the mill cover based third person shooter that doesn't really do much wrong, but it also doesn't really do much right. It's an enjoyable enough romp for Star Trek fans, but for folks who aren't fans of the franchise, there really isn't a lot to offer as there are much, much better cover based third person shooters. If you find it for less than $5, then it's probably a worthwhile play, but otherwise, I wouldn't bother.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS, OSX, and Windows
Let me preface this by saying that I've neither read nor seen any of Game of Thrones. Aside from the internet's saturation of "Winter is coming" memes, I had no exposure to the series whatsoever before this game. With that said, it's important to note that my impression of Telltale's Game of Thrones series comes from a total newcomer to Game of Thrones rather than established fans who are familiar with the source material.
If you've played any of TellTale's series, then you know how Game of Thrones goes from a gameplay perspective. You make some choices, talk to a bunch of people, realize that your choices were stupid and kick yourself mentally for the next four hours, do some quick time events, and repeat. Game of Thrones is entirely keeping with the established norm for TellTale's narrative series, and that's what makes it so damn good. Like their other series (at least the ones I've played), the character development is so incredibly well done that you really do grow attached to them, and because it's Game of Thrones, their inevitable gruesome deaths hurt all the more because of it.
You play as some random soldier dude - I don't remember his name, so we'll call him Greg - on the eve of some big event (I think maybe the apparently infamous Red Wedding?) when you're attacked out of nowhere by ninjas or something. Well, it was just another regular army attacking your army, but it was a cripplingly effective surprise attack, so I'm going with ninjas. Anyway, after you escape from the ninjas, you make your way back home just to be told "Hey, you're our scapegoat. Off to the certain-death exile place with you!" to serve on a suicide mission. From there, the story revolves around the noble family that Greg was serving and the lord's children through their various exploits. At one point or another, you play as all of the kids except for the adorable younger daughter. You learn about the world, the politics, the places, and the characters that inhabit that world. Then you scream, cry, and sometimes throw your controller in rage when they meet their inescapable and tortuously well voice acted demise.
As is the case with the Game of Thrones novel and TV series from what I've been led to believe, this game plays with your emotions and revels in putting your heart through an orange juicer. Good luck putting the controller down, though, because the characters and story are just too damn engrossing to stop playing no matter how much pyschological turmoil the game causes you. I have absolutely no attachment to Game of Thrones, and I was still ensnared from the first half hour. It was begrudgingly that I turned off my Playstation after episode four to go to bed. I can't speak for how much long-time Game of Thrones fans would feel about the game, but for a total newcomer who loves a good story and well written characters, this game is a near masterpiece.
TellTale's Game of Thrones is perhaps their best work yet. At the very least, it's second only to their Walking Dead series. It's masterfully written and pulls the player in with or without any previous exposure to the IP. My only complaints with the game (only one of which is a legitimate gripe about this particular game) is that there were some performance issues - I had several instances of crashing - and the fact that season 2 has been delayed multiple times although TellTale insists that it's still happening. Eventually. I cannot recommend this game highly enough. It's worth noting, though, that my friend, Jerome, took exceptional umbrage to the game's toying with his emotions.
Jerome's Rating - 2 Romes
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Life is Strange is one of my absolute favorite choice-driven narrative games, and the prequel, Before the Storm, absolutely did not disappoint. I picked it up on Prime Day when it was like $10, and it quickly proceeded to devour the next three days of my life. It adds a TON of backstory for Chloe and really fleshes out her character, making you appreciate her all the more in the original game.
If you've played Life is Strange, then you know what to expect from Before the Storm. It plays pretty much exactly the same albeit without the time manipulation mechanic. Because it plays, looks, and sounds almost exactly the same, this is going to be a pretty brief review. You play as Chloe going through events about a year before the original game took place. Your choices and interactions with people through each episode affect elements of the story down the line. Some choices have a negligible effect whereas other choices will have severe and widespread consequences. It's that kind of agency and impact on the game world that really take immersion to the next level in my opinion, and the only folks who I've seen do it better than the Life is Strange dev team is TellTale, and being second to them is by no means a bad thing.
In addition to getting a firsthand look at the events that took place immediately prior to Life is Strange, there are several flashback sequences that do a lot of elaborate on the strained relationship between Chloe and her step-father, David, as well as the childhood experiences that helped shape Chloe into the dynamic character she later became. Those flashbacks really help you empathize a bit with Chloe and go a long way towards explaining some of her more questionable decisions. The writing, in addition to being able to evoke some strong emotional responses from the player, is brilliant with its humor both in design and in execution. Not only are there some fantastic joke lines, but they're delivered in a manner and with the timing to maximize their effect whereas such lines are often misused and ruin the mood of a scene.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is everything that a prequel should be. It tells a gripping story, it fills in the backstory of its predecessor while answering some of the lingering questions with which players were originally left, and it tugs at the heartstrings with some incredibly emotionally charged scenes. It doesn't quite reach the stunningly impressive impact of the original game in my opinion, but it is nonetheless a superb follow-up and a definite must-play for any gamer who appreciates well-developed characters, a powerful narrative, and engrossing world-building. I absolutely recommend it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is DLC for XCOM 2, but it's really more "XCOM 2 Plus" than traditional DLC. The core storyline is the same, and all of the content from the base game is untouched, but there's a bunch of extra stuff. Extra abilities, extra missions, three entirely new optional mission lines with end bosses that give some seriously dope weapons. All in all, though, it's really just the base game plus some extras.
Most of the game is the same as XCOM 2, so this is going to be extremely brief; read my review of the base game if you're curious. The visuals haven't had any kind of adjustments nor has the sound design. There is some new voice acting, though, for the new enemy characters, and that's done extremely well. The additions here are all gameplay, and there are three big additions - the three "Chosen" optional bosses, the three resistance factions, and The Lost. The Chosen are naturally the biggest of the three since that was the name of the DLC. The Chosen are three specialized assassins sent to kill the Commander and destroy XCOM, and each of them has a unique fighting style. When defeated, they each drop unique and obscenely powerful weapons; one drops a sniper rifle and pistol, one drops an assault rifle, and one drops a shotgun and sword.
As for the other changes, the Resistance factions tie in with The Chosen. Each Resistance faction gives you some bonus "orders" that are basically passive buffs that you can apply - things like cheaper weapons, faster research, more likely to be incapacitated as opposed to outright dead, etc. You can also send each faction's operatives on missions that run in the background. These missions will give you more credits, speed some research, unlock new research, etc. Among these missions are ones required to find the hideout for each of The Chosen. Each faction also has its own unique soldier class, so it's definitely worth investing some time and attention into each of them.
Despite being arguably the less prominent of those three big additions, my favorite addition is The Lost. Did you ever find yourself playing XCOM and thinking "You know what this game needs? Zombies."? Well, the gods have heard your prayers. The Lost are like a cross between your traditional zombies and the husks from Mass Effect. No one really knows why, but something about the alien technology left over from the war started turning people into creatures that look like zombies, act like zombies, and attack and swarm indiscriminately like zombies. You don't, however, have to worry about turning into one if you're bitten; the cause seems to be some kind of chemical or radiation, not a virus or spore. The Lost serve as a sort of rogue "third" side in battles where they're present. While they definitely go after you harder than they do ADVENT troops, they'll attack whoever's nearest. Another horde is also summoned by any explosion, so try to aim away from cars and keep your grenades on the ship.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is a truly fantastic expansion to a truly fantastic game. Unfortunately, it suffers from big issues; just like the base game, there are a LOT of crashing issues on PS4, and I feel that the DLC is a bit overpriced for what it is. $20 or $25 would be more appropriate in my opinion (hence why I waited until it was on sale for $23 to buy it). Despite that, however, it's still a fantastic experience and makes and already fantastic game incredible. Without a doubt, I recommend downloading it. I'd get it on PC if you have the option as I suspect it's more stable, but no matter how you play it, War of the Chosen is definitely the definitive way to experience the XCOM 2 story. Just be prepared for it to crash. A lot.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Windows
Nurse Love Addiction is basically the perfect visual novel for me (as far as what would actually make it onto a console), and I mean that in all of the creep ways you're probably thinking. Post-secondary students at a nursing school in a story filled with lesbian pseudo-incest (basically the whole "step-sister" trope) and a surprisingly interesting plot albeit one that's a bit slow to get started. Best of all is that there are nine endings, so for super ecchi lords like me, there's enough here to keep you busy for a decent little while.
The basic story of Nurse Love Addiction is that two sisters enroll at a nursing school together for reasons that I can only describe as "anime af." The older sister enrolled because she wrote in a book "I want to be a nurse when I grow up!" when she was a little kid and spend the rest of her life thinking "Well, I wanted to do it when I was a kid, and I don't want to do anything now, so I guess I'll do this!" The younger sister enrolls because she seems hellbent on following the older sister everywhere for the rest of her life. I'm not kidding. When they're there, they meet two particularly bright personalities, a rich girl with a hoity-toity attitude that wouldn't be out of place for a family with a nine digit income and her girlfriend, a blunt-to-a-fault tomboy from a poor family and a motorcycle.
What adds the bit of plot point foreshadowed early on is that your main character has amnesia. As a kid, she at some point hit her head and lost her entire memory. Something something plot devices. I won't say anything more than that because it is a pretty cool story once it gets going, and with the different branches that it can take based on what waifu you pick. Each of the game's five core characters have unique and interesting personalities, and while they do hit the big anime tropes - you've got your tsundere, you've got your borderline yandere, etc - the characters themselves are pretty well written. Unfortunately, the game crashed on me a couple times leading to a couple hours' worth being lost between the crashes.
Being a visual novel, there aren't any moving 3D character models to animate, so some of my pet peeves like hair clipping through shoulders are avoided. As a result, the 2D character images are absolutely fantastic, and the voice acting - all in Japanese, by the way - is great. My only real gripe with the visuals is that there aren't many backgrounds, and for a visual novel that took me around 25 hours to get through, it would have been nice to see a little bit of variety in the image backdrops. Other than that, it looks great. Unfortunately, it does suffer from a bit of the game fatigue problem that a lot of Shin Megami Tensei games have with me - it just lasts too long. It's a really good story with great characters, but it just lasts longer than it probably ought to.
Nurse Love Addiction is a very enjoyable visual novel and one of the few good ones that I've played on Vita. It gets a bit tedious and drags on a bit longer than it should, but it's still a really enjoyable story, and since it's on a handheld that you can just put in sleep mode and then pick up whenever you have five or ten minutes here or there, it's a perfect fit. It's one of the best pooping games I've ever played on Vita. It's not without its flaws, though. I had some crashes, and as I said, it wears out its welcome. I absolutely recommend giving it a download if you see it on sale, though. I wouldn't dish out the money for the Limited Run release like I did unless you collect LRG releases (like I do) or just LOVE ecchi VNs (like I do), but definitely give it a download.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Super Mario Sunshine is, for me, for the Mario IP what Majora's Mask is for Zelda. It's that one game in the series that it seems like most people love but that I just detest. I've got a couple of friends who also didn't enjoy Sunshine, but the general consensus seems to be that this game is fantastic, and I just don't see it.
My most immediate issue with Super Mario Sunshine is that it just feels awkward. Like, maybe it shouldn't, but so many things about this game make me just uncomfortable. Mario's short sleeves. Peach in a short sleeve dress. The fact that Peach, Toadsworth, Bowser, and Bowser Jr all have fully voice acted dialogue. Like, maybe I'm just a crotchety old man who's stuck in his ways, but that stuff just made my skin crawl. The game's mechanics themselves and the setting aren't bad, but the whole thing just felt a little off, and I think that mostly stems from FLUDD. It was a cool gimmick for a while, but it started to feel like it took the emphasis off of the platforming somewhat to focus on that gimmick.
When I think of a Mario game, I think of a platformer that has interesting power-ups that, while extremely helpful, are all completely unnecessary to complete the level. Sure, some level specific gimmicks are great, but that's a level built around a gimmick; the game itself remains pure platforming. Sunshine seemed to replace some of the platforming with the FLUDD gimmick, and nothing highlights that better in my opinion than the complete lack of power-ups. Sure, you can swap between a hover, rocket, and boost nozzle for FLUDD, but those didn't even come close to feeling like actual power-ups. A lot of the levels also felt more like the focus was "squirt this thing with water until this one thing happens" rather than "do this platforming." There are some totally straight up platforming levels, and I loved those even though they got really tough, but most of the game just felt like it had lost its identity.
The game does, at least, look absolutely stunning. It's obvious that they were showing off the Gamecube's hardware prowess with Sunshine because this game looks better than some PS3 and 360 games I've played if you take into account the difference in resolution. The presentation is bright and color, aspects that are core to Mario's identity, and the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. It's just a shame that the game mechanics fell short of the audio and visual performances. Well, the voice acting was also a major negative mark for me because was just creepy and uncomfortable, but that's much more subjective an assessment for me.
I really tried to like Super Mario Sunshine. I played it years ago and hated it, so I let some time pass before trying it again because I really WANTED to like it. I wanted to say "Wow, I was crazy years ago! This game is great!" But it's not. It's definitely not a bad game, but with a pedigree like Super Mario, this isn't up to par. The gimmick takes emphasis away from the platforming, Mario's controls feel less responsive and tight than both past and previous titles, and the bizarre choice to have every major character minus Mario himself fully voice acted with dialogue just comes off as awkward. I think it's a game that every dedicated Nintendo gamer has an obligation to play at least once, but I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed it.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Windows
Omega Quintet is another love-it-or-hate-it Compile Heart JRPG that, as anyone who's familiar with Compile Heart's games in the past decade or so can tell you, plays exactly like every other JRPG Compile Heart has made. I, personally, think that's a fantastic thing. It also means, however, that you didn't like one of Idea Factory's and Compile Heart's other recent JRPGs, you probably won't like this one, either, since it's basically the same game with different characters.
So the story of Omega Quintet is pretty familiar for Idea Factory fans. There's this world-threatening evil phenomenon that's spawning seven or eight different monsters each of which have approximately half a dozen palette swaps and destroying human civilization, and only a small group of scantily-clad young girls possess the ability to fight this evil. These "Verse Maidens" have the ability to weaponize their voices...or something...which allows them to slay these monsters and sing the portals spawning them out of existence. Yep, it's exactly as stupid as it sounds, but for the specific type of weeb that loves Idea Factory's shenanigans (read: me), it's gloriously stupid. Leading this group of ladies is their "manager" and the main playable protagonist, Takt. I say playable, but that's only technically true; he's "your" character and who you run around as in your home base, but he isn't usable in dungeons, and he's only usable in battle in a support role, adding an occasional weak bonus attack or taking some of the damage of an enemy attack for your party characters.
The gameplay is your pretty standard modern turn based JRPG. You pick a character to be the "leader" of the group who becomes the character you see while running around, and you explore dungeons to find items, plot flags, and bosses. There are no random encounters instead opting for Idea Factory's recent norm of having contact with monsters in the dungeon start a battle. When you get in the battle, the combat is pretty standard. Rather than having a "your turn/enemy turn" format, the turns are based on each individual character's stats and actions. You get a certain number of action points each turn, and the more of those you use, the longer it will be until your next turn. If you just use one action and then defend, your character's next turn will come a lot sooner than if you used all four of your hypothetical action points to attack. There are some other nuances - using "Harmonize" to have all of your characters attack repeatedly one after another in a giga-combo of death - but that's the basic. You have four basic types of attacks. First if your regular attack that doesn't use any energy. Then you have magic attacks which use special energy and have particular elemental affinities. Third are your "mic" attacks which also use special energy but are based on the type of weapon you have equipped rather than a specific element. Fourth are a kind of special or super attack. These are technically still mic attacks, but in addition to using a large amount of special energy, they also use "Voltage" which can be charged up to 5 points by dealing and taking damage. These aren't attacks you'll use often because of the voltage and energy requirement, but they deal devastating damage when you do use them.
When I mentioned the mic attacks, I mentioned that they were based on what type of weapon you're using. There are six (but really five) types of weapons. The type that I don't really count is the sword because only Takt can use that weapon type, and that's also the only weapon type that Takt can use. The other five types, however, can be used by any of the five girls and can be changed at any time though each weapon has an affinity stat with each girl that can be leveled up by using that weapon type and determines how many action points they get. These five weapon types are the battleaxe, the spear, the sniper rifle, the brass knuckles on steroids, and the fan. Each of these weapons have varying levels of effect based on distance between the character and the enemy.
Your battles are broken down into 8 "levels" with regards to field positions. There are five rows on which enemies can be, and your characters are on three rows. In general, you'll want your longer ranged characters like those with sniper rifles or spears on the back rows, but that's not always the most advantageous place as battles get more complex. Suppose that your enemies are all on the fifth row of the enemy plane causing a serious drop in damage and accuracy for short range characters even if they're on the front row. That would be too much distance to have your sniper on your back row, so in that case, you'd want to move them up front even though that opens them up to more damage. On lower difficulties, this isn't as much of a concern, but it will make or break a fight on higher difficulties. You can tell a certain weapon or attack's ideal range by the color of the enemy field when you have the attack selected and are choosing a target; green indicates the ideal range, blue indicates a good effective range, yellow indicates a sub-optimal range, and red indicates that it's a seriously out of range attack. Even in the red ranges, your attacks will still do damage, but they'll suffer big penalties to accuracy and damage upwards of 25%. Likewise, if your attack is in the green range, it will enjoy a boon to accuracy and damage upwards of 25%.
My biggest problem with the game is the character development. They're almost all ass holes. Seriously, like they're all total jerks to each other. They'll have moments now and then of being cute or sweet, but for like 90% of the game, they're dicks. I'm totally cool with having one or two characters with generally rude personalities, but it's pretty much the entire cast of the game. The only one who's mean a minority of the time is Otoha, and that's mostly because everyone's always being mean to her so she's the target more than the one doing the targeting. It just kind of put a damper on what would otherwise have been a cute harem titty anime game. >_< The game DOES, however, feature a separate set of hit points for your character and your character's clothes, and when those outfit hitpoints reach zero, then you've got a cute anime girl fighting in her underwear. I love this game. :') There's also a music video choreography minigame of sorts, but it didn't seem to have much effect on the core game, so I never really messed with it.
Omega Quintet is a pretty standard Idea Factory/Compile Heart JRPG. Have you played Megadimension Neptunia VII? Then you've pretty much played Omega Quintet. There are a couple of little gimmick differences along with the character and setting differences, but in terms of mechanics and actual gameplay, they're pretty much exactly the same. Idea Factory doesn't really push the envelope far, and its games are pretty niche, but if you're like me and dig that niche, then you already know that this is a great game. My one big complaint is the ending. There's a normal ending and a true ending, and the normal ending is...not really an ending. It's basically "After the final battle, nothing changed, so let's keep killing monsters to protect the city!" That's it. No resolution whatsoever. Other than THAT, though, I had fun. I'm probably being a little more generous with this score than I should be, and I did start to feel a little bit of game fatigue towards the end, but all in all, I really enjoyed Omega Quintet and the few little unique elements it had. I'd recommend it for fans of titty anime games.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4
Red Dead Redemption is a game that I hear about all the time and have for years, but I never hear much the predecessor, Red Dead Revolver. What little I had heard was "It's not nearly as good as Redemption" and "Just don't bother with it." Well, that sounds like heresy to me, so I stubbornly insisted on playing the first game in the series despite the lack of narrative connection to Redemption and despite the near-universal suggestions to skip it.
The basic story of Red Dead Revolver is that you're the son of a Native American woman and a rugged white cowboy fella, but some bad dudes come to kill your folks. Naturally, being a video game protagonist, you set out on a quest to kill everyone involved in your parents' murders and find out the truth of why they were killed. From there, the game consists of a series of levels that involve shooting a bunch of bad guys with the occasional boss fight as well as a quickdraw duel every now and then. The problem with the quick draw duels is that it just feels abrupt and kind of shoehorned. Y'all remember how just awkward and out of place the katana fights felt in Red Steel for Wii? Like, why can't I just shoot him with this SMG I have? That's how these duels felt to me. I already have a lever action rifle out, and I'm already hiding in cover. Why am I going to get out of cover, square off with this guy, and do a quick draw?
Visually, the game looks great running in 480p over YPbPr, and it sounds great, too, although the voice acting is a bit hit or miss (more misses than hits). The controls can be a bit touchy and finicky especially where taking cover is concerned, but it's nothing that will kill the game for you. There are, however, a fair number of rather silly bugs and a few irritating bugs (and features that really ought to be considered bugs despite being intentional). Things like aiming three inches past a wooden wall and yet still shooting the wall, trying to climb up onto a rock and grasping the air in front of the rock, etc. The rest are just really questionable design choices. Why can this guy survive six bullets to the face? Why does this Mexican general sound like Ol' Bubba from the trailer down the road? Why am I fighting an army of midget clowns? Why are random civilians running around like chickens with their heads cut off while I'm chasing this one dude around this small down exchanging gunfire instead of hiding which causes them to run RIGHT in front of my gun, get themselves killed before I even realize what happened, and force me to restart the damn level? I'm a little salty.
Red Dead Revolver really isn't as lackluster as my friends had made it out to be, but I can't say I disagree with their conclusion of "skip it." It's a fun Western shooter, but there's as much frustration as there is fun. I'd still recommend it for fans of third person shooters or of games set in the American West, but for the average player who just wants a good time and is neutral about the genre and/or setting, there are better ways to scratch that itch (I recommend Red Steel 2 on Wii). Overall, though, it's definitely not a bad game, and there's absolutely some fun to be had, but it only barely rises above "okay."
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Vita, Ouya, Android, iOS, Linux, OSX, and Windows
When I was in elementary school, my favorite days where the days that my teacher would take us to the computer lab and let us play Math Blaster or Oregon Trail. I loved Oregon Trail, and I still think it's a fantastic game 25+ years later. When I was in college, I discovered Super Amazing Wagon Adventure on the Xbox 360 indie storefront, and I wasted dozens of drunken hours on that game with friends. Now we have the zombie apocalypse parody take on Oregon Trail - Organ Trail.
The basic goal in Organ Trail is pretty much the same as that of Oregon Trail; you have to make your way westward across the United States to get to Oregon because there's supposedly a safe haven from the zombies in the northwestern United States. There are huge chunks of the country that are irradiated from what I assume to be nuclear containment attempts, and during your journey, you'll get choices on which routes to take. Do you take the shorter route through the irradiated zones, or do you take a longer route that uses more resources and exposes you to more zombie risk in favor of not having to deal with radiation sickness? It's that kind of cost/benefit analysis element that REALLY makes the game intriguing for me.
The visuals are done in a pseudo-8-bit style, but given that it's supposed to be a parody of an early 90s PC game, it works brilliantly. As you travel from landmark to landmark, you have to keep an eye on your supplies, and that's more than just gas, food, and bullets; you have to consider spare tires, spare car batteries, medkits, and the overall HP of both your party members as well as your station wagon. You also, naturally, have to contend with illnesses like dysentery and typhoid but also radiation poisoning and - of course - zombie bites. All in all, it does an EXCELLENT job of capturing all of the gameplay functions of the original Oregon Trail. Instead of fording rivers, you have to drive through hordes of zombies, and instead of hunting, you have to scavenge for supplies while fighting off zombies.
The fact that there are so many risk vs reward choices to make with regards to your pace and route give the game a lot of replayability, but each landmark also provides you with optional missions to complete. Some of these aren't at all worth it - a mission ranked "suicidal" with a reward of one tire - but some of them are fantastic - a mission ranked "moderate" with a reward of $80. It's all about how confident you are at shooting zombies and how much you need whatever resource it is that the mission gives as a reward. It's really a fantastic take on Oregon Trail that seamlessly integrates the zombie theme. A lot of "-insert game- but with zombies!" games feel haphazard and like the zombies are shoehorned in just for the sake of the fad, but that's not the case with Organ Trail. If you'd never played or heard of Oregon Trail, this would feel like a simplistic but completely competent indie game.
Organ Trail is, at its heart, Oregon Trail with zombies. It's for that very reason that it's fantastic. The difficulty settings make it a little more approachable to total newcomers than the original Oregon Trail, but given that those difficulties range from "Don't an idiot, and you'll live" all the way up to "Abandon hope all ye who enter," few will find themselves lacking challenge. It's a seriously addicting game, and given that it's available on just about every system except Xbox's and Nintendo's, there are few who are without a way to play this gem.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Game of the year 2018 right here, guys. I had been curious about the "free game" included with Shaq Fu that the cover advertised, but I didn't think much of it after I finished the game. Let me tell you a story about how greatly I underestimated that little inconspicuous part of the cover. I usually lie in bed scrolling through Twitter or Facebook at night, and one night, I evidently fell asleep while scrolling through Twitter. I woke up around 3 or 4 in the morning, and thought "Man, what a crazy dream I had. I dreamt that they added Barack Obama DLC to Shaq Fu. Weird." So I got up to make a sandwich like I always do when I wake up in the middle of the night, and that "dream" keeps nagging at me, so I decide to grab my Switch and just check. Just in case. Lo and behold, it wasn't a drunken fever dream but a glorious reality! I'd apparently read a tweet about Barack Fu right as I fell asleep, so upon waking, I thought it had been a dream. I've never been so happy to be wrong.
If you've played the base Shaq Fu game, then you know how Barack Fu plays. It's not long - only about an hour or so - but you play as Barack Obama going to the "Paris Fashion Weak" to find American rapper and eternal pain in the ass of thinking people everywhere "Con-Ye" and force him to shut the hell up. Along the way, you're forced to fight a veritable army of stereotypical Frenchmen wielding baguettes, absurdly dressed models, and even a sub-boss parody of Marine La Pen, Emmanuel Macron's fascist opponent in the 2017 French presidential election. Throughout all of this, Obama drops the most amazing puns and one-liners I think I've ever heard in a video game.
In terms of gameplay, while it may play just like Shaq Fu, it's a bit tougher with harder enemies, longer sections between checkpoints, and less forgiving health drops. That's not to say that it's brutally difficult - I only died once in my playthrough, and I suck at games - but it's a good challenge that I found IMMENSELY satisfying. While it doesn't have as many power-ups as Shaq Fu (being, like, 20% of the length), it does have one totally amazing power-up - "Dirty Barry Mode." With this power-up, Obama dons a pair of aviators, pulls out two Uzis, and mows down hordes of enemies. It's...simply beautiful.
Visually, it's obviously identical to Shaq Fu, and while it doesn't have Obama versions of the hella catchy songs the base game has about Shaq, the voice acting is fantastic. It's obviously not the actual Barack Obama voicing the character, but the guy they got to do it sounds JUST like him. All of the speech quirks and mannerisms are there, too, from the frequent pauses to the "Uhhs." It's perfect. I don't know who voiced Obama's character, but whoever it is did a fantastic job.
The game's strongest aspect, as was the case with the base Shaq Fu game, is the writing. It's comedic genius. It's not as excessively meta as Shaq Fu was which I personally find to be a good thing, but the puns and humor are no less brilliant. The story is ridiculous and outlandish in all the right ways, and the dialogue is fantastic. It pokes fun at President Obama's less popular features as well as his endearing ones, and while it's pretty obvious that the developers were Obama supporters, the game is silly and absurd enough that even those who vehemently opposed the 44th president should be able to get full enjoyment from the writing.
Barack Fu: The Adventures of Dirty Barry is pure brilliance as far as humor goes. It looks and plays just like Shaq Fu, but that's not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. It's currently only available to those who purchased a retail version of the game which, while kind of screwing over digital folks, is a big plus in my book because screw digital downloads. Physical games for life, yo. It's only an hour or so long, but it's an hour that could give any stand up or sketch comedy routine a run for its money. I cannot recommend this highly enough, and this is ABSOLUTELY a reason to go buy a physical copy of Shaq Fu right now. I struggled really hard with whether to give this a four or a five, and I was tempted to break my no-half-points rule. In the end, the only thing keeping this game from getting full marks from me is that it's just so short at only two levels. This is too brilliant to be this brief, and it really does deserve its down full length game. Hopefully that will come sometime in the future.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox 360 and Windows
Although I never played the first Just Cause game, I watched a friend of mine from high school play Just Cause 3 a few years ago and thought it looked fantastic. I picked up Just Cause 2 on a whim a while back because it was cheap, and while I have Just Cause 3, I figured it would be better to play this one first so I don't go from 3 to 2 and end up disappointed (god help me, I guess, if I ever end up playing the first one). While there's naturally not as much wanton destruction in this game as I saw my buddy create in the third installment - they are, after all, different console generations - there's still a GLORIOUS amount of carnage and havoc to wreak in Just Cause 2.
The game's story follows the same protagonist from the first Just Cause, Rico Rodriguez, as he travels to the fictional southeast Asian island nation of Panau to overthrow an anti-American dictator. He does this by destroying various government installations, thus creating "chaos," and riling up and empowering the three rebel factions on the island. These factions are the ultranationalist Ular Boys, the communist Reapers, and the mafia Roaches. You pick one of these factions to side with in the final battle, but you'll be working with all three factions during the rest of the game.
Visually, the game looks good for the PlayStation 3. It doesn't push the hardware as hard as The Last of Us or Uncharted 3, but it's still a lovely game graphically. The music is good and fits the feel, but the start of the audio design is the sound effects. Dear god, the explosions sound SO satisfying. Just find a tank or minigun and destroy everything in sight. I could put William Sherman to shame with the destruction I left in my wake. Unfortunately, the voice acting doesn't always match the explosions; the acting is really hit or miss here. Some of the characters are totally fine, but some of the characters - especially the random NPCs - are just bad. Like, not 90s cringe bad, but "this is obviously a white guy trying too hard to sound Asian and it just comes off as kinda racist" bad. Also, while I definitely sided with the communist faction (workers of the world, unite!), the voice actress for the leader made me want to stab myself in the ears with an ice pick with every line. It was terrible.
Just Cause 2 is an absolute must-play for PS3/360 gamer fans of open world murder simulators because it's not just a murder simulator - it's a full blown American-backed terrorism simulator. Yeah, Grand Theft Auto may have hookers and murder and its share of explosions, but Just Cause 2 has quality explosions, not just quantity (although it definitely has the quantity, too). The voice acting is kind of meh, but the story is pretty good, the gameplay is obscenely addicting. You'll be exploring the map, see a previously undiscovered military base, and immediately say "WELL, I GUESS I BETTER GO KILL EVERYONE WITHIN 5 KILOMETERS." Seriously, this game is dirt cheap, and it's a bloody good time (literally).
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Switch, Linux, OSX, and Windows
This review is a few days late, but this was my yay America game last Wednesday. To celebrate Independence Day for the United States, Jerome and I played through all of Broforce start to finish. I wasn't really sure what to expect going in, but after all of about thirty seconds, I was saying "Dear god, literally everything about this game is perfect." And it's true. This is the most perfect and accurate portrayal of the core of the American spirit. And I don't necessarily mean that as a compliment.
Broforce is a pixel art run and gun shooter that brilliantly caricatures American foreign policy and our general "shoot first, ask questions maybe sometime but don't get your hopes up" attitude. It's fun no matter what, but it's definitely best enjoyed with local multiplayer. The plot is absolutely amazing. You're part of an elite American military unit going around the world to deliver freedom and democracy whether folks want it or not. Just as you're starting to run out of terrorists to kill, ALIENS SHOW UP AND INVADE. Of course, being the world's enforcer of justice, America steps in and deploys the Broforce to kick some alien ass. BUT THEN SATAN SHOWS UP. It's stupid. It's beautifully, brilliantly, gloriously stupid.
The visuals are pretty plain being pixel art and all, but they get the detail right in all the right places. Each "bro" on the Broforce is a parody of an action movie hero. You've got Bronan the Brobarian, Brochete, The Boondock Bros, Brommando, Rambro, Broheart, the Brolander, Double Bro Seven....it's amazing. All of the characters are extremely fitting representations of the people they're based on, and the fact that you don't get to choose your bro - you just spawn as a random bro - can be annoying at first but ends up forcing you to use all of the bros and really makes you appreciate the comedic effort that went into the game's development.
The music and sound effects are amazing. Guns have satisfying effects, the music is over the top and awesome, and the explosions look and sound glorious. The gore and blood spray from dead enemies is absolutely fantastic and will definitely please your inner psychopath. As great as the gameplay is, though, the best part is definitely the writing. Each mission has a short blurb giving you some context for why you're going there. They start off sounding reasonable - terrorists are trying to steal weapons or something - and then quickly descend into (depressingly accurate) ridiculousness like "These people are different from us! Kill them!"
I really can't heap enough praise on Broforce. It truly is the greatest multiplayer experience I've had in a LONG time. It's fun, it's hilarious, it's challenging but not (usually) outright BS, and it's a perfect couch co-op game. I can't recommend this highly enough. Download it. Doesn't matter if it's PlayStation, PC, or - once the port is finished and released - Switch. Just buy it. Play it. Love it. BROFORCE!
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3 and Windows
People who know me and my gaming and collecting habits know that I like to collect and play through really notoriously horrible games. Part of why I do it is to be able to judge these games for myself. Part of why I do it is because I hate myself and think I deserve to be tortured (just kidding...but not really). Most of why I do it, however, is because I find them entertaining in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way. If you don't get that reference, you're too young to read this; kindly close the tab. Ride to Hell: Retribution is perhaps more infamous even than Shaq Fu or ET for 2600 and currently holds the second lowest Metacritic aggregate score with a 16 out of 100 (the lowest is Family Party: 30 Great Games Obstacle Arcade for Wii U with a score of 11 out of 100).
Oh god, where to begin with this game? It's an absolute clusterfuck. "Unmitigated disaster" doesn't even begin to describe it. It truly, literally, legitimately is the worst game that I've ever played, and I've played a lot of trash. I guess let's start on the surface - visuals and audio. The game looks like a hot mess. Keep in mind that this game launched in 2013, the same year as the Xbox One. We'd already had Halo 4 and Gears of War 3 completely blow our minds with the amazing visuals that the Xbox 360 could produce, and then we get this mess that could be outperformed by the Wii. I promise that if you used composite cables for both and set both to run 480i on the same TV, you would find stacks of Wii games that look better than this. When you've got a console capable of 1080p against a console that can't do better than 480p, you should never have a game on the former outdone by one on the latter especially not the same year that its successor releases.
Not only does the game look worse than Arnold Ernst Toht's face at the end of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the disaster of its audio design surpasses its visual failure. The music is...okay...but it's unbearably repetitive. Every track is the same three or four measures repeated ad nauseam. The real crime here - and as far as I'm concerned, it constitutes a crime against humanity - is the voice acting. Even if we include early 90s voice acting and FMV acting, the voice acting in this game is abhorrent. When I reviewed Chasing Dead, I SLAMMED that game for its downright insulting acting, but Ride of Hell blows that game out of the water. I didn't think such a thing was possible in a game actually sold for money on major platforms, but the acting is even worse than Chasing Dead's. Some characters' voice acting is physically painful to hear. The audio balance is so bad in some places that the music completely drowns out the dialogue, and some lines are just totally silent despite the character's lips' moving although those things might be more a blessing than a curse given the quality.
The story, while mundane and cliche in concept, had some potential to be at least passable. The execution and lack of any character development whatsoever ruined that, though. You play as Jake, a soldier who's just returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, on a quest of vengeance to - single handedly - destroy the entire Devil's Hand biker gang. This gang controls literally almost the whole state (whatever state it is; from the environment, I'd guess Arizona, New Mexico, or Nevada, but the game never specifies), and this one pissed of veteran on a motorcycle kills everyone in it. I'm all for suspension of disbelief in games, but having no actual help? That's...a bit much.
Even with how crappy the game looks, how awful it sounds, how horrible the voice acting is, and how pathetic the story is, none of those are even the worst aspects of the game (although the voice acting does come pretty close). The game's worst aspect is the performance. The damn thing just doesn't work half the time. I mean, technically it's playable, but it's an absolute broken mess. Sonic Boom and Assassin's Creed Unity both look like competent, well polished games next to this mess. Some enemies' arms will inexplicably stretch like Mr. Fantastic when they're killed, dead enemies will start to have seizures, and explosions' splash damage seems completely arbitrary. Riding the motorcycle is a complete crapshoot if hitting something will make you restart or just let you clip through it, aiming is a pain with how jerky and stiff the controls are. The load times are reminiscent of the Neo Geo CD, and textures just pop in whenever they feel like it. Or they don't. Sometimes they don't, and characters will just go through a whole cut scene looking blurrier than an early Nintendo 64 game. Sometimes the game will just - perhaps mercifully - get fed up with its own incompetence and crash entirely. The frame rate hits an ABSOLUTE maximum of about 25, but it normally hovers between 15 and 20 fps. Even with a frame rate that low, dips are extraordinarily common. You'd think you're trying to run Crysis 3 on Windows XP. I mean, yeah, technically it works, and it's possible to play the game, but dear god, good luck keeping your sanity through the plethora of control issues and downright inundation of bugs and performance problems.
I'm a really progressive guy in most cases, but I usually make pretty generous exceptions for video games at least with regards to violence and characterization. Some characters are ass holes, and that's often necessary for the plot. A character is a raging racist? As long as the game's entire point isn't "black people suck" or something, I'll overlook that because usually, a racist character is in a game to make a point or provide a character foil or something. Some of my favorite games could probably be considered downright chauvinistic with how severely anime girls are objectified. Seriously, Gal*Gun and Moe Chronicle alone are enough for people to be justified in saying that I'm a shitty feminist, and I can't disagree. With all of that in mind as context for this next statement...dear god, this game has just about the most screwed up and offensive portrayal of women that I've ever seen in a game (except, of course, the infamous Custer's Revenge and Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em). Every single girl in the entire game (except for one at the end) is half naked, and they all end up sleeping with Jake (although this is, quite awkwardly, done while still fully dressed). They ALL play the "damsel in distress," they're all submissive to the men in the game, and none of them seem capable of doing anything for themselves; they have to have a male character to help them with everything. Like, dear god, at least the objectified anime girls in the games I love have strong and pretty independent personalities. These girls are like worst of both worlds - half naked 24/7 AND entirely dependent and submissive.
There's literally nothing redeeming whatsoever about Ride to Hell: Retribution. It might be entertaining to make fun of if you're drunk and playing it with friends who are also drunk, but in terms of objective critique, there's literally absolutely nothing about the game that can possibly be praised. The graphics are crap. The voice acting is crap. The story is crap. The characters are crap. The gameplay is crap. The combat is crap. The driving is crap. Everything is crap. This is literally the worst game I've ever played.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
Assassin's Creed Syndicate was Ubisoft's first foray into making a main series Assassin's Creed game on 8th gen hardware that isn't more broken than Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations. It's still pretty Ubisoft (that's not meant as a compliment), but it doesn't have the catastrophic bugs that plagued Unity, and it's second most fun Assassin's Creed game to date after Black Flag.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate takes place in London in the late 1860s during the reign of Queen Victoria. The Templar Grand Master in London has complete control of pretty much every aspect of British life and government, and despite repeated pleas from the Assassin watching over London, Henry Green, the Assassin council seems adamant that it's not yet time to strike the Templars there. So, being stubborn and impulsive young adults, twin protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye say to hell with the council and go to London on their own to start killing Templars and undoing their allegedly sinister machinations.
Syndicate managed to hook me by giving me the one thing I crave most in games (other than waifus) - the ability to conquer territory from rival gangs/nations/factions and command squads of gang members/soldiers/lackeys to fight with me. I LOVE that, and when it said "Hey, conquer the various boroughs of London," I squeed audibly. You don't NEED to conquer London, but it makes things easier by having Templar goons replaced with your goons, and...I mean, who DOESN'T want to murder hundreds of bad guys and conquer a city in the process? It's also a great way to earn experience to unlock new skills as well as money and resources to upgrade your gang, craft equipment, or upgrade your equipment.
The actual story in the game is decent. You're going after this Templar Grand Master, and to do that, you need to take out his underlings to weaken his hold on London and find out how to get close to him. You COULD just do these missions and skip the others, but you'd be missing some pretty awesome content. In one game, you can please your inner believer in science by helping Charles Darwin, your inner literature nerd by helping Charles Dickens, your inner healer by helping Florence Nightingale, and your inner communist by helping Karl Marx. It's...a beautiful cast of ancillary characters. There are a couple of other characters that I either don't remember or don't care about because who needs anything else when you can help Marx and Darwin? Assassins of the world, unite! You can also help Queen Victoria in the post game, but whatever, she's an imperialist and a capitalist, so who cares? Oh, and there's a hidden portal to World War I in case you want to go help Winston Churchill during his pre-Prime Minster days.
Now that I've gotten my Marxist enthusiasm out of the way, I can talk about how the game stacks up against the train wreck of a game that was Unity. Syndicate is an improvement in literally every way, thank god. Well, almost every way. I though Unity's story had a lot more potential if the execution hadn't been so damn awful, but while being a less interesting concept in my opinion, Syndicate's execution was waaaaaay better from a narrative standpoint. The characters in Syndicate are MUCH more interesting, though. Jacob is a WAY wittier and more sarcastic protag, and Evie is both gorgeous and a perfect foil for Jacob's reckless impulsiveness and his habit of going straight to "kill everything" as the default solution for a problem.
Syndicate also fixes almost all of my issues with Unity's game mechanics. The parkour and auto-jumping are INFINITELY more refined and appropriately responsive than in Unity, and the addition of the zipline in Syndicate makes three dimensional movement a lot easier and more fun. The jumping up and down still aren't perfect, but it's not even in the same league as the mess that Unity had. The combat is also a LOT more fluid than Unity's, and it's more satisfying as well. Visually, Syndicate is a big improvement over Unity. Textures are more detailed, character models look and move much more naturally, and - most importantly - the frame rate is a lot more stable. Again, the performance is still far from perfect, and there are still a lot of very minor Ubisoft bugs, but it's an indescribable improvement over Unity.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate is the Assassin's Creed game that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players wanted and deserved. If Unity was a slap to the face, then Syndicate was a hot stone massage with aromatherapy and a live violinist. Unity still had a lot of fun to be had if you could overlook the major bugs and glaring flaws (even after having had four years to patch and fix), but Syndicate is just plain fun on its own in spite of its bugs. Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a genuinely fantastic game, and I'd readily recommend it even to gamers completely unfamiliar with the series.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox 360
I'm a sucker for B-movie style games. The "so bad it's good" kind of games. To a certain extent, that's what Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is. Unfortunately, I found the game to be more "bad" than "so bad it's good." The potential for a fantastically terrible game is, but they missed the execution, leaving off the "fantastically."
Eat Lead is a cover based third person shooter, and unfortunately, that's where its problems start. I absolutely love third person shooters, but the gameplay here is extraordinarily dull and monotonous. Pretty much the entire game consists of "run into a room, take cover, kill everyone, walk through the newly opened door, repeat." That's it. The only variation is the boss battles which are usually just short quick time events. The only boss battle that felt at all interesting to me was the second to last boss that you had to trick into shooting itself. Even the final boss sucked - it was just three or four MASSIVE hordes of enemies with a control panel to activate between them. You don't actually get to fight the boss himself at all; it's just a cutscene.
The game's story is....interesting. It's a giant parody of video games. You have "Nuke Winters" instead of Duke Nukem, the Master Chef instead of Master Chief, the Mace of Mourning instead of the Hammer of Dawn, etc. In that regard, it's actually pretty clever. Unfortunately the game stars a self-aware video game character whom a pissy corporate CEO is trying to kill off my spawning random swarms of enemies into his new game to force the character to die permanently. I'm all for suspending my disbelief with even some outlandish situations, but this one is just a stretch. Just delete the game files. Poof, character gone. Archive the character and stop making games with the IP. Sega is BRILLIANT at doing that. It basically feels like if Hyperdimension Neptunia were a shooter with all the waifus replaced by machismo guys and made by Americans who try waaaaay too hard to be funny.
The music is good, and the voice acting is actually pretty good with a decent cast featuring a few fairly well known actors. Unfortunately the visuals don't match the audio. It looks like any random Wii shooter just upscaled to 720p. That's not a knock on the Wii, but given how much more powerful the PlayStation 3 was than the Wii, you'd expect more of a visual improvement than a 30% resolution boost. It looks fine, but it's not even close to living up to the PS3's graphical capabilities. Normally when a game looks far below what a system is capable of, it's because the developers wanted to go for solid performance. If that were the case here, the visuals would be totally understandable, but the game runs like crap, too. Sometimes it keeps a good 30 fps, but at seemingly random times with little happening on screen, it will start to just churn, dropping to around 10 fps. I get that frame rate drops aren't uncommon especially on consoles, but for a game to look "meh" and still have severe performance issues in even low stress situations, there's not much excuse.
For fans of super cheesy B-movie games like me, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard had a lot of potential. It just LOOKS fantastically terrible, like a Steven Segal movie with more machine guns. Much to my dismay, it lives up to very little of that potential. The script is on point, but the execution overall is a mess. It looks bad, it plays bad, and the one thing that could have redeemed this into a fun experience - co-op play - is nowhere to be seen. So close, yet so far, Vicious Cycle Software. You know the phrase "Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you'll land among the stars" you often seen on posters in schools? Well, they shot for the moon, but instead of landing among the stars, they're spinning out of control through the void of intergalactic space.
My Rating - 2 Neps
I'm a teacher.
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 high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.