inFamous was, as I indicated in my post for it, a great game. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have had the patience to grab every single blast shard, listen to every dead drop, do every stunt, and otherwise Platinum the game. So when Sucker Punch announced inFamous 2, you can bet I was interested. As I read more and more coverage of the game, though, very little led me to believe that the sequel wouldn’t just be more of the same. A new location, some new powers, and a couple new characters added to the same core gameplay. Having finished my first playthrough of inFamous 2, I can say with some confidence that for the most part I was right. And yet that’s not a bad thing.
Thoughts on the PSN Debacle.
As the title says…I’ve been incredibly busy this year. Hence the dramatically lower post frequency. Even in my free time, I’ve been less inspired to write. Which really sucks. I’m gonna continue to post, for sure, but for the foreseeable future I don’t see myself matching the totals made in the previous years.
Anyway, let’s take a look at everything on the list.
- Yakuza 3- The reason why this game has a maybe tacked on is because I’m actually wondering if it might be beyond my ability to give it a proper review. This is just such a multifaceted game, I’m still pondering what angle would be best to tackle it from, if I were to write about it. But the bottom line is, it’s an excellent game.
- Dead Space 2- I don’t like to make promises of this sort, but this will most likely be the next review I post, unless I hit a breakthrough with Yakuza 3. It’s a very good game, and overall a complete package. I’m enjoying every second of it. Extraction only sweetens the pot.
- The Sims 3– A review of this is forthcoming, I think..I just don’t know when. The deal is, my experience with the Sims franchise has always had more to do with the architectural and interior design aspects. When I first got the Sims 2 oh so many years ago, sure I dabbled in the family business for a good while, but quickly abandoned it in favor of building lots. But what with the additions in the Sims 3, it’s been the opposite. While the new building modes look very promising, I’ve actually settled into nurturing a Sim of my own. But I recently learned that you can seemingly build entirely neighborhoods with the Beta Create-A-World Tool for the Sims 3, so…yeah. Sorry, my beloved Sim! I want to explore both aspects of the game thoroughly before I settle down and score the game, but as anyone who’s played these games know, no matter how you play the Sims, it’s a big time investment. And I just don’t have that kind of time on my hands these days..so the review is delayed indefinitely.
- Pokemon: An Intermediate Overview– Hoo boy, I don’t know when I’m gonna get around to this. My HeartGold playthrough has ground to a halt ever since I decided to completely rebuild my team from the ground up and EV train them (as in, from level 1) mid-game. It’s an ambitious task, but I’m determined to see it through.
- AC Brotherhood (multiplayer)– The chances of me actually posting this are slim, as I don’t expect to return to Brotherhood’s multiplayer until I decide to platinum the game. And I don’t even know if I’ll get around to doing that.
- Sly Collection– I’m still undecided on how to format it, but a review is definitely coming. How it’s been lately is every few weeks I’ll sit down and spend a few hours to completely blow through an episode of Sly 2. Seeing as I’d like to wait until I’m at least a good way into Sly 3 before I sit down and write a review, maybe I’ll have this up by fall time, at the rate I’m going!
- Dead Space Extraction– Not sure if I’m going to write a post on this. But it’s a great game. If you have a PS Move, buy it.
- Genji: Days of the Blade– No, I’m not going to write a post on this..probably. I’m only playing it because a friend claimed I couldn’t get past the first level, because it is poorly designed.
- Revenge of the Titans!– This game’s got charm, but man it’s difficult! I like me some TD though, so I’ll get through it eventually. I don’t think I’m gonna do a post on it though.
- Quarttet!– This is my very first visual novel. Well, sorta. I got a couple hours into Fate/Stay Night (just a little bit past the prologue), before my progress just kinda dropped off. At some point my save file disappeared, too. I’ll get back to it some day, because I think it’s a really cool game. Quarttet, however, is amazingly charming. I like it a lot. I haven’t finished it yet, though.
- LittleBigPlanet 2– The truth is, the same thing has happened to me on LBP 2 that happened on the first LBP. I started a level..and being honest with myself, I’m not sure I’m gonna finish it.
- Split/Second– As I hope I made clear in my review, I like this game, it’s pretty dang fun. I’m debating whether I’m gonna buy it or not. At $20-30 it’s a good buy.
- Amagami SS– Just finished this a couple weeks ago. Very good show, if it comes here on DVD and/or Blu-ray, I might just pick it up.
- Karas– A short six-episode stint, Karas is unique, but didn’t resonate with me.
- Corpse Princess– I don’t know what it is about this series that I enjoy, but I’ve fought doggedly to continue obtaining episodes after the fansubs disappeared. Now that I’ve gotten the entire series, I plan to watch it all in the coming weeks.
- Arakawa Under the Bridge– I wasn’t expecting much from the show, and indeed at first it was pretty bland. But it had its moments, and got better in later episodes. I’m looking forward to the second season, which I just finished downloading.
- Naruto Shippuuden– I’m not really actively watching this. I’m on episode..33, I think, and grab new ones every so often.
- Working!– Hoping this will provide my regular comedy fix. Not sure what to expect from it, but the title seems promising at least!
- Neon Genesis Evangelion– I tried watching this many moons ago, and it completely bored me to death, so I dropped it. I don’t think I gave it a fair shake though, so I’m watching again. Than I’ll try the movies and see what all the fuss is about. With Working! and Seiken no Blacksmith as my wingmen, I’m almost prepared to drag myself through this show, if that’s what it comes to.
- ToraDora– I watched the first episode of this a long time ago, it was actually quite entertaining, but I never got around to continuing. Now I am.
- Seiken no Blacksmith– Been hearing decent things about this series, so I’m starting it up. Mainly as an addition to ToraDora, to offset NGE’s expected dryness.
So there it is. I realize it’s also getting to be time for that editorial of mine. It’s coming. When, I don’t know. For now, look forward to my post on Dead Space 2.
Ah, racing games. How I enjoy them. Nothing like the thrill of being behind the wheel of an exotic vehicle, tearing down tracks at crazy speeds with a pack of rivals, and fighting tooth and nail for first place, barely edging out a photo finish. It’s been a couple years since a game like that came my way (has it really been that long since I delved into Burnout Paradise?). Now Split/Second has walked up to the plate; color me interested.
I also have a personal problem with the fact that the trucks and SUVs seem to be the computer’s car class of choice, just like you’ll find AI opponents more often than not touting rocket launchers and shock rifles in Unreal Tournament, and always dropping everything to go for health recovery items and the Smash Ball in Super Smash Bros games. There’s just few things in life more irritating than driving an exotic super car and having an SUV just zoom right past you. The competitors that aren’t driving in humongous trucks instead tend to choose whatever car you’re driving. It’s kind of underwhelming, but at least the copying is only at its worst in the beginning episodes, when you don’t have that many cars.
The car models look great. When the race begins, they look like they just rolled out of the dealership. Crossing the finish line, there’s scratches galore on the sides, and streaks of dirt and dust on the paint. At really fast speeds you get a bit of camera shake to let you know you’re being totally reckless, and dirt and debris tends to fly onscreen when something goes off near you.
Been a while since I talked about an anime. Possibly because I don’t watch quite as much as I used to a couple years ago. Anyway, this time I’m here to talk about Amagami SS. It’s a romance anime that’s doesn’t stray from the typical in its content, but still manages to feel fresh through its presentation.
Our protagonist is Tachibana Junichi, a high school junior. After being stood up for a date on Christmas Eve, Junichi’s been hesitant to try again with another girl, for fear of being hurt. It’s gotten to the point where Christmas time has become a source of depression for him, and he often ducks out of the annual Founder’s Festival, a big event hosted by his school.
|Junichi’s a pretty ordinary guy.|
Two years later, Junichi has finally decided to give the dating game another shot. With the self-imposed challenge of getting a date for Christmas Eve, Junichi sets out to get with one of six girls. However, instead of a single overarching story, the anime remarkably takes the visual novel route, dividing the twenty five episodes up into six arcs (plus one bonus arc at the end), one to represent a “route” for each girl. After Junichi manages to land a date with a girl on the 4th episode of her arc, the story begins anew, and progresses from a different angle, with a different girl. This brings me to the first reason why I enjoyed this series quite a bit. It’s very easy to take in. Even though, in total it’s a mid-range series in terms of length, each arc is self-contained, meaning you can watch four episodes and then stop.
Though developing a typical high school romance over the course of a mere four episodes is no small task, the show makes a solid effort, and most of the arcs come to a satisfying conclusion.
The series has two openings, and seven endings; one for each girl, sung by the voice actress for the heroine of the current arc. The six available heroines are as follows (in the order their arcs go)..
Possibly one of, if not my favorite characters in the series. Haruka is a senior, probably viewed as the prettiest girl in the school. She’s won the Miss Santa contest for a couple years in a row now, and is overall a very popular girl. Stereotypical on paper, right? But you don’t need to know Haruka for long to know that she’s an oddball. Her interests, antics, and general behavior can’t be described as anything but random and amusing.
|Haruka’s no slouch in the pretty department|
She lords over dogs with surprising skill, and can often be caught peeking in on the girls swim club, not unlike your typical male pervert. She also whips out gratuitous English with phrases with “WOW”, and “Okie Dokie” regularly. Haruka is also extremely aggressive with her screentime, even when it’s not her arc; often randomly popping in to say something incredibly silly, or prey on Junichi’s younger sister for being too cute. The only one able to keep her actions in check is her friend Hibiki, who is usually the one to foil Haruka’s peeking sessions, being the captain of the swim team.
Junichi actually has to confess to her twice (she rejects him the first time) before she starts to see him as more than an acquaintance to do weird things with. Haruka’s arc is probably one that suffers the most from being limited to only four episodes. After all, she goes from being “that unreachable popular girl” to being hopelessly in love with him, in a little less than the span of the average feature film. Haruka’s ED is my 4th favorite. It’s kind of all over the place, in more ways than one, but it’s very upbeat. Overall, however, her arc is my second favorite in the series.
Next we have Kaoru Tanimachi. Kaoru, Junichi, and Umehara (Junichi’s friend and “partner in crime”, if you will) have been buds for a few years now. Their friendship is actually pretty infectious, filled with teasing, headlocks, and, in the case of Junichi and Umehara, porn magazines. Kaoru herself is an independent, fairly strong young woman. A lot of her actions would even suggest she might even be a tomboy, but I don’t think I’d go quite that far. After all, you’re not allowed to be a tomboy with hair as stylish as Kaoru’s.
|Kaoru’s a big tease.|
For the most part, Kaoru’s arc is a “friend turned lover” sort of deal. Her arc is hurt a little by how typical it is on paper, but I thought it was delivered well enough for this to be overlooked. And it helps that Kaoru is one foxy lady. Kaoru’s ED is my 2nd favorite among all the heroines. Its melancholy tone is instantly touching, and the theme fits in perfectly with her arc’s theme of evaluation; both of herself and her relationship with Junichi. Her arc ranks as my 4th favorite overall.
Sae Nakata fills in the role of both the adorable moeblob and the shy underclassman. She’s a freshman at Junichi’s highschool, and a friend of Miya, his sister. As Miya puts it, Sae is “big where it counts”. Despite being a head shorter, she’s got a bust to rival Haruka. She develops a crush on Junichi when he helps her get lunch.
|I think you can guess what’s going on..|
Being the shy girl that she is, Sae normally finds it near impossible to navigate the lunch crowds to get decent pickings. She has a soft spot for childish things like tokusatsu shows (things like Power Rangers and their Japanese equivalent, Kamen Rider), and cute things in general; she takes a liking to Junichi’s squishy pink coin purse, for example.
|The resident cutie|
Sae manages to get into Junichi’s life when, mesmerized by the cute uniforms worn by waitresses in Kaoru’s restaurant, she resolves to try and get a job there. She’s far too scared to attempt on her own though, so Junichi volunteers to “train” her, to help prepare for the nuances of waitressing. It’s during this time that her simple crush turns into full on love. Sae’s arc is easily my least favorite. Her shyness makes for a lot of awkward moments and unnecessary blushing, something that feels out of place in a story of such short length. Still, she manages to mature past these typical shortcomings eventually, and the arc comes to a truly cute (if a bit random) conclusion. Her ED is also my least favorite. It’s okay, I guess…but the other girls’ ones are much better in comparison.
Ai is a freshman like Sae (and in fact, the two acquaintances). Showing some hostility to Junichi initially for his perverse tendencies, she exhibits some characteristics of a Type A tsundere. Though quick to perceive his less desirable traits, Ai warms up to Junichi soon enough as she learns more about his various nuances and quirks.
This is mostly what made her arc enjoyable. Ai doesn’t even particularly like Junichi at first (as a person, and certainly not as a potential romantic option), but she becomes interested him slowly but surely as she gets to know him better. It’s not like many other fictional romance stories, where the girl is either already in love with the guy whether she knows it or not, or just magically falls in love with him through one or two significant occurrences.
|Don’t make that face, Ai.|
|“Wait! It’s not as bad as it looks.”|
|[Insert witty caption here]|
|It’s ticklin’ time.|
Once more, the reason why I truly enjoyed Amagami SS lied in its presentation. The unique plot format and polished visuals both helped a lot to boost the overall quality of an otherwise conventional romance title. Amagami SS is a Grade A example of an ordinary design made extraordinary through the sheer power of good execution.
Though it wasn’t an immediate commercial success like some other blockbuster titles have been, LittleBigPlanet remains one of the most important games this generation, at least to the Playstation community. Why? Because for one thing, it was one of the games that served to truly round out Sony’s 1st party title lineup, giving them a positive image of variety. It also served as the spearhead for their “Play.Create.Share” movement, that encouraged the development of games where players could create much of the content for themselves, and share it with others across a broad, self-sustained community.
Now Media Molecule is back with LittleBigPlanet 2. This game is kind of interesting because it doesn’t initially come off as being justifiable as a full-on sequel. The graphics have been slightly but noticeably tweaked, but I don’t think the game really looks or runs significantly better, per se. Which isn’t a bad thing, because the first game looked and ran perfectly fine, and even two years later, LittleBigPlanet 2 actually looks pretty good. When you first jump into the game, everything is very familiar. The controls haven’t changed, and Sackboy still handles virtually identical to how he did in his first outing. Upon first starting the game, you’ll run through an introductory level that serves as the opening credits, narrated once more by that charming Stephen Fry. You drop into your pod, and the replica PS3 controller is sitting there awaiting your input.
Even your good ol’ Popit is back, which gives you access to a multitude of things (more so in Create Mode) with the press of the button, including stickers, costumes, and the “reset” button, all returning from the first game, and all working in precisely the same way as before. Stickers can be used pretty much anytime and anywhere to decorate areas, but can also be used to activate switches. The reset button allows you to self-destruct, respawning at the last activated checkpoint. Costumes let you dress your Sackboy up however you please. Any costume pieces you unlocked in LittleBigPlanet will carry over to this sequel, and you’ll be able to collect even more pieces throughout LBP2’s campaign. Costumes still don’t affect gameplay in the slightest; as much as I sometimes wish they did.
In short, you will have no trouble picking up the controller again. Everything works pretty much exactly the same as it did previously, in terms of core gameplay mechanics. I really can’t stress this enough. What has changed, instead, is the sheer scope of the game. No longer are levels limited to run and jump platforming. The new tools and gadgets introduced allow for an infinitely wider range of gameplay. The Grappling Hook, for example, does exactly what you’d think it does, allowing Sackboy to grab materials from afar and swing from them. The Grabinator gives Sackboy the Herculean strength necessary to lift the various objects you might encounter in a level, and throw them. Bounce Pads are like futuristic trampolines, shooting you upward when you step on them. Four player multiplayer is back, as is the ability to play with any combination of local and online players. Add to this the fact that all of the gadgets have “friendly fire” enabled (i.e. being able to grab and toss each other with the Grabinator), and you have a recipe for mayhem. Before, I thought it was great fun to slap a fellow comrade off a cliff (which you can still do, mind you). Now we’re tossing each other into death traps with the Grabinator, forming multi-person trapezes with the Grappling Hook, and shooting giant cupcakes at each other with the Creatinator, among so many other things. In short, LBP2’s multiplayer is still composed of the same absolute hilarity that made its predecessor so much fun to play with others. In many ways, the addition of these new gimmicks have made the game even funner, whether you’re playing by yourself or with others.
What really earns LittleBigPlanet 2’s sequel certificate however, is the vastly expanded Create mode. You’ll get a taste of its potential as you play through the story. A bunch of new tools have been introduced, both major and minor. Some of biggest additions include the Controlinator, Sackbots, and the Creatinator. The Controlinator is essentially a cockpit for Sackboy. It can be used to map various functions to buttons on the PS3 controller. Before, when you got into a car, for example you might have to put in a grabbable material like a sponge, with a grab sensor plugged into the wheels. You would make the car move by grabbing the sponge. Now, you can assign those functions to buttons the controller, with (for example) the left stick accelerating the car in either direction, and the X button activating the nitro boost you almost certainly installed in the back. Basically, the Controlinator completely streamlines the use of vehicles, and allows the creation of more complex ones. For those of you who know a bit about Create mode, the Creatinator is basically an Emitter strapped to a player’s head; think about that for a moment. It’s acquired in the same way other powerups are, such as the Jetpack and Grappling Hook, and can function similarly to the Paintinator. Except instead of shooting paint, it can shoot anything. Fire, Plasma, Velociraptors, Kitchen Sinks, you name it.
Now, Sackbots are a whole different ballgame. They’re NPCs that can be programmed and customized to a pretty impressive extent. You can give them skins to make them look just like Sackboy, for example, and then proceed to dress them up in costumes just like you would for yourself. This means you can essentially have a variety of actual organic characters in levels, not just material creations with patched on eyeballs and mouths, and swiveling limbs. Sackbots can be programmed to do a number of things, including follow players and/or tags, use Controlinators and other powerups, and activate switches. If the basic options aren’t enough, you can also take control yourself to record an action. This can be done as many times as you please, with each action being recorded as a “Behavior” on the Sackbot’s logic board.
I could go on and on and on about the Create mode. I could excitedly explain the significance of Logic Boards and Microchips. I could mention the added ability to create cutscenes (complete with new cameras and effects), and link levels together to essentially create games. I could talk about the new music sequencer which lets you create songs from scratch, or the multitude of new world tweakers, like water and the anti-gravity tool. I could list the various other new tools added, like the various mover and rotator badges, or the destroyer tool. I could even touch on some new Share features, most notably lbp.me, which is a website devoted entirely to discovering new community levels. But then this review would never end.
So, instead I’m going to close off this review by highly recommending that you buy LittleBigPlanet 2, and tinker with this veritable horde of new toys for yourself. Or with some friends. Because I can confidently say that this game is meant to be experienced, not read about. On the back of LittleBigPlanet’s box there’s a motto: “Fun Shall Overcome”. LittleBigPlanet 2 lives up to that motto so well it’s a little ridiculous. Because that’s what the game offers in spades. Pure, unadulterated fun. And for that, a 10/10.
I quite enjoy twin stick shooters. It’s a genre that’s never failed to entertain me. I picked up Super Stardust HD as soon as a heard about it, and have enjoyed it ever since. It makes sense, then, that I would be interested to know what Housemarque, the creators of SSHD would be up to in their next endeavor. It turned out to be a nice little game called Dead Nation.
Dead Nation is a twin stick shooter as well. Except you’re not shooting rocks in this game; you’re shooting zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. You have the option of playing either a male or female survivor, in yet another world plagued by the zombie apocalypse. Instead of simply being dropped into an area and being basically trying to survive for a set amount of time before being whisked away to another level (like in SSHD or Zombie Apocalypse, a conceptually similar game), Dead Nation features a full campaign and plot. Housemarque doesn’t try to put any spin on the classic zombie formula, though; the story and setting aren’t anything you haven’t seen a few times before.
As in any game of this nature, you have a lot of weapons at your disposal. At the beginning of the game you start with a basic assault rifle. Though you still have to reload, you have unlimited ammo with this weapon, and you can charge it up for a power shot that will score automatic headshots on zombies and also scythe through and hit any ones directly behind them. As you progress through each level, you’ll encounter a number of rest stops along the way, which each hold shops where you can buy additional weapons and ammo. Such additonal weapons include standard fare like the SMG, shotgun and flamethrower, and less-than-standard fare like the blade gun, which shoots saw blades that rip through zombies (think the Ripper from Unreal Tournament). Shops are also where you’ll go to buy upgrades for your weapons. Each weapon can be upgraded in a number of categories, such as clip size, damage, and fire rate.
Scattered around the various levels are various chests. Some are easier to find than others, but all of them hold either ammo, money, or points for your score multiplier. Most importantly however, some of them hold armor pieces. Different armor pieces can give different stat boosts; endurance is for HP, strength for melee damage, agility for running speed, etc. You can choose your armor loadout in shops.
Like I said before, Dead Nation will throw a veritable horde of zombies at you, on a fairly regular basis. And sometimes they don’t always just come from the front. Sometimes they come from the back simultaneously; sometimes they drop down on you from above. There will be times when you fumble switching weapons or reloading, and that’s all it takes for them to bear down on you. For those times, you have the Rush technique and melee. Rushing is a technique carried over from Super Stardust HD. Basically, it’s a brief, headlong charge where you quickly sprint in one direction. You’re invincible during a Rush, so it’s a great way to evade attacks and escape being cornered. It takes several seconds to recharge a Rush though, so it’s not something to be used lightly. Melee is for those times when you can’t Rush, and you don’t have time to reload or switch weapons. It does enough damage to incapacitate most zombies in a single hit, so meleeing is often an effective way to take care of any strays that manage to get past your hail of gunfire.
You’re also able to carry a number of consumable weapons and items. Flares emit a pillar of light and smoke, attracting nearly every zombie in the vicinity, and in turn taking a lot of heat off of you. Grenades work similar to pipe bombs in Left 4 Dead, beeping to attract attention before exploding. You also have access to mines and molotov cocktails.
The levels in Dead Nation are pretty giant. It usually takes me 30-45 minutes to complete each one, and they’re filled with side paths and various nooks and crannies. A couple times each level you’ll come across a set piece, usually in the form of something that needs to be activated, and of course, will attract a lot of zombies in the process. One instance had me fending off a legion of the undead as I activated a switch to extend a bridge across an otherwise uncrossable gap. Another showdown occurred in a construction area as I warmed up an exterior elevator to get to the top of a sky scraper. Conveniently, it was filled with volatile gas tanks. The game was released with no loading checkpoints between levels, which meant that if you quit before finishing, you’d have to start that entire level over. That has been changed, recently with a patch, however.
While Dead Nation’s gameplay is definitely fun, what I found to be its greatest aspect is its visuals. For a top down game, it features some surprising production values. Explosions send debris flying every which way (including upward; I’ve had a chunk of zombie flesh fly directly into the camera from a grenade explosion), and the game really plays well with light and shadows. You’re constantly equipped with a flashlight, which is beamed in the direction that you aim. That flashlight is a lot more important to your survival than you might think. Most areas are very darkly lit, requiring you to constantly shine your light in every corner to check for danger. One area, for example, was flooded with a thick fog, making any lurking enemies appear as little more than shadows. Another area, which served as a set piece, gloomily lit and had zombies flooding out of buildings from nearly every angle. The orange glow provided by flares and frequent explosions served as my primary source of light as I frantically checked each direction. The result of all this is a remarkably immersive game, despite being a top down shooter.
But..this is a top down shooter, with arcade elements to prove it. Dead Nation provides for you score junkies out there with leaderboards and plenty of ways to multiply your score at the end of each level. Chief among this is the score multiplier. As you kill zombies and loot cars and chests, you’ll find two things: money and score points. Score points add to your multiplier, which, if you can sustain it until the end of the level, can accumulate a handsome bonus at the results screen. Every time you get hit though, your multiplier decreases, so the challenge is on! You can also tackle the game with a friend in local and online coop (voice chat has recently been patched in). The only quirk with this is that the co-op isn’t drop in/drop out. Co-op play has it’s own campaign, meaning you can’t have a friend join you in a level in your singleplayer campaign, and you can’t take a solo stab at levels unlocked in in co-op campaign. But the campaigns are exactly the same, in terms of plot and content.
Dead Nation’s name comes from its metagame. Each nation is plagued by a virus cycle, and to defeat it will require the death of many, many zombies. More than one person (or even a few dozen of people) could typically slay in a reasonable amount of time. So every time you finish a level, your performance is uploaded to the game’s servers, joining your efforts with that of everyone else in the country who’s playing the game. You can view each nation’s ranking and progress in realtime; right now the US is in the lead, followed by Japan.
Dead Nation is not a unique game. The setting has been done over and over again, sometimes better. The weapons, the items, the score system–aside from the metagame, there’s almost nothing about this game that is innovative. Instead, Housemarque took a tried and true concept and polished it to a sheen. They gave it a full campaign and story, graphical fidelity suitable for a full retail game, and an engine that runs smooth as butter. It’s an old, almost tired concept, polished to a bright sheen. What does this mean? It means Dead Nation is fun, that’s what it means. And really, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? 8.5/10
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. Overall..an 8.0/10
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
For the past two months or so, the only game I’ve been playing other than Apollo Justice and LittleBigPlanet 2–the former of which I finished a couple weeks ago and the latter I’ve only been playing on and off–is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. And at many points I wasn’t entirely sure why.
Lords of Shadow represents a reboot in a series that I’ve never so much as dipped a toe in. As much as they dress it up, the story premise is fairly basic: evil has descended upon the world, and it’s up to you as Gabriel Belmont to squash it, but Gabriel’s real goal is the revival of his love, Marie, who was murdered by creatures of the night. To achieve this, he’ll need the God Mask, which has been broken into three pieces. Each of the pieces, however, is held by a Lord of Shadow. Conveniently, the Lords of Shadow–who each rule over a major race of evil, such as werewolves–are the ones responsible for the current state of things; killing two birds with one stone, I guess.
But really, I’ve come to think that this is all just a front. An excuse, if you will, to not only visit all kinds of locales, but to kill the various fantastical creatures residing in them, and look as awesome as possible while doing it. And do all this you will. Consequently, this is also where Lords of Shadows’ strengths tend to lie.
Combat is not atypical of the likes Dante’s Inferno and Bayonetta, both in style and mechanics. However, LoS definitely places itself in a higher class of difficulty without straying from its fantasy setting. Though the game encourages precision and finesse not unlike what’s required in, say Ninja Gaiden, it possesses enough cinematic flair and outright brutality to make the likes of Kratos proud. The gimmick introduced is that of Light and Shadow magic, each represented by a small bar on the left and right corners of the screen, respectively. Activating Light Magic allows you recover health with each hit you make, while Shadow Magic increases damage output. Furthermore, each also has it’s own share of powerful techniques that can only be used while one or the other is active. For example, with Light Magic you have many moves that are defensive in nature, such as the Holy Cross attack, which projects a wide stream of light so intense it not only dazes opponents, but rapidly damages them the longer they’re caught in it. Shadow augments the strength of many of your normal techniques (like turning normal daggers into flaming, exploding ones) while introducing new ones like a powerful shoulder charge that allows you to dash a short distance near instantly, knocking aside anyone or anything in your way. Both Light and Shadow magic can be enabled and disabled on the fly, in the middle combat. This gave me a nice feeling of control as I could change the flow of battle instantly depending on what I was using at the given moment.
To restore your magic, you have to collect magic orbs. Sometimes these are dropped when you kill enemies, but the quickest way to regain magic in the middle of combat is to simply play well. Consecutive hits dished out without taking damage add to a meter at the bottom of the screen, which, when full, make enemies drop one orb each time they take a hit; naturally there will be a a lot of orbs lying around soon enough, if you keep up the assault. The effect is shattered, however, the very next time you yourself are hit, discouraging simple button mashing.
Finally, you have an assortment of secondary consumable items used to varying effects. Throwing daggers are quick and represent a fast way to do ranged damage. Faeries will distract enemies. Holy Water functions like a grenade, and is especially devastating against vampires and undead. The magic crystal, when broken apart, summons a powerful demon to do major damage to anyone in the vicinity.
Gabriel’s weapon of choice is the Combat Cross, a unique, holy weapon granted to him for his excellent combat performance within the Brotherhood to which he belongs. The Combat Cross is, in it’s basic form, literally a large holy cross (actually kind of like a sword hilt without a blade). However, the tip secretes a long chain which Gabriel can use to..wait for it..whip enemies with. Aha! A whip! Of course.
Enemies come in a quite a variety, and Gabriel often has a unique way of dealing with each and every one of them, regardless of their size, ferocity or stature. The majority of the opponents you’ll encounter offer themselves up for a more brutal finisher after they’ve lost a certain percentage of health. Though our hero will sometimes use his weapon to finish the job (like staking vampires with the sharp tip), I’ve noticed Gabriel has a preference for killing a given creature with its given choice. One boss fight, for example, ends with Gabriel cutting off the arms of his opponent, and then running him through, all with his own blade. What I’m saying here is that the enemies don’t disappoint, and neither do their demises.
Other than combat, you’ll frequently come across platforming and puzzle sections. The platforming is competent, and certainly enjoyable, as it gives you a chance to really take in the gorgeous graphics and environments. At times it’s fairly reminiscent of Uncharted (and, to a lesser extent, Assassin’s Creed). Despite all this, however, the platforming sometimes managed to feel like filler to me, especially compared to the more intense moments in the game presented by the combat. I also found that a minor lack of consistency, with you being able to perform certain movements only at certain times in the game. Think Enslaved and you you’ll have the right idea, though it’s not that bad.
I’ve never really been the type of guy who enjoys puzzles, and I must say I understand even less why developers insist on putting them into action games, of all things. Why, after completing an epic boss battle, would I want to settle down for a brain teaser? The answer is I don’t want to do such a thing. …That said, the puzzles in Lords of Shadow are actually fairly amusing and clever most of the time, even if they are a little to plentiful for my tastes. Fortunately, all of the puzzles are seemingly optional, as you can opt to have the answer revealed to you, at the cost of the reward (which is usually a mild helping of XP).
Lords of Shadow is a surprisingly lengthy adventure. The game is about 11 chapters long, with each chapter spanning as many as nine levels (though more commonly they range from 3-6 levels). And yet, despite this, variety is truly the name of the game here. As you progress, you’ll collect all sorts of upgrades and items (such as the aforementioned Light and Shadow magic abilities, and various upgrades to the Combat Cross), in addition to a hoard of XP from defeated enemies. You can use the XP to buy new combos and also extra artwork. The game throws new experiences at you every chance it gets, to the point that you’ll eventually stop being surprised and just be looking for what new and interesting thing you’ll get to do next. The beginning of the game turns into an epic chase through the woods on a unicorn, fending off invading Wargs. After that, you go on to fight enemies some 50x your size, tame various creatures into mounts, and even engage in a fun variation of chess. All across what seems like a dozen different locales, including an enchanted forest, an abandoned city, Frankenstein’s lab, and the insides of a music box. This is one game that doesn’t try to stick to a single formula.
What finally compelled me to really want to try the full game out after playing the demo wasn’t really the gameplay, however. It was the presentation; the production values. This just reeked of a game that had a lot of time and resources flowing into it. Right off the bat, you see the book format of the pause screen and main menu, complete with narrated chapter prologues and cool little animated sketches exemplifying the various combos you could buy for use ingame (like those flip book sketches that used to be all the rage). You see the village, in the middle of a rain storm, terrorized by a giant Warg. You see a stranger, Gabriel, approaching, drenched in the rain. It’s just all so immersive. But a package like that isn’t complete without a well-composed soundtrack, and Oscar Araujo delivers, with a set of sweeping orchestral scores that give depth to nearly every moment in the game.
I don’t know how it compares to previous games in the series, but to honest, I no longer care. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a quality title that invites you to follow Gabriel on one of the greatest journeys of the year. My only qualms with it are the questionable ending, and the way you are forced to pass many items by, even if they are in plain sight, simply because you don’t yet have the equipment necessary to obtain them. Fortunately, going back through earlier levels isn’t entirely without merit, as each level offers a “trial”, or optional objective you can try for. Overall, however, there’s a lot to like about Lords of Shadow. 9.0/10