Maneater - XB1 Review

Maneater by developer Blindside Interactive and publishers Tripwire Interactive and Deep SilverMicrosoft Xbox One review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes.


Tripwire deserves a lot of credit for coming up with a unique premise in Maneater, and a lot of it works really well. However, a large chunk of the gameplay comes from combat, which can be a prove frustrating at times. Still, there is some savage fun to be had here in a surprisingly effective open-world action-RPG.

As the title indicates, your job is to eat a lot of men. Also women, children and other underwater animals. The idea to make the experience an open-world adventure is an inspired one. In many ways, Maneater immediately reminded me of several different Ubisoft titles like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Watchdogs to name a few. To that end, the level design is particularly interesting as it flips the script from the above titles. Verticality doesn’t come from climbing buildings or making precarious jumps but instead simply swimming up and down. This gave the development team a ton of flexibility in designing not just corridors to swing through, but spaces that are legitimately fun to explore.

Where the level design can get frustrating, and intentionally so, is that there is an entire world above the water. Docks, small islands and beaches all have objectives to find. Similar to many other open-world adventures, there are numerous things to be found, further encouraging exploration. Sometimes you find cashes of nutrients to assist in developing your shark, signs to smack your snout against (sort of a collectable to find), and side objectives such as killing a specific critter in a certain region. However, many of the goals require being up on land, and those just cannot be done early on.

As your shark develops, you can spend longer periods of time out of water, and you gain more acrobatic abilities to make movement easier, giving the game a very light Metroidvania flavor as the unlocking of abilities gives you access to areas – albeit small ones – you couldn’t access earlier. However, it is a little frustrating at times when a small island of land gets in your way and you accidentally beach yourself and struggle to find your way back to water. Granted, this is usually my fault / completely avoidable if I was paying more attention to the map, but sometimes when I am just hauling with my shark skimming the service, I found myself more focused on getting from A to B than probably taking the proper / expected route as part of the level design.

Things start off in fantastic fashion, introducing you to the game’s mechanics and making your shark feel incredibly powerful and dangerous with a scripted section that shows off the controls and how to attack and survive. Then, your shark is caught and the game’s true villain is introduced and a revenge story of sorts is presented. The entire thing is ridiculously over-the-top. My wife just streamed Jaws about a week ago, so the timing of this game’s release couldn’t be better from my perspective. I hadn’t seen Jaws in probably more than twenty years, and while that movie attempted to be grim and serious, Maneater takes the same principle and often just decides to have fun with it. In particular is the narrator for the game, spouting numerous ‘facts’ throughout (most of which are complete bs, making it all the more amusing). Granted, most of the characters – especially the shark hunters – are little more than caricatures not meant to be taken at all seriously.

There is also a really nice sense of progression. You earn experience from eating things and finding collectibles – pretty standard stuff for open-world, action-RPG games. Eating certain types of things also gives you specified nutrients needed to unlock more skills and progression. Over time, your baby ages into adulthood, and eventually you progress into a mega shark. You learn new abilities along the way that can be unlocked as well. All of this is a perfectly good carrot-on-a-stick to keep you going.

However, the biggest issue with Maneater that I had was with movement. I kind of touched on it with accidentally getting beached, but that was by and large my own stupidity most of the time. In combat however, the issues manifest even further. The actions and general movements make sense given the nature of the game, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find them highly frustrating at times as well. You have two primary attacks – a tail whip that can knock someone back and sort of stun / disorient them for a moment, and your primary attack – biting. Get something smaller and weaker in your maw, and you can thrash it back and forth to wear it down and kill it faster as well. However, even with the unlocking skills, the combat itself never really changes all that much, and it just feels clumsy in execution.

Your shark needs to be moving, so you chomp and swim (sort of like a hit and run). Then you wheel around and try to get them again and again. It’s an interesting mechanic in theory, and not unlike a shooting action-RPG in that you have a repetitive action used to whittle away at your opponent until you best them. However, in practice you never really get to make those incremental changes like you might in a shooter because your entire position is altered each and every time you try to bite. There is a loose lock-on mechanism, but I just feel that this needs to be tightened down on so there is less aimless lunging and missing or lunging and barely glancing. The confusion is only compounded when battling another underwater enemy, because they tend to attack in the same way. For better or for worse, most humans are somewhat stationary-ish in the way they shoot at you from above (though they are moving slightly while on boats most of the time, but it is a predictable pattern of movement, not herky-jerking-lunge-at-you movement).

That is not to say combat is particularly challenging. Once I evolved and gained some stat gains, I was regularly able to take things out stronger than me by a few levels or so. It required a lot of patience though, because we were just sort of clumsily lunging at one another, trying to bite hunks out of one another’s flesh. If I got dinged too hard, I’d go gobble down nearby fish to regain some health since I was generally faster than whatever I was fighting. I felt as though the issue was exacerbated by the ability to move in all directions. It would be like trying to jump and melee someone in an uncharted game who is five feet above you. It is clumsy and wouldn’t work very well – so that is why you shoot them. Here there are (rightfully) no ranged options, so you instead move up, down, left, right, forward and so on – often missing as much as connecting.

I think if the lock-on was used a bit more for actually targeting the opponent and taking some of the misses out of combat, making it a shorter, tighter affair, most of my grumbles around the combat would be better. I realize it is a hard balancing act with the nature of the content, but more often than not I felt like a blind, clumsy underwater log than a ferocious killer, and since the combat makes up a very meaty portion of the gameplay, it did worsen the experience for me at times.

Maneater is not a AAA title by any means, with water effects that do not look as good as many other contemporary games, but the underwater vistas can be almost enchanting to look at. I’ve always been fond of aquariums and underwater life in general, so to that end I am the target audience for this aesthetic. However, the water ripples on the surface and the shadowing / lighting effects under water did remind me that this was a slightly budget game. Music and sound effects were good, though some more voiced dialog to push the ridiculous shark hunters further over-the-top.

In small doses, Maneater is pretty mindless fun. Exploring is entertaining, there’s enough shiny objects scattered about to keep things interesting and the progression options are nice to see as well. However, the progression path could provide a bit more meaning if the combat and movement were somewhat more refined. Considering the bulk of the time is spent moving and fighting, that is a somewhat severe drawback from what would otherwise had the potential to be a pretty fantastic guilty pleasure.

Score: 7 / 10



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Dungeon Defenders: Awakened - PC Preview

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened by developer and publisher Chromatic GamesPC (Steam) preview written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes.


There are few titles out there that could be described as "the one that started it all". Dungeon Defenders? Dungeon Defenders is one of those that kicked off the hybrid Tower Defense and Action RPG genres together in one solid package. Having had it's ups with the first, and down with the second, Awakening is a reboot to the series by throwing our heroes back to where it all started. Think of this as Dungeon Defenders 3 story wise.

Having recently been given access to Dungeon Defenders: Awakened on Steam's Early Access program, I didn't realize both how much I missed this and how much nostalgia it actually brought about. Originally released back in 2010, this “would have been” cult hit made it big and properly so. It had towers. It had dragons. Goblins. Knights. Archers. Ogres. And instead of kicking back once your towers were in place, you picked up your weapon so that you could fight as well. Leveling up only made you stronger and as a by product, made your towers more powerful in the process as their level caps increased while you increased their overall outputs.

Eventually, more was added to the mix. A barbarian class, an Android, new stages, new enemies and then? A sequel. Our heroes were no longer the kids that unleashed the apocalypse while the parents were out. They were now the heroes. Sadly, this was not to be. With loads of issues from inside the company and its development, Dungeon Defenders 2 just wasn’t working like its predecessor. I gave it a few tries from having covered it from another site to loading it up down the line to see how things were coming along. Overall? I just couldn’t feel the magic like the first.

So I am quite happy to say, that even with some issues that I don't think should be existing right now, that Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is looking pretty good and prioritizes the player first, not some multiplayer lobby that crashes the game before you could get out of it and into your own private one.

Campaign, Survival and Challenge are currently the three modes for you and others to tackle with the original four characters making a return in their new no longer powerful adult bodies. Knight, your sword and board, Mage, your magic slinger, Archer, death from afar, and the Monk, the man with the stick and the auras to make him scary. Together on your own or together with others, the core of the experience is back into place and for the most part offers a solid experience.

The campaign, which is really where you should be starting is a series of stages split into acts that must be completed to move on. Each stage gets harder and harder not only throwing more and more enemies your way, but also making you have to defend more than one crystal’s location. So do you put down the Knights or Mage’s towers? The Archer’s traps or the Monk’s auras to help you do it yourself? As a single player it’s really something to be thought about however, you’re never “alone”.

I was to re-thank our PRs for multiple codes as both my brother and I got the chance to get back into this together. The original got me through a tough time years back and being able to get back into it with Marc was great. Knight and Mage going at the horde was great, but when he went offline and I still needed to take the other classes for a spin and not hold up an open lobby game? Here’s the part where you’re never alone.

Available between every wave is the ability to switch between the characters that you have in your deck. Up to four characters can be added and each character in the deck receives a share of the accumulated experience allowing you to level multiple characters up at once. Need to rush level your new character? Now you don’t need someone else to do it for you. Combine that with being able to put down several different types of traps and things become a little easier when playing single player, however, you’ll generally want someone else along for the ride as this is still definitely “Better with a Partner”.

The gameplay itself is smooth. You can run around, double jump, swing at enemies or shoot at them depending on your class or sit back and relax if the wave is really not worth your time OR if you want to make sure that your defenses are actually working. Nothing is worse than hacking & slashing at things only to realize that you left a glaring hole in your defenses if you walked away. Placing towers takes a few seconds, you can easily rotate them around and then repair or upgrade them as needed. Better than that? You can upgrade or repair other classes / player’s towers if you’re closer than they are. That or if you have the budget for it.

Where things don't quite work so well right now, and it's Early Access so there is that leeway, it’s the item and menu management. With a controller. It can be downright hell and with the previous two to look back on, I'm not sure why. Oftentimes it would select but then not continue. Leveling up was impossible without a mouse. Upgrading gear was impossible without a mouse. You could get to where you should be doing the action but then you couldn't actually put points in. The screen just stared at you.

Only making matters worse was when you were checking out your gear an item that you weren't even looking at would stay on screen. Permanently. Well permanent until the whole screen reloaded itself with a transition into a stage or back to your tavern. So with that, often I would leave checking out new gear until getting back to the tavern because trying to defend your base and your crystal when you can’t see where you’re aiming or if there are enemies left in front of you wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Fighting a boss was next to damned near impossible.

That aside though, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened brings back the magic of the first and plenty of refinement to the gaming experience. It runs smoothly, it’s pretty to look at and it’s fun to play. Being in Early Access there are things that need to be fixed, but as things are now? There shouldn’t be much holding you back from this hybrid Tower Defense Action RPG especially if the original was your jam.

Score: N/A



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Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen - PS4 Review

Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen by developers Leaf, AQUAPLUS and publisher NIS America Inc.—Sony PlayStation 4 review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes.


Utawarerumono is a series that is hard to pronounce, harder to explain fully, and nigh impossible to spell without an eidetic memory. While it might be the most recent release, Prelude to the Fallen is actually a refurbished version of the first title now officially available in English.

Utawarerumono first released on PC back in 2002, and was only ever available to English speaking audiences via what I believe was a fanslation, or freeware English patch if you prefer. As a fan of grid based tactics games, a vaguely recall many years ago taking a stab at the original, although this was before the English Patch was available, so I lost interest rather quickly. Thankfully, we are now blessed with Prelude to the Fallen, an official English translation with updated specs.

For those of you unaware, Utawarerumono also has an anime, as well as two other "major" titles in the series: Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth, both of which occur after the events of Prelude to the fallen. But I digress, you aren't here to learn about the sequels, you're here to learn about the first/prequel, depending how you look at it. Prelude to the Fallen follows the daily life of a man who was found injured in the woods with amnesia. He awakens to find a girl with animal ears and a tail tending to his wounds, Eruruu. Now bedridden in the equivalent of a feudal era remote village, he is nursed back to health by Eruruu, her sister Aruruu, and their grandmother, Tuskur. The amnesiac man, who Tuskur names Hakuowlo (Hakouro?) after her deceased son, makes a place for himself in the village, as a man of knowledge, planning, and engineering knowledge, despite having a weird mask stuck to his face that he can't remove.

Unfortunately things won't stay peaceful forever, and Hakuoro and his myriad of companions are drawn into conflicts, armed rebellions, and a religious crusade. The story of Utawarerumono is actually really in-depth when you get into it, with a lot of background and interesting characters and their motivations. And let's be honest, Utawarerumono is basically a story with some combat tossed in to keep your attention. About ten hours in and I had only fought about 10 of roughly 30 or so battles, so be prepared for a largely story driven content, with the combat thrown in to break up the monotony. This actually works fairly well though, as you can replay battles and there's a training missions option once you get to that point in the game.

As I mentioned before, Utawarerumono as a series is basically a visual novel with some grid based combat thrown in here and there. That isn't to say the combat is done poorly, far from it, for the most part. The combat in Prelude to the Fallen can be roughly summarized as "complexly simple". All the basics are there, and you can largely ignore the aspects that are more unique to the franchise, but it also has the potential for some interesting strategy involved as well. The combat stages of Prelude to the Fallen are, technically speaking, objective based. More often than not, the conditions are generally "defeat this person" and "Don't let Hakuowlo die", but can also require you to reach a certain panel, or to survive a set number of turns. Combat can largely be described with:

Grid-based Basics: the standard fare across most of these types of titles. You have a grid based map, usually composed of squares, and you can sign units and move them around and attack or use skills or items on a turn by turn basis. Unit order is determined by speed, which is a hidden value but you should pick up pretty quickly, and all the units you acquire are unique characters, in personality if not in function. Units are not permanently lost if one dies, although certain characters may be required to remain standing throughout the stage. You have both a movement and action each turn your units get, and there's an elemental rock/paper/scissors game going on in the background for damage calculation. You may select any units available for deployment before battle, and you can earn items and equipment that you can give to you units for healing or stat increases.

Utawarerumono Basics: Experience is earned through smacking enemies upside the head, not through delivering the final blow, and the experience is based damage dealt, or health healed. This gets particularly amusing when you find a particularly burly rock that gives four to five times the exp than the enemy commander. Stages can be replayed to acquire missed items or for experience, and there are bonus missions, or training missions, that can also be undertaken. In addition to the standard exp for leveling your units, upon clearing a map you will also earn BP, or bonus points.

These points are individually awarded to battle participants, and may be used to increase one of the three stats a character has. Yes, you can replay stages to earn BP, and no, there is no "effective cap" on amount of BP you can earn, other than the characters stat cap. Yes, you can replay that first mission a billion times and then roflstomp your competition with just those units that can be used in that mission. No, I don't recommend doing that unless you're really struggling with the game.

Your three stats available are Attack (or healing for healers), Defense, and Magic Defense. That's it. Nice, neat, and concise, tell if you're a Mongol or a Turtle, because I know some of you reading this thought "I'm dumping all my points in one stat". Yes, that's an oddly viable strategy, but you'll find out rather fast that having high defense means very little if you have to kill any given enemy by hitting them 300 times, and high attack means little if the ranged units can pick you off before you melt the boss. Yes I'm speaking from experience. I regret nothing.

Free battles, the replayable version of the missions, are always available after they're unlocked, and you can even play them while preparing for another map, making it really easy to go back and farm some levels or BP if you start struggling in an area. Your units also have innate skills, so pay attention to those. As an example, units adjacent to Hakuowlo receive reduced damage. Very handy for the squishy units. Additionally, units are affected by direction, so attacking or getting attacked from behind results in more damage being dealt.

Now, the one thing I haven't really touched on is Zeal. Essentially, attacks in Prelude to the Fallen are "active", meaning there's a sort of timed button press for you to hit, and if you get it on time, you earn bonus Zeal. You also earn Zeal from being attacked or attacking. As you level, you also learn more chain moves, which will tack on after your current attack finishes, and failing too hard at the button timing stops the combo, although the timing for continuing the combo is pretty lenient itself. So what does Zeal do? Well, at full Zeal you get some interesting things. Some characters have passive skills based on Zeal, but mostly what you will be concerned with is the fact that consuming a full Zeal gauge gives you a bonus attack and finishing move, although you can toggle this on or off to preserve Zeal. I've got to say, the combat feels really well rounded, for how little of it I feel is actually in the game.

So, let's talk a little about the graphics and soundtrack. Both have gotten a nice upgrade from the original version. Seriously, go take a look at the old combat graphics. No longer 2D sprites on a 3Dish map, now you've got fully 3D units and environments, although the camera angle and map orientation can go take a long walk off a short plank. But ultimately that's mostly personal preference. The new combat graphics are a major improvement, and the well-drawn character art, illustrations, and backgrounds are really well done.

While the characters aren't "animated" like other companies do, such as Compile Heart, there are a wide range of expressive options available in the character portraits presented, and there is almost always something that can fit with the conversation or event that is happening. While I didn't really notice any grammatical or translation issues, although I have started to become numb to these, there was one point where a character references a definitely-not-western creature, and an actual description of what it was was added in brackets next to the name, which was quite convenient.

The soundtrack is also on point, with the option for both the traditional soundtrack and remastered version available. I have to say, the Utawarerumono franchise has never failed to impress me with their music selection and choices in the past, and they certainly aren't letting me down here either. You know it's a good soundtrack when it gets stuck in your head.

While Prelude to the Fallen may not appeal to those who have no interest in Visual Novels, the story and characters are quite unique and in-depth, and I tended to find myself truly invested in the characters. Each character has their own unique personality and are fairly easily discernible from the other characters. The storyline also takes a nice hard look at what it means to be someone who stands above others, and how the title of "hero" is subjective to those who are wearing it.

Overall, I'd say my time spent with Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen was well spent. While the lengthy text may tend to drag on a bit, especially around the middle, the combat is interspersed well, and the breaks given allow to break up the monotony. The characters are interesting and unique, the scenes are well drawn, and the soundtrack selection is well done. Combat can be both smooth and infuriating at times, but is overall different enough to remain entertaining while not so overly complicated you need a guidebook every third turn. If you are a fan of Visual Novels and grid-based tactics, you'll probably get a fair amount of fun out of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen.

Score: 8 / 10



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Spirit of the North - Switch Review

Spirit of the North by developer Infuse Studio and publishers Infuse Studio, Merge GamesNintendo Switch review written by Susan N. with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Spirit of the North is a game where players get to explore the vastness of an ancient civilization. As players progress through the vast area where they start, we're guided by a lovely lady fox. Oh, did I mention you play as a red fox? She takes us to a place that showcases what must be done. Our mission is to get rid of the plague in this world, and we know this because it 'kills' us. When we awake, we discover that the spirit fox has granted us magical powers.

While I think the premise of this game is interesting, it has some shortcomings that need to be addressed. Despite that fact, I quite enjoyed my overall experience with the Spirit of the North.

Gameplay

Let's talk about the gameplay first. Players begin their adventures in the middle of a snowy area with picturesque scenery that flanks all aspects of view. Coupled with the musical accompaniment, the experience is breathtaking. (NO YOU'RE BREATHTAKING! *ahem* Anyways...). Since players have no idea what they are in for, we are given the chance to freely run around. At first, I did just that. I leaped and bounded onto small hills, experimenting with the controls, and didn't push myself too far forwards. My fascination with this game took over. I mean, it's not often we get to play a fox!


Once I was done gawking, I explored the area to discover a female spirit fox. I assumed that I was infatuated with her because she was the only living creature I had found to this point. While I was hooked on following this pretty fox to some end goal, I quickly became tired of traveling long distances before discovering my purpose.

The spirit fox takes us to a terrible place, a place that hurts us and knocks us out completely. But is this the end? Goodness no. The spirit fox TAKES POSSESSION OF US. *Laughs* No. Not really. She imbues us with magical powers. I like to think of it as possession because of an ability we get later on... Anyways, I discover the purpose of Spirit of the North, which is to clear the civilization of its corruption.

Magical abilities that we've been imbued with get rid of the corruption. This corruption can only be rid of by solving various puzzles that are strewn about the land. Each puzzle is extremely easy to comprehend but their execution can be a pain in the ass. For example, most puzzle games have a quick run or fast travel ability. In Spirit of the North, players can run, but strangely they can do so for a short time. I would even argue that the run time is TOO short and only serves to complete a specific puzzle where the fox must jump through portals. To me, it is clear that the short run time was meant to make this portal challenge a 'puzzle'. It also serves as a way to needlessly elongate an experience when a game is lacking in substance. I'll get to that point a little later...


If I were to give a brief explanation of how I feel about this game it would be that overall I enjoyed my experience, but had issues with several things like:

  • The game is too long for what it is.

  • Some chapters cover such a large area that forces the players to lose interest.

  • Graphics are beautiful from afar but often caused issues with certain actions.

  • The puzzles are frustrating to solve, not because they are hard, but because there is no direction, instructions, or hint system. In fact, any sort of direction would have been more helpful.

  • Players spend more time trying to deal with the platforming sections because the controls are often not responsive OR the environments' textures will change in such a way that hinders puzzle solutions. This lead me to feel discouraged at times.

The above points cover the bulk of my issues with the game but make no mistake, Spirit of the North is not a bad game. It simply doesn't have enough content for what it is. You see, I think about games like Myst or, if you want a more recent example, Obduction where players are dropped into a world littered with brilliant and complex puzzles. What keeps players interested are the multitudes of objects they can discover or interact with. These things might not solve any puzzles but they gave a sense of realism and wonder.

For example, Cyan Worlds is brilliant at crafting a puzzle game that tells a story through video footage as well as creating a compelling realistic atmosphere. Even in a game like Riven (which was arguably the hardest of the Myst series) had clues scattered throughout the different islands away from its puzzle solution. Still, there were many other objects to see or books read that gave life to those worlds. Spirit of the North is a contrast in comparison because players aren't really told the story. And unlike other puzzle adventure games, it provides little satisfaction to the player. More of the story HAS to be present for a game like this to succeed, and while it is still playable and beautiful, it fails to keep players invested enough to complete the game.

The Puzzles

That leaves the puzzles themselves which are two-fold. One of the puzzle types is finding the shaman staves. These staves must be returned to the bodies of the ancient people that players can find. While helping these shamans does not seem like they have much purpose other than an achievement, the difficulty in finding these shamans can be more hassling than one might think. Some of them are cleverly hidden. This particular set of puzzles don't seem to have a purpose. I can only presume their inclusion was meant to showcase that there used to be people that inhabited the area of Spirit of the North. While this puzzle type is interesting, it does little to provide substance to the game.


The main focus is to solve puzzles that allow access to the next checkpoint. Often, to reach them, players have to do some light jumping. And while these sections aren't difficult, sometimes they are made to appear that way. Players cannot redirect midair and given the way the fox moves, sometimes they end up moving in an unintended direction. This leads to aggravating misjumps. The kicker when with its platforming has to do with bad texture layers that make the environment seem like there are other paths. And from afar, these sections often cause players to try for jumps that don't actually exist. Thankfully, players can't really die. Between the texture/collision issues, variable button responsiveness, and trajectory problems, the platforming in Spirit of the North is a bit of a pain. If there is one good thing I could say about its jumping, it's that none of it is hard.

Audio and Music

As for the music and the audio in this game, I found myself enthralled. The audio in Spirit of the North is quite spectacular. With its soothing piano and string composition, I was sucked into the experience.

Spirit of the North's composer Joseph Gifford definitely created a memorable soundtrack which was perhaps the best feature of the game. While the jumping sections were difficult due to the graphics, the music soothed my soul. It is nothing short of spectacular.

The rest of the audio was also amazing. I loved the sound of the water as it crashed down from higher locations or the cute little sneezing sounds when the fox was too close to corruption. I enjoyed the effects of magic swirling around the fox and the sliding sounds which were nothing short of breathtaking. My only gripe was that the fox sounded more like a dog when it barked at the flowers but otherwise, the audio is wonderful.


Foxy Final Thoughts

While I really enjoyed playing this relaxing adventure puzzle game rooted in mystery, I feel like it missed its mark. I can forgive the graphical issues and the short running speed at which players can travel, but the world is littered with pieces of a story. Though, I loved using the magical abilities to solve puzzles. I don't mind the fact that there is no hand-holding in Spirit of the North. That said, I expected there to be more because including vast amounts of explorable areas without including more world lore and/or a better plotline is a disservice to the players. And this is the primary reason that it doesn't rate higher for me.

Running around as a fox with magical abilities seemed like a grand time and if it wasn't for my inherent curiosity and love of puzzle games, I might not have played as much of Spirit of the North as I did. The initial time of playing was wonderful and I did genuinely enjoy my time with it, but I wish there was substance to the title.

I cannot argue that Spirit of the North isn't a beautiful game on the surface. It is spectacular in certain areas and because there are a number of good points, I rate Spirit of the North at a 7 out of 10. The story of the fox and his spirit companion needs a lot more reason to play to keep puzzle aficionados like me interested beyond the first couple of chapters.

Score: 7 / 10



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Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix - Switch Review

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix by developer and publisher SEGANintendo Switch review written by Jim with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


I love a good rhythm game from well-known games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero to lesser-known games like DJMax and Superbeat Xonic. The Hatsune Miku games have always been fun to play so I was pretty excited to see one coming out on the Switch where I could play it anywhere I wanted. For anyone who doesn't know who, or what, Hatsune Miku is, she is a Vocaloid witch is a singing voice synthesizer that means all of the lyrics are sung not by a real person but by a synthesizer. Like the other games in the Project DIVA series, there are more than one Vocaloid witch fans should know with the likes of Rin, Len, Luka, MEIKO, and KAITO.

Project DIVA MegaMix has a lot to love with over one hundred songs and two modes of play. The first mode is arcade mode where you press the right button in time with the rhythm like in the last Project Diva games. The second mode which is new for the Switch is called mix mode. Mix mode is still a rhythm game but you use the right and left joy-cons in each hand and tilt them left and right to match up with what's showing on the screen and pressing ZR or ZL in time.

It's a neat way of changing things up and it doesn't use bad motion controls like some games, it works well! There are three difficulty levels with mix mode from easy to hard while arcade mode has five from easy to extra extreme. Not every song has a easy difficulty and you have to unlock extreme and extra extreme songs, and again, not all songs have these difficulties. With over a hundred songs you would think it would be hard to find the song you're looking for but you can easily switch between the letters that the songs start with or you can put your favorites in the favorite category making it easy to find what you are looking for.


After completing a song you will get VP and experience that makes your player rank increase. VP is a currency that you can use to buy new costumes for the characters to use. Each song has a recommended outfit that matches the music video. I am not sure what levelling up your player rank does, I think it just measures how good you are as it only seems to go up once you complete a song for the first time on each difficulty and mode.

There are a lot of outfits for the characters and it's fun to keep playing to buy new ones and change things up, but if you don't like any of them, you can make your own t-shirt! It's pretty simple to draw on a shirt you can pick from four different draw sizes and then draw using the analog sticks. This can be a bit tricky but you have a steady hand you can also use the switch in handheld mode and draw using the touch screen. Now I am not good at art at all but I was able to make a pretty cool multicolored t-shirt.

A good feature to the Mega Mix is that the music videos can be watched without playing the rhythm games and I enjoyed watching some of them. They are very well animated and some even tell a story which is great as most the songs are in Japanese so following along may be the only way to know what the song is about. It also displayed the lyrics, so if you do know Japanese, you can read along. Finally, you can also set up your own playlists where you can set several music videos to play in the order you picked or have them shuffled.


Vocaloids have come a long way with the quality steadily becoming harder to distinguish a real voice from a synthesized one especially with some of the songs on this game. The only real problem I have with this game was trying to fix the input lag. Unlike some games like Rock Band where you press a button when you hear a sound, you can only set the lag in this game manually. It never really seemed off when I was playing it on the TV but when I played it in handheld mode that I saw the differences in my playing and scoring so I think my input lag might be a little off.

Fans of rhythm games and Hatsune Miku fans alike will enjoy this game with its large verity of songs and outfits for each character. There a lot of customization too like picking who you want to be in the music video and outfits and the such. Changing who is in the video does not change the singing voice however, and this although minor, it kind of stunk.

Summary

Overall I really loved my time playing Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix. The music videos put a smile on my face and some of the songs I really loved and have stuck in my head hours after playing. With its huge list of songs and additional DLC you can add even more to the experience and there was already a lot to love about this game.

The only thing some fans may not like is there is no The DIVA room mode like in the PS3/Vita game Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd. Other than that I really love this game!

Score: 9 / 10






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