Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation - PS Vita Review

The latest Hyperdimension game for the Vita makes the most of the handheld and series

Farming Simulator 15 - PC Review

Down on the farm - again. This simulator provides plenty to do for fans of the series

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Xbox One Review

The latest in the Witcher series does almost everything well - a definite Game of the Year contender


This shooter gets almost everything right, throwing lots at you but making it fun

Big Pharma - PC Preview

A fun simulation game with some social commentary to share as well

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn - Nintendo Wii review

I’ve long been a fan of turn-based strategy/rpg games. I’ve written in the past about some of the older ones I played, like the Shining in the Darkness series, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I played Warsong on my Sega Genesis. To this day, Dragonforce is easily my most fondly remembered Sega Saturn game (I’ve thought about getting a Saturn again just to play that particular disc, and have long lamented that the sequel never made it to North America). More recently, I’ve played and reviewed some games that were fun, but left me a bit disappointed in places (like Record of Agarest War and Vandal Hearts: Fires of Judgment).

Somehow over the years, I’ve missed the Fire Emblem series. I did some research on it recently and realized it’s been around for quite a few years, on systems I had and just never picked up on it. I remember first discovering the Marth character in an early Super Smash Brother’s game. So, a couple of months ago when I stumbled onto Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii, I decided to take it for a spin and see if I liked it.

The short answer is that yes – I liked it quite a bit. The game’s characters were interesting, and it led me to research the prior games. It’s then I realized that this particular title is a direct sequel to the Fire Emblem game for the Gamecube that I recall getting great scores when it came out.

The game itself is pretty straight forward. You follow a band of characters through some storyline elements that lead to set piece turn-based combat. There’s units that vary in weapon use and skill, and you try to take advantage of their strengths while masking their weaknesses against computer controlled units. There’s level progression, stat increases, a large variety of weapons and skills and quite a bit more.

The pros were pretty numerous for me. The game had quality built-in tutorials, several very deep systems (like the support system where if you have two characters who spend some time around one another and supporting one another in combat, then before their next map deployment you might get to pair them up, offering some bonuses when they are close to one another on the map. Have them converse on the battlefield and support one another and you may get an option to strengthen their support then later – and this is a process you can do a couple of times until they reach “A” level support). There’s a weapon forging system, lots of spells, a skill allocation system and more.

Overall, I felt like the graphics were better than Vandal Hearts, and the depth far more impressive than what Agarest War provided. That said, it is not all roses. The game is tough. I’m not new to strategy games, but like the old Warsong game, if a key character dies, you have to restart the level. If a non-key character dies, they are gone forever. This is a far cry from Agarest War, which almost requires that some of your characters die in bigger fights, so you can bring them back to life and chain ridiculous super moves. Not the case here. If you support character dies, there is no bringing them back on that map – or ever again. And you will have characters who die in just 1 hit if you don’t protect them adequately. There are times the combat just feels cheap, and you may have to go entire maps without making any mistakes, or risk having to start the map over or progressing without a supporting character anymore.

Let’s break down the gaming components and render a verdict now, shall we?

Graphics – 5:

I have always felt that some games benefit more from graphics and sound than others. If you’re playing a first person shooter or an atmospheric survival/horror game, then you need graphics and sound to help immerse you in the experience. RPG and strategy games don’t need these elements to be successful because they pull you in with other convesions like their story-telling and character progression systems. That said, it doesn’t hurt to have nice graphics, and this game does – in the cut scenes. The occasional full video gets played before chapters and key events, and they have a neat ‘events to come’ prelude that really worked for me in the context of the game, but honestly the in-game visuals looked like something that would have been right at home on the Gamecube or DS. Even my son at one point got that mixed feeling. He watched a round of combat, and said that the characters looked silly, but then a screen popped up showing the experience gained and showed a nicely illustrated portrait and my son immediately said, “His armor looks a lot cooler here.” The overall graphics just look muddled and relatively lacking in detail. One thing I did like is that the backgrounds were a notch above most other strategy games of this ilk, at least in art direction if not technical execution. They actually reflected some of the background scenery nicely and I recall one area where I was fighting in a swamp that characters were standing knee-deep splashing around in the water as they fought, which was cool.

Sound & Music – 7:

The music is okay, but again just has a last-gen feel to it. Nothing I can put a finger on, but nothing terribly memorable either. Except later in the game – I got to a chapter and suddenly I noticed the fight music was different. This made me wonder if the entire game’s fight music to that point had been pretty much the same or not – and I found I could not recall. The combat sounds are pretty minimal as well. The voice work is not bad, but you seldom get any. Between chapters there’s sometimes a narrator voicing over a map about the story’s broader events, but those sections are usually lacking in character and did little to really pull me into the story. The cut scenes had some decent voice overs, but they were too lacking in number to help bring the score up much.

Gameplay – 8:

Some people picked on this game for not making use of the Wii remote’s capabilities – I personally have no problem with that design choice. Like a sports game or a shooter, the aiming mechanic draws you into the game. I don’t see waggling a remote at the screen to march my units around as a terribly immerse component. The menu’s are good, there’s no slowdown, and I never had trouble operating my units, so to me the game succeeded in what it was trying to do.

Intangibles – 8:

When you gain levels, the stats improved are random. There are class evolutions your characters can experience too. The battle maps felt so much more organic than anything I saw in Agarest War, where I felt like my 6 guys were dumped into a small, level battle field. Here there were houses, roads, paths, terrain elements, varying win conditions and unit allotments – it felt much more in-line with the actual story that was being presented. That said, the story was a bit odd – it was not the best story ever, but there are chapters where you change parties and perspectives, and that lends itself to seeing what could have been a horribly cliché storyline into something a bit more interesting due to the varied vantage points experienced. There’s no online or multiplayer to be had, though to be honest I would not expect those things from a game like this. You can save mid-battle too, which is not only a huge time saver, but a sanity one too since there are times you will lose someone to some unforeseen circumstance, and you’d otherwise be faced with the decision to start the level over, or press on without the lost character. I’ve read that you can import saved data from the Gamecube version – Path of Radiance. I didn’t get to test this myself, but if so that is a cool feature for fans of the series. There’s also a new game plus that lets you slightly alter the storyline at one point and enlist the help of a few more characters from what I read. There’s also slight variations to the end storyline depending on which characters have formed support bonds and if their score is an “A” or not.

Overall – 7:

The ending was pretty cool – it was nearly a 20 minute affair if you, like me, sit through the credits after a long, hard fought game. I dropped about 55 hours into it, according to the save data, though I’d guess I spent an extra 10 over that on replays from last save due to the annoying death of a character. I games like Shining Force or Vandal Hearts, you lose a character for a round – not the game. To me that’s always been a slightly harsh game mechanic and one that definitely caused me some frustration here. It’s a tough game, but deep and it rewards you for time, patience and forethought. It’s an older game, but one that I enjoyed more than most of the recent ones I’ve played from the genre.

Gaming News and Notes from 12-20-10

If you are, like me, anxiously awaiting news on the Nintendo 3DS (I have a stack of games awaiting trade-in), then you will be excited for the news… that is unfortunately not coming until Jan 19th. I wish I was kidding. Is it going to keep the ridiculous price tag they are going to pay in Japan? ($299) – wait 3 weeks and find out…

The Black Ops First Strike DLC comes to Xbox 360 first, and it hits Feb 1st. And yes, it's $15.

Dragon Quest VI is coming as a remake to the DS on Valentine's Day.

There's a ps3 remastering of the last few Tomb Raider games coming out in the future Don't knwo about this one myself. I'm pretty excited for the Ico collection, and thought the God of War collection was a solid idea. Still mixed on the Prince of Persia one - but these games are not that old and were released on these consoles already this generation. Feels almost like a double dip to me, but if it has a discount price, it might be worth a peek.

Does any MMO stand a chance to unseat World of Warcraft? Well, if there is - it might just be Titan - which Blizzard has announced as their next MMO project.

Fan of discounted Xbox Live games? I am - and Microsoft is hoping you are too as they listed a slate of discounted games starting tomorrow for an 11 day sale.

Super Meat Boy (800 MSP, normally 1,200)
Comic Jumper (800 MSP, normally 1,200)
Toy Soldiers (800 MSP, normally 1,200)
Banjo Tooie (600 MSP, normally 1,200)
Castle Crashers (600 MSP, normally 1,200)
The UnderGarden (400 MSP, normally 800)
Risk Factions (400 MSP, normally 800)
After Burner Climax (400 MSP, normally 800)
Borderlands: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution (400 MSP, normally 800)
Carcassonne (400 MSP, normally 800)

Several of these games have had good reviews, and I lucked out and snagged Carcassonne a couple years ago for free, but some games like Castle Crashers and Super Meat Boy in particular have been quite popular for awhile now and might be good buys.

Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 is looking good, and running on the Mass Effect 3 engine it seems.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Night Combat - Xbox Live review

Monday Night Combat was an Xbox Live game I picked up with Limbo and the latest Lara Croft game some months ago. I played through Limbo a couple of times and posted a review on that, and still have to put some meaningful time into the Lara Croft game, but now that I’ve played some Monday Night Combat, let’s talk a bit more about it.

I thought I would try and preface my reviews a bit more talking about the modes and the overall game, and then break down into the actual scores at the end and see how I like the slight modification to format. Monday Night Combat is an over the top shooter where the objective in the protection of or taking out of a Moneyball, a target that is a glorified piñata with tons of cash in it. This is no Call of Duty or Halo, and you have a simplified objective that is more important than rattling off some headshots.

The Blitz mode is a cooperative mode where you (and some friends if you want them to hop in) fight off wave after wave of incoming bots. There’s defense guns you can set up and improve upon as well as your own powers you can upgrade, giving the game a sort of tower defense and 3rd person shooter feel at the same time. The better you do, the more money you earn. The more money you earn, the more turrets and upgrades you can afford.

Crossfire is an online versus mode that is a blast, but loaded with chaos too. Once again you have turrets and you can upgrade yourself as you attempt to take out the other team’s moneyball. Both games require that you be fast with your upgrade decisions while being a quick, accurate aim too. There’s a fair amount to do between matches too. You can make customized classes that have various ‘sponsorships’ or perks that give you some small bonuses while playing. The better you do, the more between-match cash you accrue. There’s also a ‘leveling’ system as well, which is kind of a fun addition.

Graphics – 8:

There’s a graphical style here that’s wonderfully cartoony. This game was not meant to compete with Modern Warfare or Battlefield, and the graphics help to give it a unique feeling that really works for the game. If they tried to be ultra realistic it might have come across as a weak, lightweight attempt, but by making things a bit more comically over-the-top it feels fresh. Animations are solid and the overall team color schemes are good, though I did see some slowdown during frantic online activity and the zones themselves do lack some visual variation.

Sound and Music – 6:

I’m going to hit this one a bit. Music’s okay I guess, not memorable but it doesn’t get in the way. The game’s sound effects are okay as well, though I never really noticed it feeling as immersive as those found in higher end shooters that make outstanding use of my surround sound. The announcer’s voice kind of grated on my nerves and he was really repetitive.

Gameplay – 8:
The menus are easy to navigate, and once you know what you want to do with your upgrades, it’s pretty easy to do them quickly. The actual combat mechanics are not as precise as some of the top shelf games, but they don’t quite have to be to function well. The classes all feel unique as well, which helps lend some variety to the action. Some of my online games, as I mentioned in graphics, can slow down a bit when the action really heats up, and that can be rather annoying. It can also take a long time to connect to matches, but I never had issues with having to drop out of a match once one started.

Intangibles – 7:

The leveling system is nice, and I liked the customization options. The different classes add some variety to the game and give you a reason to try different things. The online play helps out a ton, since the single player offline mode is okay, but not nearly as fun as the more chaotic co-op and competitive modes. The lack of maps and additional modes really hurt though, and the lack of variety in sounds and arenas do give a sort of ‘been there, done that’ vibe after awhile.

Overall – 7.5:

I enjoyed the game overall. It was fun, and there were goals that kept me coming back for more and tweaking my contestant. I mentally found myself thinking this was Smash TV for the current consoles, or at least a lightweight version of what a fleshed out modern Smash TV could be (I loved that game in the arcade). I came in to this game with modest expectations at the time, having decided to take part of an Xbox promotion at the time to buy 3 games. I picked up Lara Croft and Limbo and then waffled between Monday Night Combat and Castlevania for awhile, but finally opted for Monday Night Combat and definitely did not regret it. It lacks serious depth, but it fits my occasional need for a quick sit down and shoot something fix.