After experiencing the three titles that make up the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix compilation in quick succession last year, I needed a break. It was a desire to join in on the zeitgeist surrounding the release of Kingdom Hearts III that prompted me to finally jump into the series, though truth be told I’d always been interested. I started itching to get back into the series while playing the F.E.A.R. games last year, if anything to experience something a little more uplifting. First up: Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix. Continue reading Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix [PlayStation 3] – Review→
Acting upon a sense of urgency for no particular reason, this year has seen me completing many of the games that have populated my backlog for ages. Singularityand Syndicate, a pair of narrative-orientated first-person shooters, each with unique gameplay hooks, are two such games. While it misses the mark on alliteration, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare otherwise fits the bill, scratching that itch for what I want in an FPS. Published by Activision on November 4, 2014, it was Sledgehammer Games’ second entry in the series, following their co-development of Modern Warfare 3 alongside Infinity Ward. Additionally, Raven Software (the studio behind Singularity, coincidentally enough) developed the multiplayer components while High Moon Studios handled the previous generation versions. Continue reading Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare [PlayStation 4] – Review→
A spin-off of 2013’s Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker released the following year and expanded upon a series of one-off stages featured in that game. Designed around Captain Toad’s inability to jump and thereby defeat enemies in a traditional Mario way, each stage allowed the designers behind the Mario games to flex their creative muscles within strict gameplay confines. Impressively, they managed to do so across nearly 80 distinct stages, rarely reusing puzzle conceits. Consistently refreshing and stimulating, it was a joy to play. Continue reading Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker [Wii U] – Review→
This is a review of Crossy Road. It’s timely only if you’re reading this month’s ago, or if you’ve never heard of Crossy Road. Unfortunately, if it’s the latter, you’ve missed the zeitgeist. That doesn’t mean you’ve missed out on the fun though. Crossy Road is an evolution of Frogger with elements of modern mobile game design tacked on for revenue streams. It’s a game built around understandable mechanics, unobtrusive monetization features, and an attractive art style. It doesn’t fill you up, but it’s easy to keep coming back to.
As I mentioned, the core gameplay of Crossy Road is heavily inspired by Frogger. It’s basically that game with one important twist – it’s endless. Instead of crossing a few lanes of traffic and navigating floating logs to reach the shore on the opposite end of the screen, your character is on a never-ending journey. Both obstacles are present and accounted for here and seem to be randomized, keeping gameplay fresh. Tapping the screen moves the character one row forward and this is how the score is calculated. The high score competitions can get heated, recalling the days of Flappy Bird.
This is a free-to-play game, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with advertisements. The primary source of revenue for the developers would appear to stem from the many character skins. These can be unlocked by spending accrued coins on an in-game prize machine (think the gumball machines at your local grocery store). The coins are earned slowly, but extras can be earned by watching advertisements. Or, this coin collecting process can be subverted altogether by purchasing the character skins. Each character has features that make them unique, but not substantially different. For me, they were just something to work towards, while I strove to improve my score.
Crossy Road is a free game, available on Apple and Android devices and it’s well worth the download. I thought it was a stellar pick up and play game for those moments when you need a distraction. If you have friends playing it too, the competition aspect will help to deepen the experience. But, it was a distraction sort of game, and something I couldn’t spend a long stretch of time with after the first few sessions. It is, however, something I’ve spent much time with in the dozens of sessions I’ve played it. Well worth a look.
On a Friday night, just after Christmas 2014, I was surrounded by the usual gang – Jenny, Erika, and Jeff. The pangs to acquire a PS4 were getting to Jenny, and with much coercion from Jeff, I was finally dogged into taking the leap. That week, Best Buy was running a significant deal on the console, one that included a digital game. Jeff, a team member (ugh) at Target coerced me with the temptations of his substantial discounts, on top of their price matching. Needless to say, we walked away with the system and a couple of games. With Jenny and I being massive fans of Far Cry 3, the choice of a digital game was easy as there was no choice – it was Far Cry 4 all the way.
Once again developed by Ubisoft Montreal, this game is strikingly similar to its predecessor. That didn’t make it a bad game; it was just a less surprising one. As usual, the setting was a lush, sprawling, wide-open game world that offered many distractions. All together it took me about twenty hours to get its platinum trophy, so yeah it was expansive as far as single-player first-person shooters are considered and… there were multiplayer modes – enough said. Finally, the story and cast were anchored by an outrageous villain that gave Vaas a run for his money. The developers took the formula from the previous game, changed the superficial portions, got it running on the new generation of consoles and probably thought “that’ll do.” And it does.
When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
Oscura: Second Shadow is a game I have yet to play. Like most of the games I have for Android or Steam, this one was acquired through a Humble Bundle, and remains untouched. Instead of personal experience then, I can only write about what I know of the game through quick research. Fortunately, the game’s website has a press kit that filled me in. The game takes inspiration from platformers from the 1990s, specifically the Super Mario and Rayman series of games. Stylistically, much inspiration is drawn from Tim Burton’s repertoire, and I’d also say Limbo. I’ll have to give it a shot sometime to see how it handles on a touch-based device, as I’ve not had much good things to say about platformers on such devices.
The game was developed by Ole Alfheim in conjunction with Chocolate Liberation Front. It was published by Surprise Attack Games, initially on iOS on June 26, 2014 and two months later (August 26, 2014) on Android. Per the game’s press kit, Ole appears to be an Australian and the brains behind this game and its predecessor.
Honestly, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Granted, it was the first game I acquired and played on my PlayStation 4. That maybe had more to do with its budget price though. That, however, was also a factor that colored my interpretation of the game when it launched March 18, 2014. Most of what I remember about the game’s reception was negativity regarding its length and cost. I totally agree with that assessment after playing it, but I also agree with those who praised it for many reasons. It’s an incredibly polished, brief experience that one can easily be seduced into playing for more than the requisite hour.
The “core” mission is very short – I believe I completed it in about an hour. Snake infiltrates an American black site on Cuba with the goal of rescuing two young members of his special unit. The game opened, per usual, with a lengthy, awe-inspiring cinematic cutscene. The focus was a man with a disfigured face and his conversation with one of the hostages, just after he’d (presumably) violently interrogated the other. As I haven’t played any of the games dealing with these characters and this time period, I was a little lost in regards to their importance. Still, Snake had his mission and I obliged.
Upon the completion of the game, a handful of other “Side Ops” could be unlocked. These weren’t cinematic ventures directly related to the impending big show (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), but rather, just more missions. Everything took place in the same environment, and after playing for a half-dozen hours, I’m very familiar with this black site! The lack of variety didn’t bog down my impressions of the game though. If anything, it helped me to appreciate it more.
As I went Trophy hunting, I replayed these missions a handful of times, and restarted more than I’d like to admit! After all of this though, I’m very familiar with the depth of my actions in tackling any given scenario – it had a definite open-world vibe to it. The game was difficult to get acclimated to at first, especially as I haven’t played a game in the series in two or three years. But, as I was driven to collect Trophies, I stuck with the game after each mission’s initial completion, and really grew to relish the opportunity in sneaking about and stealthily resolving enemy threats how I wanted.
I won’t dive too deep into the nitty gritty of the gameplay, but there were a couple new mechanics worth mentioning. In my opinion, “Reflex Mode” was the most impactful. If I was spotted, time would slow for about three seconds and I’d have the opportunity to react and potentially prevent a compound-wide alert from taking place. Most usually, I’d land a headshot with a tranquilizer and instantly put my foe to sleep. Maybe I was close enough to grab hold of him, get some information and then knock him out. I probably wouldn’t be careless enough to have a lethal weapon equipped, because after I landed the fatal headshot, another guard would’ve possibly been alerted by the sound. In any instance, I would immediately stash the body.
Another new element to the series seems to have been lifted directly from Far Cry 3. Snake has a great pair of binoculars in his possession, and when an enemy is spotted, they’re permanently marked. A red triangle hovers above that enemy’s head which is visible from any point on the compound. The enemy is also permanently visible on Snake’s iDroid (an all-in-one map utility), which seems out of place considering the time period, if only name wise. Also, when nearby, Snake would occasionally catch a glimpse of the enemy in detail, even through walls; this is described as a “stealth instinct”, or something to that effect, but it’s very reminiscent of the abilities of Batman in the Batman: Arkham series.
The Metal Gear Solid series is one of those series’ that if it wasn’t around, video games would just feel different. Early on the series had an impact that few other games can claim – it inspired other game developers. I don’t know if the series has that same weight behind it today, for whatever reason one can gin up. One thing remains the same: the attention to detail and care that goes into these games’ development is palpable. Despite this game’s length and stated purpose as an introduction to the “true” Metal Gear Solid V, the level of its refinement and depth is kind of crazy. It’s a very challenging game, especially if one’s driven to collect Trophies, but it’s an incredibly well-playing game. It may have been decisive when it released with a $40 price tag, but at its current $20 (or even $7 on PSN!), it’s a no-brainer.
When it comes to video games, I’m pretty easy to please. If you were to look back at the articles I’ve published here, I haven’t really ripped into a game or severely criticized one. I also haven’t written too much about mobile games. I’ve played many, really enjoyed a few, but avoid the majority. A game like Pac-Man Friends is why. Continue reading Pac-Man Friends [Android] – Review→
Bayonetta 2 was released for the Wii U a few weeks ago and it follows up 2010’s Bayonettain spectacular fashion. Platinum Games refined the formula of the original and managed to top it in every way imaginable. During the course of my playthrough, it was apparent that I was enjoying my time with it considerably more than I did with the original. For a while it was hard for me to determine how much of that was attributable to the knowledge of the gameplay systems I carried over from my recent playthrough of the original. It was definitely a factor, but this game had enough chutzpah to keep me entertained for its duration. Continue reading Bayonetta 2 [Wii U] – Review→
Bayonetta 2 looks nuts. I’m dying to play it, especially after reading Kotaku’s month-long coverage of it in the period between its Japanese and North American launches. Before jumping into it though, I had to familiarize myself with its predecessor. Thankfully Nintendo, Sega, and Platinum Games thought ahead and bundled the 2010 original with the sequel. I’m woeful to admit that I didn’t play Bayonetta when it originally released. Or even years later, when I’d see copies at GameStop for less than ten dollars. That’s not to say I wasn’t a fan of it from the moment it was announced. It was developed by Platinum Games after all.
The studio has been one of my favorite game developers since their 2006 inception. I feel this way because the studio’s spiritual predecessor (Clover Studio) was also on that list. Together they’ve created so many stellar games, including, Vanquish– easily one of my favorite action games of all time. It’s easy to laud the work the studio and its creators have architected. Well, maybe The Legend of Korra excluded, but that’s a budget licensed title… So, of course I was ready to play Bayonetta when I purchased it two Fridays ago, and the game was quick to set the hook.
Opening in a graveyard, the camera weaves around tombstones engraved with the introductory credits. Eventually, director Hideki Kamiya’s is reached, and it’s unfortunately being urinated on by Bayonetta’s stubby Joe Pesci-like partner, Enzo. She’s performing burial rites for a colleague, in the process summoning a group of atrocious angels. As they descend to Earth, her tough man acquaintance Rodin is resurrected and she begins wailing on the monsters while an extremely candy-coated, techno-infused version of a 1950s jazz standard plays in the background. In the process, Enzo flails around and Rodin tosses her ludicrous amounts of handguns which she burns through in a comical sequence.
I knew to expect this type of zaniness and there was a lot of it, but the game didn’t maintain this spirit 24/7. There was a long stretch where I wasn’t fully compelled to continue on. I was partially turned off by lackluster rising action and a dearth of interesting set pieces. For what seemed like hours after the mind-boggling introduction, there was little narrative development. As she suffered from amnesia, the game was mostly about Bayonetta searching for who she was. Three more characters were introduced during this middle period (Jeanna, Luka, and Cereza), but the storytelling focus turned heavily towards textbooks that illustrated the background history on the setting and characters. This wasn’t always pertinent information to her quest.
On top of that, I was struggling with the combat system. I wasn’t to the point where I was going to rage quit, but I definitely had the rage. There were many reasons for this. Firstly, dodging just before being attacked triggered Witch Time. This slowed down the enemies and was absolutely crucial. When I battled groups of enemies, my focus couldn’t remain on a single enemy and as a result, I couldn’t activate Witch Time consistently. I’d get a beating for being unable to do so. Secondly, I couldn’t jell with the combo system. I played this game for hours and relied almost entirely on mashing the punch button. In this regard, I damned myself by not experimenting more, but the game seemed so harsh, as if it was punishing me for doing so. I went so far as to purchase a Wii U Pro Controller, thinking it may alleviate some of my issues.
Eventually though, I began to figure it out. That process began by learning to use healing items. My perception of the game’s difficulty was lessened because of this. It proved to be a huge boon too, as dying over and over had become incredibly demoralizing and rage inducing. Likewise, I saved up enough money to buy a few accessories from Rodin. Two in particular were very helpful. The first activated Witch Time whenever Bayonetta was struck, allowing me the opportunity to retaliate in a big way. The second was a great defensive item. If I pushed the analog stick in the direction of an enemy as it attacked Bayonetta, she would counter. This helped prevent enemies from breaking combos and allowed me to set the pace of fights – not the enemies.
At the same time, the characters were developing more and the narrative was coming together. Luka, and Cereza’s contributions to Bayonetta’s story had become clearer and they became more than just a quick cutscene distraction here and there. She had also regained full understanding of who she was and how she interfaced with her doppelganger, Jeanne. The boss fights were stacked towards the end too. Boss fights were always enormous set piece affairs, one of the game’s highlights, but they were fairly infrequent during the meat of the game. With the characters and narrative coming together and having finally figured out how to enjoy the game, I did.
Bayonetta had a stringent three act format in my experience. Not just in the narrative. I’m able to easily look back and chart my enjoyment into three sections. In the beginning, I was awestruck and intrigued. Well into Bayonetta’s quest for self, my interest had waned as the story was failing to captivate me entirely and the combat was growing frustrating. However, everything turned around as I began to take advantage of all that was available to me and as the story components were falling into place. My time wasn’t entirely enjoyable, but honestly, I made the game harder than it should’ve been. At this point though, I’ve familiarized myself with the concepts and implementations and will be able to take that knowledge with me as I begin Bayonetta 2. I think I’ve died enough to play it.