Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

I think text adventure games might be starting to grow on me. It’s nice to be able to settle back during down times and enjoy some good, humorous writing accompanied by an entertaining cast of characters and some light gameplay. After finishing Trials and Tribulations, I heard about Ghost Trick. And my interest was piqued. Ghost Trick is a DS game, from the same mind that created the Ace Attorney series, Takumi Shu. And it shows, in many ways.

Like any Ace Attorney game, the game features a convoluted story filled with twists, turns and secrets. The immediate plot–which stretches over the course of a single fateful night–begins with Sissel, who has come to realize that he is in a bit of a predicament. He’s dead, you see. Not only that, he can’t remember why or how he perished. Or even why his consciousness still exists. Really Sissel can’t remember anything at all. To make matters worse, the only person who might have some insight as to how he kicked the bucket–a young woman we later learn is named Lynne–is currently being held at gunpoint herself by a hitman. See? He’s in a bit of a pickle.

But all is not lost, as is soon pointed out to Sissel; he’s been given special powers. These abilities, known as Ghost Tricks, let Sissel possess various nearby objects and manipulate them to varying effects. For example, Sissel can possess a nearby guitar and strum it to spook Lynne’s hitman, distracting him just long enough for her to attempt to make a break for it. In this case, it changes her fate only slightly, however, as the hitman soon catches her once more, and this time he manages to kill her. And this is when we’re introduced to another of Sissel’s abilities. Though he can’t manipulate corpses, by interacting with one he has the option of rewinding time to exactly four minutes before that person’s death, with the aim of altering their fate.

This is where the heart of Ghost Trick’s gameplay is. Many times throughout the game, you’ll witness the death of important individuals, only to rewind time. You’ll then have a limited amount of time to use your Ghost Tricks to somehow prevent the person’s death from happening, before the tragic event simply repeats itself. In Lynne’s case, after distracting the hitman a couple more times, I was able to goad the hitman into standing in just the right place to get squashed by a wrecking ball dropped when I possessed the overhead crane (the game’s prologue takes place in a junkyard). And thus Lynne’s fate is changed for the better. For the people he saves, Sissel’s Ghost Tricks are not without side effects, though. After dying once and having access to the Ghost World (where time stands still), characters gain the ability to mentally communicate with ghosts–namely, Sissel. Furthermore, even though they’re alive, they still remember the experience of their death.

With Lynne saved, after establishing that she is clearly connected in some way to Sissel’s death, the two decide to work together. Thus Sissel embarks on a long, bumpy road to figure out who killed him, and why. The story will take you to something like a dozen a different locations, and you’ll have run into over thirty characters by the time Sissel’s journey has reached its end. Some of them are more integral to the story than others, but rest assured you’ll end up changing the fates of each and every one of them. And because this is a game from the same mind that spawned the Ace Attorney series, you can expect each character to have their quirks. For example, Lynne dies so many times in the story that it becomes a bit of a running gag, with her more or less waiving away each death without batting an eyelash. Her mentor figure of sorts, Inspector Cabanela always arrives on the scene with a hop and a skip, finishing with a pirouette and a flashy dance step. The Justice Minister is a squirrelly, distressed man prone to heart attacks, while his wife, who has temporarily left him due him not succumbing to her demands makes her livelihood writing trashy romance novels. Always seen with a full wine glass in hand, she will toast to anything she deems fit. Sissel himself sports a gel’ed up hairdo, and his lack of any memory of his life in the human is sometimes used to comical effect.

As a ghost, Sissel has only two forms of movement. He can move through areas by moving from one object to the next, but can also travel greater distances by moving between the phone lines. By possessing a phone while somebody is using it, Sissel can also not only listen in on their conversation, but also trace the number of the person on the other line, thereby opening up a new area to explore. There are limitations, however. Sissel can only possess objects that are within his fairly short reach. He can only use the phone lines to travel when the lines are active, and only to phones whose numbers he has traced.

Despite the apparent freedom that being able to visit most places you have unlocked anytime you have access to a phone grants, Ghost Trick is actually quite linear; almost restrictively so. There are only certain items you can possess, and even fewer that you can manipulate. There is definitely a very arbitrary limit to what can and can’t be done with Sissel’s Ghost Tricks. Despite what the concept of being able to manipulate many things in an area to change a given situation might imply, there’s only one solution for virtually every predicament presented to you. The challenge then, is not figuring out what to use, but when to use them. Timing is a key aspect of Ghost Trick. Certain objects must be activated in a specific order, and at specific times, forming a carefully orchestrated Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of events. Understandably, this will sometimes require a lot of trial and error; luckily, Sissel can rewind time and return to the four minute mark as many times as necessary until you get it right, with no penalty.

Ghost Trick’s writing, characters and story are all very intriguing and very entertaining, but what really caught my eye as I got acquainted with the game were its visuals. During dialogue, characters are represented by portraits, just like in most other text adventures (such as the Ace Attorney games); and visual novels, for that matter. The art style distinguishes itself from the crowd, however, by being extremely sharply drawn, and well defined. Better still is the animation. I can’t quite place my finger on what makes the simple fluidity of the characters’ movements so visually appealing, but it’s not something you see often in a 2D game.

As a text adventure, Ghost Trick’s audio is understandably the smallest part of the package. The character’s aren’t voiced, and there it feels like the soundtrack is composed of a mere handful of BGMs. It’s a good thing, then, that each of the tracks are pretty good listens, and manage to complement whatever situation they play under nicely.

Ghost Trick is, overall, a very good game. The premise–a protagonist who is already dead–is fascinating enough to drawn you in, but it’s the sustained variety that will keep you going. New recurring characters are introduced on a frequent basis, and it’s never long before the game is sending you to a new location. Sure, you revisit places as well, but you never feel like your backtracking or seeing recycled content. The plot quickly snowballs into quite a tangle of events, but I’ve gotten used to that. All things considered–there are some tropes introduced into the plot later in the game that have historically been very difficult to pull off without leaving the reader behind–the story actually ties together pretty well. The one true flaw to the is its overall lack of replay value. The story is pretty meaty, featuring about 18 chapters, but the single solution approach to each puzzle means that once you’ve figured them out the first time, you’ll at least have a pretty good idea of how to progress during subsequent playthroughs. 8.0/10

Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing

After being somewhat disappointed to Modnation Racers’ lack of what I believe to be true kart-racing spirit, I looked to the next best thing: Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing.  Now, at first glance this really does come off as a cheap cash-in on Sega’s various franchises and characters.  Which is why I partially ignored it when it first came out, instead looking forward to Modnation Racers for my kart racing fix.

Anyway, it seems I was wrong to do that.  Is Sonic and Sega All-Stars worth $50-60?  I don’t think I would buy it at that price.  Is it a good game?  Yes.

The whole thing that makes this game great is how straightforward and relatively simple it is.  In other words, precisely how a kart racing game should be.  There’s no apparent story; just a few modes to jump into, each packed with gameplay content.

The main mode is the Grand Prix, which is separated into several cups, which in turn are each separated into several races.  Each finishing position (1st, 2nd, etc.) is assigned a point value.  The higher the position, the more points you get.  The racer with the most points at the end of the cup wins.  You’ll be no stranger to this system if you’ve played any racing game ever.

Next is Mission Mode, which is probably designed to introduce you to various characters and play styles.  As it’s name would suggest, you are assigned a character, a task, and usually a time limit to complete that task.  Maybe you’ll be cruising through a stage as Beat, trying to pull off as many tricks as possible.  Maybe you’ll be collecting rings as Sonic, or even participating in mini-race cups as certain characters.  There’s over 60 missions total, if memory serves, so there’s plenty to return to here.  Additionally, your performance in each mission is ranked (just like in most Sonic games).

Also present is Time Trial mode.  The game ships with a staff ghost (basically a preset time) for each stage, and there’s also local and online leaderboards showcasing the best times.  Speaking of online support, this game features a very healthy suite of multiplayer options.  In addition to local 4-player, there’s 2-player splitscreen online, and 12 player online racing available.  You can either play with strangers or set up games with friends.

Participating in any of these various play options nets you varying amounts of Sega Miles, which act as a currency you can spend in the shop to unlock more stages, characters, and even music tracks to race to.  The game is packed with characters, locales and other things from Sega’s past, including the major Sonic cast, the Bonanza Bros, Billy Hatcher, and even Shenmue and Alex Kidd.  I for one was pleasantly surprised to find Can You Feel the Sunshine (a song from Sonic R) as an available track to be unlocked.  You can view detailed information on every unlocked stage and character in the Collections menu, which is a cool addition if you’re looking to learn a little bit about gaming history.

I’d say Sega nailed the spirit of kart racing in this game.  There’s a simple balance between the use of skill and items, with a proper slice of both being essential to grab victory.  Just as in any and every other arcade racer out there, drifting is also an important skill, and one you’ll probably find yourself forced to use near-constantly to stay on top.  Overall, gameplay is fluid, and feels just right.

The game also runs pretty well with no dips in framerate, glitches, or particularly long load times to speak of, and the graphics aren’t bad.  Nothing special, but I don’t think anyone will find vault with the game’s visuals.

Put simply, Sonic and Sega All-Stars is Sega’s answer to Mario Kart.  It’s not innovative, inventive, or even particularly standout in terms of quality.  But if you’re looking for a decent time, this is most definitely a viable replacement for Nintendo’s venerable series.  An 8.0/10.

Modnation Racers

As a genre, Kart Racing has been around for a pretty long time, and appeared on every system.  Why?  Because they make pretty good party games, and occasionally also provide a break for characters to take a break from the perils of life and just sit back and blow the crap out of each other while racing in cute little cars.

Strangely, kart racing games have been absent from this, the 7th generation of console gaming.  United Front Games hopes to remedy this critical error with their game, Modnation Racers.

Modnation Racers is most definitely a kart racing game.  You race around in oddly-proportioned little vehicles while unleashing a maelstrom of explosive weapons on your opponents, and frantically hoping they don’t do the same to you.

But these aren’t necessarily a bunch of well-known characters taking a vacation between games.  Instead, UFG created a robust toolset that lets you build quite a bit of the game from the ground up.  You can make your own Mod (character), Kart, and even your own tracks to race on.  And its all fairly easy to pull off, if you’ve got the creativity.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because they’re working off the same principles LittleBigPlanet was built on.  Sony says that with LittleBigPlanet, they can forge a new genre: “Play.Create.Share”.  It’s an odd name, to be sure, but they’re making it work.  LittleBigPlanet started that ideal, and Modnation is continuing it.

Even with the ability to craft quite a few of your own experiences, Modnation Racers is incredibly packed with content.  All this content revolves around the Modspot, which is a plaza of sorts that gives you access to all of the game’s features.  Besides the Creation Station, where you can create Mods, Karts, and Tracks, as well as upload them to share with others (and download others’ creations), there are many, many other destinations in the Modspot.  Large pedestals showcase the most popular karts ands Mods of the day.  The “Hot Lap” station lets you check the fastest times on the game’s various courses.  Multiplayer (both online and off), as well as Career mode are also accessed from the Modspot.  That’s not even all of it.

I’ll start with the Creation Station, which is probably what the game does best.  Racing is all well and good, but honestly I had the most fun customizing my karts and mods (and, occasion, tracks).  You’d be surprised how much time you can end up spending here, given the robust tools and extensive options.

For Mods, you can customize almost literally everything.  It’s difficult to describe, but let’s just say that if you can dream him/her, you can probably make a representation of him/her in the Creation Station.  Kart customization is very similar.  You can choose from dozens of bodies, from offroad Jeeps to exotic sports cars.  Then you can choose parts, like the engine, chair, tires, rims, etc.  It’s not unlike any other extensive car customizer in other racing games, but with wackier options like warp and wind-up engines, sofas for driving seats, and cardboard wheels.

Though I’ll admit I haven’t spent a lot of time with it, the track builder is also pretty incredible.  I was able to build a fully functional track within 20 minutes, complete with items, a jump, corkscrew turns, and boost panels, so I shudder to think what it could create in the hands of a more capable track architect.

As I mentioned, Modnation also features a Career mode.  It follows the story of Tag, a rookie racer who rises through the ranks of the Modnation Racing Championship to overturn to the norms of kart racing.  Very much like LittleBigPlanet, the story is serviceable, but more importantly it does a good job teaching you what the game is all about.  The campaign is split into several “tours”, which are each composed of individual races.  You have to place at least 3rd to move on to the next race, culminating in the championship race, which requires that you place 1st to move onto the next tour.

Once again, like in LittleBigPlanet, each race features a few reasons to come back and try it again.  First of all, each course is littered with 5 tokens, which you can collect and spend on new materials in the vending machine in the Creation Station.  Each one also features two challenges, which ask you to achieve certain feats, in addition to winning 1st place.  Such feats might be anything from getting a certain number of tackles (think of the sideswipes you could do in SSX and Mario Kart), to annihilating an opponent on a certain section of the track.  In addition, most of the later races feature an elite racer on the track who has his/her own challenge, which in turn unlocks a grudge match with that racer.  All in all, this is one stuffed Career mode.  All of these challenges unlock more materials for you to use in the Creation Station, so there’s decent incentive to take a stab at them.

But what’s a kart racer without multiplayer?  A joke!  Which is why Modnation Racers features a pretty impressive suit of options for those seeking to play with friends.  You can play 2-4 player splitscreen offline (though no splitscreen campaign) in single races and tournaments.  You can also turn off weapons for a more “pure” racing experience.  In addition to offline play, Modnation features a full complement of online racing options, including an XP and level system similar to most shooting games.  Races can consist of up to 12 players, on premade or custom tracks.  You can even play with a friend beside you via 2 player splitscreen online.  It’s a little rough around the edges (for example, unless you’re hunting trophies, I don’t actually see much point to XP races), but if you’re hankering to test your kart racing skills against other players worldwide, it serves its purpose well.

Now, let’s talk about the racing gameplay.  Modnation Racers does some pretty interesting things here.  Instead of a wide variety of weapons, you have a handful, each of which are upgradeable up to level 3.  While Lv1 weapons only target one person and often lack homing.  Lv3 weapons often take down multiple opponents in a truly explosive fashion.  For example, a Lv1 missile is a just a straight-shooting rocket (think of the Green Shell in MK).  A Lv2 missile has homing capabilities.  A Lv3 missile unleashes a Macross Missile Massacre (TM) that destroys the three guys ahead of you.

This high-risk high reward system of saving your items for when you really need them adds to the franticness of the gameplay.  Will you use it now and possibly miss?  Or will you wait, but maybe end up losing a great window of opportunity?  The decisions don’t end there.  Doing various things like tricks, and drifts, earn you some juice in your energy bar.  Your energy bar fuels a few things, but most importantly it represents your boost and shield.  Need a speed boost?  Hit L1 to use your boost.  Got a bunch of missiles on your six, and can’t shake em?  Press O to bring up a force field to protect you from harm.  Both of these consume lots of energy (shielding in particular can consume a full energy bar in all of 1-2 seconds), so you have to choose which is more important.  Will you spend your energy on boost to catch up?  Or will save it for when you’re about to get zapped by an opponent’s lightning weapon?  Many of the premade courses also feature energy-activated shortcuts, so that’s another way you can consider spending your hard-earned fuel.  Side-swipes also consume energy.

Kinda like in Wipeout HD, in multiplayer you can play Modnation Racers in a few different speed classes.  If you want more Mario Kart-esque speeds, you’ll be wanting the lower speed class.  Fast and frenetic racing can of course be found in higher speed classes.  You can also adjust your “Racer style” for multiplayer races, which lets you choose whether you want to focus more on drift, or more on handling; more on acceleration, or more on top speed.

As you can see, Modnation Racers is positively jammed with content, and gives you the tools to make even more of it.  But, this brings me to my biggest problem with the game.  As a member of the Play.Create.Share genre, its great.  But as a kart racer, it feels a little subpar  Why?  I’m honestly not sure.  My theory is that the game tries do so many things, it stretches itself thin in some areas.  This is evident in the load times, which are pretty bad.  UFG is working on a patch that will supposedly fix this, but every time you load a race or enter a new area, you have to sit through what must be a 45 second load screen.  The game feels tedious to navigate through, because of this.

 The graphics aren’t bad, but there’s some frightful screen tearing at times, and the framerate can be a little jittery.  In addition, I’ve known the game to freeze momentarily sometimes.  Overall, it seems like the coding could have used more polish.

The audio that ships with the game are a healthy mix of various beat-boxing tunes that you’d expect from a game about a graffiti artist, but they do get a little tired after a while, though hardly grating.

Modnation Racers is honestly a great effort.  It’s highly apparent that the team at UFG cares about making the game as great possible, which is why it’s forgivable that they weren’t quite able to hit that sweet spot that Media Molecule did with LittleBigPlanet.  Technically speaking, Modnation Racers isn’t a particularly excellent offering.  But it has an incredible amount of content, and when you’re sitting in your living room with your friends burning rubber with your favorite characters and karts, I bet you won’t really care about the few flaws it has.  I know I didn’t.  An 8.0/10

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

I haven’t been playing my DS much lately. Really, the only portable games I’ve EVER poured much time into (outside of Custom Robo) were the Pokemon games (I just hit the 200 hour mark on my Diamond cartridge), and recently..I’ve lost any drive to play those. And thus my DS has lain dormant.

The Ace Attorney series has always piqued my interest, primarily because of its apparently quirky nature, and rather unique premise. Recently I decided to pick up the first entry in the series, and was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had playing it.

For those who haven’t heard of it, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a DS game where you play as a rookie defense lawyer as he defends innocents from being wrongly convicted.

The game is separated into five cases. While there is an overarching plot and a recurring cast of characters, each case features its own self-contained story. The first case is fairly short. It’s Phoenix’s first actual trial, so he’s guided by his mentor and boss, Mia Fey (a famously skilled defense lawyer) through the process, which serves as the game’s tutorial. From there, Phoenix goes on to investigate other cases, usually uncovering a whole lot more than he bargained for in the process.

This is, at it’s core, a text adventure. You can play the game exclusively via touch, using the bottom screen to sort through evidence, advance conversations, and choose dialogue choices. Like in a visual novel, locations are represented solely by static backgrounds, and characters you converse with show up as semi-animated sprites sitting against those backgrounds.

Each case is composed of two different segments: investigation and the trial. Each case begins with an investigation, where you go out and try learn more about the situation and given incident, as well as gather evidence which you can later use to prove your logic in the court. You’ll converse with various characters and examine scenes for evidence and information.  This doesn’t sound fun, I know, but it is.

Following the investigation phase is the court trial. Here, the prosecution will call witnesses to the stand to report what they know about the incident. You defend your client by cross-examining witnesses, carefully examining their reports and pointing out anything that contradicts evidence you have in your possession. Along the way, Phoenix will slowly unravel more of the truth, and start to throw out conjecture, which you have to prove with evidence.

The challenge in Phoenix Wright comes from the amount of logic and deduction often required to point out contradictions. The game will sometimes hint at them, but you’re more frequently left on your own to put two and two together. Each case is more convoluted and complex than the last (I had some trouble following the details of case five), so it’s easy to get left behind when characters start theorizing, much less actually be ahead far enough to know a bad witness report when you see one. It actually runs a lot like a case in Detective Conan/Case Closed.

The puzzle aspects of the game are all well and good, but what I found to be its biggest strength was the simply excellent writing and cast. For one thing, this is one wacky court. After having enough of their reports blasted to pieces by contradictions, witnesses will literally have a mental breakdown (one even starts banging his head on the wall repeatedly), in a hilarious manner. The judge, while generally capable of keeping order in the court, always seems to be behind the curve, and requires many things to explained to him. Edgeworth, your rival and the primary prosecutor, often has a hell of a time getting his own witnesses to respect him (in particular, he has trouble getting them to introduce themselves, and they often hold evidence without telling him). Each character introduced to you has a humorous side, from Angel Starr’s bottomless supply of box lunches (which she insists on handing out even while serving as a witness in the middle of a trial), to Detective Gumshoe, who is capable and friendly but somewhat intellectually lacking. If nothing else convinces you of this game’s humor, consider the fact that you get to cross-examine a parrot.

In the graphics department, the character sprites are really the best thing you have to look at in this game, so it’s a good thing that most or all of the characters are unique and have interesting senses of fashion. The music can be surprisingly epic at times, particularly when you point out a contradiction and press witnesses. There’s no real voice acting, but each lawyer has a sound byte for when they yell OBJECTION!! (or HOLD IT!! in Wright’s case) to point out contradictions and make accusations. Sound effects are used to fantastic effect here; from von Karma’s signature finger snap to the wince-worthy effect that accompanies crushing logic, it’s amazing how exciting a game where you play as lawyer can get.

I tried, but this is a difficult game to describe. Take that as a sign of its addicting uniqueness. The episodic style of the game (in addition to the ability to save pretty much at any point) makes it easy to take in the experience at your leisure. For a game that requires you to do a lot of creative thinking, it’s very linear though. There’s always a right and wrong dialogue choice, and there’s no way to proceed until you’ve gotten all the vital clues you can for the moment. On the plus side, this means it’s impossible to miss out on crucial evidence. But on the other hand, it can also underwhelm the experience, and lead to complete halts in the action until you figure out what you’re supposed to do next. The game’s strict linearity isn’t really a flaw in my eyes, but it does eliminate almost any replay value the game may have, since after one playthrough you’ll already know all the choices to make and all the contradictions to point out. One could argue the writing and characters alone merit one or two more runs (I certainly would), but that may be a bit of a stretch for some. But this game is most certainly worth anyone’s time and money, for the sheer amount of humor and brilliant logic to be had. An 8.0/10.

Army of Two: The 40th Day

I went into the first Army of Two with mildly high expectations. It sounded great; a third person shooter based entirely around cooperative play (like RE5). But unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Despite this, I’m glad to see EA returning for a second go at this ambitious franchise. Enter Army of Two: The 40th Day.

Whereas the first game took Rios and Salem all around the world in various “chapters” of their lives as SSC mercenaries, The 40th Day is much more centralized. It takes place in Shanghai, China, and spans a single long and harrowing day. What are they doing in Shanghai, you say? Well, as anyone who completed the first game should know, after the fiasco with the SSC, they created their own PMC company consisting of themselves and their intelligence contact Alice Murray. They arrive in Shanghai to do a simple oddjob; a lot of money for a little work. But less than 15 minutes into the game, everything goes to hell.

Shanghai is heavily bombed and invaded by a mysterious alliance of PMCs known as the 40th Day Initiative. Most of the game follows Rios and Salem as they desperately try to find a way out of what is quickly becoming a mess of a city.

As you progress, you’ll frequently find yourself in various situations (often involving hostages) that require you to make a decision on how to proceed. For example, you encounter a small group of enemy soldiers preparing to execute some civilians. Will you go to the trouble of saving the civilians, or will you just engage in open warfare with the soldiers, and not care less about what happens to them?

Morality is a heavy topic in The 40th Day, and the game reminds you of this on a very regular basis. Selfish or sadistic actions like shooting innocents or killing soldiers after they’ve surrendered net you bad mojo, whereas more merciful actions like tying down soldiers instead of killing them or rescueing civilians get you good morality. Your actions can have consequences later on down the road, so it may be good to think before you act.

Besides minor in game actions, Rios and Salem will often end up having to make a major decision that will can heavily sway their morality. The first of such decisions involves a PMC you work with in the first chapter. Alice informs the two that their client will pay extra money if you kill him. But will you? This is the same guy who probably dragged your butt to safety and revived you once or twice in the middle of battle, and he’s a friendly chap. Will you off him just for some extra cash?

Each major decision is followed by a comic book-style cutscene that shows the consequences of your choice. Though atypical, I think this squanders some of the potential this feature might have had. Until the ensuing cutscene confirmed his death, I was almost sure that he would appear later in the game, either for revenge or gratitude (incidentally, I chose to kill him on my first playthrough, and thus was apprehensive of the former possibility). While these moments of decision are cool, the overall plot is very shallow. Like the first game, it’s really only there to tie the stages together, and give you an excuse to shoot people. Which is fine, since games like these generally boil down to gameplay, not story.

Obviously, Army of Two’s gameplay is very co-op-centric. Back-to-back moments are back , as is pretty much every other feature present in the first game. There’s been a bit of tweaking done, though. Co-op sniping no longer has to be “initiated”, and can be started any time both partners are looking through a weapon scope (and not necessarily the scope of a sniper rifle). Berserk and temporary invisibility are both gone, but you can still play dead after taking a few hits. Back-to-back moments and step jumps are largely unchanged, though. Riot shields are back, and you can still hunker down behind your partner to form a shield convoy.

The Aggro system also returns, and is still an integral part of gameplay. For those who haven’t played the first one, the Aggro system is a cool feature that, with some partner coordination, provides for some excellent tactical maneuvers. Simply put, you make a lot of noise (firing weapons, throwing grenades, etc.), you attract more attention. With the spotlight on you, enemies won’t be paying attention to your partner, who can now move about the battlefield almost completely unhindered. It’s like sending a tank and a footman to battle. I don’t know about you, but I’d be paying more attention to the tank. Of course, as the saying goes, don’t get into the oven if you can’t take the heat. Don’t soak up Aggro if you’re not prepared to also soak up a few bullets.

But what’s a sequel without new features? New to the club is an upgraded GPS, which now takes on the form of a large holoscreen in front of you. The GPS shows a bright green path on the ground that shows where you’re supposed to go, but you can scan enemies and tag them as priorities. The controls have also been remapped, and are now much more intuitive, in my opinion (though equipping attachments on the go is a bit of a stretch).

Though there aren’t really any bosses, you’ll encounter plenty of enemies who cannot be fought effectively from the front. So you’ll have to have one person distract him while the other circles around and goes for the kill. You can also now take enemies hostage, and either tie them down, snap their neck or use them as a meat shield (though they will physically protest to this every now and then). You can even force entire squads to surrender by nabbing their commanding officer. While you hold a gun to his head, your partner can either tie down or execute his cohorts, though they may try something if things get too tense. Walking into a room full of enemies, you can even pretend to surrender. Then you can whip out your gun and kill them all in slow motion. Your partner can either join in this fun, or stay back and watch the proceedings with a sniper rifle in hand to cover you. Step jumps and back-to-back moments are the only two co-op elements that feel a bit static. Everything else is natural and well integrated, which makes the game all the more engaging, and fun to play. Co-op really is the name of the game here, and that’s a great thing.

And now, your enemies join in too.  The AI has been beefed up this time around, and acts noticeably more intelligently.  Instead of dying immediately, oftentimes enemies will be incapacitated.  Like Rios and Salem, they will attempt to drag their way to safety, and even take a few potshots at you with a sidearm.  I also frequently saw enemy soldiers step out from cover to drag a fallen comrade to safety and revive him.  It was a welcome sight, to be sure.

Weapon customization has also seen a huge facelift this time around. In the first game, customizing weapons was a sober affair, done mostly just to keep pace. Now there are hundreds of parts available for customization, and most of them can be mixed and matched with anything. The developers called it “Lego with weapons”, and it’s almost true. First, you buy a weapon. Then you hit the customization screen, where you can change its barrel, stock, magazine, front mount, scope, paint job, and muzzle. I took an M416 and gave it a 100-bullet double drum magazine, an underslung grenade launcher, a mountain-themed tactical paint job, the barrel of an AK-47, and a large thick stock similar to a P90. With either a suppressor or bayonet fitted, it was a beast to behold. Then I took a Scar-L and gave it a small Triton barrel, a 3X attack scope, an efficient suppressor and extra grip, and a desert special ops paint job. And thus it became a stealth rifle, perfect for quiet kills. It’s hugely satisfying to customize a weapon and come out with something specially tailored to your play style, and I have to say this is one of my favorite aspects of the game. You can go into weapon customization anytime you’re not in battle, which is pretty cool. In multiplayer each partner has their own customization screen and pool of money to spend on parts. In single player, the AI automatically upgrades its weapons (in a linear path) as you progress.

The campaign (which of course can be played solo, splitscreen or online) is accompanied by a few other multiplayer modes. Those who pre-ordered the game were granted immediate access to the game mode Extraction, where two partnerships work together fight off an onslaught of enemies, not unlike Gears of War 2’s Horde mode or Uncharted 2’s Survival mode.

Also present are a couple versus modes: Warzone, Co-Op deathmatch, and Control. Control is standard King of the Hill stuff, Co-Op Deathmatch is team deathmatch with partnerships instead of full on teams, and Warzone is objective-based combat.

Army of Two isn’t a bad looking game, incidentally. Like a typically generic shooter though, it’s color palette is dominated by gray and brown hues, and some effects, like the explosions, are pretty unconvincing. And, while not rife with glitches, I have had some incidents of the game freezing or enemies failing to spawn (resulting in me being unable to progress). Most cutscenes are still not skippable (a grievance returning from the first game), despite how insignificant the plot is, and you have to sit through a 15-20 second load screen every time you die, despite the 1.4GB mandatory install.

Ultimately, Army of Two’s gameplay is its saving grace. If nothing else, the developers put a lot of thought into how they can mesh intense shooting action with strategic co-op gameplay, and for the most part it works to great effect. But some elements of the game, major and minor, sometimes feel like they were almost cobbled together. An 8/10


I’ve come to realize that the Playstation Network is home to some truly unique games, such as Flower, the PixelJunk games, and Critter Crunch.  This is a really good thing, and I hope indies games such as these continue to flourish.  Released at the end of last summer, Shatter is another valuable addition to the PSN game library.

Shatter proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks, by putting a surprisingly cool twist on a game that’s been around for over two decades: Arkanoid.  Some people also know it as Breakout, others know it as BrickBreaker, but everybody’s played it.  This is one of the oldest games in existence, and it’s been copied, cloned and ported to hell and back on anything and everything with a screen and an electric current.
So why should people be excited about Shatter?  Well, if you never liked Arkanoid, there may not be enough here to convince you that Shatter is any more worth your time.  But if you like or are even just neutral on the matter, this game is different enough to merit a purchase, even if you’ve already played every other Breakout/Arkanoid game out there.
Shatter puts an interesting spin on the tried and true brick breaking formula by allowing the player to manipulate the ball’s path by altering gravity.  You can either push it away from you, or suck it towards you.  This affects not only the ball, but every other object in the box.  Bricks can be detached from their static position, and points can either be pushed away or gathered en masse.  The game is built largely around this gameplay feature, with some blocks having different gravitational properties (like those that have their own, weaker push and pull abilities).  There are only a couple power-ups, so the player is mostly on their own.  As you gather points, you fill up a power bar that, when full, allows you to unleash a shard storm, where the bat fires dozens of small energy shards that break bricks.  It’s a good last resort move when you’re having trouble hitting certain bricks.  You can also use your power bar to shield yourself from enemy attacks and stray bricks.
Shatter is composed primarily of its story mode, which in turn is composed of about nine worlds, which each world featuring several stages and a boss.  Each boss is challenging and innovative, such as Bad Bat, who is a larger, more powerful version of your own bat and will hit back your own balls in addition to firing its own, and OverReactor, whose weak spot needs to be revealed by forcefully rotating its armor.
Though fun and engaging while it lasts, this isn’t an especially long game.  Beyond the main story mode, there’s a Boss Rush mode that lets you exclusively take on each boss in consecutive order, and a Bonus mode that throws three balls into play and challenges you to keep each one going for as long as you can (with just your batting skills–no gravity abilities or bricks).  And of course there are also leaderboards.  If you’re an Arkanoid fan, to me that seems like a pretty acceptable amount of content, especially since each mode is highly replayable (particularly Bonus mode).  For $8, you could certainly do worse in the replay value department.
Shatter’s music is composed pretty much entirely of eclectic techno, which isn’t such a bad thing coming from an arcade game.  I didn’t like or dislike the BGMs (I do really dig the Bonus mode track though), to me it just wasn’t too outstanding.  The game looks great though, with each stage bringing forth a diverse palette of bright colors, and the HD resolution showing each detail with high fidelity.
Overall, Shatter is an excellent effort, and a celebration of an age-old game.  There’s likely not enough here to convince people who never liked the game before to jump on the bandwagon now, but fans and veteran gamers alike ought to be delighted by the homage to the retro era this game presents.  And it’s only eight bucks!  8/10.


This past few years, the shooter genre has become extremely inflated, to the point where creating a truly innovative first-person shooter has become one of the bigger hurdles for developers in the industry. But it’s good to see developers are still trying. While games like Modern Warfare 2, Killzone 2 and Halo 3 remain the epitome of the term generic shooter, we’ve still seen some good attempts to take the genre from a different angle. Borderlands is one such attempt.

However, it’s probably best that you live your FPS mindset at the door, because Borderlands is also an RPG. Indeed, perhaps it would be prudent to call this an Action RPG with guns.
The thing even the most seasoned FPS players will be dismayed to learn is that, no matter how quick your reflexes are, you’ll still find yourself beating a hasty retreat to enemies who are above your level. Though you do have to aim, of course, it’s more just to save bullets than anything else. This is more an RPG with shooter elements, rather than a shooter with RPG elements. That said, the game only offers a core RPG experience, instead making an attempt to balance elements of the two genres.
The game hits the ground running, introducing you to the four classes, while running you through various aspects of the gameplay. The four classes are the Brick (A melee-oriented berserker), Siren (A sassy young woman who has a preference for elemental weapons), Hunter (A sniper with a pet attack hawk), and Soldier (A veteran who has ample medic and support abilities). Each class has its own unique ability and skill tree, and also has preferences for one weapon type or another, granting damage bonuses when a gun of that type is equipped. For example, the Soldier can deploy a turret that not only defends him, but provides decent cover. His skill tree features such perks as having the turret continually restock any allies nearby, or giving his shots healing capabilities (like the Medic’s Phoenix weapon in Resistance 2).
Borderlands also features a loot system that Diablo players will be right at home with. The game’s engine randomly generates weapons from various parts, colors, and ammo types, meaning there are essentially hundreds of thousands of weapons in the game. You could come across a shotgun with a scope, a pistol that shoots rockets, a submachine gun with incendiary properties, the possibilities are limitless. But since, even with inventory upgrades, you can’t carry more than a couple dozen items at a time, you’ll be swapping weapons and items VERY frequently, to stay on the cutting edge. Weapons you don’t need can be sold for a decent price (I’d say besides quests, selling stuff you don’t need will be your primary income source).
However, the story is very light for an RPG. The beginning tells the story of a planet known as Pandora, an unfriendly land featuring little more than dust and rocks. However, legend has it that there’s a secret hidden on the planet. This secret, known as the Vault, is said to contain everything a person could ever want, from riches to women. Of course this sounds pretty far-fetched, but as you prepare to get off the bus (after choosing your class), an unknown woman appears in your mind, claiming that the Vault does in fact exist, and encouraging you to seek it out. She continues to pop up periodically throughout the game to offer advice and comment on your journey thus far.
Few of the characters have much of any backstory to speak of, though it’s implied in the beginning that the four class characters have been friends since they were children. You arrive on Pandora knowing nothing about it or it’s inhabitants; just the legend of the Vault. I think this is a bit of a missed opportunity, but it doesn’t seem like the focus of the game was ever on the narrative anyway.
On the HUD you’ll find a variety of useful things, including a compass, your level progression meter, and your shield and health meters. Borderlands features a health system much like Halo’s (the first one). You have a shield (which, like weapons and other gadgets, is upgradeable and likely will be swapped out frequently) which blocks attacks until it’s depleted, at which point your health starts to drop. Your shield will recharge after a few seconds of not being hit, but health usually has to be restored with items. EXP comes from defeating enemies and completing quests. Some will be happy to know that you’ll rarely have to grind for XP or even money in Borderlands. Quests give you pretty big chunks of both XP and money for your troubles, and any monsters killed and unneeded weapons sold in between will likely pick up loose ends. As long as you keep a healthy quest log stuffed with active quests, you’ll find you’re almost always at the right level to continue progressing. And you’ll always have something to do, for that matter.
Borderlands also features four player co-op. You can either play locally in two-player splitscreen, or online with three others. The co-op is really fun, but only if each of the players are at or around the same level. While it is possible to boost (MMO term for a veteran player accelerating the level progression of a newer player) lower leveled buddies, until they reach your level, they’ll find themselves unable to help much at all in battles, since you’ll be hard-pressed to take on enemies more than 2 levels above you (similar to other RPGs). To be frank, comrades that aren’t strong enough to help you in battle aren’t much more than dead weight.
Overall, Borderlands is also a great-looking game, featuring a cell-shaded graphic engine. Bugs are minimal, and loading times only occur when you first start up the game, and when transporting between regions (yes, regions. Each of which are gigantic, despite the reasonable load time). The engine also handles chaotic situations well. Even in splitscreen the frame rate rarely dips noticeably.
Overall, Borderlands is a great game. More effort could have been put towards the story and characters, and the cooperative play isn’t as accessible as I might have liked (though that’s to be expected from an RPG). The game is light on both RPG and shooter elements, but retains enough of both to form a really fun experience. Moreover, this is a game with personality, and it really is almost one-of-a-kind. 8.0/10.

Beyond Good and Evil

Beyond Good and Evil is one of those games where you’re not quite sure what to expect as you pop the disc in, but find yourself pleasantly surprised by what you discover. It’s not a God tier title, but at least above average in nearly every way.

BGE hits the ground running, with the opening cutscene introducing you main character Jade, who is sitting outside meditating when the area is invaded by the mysterious DomZ. Little is known about these aliens, but the Alpha Sections (the planet’s paramilitary army) have been at war with them for quite some time in an attempt to protect Hillys (the name of the planet the game takes place on).
The DomZ attack Jade’s lighthouse home, kidnapping several children. The first gameplay segment has you taking up a nearby stick to fend off as many DomZ as you can in an attempt to get the children back. Jade herself temporarily falls prey to the DomZ until her adoptive uncle Pey’J comes to the rescue with her Bo Staff.
Conveniently, it isn’t until immediately after the DomZ have left that the Alpha Section troops arrive to take all the credit and press. It’s Jade and Pey’J’s intense suspicion of them (moreso Pey’J’s) that leads them to be scouted by IRIS, a rebel organization that has been investigating the Alpha Sections, attempting to reveal them to be the swindlers they think they are.
Really, the world of BGE is a somewhat bleak one, as the cover art might imply. Despite the constant Alpha Section propaganda stating that they’re trying their hardest to beat back the invasion, everytime the DomZ attack, more people die. People seem to also be disappearing on a regular basis. It’s obvious that the Alpha Section has some secrets, and the game goes out of its way to hint at an overarching conspiracy.
Even under such circumstances, BGE manages to be surprisingly humorous, especially in the first half of the game. Like in the very beginning of the game, Jade attempts to turn on the lighthouse’s shield to stop the attack, but the electric company has cut their power, even under the given extenuating circumstances. And of course there’s Pey’J’s jet boots, powered by a highly compressed pack of methane. In other words, fart-powered boots.
Though the game’s main plot hook/twist (the conspiracy theory) was guessable from a mile away, BGE still keeps a few aces under it’s sleeve (like who the leader of IRIS is).
Though Beyond Good and Evil isn’t a very long game, it packs in a satisfying amount of really fun and challenging gameplay. As Jade, you’ll use your camera, natural agility, and bo staff (among other gadgets and abilities) to fight and sneak your way through various Alpha Section facilities in an attempt to expose the truth. When you’re not snooping in the Alpha Sections’ business, you can engage in a couple minigames in the Downtown district. There’s even a small kart racing segment that actually ties into the infiltration of one of the Alpha Section facilities.
The fighting is fairly simplistic, with Jade being able to execute a variety of moves depending on how time each button input. As simplistic as this is, it’s interesting because it challenges you stay calm even when enemies are swarming you (and they will, multiple times), and remember to continue timing each attack (button mashing will only dish out 3 hit combos, which feels like a way of punishing those who panic easily). It reminded me of the very first scene in the game where Jade was meditating.
Sneaking is a bit more challenging, but it’s entirely about evading enemies. Though you can take them with some careful planning and execution (depending on the area), Jade doesn’t have any special grabs or choke holds to put enemies to sleep and such. Don’t expect Metal Gear or Splinter Cell-like stealth here. It’s more in the vein of Sly Cooper. It does get progressively more difficult though, with missteps becoming more and more of a punishable offense as you proceed through the game.
Call me arrogant, but at this point I sometimes have trouble returning to last generation games, because of how incredibly bland their visuals are in comparison. Beyond Good and Evil, however, looks great. Its graphics are colorful and easy on the eyes, and aside from some impossibly violent waters in some docking areas (maybe it has to do with the fact I played it on PS3), runs very smoothly. The music is a mix of catchy beats with nonsensical lyrics and very emotional themes that make your spine tingle.
Overall, this is a great game that apparently didn’t get the attention it deserved. Admittedly, the story is a tad on the shorter side of the scale in length, and besides collecting all the pearls (currency for upgrading your vehicles), there doesn’t seem to be much incentive to come back. But this is definitely a game worth your time. 8/10

Final Fantasy X

Gamefly tossed this at me out of nowhere.  Kinda pissed me off, but again, I had been meaning to return this anyway.  But I really need Gamefly to resume actually sending me games I want, instead of fishing some random game from the bottom of my list.  It’s annoying.  I’ve had to significantly shorten my GameQ, just to play it safe from them throwing curveballs at me.

So yeah, Final Fantasy X.  Pretty good game, so far.  I haven’t actually been playing it for very long (Been playing a couple days, just finished the Mushroom Ridge event..), but I like it.  It puts an interesting spin on the typical RPG leveling system by instead placing all characters on a grid full of abilities and attributes (more on that later).
In terms of shockers and such, the game hasn’t pulled much out of its sleeve, but I’m not far enough along to make any judgement.  The voice acting is..amusing, to put it lightly.  It just feels poorly done.  Most of the characters’ voices fit them well enough (except Seymour’s, when I first heard his, it did not seem befitting of his appearence), but the scripting wasn’t done so well.
The game begins with a great CG sequence of an intriguing sport known as blitzball (a combination of soccer and basketball, but played underwater), and introduces the headstrong and confident Tidus, a skilled blitzer, and the quiet and mysterious swordsman Auron.  The two know each other, though I’m not really sure how (Not family, I just can’t imagine how they met).  The game is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Sin, a huge water demon (or..something) that attacks and completely absorbs the city and its residents, including Tidus and supposedly Auron.
Tidus wakes up cold and hungry in an unkown place, and is eventually picked up by Al Bhed salvagers.  The Al Bhed seem to be a sort of nomad race, who explore ruins for ancient artifacts, namely ancient but powerful machina.  Tidus meets Rikku aboard the ship, who informs him that Zanarkand, the city Sin absorbed in the prologue, was destroyed 1,000 years ago by Sin.  So apparently, Tidus has been transported 1,000 years into the future.  Tidus’s apparent lack of luck shines once again as the Al Bhed ship he is on is attacked by Sin, this time landing him near a tropical beach.  Tidus is woken up by a hit to the head from a blitzball, thrown by local resident Wakka.  Wakka brings him up to speed on just what’s been going on, and brings Tidus to his village of Besaid, where Tidus soon meets the young summoner Yuna.  The two take to each other quickly, and Tidus, along with Wakka and others, accompany Yuna as she departs to complete a pilgrimage that will hopefully earn her the right to use the Final Summoning, which would allow her to defeat Sin.  Thus begins Tidus’s journey.
Yeah, its a really long prologue.  Frankly, I’ve been reminded of the Kingdom Hearts series more than once in FFX.  There’s the facial animation style, the hero that is unwillingly transported to another world (or in Tidus’s case, another time) by demons, and KH2 also sports an uncomfortably long prologue.
Gameplay in FFX is fun for the most part.  I’ve decided that I absolutely hate the boring affair that is blitzball (yes you can play it in the game), but the battles are very fun.  They’re turn based, and actually a little on the easy side if you make sure to take advantage of enemy weaknesses.
Returning to the aforementioned leveling system, FFX is very different from the traditional way of making your characters stronger.  Instead of steadily leveling up overall, with all your attributes increasing with time automatically, FFX has a huge board called a sphere grid.  As you battle, you gain AP, which levels up your Sphere level.  Each sphere level allows you to move once on the sphere grid.  Scattered all across this huge grid are attribute boosts and abilities.  Each character starts out in a certain part of the grid, generally a section that offers attributes and powers that suit that character.  For example, the black mage Lulu starts out at the bottom of the grid, where there are lots of magic stat upgrade nodes, and fire/ice/lightning/water spell upgrades relatively close by.  Tidus, being the light and quick melee attacker, starts out in an area with an abundant amount of agility stat upgrades.  Though you can follow the regular path and stay uniform, you can branch off in any direction, provided you have the correct sphere to unlock the path.  I could make Yuna (a white mage and summoner) a melee attacker eventually, or Auron a spellcaster.  If you have the patience and devotion, I suspect its quite possible to absorb every single upgrade on the grid, giving you the ultimate character.
This freedom granting design philosophy carries into weaponry and equipment too.  Weapons don’t have their own stats.  Instead of steadily buying new, more powerful weapons as you progress through the game, its very possible to play the entire game with the exact same weapon you started with.  Instead, weapons have attributes.  There’s a variety of elemental weapons, and weapons with advantages such as the ability to automatically scan the enemy (whenever a character holding a weapon with the “Sensor” attribute is in play, the enemy’s vital info becomes visible), or do extra damage.  As a result, you’ll be buying new weapons not necessarily to equip it immediately after, but to have it in your collection, should a need for its equipped attribute arise.
I like this system of advancement quite a bit, and it made battles very fun and enjoyable (as well as strategically advancing your characters across the Grid), though I think it somehow made the game easier than an RPG with the normal level advancement system.  Sphere levels are gained far more quickly then normal levels are, so with good planning, and a bit of grinding I was able to get a fair headstart on the grid.  Though I’ve had to use items maybe a couple times during bosses (even difficult boss battles are fun!), I’ve been able to rely mostly on the characters’ abilities, of which there are a surprisingly wide variety.
Interestingly, load screens are also fairly minimal.  Maybe its because I was playing it on my Ps3 (some games like San Andreas run better on it, some, like an older Ratchet and Clank game I was playing, run significantly slower on it), but the game performed well.  The transition from Ps3 quality graphics down to Ps2 wasn’t such a huge shock either.  The game still looks fairly good.
I’d feel bad recommending FFX, only to keep playing it and find it does a total 180 later on or something.  But its pretty good so far.  I think I’ve spoiled the ending for myself already, but I’m crossing my fingers anyway.  The game’s interesting spin on level advancement has kept me compelled to play, and the story also helps.  An 8/10.

Heavenly Sword

When the Ps3 was released, its launch lineup wasn’t overly exciting. Like the PsP, only recently (within the past half year or so) has the system’s game library really begun to climb in popularity, with the release of titles like Resistance 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Uncharted, and the wildly popular LittleBigPlanet.

Heavenly Sword also contributed to this rise. A lot of hype surrounded its beautiful graphics and interesting gameplay style.

Heavenly Sword tells the story of Nariko, a young woman who is born into a tribe that fears and shuns her, regarding her as a curse. This is because, according to a long held prophecy, Nariko’s mother was to give birth to a male, who would wield the clan’s heirloom, the Heavenly Sword, and lead them to greatness. When Nariko, instead a female, was born, everyone thought the clan had been cursed. Since then, Nariko has grown up with only Kai, her friend and adoptive sister to call a companion. Her mother died giving birth and her father is formal with her, being her tutor first and her father second.

Her clan is made up of skillful warriors, and though they enjoyed a long time of peace, this was shattered by the appearance of King Bohan and his army, who have been constantly tracking Nariko and her tribe in order to take the Heavenly Sword, an incredible weapon that is said to have descended from heaven. However, wielding the sword leads to inevitable death, as the sword feeds on the life force of its user. However, when the rest of her tribe is captured, Nariko is forced to wield it anyway, sacrificing her life to fight for her people.

Starting a new game, you are immediately given control of Nariko as she fights hundreds of thousands of troops in the last few minutes of her life. Enemies will come at you in huge swarms, but she’ll fight on, eventually prompting a cutscene that shows her finally collapsing in battle, the sword having taken all of her life force.
The game then shows her waking up in an after life of sorts. She begs the sword to give her just a little more time, prompting it to raise a huge monolith from the ground behind her. The game proceeds in this way, with each monolith representing a chapter in the last few days of her life before she died.
Heavenly Sword is primarily a hack n slash game, similar to the likes of God of War and Ninja Gaiden. Though I haven’t played much of either series, I like the game’s control scheme. The Heavenly Sword has three forms, or “stances”. Speed stance is the default, where Nariko wields two short blades and specializes in quick blows and counters in quick succession. Holding R1 switches to the Power stance, where the sword combines into one big sword. This form is really powerful, but of course is slower. You can dispatch most enemies (if you catch them off guard) in just a couple hits in Power stance. Holding L1 switches to Range stance, where the sword becomes a chain blade similar to what Kratos from God of War wields. The Ranged stance does very little damage, and is basically only useful for crowd control (that is, if enemies get a little too close for comfort), but it also inexplicable creates whirlwinds around Nariko when used, and its always amusing to see an enemy try his best to block the onslaught of chain blades, only to get swept off his feet by a sudden gust of wind.

Combat is executed in some form or another with all four of the symbol buttons. The square and triangle buttons are the primary attack buttons. Tapping triangle at the right time will execute a counter that will immediately kill the enemy. Some of these are pretty brutal. Examples include Nariko acrobatically grabbing an enemy and flicking him away, or knocking him down before placing her feet on each side of his neck, then twisting her legs, snapping it. The circle button is used to activate Super styles, which are impressive special attacks that defeat mostly everyone around Nariko in a wide radius. One such attack has Nariko grabbing a target and jumping into the air before flipping him over, standing in between his legs (ouch!), and slamming down to the ground, which sends out a tremendous shockwave that sends anyone close enough flying. Super styles are also used during some boss fights as interactive cut scenes of sorts. The X button is used to pick up and throw objects, such as fallen enemies and weapons. Holding X instead just tapping it lets you influence the object’s path with the SIXAXIS motion sensing via a cool feature called Aftertouch.

As the controls would indicate, this game is really all about its combat. There’s no jump button or crouch button or any typical action you’d find in a platformer or action adventure. However, the game is presented well, and combat holds up well for the most part. There will be times here and there where it will get repetitive, but there’s enough variety thrown into the mix to keep it from becoming frustrating.

Speaking of variety, you won’t actually play through the whole game as Nariko. You’ll also spend a fair amount of time controlling Kai, who wields a huge crossbow. Though its a strange change of pace, Kai’s segments are just as fun and amusing as Nariko. In stark contrast to Nariko’s fierce, no nonsense personality, Kai is very playful and likes to play jokes on her enemies. There were a few parts where I couldn’t help but chuckle (the poor guard being trapped in a building with fireworks going off inside comes to mind). Kai doesn’t fair well in close quarters combat, so you’ll have more fun picking enemies off from a distance. Or rather, you’ll have lots of fun. Using the Aftertouch feature, picking enemies off with Kai’s crossbow can be riot. Though it’s generally a one hit kill wherever you hit them, enemies respond differently depending on where the arrow lands. A headshot will stop them in their tracks as they arc backwards suddenly with the force of the arrow slamming into their skull nearly tipping them over. They’ll groan and stutter for some time before falling backward. I don’t know why, maybe I’m overly sadistic, but I found experimenting with them to be hilarous. All the while, Kai will occasionally make comments on particularly painful looking hits, like “Ouch, that’s gotta hurt”.

The whole game is fun to playthrough, and though there are a few times where puzzles seemed out of place or overly frustrating, the overall feeling is that Heavenly Sword was a well polished game. My largest complaint is shared with most others who have played the game, which is that its incredibly short. I was able to play through about 85% of the story and get most of the unlockables along the way in an evening. Its hard to justify paying more than $50 for it.

However, the game is most certainly worth a rent. With its easy controls, good story, and awesome graphics, this is a great game for anyone who likes hack and slash games to have. An 8/10.