Monday, September 5, 2011

Talking about games on my The-Nextlevel blog

If you go to The-Nextlevel you can check out my blog. So far I've given my thoughts on Mindjack and Dante's Inferno. Maybe I'll talk about Uncharted 2 next...who knows?

Yes I know I have a perfectly good blog here. Don't ask why, just do it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Column: XBLIG weekly round-up

Over at Extraguy I've started the first of hopefully many weekly looks at the latest Xbox Live Indie Game releases.

You can check it out over here if you like. Also I just finished writing up a review for Deathsmiles 2 so expect that very soon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reviews that I have done for Extraguy

For the sake of convenience here are links to some of the reviews I have written for the indie/downloadable gaming site Extraguy.

Consider following the site because I can't keep track of everything I write for them on my own. Sheesh Loouieesh

Xbox Live Arcade / Xbox Live Indie Games
Unfortunately it looks like the website is currently down, so I don't recommend checking any of the links.

Lair of The Evildoer
Adventures of Shuggy
Monsters in Neon Space
Lair of the Evildoer
Battle For Venga Islands
Rushing Punch
Mr. Gravity
Trouble Witches Neo
Nin2 Jump
Mimi In the Sky
Wizard's Keep
Defy Gravity
Bird Assassin
Battle High: San Bruno
Cthulhu Saves The World
Sword and Hammer
Ugly Americans

Playstation Network

Moon Diver
Legend of Mana
Ridge Racer Type 4
Vagrant Story
Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder

I'm also running a weekly column for covering XBLIG releases. Check it out:

Week 1, June 2011
Week 2, June 2011
Week 3, June 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

XBLIG Look - Battle for Venga Islands

Really little else for me to talk about.
Check out the review over here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

XBLIG Look - Bumblepig

Another indie game gets reviewed by your favorite reviewer.
This time it's Bumblepig.

Read more about it here.

PSP Look - Final Fantasy 4: Complete Collection

Hello everybody!
Time for another one of those crazy reviews!
This time around it's FF4 Complete Collection for the PSP. Read what I think over here.

Monday, May 23, 2011


This is incredible!
The ultimate game has now gotten the ultimate review.
Read more about this amazing piece of software over here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

XBLIG Look - Mr. Gravity

Jeeze Louise does it ever stop?

Here's a review of Mr. Gravity, a maze/puzzle game for the Xbox indie service.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

X360 Look - Brink

Yep I'm back once again with another review.

Read my final word on Brink over here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

XBLA Look - Bangai-O: Missile Fury

Yep I can't stop reviewing games for some crazy reason.
This time around it's Treasure's latest, Bangai-O: Missile Fury.

Read more about it over here.

I think I'll have to organize all of the reviews I have written for other sites sometime.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

XBLA Look - Trouble Witches Neo

I did another review. This time it's Trouble Witches Neo.

Read more about it over here.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes


Friday, April 29, 2011

XBLA Look - Nin2 Jump

Keeping busy with another review.
This time around it's the recently-released platformer by Cave.
Read about it over here.

Lady Sword translation patch has been out for awhile.

I never keep up with these things it seems.
If you have a taste for the completely surreal and can't get enough grotesque floating heads in your life then consider pursuing this game.

You can read more about the patch over here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

XBLA Look - Strania: The Stella Machina

Another XBLA game just got reviewed by your favorite reviewer.
Check it out over here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

XBLA / PSN look - Moon Diver

Another review! This time it's the recent and upcoming action-platformer Moon Diver. Read more about it over here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

X360 Look - Divinity 2: Dragon Knight Saga

Hello Super friends! Here's my latest review for the recently-released action-RPG Divinity 2: Dragon Knight Saga.

Expect reviews of Strania and Moon Diver hopefully soon.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Want to see a new review? Request it.

I'll be honest here. I don't have nearly as much time for this blog as I used to. Currently I'm writing reviews for a handful of other websites (my latest can be found right here) and when my blog averages less than five visits a day the incentive to continue writing for it just isn't there. At the moment I'm working on Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga as well as Strania and I'm sure by the time I'm done with those I'll have a couple other games that must be reviewed.

So while it means I have to be "that guy" I have a proposition. The title pretty much explains the gist of it but I'll go into more detail. If there's an interest in a particular game or heck even any interest at all I'll consider putting some effort into playing and reviewing the requested games. It gives me the feeling that I've been assigned a review and I'll put more of an effort into getting around to it. As it stands however if I don't get requests then the only updates this blog will be getting are whenever I finish reviews for other websites. So if you have any requests, comments, or anything else of the sort then shoot an email to

Here are the games that are up for a possible review:

Grandia Extreme
The Red Star
Bujingai: The Forbidden City
Neo Contra
Drakengard 2
Echo Night Beyond
Megaman 9
Fatal Frame 2
Muchi Muchi Pork/Pink Sweets doublepack
Dead Rising 2
Might & Magic 7
Littlebigplanet 2
Metal Gear Ac!d 2
Alpha Protocol
Way of the Samurai 2
Ys 7
Loco Roco 2
Ridge Racer 2 (PSP)
Star Ocean: Second Evolution
Valkyrie Profile
Space Invaders Extreme 2
Grandia 1
Final Fantasy 9
Adventures of Little Ralph
Transformers: War for Cybertron
Majin: The Forsaken Kingdom

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Okay...MAYBE I'll be in condition to write reviews again soon.

Fact of the matter is I've been a mess these past few days.
If you haven't already you should probably check out my review of Dynasty Warriors 7 because as of this writing at least 42 people like it. After that though it has been a slump...a very nasty slump. Currently the only thing holding me together to write this update is a cocktail of every sort of cough remedy I can purchase without a prescription. Obviously none of them work but they have made me a bit loopy which is better than nothing I suppose.

In any case I turn the big three zero in a few days and uh...strike that. Actually I'm turning twenty-nine for the second time in a few days. The big thing now is getting healthy and I want to ditch this cough and maybe work up a nice bod so I can throw on a luchadore mask, pretend I'm El Blaze from Virtua Fighter 5, and go around telling everyone my body is an unstoppable...weapon! Hopefully along the way I'll write some great reviews.

But seriously this cough has been the WORST. It's one thing to have a cough but when you cough every 30 seconds for the entire day you'll hardly be able to put together a coherent thought. This has delayed reviews and made me pretty dang miserable. The last thing I need is to be miserable and unable to hold a thought together for a review.

So wish me the best and I'll see what I can do about getting back on track.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Streets of Rage Remake is out

It's been a long long time but the final version of Streets of Rage Remake is out. Read more about it here and for crying out loud download it. You will not be disappointed in the slightest I assure you.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

PS3 Look - Yakuza 4

This time around you gotta go to the latest site I write for...
The Next Level.

Lemme know what you think.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PSP Look - Ys: The Oath In Felghana

The Ys series has seen a little bit of a resurgence as of late thanks to the efforts of Falcom, who saw it fit to release a handful of entries for the PSP, and XSEED a publisher who decided they were worth localizing so they'd see release in the West. Oath in Felghana is a re-imagining of the much-maligned Ys 3 and is considered one of the finest games in the series. Wanna know what I think? Well you can either read the review text or skip ahead to the score.

The Ys series may be a part of the action-rpg genre but for the most part grinding isn't necessary (and oft-times won't do any good). A trademark of this series however is that there's a lot of good stuff held back by story-related nonsense I wish I could just skip through entirely. First off we have Adol. His only notable attribute is that his fiery red hair makes him easy to spot in a crowd. This is also helpful when the crowd happens to be of the enemy variety. He is one of those mute protagonists who can only explain the current situation but never offers anything in the way of insight or commentary. The general conversing duties are left to Adol's best bud Dogi. I hate Dogi, that's all I'm going to say about him. This unlikely duo travels the world seeking new adventures. Adol does all of the fighting while Dogi does his best to make every conversation as awkward as possible.

The Oath in Felghana likely has to do with some promise made between two people really close to each other but if you manage to care one iota about any of the going-ons in this game I don't really know what to say. The characters Adol meets in this journey are grating and forgettable, everything Dogi says makes me want to swallow bile, and otherwise it's the most generic tale of good, evil, and all of the people who get caught in the middle. This was more tolerable in the 80s because games didn't have access to fully-voiced cutscenes and hundreds of dialogue boxes to sit through but thanks to the wonders of technology it feels like a third of this game is spent listening to babbling, dribbling, and...look...I can't take it anymore...I'm moving on.

The real reason the Ys series has been so successful is that they are good action-RPGs. Adol is something akin to a buzz-saw that has been sent on fire. He does not walk up to an enemy and attack, he runs through them, his sword digging through the flesh of his foes with such ferocity they explode into bits and pieces. This makes for some excellent pacing as Adol is so quick and efficient that he can cut through entire dungeons in minutes and bosses can't stand his neigh-unrelenting assault for very long. It also helps that for at least this entry Adol has a handful of neat tools he can work with to make for a pretty swell action game.

Aside from basic maneuverability tools like a double-jump Adol can also equip one of three different bracelets. These bracelets offer some effective spells that serve multiple purposes. The fireballs light torches about as well as they light up distant enemies, the tornado allows Adol to hover as well as get multiple hits on airborne foes, and the charge breaks down weakened walls and serves a more important purpose as a "parry". This is worthy of special mention as Adol can't block so any ability that can allow him to avoid attacks is very important. Aside from upgrades to equipment and some other choice items this is all Adol is going to get for his adventure. Actually strike that his most important ability is his boost maneuver. When a special meter fills up Adol can really do some damage and take half damage in return. As a bonus if a second meter is unlocked and then filled Adol will even regain lost health for the duration of the effect.

Adversity in this game hits almost as hard as Adol. I went with the normal difficulty and it was a decent enough challenge. The bosses in particular tend to be very rough as they can destroy Adol in a few hits. Winning is all about learning patterns and striking when the opportunity presents itself, same as any other game really. It's rather endearing in that unlike more modern action games, Adol doesn't have some complicated move-set and several-dozen abilities to help him kill a boss. In fact even with all of the extra buttons that can be pressed Oath's battles aren't that far removed from the earliest Ys games, which didn't involve much more than making sure that Adol was in the right position to attack without taking damage.

Another thing to keep in mind is that every enemy flashes before they attack. This is very important because the graphic-design for this game isn't good. All of the objects in the game world are rather tiny while the dithering and framerate produce an effect that is nothing close to desirable. It gets to the point sometimes where I figure as long as it moves I can kill it. At least non-killable moving objects like platforms and traps are easily visible, with some of the non-boss monsters I can't tell what they're supposed to be. The dungeons fare much better in this regard and there's a nice bit of variety in all of them. They all tend to lean a bit heavy on the platformer-aspects however so be wary of that.

Despite the presence of optional quests and side-areas Oath in Felghana is a very short game. Less than ten hours to complete the entire game is expected although that isn't factoring time spent beating the game on every difficulty or mastering the time-attack. One handy feature that comes with beating the game is a New Game +. I gotta admit though it's rather questionable that I'm allowed to take my beefy Adol from the last game and have him wreck harder difficulties. Still there is always the Inferno setting, which probably accounts for higher-level Adols.

That's the extent of the game really. It's nothing exceptional, the characters and storyline are absolute drek, and while the rest of the game is good to great it still has its flaws. Give this game a look if you like but don't sweat it if you never get around to playing it.

Game Rating - 3.5 stars out of 5. I did not take off any star for the terrible story.

My Rating - 3 stars out of 5. Okay maybe I took one half-star away from this score due to the story. All of the characters being unlikeable didn't help matters.

EDIT: My gosh I got Aksys and XSEED mixed up. I'm such a dolt.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

PS3 Look - Yakuza 3

With the long-awaited Yakuza 4 mere weeks away I figure it's the best time to give the previous game a look. The Yakuza series is utterly fascinating in how it combines beatemup action, mini-games, Japanese culture, and a slight touch of absurdity. In a way it's the kind of vacation we can only dream of, seeing as how the realities and limitations of life usually prevent us from getting paid to throw bicycles at street punks.

Kazuma Kiryu just might be considered the ultimate Japanese male role-model. He's polite, respectful of others, trusting to a fault, honorable, and he beds more women than James Bond. Kazuma is an ex-Yakuza of the Tojo Clan nick-named "The Dragon of Dojima" and only wants to be left alone to tend to his orphanage and his adopted daughter Haruka. Kazuma probably should have kept up with his literature because if the Godfather taught us anything it is that the past can not be left behind. Daigo Dojima, the sixth chairman of the Tojo clan, and Shigeru Nakahara, the owner of the land the Kazuma's Orphanage rests upon, have both been shot by a mysterious assailant. Kiryu is left with little choice but to return to Kamurocho, essentially a fictional version of Tokyo's red-light district, in the hopes of setting things right.

There's no rush or anything it seems because Kazuma is likely to become distracted by all of the activities he can partake in. It's kind of like Shenmue where Ryo Hazuki is so driven to avenge his father's murder that he sits around playing games at the local arcade for several days straight. Kazuma still plays the occasional arcade game but he also engages in more adult-oriented activities like karaoke, dating, and golf. His specialty however is his ruthless fighting style and that gets put to work constantly. Walking down the street is a surefire way to get into trouble with street punks and even minor Yakuza fellows. They'll make up whatever excuse necessary to pick a fight but since Kazuma wins all the time it's just an easy way to collect money and experience.

There are also about a hundred or so side-missions that Kazuma can accept, which have him doing everything from helping locals with their shopping to beating people up to beating a lot of people up. I figure everyone doesn't look towards Kazuma for help with their taxes but really now it seems like every problem can be solved by punching enough faces. Dating is even worse as it usually works to be a pretty easy ride for Kazuma. I think in the Japanese version all of the women Kazuma can date work at hostess bars. These places are notorious for taking all of the customer's money just for the simple pleasure of talking to a pretty girl, let alone doing anything beyond that. In this version all Kazuma has to do is walk into the local burger shop and he'll meet somebody new. Dating isn't particularly difficult either as it's nearly impossible to screw up something as easy as "take her someplace that she'd enjoy." Kazuma doesn't say much of anything so it's not like there's a bunch of conversation choices the player could mistakes on. To top it all off it takes one or two dates before the woman reveals some life-changing problem that can only be solved by--you guessed it--beating people up. Thankfully unlike recent Bioware offerings we're spared the awkward PG-13 sex-scenes.

The fighting is the main draw of this game as it covers all of the elements of a great beatemup. Kazuma starts off with a pitiful array of moves but through upgrades he attains new methods of handling adversity. There are the simple but effective combos and the ability to pick up objects to use as makeshift weapons. All of these methods are just the lead-up to the dreaded heat actions. When Kazuma's body becomes surrounded by a blueish flame he's one triangle button-press away from ruining somebody's day. This aspect reminds me of Fist of the North Star except Kazuma doesn't share Kenshiro's penchant for making thugs explode with his finger. Surprisingly for a man who has a no-kill policy Kazuma has a nasty streak about him which leads to punks getting their faces smashed, their limbs broken, their body sliced up with a samurai sword, and seriously they even get shot. Kazuma will straight up grab a shotgun and shoot somebody point-blank in the chest. It must take a master of gun-control to do something like that without killing someone. For those gamers out there who don't mind side-quests of questionable usefulness there are tons of materials and other objects that can be used to build weapons. It's a nice idea except the weapons break after so many uses and must be repaired. Besides it flies in the face of the whole honor-shtick Kazuma has going for him. Defeating a bare-handed rival with some gold-plated fiery Masamune feels like the most hollow of victories.

The red-light district is home to all sorts of charming night-spots and it can help Kazuma with working out all of that aggression of his. Honestly I'm not a fan of most of the mini-games in Yakuza 3 because all I seem to accomplish in most of them is getting beaten by whoever I'm dating. I manage to pick up a spare in bowling and my date gets a strike. I can't play a game of pool without whoever I picked up at Super Burger running the table. Thank goodness none of the women show any interest in the batting cages, I can't fathom why completionists bother with mastering this nasty minigame. It's a shame Kazuma can't just beat up the owner of the bar until he gives him a perfect score in darts.

With all of the minigames Yakuza 3 offers I wonder why they never considered an orphanage-raising simulation. The first several hours of the game are going to be spent at or around the orphanage solving little kid problems. While Kiryu has plenty of opportunities to curb-stomp anyone who looks at him funny the main goal is apparently to help one of the kids talk to a girl, or help another kid deal with a bully. Maybe some kid isn't being treated fairly by the other kids, and it gets to a point where I start hating kids. This makes the game start off very slowly and late in the game Kiryu comes back to do even more help around the orphanage. C'mon Sega, spare me the family sitcom nonsense here. I sat through enough episodes of full-house to predict the outcomes of every orphanage related storyline and aside from moments so ridiculous they must be seen to be appreciated it's just boring and a waste of time.

Aside from the orphanage-junk the storyline is really well done. Although I have to say the game takes a number of liberties. For starters there are the cut-scene bullets. The in-game fight scenes are loaded with people getting shot, stabbed, and looking like they should be very much dead. Surprisingly however the only people who actually die are usually those who get shot by the far more powerful cut-scene bullets. Then again even that doesn't guarantee anything so it sort of feels like everyone sticks around until the writer can't find a use for them anymore. I can't help but worry that this will lead to some sort of self-awareness where all of the characters figure out what's going on and it leads to tons of inside jokes and people getting brought back from the dead just for kicks.

By comparison the other aspects of the game feel relatively minor. The storyline has a few moments where things happen that cause certain characters as well as the player to say "What the?!" In one instance in order to save somebody's life Kazuma is given a ride on a jet. As I said earlier time is of the essence and Kazuma can't afford to waste a second in order to rescue this person. Needless to say after arriving at the destination it was the perfect time to play some golf. The player is also liable to see several things that probably can't happen in real life. Really though unless you're some sore-headed fun-hater you shouldn't be bothered about the going-ons of this game.

I look at it like this. The Yakuza games are basically male-power fantasies. This isn't like God of War where male-power is apparently found in blood-bathing and having sex with anything on two legs. It runs quite a bit deeper than that. Everything that Kazuma does he excels at and his reward is that for one brief moment the world becomes his and the game does its best to reflect that. With the special Heat actions Kazuma ignores physics at every opportunity to deliver the most punishing beatdowns, and the camera does its best to capture every moment. When Kazuma delivers an especially great karoake performance the box of a room he's singing in changes into something resembling Broadway. Along the way Kazuma also earns respect not just through his actions but also through his words, which is a far cry from somebody who has to kill every possible living thing to get even a little self-respect. Kazuma also makes mistakes and even gives off the impression that he is human in some way or another. Obviously there are limits to the humanity of a videogame character but Kazuma proves to be one of the better protagonists in the medium.

There's a little of that feeling in all of us. Those moments where the walls of reality crumble ever so slightly to give us that euphoric feeling that we're accomplishing something beyond our means. Yakuza 3 is all about living in these moments and making the most of them. It helps that despite the hackjob the localization received there is still a ton of content for the player to pick away at in-between other games. Still it's just as likely that someone could get the same effect from the upcoming Yakuza 4, as it'll feature all of the same content and action of this game and then some. Still I'd give this game a recommendation as it has the advantage in price and availability.

Game Rating - 3.5 out of 5
My Rating 4 out of 5

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PS3 Look - Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

Remember the last time I talked about Ninja Gaiden 2? All I can recall of it is infinitely spawning exploding jellyfish. There were also other things like billions of exploding projectiles all over Ryu like chickenpox and some of the worst uses of water ever in an action game. I said everything I could just short of breaking the unwritten rule by cursing up a storm. Now you're reading this and you are all but certain that I am clearly insane. I'm blaming the Internet for this one. I was pretty content never playing Ninja Gaiden 2 ever again but all these people are saying "Sigma 2 is better because it fixes all the stupid stuff but Vanilla 2 is better because it's more challenging and rewarding." Curiosity gets the better of me as it is wont to do and I played through Sigma 2.

The story hasn't changed at all. Ryu has to do some globe-trotting to try and fail to stop a bunch of greater fiends from summoning the greatest fiend. I guess I wasn't trying hard enough because I couldn't skip any of the cut-scenes. Thus I was forced to endure footage of a woman bathing in blood, another woman being a pathetic damsel in distress, and Ryu telling all of the girls to stay in the kitchen where they belong. The only difference in this version is that Rachel, Momoji, and Ayane have their own stages where they kill demons because that is what people like to see in videogames.

Momoji is the young Acolyte who Ryu trains in the DS Ninja Gaiden game. Her outfit is at least somewhat sensible. Ayane is probably more recognizable from her work in Dead or Alive but nevertheless she's here to assist Ryu in matters of Ninja concern. Rachel is from the first Ninja Gaiden and she's still dressed in tight leather because I dunno maybe she just likes the way it feels. Upon completion of their respective side-stories the ladies become playable in the Team-Missions mode.

Team-mission mode is suitably named as the player can team up with another player or the computer to take part in all sorts of missions. The goal is to kill everyone and score a lot of points. Really there isn't anything else to it aside from a unique combination spell and the fact that if one player dies the other has to revive him or her to keep the battle going. It's a really good addition although since the missions take place in various locations in the game it becomes a real pain in larger stages. While it is true that Sigma 2 cuts back on the projectiles that doesn't stop enemies from sniping away at the heroes from miles away if given the opportunity.

It's rather strange how Sigma 2 turned out the way it did. Almost all of the issues I had with the original game have been rectified in some way. Unfortunately this doesn't mean that I love the game now or anything of the sort. When problems get fixed all this usually does is lead to new problems or it gives me the opportunity to look at other aspects of the game that are problematic. Some would argue that this is unfair to game developers but who cares what they think? Eventually they'll get it right in a future game or die off. Sometimes they die off anyway even when it isn't their fault and that truly sucks.

Anyway let's start off with water. Yes it is fantastic that the jellyfish are gone and Ryu isn't picking fights with snake-demons that effortlessly glide on water. So what happens then? least in the normal setting apparently nothing at all. Venice is one stage I despise due to all of the water-based fighting so Sigma 2 cuts it all out and replaces it with nothing. Suddenly we have a break in the pacing as after some battles with dozens of werewolves Ryu decides to take a leisurely swim through the canals for awhile. It's times like this that I wish the Master Werewolf Volvo or Vulgus or Vargas or whoever was an ice fiend and he turned Venice into a Winter Wonderland. At least we'd probably get some neat ice-based enemies out of the deal. These breaks in the pacing continue in other parts of the game, either featuring a lack of enemies or the enemies are replaced by more ghost-fish. Seriously?

To make up for the jarring changes in pacing all of the puzzle-elements in Sigma 2 are gone. Now when I say puzzle-elements I'm also referring to all those times where Ryu needs to grab a key or hit a switch to continue. This makes the game-world feel rather lifeless. It feels almost like Ryu has already done everything in the past but somehow he got tricked into fighting everyone again so he has to retrace his steps. All the same it's an acceptable solution but I would have preferred more fights. At least there's the team-mission mode and harder difficulties for that sort of thing.

This game throws in a number of new enemies and replaces some fights with new bosses and other fun stuff. Some bosses like the horrendous Water Dragon also saw changes. I guess I should be happy about these changes but they highlight a lack of ambition going on throughout the game. When doing a sequel or a revision it's not enough to merely fix what was wrong but to expand upon and push the game even further. All of the new bosses feel like more of the same while the changes to existing bosses make them slightly less interesting. They are several times more consistent in their design but somehow I get the feeling if the time was spent to make them actually work in the original version they could really be exceptional. Also one of the new bosses is a rampaging Statue of Liberty. It's far less cool than it sounds and the fight feels too much like the Colossus from God of War 2.

Obviously I have to say something about the lack of blood as well. I'm an unapologetic gore-hound so of course I'm peeved about the lack of crimson-action in this game. It really makes the cut-scenes look ridiculous when everything is getting slaughtered but there's not a drop of blood to be seen let alone the decapitations and other fun stuff. Purple mist is a poor substitute since a lot of the time it's hard to tell if something is missing a limb and thus can be finished off. Plus I have to look at it from an artist's point of view. Way back when I was in community college I did a presentation on Paul Verhoeven. You may remember him as the director of Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. Needless to say the presentation itself had a lot to do with Paul's usage of violence in film. With blood he can make vivid images that affect the audience in multiple ways. If he wanted to shock the audience he could use a specific amount of gore at just the right moment, or if he wants to do something humorous he goes for comical amounts of spilled blood. Most of all however Paul uses blood to help tell his stories. Without the blood in Ninja Gaiden 2 there are no stories to tell. All the battles tend to leave behind are corpses, that's hardly any proof of evidence that a battle ever happened. Though Ryu has wrought untold levels of destruction upon his foes he is effectively without his paintbrush that would record these deeds for all time.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I hate Ninja Gaiden 2 at least I can admit it drives some emotion out of me. All I get from Sigma 2 is...indifference. I played through the game with hardly any issues and while some things could have been handled better I just didn't really care if they mattered or not. There is neither frustration nor satisfaction, just this feeling that if I keep doing what I'm doing eventually it'll end and I can move on.

I don't feel right calling one game better than the other because to do that I'd have to play through them on the hardest settings, master them, and analyze every little detail. My life simply isn't long enough and I enjoy it just a bit too much to shorten it drastically on these games. Still this game can be a lot of fun when things come together and there's not much else out there if you're looking for a cooperative action game. All in all while the game makes me feel empty inside I recommend it.

Game Rating 3.5 out of 5
My Rating 2 out of 5

Muchi Muchi Pork / Pink Sweets Bundle has shipped!

Now all I can do is wait.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

X360 Look - Lost Planet 2

I have my reasons for not picking up games at launch. Most of the time they're just too freaking expensive and the price drops by half in about a month anyway. The case with Lost Planet 2 was...well, I read some of the early reviews and figured the game wasn't worth the hassle. I liked the idea of a focus on cooperative-play to get through the campaign but it wasn't a $60 like. I also had to take into account that at the time my internet connection was terrible.

So fast forward to just short of now and I gotta say, Lost Planet 2 is really underrated. It is sort of like the culmination of many games Capcom has done in the past. The Lost Planet sequel has a bit of Spawn: In the Demon's Hand, a sprinkle of Powerstone 2, some Monster Hunter, and bits and pieces of every cooperative-based game Capcom has ever put out. It's got everything I could ever want in a game from guns to women in tiny outfits to spending ridiculous amounts of time unlocking junk.

The story is something best left forgotten and ignored. I think the only cutscenes I didn't skip were the funny ones where my character who was obviously a woman had the voice of a man. There are also some QTE cutscenes which I have no idea why they're included. I don't think I ever failed one and if I did I wasn't punished for it. Regardless the campaign is all about blasting humans, mechs, or akrids.

The humans are still jerks as they're always fighting each other over fossil fuels, territory, and technology. A good bit of the campaign involves entering enemy bases and tearing up their stuff. The only real worry about these guys is getting outnumbered and cornered(although snipers are a pain in the keister as well). All too often these soft and fleshy humans find comfort inside a mech. Taking these abominations down involves some powerful weapons or a mech of your own. Although if you happen to have a plasma gun you can just knock the pilot out and steal his ride. The akrid aren't gone just because some pretty-boy and his dorky buds stopped a blizzard. They're still out and looking to protect their planet from all those dirty colonizers. Akrid have also dabbled in evolution and it's expected that some massive beasts will stand between you and uh...well I have no idea what anyone is fighting for.

Oh that's right. Everyone is fighting for career points and money. Like almost every other game made in the present the primary goal in playing any game is the constant pursuit of upgrades and larger numbers. Each of the five human factions are playable so whether you're a Femme Fatale from Florida, a NEVEC Lackey from Quebec, or just some hombre with a stereotypical accent, it's guaranteed that 98 levels of experience stand between you and all those fancy customization options and unique weapons. Weapons, special-abilities, character-actions, and names are also handled by a slot-machine.

In what could be considered one of the worst ideas Capcom ever had, almost all upgrades in Lost Planet 2 are doled out via random chance. More often than not your rewards for saving the world are a bunch of silly names you can give yourself like "Dog Lover" and "Tech Romancer". The animations are at least amusing as you can break into one of those Russian dances at every opportunity. This game is totally not recommended for fans of achievements as it'll likely take hundreds of hours to get all of them.

Oh and competitive-multiplayer fans? I'll be the first to admit you guys are a weird bunch. Spending 10 minutes at a time being shot in the head by gamers worldwide is not my idea of a good time. If you really want to give this game a go competitively do know that 90% of the players have all but mastered the MP and they're either on your team or punching your clock. For me, playing competitively is out of the question as there is so much to unlock and if I end up with more deaths than kills that means I'm getting next to no points. There is still a pretty respectable number of people playing this game but it's still a rough shooter to learn.

There really is nothing better than being jumped by someone and being unable to react as they slowly chew me apart with a machine-gun. Constant grenade-usage is also expected and God help whoever doesn't have some killer weapon like a good mech. Map-control is a major aspect of this game and a lot of the time all it takes is the right tools in the right hands and the opposition has no chance. I won't even bring the non-team elimination mode into this because anyone who bothers playing it is insane. The average elimination match starts with you dying very quickly. It then leads to getting spawn-killed for the rest of the match. The game offers a short period of invulnerability so respawned players can get away but it doesn't mean much when they get cut down shortly afterwards by somebody better equipped and positioned.

Thankfully cooperative mode is where it's at and is pretty much the major reason to get this game. There have been horror stories in the past about a particular mission that takes place on a train but from what I've played it isn't bad at all. This game is best tackled with at least one semi-competent friend. Everyone tends to have their own collection of weapons they use and tactics for completing each chapter of the game. As long as players can handle their own the game is quite entertaining and long nights of constant play are guaranteed. There's at least some depth to the whole affair as while the skill rankings don't mean much of anything it's still a good idea to perform various tasks in each Chapter to raise the "GJ" rating.

The difficulty level tends to be all over the place. There's not too much in the way of challenge although there are times where the player seems ill-equipped to deal with a particular boss or the enemy soldiers are suddenly able to snipe a wing off of a moving fly from fifty miles away. I'm also really not sure just what in the heck the last boss was supposed to be. The last portion of the original Lost Planet didn't have much in the way of fans but at least it was different. In this game I'm not even sure if I'm supposed to care. Then again I guess if I bothered to watch a cutscene or two I'd probably have understood.

Really though what it all comes down to is that I have a game I can rely on for that good feeling I get from levelups. The rest of the stuff is just window-dressing at this point. It feels like we're at the point where the actual game is about getting those numbers raised and everything we do to get there has become the meta-game. Fans of achievements have been there for awhile considering the games they play solely for the gamerscore. As far as myself is concerned I guess I'm just waiting for that perfect game where I can play dress-up, level-up a bunch of stats that may or may not mean anything, and possibly do something vaguely videogame-related like shoot an alien or buy a tunic. So far I'd say Lost Planet 2 has gotten a lot closer than all of the other similar games I've played and that's an admirable feat. If this keeps up I might eventually start to forget the differences between a good and a bad game. Lost Planet 2 is definitely good and could probably be even better if the competitive multiplayer wasn't a bad joke. It has the identity, a better grasp on its concept than its predecessor, and it's just a fun game for shooting the crap with friends.

Still I think I need to focus on some games that aren't going to reward me with garbage just because I play them for a long time.

Game Rating - 3 out of 5
My Rating - 5 out of 5

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

X360 Look - Resident Evil 5

For once I'm going to cut back on the pretension and tell it like it is. I don't hold Resident Evil 4 at a level of esteem unreachable by almost all videogames. I enjoyed the game enough to give it two playthroughs on both the Playstation 2 and the Wii but I can't remember much of anything about them. I look at Resident Evil 4 the same way I look at part 5, as just another videogame. Nobody wants to read about that garbage though. Resident Evil 5 exists to be constantly and unfavorably compared to its predecessor until the end of time. Yes aspects of RE5 feel kind of phoned-in and at times an original set-piece or even a sense of humor would have done wonders but otherwise I don't see the point in continuing with this comparison.

In fact let's go a bit further and zip through all of the nonsense that brings Resident Evil 5 down. The story is the kind of absolute pap where the only things the cutscenes can do to keep the player's interest is to make sure something "cool" happens every time or there's a QTE. The bosses tend to be giant targets with a lot of QTE prompts to mash through and absolutely little in the way of inspired design. There are also vehicle sections and you all know how I feel about those. The campaign is essentially a grind where until somebody handed me one of those cheat eggs that can be re-sold an infinite number of times I had to suffer through a lot of mediocre filler.

Breaking it down a bit further we have the campaign which is about as exciting as reading the phone-book. There are never any worries about limited resources and even the toughest-looking foe is weak since its movements have to be adjusted to account for the player-character's lack of mobility. I suspect the only real challenge in the game is going to come from playing the hardest difficulty, where I assume anything can leave the player in critical health with a single hit. It's too bad because it feels like that's all the game really can do to make things harder. It's not good design in the slightest but the campaign really feels like all potential was exhausted early on and everyone just goes through the motions until the credits roll. I won't even mention the story because I skipped all of the cutscenes I could.

Mercenaries mode on the other hand, this is what the entire game should have been. If anything the campaign feels like some overlong tutorial that runs the player through all of the basics and helps them get adjusted to the mechanics of movement and shooting. It's here where all of the good qualities of the game shine. The pacing for combat is exceptionally well-done and the cooperative system works wonderfully when two competent players team-up. In this mode mistakes have more weight to them and handling resources becomes imperative to not only surviving but to also get a great score/rank.

A better version of Resident Evil 5 would have come up with some way of rolling other aspects of the campaign into the mercenaries mode. Take for example the boss-fights. On their own they just aren't any good as they seem more adept to repeating attacks that must be QTE-dodged rather than showing any inspiration. Having a Mercenaries stage where Wesker is stalking the players while they deal with the other enemies could have been pretty awesome. What we got might have sounded good on paper but in the game itself it's overly stiff, not practical, and again just not challenging in the slightest. This could also work with something like the Irving battle. Instead of just sitting on top of a mounted gun waiting for something to happen the players could be assaulted from all sides as Majini storm the ship.

Still with the campaign as it is I can't strongly recommend Resident Evil 5. Where its controls and style may have given the game its identity in the past now it just seems like it's holding everything back. Simply changing the system to account for those who would like to move while shooting most likely wouldn't lead to any improvement. It seems like what's really missing is a better campaign and with enough creativity there are any number of ways to fix that. However thanks to the Mercenaries mode the controls and overall design of the game cease to be an issue and it really makes the game come together. The core of Resident Evil 5 is great but it's wrapped up by a lousy first impression and you can't access mercenaries mode without beating the campaign. Still if you're willing to throw away ten hours or so on something you'll only remember when asked about why you hate the game then give it a go. Just don't bash the game too much without at least giving mercenaries mode a look.

Game rating - 3 out of 5
My rating - 3 out of 5

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My love for game purchases is unboundedededed.

What Namco is doing to Ridge Racer is just absolutely tragic. In order to curb my depression somewhat I went shopping and grabbed a couple games.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - I hated the first Ninja Gaiden 2 didn't I? Hmm..maybe this wasn't the best idea. On the bright side I can use the six-axis controls to shake the female character's breasts around...Lord...this wasn't a good idea at all was it?

Grandia X-treme - Honestly I thought I'd never find a copy of this game, especially for less than $10. From what I hear regarding this game is that everything except the story is totally sweet.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What I've been doing lately.

Currently I'm doing reviews for two different videogame sites. - This site is structured similar to the average videogame forum but the reviews are taken seriously and I've already reviewed a couple games.

Extraguy - Here we have another site that reviews games of all kinds though currently I'm just doing reviews of XBL Indie titles.

There's also my work at XBLAratings though lately it feels like I only seem to review awful games for that site. Still it's fun as the games I usually play are simply too good for me to really rip into them.

I haven't forgotten about this blog of course as I have a handful of games that I plan on looking at in the future.

So uh..that's it really.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More purchases

Yes I should be playing Littlebigplanet 2 but oh well I'm only human.

Resident Evil 5 - Never played it, liked part 4, heard part 5 wasn't quite as good, why not give it a go?

Lost Planet: Colonies - I bought this before, regretted that I didn't spend more time with the additional singleplayer modes. Maybe I'll get lucky and one person will be playing online.

Dark Messiah of Might & Magic: Elements - Yeesh what a title. Oh well it can't be too bad I imagine. Only $5ish to boot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Plans for the future

First off yes I know the ads are back. Nobody said anything one way or the other so I figured what the hey.

The review output is going through some bumps for the next several weeks. I'm planning on putting a stop to downloadable game reviews. It's not like I've stopped playing them or anything but I am conversing with a couple other sites to put my talent to work elsewhere. These plans will also likely have an adverse effect on the time it takes to get reviews for other types of games on this blog.

As I said in the last update I feel that it's time I step up and start working to prove my ability as a reviewer. I've written quite a bit for this blog and yet I'm nowhere close to producing my best work, and I believe even if I do write something of admirable quality it'll get ignored if it's left here. On the bright side I'll still have the freedom to try new styles and ideas with this blog without the worry of a filter. Besides the loss of downloadables will most likely not affect my retail game reviews.

So that's the current situation and I'll update again when plans have been finalized.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thinking about trying to go Pro...

In the last week I've signed up for an account at and posted in the forums that I was looking for voluntary work. Somehow over the course of over two years of reviewing I've gotten the idea in my head that maybe I could make it at a professional level.

PepsimanVsJoe? A Pro? The problem with PepsimanVsJoe is that he can't even stop calling himself PepsimanVsJoe. The main reason I've stuck with this name for so long is because there's only one PepsimanVsJoe. Once upon a time I thought Gabriel Jones was a unique name but everyone from comic book characters to photographers to artists use it. On the other hand PepsimanVsJoe has gotten old, nobody cares about Pepsiman and nobody knows who the heck Joe is supposed to be. Still this blog is very young and I've yet to get PvJ established so there's little chance Gabriel Jones will ever work out.

The bigger problem is that if most of the reviews I've read are any indication, going pro would require sacrificing the identity I've attempted to create through my writing. Sure anyone can point to a handful of reviewers who manage to do their own thing and be successful but I think I'll be stifled by having to play it safe every-time I review a game, no matter how thoroughly mediocre it may be. On the other the exposure I'd get would be unparalleled. Fans of being depressed should read my google analytical stats sometime. I'm lucky to get more than 10 views a day. These views aren't even the good kind either usually. It's either bots or people who click just to scroll down to see whatever meaningless score I gave the game. At least by writing for a larger site there's a larger pool to draw from.

More important than all of that however is how it affects me personally. Writing is probably the only real talent I have and I'd hate to see it wasted. I believe that I can reach a point where I could actually get paid to review. Currently however I'm so far away from that point my blog doesn't even have ads. I have received an offer to do some sort of voluntary reviewing for what looks to be a newer site. I haven't really thought about it but it sounds like a nice idea. I think having newer game reviews here takes away from the focus as most of my reviews for this blog are for older games as well as the niche and the arcade stuff. It's possible for me to do both though I'm starting to wonder how much time I actually have. I'm kind of spoiled for free time due to the lack of children but I really want to get a second source of income from somewhere.

Anyway don't mind all this. I'm just thinking aloud and trying to put something together.

For those of you who bothered to get this far I've updated my page on with some new reviews. Currently I'm messing around with Dragon Quest 9 and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 1 though don't expect a review of the former anytime soon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

AA Look - Spider-man: The Videogame

With the re-release of X-men on XBLA and PSN I figure it'd be kind of nice to look at some other Superhero-themed beatemups. Sega produced this game back in 1991, around the same time as the Genesis Spiderman game Return of the Kingpin. While the Genesis game was a bit different with its emphasis on conserving powers as well as time-management the arcade game is a beatemup. The beatemup has always been a humble genre in that there's really not a whole lot that can be done to change things up.

Spider-man tries to avoid that route somewhat by splitting the game into both standard beatemup action and side-scrolling action-platforming. It's an interesting idea as the side-view sections of the game feature different bosses that are fundamentally different compared to their beatemup brethren. These sections also tend to contain more health power-ups and that sort of thing is necessary because health goes quickly. Aside from taking damage with every attack our heroes also suffer an affliction that causes their health to drain slowly. However as long as you can avoid that one hit you can run around potentially forever with just one point of health.

Spider-man is joined by three of his super-buddies. There's the Black-Cat and her trusty grappling hook, Hawkeye and his mastery of the bow, and Namor who shoots lightning. I never understood Namor, he's probably King of the Oceans but he looks like Aquaman in his underwear, I can't think of anyone less threatening. Since this is a beatemup a rogue's gallery of villains is required. Kingpin, Green Goblin, Venom, The Sandman, and a host of other bad dudes represent the side of evil.

For the most part the bosses are actually really easy. A number of them fall into pretty basic patterns as the heroes can punch them out, knock them down, move just out of the way, and the bosses will walk right into the heroes next punch without fail. Thankfully most of the bosses are backed by henchmen which help keep the fight interesting as the player can't just abuse openings constantly. Still if a friend or three were to join along they could take care of the other enemies while someone pounds the boss into submission. The final boss is especially embarrassing as Dr. Doom doesn't even pull a counter-attack when he gets off the ground. I beat him down with a one hit-point Namor. This is especially sad because Namor makes a "bloop bloop" sound whenever he swings his fists.

Unfortunately punching is really about all the heroes can do. There are a handful of other attacks to choose from but they're mostly useful in their ability to manage crowds. Jump-kicks as well as a more useful flying kick are handy because they knock enemies down and give a brief second of rest but they're too weak to be much use on bosses(and for the most part the Green Goblin can only be hit by jumping attacks). The Heroes have access to their powers but it drains a bit of energy when they're used. These aren't the standard "invincible-attacks to clear space" either as an enemy can come from another direction and hit the player out of it. This really limits the usefulness of such attacks and turns the beatemup side of the game into more of a "regular guy beatemup". In fact it seems kind of ridiculous because I'm starting to picture a handful of normal people dressed like superheroes but with no powers taking the fight to Dr. Doom and his henchmen. At least in the side-view sections the heroes get their powers back so they can hit enemies from a distance but I don't know it seems like a wasted opportunity.

Overall the game is alright. At least it knows when it's starting to get old and game itself takes maybe 20 minutes to complete. In that short time I managed to continue eight times which is actually really pathetic so it's not like I can claim I'm done with the game. Besides it's a four-player beatemup and everything is more fun with others. Still it's a bit lacking in terms of enemy variety and while the mechanics are there this game could have really been something with a nice selection of moves for each character. I guess I shouldn't be expecting so much from a game that predates Streets of Rage 2.

Game Rating - 2.5 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 2.5 out of 5 stars

Oh and here's a funny Spiderman video I saw on the internet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

AA Look - Gunforce 1

Usually when I review games I try to look at the original first and then the sequels. I've never been one to try very hard though so it's expected that most of the time I'll just review what's currently available to me. I've had both Gunforce games for awhile and yet only the sequel had been reviewed for the longest time. Quite frankly I guess it's because the first game sucks.

Since we're on a downward spiral already let's keep tumbling while I do my explanation of the game's story. There's an enemy army with many fortifications and they are planning to play host to an alien armada, you're some dork who is the only hope for humanity. That just kills it right there for me. The hero looks like Carmine, the running-joke of the Gears of War franchise. He's dolled up in all of this armor yet he can only take one hit. He probably wears the suit to hide his shameful body and the fact that he has not a single hair on his chest.

If the hero can only take one hit then the character-design should have just said whatever and dressed the hero up like the dudes from Contra. Sure the guys from Neo Contra were fully armored but that entire game was a parody of the series(which is confusing because Contra in itself is a bit of a parody). The developers of GunForce 1 apparently didn't understand the meaning of fun so we're left with a couple of nobodies and game that's about as dull as one could imagine.

The structure of the game wants to be Contra with its running and blasting action yet somehow it also wants to be Shinobi with its emphasis on finesse and timing. It's a very disjointed piece of work and becomes frustrating when most of the bosses are just really tight bullet patterns with nothing resembling a satisfying encounter. Sure similar games don't exactly focus on the crazy bullet-patterns but at least one tends to fight something cool like a massive tank with spider legs or whatever. Here it's just cannons, maybe some enemy soldiers, and a door that has to be destroyed, fantastic. The level-designs also tend to be very plain and they show none of the ingenuity found in Irem's other games. There's no fun in climbing ladders and riding moving platforms in this genre. It can be a more entertaining game for those who put forth the effort to beat it without continuing but the same could be said about any arcade title. Why not put forth the effort to play a game that actually wakes up in the morning and goes to work?

Judging by the complete 180 the sequel does I think the developers understood where they went wrong and delivered the perfect lead-in to what they're most well-known today for, the Metal Slug series. Many of the best entries in the Run&Gun genre have one thing in common, a sense of humor. When an entire game is based around one or two soldiers blowing up an entire army it's such an improbable concept that a laugh has to be had every now and then to keep things together. GunForce 1 is such a bland affair that it makes me want to ignore its good qualities and while I can admit it's unfair there's really nothing at all I want to do to change that.

Game Rating - 2 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 1 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The retail games of 2011

It looks to be another year filled with games and that's just fantastic. What I'm going to do here is talk about games that I'm interested in. While I can say that I plan on buying all of them I definitely won't say that I'm paying full-price for most. Honestly this is little more than a reference so whatever.

LittleBigPlanet 2 - I love the original so it's a sure bet that this game is getting bought.

Mindjack - Aside from releasing the same day as LBP2 this game is also $60. It's too bad really because I think the concept is interesting and the game looks to have a very Japanese (aka wacky) take on the concept.

Dead Space 2 - I should probably give the first game another attempt before I start getting excited about this one. Still it'll be something nice to consider during the typically slow Summer.

Two Worlds II - The first game was trash but I still played through it which says a lot of unfortunate things about my standards. Apparently this game is much better so that's a bonus. I still never got around to picking up Risen, Divinity 2, and a handful of other similar RPGs though so eh well.

Lord of Arcana - So far it looks like the inferior cousin of Monster Hunter but I'll still give it a shot eventually.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 - The first game was an interesting piece of work that I had a lot of fun with. Still I'm not quite sure if I want to go the full-price route here.

Dragon Quest 6 - Admittedly the only DQ game I've ever actually beaten was the 4th one. I doubt this game will rectify things and considered I've yet to even crack DQ9 I probably should hold off. Still if it's the will of destiny this game will end up on my shelf one day.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together - While I have played FFT and for that matter way too many other SRPGs I've never played a Tactics Ogre game. I probably could alleviate this now by grabbing the N64 game off the Virtual Console but it looks more likely that I'll just hold off and grab what looks to be the ultimately stupendous release.

Radiant Historia - As far as DS RPGs go I hear this is one to look out for. I haven't bothered to read up on why exactly that is so chances are low that I'll be picking this up anytime soon.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon - I love EDF2 and to a lesser extent EDF 2017. Unfortunately this game isn't being handled by Sandlot(the original devs) and D3 sort of killed the hype by announcing the real EDF4 for sometime in the future. Still I'm willing to take a chance because it's not an impossible concept to figure out. Still I'd much prefer a Sandlot EDF because they have their own unique methods which give the series a lot of identity.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - The original was a tough act to follow and I my idea of fun with the sequel was exploiting the various bugs. Still this is a game I'm excited about if it can carry over what the first game great while improving upon it with good shooting mechanics.

Yakuza 4 - I'm still far from done with the third game but a full-priced purchase of this sequel is guaranteed.

God Eater Burst - If I'm going to buy Lord of Arcana I guess I have to buy this game as well.

Crysis 2 - Since I've never owned a competent PC I've been very curious about Crysis. I'm not sure what to think as far as this sequel is concerned because this time around it's multiplatform and a number of concessions were probably made.

Ratchet & Clank All 4 One - After playing the two PS3 games I can definitely say I'm a fan of the series. The emphasis on cooperative play could turn out to be something really awesome and I'm confident Insomniac can pull it off. I'm really looking forward to this.

Otomedius Excellent - While the Japanese version's release date was just announced a little awhile ago I'm still sort-of confident that Konami will get this out in the US eventually.

Batman: Arkham City - The first game was good, the sequel looks to be better, simple as that.

Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim - I'll be shocked if this game actually makes 2011 and it's all but guaranteed that there will be bugs but I'm sure that this game will eat away hundreds of hours all the same. I can't get enough open-world RPGs no matter their issues and even the disappointing Oblivion was a nearly 200-hour endeavor.

Tomb Raider - While I can't imagine this game is nearly as hardcore in its survival aspects as something like Robinson's Requiem I imagine this style is still going to make for something really fresh and entertaining.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

X360 Look - Resonance of Fate

If my body and mind were anywhere near one to one with each other I would be asleep right now. At one time or another the proverbial strings were yanked and I being a mere puppet to inspiration had no choice but to rise and write something about the game that has been dominating my free-time for quite awhile. Resonance of Fate is a near-impossible game to put down because even if I can drag myself away from the excellent battle-system there are the little things I love about games like watching numbers rise, emptying/filling bars, and for crying out loud there's even the ability to play dress-up.

Beneath all of that however there is something else, some sort of deeper meaning. Resonance of Fate is based in the post-apocalyptic far future but its visual style is like a multi-car pileup of the 20th century. I guess it's just as well seeing as how the world has become some tower where everyone at the bottom digs in mines and salvages for scraps of Earth's history while everyone at the top obsesses with creationism and art. Somewhere along the lines we expect to hear something profound that leaves us questioning our beliefs or heck at least something absurdly pretentious.

This is a Tri-ace RPG though so we are more likely to expect a goofy scene involving the female protagonist in a bath. For a team that has been around since the days of the Super Famicom one would think they could write a story that wasn't completely ridiculous but here we are once again. A better writer may have been able to successfully pull of the storyline but instead we spend a good thirty to forty hours in the dark and merely take in the sights and the game itself until someone feels it necessary to tell us what exactly is going on. In fact even at fifty-five hours and just shy of the end of the game I still can't tell you what the deal is with everyone.

The design of the world is some sort of geometric fantasy. The overworld is handled somewhat like the Shin Megami Tensei games where the player moves a cursor around to various locations. Though rather than showing semblance of a living, breathing world, Tri-ace chose to have every bit of land represented in the shape of a hexagon. Nearly the entire overworld is locked away and the player progresses by finding hexel-pieces which serve as keys. It's a different approach and I like it because many pieces of land happen to have treasure buried along with them. It's not uncommon to find some glasses, maybe some hair-dye, or something really useful like a bezel shard. Through the usage of terminals the player can also add extra effects that may give them the edge like double-fire damage or higher drop-rates. These require colored-hexes to work properly and due to the way the game-world is structured not all of them can be used at once. Still it is unique and that's worth a bit of credit.

The other shape that this game obsesses over is the triangle. The player's party is introduced in the first few minutes and keeping them together is an integral aspect of the battle system. Vashyron is the standard protector of justice, older man, and pervert of the Japanese RPG. Zephyr is the young man with the dark past. Finally there's Leanne who is the young lady of mystery. From the beginning the party has nearly all of the tools that will last them the rest of the game. Nobody is left behind in this game since if one character dies in battle the game immediately ends. Furthermore while their roles can be shifted easily they are all essential to mastering the battle-system.

The first thing anyone should do when starting this game is immediately head to the tutorial arena. The battle-system is a sheer cliff wall compared to many of the RPGs we've been seeing lately and the penalties for even the simplest mistakes can be huge. To start with our three heroes depend on the hero gauge for survival. This meter is featured prominently in the battle-screen and at the start everyone must make do with a mere three bezels. Since our heroes come equipped with guns the obvious idea is to run up to something and shoot it. What's obvious isn't what's effective in this case though since as the player runs enemies will be moving as well and preparing for attack. The player-characters are given only so much room to run with and will be left at the mercy of the enemy if they don't have a plan. Furthermore weapons are several times more effective when the player is close to an enemy so aggressive behavior is encouraged.

Getting aggressive in this game requires an extra surge of energy, something that allows us to perform heroic actions when naturally we should be unable to. That's right it's all about the hero gauge. With the push of a button the player can decide what location they can run to whether its the safety of cover, away from a major attack, or to simply ruin some creature's day. Performing this command costs a bezel but these can be replenished easily by a number of factors. Since the heroes of Fate are effectively extending themselves beyond their boundaries using up all of their bezels reduces them to quivering, weak, and most unfortunately frail chumps who will be killed off unless something miraculous happens.

As expected the enemies aren't going to be content with sitting around waiting for the player to show up. Damage is handled in a different fashion as most damage done by enemies is called "scratch-damage". Scratch damage is sort of like when the player gets shot in a modern first-person-shooter. Health is lost but it can be recovered over time(or in Fate's case, healed with a medkit). However when the party goes into critical mode or someone gets poisoned the scratch damage converts to real damage and that isn't easily recovered. The old adage of picking one's battles has rarely been more important as knowing which enemies to keep from attacking is necessary for survival.

Since everyone is capable of using every tool at their disposal winning battles is all about effective placement, knowing weaknesses, and offering a balanced party-build. Machine-guns are the damage-dealers in this game though like the enemies they can only do scratch-damage. The player can also choose to carry a magazine box that houses all sorts of different ammo-types to work with whether the enemy needs to be frozen, shocked, or blown up just a little bit quicker. Hand-guns make for the perfect follow-up as while they are weak they can finish enemies off and perform a handful of other tasks. Grenades offer a bit of both in that they can do the direct-damage while offering status effects like fire which adds bonus scratch damage or poison. The medkit is the basic catch-all for every possible healing or status-effecting item around. The things to keep in mind here however is that each party-member can only hold two of these tools at any time and only one person can be a grenade-tosser, healer, or magazine-holder. They can also choose to be a dual wielder. Sure someone can't uses a machine-gun and a hand-gun at the same time but they can alternate or just focus on one or the other for more damage or greater versatility. All of the weapons can be leveled up which adds to the player's health, allows them to carry more weight, and gives weapon-specific skills that trigger via charge-time. So rather than just shooting the enemy a bunch of times with weak attacks the player can hero-run by until they build up to an especially powerful attack with a lot of bonus modifiers like extra damage or piercing effects to get through enemies with a lot of armor.

Above-all winning is about team-work. By using the hero gauge effectively the party can build up a little something called Resonance. This is done simply by hero-running in-between two other party-members. Sometimes it takes a bit of work as the battlegrounds tend to be a lot more than just flat-surfaces and Resonance is lost as simply as walking but with at least three charges magic can be made. When Resonance is prepped the party can perform a tri-attack where the three of them move in a triangle and attack at about the same time. This means the heavy machine-gun damage can be capitalized on immediately and over time this can either turn tables or just completely ruin the enemy party. It takes time to master but it gets results.

It's a lot to absorb like any good Tri-ace game the results are always worth it. Special abilities like the bonus-shot allow the player to do huge amounts of damage to helpless foes while smackdown attacks shake up the enemies with lots of extraneous parts. There are also many situations where effective positioning can lead to players taking multiple enemies out of commission with one attack or even going entire battles without so much as a scratch. As a bonus fans of enemy-parts and money will find tons of both through effective playing. This game has perhaps one of the best battle systems real-time or turn-based. There aren't hundreds of skills or dozens of playable characters and there certainly aren't shotguns or rocket launchers but somehow it's just so effective with the basic functions it's consistently satisfying.

Still let's talk about the sort of stuff I like to see in games. Shooting enemies is great and all but when it comes down to it I for whatever reason just love to mess with numbers and junk. All of the guns are fully-customizable and this opens up one of the sillier systems I've seen in an RPG. Each gun has various spots where attachments can be snapped on and there are many parts to find as well as build from scraps. The only real limits are that the pieces fit. There's really nothing stopping the player from tacking five barrels, four scopes, and a few hand-guards on their gun. Some people may question the usefulness of this but eh it adds to the weapon's strength and that is what matters most.

More important to myself however is the dress-up mode. Like I said way back in the in the beginning every one up top is obsessed with art and by extension fashion. With each new chapter the possibility exists that more clothes will be unlocked. For the most part these fall under one of two types of outfits but that's enough for me since I just love color-coordinating and wearing something different every couple hours. This is probably due to my real-life consisting of wearing a pizza-delivery uniform everyday to work so I have to live vicariously through videogames to get my fix of being able to wear different clothes.

Despite being near the end of the game it's still far from over. In the great Tri-ace tradition there is a bonus dungeon and additional difficulties to tackle. Although as with other traditions the harder difficulties just seem to be dramatic stat-boosts for the enemy. This game has also triggered that sort of addiction to a game that's either really good or really terrible. I love this game and everything but there are those nights I try to fall asleep and all I can think about is scratch-damage, wondering why I can't finish off some bad-guys, and so on. In fact I had just recovered from some all-nighter session that is making me question my sensibilities. I should probably quit this game while I'm behind but it's just too darn good and I still have so far to go.

So really I can't guarantee you'll take to this game like I do. It's for the best anyway since you could die or something from playing the game so much instead of sleeping. If I'm going to die in the middle of something it had better be something impressive and worth dying over, not playing some RPG with a nonsensical storyline but an absolutely perfect battle-system. Going further I'd say that this review shouldn't even exist because I should be asleep. There's really nothing else I can say so here's the score and I'm out of here.

Game rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars
My rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 6, 2011

PS3 Look - Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time

I'll make this simple for once. If you liked Tools of Destruction you should have already bought this game. If you didn't care for that game or never played it well then you should check this game out anyway because it's that damn good. It's everything anyone could ask for out of a good sequel and for me it's one of the better games on the Playstation 3.

Game Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Unfortunately life as we know it is never about simplicity and I can't seem to write a review under five-hundred words so let's just face the facts and roll right along. Crack in Time follows directly after the events of Tools of Destruction. It seems our robo-backpack buddy Clank is more than just circuitry and an annoying laugh and is actually set to inherit some great destiny. While best friend Ratchet would like nothing more than to find Clank he has problems of his own and they involve one Dr. Nefarious. I missed the PS2 games so I can only assume that Nefarious is a recurring villain who got sent to the scrap heap in the past and revenge is best served by robots. The Nefarious' big plan is to capture the power of time held within the center of the universe. Throw in a mystery Lombax who wishes to use this power as well and one has to wonder if time is up for Ratchet and friends.

The key word in any sequel is improvement. It's not exactly a one to one ratio but usually when more effort is put in, better ideas are thought up, and criticisms are accounted for, a better game is created. Sequels aren't exactly anything new to Ratchet & Clank but somehow even with my limited exposure to the series I think that this entry is the best yet. The storyline is predictable yet well-done, the weapon-selection feels especially balanced, all of the levels are highly entertaining with rarely a hint of wasted space, and the fat has for the most part been trimmed accordingly.

Progression is handled in much the same manner as the previous game. Ratchet explores the cosmos, blows up everything that gets in his way, and finds some clue or plot-device that will carry him to the next phase of the game. Clank is tasked with exploring his luxury palace of time which involves a bit of slowing down time, repairing anomalies in the continuum, and even completing some clever puzzles that involve manipulating multiple versions of himself. Apparently crates are hard to come by so it's easier to just have Clank use time pads so his other selves can hold down switches to open doors. It's quite a bit more clever than it sounds and it is part of what makes the puzzles in this game actually work. For those who are confused by this sort of nonsense the game retains the simple pleasures like destroying robots with rockets and a full-on arena level that rewards unrelenting slaughter with cash and prizes.

Ratchet explores each galaxy via his space-ship and this leads to a very neat method of exploration. Aside from the major planets that progress the story there are also about a dozen minor areas that combine some mix of platforming and shooting to reach precious treasures. The space-sections falter somewhat as they involve a number of enemy-ships that need blasting and yet there's hardly much of anything to differentiate the first wave of attackers with the last wave. Still they're all minor speed-bumps in the end and the encounters tend to be pretty painless.

One of the things I never touched on when I reviewed the last Ratchet & Clank were the boss-battles. They were really mediocre and the final boss in particular was just a big disappointment. This game rights that wrong and then some by delivering some of the well-designed and creative bosses . This is really important because by the end of the last game it felt like all I was doing was running in circles while using up all of the ammo on my strongest weapons. With Crack in Time a real effort is made to get away from that and it shows with some really good boss-battles. There is still a ways to go in this regard I think but admittedly I have been spoiled by what some other developers have been doing in said department. There are other nice additions and changes like customization for some weapons, the hover-boots for getting around quickly, and that awful six-axis junk being relegated to a completely optional weapon that I hardly used.

Due to a number of factors I actually started playing this game first and only moved to Tools of Destruction when I got it at a cheap price. Generally when I played the earlier game all I could think about was how it failed in comparison to Crack in Time. No way am I saying that it's comparable to the differences between Street Fighter 1 and Street Fighter 2 but the improvements that Crack In Time brings are too obvious to ignore. It's just a flat-out more polished and better playing game that avoids the pacing and balance issues that severely hurt Tools of Destruction while adding in other features and making changes that make it truly exceptional. This is a must-play for any PS3 owner I think.

Game Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars's the same score from the beginning of the review. But hey if you made it this far you have my appreciation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PS3 Look - Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Here we have another game in a long-running series. I'm really not sure what else to say here as I haven't the faintest idea on how to give this review a proper intro. I mean somebody help me out here. I don't know what the heck Ratchet is even supposed to be. Yes, yes he is a Lombax that much is certain but what's the deal? Is he a cat? A rat? A rat-cat? I'll never understand aliens. Somehow this didn't stop me from playing through a flawed but enjoyable game.

The game starts off from an emergency message from one Captain Quark. He's one of those Super Zero types who tends to be all talk but every now and then he comes through and does something heroic. Anyway it turns out the city is getting pretty well wrecked by some little jerk named Tachyon who despite being puny and just all around terrible he managed to put together a vast army to take over and/or destroy the universe. It's up to Ratchet and his robo-backpack Clank to figure out what he's after and then shoot him with a bunch of guns.

One of the selling points of this game is the animation and characters. It's like Insomniac was inspired by the works of Pixar and wanted to do something in a similar vein. For the most part it works because even when the jokes are unoriginal the delivery is great and the characters tend to be really well-designed. Quark for example is perhaps my favorite character, dunno why he isn't playable. It probably wouldn't be the same if he was just a reskin or something and didn't have any of his own lines. Although with Ratchet I guess I should have played some of the PS2 games because this game seems to play it like I'm already a fan of his and don't need much of anything in terms of background to gain any sort of attachment to him. Maybe he's just supposed to play straight-man or furball to all of the weirdness going on in this universe.

The game itself is an interesting blend of shooter & platformer. There's lots of the jumping around and using special tools to traverse stages and then there is the finding and buying of many weapons that are used to kill things in many different ways. For the most part it's a solid blend though I think more of an effort could have been made to create encounters that mix the shooting & platforming aspects. Most of the time when it comes to fights they're in these open arena-like areas and while it's still fun it feels like more could have been done to create something really memorable.

Weapons and armor are required for Lombax survival and Insomniac did a heck of job providing them. There are many weapons to collect and they all offer different methods of attack and level-up with use. It's a really good system as it gives incentive for players to try everything. As a bonus there are special skill-points that are unlocked by getting kills in different ways and these can unlock bonuses. Where the weapons falter however is that they all have their own damage output and as the game progresses this number can climb quite high. This is unfortunate because late-game weapons are essentially the only ones that are viable as the early weapons are just far too weak to do much of anything. As far as the armor is concerned it's nice to have and all but I question if it actually works. This game uses some sort of scaling/rank system as Ratchet takes more damage over time but if he dies the damage lessens a bit. Unfortunately it gets to a point where towards the end of the game even with the best armor I could still die in maybe three or four hits. This is especially odd considering there's an experience system that raises maximum hit-points.

The pacing is broken up pretty poorly by a number of mini-games and repeated sections that lose their appeal before long. For example hacking gets incredibly old after awhile as it's all about using the sixaxis-support to lead a ball around that connects circuits and unlock a door or something. There are also these pirate-doors which require doing a little jig to open. It's cute the first time but it really feels like they had nowhere to go with it so it's just a waste of time. And then there are these parts of the game where Ratchet free-falls while dodging rockets. This is the sort of thing that's great in the first level but it's used maybe every few levels and again it's just tiring. All in all it's content that feels padded and just doesn't work out.

In fact just about every section where Ratchet isn't shooting or jumping on something didn't gel with me. Some areas involve Clank going solo and they involve finding these strange creatures called Zoni and having them move objects around to progress. I'd say these stages were more puzzle-oriented if there was anything in terms of actual puzzles. Instead it's more leading these guys around, occasionally punching a creature, and using way too much of a slow-time mechanic to get past obstacles. There are some sections that I really enjoyed as they all involve flying a ship and blasting enemies. It's similar to the likes of Starfox and Panzer Dragoon and I really enjoy them. Unfortunately there are only a few of them and I guess that's because they required the most effort to design.

Thankfully these flaws aren't too detrimental to the game. I guess it's because in the end it's still a fun title that doesn't take itself too seriously or pushes things so much that the flaws have a very negative effect on my enjoyment. Still there is room for improvement and the direct sequel Crack in Time does just about everything better.

Game Rating - 2.5 out of 5
My Rating - 3.5 out of 5

Monday, January 3, 2011

PS3 Look - Just Cause 2

Thankfully the spirit of classic brain-melting action games has not quite died. I think it was at the start of this generation I assumed that with the rise of franchises like Call of Duty and the like that games where the entire goal is to shoot people and/or blow them up would lead to some sort of intelligence revolution with lots of discussion about the nature of war, philosophy, and other...errh...smarty-thingies. Gaming is not about excuses, apologies, or even reason and Just Cause 2 is just the sort of the game we need to keep our brains thoroughly liquefied and smiles permanently etched on our faces like somebody took a bowie knife to them.

The plot to this game is...oh my God. I'm usually pretty successful at not taking these story-lines seriously but somehow I goofed up here. The game takes place in the fictional nation of Panau, which most closely resembled Southeast Asia. The "hero" of the first game is a one-man war machine by the name of Rico Rodriguez who is backed by the good old US of A to take down a corrupt government, establish somebody a bit more US friendly, and maybe grab a hold of the world's largest supply of oil. Not all of this guaranteed but who cares? The story-mode takes maybe two hours to complete and it goes down about as quickly as a rotten burrito. A handful of things to keep in mind however: Ninjas are involved at one point, there's a nuclear submarine out of nowhere, and characters are introduced just to be killed off in spectacular fashion.

The entire point of this game is Chaos. It's kind of like a simulation or one of these boring statistics programs that you ignore when you buy your next gaming PC. If for some sick reason you want to progress the storyline you have to invest in chaos. Chaos is gained from the destruction of enemy property, such as fuel lines, gas-stations, radars, and well anything that could potentially explode. There are well over three hundred locations to visit in this game and they all have their fair share of objects that must be destroyed or collected. Fans of bar-filling and emptying will find a lot to like here as most anything of importance tends to have a health meter shown when a gun is pointed at it. It's sort of like investing as you trade bullets for chaos and in some roundabout way fun is achieved as objects blow up, enemy corpses soar through the air, and our man Rico takes off in his parachute for the next location.

Next to the explosion, the grappling hook is the biggest star of this game. The idea behind it is that it's not just some tool for getting around as with a bit of creativity the player can annoy the enemy with it, tether objects to vehicles to create a wrecking ball, and yank those pitiful bad-guys off of ledges to a horrible death. The getting around stuff is cool too though as Rico can do something as banal as make a quick getaway or they can hitch a ride on a passing jet-fighter. The sky is most likely the limit here and even after the beating the game I haven't really tested all of the ways the grappling hook can work. Rico also has an infinite supply of parachutes which is pretty important as extensive use of the hook tends to leave him hundreds of feet in the air.

Fans of vehicles have access to everything on land, sea, and in the air. As with the last game players are free to do their best action-movie impressions and hop out of vehicles at the last possible moment to cause glorious explosions. Military vehicles also tend to come with weaponry so it's quite easy to snatch a piece from the enemy and turn things around. The handling is about what anyone should expect from an open-world action game. There is a bit of a curve to handling some vehicles (especially planes) but it's nothing like Gran Turismo meets Microsoft Flight Simulator or something similarly dull. Besides you gotta be able to do things like attach a bus to a helicopter and we don't need some realistic handling system mucking up the fun for us.

The biggest concern for me is money. Sure chaos is the real currency of this game but a lot of the paper tends to end up in the player's pockets as they progress. The problem is aside from some serious emergency like when something absolutely has to be blown up there's nothing to spend money on. Sure weapons and vehicles are readily available through an airborne supplier but they're basically one-time uses and there's nothing in the way of permanent upgrades or abilities that can be bought. There are other ways of upgrading at least though it involves a lot of scouring around for parts. I guess some kind of home-base that could be upgraded through use of money would have been nice. There are a number of strongholds that are unlocked throughout the game and maybe having access to any purchased vehicles and weapons through them would have been nice. On the other hand this is the kind of game where the player really has little reason to return to a place after it's been completed. The idea is to keep moving until everything is sufficiently destroyed and maybe start again on a new difficulty setting.

Since I was spoiled by the likes of Red Faction: Guerrilla I'm also a bit miffed by the lack of destructible buildings. It just doesn't feel complete to me when I raid an enemy encampment because I bet their barracks are still standing, some bunkers are left, and generally there's probably an untold number of survivors waiting for me to get bored and go away. I would love nothing more than to nuke them all and bathe in shrapnel but I guess the engine isn't quite ready for that sort of thing. It would have been a lot worse if for example any buildings I destroyed somehow magically re-appeared if I turned my back or walked away for awhile. Sure the chances of coming back are slim but what if I wanted to grab a plane and just admire my handiwork from above? I guess I shouldn't be disappointed about things I can only imagine.

The missions also tend to be pretty bland. The climatic moments in the story tend to involve guys with a lot of health who eat bullets like corn-flakes and most other situations boil down to blowing something up, getting away with valuable or intel, or even *ugh* protection services. There are a lot of missions to this game and they can't all be clever or unique but the story-mode could have at least gotten a few points that make it worthwhile to bother with. Unless you're an achievement/trophy hunter there is absolutely no appeal in shooting through the story and since everything worthwhile can still be unlocked through exploring the island there's hardly a reason to bother with finding out why the heck everyone cares about Panau. It's just as well that I gave away the plot of the game in the second paragraph of this review.

In all fairness however my complaints about the mission-design is just nitpicking. Sure something like that would be an imperative aspect to most other games but here it's just another something that can be done. What makes this game work is the freedom to do any number of things to cause destruction or simply goof around. If some soldier gives you lip about swiping their jeep feel free to hang them from a low-ceiling and power-slide into them like a piƱata. Uncle Sam really doesn't care if you happen to drive a tank into a peaceful neighborhood and do what comes naturally. If all else fails you can always grab a plane, fly as far into the air as possible, jump out, and then land directly on your head. I really hate to say this but sometimes you gotta play a game just 'cause.

Game Rating - 4 out of 5
My Rating - 5 out of 5