Madden 15 - Xbox One Review

It looks good, but how does it stack up to the prior years?

Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star - PS3 Review

This ambitious RPG might not be for everyone, but is worth giving a chance

Lords of the Black Sun - PC Review

The potential is there, but so are plenty of missed opportunities

Dialbo III: Ultimate Evil Edition - PS4 Review

The title might say 'Ultimate Evil', but the game is oh-so-good

Starpoint Gemini 2 - PC Review

Assume the role of a ship - it may sound strange, but is worth trying out

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mortal Kombat - Retro Reflections

I have played a LOT of Mortal Kombat over the last couple of weeks. This was done in no small part because of the new release about a week and a half ago. I've posted on Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe as well as the Mortal Kombat reboot, but I also got a chance to dust off a handful of older Mortal Kombat games (I didn't eve know we had all of these until my son mentioned a few).

I have a lot of fond memories of Mortal Kombat, and like NBA Jam, those memories were a bit kinder than the realities - especially when pitted against having played the recent modern counterpart. The graphics actually hold up okay, as do the sound effects and music, but the controls killed me - often literally. I used to be fairly good at these games, but it took me quite a while to get the hang of playing again with favorites of mine (like Scorpion), and some systems were better than others.

I made a quick video montage of the versions we had laying about:

Mortal Kombat 1 for the SNES
Mortal Kombat 2 and 3 for the Sega Genesis
Mortal Kombat Trilogies, 4, and Mythologies for the N64

Of them all, 3 and Trilogies aged the best I think. 4 was very 3-D heavy and felt off to me, and Mythologies was more of a side-scrolling adventure game. I will admit though, it was fun using Scorpion to use the fire-breathing skull fatality on Sub Zero in MK1 (that's on video). One thing I found interesting were the range of settings for things like blood, and also the button configurations. The genesis pad wasn't too bad, but I found the N64 controller a bit awkward for fighting games. Anyway, it was a fun stroll down memory lane, and you can definitely see their influences on the new release, which I am still playing and thoroughly enjoying.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mortal Kombat - Playstation 3 Review

I go back a long ways with Mortal Kombat. I remember playing the first one around the same time Street Fighter 2 hit the arcades. I used to go to a local 7-11 to play both, depending on which friends were with me. The two cabinets stood side-by-side, waiting to eat quarters. I've never been terribly good at 1-on-1 fighter games. Unlike something like Madden or NBA 2K where I tend to mop up most people I play against, my results in 1-on-1 fighting games are more middle of the road. But, I do enjoy them all the same, and I've been anxiously awaiting this reboot. Why is it considered a reboot?

Well, there's been about a zillion Mortal Kombat games now, and their storyline has become increasingly ridiculous over the last few releases. In my opinion, their crossover with DC Universe was not their most ridiculous storyline. That should say something right there. So, the idea is that Raiden sends a cryptic message back in time to himself, to try and prevent the atrocities to come. Essentially then, we get a reboot of Mortal Kombats 1, 2 and 3, starting just before the first battle in the first game. Sort of a Star Trek reboot if you will. The downtime with the PSN made it hard for me to give the online modes much playtime before they went crazy, so I really can't comment on how laggy it is or is not, or how the lobby looks personally. Local against a friend is ideal here. Let's go ahead and break this game down then.



Graphics - 8:

The actual fighting looks so much better than the storyline cut scenes. Characters feel tiff as they move about, and the textures just feel a bit lacking. That said, the overall game itself looks great. Characters are well-detailed when fighting, they move fluidly, torn clothing and bloody bruises accumulate over play (something I noticed in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe last week too, but much more gruesome here). And the fatalities and X-ray attacks? Those are wince-inducing fun as you spill buckets of the red stuff (there's eve an achievement that tracks how much blood in pints you've spilled). There are some odd clipping issues with some of the fatalities, and while they're not a deal breaker by any means, they did bug me a bit.

Two examples are when Kabal does this fatality where he disembowels his opponent and jams his hook blades into the ground for the person to fall onto. Well.. I mean, they're rounded hooks at the end, so the person's shoulders should be slamming into them, not impaling. Another is a fatality where a head is ripped off by Kano and shoved into the loser's chest. A character with long hair like Sindel will see their hair poking out through the body. Small things, but they seem a bit odd when they occur.



Sound & Music - 9:

The voice acting is actually pretty good for the storyline mode, and the narrator with the end segments of arcade mode does a good job. There are a lot of sound effects in the game, and they sound great. Kicks, slashes and thuds all resonate with a certain weight to their impact that fits the combat perfectly Fighting Cyrex as a cyborg, your punch to his chest is rewarded with a nice-sounding metallic clank. Combat special moves from fireballs to bladed fans sound good when soaring through the air.

The music is not terribly memorable, but it is pretty good and usually fits the action pretty well. There's a bit of nostalgia value in there as well. Hearing 'flawless victory' 'fatality' and 'fight' all sounded good and succeeded in taking me back to high school when I used to play this game.



Gameplay - 8:

The fighting engine is very solid. They opted for 2-D over 3-D in terms of execution, which I think was a good choice. There are some pseudo 3-D effects, like when Raiden barrels into an opponent and drives them to the other side of the screen, the scene tilts and pans a bit to give a sense of depth. The fighting feels like there is actual weight to it, and that's a credit to both the control scheme and collision detection (and works wonders with the sound).

There are several good tutorials, including a fatality one which is awesome for people who want to use a character through the arcade mode and perform fatalities. There is also a fairly lengthy and entertaining story mode. Like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, you are thrust into the role of a new character every chapter, and staged fights against storyline-provided characters carry the story and action forward. I really would love to see this show up in more games. Some games like Tekken and Street Fighter have so many characters and releases, that it would be nice to have this sort of 'canon' approach to the storyline.

There are new X-Ray attacks as well. Like most fighting games, you have a sort of super bar or gauge that fills up over the course of combat from things like performing special moves or getting beaten up. This allows you to unlock special moves like combo breaking counters, or extremely powerful X-Ray attacks. I think of them almost as mini-fatalities. They do a substantial amount of damage and try to depict the internal damage being done. They're fully scripted series of 2 or 3 attacks you chain together on your opponent (if you land them). They are suitably gruesome looking. This game strove for an M rating, and earned it. I play it at night when my youngest is in bed.

It's not all perfect, however. I hear people complaining a lot about how the bosses 'break the rules' - and that is true, but not exactly something new to the game. Those big goofy bosses have been around since the original. Truth be told, that happens in some other games too, like Tekken or Marvel vs. Capcom, so it doesn't bug me as much here as it does so many other people. Are Shao Kahn and Goro cheap? Absolutely. Those did not bother me quite as much as when I was in storyline mode, and being subjected to tag-teams while fighting them solo, or near the end where you are faced with fighting 3 combatants in a row without any health recovery while negating any 'stored' X-Ray bar energy with each new combatant. That was some tough stuff there, and probably a bit unfairly so.



Intangibles - 9:

There is a lot of game here. consider the modes alone:

Ladder/arcade
Ladder Tag-team
Test your sight/might/luck
Storyline
Online (which has some one-on-one and king of the hill modes)
challenge tower

There is also a krypt with a ton of unlockable content ranging from music tracks, to alternate costumes, to concept art and move. It takes a while to get through all of that.

Arcade mode is simply taking your fighter through a random assortment of enemies to get their end scene, which is sparsely animated with some voice narration over top of it.

Tag-team is just what you would expect, where you choose 2 fighters and tag in and out.

Challenge tower is interesting. It starts off akin to a training mode, teaching you basics for some characters, but it presents a pretty diverse range of challenges. Some of these challenges do work better than others though. For example, one challenge you are using ranged attacks to ward off encroaching enemies - it's more of a pattern recognition and timing mini-game than anything, and I didn't like that much.

But there is another where you fight Reptile,and he can only be hurt when visible. He will try to go invisible a ton, but one of your special attacks will break his invisibility and open him up to your attacks for a brief time.

There is a lot of hidden content as well. I've read about several 'secret battles' - and I've in fact unlocked one against Noob (not sure how I did it yet). And let me tell you, these secret battles? Not easy. I've run into Noob twice, and he absolutely destroyed me the first time and narrowly beat me the 2nd. Also, while there are no interactions with the environment during combat, some of the stages do have specific fatalities built into them (two I saw included me being uppercut off of a bridge and onto spikes well below, and the other was my character being thrown head-first into a living tree trunk that gladly proceeded to eat me).

The PS3 version comes with Kratos as a playable character - I've read about the 360 options but can't really speak to them. I will say that Kratos is a great fit. His games are bloody and violent as can be, and that translates well here. As I've been playing God of War collection a bit on the side, I can appreciate his insertion probably a bit more than usual. Still, he's a much more organic fit for this game than the inclusion of Yoda, Starkiller and Darth Vader in Soul Calibur 4 when that came out.



Overall - 8.5:

I really have been enjoying this game. How much have I been playing? Well, I beat story mode, I beat ladder with everyone, unlocked pretty much everything and have gotten more than halfway through the challenge tower. My hope is the online stuff will get a bit better later, because that will help me to continue playing the game when I've exhausted all of the single player content, which I've nearly done.

Again, it really is worth mentioning, but this game fully embraces its M rating. If you have younger kids, not even close to appropriate. Bones are broken, limbs are cut off, skin is burned off, screaming endures and women tend to have more visible skin than clothing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe - Xbox 360 Review

Not the Mortal Kombat you were expecting? Well, I'm still trying to get a bit more online in (barely got any before the PSN went crazy last week and weekend). But, I had picked this game up fairly cheaply awhile back (like $6 at Disc Traders) and figured it would be a good way to get by the week before the new release. I had completely missed this one when it first came out. I was aware of it, but it never made it onto my list of must-grab games when it released about 2 1/2 years ago.

The premise is pretty simple: come up with a somewhat silly storyline that merges favorites from two different 'worlds' and merge them into a single game. This has been done before (probably most notably by Capcom with their vs. Marvel stuff). To be honest, the story here holds up better. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a blast to play, but the story was paper thin. Here at least, there was an attempt made to explain things such as peoples' limitations (Supes is hurt by magic) and trying to balance out the roster (Joker can hit pretty hard for a skinny clown). Speaking of roster, that was one of my bigger curiosities going in, so here that is:

Mortal Kombat DC Universe

Scorpion The Joker
Sub-Zero Catwoman
Sonya The Flash
Shang Tsung Superman
Kitana Batman
Jax Wonder Woman
Liu Kang Deathstroke
Raiden Lex Luthor
Kano Captain Marvel
Baraka Green Lantern
Shao Kahn Darkseid

For those hoping to see Sueprman ripping someone's head off though, be forewarned that this game was aiming for a Teen rating. There's still some blood to be had, but it is not the vicious affair you expect from a Mortal Kombat game. Depending on who you anticipate playing it, that could be a good thing. I felt a lot more comfortable playing this in the living room during the day with the kids coming in and out, than I did the newly released Mortal Kombat. Interestingly enough, having played both games, I can see several elements of this game having made its way into the newer release from last week. So, let's get into the specifics, shall we?



Graphics - 7:

There's some nice touches to be had here. When you fight your opponent, they get beat up physically and their outfits take a toll as well. This is something they did in the recent Mortal Kombat reboot as well, and it looks pretty good here. It's not terribly bloody, but you can see some scrapes and bruises, with parts of Sonja's pants tearing away around the hamstring area, or a deep gash through the back of Flash's costume. The characters all look pretty decent in-game. They animate smoothly (if a bit slowly, but that's more of a gameplay concern) and have a vivid use of colors that reminds me of a comic book - which is probably a good thing given the source material. Backgrounds at first glance sometimes look okay, but upon closer inspection are a bit rough-looking. You tend not to notice it with the attention on the fighters in the foreground, but it is a bit disappointing. The characters in the cut scenes are serviceable if unspectacular, with the occasional goofy stance - or when you notice people turning their heads rapidly only to see their long hair remain perfectly stationary.



Sounds & Music - 6:

The music is not really bad or there - it's just good. It does nothing to stand out, and does the job of filling space, but I can't recall a single memorable tune coming out of it. The sound effects are good enough to get the job done, but they too are fairly unremarkable - and somewhat repetitive as well. Again, none of it is bad really - just none of it is terribly good either.



Gameplay - 7:

Okay, there's quite a bit to talk about here. For starters, the control scheme is rather interesting. The Mortal Kombat games originally were a strictly 2-D affair, while some of the latter ones became 3-D. This one merges the two together, using the analog stick to control the 2-D mechanics (like jumping and ducking) while the directional pad allows you to step up and down in the environment, giving it a sort of tangible 3-D feel.

Plenty of moves and combos give the characters variety, though some did feel stronger than others. It was also interesting to see how some of the DC characters had their powers brought into a Mortal Kombat game. Flash reminded me of Cabal with his speed and the special attacks he could use to make you start spinning. Captain Marvel had a ducking sort of lightning move that brought him up behind a character, much like Raiden. In that sense, some of the DC characters felt familiar, which is probably a good and bad thing at the same time.

Also, I can only describe the combat as 'floaty'. Jumps seem to hang a bit longer than then should, and when you punch in the air, instead of a fist driving down at your opponent on the ground, your kombatant hangs for a moment to execute the move, which felt a bit odd to me. Special attacks were easy enough to pull off, and there was plenty of environment interaction, which I've always liked. It's fun throwing someone through a stone statue, and some stages allow you to plow into your opponent and execute a free falling sort of quicktime event. There is also a close quarters kombat as well that uses the same principle. Cool ideas, but I didn't really like either as much as I thought I would.

The free fall was neat the first few times, but it felt like it slowed the game down. Ditto the close quarters (though it did give you a nice closeup view of the warriors, allowing you to take in some of the bruising and costume damage, which was nice). Also, the quicktime events really need to be handled a bit differently. I don't like it when games use those off to a side or corner - it pulls your eyes away from the actual action taking place. I prefer games like God of War that put them front an center for you to see overlaying the action.

Like most one-on-one fighting games these days, there is also a bar that fills up over the course of combat, allowing you to do certain moves - when it builds up all of the way you can do a rage/super that gives you enhanced strength and makes you harder to take down for a very brief period of time.



Intangibles - 6:

There is a story mode, and it's pretty interesting how it is told from two different sides. It gives you a reason to play through it twice - once as the DC and once as the Mortal Kombat side. Still, I'd guess both versions are less than 3 hrs to get through. They do use an interesting mechanic that shows up in last week's Mortal Kombat release as well - where you take control of a single character for a chapter, fighting off a series of staged opponents. I like that as opposed to just the arcade/ladder versions found in most fighting games where you fight a random assortment of enemies before facing a boss or two and then getting a canned ending. You still get that here from arcade mode as well, but that is sort of the 'norm'. To me the structure of this story mode is a good thing and I'd love to see a bit more of it as you are told an 'official' story, instead of trying to make sense out of 20 different characters' different endings.

There are online and challenge modes as well, but it's hard to score these terribly high. There's almost no activity online that I can see (no doubt due to the game's age and newer fighters out there) and the challenge modes were more frustrating than fun in my opinion.

There is a decent selection of characters though, and that kept me burning through the arcade mode for awhile (I'm one of those people who has to beat a fighting game with every character). Still, it really doesn't take much to burn through the provided content, and the lack of online life really hurts a game like this that was clearly meant to be competitive.



Overall 6.5:

Not a bad game. For the price I picked it up? I'd call it a decent if not great game. There are some cool ideas that got put in, and it was fun using characters usually not found in titles like this. The Teen rating will be a boon or bust for different reasons. For me personally, the finishing moves were kind of 'meh'. I'm used to old school Mortal Kombat where Johnny Cage uppercuts an opponent's head off, creating a fountain of the red stuff. Then again, this is a game I can play when my youngest walks through the living room, and I don't have to pause it. So, there is some give and take to be had. I would say buying the game at full price, it's a tough recommend, but if you can find it really cheap, it's not a bad deal if you're looking to kill a weekend or two with it.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gaming thoughts 4/24/11

Just sort of a random mix-up today.

I was hoping to have the Mortal Kombat review up, but there's a ton of content here, and I'd like to do more of it first. Aside from that, I haven't been able to get online with it hardly at all yet due to the PSN outtages recently.

I'm also working on my Retro Reflection to go with it, that will likely post a couple of days later, but it's not done yet.

Further distracting me is that I polished off a few more games recently (RISK: Factions, King's Bounty - Legend and Uncharted) and am midway through God of War (part 1 in the Collection remake), the Witcher (liking the game overall, but it's slow-going), Castlevania, FX Pinball - and of course a huge chunk of time with Mortal Kombat. Initial impressions: lots of fun, very bloody, good # of modes and unlockables.

Any new games you've been playing?

Also, trying to follow some of the recent news has been interesting (the upcoming Nintendo system, currently dubbed 'Cafe' is being strongly rumored in several locations to being 350-400, which is sadly in-line with what I expected, and talk that the controllers themselves will be at least $80, which seems a bit high - I expect closer to 60-70 based on the proposed specs, but we'll see).

Also, a buddy of mine picked up Portal 2 - so I'll get a crack at that soon. First one was cool - we got the Orange Box for Christmas and it's a title I keep meaning to spend some quality time with, but haven't yet.

Also, my wife got me Starcraft 2 for Easter. I'm going to have to get a lot better before taking on human opponents I think. :P

Lastly, I picked up the Potato Sack from Steam when they had it up for a couple of weeks. It came with a ton of titles, some with high ratings/pedigrees like Super Meat Boy and Amnesia, and several that were a bit more obscure. I plan to do a round up of several of the 'smaller' titles soon as well for those curious. Considering the package for all 13 games was roughly the price of Super Meat Boy and Amnesia at normal pricing, and those were 2 games I've been wanting to get? It was a pretty good deal for the package, but I'll comment on it a bit more once I get just a bit more face-time with the games. Thanks for peeking in on me!