Super Mario Odyssey Launches October 27, E3 2017 Trailer

1.jpg

Join Mario on a massive, globe-trotting 3D adventure and use his incredible new abilities to collect Moons so you can power up your airship, the Odyssey, and rescue Princess Peach from Bowser’s wedding plans! This sandbox-style 3D Mario adventure – the first since 1996’s beloved Super Mario 64 and 2002’s Nintendo GameCube classic Super Mario Sunshine – is packed with secrets and surprises, and with Mario’s new moves like cap throw, cap jump, and capture, you’ll have fun and exciting gameplay experiences unlike anything you’ve enjoyed in a Mario game before. Get ready to be whisked away to strange and amazing places far from the Mushroom Kingdom!

Features:

• Explore huge 3D kingdoms filled with secrets and surprises, including costumes for Mario and lots of ways to interact with the diverse environments—such as cruising around them in vehicles that incorporate the HD Rumble feature of the Joy-Con controller or exploring sections as Pixel Mario.

• Thanks to his new friend, Cappy, Mario has brand-new moves for you to master, like cap throw, cap jump and capture. With capture, Mario can take control of all sorts of things, including objects and enemies!

• Visit astonishing new locales, like skyscraper-packed New Donk City, and run into familiar friends and foes as you try to save Princess Peach from Bowser’s clutches and foil his dastardly wedding plans.

• A set of three new amiibo figures*—Mario, Princess Peach and Bowser in their wedding outfits—will be released at launch. Some previously released amiibo will also be compatible with this title. Tap supported amiibo to receive gameplay assistance—some amiibo will also unlock costumes for Mario when scanned!

SEGA Releases New Sonic Forces Trailer and Key Art

1.jpg

Today, SEGA revealed Sonic Force’s exciting new key art along with the latest trailer. The trailer features an all-star cast of Sonic villains and introduces a brand-new powerful, mysterious enemy, Infinite. Infinite joins Eggman’s evil group of henchmen in Sonic Forces which includes Chaos, Metal Sonic, Shadow and Zavok who have already taken over the world and are ready to create more next-level panic and disorder.


While more about Infinite will be revealed in the future, other villains making an appearance in today’s trailer include:

Doctor Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik: The original Mad Genius Doctor, and Sonic’s nemesis. After countless failed attempts, his plan to take over the world seems to finally be succeeding.

Chaos: An ancient power thought to have been quelled after the events of Sonic Adventure. His return is a mystery.

Shadow: Once called “The Ultimate Life Form”, Shadow fights for his own reasons. He appeared in Sonic Adventure 2.

Metal Sonic: One of the evil doctor’s most powerful creations, Metal Sonic first appeared in Sonic CD, and has returned at a few key moments since.

Zavok: The leader of a group known as The Zeti, Zavok is a powerful warrior who was first seen in Sonic Lost World.

Sonic Forces will be available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, & PC this Holiday.

Review: Vanquish

1.jpg

After 7 years, Vanquish has finally come to PC, thus allowing so many people to try out what is supposedly, according to many, one of the best cover shooters ever released up until this day. Following the extreme success of the PC release of Bayonetta on Steam, Vanquish was also met with great success and enthusiasm by most people, even despite the crippling framerate bug which has since then been fixed.

Vanquish is an extremely fast-paced third-person shooter with a heavy focus on a cover system, that’s published by SEGA and developed by both Platinum Games Inc. and Little Stone Software. You play as Sam Gideon, a researcher who works for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and who’s currently testing an Augmented Reaction Suit, which provides the framework for the many game mechanics, such as bullet-time and boosting.

In terms of actual story, even though it appears that the game features the usual plot involving modern-day USA and Russia fighting each other, it does provide some interesting twists which spice things up a little bit. In any case, the story is not the game’s strongest suit by any stretch of imagination. The game exhibits what appears to be little tidbits of information regarding the universe of Vanquish and its characters during the loading screens but, at least on my system, the loading screens barely take more than a second so I never manage to read any of that. Making the player have to press a key in order to proceed would’ve been very suitable here, since reading speed tends to differ a lot from person to person.

1.jpg

The gameplay is where Vanquish really shines. Moving around and shooting handles perfectly with keyboard and mouse, and the game offers the option to rebind keys and individual mouse sensitivity options for looking, aiming and zooming, so that you can configure the controls to make them more suitable for you. While the game is strictly a corridor shooter, the gunplay and movement system are heated enough to always keep you on your toes. In terms of movement, besides the obvious running around, the game relies heavily on boosting and evading in your to remain alive. Amongst other things such as the laser cannon, boosting, which involves you using your suit’s thrusters to slide around at high speeds, overheat your suit. Whenever your suit overheats, you’re more exposed to incoming damage and you have to wait for it to cool down. With that said, when boosting you can trigger your suit’s AR mode, until your suit overheats, which slows down time and allows you to better react to your surroundings, even allowing you to dodge bullets and other projectiles. Likewise, whenever you receive a lot of damage, your suit will automatically trigger its AR mode.

In regards to the actual shooting element, it wouldn’t feel as good as it does if it weren’t for the bullet-time element and the cover system, since both are vital for you to succeed, run and gunning is not going to get you anywhere. As far as weapons go, you can have up to three different weapons on your inventory at any given time, as well two types of grenades. In any case, you’ll be able to switch weapons if you ever come across a new one during missions, and equipping the one you’ve just found will replace the one that you had on your hands. In the same sense, the game also features weapons upgrades that you can pick up, and these will also upgrade the weapon you currently have equipped. As for weapon variety, the game has a wide range of weaponry at your disposal, such as a rocket launcher, a disc launcher, an assault rifle, a heavy machine gun, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a laser cannon, amongst many others. Unfortunately, while grandes tend to be pretty useful in certain situations, it’s a shame to see that there’s not that much variety to them, since you only have access to fragmentation grenades and EMP emitters, which temporarily disables enemy units. You can also resort to melee if the need arises, which despite being extremely powerful, also overheats your suit.

1.jpg

Considering this was originally a console title, I was very glad to see that a pretty decent amount of effort was put into the PC version. The options menu offers separate audio sliders for music, sound effects and voices, the ability to use inverted controls, as well as subtitles, which as someone who has English as a second language really appreciates. Overall it’s a pretty good PC version, at least right now, given that the famous bug where you’d take increased damage if your framerate was very high has been fixed. Besides that you have a pretty extensive graphical options menu, with a series of anti-aliasing, texture quality and filtering and shadow quality options to choose from, amongst some others. Last but by no means least, you can also choose one out of four different difficulty settings, plus an unlockable one called God Hard, which you can get once you beat the game in Hard.

While some might argue that the game looks dated, I personally find that this visual style, which is very characteristic to asian developers, tends to age pretty well, and, to that end, Vanquish still looks fairly good in today’s day and age. As far as the overall audio and the soundtrack go, I didn’t find them particularly special nor worth giving praise, they’re decent enough and get the job done. In addition, the voice acting feels extremely corny at times, while, for the most part, it’s just serviceable. On that note, while each character is unique on its own, they fall under the category of cliche type of characters you’d expect to find on an action shooting game, especially one that puts the USA and Russia against each other.

Despite taking into account that this is a run & gun game, with a cover system of course, the missions don’t offer that much variety in terms of objectives. Pretty much all you’re going to do is go from point A to point B while killing everything in your way, which I guess is fine if it’s done in a way that it’s enjoyable, and Vanquish most certainly is. I played the game on the Hard difficulty setting and the difficulty felt just right, I’m pretty sure had I played it on Normal it would’ve been a lot easier. I thought it provided the right amount of challenge in order for it to be enjoyable. Even though the game takes place in this huge space station colony, which you can see in the background in pretty much every single level, and despite the fact that the game is a corridor shooter at its core, the levels offer enough variety for it to feel unique, and it’s easy to remember a level based on your experience with it.

On the other hand, while it might seem that the game also suffers from a lack of enemy variety at first, this is compensated by the use of the various different types in simultaneous encounters. You’ll often find yourself fighting a bunch of weaker enemies who then are reinforced by bigger and better equipped enemies, which can either take a lot of damage, or which can be easily dealt with if you hit them in their weak spots. This is how bosses are also dealt with, they usually have a bunch of weak spots that you have to shoot in order to be able to strike at their energy core, rinse and repeat.

In the end, Vanquish kind of disappointed me, but I’m sure that’s mostly due to my high expectations which were a result of continuous praise from hardcore fans over the years. Still, it’s a good game overall, but one which enjoyment will vary a lot from person to person. If you’re into third-person cover based shooters, or score based games with multiple difficulty options, you’ll most likely find something to enjoy quite a lot here. Sure enough, it took me about 9 hours to beat the game on the hardest difficulty the game offers for a first playthrough, which feels alright considering the game’s price tag.

Sony and Supermassive Games Announce Bravo Team for PlayStation VR

1.PNG

Bravo Team is a modern-day, first-person cover shooter made exclusively for PlayStation VR. It has been developed by Supermassive Games, creators of Until Dawn and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.

Developed with PS VR Aim Controller in mind, Bravo Team drops the player into a fictional modern day Eastern European city. When an escort mission goes wrong and results in the President’s assassination, a country threatens to tear itself apart… and you along with it.

Teamwork is at the core of the game. Bravo Team has been developed to allow both single player and online two player co-op. The player and a teammate must use everything at your disposal to survive.

Key Features:

Teamwork: Bravo Team has been developed to allow both single player and online 2 player co-op. Verbal communication between players helps to make the decisions you need to survive and avoid (or navigate) enemy detection.

Intense Immersive Action: With the feel of an action movie, Bravo Team offers exciting combat situations, multiple scenario outcomes and a seamless, continuous environment to create a wholly immersive experience.

Total Control: You’ll need to lean round corners to take out targets or duck for cover if under fire. You’ll raise the PS VR Aim Controller to view through the iron sight or hold above your head to blind fire.

Decisions Under Fire: You’ll make constant split-second tactical decisions about when to take cover, when to reload and when to engage. Should you lay down suppressing fire or try a different route? Who takes that new weapon? Players will need to think fast and act quickly to survive.

Review: ARMS

1.jpg

ARMS is Nintendo’s newest attempt to get into the online world of competitive gaming, and I think it’s one of their most earnest so far. Besides having a novel and unique take on an otherwise simple idea, the execution and display is one of my favorites in a community that is normally quite dark and heavy, as least as far as graphics go. But let’s not spend time talking about the others, let’s strap in and talk about ARMS!

First and foremost, the story is a pretty fun take on the “fighting tournament” that seems to permeate so many games. The ARMS tournament is a one on one or two on two arena where fighters with specially modified limbs duke it out for supremacy. This is explained that many of the fighters have special attachments that make their arms extendable and able to curve and bend, with a couple of characters taking a different approach (Twintelle, for example, fights with her hair, and Mechanica uses a robotic suit). The fights rely on the best of three, with characters being able to choose different boxing gloves between rounds. Each fighter starts off with three gloves that you can mix and match however you’d like, and every one has their own advantages and disadvantages. Additionally, you can “power up” your moves to do more damage and each character also has a couple unique abilities. Some of these skills trigger when dashing or jumping, others from taking damage, and yet others from strings of successful hits. With ten characters to choose from, you can really take your time to find someone who best matches your style. I ultimately paired with Kid Cobra, a skateboarding snake-costumed fighter who could duck some attacks while dashing. I was all about the speed.

1.jpg

I really like the approach Nintendo took with this new IP. Like Splatoon before it, they took a stab at creating a new environment with new characters and seem to have knocked it out of the park. People are already arguing over MinMin or Twintelle as the choice ARMS girl, and I think players are going to fall in love with Byte and Barq, the clockwork police duo. Even though there is a strong focus on fighting and blowing each other up, there’s no bloodshed in this cartoony world, though younger kids might still get creeped-out by Master Mummy and some of the fights towards the end of the main storyline mode. The stages, similarly, match the characters and their strengths; Ninjara’s temple stage always places one fighter at the top of the stairs, one at the bottom, and whoever gets the high ground has the advantage. There isn’t a stage that I disliked, and I grew to understand and prepare for all the nonsense that might come from being in Helix’s laboratory.

The main Grand Prix mode involves ten fights in a row, with two of the matches being swapped out for some of the skill-based party games in lieu of traditional fights. The party games may annoy the more serious fighters, as they rely on a totally different set of reflexes. Target shot, for example, is all about being fast and first and hoping your opponent doesn’t keep hitting you with cheap shots while you wait for the next set of targets to pop up. The basketball game is hilarious because you slam dunk your opponent instead of the ball, but that also means you rely on throws; the slower characters have a massive disadvantage when it comes to this game. And the volleyball game seems almost randomized with how well the ball behaves in being swatted around, and you may feel that you got robbed of a successful spike, but who can you complain to?

The Grand Prix also has an adjustable difficulty level. I recommend doing it on level one first just to get the lay of the land and also to improve your confidence, because things take a turn any level higher. And, from a one to a seven, you need to beat the Prix on at least a four to get to play online in ranked mode (normal party online is ready from the word go). Additionally, the Grand Prix gives you a scaling number of ARMS tokens per fight, with the per-match and end-of-tournament bonus going up significantly with each slot of difficulty. And, if you’re going to be playing ARMS competitively, you’re going to want/need those tokens.

As far as gameplay goes, ARMS is excellently diverse in its versatility. You can do two Joy Cons, one Joy Con or a Pro Controller to help navigate and engage with your chosen fighter. It creates a bit of an odd dynamic that I feel will be important to separate if and when ARMS tournaments are held. For the most amount of fun, in my opinion, you want to use the Joy Cons as your left and right arm. The motion controls are very intuitive and feel natural once you get down the rhythm of punching, blocking and dodging. You and a friend/family member look and feel pretty fantastic going head-to-head, and it almost invokes the spirit of Pacific Rim when you’re doing two-on-two with two Joy Con sets. However, using the Pro Controller gives an edge to anyone who’s looking to play competitively. The button layout is also really smooth, and your reflexes of honed gamer fingers will outflank anyone except for someone who actually boxes in the amateur or professional circuit. Great, now I want to see a pro player take on Mike Tyson in ARMS and see what happens. Regardless, these two different playing styles almost create two different games, and I love any game where my child can punch wildly in the air and come out the victor.

1

There’s loads to do in offline, single-player mode, but it’s clear that the shelf life of ARMS will come from the online battling. Nintendo had a great deal of success with keeping it’s lobbies full with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and you need far fewer players on hand in order to enjoy a good punching session. I feel confident that players will have little to no downtime between bouts if they get in on the game around launch.

If I have a complaint about ARMS, it’s the way that additional gloves are unlocked. As it stands now, you need to save up your tokens from fighting and then use them to enter a mini game that varies in length based on how many tokens you spend. The mini game is essentially the skill target from the Versus Mode that occasionally spawns larger barrels which contain the gloves. It’s a bit of skill and chance, and you can only unlock gloves for the character that you’re doing the mini game with (so if you favor only one fighter, this might not be a bad thing). It’s a little annoying and frustrating that the tokens can’t be directly exchanged for the gloves, but I understand that Nintendo still wants players to work a little for more options and variety, and I do appreciate that it’s not an in-app purchase with actual money. Also, this does give me hope for even further variety in gloves with future DLC and/or patches.

I can’t believe Nintendo has done this again to me. The company that’s re-innovated gaming year after year make me excited to box as a snake boy and I can’t wait to play online with friends and family around the globe. If you had even a small amount of enjoyment from the Global Testpunch, you owe it to yourself to check out ARMS in its entirety and get ready for a whole new world of online gaming to open up before you. This really is the year of Nintendo.

Review: Acaratus

1.jpg

Acaratus details the story of Adina, a young woman with a muddle past, and her slave, Bolt. You’re thrown immediately into the action as the duo are on the run and upon their successful escape, they turn to rally an uprising against their pursuer, the tyrannical Emperor Helios? In building her forces, Adina discovers some startling things about her past – particularly her parents, who she had never known, and the man  who raised her in their stead. The story is interesting and told in un-voiced cutscenes by chapter as you encounter story nodes on the map.

Alongside them you’ll encounter nodes where you’ll find battles, towns, points of interest like campfires, where you can recuperate dungeons, and watchtowers, which push back the fog of war, and various merchants.

Traveling to a node takes time and at the top of the screen, you can see the total number of days your campaign has been running. Time effects enemies, so if you spend too much time wandering around an area, they’ll move their position. Time also affects merchants, who will restock their wares after enough time has passed.

Combat is a turn-based affair on a grid. You start at one end of the map, which are quite small in size, and the enemy at the other and both teams move their units, use cards, and launch attacks. Most require you to destroy all units, though a few simply require you to make your way to an  exit point.

Attacks do two types of damage: HP and unit. A single mech is actually a pack comprised of x-amount of people, indicated by rank. You can raise the rank of your mechs in towns via a blacksmith. Your mechs can be destroyed if their unit number hits zero, but units can be replenished at towns and campfires. If an attack only does damage, a single bar of HP will fall–but keep in mind that there is one HP bar per unit in a pack of mechs.

Cards are the game’s way of handling abilities. You have 4 CP at you disposal and it regenerates at the end of every turn. Cards are a consumable object so after using one, it is lost forever. They can easily change the tides of battles, so using them wisely can be the difference between a loss and a victory. You can purchase cards from card vendors, though you’ll receive a pack containing at least one of every available card simply by playing through the story.

Winning battles nets you gold and experience. As Adina levels up, you can select perks that power up your mechs or make exploration more fruitful. Parts only drop after you’ve completed story missions or quests and you typically only get to choose one of three options.

You can manage your cards–a total of 6 at a time–anywhere on the map, but you can only edit your mechs in towns. The bay where you do so allows you to piece together a working suit of armor from parts bought or salvaged from main story missions. The base part for a robot, the core, decides how many extra doodads you can attach and also what weapon proficiencies your mech will have. Additionally, you can attach arms and legs and – core allowing – front, back, and top pieces.

Every part has its own pros and cons, so it’s up to you what will suit your play style. Because there aren’t a large pool of parts to choose from, however, your mechs tend to look the same or similar throughout your playthrough and this feels like a lost opportunity. You can test your various weapons and mech configurations on the training dummies.

Towns offer Blacksmith services, which increase the rank of your units. Rank changes the amount of units you take into battle, which acts as your mech’s hardiness in combat.

You can also visit the Arena in towns. The Arena allows you to complete difficult challenges with a hefty gold reward if you successfully complete the objective.

Dealers are the final amenity offered by towns. These employ an interesting slots-style mini game in which you pay for three spins and then pull the lever. The equipment that you spin can be bought by the gold amount shown, but you can also spin various special effects like “plus rank” or “30% discount” which makes it so that you can pay less or get more bang for your buck. Clicking an item or effect locks it in place, so you can test your luck and try to get that cheap, high level part so long as you have the money for more spins.

The campaign will take you around 8-10 hours to complete depending on skill and whether or not you explore every node or simply bum-rush the story. There are some decisions to be made, but ultimately it’s linear.

There’s also a Skirmish mode. In this mode you choose a play style from one of three, a portrait for your commander from a handful of preset ones, and are given free reign to choose from all of the parts available in the game in order to make your team of up to four mechs and challenge a human or AI opponent on one of 8 possible maps.

The online was down when I tried to access it with the promise that the issue would be fixed soon.

Pros:

  • Giant mechs!
  • Challenging turn-based combat on a grid.
  • Cards and mech customization add a layer of depth to gameplay, allowing you to adapt different approaches.
  • Adina’s perks for levelling up also tailors gameplay.
  • The story is a good read, though some of the character exchanges are a bit stilted.
  • Skirmishes both online and offline offer increased game time.
  • The vendor mini game is an interesting change of pace from the typical vendor NPC exchange.

Cons:

  • Limited pool of parts for mech customization.
  • Graphics seem dated.
  • The maps are small and there’s little variation in backdrop.

Bottom Line:

A very solid attempt at an RPG that could have been fantastic given more funds and polish. It’s worth your support and here’s to hoping the developer continues to add to what’s already here. Mech building is in-depth, but limited by a rather small pool of possible parts and the graphics aren’t the most beautiful, but combat is fun and challenging and the story is intriguing.

Review: Danger Zone

pic.jpg

Whenever I look up Three Fields Entertainment, the indie studio composed of the ex-Burnout developers, I always feel like it was formed just yesterday. But in reality, Three  Fields Entertainment has now been in existence for nearly three years, and in the meantime, they’ve managed to produce three brand new games. First came the rather lacklustre Dangerous Golf, then we had the low-key VR title, Lethal VR, and most recently, just over a week ago, Three Fields Entertainment has released a title which is meant to serve as the spiritual successor to Burnout’s crash mode, Danger Zone.

Danger Zone, just like the previously released Dangerous Golf, is a simple arcade game, which is based around a straightforward high-score system. And each and every level follows the same exact structure, which will remind many of the previously mentioned Crash Mode, from the Burnout series, which many remember fondly to this day, despite the fact that Burnout 3: Takedown, has been released nearly 14 years ago.

pic.jpg

All in-game levels, within the digital confines of Danger Zone, are situated within a computer simulation. All tracks are simple platforms hanging over a laser grid, which decimates everything which manages to touch it, and all the NPC controlled vehicles, materialize out of blue barriers. And if one were to compare Danger Zone, to the previously mentioned Crash Mode, he/she would instantly take notice of the fact that while Danger Zone features much more variety, than the now archaic Crash Mode, it is simply not as satisfying. And this is because the visual façade of the computer simulation, creates a disconnect between the player, and the carnage which is taking place on-screen.

Initially the sound of explosions, and metal crushing under intense pressure is satisfying, but once the smoke settles down, and the score counting comes to a close, all that’s left is an artificial platform with a rather unimpressive pile up, stacked up on top of it. And as the player progresses from one level to another, he/she starts to realize that Danger Zone is not as satisfying as it has initially appeared to be.

The substance of Burnout’s Crash Mode, laid within in its setting complemented the action which was taking place on the screen, right in front of the player. In Danger Zone, when one hits a bus, it stays static as the player vehicles bounces off like a ping-pong ball either into another vehicle, or the digital void. And once one starts taking on more complex levels, he/she will realize how much negative impact the setting of Danger Zone has on the enjoyment of the title.

1.jpg

In Burnout 3: Take Down, one could spectate a scene that could be described as true carnage, as fuel tankers, eighteen wheelers, sports cars, and other on road vehicles, were interacting with each other, within the true to life environments. Eighteen wheelers could form a barricade in the middle of the road, and the approaching tankers would propel them across the road on impact, creating a death machine which would obliterate everything within its reach. Whereas as in Danger Zone, one can hit a bus, which will stay static, and might just be moved an inch by other vehicles, as long as it hasn’t fallen from the platform.

In short, Danger Zone, is simply not nearly as enjoyable as it should be, and it suffers from the same issues as the previously mentioned Dangerous Golf. But the difference between the two is that Dangerous Golf felt like a fully-fledged title, whereas Danger Zone, due to its visual façade, and rather unimpressive structure, feels like a tech demo which one would create in order to pitch a much broader project to investors.

Danger Zone, is in fact more like a framework upon which an actual title could be built. It resembles, and plays just like the initial demo of Super Hot. But Super Hot, even in its infancy, was a title with personality, which later on carried to the final release. And the said personality, is what Danger Zone actually lacks. It lacks direction, and any form of substance, and therefore it is hard to get invested into it, even after hours of play time. In fact the more time one spends with the title, the more bare-bones it seems, as it even lacks the basic settings, such as sound options, or gamma slider. And the only truly positive thing that can be said about the title, is the fact that it works, but in the world, where anybody can create an indie studio and craft masterpieces such as Hotline Miami, or Everybody Has Gone to The Rapture, a working title is simply not enough.

Review: Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!

pic.jpg

Cladun Returns is a Retro Style dungeon crawler which is the third game in the successful series. The storyline consists of your character who is in Arcanus Cella and has been given the role of helping souls which have been burdened and are unable to reincarnate due to them having a heavy burden placed upon them. These souls are each given five levels that the player must complete to help them understand why they are unable to reincarnate. Yukimura, the first lord that you will meet during the storyline will explain many of the different basic aspects of the storyline that players can explore further.

As a somewhat newbie to this genre of game I went in with much excitement about what games such as this had to offer. Immediately this game offers the player with many different customisation options with many premade characters, however with the easy to use in game pixel editor players can individually select pixels and edit them as desired and share their creations with the community. Personally, I spent a good hour playing around with this feature and ensuring that my character was perfect before playing. Having this freedom is great for a role-playing game such as this as it allows players to feel more connected and immersed with their character along the storyline.

pic.jpg

The player can select one of seven different classes, these consist of being a Samurai, Swordsman, Magician, Saint, Merchant, Onmyoji or a Vile Priest. Each of these classes have a skill that is unique to the class as well as many different abilities that can be explored further. Upon first thought I created a Samurai, however the very close up hand to hand combat become quickly apparent that it wasn’t my playstyle. That meant that I began to vary it up and create a Magician which allowed me to enjoy a different playstyle that was more fitting to myself. Being able to adjust the games experience so that it is tailored to how you want to play is a huge selling point.

As a first-time player to a game of this genre I was hesitant that I wouldn’t be able to simply pick up this game and play. However, this game was very clear with its tutorial and provided an excellent environment for learning the basics. Whilst being easy to pick up, this game has a very in-depth “Magic Circle” system which players can explore and create teams of characters that synergise with each other for the specific needs of the upcoming levels. I found myself experimenting with magic circles and different characters for a large amount of time to try and create a main character that could put out huge damage to possibly fly through the levels at higher speeds. Once again, this system can be adapted to the player’s personal playstyle which adds to the immersion of you embodying that character.

pic.jpg

At first, I thought that there was a lack of variety when it came to equipment and weapons, however this was because I hadn’t fully understood that much better equipment could be found when exploring the dungeons which gave added bonuses to those simply found at stores, once I had taken not of this I found that there was a huge variety of different weapons that once again can be tailored to an individual’s playstyle and provides much more situational gameplay for players.

The music and audio which accompanies this game is simply fantastic, it creates a sense of excitement when pacing through levels and the sound effects that are included in the game are suitably fitting to the overall gameplay and can also be used as audio cues to allow players to react to situations.

Whilst playing this game I did not encounter and bugs or issues at all which I must say I was hugely pleased about. Also, I was unable to find any ways that the game could be exploited for experience or currency throughout which one again is a huge bonus as it means players must play the game as intended.

The game is currently being priced at £34.99 on the UK PlayStation store, I would say it has enough content and replay ability for this price. This game is very easy to pick up from where you left off and continue with the storyline. The game also has a huge trophy list which can keep trophy hunters such as myself playing for many hours before achieving that elusive platinum trophy. Even if you have never played this type of game before I would recommend that you give it a shot as it well be a game that I find myself going back to everyday to continue the hours of enjoyment.

Review: Endless Space 2

pic.jpg

Endless Space 2 is the latest game by Amplitude Studios, the team behind the famous Endless series, all games which I thoroughly enjoyed despite its flaws. The game has officially launched on Steam on the 19th of May, after being on Steam’s Early Access program since early October in 2016.

Like its predecessor, and very much like its brother Endless Legend, Endless Space 2 is a turn-based 4X strategy game with a strong sci-fi theme to it. The game improves on pretty much every single aspect of the original, adding not only a lot more depth to it but also by adding a lot more variety. The game consists of you, playing as one of the eight different empires, trying to become the dominant one in the galaxy by emerging victorious through one of the six different victory conditions. These range from simple conquest of enemy homeworlds to building wonders or becoming an economic powerhouse. There is a vast range of possible ways that you can use to achieve one of these victory conditions, especially when you take into account the different playstyles that each different empire can develop, thus providing a suitable experience for people with different playstyles.

Usually, story and narrative aren’t the strongest suit of a strategy game but, like other games in the Endless series, Endless Space 2 world building manages to be superb and it’s one of the main reasons why I find the game to be so compelling. Very much unlike the original game, but more in the veins of Endless Legend, Endless Space 2 features a quest and event system. These two not only give the player some sense of purpose, especially to those who tend to get lost in these kinds of games that can go on for dozens of hours, but it also provides some sort of narrative which is partially unique to the empire you’re playing as. With that said, the detail that has been put behind each construction and research options, in their own descriptions, is really staggering. Just a single paragraph, like the ones used as descriptions,add so much to the already vast and intriguing lore of the Endless universe that, at times, it doesn’t even seem that you’re playing a 4X game but, instead, that you’re playing a much more narrative focused game.

It has been a few years since I played the first game but, if my doesn’t fail me, this sequel is clearly an improvement all across the board in terms of gameplay. You’ll be expanding your empire while increasing your pool of the many resources in the game, from the main ones such as food, industry, dust, science, influence and manpower, to rarer ones like luxury and strategic resources. The production of the former group of resources is dependant on the size of the population living on the planet where you have these resources. However, you can construct system improvements in order to increase your production even further. With that said, resources like food and industry are exclusive to the star system they’re produced, while other resources like science and dust are shared throughout your entire empire. This is done so that the cumulative amount of science you produce per turn helps increase the speed of technology research, for example, while food increases a star system population growth and while industry decreases the amount of turns it takes in order to construct something.

Like other games in the genre, in Endless Space 2 researching new technologies is imperative to your success. The research tree is divided into four different sections, military, empire development, economy & trade and science & exploration. In turn, each one of these sections is subdivided into different tiers, and in order to access a higher tier you’ll have to research a certain amount of technologies on the highest tier you can access at any given moment. As far as dust and influence go, these can be used to instantly complete production and research queues or to build specific things. Still, influence is vital in the development of relationships with minor factions and in influencing the political sphere of your own empire. Minor factions can be approached via peaceful means, which gives you specific bonuses while you’re in good terms, or via a more militaristic approach. In any case, you’ll be able to assimilate them into your empire sooner or later, which gives you even more bonuses and also gives you more population diversity. Not only the game has a diplomacy element to it, but it also has a strong political side to every action you take. Your actions can affect the six political parties stances and, every 20 turns there will be elections, where you’ll be able to show your official support to one of the parties, and the winners will get to occupy the senate. On that note, you’ll be able to pass laws, depending on the parties that have a seat in the senate, which provide massive bonuses to your empire but which are subject to your influence and the influence of specific political parties. Going back to the population types, there is quite a fair amount of depth put into it, which is worth delving into. Your population is also divided into the several different political parties with each reacting differently to specific political outputs and choices that you make, which will affect the popularity of these parties in each election. Besides that, there’s also an element of happiness to each star system’s population which directly affects your research production.

In terms of actual map layout, the game is mostly played either from the galaxy map or the star system screen. From the galaxy map you can see different constellations, which are composed by star systems. You can interact with them by zooming in and inspecting individual planets. In the same sense, you also command fleets through the galaxy view, which can be composed of one or multiple ships. On that note, exploration and travelling is initially done via star lanes, which connect the various star systems, or, once you discover that technology, via warp drives when you want to reach another star constellation. Still, fleets can only be issued new orders once they arrive at their destination, you can’t issue them new orders while they’re in the middle of a star lane. In regards to planet variety, which was a key feature in the first game, that’s even better in this one, with planets of all sorts, providing a lot more room for discovery and replayability. Some have unique luxury resources, strategic resources, moons, ruins or special characteristics that allow you to develop a certain specialization. They can also contain certain anomalies which you can investigate, either by sending a probe with a ship from orbit, or by creating an expedition if you have colonized a planet on that given star system.

Now, one other big part of the game are the spaceships themselves, because what would be a space themed game without those, right? Each ship hull in the game fits a specific role, so individual ship design plays a huge role. You can design your own ships from scratch upon selecting one of various hull types, provided that you’ve researched them. During the design process you’ll be able to give your ship a name and select individual modules for it, which come in three different variants, weapon, defense and support modules. This resumes to choosing between a wide range of energy and projectile weapons, plating and shields, as well as a series of support modules that grant you bonuses or certain abilities. In turn, different kinds of these modules work better with specific hull types designed for certain tasks, such as, exploration, attacking or tanking. Besides that you’ll also get to choose a series of tactics cards which you’ll be able to use at the beginning of a battle. The game does give you room to customize things to your liking, and to use both a combination of different ship designs with different tactics to turn the tide of battle in your favour but, ultimately, like the first game, I feel like the combat, despite having improved, is still one of the weakest parts of the game.

Combat is really basic and you have no real way to affect the outcome besides choosing a tactic and employing your fleet before battle. While you do get to watch the fleets battle each other, you have no direct control over your ships. This results in you having to plan and take a wild guess on the enemies weapons systems, their defenses and effective range before battle, while also checking out the odds, in order to engage with a specific type of ships and tactics. I’m pretty sure the combat was one of the weakest and most criticized elements of the first game, and so, the fact that they decided to stick with the same combat system really boggles my mind. The game also features ground combat but this is even more basic than space combat, since it consists only of three different unit types, infantry, armour and air. In any case, each have their own stats and effective range of combat. The game also features a unique set of units called Heroes. These are unique on their own and have their own role, personal back story and their own set of skills that you can develop as they level up. These units can be assigned either to fleets or systems, in order to boost their overall effectiveness. Besides that, they also have their own unique ship that you can customize and assign to a fleet.

One thing that really benefits the game in terms of longevity and replayability is the fact that it supports Steam Workshop, which has already allowed many users to share their creations, that not only add new things to the game, but also optimize or balance out several aspects of the game’s mechanics. For those who like to customize things to your liking, you’ll be glad to know that the game allows you to rebind keys. There are also separate audio sliders for music, sound effects, interface and master volume. However, one thing that did disappoint me was the graphics menu, which is rather minimalistic. It only allows you to choose one from six presets. Still, the game does provide a description as to what each one of these has activated or not, as in, the amount of anti-aliasing, pixel light count, amongst others features.

Alongside the combat, the other main complaint that most people seem to have with the game right now is that it has a fair share amount of bugs. One issue that I have encountered repeatedly consists in the game crashing during the initial loading screen every now and then, which is kind of a nuisance. I also came across another bug, which was the game freezing whenever I selected a newly found star system. Luckily, I was able to bypass this by disabling the cutscenes in the game’s options menu. One other bug which I haven’t encountered yet, but that I’ve seen some people complaining about in the forums is that the game can stop responding, whenever there’s an election, and that happens every 20 turns, which I think forces you to start a whole new game.

One small caveat I have with the game are the sound effects, most notably during combat, because they sound rather dull. On the other hand, the soundtrack is a masterpiece on its own. The battle themes and the main theme are extremely enjoyable to listen to, and I often found myself just idling while listening to these tracks. In any case, where the game’s music and the work of FlybyNo really shines is in the individual factions themes. These are exceptionally unique on their own, and give you a sense of overwhelming discovery and the dawn of a new empire, which is more than enough to give you goosebumps. In the same sense, the game’s visuals and art direction is breathtaking. From the splash art to the individual ship design from different empires look and the unique planet designs that change slightly as you colonize them, everything looks top-notch.

In terms of UI the game has a very clean look to it, and small icons and other little details really help in performing simultaneous and different actions more smoothly. In the end this helps new players quite a lot since everything feels fairly intuitive. With that said, the game has many surprises in store for you, that you’ll unravel as you play, and this is one of the main reasons as to why this game is so engaging and addictive at first. The game is so much better in every possible way when compared to the original. The attention to detail is spot on. Each building and research has its own tiny bit of lore that makes even the slightest thing sound so much more interesting. Still, no matter how much fun and how good I think the game is, and the potential it still has to become a lot more, bugs need to be taken care of because, as of right now, they seem to detract from the experience quite a lot. If the bugs were eliminated and the combat was more engaging, giving you direct control of individual ships, this would probably be one of the best 4X games I had ever played. As it stands, it’s a very good game on its own and I’m looking forward to see how it will evolve.

Review: Castle of Shikigami

pic.jpg

Bullet hell fans have been really excited for the Degica release of Castle of Shikigami onto Steam, and it’s clear why. The game itself is a big piece of bullet hell history and, more importantly, the first is the only one to not receive a proper release in the West. Degica promised a re-translated storyline and character bios, as well as all the standard Steam bells and whistles (cards, achievements, etc.). Unfortunately, for all the wonders that Castle of Shikigami brings, it’s still not quite where it could be.

Firstly, the storyline. Castle of Shikigami has an absolutely eerie and addicting framework that revolves around a massive string of murders happening in Tokyo. After a 32nd victim is discovered, everyone springs into action in their own way, quickly revealing that the deaths of these young women are connected to a dark occult undertone. Besides having different shooting abilities, each of the six characters also has a unique perspective on the ongoing case and you get a real sense of storytelling by doing multiple playthroughs. What’s really cool is that the bosses and stages don’t change whatsoever, so you can potentially unlock the story faster and faster the more you play. If you get dragged in like I did, I recommend simply going from the furthest left to the right in order, as it unfolds the story in a way that feels very natural and consistently surprising.

The mechanics themselves are still pretty spiffy by today’s standards. The genre is true to it’s name, as even the “very easy” setting still requires tight controls and reflexes. You can constantly fire your primary weapon, charge up a mystical attack that varies from character to character, or unleash a bomb to hopefully clear the screen (which you have a limited number of). Shikigami uses a “tension meter” which increases the strength of your shot as long as you’re in too-close-for-comfort proximity to enemy bullets. A dangerous situation, but sometimes necessary to get out those last shots before the boss gets you. Get hit once and it looks like a scene out of Sonic as a ton of coins scatter. Three hits and it’s game over. You have an unlimited number of continues to use, but it will reset your score back to zero. There are online leaderboards baked into the game for each of the difficulty settings, which gives pros incentives to absolutely decimate the easy settings and gloat over everyone on a global scale.

The main problem comes in the game itself. Now, difficulty wise, I get it, bullet hell games are meant to fray your nerves and force you to blink sweat out of your eyes as you navigate in pixel-perfect safety. But Castle of Shikigami doesn’t look like a game from this decade or even the last. The super creepy monsters and character profiles look to be distinctly 1980’s anime (I got a Demon City Shinjuku vibe). This was all well and good when the game first came out back in 2001, and even held water for the PS2 release of 2003. But the game looks blurry and stretched out on today’s screens, even with some frames in place to try and center your attention. The constant motion of the city beneath didn’t feel fluid and actually brought up some motion sickness. As much as I wanted to focus on the story and the game itself, I was constantly snapped out of the experience by noticing how dated it all felt.

Another thing is the sound system behind the game. Music gets a pass because I imagine that people would have felt slighted if the soundtrack was redone, and I get that. But the voices are a serious problem. When you encounter a boss or when you die, your character/their character tends to utter some phrases in Japanese that fit the moment and atmosphere. Yet the sound bites were not touched up or re-recorded, probably to preserve the original actors. As a result, it sounds broken and crackly, like someone is piping in a cassette recording of these voices during the stage. It is actually so starkly different that I thought one of my speakers had gotten damaged and I was only now noticing.

Lastly, I hope you’re happy with the keyboard controls or have an old control pad lying around. Castle of Shikigami was designed before the digital joystick revolution and, as such, is mapped for keyboard keys or an old d-pad. Thankfully I have my trusty FC30 Pro, which has the d-pad in a comfortable position and made for very successful runs. But the initial test with a 360 controller required a pretty gnarly grip and was quite unpleasant. And no, it can’t be remapped, I definitely tried.

If this review feels short, it’s because it is. Castle of Shikigami is a classic and inspired a whole slew of modern bullet hell games. It deserves to be recognized and praised for what it was, but not necessarily what it is now. Digica wanted to capture exactly what players felt back in the day and I suppose they succeeded. Fans who worship the genre will pick it up and swear it’s fantastic and they can be right in their own way. But this isn’t going to turn on new players and may even frustrate people who were hoping for more than a quick and dirty Steam port. If you must have a piece of shmup history in your Steam library, then by all means, pick it up and support future releases and possible ports. Otherwise I give this a hard pass for anyone looking for something fresh.