Capsule of Curiosities: Jan-Feb 2009 Retrospective

Capsule of Curiosities: Jan-Feb 2009 Retrospective

2009 was a high watermark for the industry, packed with high profile exclusives for each system and the rise of numerous IPs that would dominate the coming decade. However, more important to this column (as well as my heart), is the glut of one-off B-list releases doomed to a state of oblivion ten years later, in dire need of being pulled from the ether. Games carried upon release by nothing beyond an idea so bizarre, pumping millions of dollars into it would have been a death wish. So instead we got ramshackle experiments and vanity projects that have only grown in farcical status as the years have advanced and products have become more self-serious. We’ll be digging up the artifacts most inherent to 2009 in their own articles, for now let’s allow ourselves to sort through the discarded fossils, abandoned in piles and lost to the passage of time.

 

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand:

Courtesy of Amazon

“Shockingly adequate” was the reception 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand was greeted with, destined to face a low bar of expectations due to every single contextual nuance of its release. A sequel to the entirely awful 50 Cent: Bulletproof, Blood on the Sand takes Curtis Jackson and company to a wholly ambiguous middle eastern country to stir some trouble. The crew tear the tattered land to shreds for the sake of a noble cause, to retrieve the diamond skull stolen from Fif, and in the meanwhile casually put an end to a terrorist conglomerate.

 

In an age where every third-person shooter out was plundering the mechanics of Gears of War for their own convenience, Blood on the Sand perhaps does it the most shamelessly and directly. It makes for about as tight of a shooter as one relying on executive input from 50 Cent’s seven year old son could be. Blood on the Sand is mostly a stunningly standard title. Barring the remarkable taunt collection (equipped with stat system) and a score from Swizz Beatz, Blood on the Sand mostly feels like G-Unit walked into the average Rebellion title (maybe the former is an element of overlap).

 

The crew’s incredibly mercenary voice acting only enhances matters further. Blood on the Sand is a comedic masterpiece wrapped in a just competent enough cover shooter to pass muster. Timed challenges issued during combat and the importance of collecting posters of yourself throughout the campaign truly spells out how arcadey of an experience Blood on the Sand is. The outright encouragement to toss out any concept of restraint and enjoy 50 Cent’s power fantasy at face value makes matters contagiously asinine. There’s nothing special in Blood on the Sand’s playing experience beyond the mere audacity of its existence. There appears to be underlying acknowledgement of how inane a product Blood on the Sand is compared to the stone-faced stupidity of 50 Cent Bulletproof. Developers for Blood on the Sand have fully dedicated themselves to making a decent title out of licensing’s nadir.

 

The game steps away from its Gears of War shadowing in two respects, bookending vehicle chases and numerous helicopter encounters (50’s son can be thanked for the latter). These are the weakest moments of the game by far. Chases are expectedly clunky, running at an appallingly lumbering speed, but this hollow variety is easy and flashy enough to make for more begrudging amusement. The input of 50’s son, meanwhile, produces the most irritating segments of the game, helicopters that dodge RPG rounds from a distance and make for the most nondescript sections of a game that doesn’t even bother to give its Middle Eastern territory a name.

 

And then you’re killing grunts again while 50 screams profanity in your ear to canned G-Unit song loops and all has transcended. Blood on the Sand is the best thing 50 Cent has had his name on since 2003, sublime shovelware to be gawked at for its adequacy and appreciated for its brazen cult of personality. Your enjoyment of it rests entirely on your attitude towards “50 Cent third-person shooter”, if the idea amuses you ever so slightly, it’s everything you could ask for and more.

 

Quality: 6/10

Amusement: 9/10

 

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy of densely meta proportions; Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard found itself reserved to the bargain bins nigh immediately, residing in Metascore purgatory, albeit cleaning up shop at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards. Before they became Alvin and the Chipmunks costars, Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris lent their prestige to a game with visible contempt for its industry, its characters, and possibly the product itself. You play as the titular Matt Hazard (voiced by Arnett), a past his prime action star stuck in development hell for too long, desperate for a next-generation comeback. This is his grand return, intercepted by Wallace Wellesley (Mr. Harris), the nebbish game corp CEO plotting extensively to kill and replace him in-game.

 

Eat Lead is not a very good game. The line between satire and the developer’s limitations is frequently blurred. Gunplay is stilted, hitboxes are limited to a headshot or everything else, and enemy spawn points are bizarrely unfair, though the surrounding title is easy enough to diminish its impact. Matt Hazard is a copy of a copy, a parody of Duke Nukem’s rickety transition from boilerplate platforming protagonist to FPS jester to laughingstock. In advance of Duke Nukem Forever’s release, it was easy to tell players to wait for the real deal, but after Forever somehow turned out measurably worse than Eat Lead, the latter has retained some unlikely charm.

 

The jokes range from easy puns to low-effort high-concept genre excursions (in about a 60:40 ratio) and though it never becomes more fun to play than it is to watch, there’s a sort of virtue in blasting 16-bit off brand Wolfenstein soldiers (who can only side-scroll in a 3D world) with Soak’Em military water rifles. Enduring battles against mock-JRPG bosses (text boxes included) and “Sting Sniperscope” cushions the blow of gameplay this stilted (albeit just barely), and for all the game’s flaws it doesn’t feel especially dated. The clumsy Vicious Engine is pushed to its limits, while the basics of post-2006 cover shooting are replicated and even aided with a point-to-advance cover system that lends some faint degree of grace to movement. Credit to the basement level expectations of “comedy” games perhaps, but ten years down the line I continue to have a decent time with Eat Lead.

Quality: 5/10

Amusement: 7/10

 

The House of the Dead: Overkill

Courtesy of Amazon

Motion control’s introduction to the seventh-generation was a landmark innovation, newly present immersion realized to its full potential by third party developers… mostly through light-gun games. The Guncom and Stunner Light Gun had long been collecting dust by the time the Wiimote touched down in millions of households, but carried the burden of being additional peripherals for their consoles. The Wiimote debuted with the implicit ability to bring across arcade cabinet experiences (a double-edged capability) with the addition of an on-screen reticle and only optional, further ridiculous peripherals.

 

What better excuse, then, for Sega to release the first console exclusive entry in the House of the Dead franchise, The House of the Dead: Overkill. In content and execution, Overkill is the most elaborate House of the Dead by far, even if it leans a bit too heavily into Z-grade presentation for its own sake. The wink-wink pseudo-grindhouse fetish act done by Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino at his worst has always rung hollow to me, and Overkill is effectively a one-to-one translation of it, but underneath the film-grain facsimile and self-indulgent bantering is a lot of rail shooter setpieces that retain the puppet show lunacy House of the Dead always had.

 

Overkill is content to offer more of it, with carnivals and strip clubs as the background canvas instead of the Venetian Gothic architecture of House of the Dead 2 or nu-metal concept art of 3 and 4. It’s relatively admirable that Overkill would return to a sense of defined style lost since House of the Dead’s original sequel. As obvious as the blithering profanity Overkill’s protagonists speak in is, it’s mostly House of the Dead coming full circle as a franchise embracing its tendency for iconically terrible voice acting, just lacking the delusional charm stone-faced precursors had.

 

Overkill is a pandering crowd-pleasing swing for the internet’s affection, designing a title for which a RiffTrax commentary track would be a mere redundancy. Though Overkill pulls off the shocking feat of being less subtle than its predecessors, it’s a mechanically solid light-gun shooter with more observable effort put into its design from top-to-bottom than the bulk of its peers. All in all, it’s one of the better ways to bring House of the Dead into your household.

 

Quality: 7/10

Amusement: 7/10

 

Deadly Creatures

To counteract my lament at motion control capabilities mostly leading to their own brand of homogeneity amongst games, let’s discuss Deadly Creatures. A brawler, platformer, stealthy insect simulator, a refinement of Mister Mosquito, putting you in control of tarantula and scorpion alike. Motion controls are the standard affair (perhaps to the game’s benefit), but it’s hard to find a true comparison point for the rest of the game. Ground level environment design turning shoes and bike spokes to towering architecture and a gas station to a labyrinth is novel throughout the game’s length. Combat is realized to a peculiarly detailed extent, and it unfolds more fluidly than the traditional third-party waggle fest matters that could often be expected from the Wii.

 

Entirely different movesets for the respective scorpion and tarantula keep matters varied, while mini-boss encounters with lizards and a praying mantis feel shockingly tense. This can primarily be credited to the measured control system, as well as the uncomfortably vivid sound effects accompanying gameplay. Deadly Creatures is a pricklier affair than much of the content marketed for Wii owners. A tale of treasure hunting and deceit between human characters (played by Dennis Hopper and Billy Bob Thornton) controls the journey your creatures take, though thankfully through in-game eavesdropping instead of canned cutscenes.

 

The game spins a tale so far removed from the phoned-in shovelware the Wii swiftly became an unearned home for. It was often tough to find a truly idiosyncratic title for the Wii beyond the vessel of its control, but Deadly Creatures is yet to be followed-up in any respect to this day. Though things wrap with an astonishingly chintzy FMV a mere eight hours in, the preceding journey is more than unique enough to make unearthing the title worthwhile.

 

Quality: 8/10

Amusement: 8/10

Throwback Review: Fallout 3 – Explorers

Throwback Review: Fallout 3 – Explorers

This is gunna hurt me more than it hurts Bethesda.

 

Cut back to Christmas 2008, specifically my Christmas 2008. The Pogues “Fairytale of New York” has played for the 40th time today, and it’s not even 11AM, you’ve had your first ever mince pie and you’re wondering why it’s popular, and you’ve got the Fallout 3 advert stuck in your head. Bob Crosby’s version of “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” plays gleefully over new-found ultra-violence. Your sheltered 12-year old mind wants nothing more than your dad to go over to the now-defunct GameStation, and buy a copy for £20. Does he get it? Not only does he get it, but he also grabs the strategy guide from Prima as well. What a don.

 

Fallout 3 should need no introduction, or indeed the Fallout series in general. The long-awaited third installment to a series crafted originally by Interplay, now in the hands of a seemingly-promising Bethesda. After releasing Oblivion two years prior, all eyes were on the publishing and developing giant to come through with a product to be revered for years to come. Did they succeed?

 

Mmm…. well… let’s move on.

 

Fallout

 

You play as the son of Liam Neeson, who shelters you in the cozy Vault 101 after your mother dies while giving birth to you. All’s well and fine until you turn 18, and one night, your best friend is screaming about how your father has left the seemingly inescapable Vault. After you follow in his footsteps and attempt to track down just where the bloody hell he’s gone to, you become embroiled in a bigger conspiracy and war altogether.

 

Now, as much as I would like to jump back to 11 years ago, with ignorant bliss dominating every part of my body as I attempt to play through Fallout 3 for the 17th time, it cannot happen. As much as I still love this game with every fiber of my being, to the point where after 2500 hours of playing, it’s still in my Top 5 games of all time, the years have not been kind to this game whatsoever in some regards.

 

The combat, for example, is an absolute mess. Besides the fact that you can’t really aim down the sights of un-scoped guns properly, the guns all feel like crap, save for the Chinese Assault Rifle, which might be one of the best iterations of an Assault Rifle in any video game ever made. Other than that, the 10MM weapons, the shotguns, the energy weapons– they all feel limp in the hands of your Vault Dweller.

 

 

Melee combat? It’s alright. It’s basically just Oblivion, except you can’t block properly. This has been an issue I’ve had since 2008, but it’s an actual pisstake that you can’t grab, say, a trash can lid and use it as a shield while equipped with a Shishkebab, or Chinese Officer’s Sword. It’s a side of the combat that wasn’t fully explored, simply.

 

But wait! There’s always V.A.T.S, isn’t there? Ah yes, the mechanic that turned combat into less of a chore, and more of a handshake between two factions. I’ve grown to hate V.A.T.S in my age, as while the combat may be annoying to grasp at times, it’s still not so bad that you need to completely freeze the game and become invincible for a short while.

 

It’s a shame that we had to wait until 2018 to get an implementation of V.A.T.S that manages to not look like pseudo-cheating. Yeah, you still have aimbot in Fallout 76, but there’s still the drawback of standing still and looking like a tosser while trying to get free shots on a Super Mutant. There are direct repercussions for trying to be cheap, as opposed to Fallout 3, where you don’t even get damaged if you accidentally throw a grenade at your feet in V.A.T.S.

 

A hallucination plagues the player, showcasing a simpler time before the bombs dropped in Fallout 3.

 

Graphically, it looks like grey vomit. Every single slight variation of black and white is used in full force, leading to a world where vibrant colors are vilified. Even Oasis, a village where trees are flourishing and wrapping around the enclosed cliffs, is all but lush, with the greens feeling like they’re being restrained. Could be worse, it could be the missing textures that seem to dominate most rock formations outside of Megaton.

 

Glitch-wise, there’s not a whole lot that’s infamous when it comes to Fallout 3 being glitchy. Oblivion had some spectacular A.I. bugger ups, and Skyrim was just, well, Skyrim, but Fallout 3 has never provided me with anything extraordinary to report on, bar one time in 2012 where a Giant Ant Soldier grew to atmosphere-breaking sizes. Shocked by this Earth Defense Force-style anomaly, I could do nothing but run to Tenpenny Tower and snipe the insectoid beast, resulting in the body model exploding across the skybox.

 

Mechanically, the leveling and progression of your character is stilted and poorly thought-out. Disregarding the fact that you can only go up to Level 30 at maximum, there’s a lot of way you can make your character immediately OP before you even exit the Vault. Pop your character’s Barter up to 50 before you exit the vault, and suddenly you won’t have a problem with supplies. Sneak to 50? You’re practically invisible, and so on.

 

 

It’s quite obvious that the design of Fallout 3 was numbed and boiled to its most generic layout in order to “appeal” to the console market, and I wish it didn’t. This was that dark period of time where franchises and entries in well-established and loved franchises were being dumbed down or mutated to the point of the weakest layer of familiarity. F.3.A.R.Resident Evil 5DiRT 3Saints Row: The ThirdHitman: Absolution— Christ, even Portal 2 suffered from the same thing.

 

That being said, this watered-down RPG isn’t as watered down as other games in the same mainstream light. Sure, it seems almost infantile at points, what with the max level cap of 30, and a fair lack of truly robust character building, whether it be in the perk system or the dialogue options. However, we saw how much worse it could be with Fallout 4, a game where freedom is all but given. That being said, there were annoyances in the perk system of 3.

 

There are so many perks here that are stupidly specific, to the point where they don’t even seem like a infallible option for a preset character build like sneaking or speech. One could argue that it’s the freedom of its predecessors trying to come back in from the cold, but come on. Who has ever ranked up Little Leaguer? Who has ever been in the position where Nerd Rage! seems like a viable option, even on more crushing difficulties?

 

A third-person screenshot of the main character of Fallout 3, looking at the destroyed houses of the Capital Wasteland.

 

When it’s not needless sectioning, it’s perks that come too late to care about. Party Girl/Boy at Level 28, Solar Powered at Level 20, Nerves of Steel at level 26– Nerves of Steel shouldn’t even matter at the point of it being available, because you need your agility to be 7, and you’ve already got a ton of Action Points at that point. What good is regenerating an almost endless supply faster than you could possibly need it to go?

 

Now, while I do have to put an asterisk here, and state that perks like Party Girl/Boy and Nerves of Steel were added with the inclusion of Broken Steel, which also increased the level cap from 20 to 30, but this is still a weak reward. They should’ve just put them both down to Level 12 and 14/16 respectively, but alas, there’s no point lamenting on it now.

 

Still, when all is said and done, this is still one of the quintessential Fallout experiences. While New Vegas could be considered objectively better, can still stand to an almost equal height with Obsidian’s swansong. It’s nowhere near the banal boredom of Fallout 4, it’s nowhere near the glitchy grindfest of Fallout 76, it’s nowhere near the… umm… of Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel. In my eyes, it’s just as good as New Vegas, but for other reasons.

 

The main character of Fallout 3 sitting at the entrance to Megaton, while wearing a Tunnel Snakes jacket. Billy Creel walks on in front of them.

 

The narrative, for example, showcases an importance and urgency that’s been left behind with Fallout 4 and 76. Fallout 4 and 76 merely promise you that you are important, or that you’re the spectator to a story that doesn’t care for your presence, crowbarring you in with the loosest pretenses possible. Fallout 3 gives you context, creative ideas of how the future could be handled by a new-world government; It’s all fairly interesting. Again, not to the depths of New Vegas, but still interesting.

 

Beyond that, you have some exceptionally strong writing, adding to this nihilistic atmosphere of fake hopefulness. There’s optimism in their lines, but they’re all lying to themselves, or so they think. It leads to some fantastic characterization, especially when companions are thrown into the mix… well, some of them, but for every flat-lined Sergeant RL-3, there’s a Star Paladin Cross, a Charon, or Fawkes.

 

This was also the only Bethesda-developed Fallout game to get Karma right. While New Vegas continued to improve and add factions that respond to your every action, the Karma system put into Fallout 3 was a breath of fresh air at the time. Granted, this will rarely make any sort of difference, as the most common enemy you’ll face is Raiders, but there was still options and tests of your faith which felt good… or dastardly, your pick.

 

The classroom of Vault 101, with our character standing in the hallway, and the teacher looking around the classroom.

 

With that in mind, Fallout 3 still has one of the most fantastic tones for any video game in the same mindset of arid depression I’ve ever felt. It’s genuinely up there with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in terms of being this oppressive force to be reckoned with, as every step through these dusty and irradiated lands feels like you’re just driving yourself deeper into this sinking hole of insanity and death. It’s like listening to an Elliot Smith album while on Prozac.

 

While it may not be visually different, Fallout 3 does a better job of showcasing a unique side to the Capital Wasteland than Fallout 4 and 76 do. Providing a uniqueness that isn’t just throwing random biomes around like it’s a hyperactive Minecraft seed, knows how to keep things in a state of wonder and awe while being tonally consistent.

 

The Vaults are my favourite example of this. As we all know by now, the Vaults of Fallout weren’t safe havens for the lucky few, but mere test chambers for whoever successfully applied, ranging from dystopian to grotesque. The hallucinatory nature of Vault 106. The white noise onslaught which devastated the residents of Vault 92. The simulations of Vault 112, and of course, the endless Garys of Vault 108. Horror, comedy, and ignorant bliss all showcased here.

 

The main character of Fallout 3 is in The Pitt, with various swift mutants attempting to attack them.

 

I think what most people forget about Fallout 3Myself included, to be honest— Is that horror is one of the most important aspect in this game, and it’s done magnificently well. Regardless of your opinions about the Metro tunnels, they are but a small fragment of how unbelievably terrifying the game can be, and there’s a lot more to be terrified by.

 

Deathclaws, the Dunwich Building, Yao Guai caverns, the aforementioned Vaults of 106 and 92, these are hallmarks in well-paced and well-structured horror. The unease, the paranoia, the precaution of making every small footstep taken last for hours. It’s all stellar, and that stellar-ness continues even when horror isn’t even a factor, and is instead replaced by wonder, shock, and awe.

 

Exiting Vault 101. Going up to the Lincoln Memorial for the first time. Leaving Raven Rock to see the Enclave in ruin, disarray and mania. Blowing up Megaton. Selling Bumble to the Slav– I’m getting sidetracked, but this game is chock full of interesting journeys that still take up a large portion of some of the most memorable quests and moments you could partake in last generation. It’s incredible, and still is.

 

The main character of Fallout 3 stands proudly in Anchorage, with their Winterized T-51b Power Armor, and a massive Minigun.

 

Look, truth be told, I just love Fallout 3. Like I said before, this is still in my Top 5 Favorite Games of All Time, and will always stay that way. Returning to it was difficult, not because I had to rag on it, but because I believe there’s barely anything wrong with the game as it is, bar the terrible combat. Luckily, there are paths where combat can be minimal, the best paths which truly show off how great this game could be considered to other people if it wasn’t for the mainstream way off cutting parts off from the original machine.

 

Finally, there’s the DLC to discuss, and these days, the game needs these five DLC expansions in order to flourish properly. Operation: Anchorage was a neat little entrée that served as a nice change of pace from the base game, although it did give you some game-breaking equipment in the form of invincible Power Armor that didn’t need training. Then The Pitt came, which was a fantastic showcasing of restrictions and moral dilemmas. It may have been the dirtiest and ugliest environments the seventh generation of gaming had ever seen, but it had some fantastic horror vibes also.

 

Broken Steel was the continuation of the main story, after many felt cheated and robbed by the original ending of Fallout 3‘s main story. Because of that, it does feel like the weakest expansion of them all, and was more like a runoff of narrative waste whose sole contributions to the experience were OP weapons and the Super Mutant Masters.

 

A screenshot of V.A.T.S, showing the Lone Wanderer firing a Missile Launcher.

 

Point Lookout was the prototype for Fallout 4‘s Far Harbor, and for a prototype, it’s done a helluva lot better. The grimy and filthy atmosphere of what seems like The Hills Have Eyes fanfiction is so thick, that you’d need a chain-saw to get through it. Plus, the continuation of the mysteries that the Dunwich Building left behind continued in a quest that’s only available through Point Lookout, so top stuff.

 

The final DLC expansion was Mothership Zeta, and there’s not a lot that this expansion gets wrong. It’s basically corridor-shooter fan-fiction filled with goofy moments galore, but it gets the job done really well. One massive problem it does have however, is the fact that the alien weaponry is stupidly overpowered, and considering you can get an almost endless amount here, it’s the end for anyone who dares step in our way when we escape.

 

Out of all the DLCs mentioned, Point Lookout is not only the best, but one of Bethesda’s best works in general. It had a massive new playground to frolic in, the enemies were both hilarious and terrifying, and the hallucinatory meltdown you have in the swamps is easily one of my favorite moments in any video game ever. None of this is a patch on what New Vegas offers, but that’s for another time.

A hallucination plagues the player, showcasing a simpler time before the bombs dropped in Fallout 3.

 

If you asked me what the future of Fallout is right now, I’d give a nervous cough and run out of the room. Things weren’t looking good after the complete non-starter of Fallout 4, but there was still room to improve and get that grotesque dialogue system out of there, but then Fallout 76 happened. While I try to convince on-lookers that the working of Bethesda’s PR company and Beta performance aren’t reflective of how enjoyable the base game can be, I’m still fairly certain that in the hands of Bethesda, Fallout is dead, but wasn’t the death blow. was the most faithful Bethesda had ever been to it.

 

The narrative wasn’t a barely-entertaining story with fucking Minecraft lodged into it, the combat (While stiff and jerky), wasn’t trying to hide its stiffness and jerkiness by copying Destiny‘s equally stiff and jerky gunplay. The world wasn’t a wonderful little forest you could skip through with some saccharine grin on your face, and the Brotherhood of Steel wasn’t ran by an insufferable tosspot.

 

What’s my point with this review? I don’t know. After watching people rag on this game mercilessly, I wanted to return to the Capital Wasteland and see if I was wearing my nostalgia goggles the whole time. Was I? Possibly, but then you’re talking to a guy who can enjoy Superman 64 un-ironically, so it could be that I simply have a higher pain threshold than most.

 

In the end, Fallout 3 is still an objectively good game after eleven years. Is it a bad Fallout game? Arguably no. Is it a bad RPG? Arguably yes. Has it aged poorly? Also arguably yes, but the spirit, the style, the aesthetic and the atmosphere of the original Fallout is still there, buried underneath crap combat and grey rocks. Go play it for yourself if you’re not sure. I promise you it’s not as bad as hyperbolic YouTubers make it out to be.

Throwback Review- Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Throwback Review- Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

If you’re educated about the Danganronpa series (or Japanese visual novel games in general), it’s clear that the story wants to entertain the player every step of the way by throwing countless twists and turns. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is no exception. It doesn’t play by the rules, even rules it created. Danganronpa 2 has the wildest fantasies of any game I’ve played (then again, I don’t play that many Japanese games), but I’ve still managed to deeply care about what happens to these characters and who will die next. Fans of the series claim this is the strongest entry in the series in terms of narrative and characters. That being said, I can wholeheartedly declare this as a superior successor to the first game in basically every way.

 

Fair warning: I will cover some spoilers of the first game, so I’d recommend you either play that first or at least watch some YouTube videos that cover the things I’ll talk about here.

Image result for danganronpa 2 characters

The colorful cast of characters count one higher than the first game with 16 students, eight boys and eight girls. It’s important that you play the first game before this one as there are tons of allusions of the previous game. Makoto Naegi, the protagonist in the first game, didn’t really leave an impact on the story or have much of a personality, which weakened him as a character to associate with for the entirety of the game. Hajime Hinata not only is much more animated as a character, but also has a really interesting mystery to him. For one, he has no Ultimate Talent he could recall of, whereas the rest of the cast can easily remember it. He also houses the ability to summon answers from the most difficult questions via mini-games during class trial. Nagito Komaeda, the first person you meet on Jabberwock Island (the setting of the game), loses his mind after the first case and becomes some sort of massive trickster that fools the cast during the class trials.

Image result for danganronpa 2 chiaki

Chiaki Nanami, the Ultimate Gamer, instantaneously becomes the most helpful contributor during the class trials and brings logic into the most despairing moments of the class. She also happens to be the best character in the game due to the close relationship you develop with her throughout the story, the fact that she’s a gamer who suddenly sleeps a lot., and is also one of the most important characters to the story, so definitely pay attention to scenes with her in it. Did I also mention she’s the best? Yeah, she’s the best. She deserves her own game like Toko Fukawa, by the way. Anyway, moving on.

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Other characters in the ensemble include Peko Pekoyama, the Ultimate Swordswoman; Mikan Tsumiki, the Ultimate Nurse; Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu, the Ultimate Yakuza, and no he doesn’t have 18 games based on him. Nearly all characters have a remarkable twist to them and they leave a massive impact onto the story. My only gripe is that some characters have no ulterior motives waiting to be unveiled, such as Sonia Nevermind, who’s a foreign exchange student and a literal princess of her own European kingdom. There’s so much you could do with that character and it’s a shame the story kept her and Kazuichi Soda in a never-to-be romance. However, there are some funny moments between them.

 

During the second chapter, a handful of female characters come into a diner wearing rather revealing bikinis, making the male characters swoon. Soda was hoping that Nevermind was going to be in a similarly attractive outfit, but she arrives in a very concealing diver suit. Thankfully, Soda was happy her clothes were skin-tight. One cool thing I like about the class trials in DR2 is that a lot of what characters say is documented during trial debates. No longer are there random pieces of evidence that spring up in an attempt to spice things up during the class trials. As a result of more natural sources of information, the debates feel more organic and sometimes draw similarities to Twelve Angry Men when an outrageous argument gradually becomes logical and shifts the quarrel between the surviving students. Expect the unexpected when it comes to finding out who the murderer is.

Image result for danganronpa 2 gameplay

Similarly to the predecessor, the class trials end by a brief exchange with the killer and why he or she decided to brutally murder the victim. Most of the time their motivations behind their actions causes you to sympathize with the killer and understand them better. Sometimes the death of a student devastates another and permanently scars them for the rest of the game. Unknown relationships and histories reveal themselves at the conclusion and it often pains to see them be executed by Monokuma. The story effectively immortalizes the dead with Hajime and his peers longing to see the lost ones again and pondering what they would do in certain situations they encounter. These characters feel so much more alive and some tragic moments that occur can linger in your mind. Of course, it wouldn’t make you cry, but Danganronpa 2 manages to leave a formidable impact on someone who’s engaged in the story, and that alone is an achievement in a game’s narrative.  

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As far as visual novels go, Danganronpa continues the tradition of being the more gameplay-oriented series in the genre, especially during class trials. There are several new mini-games in class trials. My personal favorite of which being Logic Dives, where a Hajime figure snowboards through a tunnel avoiding obstacles and pit while answering some quizzing questions. Hangman’s Gambit has underwent a facelift, now letting the player combine matching letters and shooting it into the blank spaces. This mode can be a little too long when mismatching letters keep colliding and the cursor moves too slowly to prevent the collision. I would say that would be my least favorite mini-game if it not were for Rebuttal Showdowns.

 

On a Dualshock 4, the controls are not that intuitive at all, with the analog stick acting as the sword that cuts through statements. That’s also ignoring the fact that you have limited arsenal, and when you miss one too many, you’re shit out of luck. Looking for the right Truth Blade that cuts through the contradiction is also a little flimsy as you have to juggle with the left and right bumpers and keep slashing through the statements. Ultimately, I prefer Nonstop Debates, which have some additional twists. For one, you always have a fully loaded gun with six Truth Bullets, instead of starting out with one and then slowly building up to six. Perhaps this is due to Spike Chunsoft relying on players being familiar to the game’s mechanics. You can also agree to some statements, creating a Consent reaction instead of a Counter. I’m surprised no one made any sex jokes from that. They work the same way as finding contradictions, but it’s nice to see the debates feel more genuine.

 

I seriously want to discuss the music because it is so freaking good in DR2. It’s the same composer as the last game, Masafumi Takada, and while the soundtrack recycles some old songs, the overall intensity and absurdity in the melody is still very present. They’re long enough to not sound too repetitive and catchy enough for you to sit around to embrace the jam. This is definitely music I would place in my top placement lists. Even though some tracks play a lot more frequently than others, I never get tired of them. The percussive nature of during intense moments and the somber atmosphere of tragic outcomes are beautifully orchestrated into the music. They perfectly fit the emotion of the narrative and amplify the sudden revelations. Also the songs that play during the Executions are all quite good. I’d definitely put this on a YouTube playlist during study sessions.

 

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As this is a visual novel, the writing is key to maintain an enjoyable gaming experience, and Danganronpa 2 significantly improved from the predecessor. Most of the characters have their own mysteries waiting to be uncovered. Talking to characters gives you an insight into their own struggles and history (prior to their memory being wiped). Each time a case ends, a new island is opened up, which becomes the setting of the next murder. The new locations you find each serve a purpose and even the tiniest details become the largest revelations during Class Trials. Monokuma of course adds some spice by adding motives to encourage more killings, just like the previous ones. Without spoiling too much, there is some sort of pattern behind each killings in that it reflects those of Trigger Happy Havoc. However, the game does away with that retreading and gives an incredible climactic final case.

 

The fifth and sixth case deliver such a transformative twist in the game. When the game revealed the victim in the fifth case, my jaw hit the floor. A big gripe I had with the first game is that it threw too much at you in regards to the story in the final case, thus leaving a lot of open gaps in the narrative. Thankfully, not only does the sixth case clearly answer every new revelation it hurls at you in a very long cutscene, but it also clears up previous questions from the last game. The English voice cast truly shine in the final Class Trial, especially Johnny Yong Bosch (a very familiar name to anime fans) who voiced Hajime Hinata. The English voice cast in general did an excellent job. Christine Marie Cabanos (Chiaki), Wendee Lee (Akane), Kotono Mitsuishi (Peko Pekoyama), Brian Beacock (reprising his role as Monokuma), Chris Tergliafera (Gundham Tanaka), and Erin Fitzgerald (name redacted due to spoilers) all perfectly fit their characters and their talent is very recognizable in the anime world.

 

While Danganronpa 2 is substantially longer than the predecessor, making it over the 30 hour mark, I didn’t feel like it overstayed its welcome. In fact, I wanted it to keep going. You can continue to communicate with the cast after you beat it in Island Life mode and learn more about what the hell happened with the ending in a short novel you can read, but Danganronpa 2 did more than have some neat ideas, it established an overarching universe. Recurring allies and enemies and new entities and organizations help give the story and lore much needed depth, unlike Trigger Happy Havoc having a “the world sucks, man” message. Danganronpa ultimately evolved into a franchise I want to learn more about.

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There is so much more I can gush about in Goodbye Despair. The character designs, the improved visuals, the wealth of content and rewards of completionism, the meta-humor and fourth-wall shattering, a plot that uses nonsense to say something intelligent. Visual novel game enthusiasts would say Steins;Gate (another Spike Chunsoft game) and  428: Shibuya Scramble are superior games than Danganronpa, but it’s hard for me to ignore the quality of the Danganronpa series from the first two games. I love the characters, the villains, the music, the themes, the art style, and the strong following the series garnered when it reached the West. I’m happy to be joining the ride and hope to see a fourth entry in the series soon.

 

I’m giving Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair a(n unofficial) 9/10. The 1-2 Reload is on sale on PSN, so I would jump on that while you have the chance.

Throwback Review: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Throwback Review: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Cult classics are thankfully making a comeback in the industry, and one of the series that skyrocketed into post-launch success and notoriety is the Danganronpa series. Created and developed by Spike Chunsoft, Danganronpa strikes a familiar chord of Japanese oddities in the gaming market with franchises such as Katamari Damacy, WarioWare, and Yakuza. Danganronpa falls more in line of Yakuza with its mixture of weird meta-humor and dramatic storytelling. Another appeal that helped the once Japan-only franchise is its iconic mascot, Monokuma. You’ve likely seen this character before multiple times in message forums as someone’s profile picture. The distinct model perfectly resembles the character of the franchise, one side of the bear is cutes-y and playful whereas the other is dark and complex. Let’s dive into the first game of the franchise: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, which originally came out in 2010 for the PSP. I’m playing the Danganronpa 1-2 Reload version on the PS4. You can get the same collection on Steam.

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You must have seen this bear before. If you haven’t, you probably didn’t notice.

The premise of the game is a combination of Battle Royale (the movie) and Survivor (the game show). Fifteen students including the player enter a highly exclusive high school called Hope’s Peak Academy. Once they enter the building, they pass out and wake up some unknown time later in the high school. They gather into the gymnasium after being told so by a mysterious figure, who reveals himself as Monokuma, the main antagonist in the story. He informs the group that they are trapped in the academy, and the only way a student can escape is by killing another peer without getting caught. Once a dead body has been discovered, the class will begin investigating to find clues to suggest who killed the victim. After a while, the class will enter a trial, in which they argue with the evidence they had on who the culprit is. If they correctly decide the killer, the killer will be executed. If they chose poorly, everyone gets murdered except the murderer, and they are allowed to leave Hope’s Peak.

Since this game comprises of people imprisoned in a rather opulent facility, it’s safe to assume the narrative is primarily character-driven, which is exactly the case. The cast of characters are all unique in their own ways . . . well, most of them. The main protagonist, Makoto Naegi, is written to be painfully average and vulnerable to the world around him. The students who are killed early on in the story get far less screen time, thus their quirks are less noticeable to the player. Thankfully, the vast majority of the characters steal the spotlight. Each of the students are classified as Ultimates, meaning they excel at a specific ability. There’s the Ultimate Gambler, Ultimate Swimming Pro, Ultimate Baseball Star, and the Ultimate Writing Prodigy (in other words, me). I can easily recall their names without looking at the Wiki page: Celestia Ludenberg, Aoi Asohina, Leon Kutawa, and Toko Fukawa respectively. Each character stands out so much that I wouldn’t mind a spin-off series with any of them. Oh wait, we got one with Toko. That’s fine with me!

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I wouldn’t dare spoil anything narrative wise, which sadly makes this article a challenge to write, but at the end of the game, I genuinely felt attached to these characters. While some of them are clearly weaker than the leads, that’s inevitable for a cast this large. Ultimately, the writing and character development transformed Danganronpa into something I did not imagine playing. My run time lasted about 25 hours main campaign, but I honestly would’ve preferred if there was a branching storyline which encouraged multiple playthroughs, similar to the likes of Detroit Become Human. Even though THH follows a strictly linear path, I thankfully found myself satisfied in the ending. The vibrant cartoonish style of the characters both visually and thematically may have leapt this series into its cult status with an active fanbase. Fans often identify themselves as a certain character if it best suits their personality (I’m a Naegi myself).

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THH’s narrative twists and turns like it’s nobody else’s business. While to its own detriment at times, I refused to put down the controller. After each chapter ended, I kept playing for another hour or so. Cliffhangers are plentiful and new plot devices are introduced rapidly near the end. I still had some questions, though, which forced me to read Wiki entries about the game’s lore. The characters respond appropriately to the demented nature of the events unfolding. Whether it be a brutal execution at the hands of Monokuma or a sudden betrayal that ruins the relationship of the entire class, Danganronpa treads the boundaries between an engaging soap opera and an intense murder mystery. Unexpected deaths build the game’s atmosphere, so do yourself a favor and avoid going on a YouTube comment section about the soundtrack or typing in a character’s name on Google because it will probably tell you straight up in the search results. I speak from personal experience.

Speaking of the music, it’s amazing. Seriously, every single track is designed to seep into your ears and play incessantly. Think of the best Ace Attorney and Paper Mario music and blend, and you have Danganronpa’s musical score. Composed by Masafumi Takada, the music energetically captures the mood the narrative pursues. There’s synthetic beats, jazzy solos by a MIDI trumpet, and heart-racing percussion all packaged together in a deliciously catchy musical entree. It’s no wonder each track on YouTube garners hundreds of thousands of views, a remarkable (but not unheard of) feat for such a niche game in the West.

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Players can thankfully choose two voice casts, English and Japanese, and personally I think you can’t go wrong either way. I played with the English dub and the voice talent perfectly matched the characters they were portraying. I definitely have to give bonus credits to the snarky arrogant voice of Byakuya Togami, the hyper and witty Monokuma, the anxious and timid Toko Fukawa (especially her ‘duality’ later in the game), and the horrifically blunt Kyoko Kirigiri. During the class trials, the dialogue becomes nearly all voice over and it’s one of my favorite parts of the trials. The class trials themselves provide an entertaining collage of Ace Attorney-style contradiction detection and diverse mini games that reveal new clues to the mystery.

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Speaking of class trials, the gameplay follows a very similar formula to the Phoenix Wright franchise. You start each chapter setting up the scene, familiarizing yourself with the characters, and bonding with allies and even potential adversaries: this part of the chapter is called Daily Life. Later on, a student is found killed by the hands of a peer, triggering the Investigation Mode: this part of the chapter is called Deadly Life. Oftentimes a character you like and connect with most is murdered, get used to that feeling of anguish as it’s that type of game. There’s very little to write about in terms of the gameplay, as there are some interesting twists in the game design. Players are encouraged to roam freely in the empty high school building during investigation and free time, but there are moments I lose myself in the map design and that might be at fault of the repetitive architectural style.

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“Dedicated” Danganronpa fans, probably.

As usual for games such as Danganronpa, it’s best to stay quiet, so the best I can do is analyze why the series achieved such a dedicated collective of gamers who played it. The answer would be simple: it’s the characters that steal players’ hearts. However, I feel like there is more to it. It’s the dark, twisted humor, frequent sexual innuendos, incessant fourth-wall breaking that would make Deadpool swoon, and the intelligent commentary on Japanese culture as well as humanity’s desire to grip onto hope even in the darkest moments. This game relentlessly throws new plot twists and character diversions that keep the players on their toes. The fast-paced, energetic atmosphere as well as its fantastic soundtrack wins the hearts of a certain group of gamers. When the series hit the West, NIS America flawlessly localized this game so its transition was seamless and natural. Ultimately, this game fills a special void in millions of avid gamers such as myself. At the end of the day, I cannot resist but to dive headfirst into what this series truly has to offer.

For fans of the Danganronpa series, what do you love most about it? Is it the character connections, the illustrations, or Monokuma himself? For those still unsure about this game, do yourself a favor and get the 1-2 Reload remaster on PC or PS4. It’s cheap and should provide a unique twist on the visual novel genre.

I’m giving this game an (inform 8/10. Next time I’ll write about Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair hopefully with similar thoughts. So far, it’s even crazier.

Side note: “Danganronpa” is a combination of the Japanese words “truth” and “bullet”, something very handy during class trials.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood Throwback Review

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood Throwback Review

When it comes to the classic-style Castlevania games, often referred to as Classicvanias, there are two games that many fans consider to be the best: Super Castlevania IV on SNES and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on the PC-Engine. Rondo of Blood was originally not released outside of Japan, however. For the longest time, the only thing us Westerners got was a downgraded port on SNES titled Castlevania Dracula X. It wasn’t until 2007 when the game was finally released to English audiences through Castlevania The Dracula X Chronicles on PSP, a collection that included the original Rondo of Blood, a 2.5D remake, and Castlevania Symphony of the Night. It was similar to the recently released Castlevania Requiem except, well, better, because it had an extra game.

The PSP version is the one I recently played, and it took a while for me to finally get around to it. I’ve had the game for years, but never finished it. However, with Richter Belmont having been announced as a playable character in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, it reignited my interest in this game. It’s time to see why Rondo of Blood is so beloved and even seen as superior to the other favorite in the series, Super Castlevania IV.

Let’s start with the story. Dracula has once again been resurrected, the demon castle (Castlevania) has returned, and his army of undead monsters are terrorizing humanity. This time he has kidnapped 4 maidens and locked them away. It’s up to Richter Belmont, the descendant of the legendary Simon Belmont, to defeat Dracula and rescue those 4 maidens, one of which happens to be his lover Annette.

Rondo of Blood

 

It’s a pretty simple story, but a bit more detailed than other Castlevania games at the time. Because Rondo of Blood was on the PC-Engine, it allowed for higher sound quality as well as more advanced in-game cutscenes. The opening, rescuing of a maiden, and ending all have simple but charming anime-style cutscenes that are fully voice acted. I can imagine being blown away by this stuff if I’d played this back in 1993. No other Castlevania game before had this level of presentation. Simon Belmont has always just been “the guy you control”, a completely blank slate character that the player has to put themselves into. But with these cutscenes, you can actually see a personality in Richter, simple as it may be.

Now for what really matters, the gameplay. It’s what you’d expect from classic Castlevania. You jump and strut through levels, whipping enemies and candles for hearts, grabbing sub weapons, fighting bosses, and ultimately making it to Dracula. The game controls quite similarly to the NES Castlevania games: you can only whip in front of you and you can’t adjust yourself when jumping forward or backward. If you’re familiar with the NES games, this should be perfectly fine. However, if you’ve played Super Castlevania IV, this may sound like a pretty significant downgrade. In SCIV, you could whip in pretty much any direction you want; forward, upward, diagonally up, diagonally down, whatever. You could even dangle your whip and flick it about which had its uses. On top of that, you had full mid-air control of your character, so when you jump forward, you could adjust where exactly you wanted to land like in most platformers. It was a very welcome upgrade to the controls by most fans, so for Rondo of Blood to revert back to NES style, it may turn some people off.

However, I feel Rondo of Blood more than makes up for this in many ways. For starters, the way the very levels themselves are designed makes this a non-issue. These limitations were kept in mind during development, so I rarely ever felt hampered by the controls. These limitations also make the various sub weapons very useful, as they make up for what your whip can’t do. You’ll be utilizing just about everything the game gives you, so nothing feels wasted.

Speaking of sub weapons, Rondo of Blood also does something that even SCIV didn’t. Whenever you grab a new sub weapon, the one you were previously carrying will drop to the ground, allowing you to pick it back up. This change is a lifesaver, because I can’t tell you how many times in previous games when I already had the sub weapon I wanted, but whipped a candle I didn’t know had another sub weapon in it and it replaced my old one.

Rondo of Blood also has some other great additions. Although you can’t freely control Richter in mid-air, he does have a backflip maneuver that can be useful when trying to dodge especially tricky projectiles. There’s also the new Item Crash move, which is a really cool addition. Item Crashes are basically super moves that differ depending on the sub weapon you have equipped. With enough hearts (sub weapon ammunition), you can do an Item Crash that does a ton of damage to enemies on screen. I usually save them for boss battles when I’m in a pinch.

Levels now have a lot more secrets to discover than ever before. These could be secret rooms, pathways to alternate bosses, pathways to alternate levels entirely, or ways to rescue the 4 maidens who are hidden throughout the game. If you manage to find and rescue all 4, you get the best ending, however rescuing one particular maiden should take priority over the others, and no, it’s not Annette.

The first maiden you’ll be able to rescue is a little girl named Maria. Unlike the others, by rescuing Maria she’ll actually join Richter and become a second playable character. And lemme tell you, Maria is BUSTED! She can move faster than Richter, she has a dodge roll and slide maneuver, and she can double jump. I repeat, DOUBLE JUMP! Her standard dove attacks are sent out twice as fast as Richter’s sluggish whip, she can attack while moving forward, and her sub weapons (which take the form of animal buddies) can do some serious damage. The ONLY downside to Maria is that she takes more damage than Richter when she gets hit, but honestly, with everything Maria can do, you’re not going to get hit in the first place. She’s clearly a more capable vampire hunter than Richter, and essentially the easy mode of this game.

When it comes to difficulty, as I already mentioned, the game does a good job of designing challenges around Richter’s controls. Castlevania games are known for being difficult, and Rondo of Blood is no exception, but levels offer a difficult but fair challenge to players…for the most part. I won’t lie, there were some parts that got really aggravating, like the collapsing bridge in the last level with all those bats which I swear is impossible not to get hit from. The boss in the last level is also really frustrating and the one time I actually felt like the game didn’t take Richter’s limited movement into consideration. Actually, there were a couple other parts in that last level that annoyed me too, so maybe it’s just that one level.

Protip: On the last level, just switch to Maria. I won’t judge you.

Despite the last level being a pain, the final showdown with Dracula is actually pretty dang easy. In fact, it’s the easiest Dracula fight I’ve played. Sure, I did die maybe twice, but after that I managed to win with only one damage taken, and that’s with Richter. With Maria? Psh! The fight was over the moment she waltzed through the door.

Now since I was playing on the PSP version, I want to briefly talk about the 2.5D remake, which I also played. As a remake, it of course has updated visuals and presentation, a slightly more fleshed out story, and a few additions. For the most part it’s the same game, but the other maidens were given a bit more significance. By rescuing them, you’ll be able to break special walls that usually hide collectibles exclusive to the PSP version.

Having all maidens rescued will also unlock a brand new 3rd phase to the Dracula fight. Now THIS phase is hard! Dracula has a ton of attacks that do major damage and they’re pretty deceptive in how you might think to dodge them. This phase requires a lot of memorization, and you’ll basically need to get through the other 2 phases without getting hit to stand a chance (which isn’t hard, but still). Even with Maria, it can be somewhat challenging…somewhat.

To wrap things up, this is a great game and definitely one of the best in the whole series. While I do really enjoy Super Castlevania IV, I gotta give it to Rondo of Blood as my personal favorite Classicvania. The levels are well designed, being able to play as two very different characters is fun, Item Crashes are a great new addition, and the presentation overall is a huge step up. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet, which is some kick ass stuff. Since it was originally on the PC-Engine, the game had CD quality music that’s never sounded better. You’ve got some pumping energetic remixes of classics like Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears, as well as brand new iconic tracks like Divine Bloodlines and Dance of Illusions. This is a game that I think all Castlevania fans should play. It’s also the perfect game to start with for newcomers to the franchise, as it’s difficult without being too punishing and it’s a direct prequel to another very beloved game in the series, Symphony of the Night. With Castlevania Requiem having come out recently featuring those two very games, it’s a great way to get into this series.

Spooktober 2018- Throwback Review- Puppeteer, The Game Everyone Loved and Forgot

Spooktober 2018- Throwback Review- Puppeteer, The Game Everyone Loved and Forgot

Puppeteer is a fascinating game for many reasons. It launched in September 10th, 2013 in the States, one week before Grand Theft Auto V, which went on to become the most profitable entertainment product of all time. As you can imagine, Puppeteer didn’t sell that great. In fact, even the most hardcore PlayStation fans are unfamiliar with this game, and I happened to stumble upon it as a friend gave it to me for my birthday. I knew very little about the game other than it was reviewed positively by the some critics. After beating it years ago, a lot of it still stuck with me, and I always think about it when Halloween arrives.

 

Puppeteer takes place in a puppet show, with a witty narrator adressing the player as if they sit in the audience seat. The immersion in this game is something to behold. All of the setting are comprised of wooden sculptures and other basic materials such as paper that violently shift around the stage during transitions, which the controller promptly reacts to with some of the best vibration I’ve felt in a game. It’s comparable to the Nintendo Switch’s HD Rumble technology, despite the Dualshock 3 using rudimentary vibration tech found in most controllers. When a set piece slams to the right side of the stage, the right handle of the controller vibrates, and vice versa.

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The premise of the game brilliantly reeks of a children’s horror story. You assume control of Kutaro, a young puppet boy who is enslaved by the ruthless Moon Bear King of Castle Grizzlestein. The Moon Bear King rips the boy’s head off and eats it. The King also holds the magical scissors called Calibrus, capable of cutting apart the most potent of materials. Kutaro is accompanied with a black cat named Yin-yang, the pet of Ezma Potts, the Moon Bear King’s kitchen maid and malicious witch. She constantly screams at Kutaro and those who fail to listen to her. She’s frequently humorous in her anger, and becomes some sort of ally with Kutaro later on.

 

Kutaro steals Calibrus and escapes Castle Grizzlestein, which prompts MBK to order twelve of his generals to capture Kutaro and bring back Calibrus. The King’s generals are mostly animal humanoids and serve as the game’s bosses. Yin-yang is later replaced by Princess Pikarina, the daughter of the Sun. Oh, by the way, you never come to Earth. All of the game’s levels take place on the Moon, which is crescent shaped and has a diverse array of whimsical environments. There are seven Acts in the game, and each Act contains three Curtains, which gives the game 21 levels. For a platformer, it’s fairly lengthy, but never once does it become stale.

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Each world you encounter is distinct and memorable, from the cylindrical spiral of Castle Grizzlestein to the seasonal Hallowee Ville. The characters, music, and atmosphere pop out of the screen and truly bring the game to life. The Generals deliver some unique boss battles that embody the setting in which they inhabit. For example, in the Mexican desert level Loco Caliente, you battle General Bull in a bullfighting style, with suitable music for the quarrel. Each world also has its own set rules and contributes to the game’s lore with storybooks that read like a classical fairy tale. Before the player enters an Act, the narrator explains to the audience what Kutaro will encounter in this chapter with a beautifully illustrated depicting the setting of the level. It’s impossible to wrap my head around all of the imagination and creativity that went into this game. The game bends the rules of the platforming genre which very few games take advantage of, even modern Nintendo games play by the books nowadays.

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When Kutaro acquires the magical scissors, that serves as both a weapon and a platforming element. The player can cut through enemies (in E-10 rating style, of course) and are encouraged to slice off their Souls, which are the stolen souls of children on Earth. If the player ignores the Souls, then it would be sucked back in the enemy, resurrecting him. Boss battles have dozens of Souls, which requires the player to expose them multiple times. Jumping and then using Calibrus gives Kutaro a small boost into the air, acting as a double jump of sorts. When a malleable material is within reach, such as a curtain or a webbing, the player can use Calibrus to traverse through that sheet avoiding deadly obstacles or attacking some mini-bosses. There are other tools at your disposal to explore more of the levels which gives the game more depth and replay value.

 

Pikarina/Yin-Yang acts as a cursor to pinpoint secrets, open up magical pots that hold an additional head that gives Kutaro more hit points, and stun foes. Some background scenery either contains coins that can award the player an additional life or reveal a bonus round which has to be activated if the player has the appropriate head. While this encourages players to avoid getting hit, that mechanic is somewhat reliant on RNG as sometimes the pots don’t give you the right heads, forcing the player to replay the level to 100% the game. Of what little I experienced of the bonus rounds, I found them to be rather challenging as they required some mastery in a certain mechanic whether it be steering Calibrus around or dodging obstacles and whatnot. Completing the game in general may not be the best route for enjoyment of this game, as simply finishing the main campaign is rewarding enough.

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Composer Patrick Doyle. Image source: Classic FM

I must dedicate more time into the music. When the game feels adventurous, the music sweeps that feeling by its feet and tosses it into the stratosphere. Doyle’s orchestra is hyper and energetic, perfectly fitting in the game’s behavior. A Western level would have music that celebrates the Wild West, a pirate level would have a beautifully composed Pirates of the Caribbean-style tribute. Halloween Ville has a blanketing Nightmare Before Christmas-esque atmosphere that drifts the player to their finest memories of the holiday. There is no stereotypical level in Puppeteer, there are established worlds that belong in the upper echelon of the Brothers Grimm’s creations. The characters you meet provide an insightful glance into the world you are visiting.  

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The commentary and banter sprinkled about between the narration brings much needed laughter in a rather serious medium. One moment that stands out in its weird hilarity is Nosferatu’s fourth-wall breaking rant about his rescuer not being an attractive babe and how the advancement in the video game graphics minimizes his fear factor. Calling the writing witty is not enough to commend the writers. Most spoken dialogue by the narrator and other characters sound almost Shakespearean in how they sophisticatedly manipulate the English language to get their point across. Pikarina, being the traditional teenager, wants them to cut to the chase and stop talking in a weird way. That person-to-person conflict delivers some mighty clever contrasts in the dialogue and is evidence of wickedly talented writers who worked on the game. As complex as the universe can be in Puppeteer, it all functions properly and rarely becomes ridden of confusing history or distracting plotholes.

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With sharp and challenging gameplay, imaginative world design and lore, and humorously poetic writing, I found myself applauding when the credits rolled. Puppeteer is a brilliant game, and such brilliance is often ignored in the industry. The nonexistent marketing and unfortunate product release scheduling also did this game no favors whatsoever. The bright side for those looking for a fresh, original game, you can purchase Puppeteer at a bargain price, oftentimes far below 20 bucks. This is a gem worth digging for, and with the journey lasting about 10 hours, I find ignoring it would do a disservice to your gaming library.

 

The horror value is rather low, but thinking about the context of the story certainly gives this game a healthy dosage of Halloween creepiness. Sony Japan Studio seems to kill it with platformers with Gravity Rush, Puppeteer, and now Astro Bot Rescue Mission being lauded by critics and fans alike. However, their efforts are unfortunately ignored with the lack of investment from audiences and Nintendo being the only major developer producing quality platforming games. Underrated doesn’t mean you should move on. Support the artists who worked on Puppeteer and maybe, just maybe, Sony will produce a much-needed sequel. While the tragedy of ignored masterpieces is one problem in the industry, the larger problem is nobody willing to focus on new, original ideas, as more successful, formulaic ideas continuing to plague the medium with mediocrity. Perhaps that will change, but in the meantime, invest some time into this masterpiece and hope for the best.

Spooktober 2018 – Resident Evil Revelations Review – R ‘n’ R

Spooktober 2018 – Resident Evil Revelations Review – R ‘n’ R

Spooktober 2018 Entry #14 – Previous Entry: Alice: Madness Returns (Throwback Review) // Next Entry: Top 5 Horror Moments in Non-Horror Video Games

 

Wow, it only took two weeks to cover a Resident Evil title.

 

Even though I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of Capcom’s precious little franchise, it’s always nice to go back to the original Resident Evil to see what it all began. Hell, maybe even something more recent, like Resident Evil 7, or one of the four million ports of Resident Evil 4, or maybe even Resident Evil 5— Oh god, okay, not that one. How about something a bit more refined, like Resident Evil Revelations?

 

While Resident Evil primarily isn’t a series that needs an introduction, the Revelations sub-series is something else entirely. The first Revelations was originally released for Nintendo 3DS back in 2012, before being ported to everything else relevant at the time, which is usually Capcom’s way of doing things. Cut to 2017, and the port arrives on Xbox One, instead of right before Resident Evil Revelations 2’s release, but who knows the inner workings of Capcom’s mind truthfully?

 

Jill Valentine and Parker Luciani set down on the cruise ship.

 

You play as Jill Valentine, the OG lass, who’s here with her new partner Parker Luciani to investigate a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Meanwhile, Chris Redfield is in the remote part of Christ-Knows-Where and its snowy wilderness, with his new partner Jessica. Soon enough, their paths will meet with the mention of a new threat, “B.O.W.’s”, and a strange cult organization known as Veltro. They’re called that because not even Velcro could make their plans stick together.

 

The first Revelations is a somewhat bittersweet title to play now. Released for the 3DS nine months before the admitted betrayal of Resident Evil 6, it felt like something of an apology for 2009’s atrocious Resident Evil 5. Capcom looked at the blueprint, saw what was going wrong, and eased back a bit on the destruction, the action, and the tension, and instead focused on the fear, the vibes, and the atmosphere. It’s like going from World War Z to Day of The Dead.

 

As this is a port from a handheld console, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game looks like shit on anything other than a mobile phone. However, the remastering job done for the Xbox One is excellent, with a lot done to make some of the areas look stunning, or uncomfortable. The brightly-lit lobby section after Jill and Parker reunite is a highlight visually, and while some of the textures may look a bit off, it certainly wouldn’t feel out of place as a previous-generation entry on the 360 or PS3.

 

Parker Luciani and his partner Jessica await further orders.

 

Gameplay is more in line with Resident Evil rather than being a blueprint for Resident Evil 6. Jill and Chris move like normal human beings at all times, and you’ll be fighting a multitude of morbid monsters in tight, claustrophobic corners. It’s very rare that you’ll be in a wide open area, and when you are, you’re subject to one of Resident Evil’s more cancerous growths in the form of boss battles that never. Fucking. End.

 

One thing that is superbly executed is the “Custom Parts” that you can attach to certain weapons. There are a lot of guns in this game– a lot of them admittedly re-skins but that’s beside the point– and a lot of them can be customized with how they can dispose of the enemy. Stopping power, stunning the enemy for a quick melee attack, it does allow you to evolve your playstyle, granted that you allow it to.

 

Gameplay is slightly varied in what you’re told to do. At the end of the day, you’ll always be shooting gross monsters with massive amounts of health, sure, but the puzzle design isn’t incredibly obtuse, bar the coin puzzle, and it’s all designed tightly. The underwater sections can be fairly tense, but I wish the button to dive and the button to climb up ladders weren’t the same button, as it can be a fiddly mess.

 

A soldier faces off against one of the various abominations populating the ship.

 

Other than that, you’ll notice that after every chapter section, you’ll be granted a bunch of “BP” with your grade. This goes towards the Raid Mode, where you play sections of the story with a loadout you can choose, and be graded and rewarded with more characters to play, guns to buy, and custom parts to install. Despite the fact that this is recycled content, it can be a blast, as it’s co-op as well.

 

You may want to have a mate on hand, however, as the servers are dead. The game can be much more of a gratifying experience when playing with a friend, because aren’t so severely stacked against you. All too often you’ll find yourself knifing monsters endless with little to no DPS because you’ve wasted all your ammo with everything else.

 

You’ll constantly be switching between different characters to play as, and you’ll be treated to both the worst and best characters ever put in a Resident Evil game. On the one hand, you’ve got Jessica and Raymond, with the former being a ditzy annoyance who exists solely for Chris to pine over Jill in-between missions, and Raymond is a Coldsteel-The-Hedgeheg type of antagonist with a hilariously small face.

 

Jill Valentine watches as Chris Redfield shouts in despair, separated by a sheet of glass.

 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, you have Parker, someone who I’d wholeheartedly take as a side character over the pathetically blank slate of Chris Redfield. He has fantastic camaraderie with Jill, and actually feels like a human being with a soul behind him, unlike Chris, who I can’t justify my hatred for enough. Parker is genuinely fun to be around, although his presence is hampered heavily by the partner A.I, which… holy shit.

 

Not even Resident Evil 5 gave you such useless partners. Parker, Jessica, and Quint will do absolute nothing to help you dispose of the beasts that lurk within this game. They rarely offer help, they never fire shots, they merely wait for you to do all of the work, which is just fantastic considering these tight, claustrophobic encounters, huh?

 

That being said, the horror elements are also damaged because of the fact that you’re going to have somebody by your side at all times, and whether they’re useless or not, you know that they’re always there. Patch on some truly abysmal writing, and you have yourself a game that self-sabotages its own atmosphere, which is a shame, since the game has such a strong intro.

 

A soldier looks at the luxurious lobby of the cruise ship.

 

One thing that could’ve been omitted entirely and the game wouldn’t have been any worse for wear is the generic soundtrack, which can either be sinister and uninvolved, or bombastic and unnecessary. Boss battles are the worst for this, because they provide stress on top of stress, with screeching horns and orchestral movements, all the while you’ve got something that looks like a hairy Semtex grenade ripping you apart.

 

Enough with the undefined mass of blobby monsters by the way. Fighting lizard men? Fine. Fighting mutated ladies with big breasts? Fine. However, something that looks like a malformed thumb isn’t terrifying, it’s a curiosity at best, and hilarious at worst. I’m not terrified when fighting un-rendered Xenomorphs from Dead Space.

 

I also can’t explain well enough just how insanely stupid the story of Resident Evil Revelations is. There are some moments in the game where the outcome is much more stunningly coincidental than smart, and one certain twist in particular may be the most stupid thing I have ever come across in a video game. I’m not going to spoil what it is, just know that you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, and I hope you can join me in perplexity.

 

A soldier is in the process of evading an attack from an undefined monster.

 

That being said, there are also small nuggets of gold with character interactions. Chris being a whiny tosser over Jill is overplayed and boring as hell, but Jill’s little jokes and quips to Parker feel human, and the subtle reactions she has to her partners dialogue and actions is cute. The combination of Jill and Parker is a fresh idea on the Resident Evil series, even if the writing’s trash, and I hope that with whatever Capcom does to the series next, they take their chemistry into account here.

 

Is Resident Evil Revelations scary? Kind of, but it’s rare that you’ll truly be wetting yourself with the atmosphere. Jumpscares are rare and it does rely on atmosphere more than anything. Turn off the voices in the game, and you might be much more terrified, but other than that, some of it does shine through, and the rest is fairly generic.

 

In the end, Resident Evil Revelations is a callback to the days of old, and does a much better job of establishing an identity than most of the Resident Evils’ in the past five to ten years. The gameplay is paced wonderfully when it’s not screaming at you, the atmosphere is great when it’s not screaming at you, and playing games is great when someone isn’t screaming at you.

 

Please be quiet.

This review of Resident Evil Revelations is based on the Xbox One version of the game.

Spooktober 2018 – Shadows of the Damned Throwback Review — Bloody Hell

Spooktober 2018 – Shadows of the Damned Throwback Review — Bloody Hell

Spooktober 2018 Entry #6

Erotic Grotesque Nonsense is an artistic movement stemming from Japan that focuses on… exactly what the title implies. The absurdity of eroticism and the grotesque are realized to the extreme, compared, and subverted; decadence and deviancy are embraced and questioned at once. The ethos of the movement has been translated across numerous visual and literary artforms, which entail the sort of depravity that cannot be posted here, but has rarely been touched on in video game form.

 

It’s somewhere between a miracle and a glitch in the matrix then that through a publishing deal with EA, Suda 51, glorious trafficker of the grotesque and the nonsensical, would produce one of the closest efforts to an ero guro nansensu opus in gaming history. It’s an uneasy combination that leads to Shadows of the Damned being a bit of a mess. The aforementioned description still leaves out the additional presence of Shinji Mikami returning to the action-horror well after the genre-rejuvenating Resident Evil 4, and the incomparable Akira Yamaoka producing the atonal atmosphere that has made him one of the best gaming composers in the genre.

 

As far as supergroups go, Shadows of the Damned finds itself somewhere between Cream and Chickenfoot in terms of success, but there’s not much like it and certainly not much of its accord that has been released by EA. Shadows of the Damned is a restrained experience only by the standards of those involved, in the context of being an EA title, it is completely alien even if Suda 51’s vision appears to have been partially brought down to earth. The gameplay is something of a trojan horse, grounding the title (for better or worse) and even erring rather conventional for the genre. The playstyle of Resident Evil 4 is translated to Shadows of the Damned roughly 1-to-1, with the exception of the appreciated ability to move and shoot simultaneously. Leon’s dive ability and general movement crosses over to our protagonist Garcia Hotspur, and though it remains slightly stiff, its shambling quality can arguably enhance the tension of the encounters Garcia faces. It’s a challenge to get out too far ahead of any of the enemies the game has in store.

Courtesy of Damned Wiki

Nonetheless, Shadows of the Damned doesn’t really offer the same challenge or terror that RE4 handed out so frequently. It took me a couple of acts (of which there are five total) to die for the first time, at the hand of the second boss, all of which are strikingly designed and require decently clever exploits to take down. They pose a substantially greater challenge than the typical enemy encounter, but do so in a way that only rarely proves frustrating. A chase sequence with one demonic harmonicist proves to be a highlight of the game, employing one of the most outlandish components of the game’s presentation; the presence of mounted goat heads who transform the environment at once through spitting forth darkness. The darkness chips away at Garcia’s health and coats enemies with an impenetrable substance, but are swept away with the “light shot” that each of his guns carry.

 

Alternating between running for your life, drawing out the boss, and finding these sources of darkness is exhilarating and prioritizes a feeling of tension more than the remaining majority of the game. Absurdist spectacle is more the angle that Shadows of the Damned approaches its design from. To backtrack a bit, Shadows of the Damned orbits around impromptu demon hunter Garcia Hotspur, in pursuit of his girlfriend Paula who has been kidnapped by the Lord of Demons to be ruthlessly killed and revived ad-nauseum. This serves as an excuse for Paula to repeatedly be torn apart and deployed against Garcia sans much consequence. Once you have been sworn into the underworld, any lovebird interaction between Garcia and Paula instantly turns demonic, or at the very least Paula does. There are moments of romantic nirvana in Shadows of the Damned, they’re just interrupted by a severed head sooner or later. Much of the lust in the game, however, is of a cruder accord.

 

The elephant in the room comes in the form of… The Boner, your talking weapon and accompanying floating radiant green skull who talks like Tony Blair. Paula metamorphosing into one unprecedented monstrosity or another is often greeted by Sir Boner saying something to the effect of “Well, that killed my stiffy,” at one with the absurdity the game seeks to confront players with throughout. By the time you are lead to make The Boner become The Big Boner while exploring the underworld’s red light district, you will have long decided whether or not Shadows of the Damned is for you. In my book, the presentation is what truly picks up the slack for the game whose gameplay adheres to a formula pretty staunchly.

Players are invited to “taste the Big Boner” an exceptionally generous number of times

This is to say that Shadows of the Damned is not much for variety. Suda’s original vision for the game involved a much more gradual progression of combat down to Garcia not even having a weapon at the start of the game, but this concept was lost on EA, who wanted to fit the title into the mold of a more conventional action-horror title. Gameplay ultimately comprises of Shinji Mikami providing what is expected of him and not much more (albeit to an incredibly playable extent), with the exception of a few 2D run-and-gun segments in the latter half that mutually could have been the result of Suda’s flagrant individualism or time cuts on EA’s behalf. These sections are prone to diminishing returns and an increasing enemy density within them that can prove slightly tedious, but embody the sort of ramshackle ridiculousness that defines the game as a whole.

 

In achieved tone, Shadows of the Damned is caught somewhere between ero guro and Evil Dead (sometimes overtly in terms of the latter), both rather unprecedented in video games, both very fun to play, but merely coexisting instead of coalescing. Suda’s imagery (darkness spewing goats and demon baby door knockers) gradually reveals itself as highly amusing window-dressing to spruce up the standard action horror experience, but it may be Akira Yamaoka who appears as the odd man out. Yamaoka’s score is excellent, but it largely grasps at an atmosphere that isn’t really there. The transcendent cock rock that Yamaoka occasionally composes for the title is both out of his wheelhouse and a resounding success, but his generally fantastic atonal composition style clashes with a title that inspires more laughter than it does fear.

 

Doing battle in a dreamstate atop the scantily-dressed Paula is a lot to take in, but it generally kills any pretense of inspiring terror in players. Shadows of the Damned is odd, flashy, slightly perverse, and incredibly gory; it just also doubles as one of the least scary horror games I’ve ever played. If you were to deride action-horror games as effectively being power fantasy horror, this would be a prime manifestation of such; but it sure is good at being that.

Erotic, Nonsensical, and soon to be Grotesque

The bloody bells & whistles on offer throughout the campaign propel the pace of it, keeping demon-killing plenty satisfying throughout. Beyond the light-up sushi fish illuminating your path, the variety of enemies and weaponry on offer pairs with the dependably gratifying shooting mechanics in a way that keeps the ultimate repetition of the title from grating. The light shot particularly invigorates gameplay (infusing it with a sense of chaos that is otherwise oddly restrained), but numerous explosives and an insistent slow motion effect whenever a headshot is scored make you feel sufficiently on top of the (under)world.

 

Truthfully, the American excess on display in the title is almost as entertaining as the content Suda brings to the table, and the junction of the two proves that maybe it’s more compelling to confound than cohere. The seems of the title are very much on-display, compare the enemies foreshadowed by perverse fairy tales packaged in literal storybooks that only could have come from Suda’s presence to a grunting mercenary that shows up for no reason except to resemble a Resident Evil protagonist and disappears soon after. This disconnect is intentional within the confines of the game, but can be understood as an allegory for the development of the title as a whole.

 

Suda and Mikami have gone on record expressing mild discomfort at just how comfortable the game ended up being. Out there for an EA title remains conservative for Suda, evidenced by the further streamlined Lollipop Chainsaw brought from the same camps later on, and Shadows of the Damned can’t help but feel slightly restrained by its studio makeup. Nonetheless, it still excels as a Resident Evil makeup, something of a Resident Evil 4.5 starring Bruce Campbell with a dose of surrealism added to distinguish it further. Under the right mindset, Shadows of the Damned is imminently playable and just far enough out of the EA wheelhouse to be a commendable experiment. The bitchzillas won’t slay themselves, so why not be the one to man the big boner.

Even in paper cutout form, Garcia can ensure that the armies of the undead are boned.

Throwback Review – Tomb Raider: Legend – The Name is Croft, Lara Croft

Throwback Review – Tomb Raider: Legend – The Name is Croft, Lara Croft

The author of this throwback review had originally planned to review Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness before it broke on him about six hours in. The game was an unkempt mess, answering the question of what a platformer would feel like if it controlled like Resident Evil 2. It was also a Tomb Raider title in which a tomb does not appear for the first fair few hours, instead having players romp around with the homeless and the barflies in the city of Paris. The entire tone of the game rubbed the reviewer the wrong way as well, decked out in black eyeliner for the bulk of the title, Sephora Croft felt a long stride away from where the series started. This is not to address the stamina bar and dialogue tree features that were certainly a mark of ambition, but prove wholly ridiculous in execution.

The former often entailed opening doors to nowhere as a means to build up strength, just to turn around and pursue the actual objective. The latter mostly just got Lara shot. The game mostly serves as a heartbreaking example of ambition outpacing ability. It ultimately pinned Lara as an out of date property before two series’ of reboots successfully picked the franchise back up. The author is disappointed that his playthrough of the title had to end this way, but is relieved that he no longer has to use two buttons to jump. Maybe the interactive DVD version would prove more his speed.

He is considering looking into the numerous fan-made patches that retroactively fix the title, but for the sake of time and in celebration of the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, has moved on for the moment. With all this being said, he nonetheless thanks Angel of Darkness for the memories and will share his fun times clubbing with Lara below as tribute. With that being said, let’s get into Lara’s first comeback.

Lara in the club, that’s a scary sight. Courtesy of Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots

Lara needed course correction, and fast. The lumbering and partially unfinished Angel of Darkness was meant to signal the franchise’s future. Instead, it deemed the series a relic of the past, down to a control scheme that though not altogether dissimilar from prior titles, had never before seemed so unflattering. The urban location and stat system confounded, the stealth system underwhelmed, and the slow pace offered very little in return.

Even amongst the discouraging reception, however, this absence would not stand. One whole console generation later (or rather, the beginning of one), it was time for Lara to declare “New generation, new me!” Released on every console early 2006 could house, Tomb Raider: Legend arrived, kicking off a new trilogy of Tomb Raider titles and abandoning every aforementioned feature of AoD, with the exception of the presence of a single urban level (of eight levels total).

From the foundation up, Tomb Raider: Legend is a different title from any preceding game in the franchise. It’s quicker in every sense of the term; movement is no longer grid-based, instead opting for the fluid movement control characteristic of the Prince of Persia series. It’s open to playing its hand early, offering acrobatics up a cliffside, numerous shootouts in multiple countries, puzzle sequences with near instantaneous solutions, and a motorcycle chase all within the opening hour. It’s far more prone to deploying scripted setpieces as a means to show off the new technology on its side and to keep the pace as swift as possible. With the exception of its globetrotting narrative, it’s possibly even less of a “Tomb Raider” title than Angel of Darkness, and it also most likely saved the franchise.

Legend is hardly a slow burner. Courtesy of Tomb Raider Wiki

Tomb Raider: Legend is a flawed and to some degree shallow title, a relentless series of explosive setpieces to be explicitly triggered by Lara without much player control. And in spite of all of that (if not partially out of its aim for mass appeal), it is incredibly fun. Tomb Raider: Legend’s refusal to take a breather or even offer much of a challenge to players makes it an experience that is constantly propelling itself forward. Firefights generally use lock-on targeting prioritizing Lara’s mobility above anything else, much like the setup of the Prince of Persia titles just with a different arsenal. This is the case as well with the telegraphed platforming locations that seem to take a page from the same franchise, and mesh fairly well with a title that now prides itself on a full speed ahead approach, subtlety be damned. The setpieces Lara is expected to maneuver through manage to be just as ridiculous now as they were twelve years ago with the variety in location and gameplay enhancing it.

The transparent Bond pastiche that is the largely silhouetted opening credit sequence gives way to a story that is rooted in the folklore and mysticism characterizing past Tomb Raider titles, but is just as much an excuse to show off as many geographical locations and death-defying setpieces at once. Levels in Japan and Kazakhstan resemble an espionage title as much as a Tomb Raider one, albeit one with any and all stealth elements scrubbed away. It offers the same enjoyment to roughly the same degree as PS2 titles like 007: Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love did, but it can often be hard to find where Lara fits into this.

Whereas the game obviously took influence from its contemporary entries in the Prince of Persia and James Bond franchises, I would be surprised if it didn’t go on to inspire the Dude Raider himself. In terms of gameplay, Tomb Raider: Legend seems more like a prequel to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune than follow-up Tomb Raider entries. The tone is a 180 degree shift from AoD, dialogue is more bantery than ever before, dramatic situations being met with Lara addressing her colleagues stating, “Keep yourselves caffeinated, lads, we have some work ahead of us”. Said colleagues repeatedly inform Lara over PDA that they are scared for her life, only for Lara to slag this off with a one-liner. Legend’s action blockbuster video game equivalent aspirations mirror that of the Uncharted franchise’s, and though the series would grow to greatly expand on those mechanics, Legend does not lag far behind the gameplay and presentation of Drake’s Fortune.

Nate Drake could never. Courtesy of Tomb Raider Wiki

Outside of personal expectations of what a Tomb Raider entry should offer (though the general fan reception of Legend was largely positive and has only dipped slightly twelve years later), Legend is a continuously satisfying exercise in badassery that on modern PCs still looks pretty damn nice. It’s a bit technically shambolic (Lara constantly clips through ledges she grabs onto, though this doesn’t affect gameplay) but it is ceaselessly stylish throughout without betraying the presence of decent gameplay and a fittingly absurd story.

The crux of Lara travelling everywhere from Peru to England to Ghana is a quest for pieces of Excalibur and her own history alike. In a slightly disorienting but largely creative way, the game bounces between the current Lara’s treasure-hunting aspirations and reliving her own past to find the root of it. The site of an introductory plane crash traumatic to Lara and only more harmful to an additional family member returns as an entire level towards the end. The story isn’t quite a revelation even in the context of Lara’s own character development, but it’s nonetheless a rather ambitious framing device lending some sort of coherency to Lara’s excursions.

I, however, am not one to need narrative justification for forklift and coffin joyrides in one level and a literal boulder chase in another. Without spoiling too many of them, it’s the setpieces unfolding with shameless theatricality (without taking too much control from the player) that are far and away the lead attraction this title offers. This characteristic makes the game sit oddly as a member of a previously relatively subtle franchise, but also makes it especially receptive to binge-playing and a persistently enjoyable release regardless.

Lara doesn’t seem too bothered,

With the exception of a limited scope and the distinctly 00’s presence of occasional QTEs, the flaws in playability that can be gleaned from the title are an occasionally misleading jump distance (which frequent checkpoints render rather forgivable) and the lock-on targeting of Lara’s weapons allowing her to prevail a little too easily. Legend is a title that is actively greater than the sum of its parts. Gameplay elements that on their own are standard or marginally underdeveloped are sent through a revolving door allowing each to freshen up the experience just when the preceding piece starts to tire.

A less generous player (and/or a more stringent Tomb Raider disciple) can read Tomb Raider Legend as a title that panders, not necessarily to those alienated by Angel of Darkness, but to a sort of action player who treats challenge and entertainment as separate entities. Tomb Raider was never a power fantasy franchise, and even installments released afterwards never became one to quite the extent that Legend borders on being. Evaluated on those merits, Legend is a flying success, one that translates the multi-faceted Tomb Raider experience to as blissfully overblown an experience as you could play in 2006. This may have read as mortifying to some fans (though most were happy to not be playing Angel of Darkness), but as a one-off entry in the franchise and a spiritual predecessor to Uncharted, it has more than enough charm to spare.

Throwback Review: Mirror’s Edge – Bottomless Pit

Throwback Review: Mirror’s Edge – Bottomless Pit

We all know that EA is… subversive, when it comes to evolution.

 

A publisher known for being seemingly suicidal when it comes to new IPs, and dedicated to pushing every single innovative idea down into the ground until it reaches the Earth’s core, or acting confused about it. Dead Space, Army of Two, Mass Effect, Kingdoms of Amalur, Fuse– Even now, it feels like Anthem is going through the same motions. Here’s another title that felt the cold iron grip of EA’s hand; Mirror’s Edge. 

 

Ah yes, the 2008 free-running title from DICE, the Swedish developers known for being shackled to the Battlefield series. Looking to diversify their lineup of developed games, the team announced in 2007 that they were looking to redefine the first-person genre, shaking it up for other developers to be stunned at. They were almost successful, but let’s look deeper.

 

 

You play as Faith, the biggest fighter against The Man that The Man ever produced, and she’s a free-runner for hire. Considering the city of, err, Citytownsville is a utopian state that also employs a strict totalitarian regime, Faith does jobs for the unruly until the regime pays attention to their activity. Things come to a head when Faith and her sister are targeted by the police, after the latter is framed for a murder, and now, Faith hunts down the answers to the truth… so that… umm…

 

The story isn’t exactly a strong point for Mirror’s Edge, and really, the entire game struggles to find a single strong point. The entirety of Mirror’s Edge is an idea, an idea that EA and DICE had the sheer shitting nerve to sell for 60 bucks, and even now, it’s massively overpriced on Steam, selling for 20 bucks. Even that is a severe overstep for just how little the campaign offers.

 

Before that however, I’m putting forth a universal truth: The aesthetic of both this and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst isn’t beautiful to look at. It’s a picturesque environment, I’ll admit, but that boring white-gloss over everything, where you’d be mistaken for believing the trees come out of this world looking like Vanilla Ice. It makes the game feel unfinished, even when the game decides to add a few more colours to the spectrum, as undefined buildings and areas feel like they need a custom texture over it.

 

 

Anyway, the main story is 6 hours long, even shorter if you know what you’re doing, and the time trials don’t really offer much in the way of variety, albeit showing how much verticality the levels have. While running through chapters is a blast, with gameplay that’ll we get into in about 4 paragraphs, you get the feeling that you can twist and meld the levels to your own will, shaving seconds off your best time.

 

You won’t find this out until you beat the game, however. Not that it’s hard, but the campaign suffers from some unbelievably shoddy pacing (a common element of DICE campaigns), with brake pads needed for almost every single level. The highlights and proof that Mirror’s Edge could be something other than a quaint experiment are buried underneath poorly animated cutscenes, in-game cutscenes that exist solely to pad out the runtimes, and “puzzle” rooms which kill the pace faster than the game ends.

 

The characters of Mirror’s Edge are so generic, that DICE practically copy and pasted their personalities for Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, something that I’ll also comment on later. Faith herself is as enticing as a wet sack of gravel, with her handler Mercury existing just so Faith can have a reason to try somehow harder than she was already after he gets killed off (also the exact same as Noah from Catalyst). Jacknife, Celeste, and Faith’s sister Kate don’t fare much better, with Jacknife being Icarus from Catalyst, and Kate being melded into Celeste’s personality for the sequel.

 

 

Considering how short the story is, it wouldn’t be surprising that you didn’t feel like anything got solved, or if anything got changed. The ending is as anti-climatic as you can get, with it stopping short of simply saying “And then you can fill in the blanks for what the rag-tag duo of Faith and Kate did next”. It’s an insulting end to a story that didn’t necessarily tie up any conflicts, nor do it actually show any resolutions to the actions you made.

 

To put it bluntly, the story of Mirror’s Edge is a bust. You run around for 6 hours, and it ends as quickly as it began, with nothing to show for it. Kind of a pisstake, no? I mean, imagine getting this game all the way back in 2008, for a campaign that’s shorter than the trip you took outside to get it? Madness. One would fairly wonder what there is to Mirror’s Edge that warrants such a price-tag. The answer? The sublime parkour, that’s what.

 

Free-running in games doesn’t get much better than this honestly, it’s the closest to perfection we can get with such a mechanic. Dying Light, Black Ops 3, Deadcore, they all pale in comparison to how well DICE executed the parkour in Mirror’s Edge, with retrospective complaints about the camera and controls feeling like they were playing a different game. That, or they were playing the game with a controller submerged in a tank full of electric eels, your choice.

 

 

Faith moves with a confident stride, her eyes scan the horizon for playground toys, and she uses them effectively and with lethality. The combat, before Catalyst turned into a broken hodgepodge of ragdoll-ing body models, is punchy, with kicks and punches looking like they connect, and even the gunplay is something I’d give a pass on. Faith is established not to be a John Wick when it comes to using lethal force, something that Catalyst took to heart so hard, it damn near killed the game.

 

The controls can get a tad gimmicky at points. If you look at some of the ghosts you could be facing on the Time Trials, you’ll notice that half of them seem to have eight arms when playing this, as some of the moves and combos they pull off seem impossible. Wall vault to a pop-off in order to reach the slab of concrete suspended 17 feet in the air, then you wall run over to the pole that you can dodge entirely instead of tight-roping across it.

 

You try that yourself, and you just end up with broken fingers, along with Faith breaking her body as she falls to her death, with there being a small horror aspect to it all. There’s a certain level of immersion that Mirror’s Edge provides, with it truly gripping you by the neck and screaming at you that Faith’s life is in your hands. Naturally you feel for her, since she’s the only character in the game that you don’t want to kick off the tallest building. If you do screw up? You’re treated to terror as the wind and panicked cries of Faith fill your speakers, and splat.

 

 

The aforementioned Time Trials really are the best way to experience the game and all of the life it brings, with the only problem being that some of the meatier challenges require you to finish the story. Here, you’ve got to run through checkpoints peppered through the maps, with most of the red markers signifying the way forward being muted. Here is where it’s a test of your own skill, and whether you yourself can figure out where to go, and how to do it.

 

Ten years later, Mirror’s Edge is a quirky title to think about, as it showcased the turning point for when EA decided to take more risks, however pitifully short that timeline of risks was. The game went on to sell just over 2 million copies, and even now, people still remember it with a slight fondness, tinged with a lack of memory that what went on inside, and for good reason.

 

With a campaign that borders on non-existent, you’ve got nothing to think about, save for the fantastic parkour gameplay. Available on Xbox One via the Backwards Compatibility program, or via Steam without having to use Origin (no, seriously, you don’t have to use that monstrosity), the game’s worth at least one run-through, if you can find it for under 10 bucks. It’s a good game with less meat to it than a vegetarian’s pantry, and at the very least, it can now be considered an indie game or a high-budget XBLA title, given how little content it offers.

 

 

The only question left to ask is “What’s next for Mirror’s Edge?“, and the answer is a funeral. While Catalyst sold fairly well, even competing next to Overwatch on its week of release, the game was shoddily made on almost every level. Somehow looking more unfinished than the original game, with its only innovation being to add blue to the reds, the problems kept piling up from there, from the cut & paste story, to the frustrating technical problems.

 

It was still an adequate game, with the tag “guilty pleasure” coming to mind, but good Lord, it’s like it took DICE 3 years to make a game that felt like it was made in 3 months. Everyone’s mostly forgotten Catalyst now, with last mentions being that it undeservedly popped up on some “wurst gaems 0f 2016” lists, and it’s frustrating thinking about what could’ve been. Who knows, if Anthem fails, maybe it’ll make EA put the manpower into their titles again.

 

It’d be a worthier cause than putting the FA Cup in f*cking 4K, that’s for sure.