Situated between the modern Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword provides a gaiden, or side story, to the series with one notable difference from those games – it’s portable. Dragon Sword was released for the Nintendo DS on March 25, 2008 and it tells of the continuing struggles of the elite ninja, Ryu Hayabusa.
Set six months after the first game, Dragon Sword sees Ryu’s native Hayabusa Village rebuilt and life returning to normal when a fellow villager and disciple of Ryu’s, Momiji, is kidnapped by the Black Spider Ninja Clan. As Ryu seeks Momiji, he discovers the plans of Obaba, leader of the Black Spider Ninja Clan. She wishes to empower the evil fiends with the Eye of the Dragon, a mystical jewel that would entail certain doom for humans if the fiends were able to obtain it. Ryu’s quest for Momiji requires the collection of eight dark dragonstones; each transporting him to the next one and eventually to Momiji.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, like its predecessor, was headed up by Tomonobu Itagaki and his [former] elite ninja development studio Team Ninja. They deserve recognition for not losing the fast-paced action the series is known for in the transition to a portable, even more so considering the game makes heavy use of the DS’ touch screen.
The only buttons the game utilizes are for character movement, guarding, and pausing/opening menus; everything else is handled through touch. Slashing an enemy with my stylus resulted in Ryu quickly attacking. If I slashed upwards, Ryu would launch the enemy into the air and another upward slash would see him launching after the enemy to pummel it back into the ground. Ryu’s vanilla combo contained five fast attacks and I could decimate most enemies if I was accurate. Because he streaked around the arena, attacking multiple enemies was simple to do, and reminiscent of Batman’s melee in the Rocksteady developed Batman games.
These combos weren’t the only attacks at Ryu’s disposal. He also had some projectile attacks that were handy for dealing with weaker enemies. One attack I have a problem with is the ultimate technique. To pull it off, I had to furiously scribble on the screen, charging up this powerful attack. When initiated, projectiles targeted nearby enemies and did massive damage. It seemed hazardous to my DS’ touch screen using these attacks, but they were very helpful in clearing out rooms of weaker enemies. This attack seems at odds with the design philosophy of the series however. For a series that demands a high level of skill to succeed, the reckless ultimate techniques seem counter to that philosophy.
It took me around five hours to complete Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and I had a good time with the game. The combat was fast-paced and easy to execute. Slashing arenas of enemies was a blast and the eventual boss fights provided a change from the fodder, both in scope and strategy. The plot unfolded as one would expect, but the occasional breaks from action for plot development were still appreciated. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword takes full advantage of the unique capabilities of the Nintendo DS and because of the stellar implementation it remains a fantastic action game.
When I think of a category of games and attempt to decide which is best, I end up with what the first was and what the best was since then. Whatever game did something first receives a lot of weight because it initiated a concept or formula. Everything to come in that game’s wake can improve upon concepts and formulas however and excel past the original in many ways, but the original always holds a special place. Keeping with this idea, I believe The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the best 3D Zelda game since Ocarina of Time.
Why do I feel that way about Skyward Sword, the most recent game in the series? It seems like during the development of Twilight Princess the developers had Ocarina of Time forefront in their mind and the goal of being bigger and better. Twilight Princess is definitely a fantastic game but thanks to the visual style, it felt very similar to Ocarina of Time and not necessarily a step forward for the series. I feel during Skyward Sword’s development, the developers now had the idea of doing something new within the familiar Zelda format. I believe this can be attributed to the inclusion of enhanced motion controls.
Because of the inclusion requirement of the Wii MotionPlus, enemies and puzzles seem fresh. There are many familiar enemies but defeating them requires evaluation. Common enemies like the goblins could block my attacks so I couldn’t just wail on them. There are a ton of new enemies that require special methods to defeat too. Puzzles were devised around the 1:1 movements that the controller would pick up and they were fulfilling. My movements weren’t picked up exactly 100% of the time and when this happened, it was annoying.
With the developers having to develop around the new functions, it brought the concept of doing something new to other areas of the game, like the soundtrack. It’s performed by an actual orchestra for the first time in the series, and it sounds good! I heard some very unusual songs (that I enjoyed) throughout dungeons. Overall, it helped to set the mood when exploring and matched the tone of touching moments, and there were a lot of touching moments between Link and Zelda.
In Skyward Sword, Link and Zelda are just normal kids. Well, normal kids who then realize that they were chosen by the deity Hylia to save the world. The game’s introduction sets up their relationship as well as the relationships between their neighbors. They felt like normal kids instead of a princess and a hero destined to save her. The quest was enthralling, although a little tedious to always chase after items that are in multiple pieces. It makes sense to have checks and balances but at some point you’d think all these supreme beings would realize all I’ve gone through and say “yeah, you’ve proved yourself already, here you go”. In the end, there was a lot of interesting information dropped on me about the historical chain of events relating to Skyward Sword and the series in general and the last couple of hours were packed with memorable moments for the Zelda fan.
One thing that helped to make Skyward Sword feel fresh was the visuals and the setting. As I mentioned in my first impressions of the game, Skyward Sword features an interesting art style that looks fantastic on the less than stellar powerhouse that is the Nintendo Wii. Skyward Sword isn’t set in traditional Hyrule though. Instead, Skyloft, a floating island in the sky acts as Link’s home base. With many shops and residents with side quests, I had plenty of reasons to return throughout the quest. In the sky were a handful of other floating islands and it was a large overworld, but it took too long to get places and there wasn’t really a lot to do. To get to the ground though, where all the dungeons were, I’d have to fall through holes in the clouds.
Getting to the dungeons required traversal of many other obstacles including forests, oceans of sands, and volcanoes. Getting to the actual dungeons were challenges in themselves. The surface areas were not entirely accessible from the beginning and I returned to and uncovered much more about them with each return.
Skyward Sword is a much fresher Zelda experience than Twilight Princess was. It’s still a Zelda game through and through with a similar format and story but it shines brighter because of what it requires. Combat and puzzle solving has been reinvigorated thanks to the 1:1 movements. The surrounding elements feel fresh and are enthralling too. Skyward Sword is a fantastic Zelda game and a fantastic game in general, worthy of being placed together with any recent release.
Batman: Arkham City is the follow-up to one of 2009s most popular and critically acclaimed games: Batman: Arkham Asylum. The combat is nearly identical to Arkham Asylum’s while the environment is many times larger. Throw in a captivating story with a ton of post-game content, and I think 2011 is going to be a repeat of 2009.
Batman: Arkham City’s combat is mostly unchanged from Batman: Arkham Asylum. It revolves around Batman pummeling bad guys with his fists and gadgets and doing it exceptionally well. He leaps from goon to goon, even when they’re incredibly far apart and the blows he delivers are impactful, especially the final hit when dealing with a group of hoodlums. I didn’t make good use of every option available to Batman, but I really, really liked the melee combat. I’ve heard it called the best melee combat in video games and I’d have to agree.
The fights get tougher when different enemy types are introduced. There are a few larger than normal enemies that take a whooping and there are a few that require special tactics such as attacking from behind, but Batman’s biggest threat, aside from a few bosses, are enemies with guns. In a way, Arkham City has two modes of combat. The first is the all-out melee combat where I took on any comers, while the second revolved around stealth.
If I didn’t act stealthily around bad guys with guns and they noticed me, it was basically game over. Batman can take a walloping from run-of-the-mill bad guys, but guns shred him up. When I encountered a group of well equipped thugs, I took them out quietly, and this was as fun as tackling a large group. As I took more enemies out, they would freak out, giving me direct feedback on how I was doing. What I liked most about this sort of combat however was my forced reliance on my environment and gadgets. If I didn’t take these two aspects into consideration, thugs with guns would be much tougher.
After the events of Arkham Asylum, Gotham City is still fed up with the villains that plague them. Through a curious chain of events, the most crime-ridden area of Gotham City is condemned and turned into Arkham City, a massive jail essentially. Dr. Hugo Strange is a key figure and as one might guess, up to something sinister.
Strange captures Bruce Wayne as he’s criticizing Arkham City and announcing his bid to run for mayor of Gotham City. Unfortunate for Strange, Batman is now inside Arkham City, but he’s not alone. Catwoman plays a large role in the game, but it’s strange how she is implemented. The ability to play as Catwoman is really a piece of downloadable content and included with any new copy of Batman: Arkham City. But everyone else will miss out unless they buy the DLC. Not infuriating, but whatever.
Her story is woven into the game at four points, and at natural breaks in Batman’s story. Her plot intertwines with Batman’s and I generally liked the break from Batman. She plays very similar to Batman, but she doesn’t have the same gadgets. She doesn’t have a lot of them either; only three compared to Batman’s dozen. Her fights were predominately just that, fights; I rarely took enemies out stealthily as her.
Batman and Catwoman meet many familiar and not so familiar villains from Batman lore. Batman has run-ins with a few major players like The Penguin and Mister Freeze, but The Joker is his main foe. What happens is very peculiar though. For most of the game, they are seeking the same thing and they operate as frenemies, but the way their relationship eventually plays out is intense.
I was really captivated by Arkham City’s story. Every time I’d finish a story thread, something interesting would happen and make me want to continue. Unlike a lot of games, I rarely wanted to stop playing it, and when I wasn’t busy with the story, I had a fairly large open world environment to explore.
Scattered about Arkham City were hundreds of riddles and trophies The Riddler left behind; literally hundreds, nearly five hundred in total. I almost feel like it’s too many, but then again, I’ve spent as much time with the game after I beat it as I did to beat it. Most of his items are trophies and these require clever uses of Batman’s gadgets. There are also riddles which require me to take a picture of something, but I had a hard time with these considering the large environment. His items would be tagged on the map after beating up certain thugs and this was very welcome.
When not going after Hugo Strange, The Joker, or The Riddler, I had a decent amount of side quests to tackle. These were mostly tasked to Batman by his enemies, which seemed odd. I mean Batman had incentives to undertake them, but if I simply told you Batman was assisting Bane without elaborating, you’d probably be confused. In the same vein, Batman never kills his enemies, which in some circumstances, is frustrating. I understand he doesn’t want to take a life, but locking someone up in a simple cage seems shortsighted.
Besides the standard game mode (in which I could fully explore Arkham City post-game and tidy things up as Batman or Catwoman) I could undertake the Riddler’s Revenge mode. This mode contained a lot of maps where I was tasked with beating up groups of thugs and getting ranked on how well I did, or taking a group of thugs out silently, and in a few specific ways. There is a lot of stuff to do in this game!
Batman: Arkham City is an improvement over Batman: Arkham Asylum. The combat system has changed little in two years, but it’s still so great. I really liked the story and was surprised by a few things that happened; I’ll definitely remember the ending. My biggest takeaway from Batman: Arkham City is the amount of content it contains. I’ve spent a lot of time with the game these past two weeks, and it’s one of the only games I’ve ever completed and then jumped right back into… for another dozen or so hours. Having strayed from many of this year’s new releases I can’t say with authority, but I believe Batman: Arkham City is one of the year’s best games. Batman: Arkham City was developed by London based Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and soon the PC. I played the Xbox 360 version.
Gears of War 3. The final game in the trilogy has been out for a few weeks now and it’s fantastic. It was developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Studios on September 20, 2011. The final game in the trilogy brings closure, has an astounding amount of content, and retains the solid gameplay that the series is known for.
Being the third game in a trilogy, Gears of War 3 was scheduled to close the series, and there is closure! I played the co-op campaign with my friend over a few days. We tried to stick to completing one act a day, but after completing the fourth act we decided to go ahead and complete the fifth and final act. They varied in length, but they were all about two hours, which was excellent for the way we played the game.
Set a year or two after Gears of War 2, the campaign revolved around Marcus Fenix finding his father who was previously thought dead. His father probably has a way to destroy the locust and lambent that are plaguing Sera, hopefully saving humanity. But, Marcus and crew have to figure out where he is and how to get there. Their path takes Marcus and his allies through a lot of locales, but as has been the case with the previous games, most are destroyed cities. There were a few memorable environments that broke with tradition however, and for the first time in the series, I felt like there was a broader color palette in the game; rather than a muddle of grays.
Mentioning memorable environments reminds me of a memorable moment in the game. About halfway through the campaign, there was a very serious moment that affects the rest of the game. It was especially serious having played through the entire trilogy and developing a sort of affection for the series. This moment was tonally very different from the usual bro-like mentality of the series and it was handled phenomenally.
So Marcus and crew go through memorable (and sometimes different) environments and there is a special moment about halfway through the game, but what about the ending? Well I found it satisfying. I’ve heard people complain about unanswered questions and I honestly wonder what they’re referring to. That doesn’t mean I can’t gin up some questions because I can, but if I wanted to know the answers to my questions, perhaps they could be answered in the Gears of War books, I don’t know. I do know that the Gears of War trilogy revolved around Marcus Fenix attempting to save humanity, and in that regard, Gears of War 3 brings definitive closure.
After completing the campaign, my friend and I have focused our attention to horde mode. Originating in Gears of War 2, I didn’t play much of it back then, but I do know things have changed. The basic premise is the same: enemies attack in waves and the players try to survive as long as possible and rack up points for kills. We could also install traps that would damage enemies, decoys to distract them, and many other helpful tools.
Besides just racking up points, money is now an issue in horde mode. Those traps, decoys, and other miscellaneous helpful tools cost money, which is received for fulfilling special tasks, by killing enemies, and at the end of each wave. As my friend and I played we each had our own favorite tools to purchase. I liked spike strips and traps that would damage and slow down our enemies while he loved installing turrets. All of these tools were divided into categories that would level up and allow us access to better tools, cheaper tools, whatever.
Besides the inclusion of money and the tools that brought along, horde mode now features a boss wave every tenth wave. The bosses were randomly picked and they were much tougher than the standard enemies. We saw many different boss waves as we continually died on wave 30. We preferred fighting against the Brumak because he was so large and slow, but we rarely saw him. We went up against a small Corpser often, as well as a few lambent Berserkers, our least favorite. It wasn’t just the bosses we’d have to fight on these waves though; there’d be plenty of small and medium tier enemies too that could prove troublesome if we didn’t manage them.
There is a new mode similar to horde mode called beast mode. We haven’t played this yet, but from the descriptions I’ve heard it sounds like a cross between horde mode and the multiplayer from Left 4 Dead. Instead of playing as the humans, in beast mode players play as the locust and the lambent. There are only 12 waves in beast mode (compared with the 50 in horde mode) so I don’t imagine it’s structured in the exact same way. I assume we get to pick who we play as because there are many types of different enemies.
Now onto the versus mode. While I personally like the series for the campaign (co-op specifically) a lot of people pick the game up just for the multiplayer and this time around it’s sucked me in more than it has in the past. There is a good selection of modes and maps in the multiplayer as well as the ability to play locally with a friend or bots. A lot of the modes are common to third-person and first-person action games; team deathmatch, king of the hill as well as other familiar modes are present so it’s easy to jump in, with practice at least. I feel like there’s a relatively high learning curve in the multiplayer, but playing locally is good practice.
That’s basically versus in a nutshell. I’m really not all that into versus multiplayer myself, but I’ve had a bunch of fun with the game. It’s definitely way better with people you know. My friend and I have played a bunch of the local multiplayer. We stick to team deathmatch and load it full of bots on the highest difficulty, although they’re still really dumb, sometimes allowing the opposite team to heal themselves. But we have found it to be very competitive between the two of us; keeping track of matches, and games, and the overall sets; it’s very entertaining.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Gears of War 3 is simply more Gears of War. There are minor differences and refinements but it’s more of the same and that’s just want I wanted. The shooting was solid and the weapons feel much more unique than they ever have. The campaign was lengthy and satisfying, and I didn’t even mention competing for scores and playing with mutators in arcade mode or the four-player co-op! The multiplayer modes are plentiful with a variety or competitive and co-operative options, and the number of unlockables and achievements will keep people busy for a very long time. Gears of War 3 is a fantastic action game.
Released about a decade after the previous installment, Doom 3 reset the series but maintained its place as a forerunner for things to come in terms of technical specs. But it wasn’t just a technical powerhouse in its day; it has solid gameplay with many neat features.
Doom 3 was originally developed by id Software while the Xbox version was ported by Vicarious Visions. It was published by Activision on April 3, 2005, eight months after the initial PC release. Flipping through the manual I also noticed that Raven Software received a credit for additional Xbox development and that Splash Damage was credited for additional multiplayer design; many people worked on this game for sure.
Doom 3 is set on Mars in 2145. The Union Aerospace Corporation has a research facility there and they have been conducting many experiments, and a lot of things have been going wrong. Enter Councilor Elliot Swann. He has been sent in to conduct a review of the UAC, primarily the facility’s head scientist, Dr. Malcolm Betruger. The nameless marine that I played as arrived on Mars with Swann and his bodyguard, Jack Campbell, a beefed up marine. Pretty much as soon as we landed all hell broke loose, literally, and from then on I was always trying to catch up to Swann and Campbell.
As I’m sure you can imagine, Betruger has gone crazy and is behind the strange occurrences happening. He had been working on teleportation technology and in the process opened a portal to hell. After sending marines in to bring back demons to research, Betruger went in himself and lost it. With the UAC facility running wild with demons and zombies, it was up to Swann, Campbell, and me to get to Betruger and close off said portal. This was easier said than done.
I began the game separated from Swann and Campbell and spent the rest of the game playing catch up. I made my way through hallways upon hallways of linear stages attempting to reunite with them. There weren’t any open environments or differing paths to take in Doom 3. I simply followed the path and whenever I reached a locked door or something that hindered my progression, I found the key card or whatever it was I needed and kept on.
The UAC facility wasn’t empty though. I’d run into the random straggler who had somehow survived and they’d usually provide me with important information. But the most common residents of the complex were demons. There were tons of demons throughout the complex, often time hiding in what has since been termed “monster closets”.
The designs for these creatures are absolutely grotesque. The more common Imp was humanoid but had a dirty looking exterior and ten eyes. Worse of all, he could leap at me or throw fireballs. These were all over the place and not that tough, I eventually just shotgun rushed them. There were many more demons however and plenty of them took a lot to take down. I have to mention the final boss and just mention that it was epic and a fairly tough fight.
There were plenty of weapons to choose from and all the staples are accounted for: the pistol, shotgun, machine gun, etc. But the weapons I really loved (although I really loved the shotgun) were the super powerful weapons. A hallmark of the series, the BFG 9000 is present and it’s devastating. It fires a green orb that destroys pretty much everything in the same room. The chainsaw was interesting and fantastic to use against the weaker enemies. Another noteworthy weapon was the Soul Cube. A remnant from a lost civilization, it was super powerful and when used, restored my health completely. But I had to get five kills before I could use it. I do have a complaint about the weapons. I didn’t like the way they felt; it didn’t feel like I was bludgeoning a zombie with my flashlight when I hit them; perhaps this had to do with the otherwise exceptional sound design.
While I mentioned earlier that game is linear, and it is, I still got a minor sense of exploration. As I searched every nook and cranny with my flashlight, I was usually rewarded with extra ammunition or health supplies, very nice. Usually I was also rewarded with a few extra demons to fight too. One moment that sticks out in my mind: I was walking through a server room and I spotted some armor shards in a completely black corner, as I picked them up an Imp appeared in front of me and spooked me. I felt like I was getting rewarded for having a keen eye, while also getting more out of the game in the way of enemies.
Another exploration aspect of Doom 3 was the PDAs. This UAC complex was recently inhabited by many people, what’s left of them, besides zombies, are their belongings, namely their PDAs. Contained on their PDAs are emails and voice recordings filling me in on what happened before I arrived. I was always stoked to find a new PDA because I wanted to see the info it contained.
The flashlight played a major role as I made my way through the complex. As I stated before, I used it to explore every dingy corner of the complex. But usually it was necessary just to make it to the next door. If Doom 3 is remembered for any technical aspect I hope it’s its lighting effects. The lighting system in the game did a great job of creating areas that were completely dark, even in the same hallway or room that had some light in it. When demons spawned from pentagrams, the lights would dim and turn a bloody red. What I found fascinating was how well the flashlight cut through the darkness and how much of a necessity it was. There were a few instances where I had to dredge through pitch black rooms, and it was a spooky experience.
Doom 3 kept me entertained. I was interested watching the plot unfold, and even though its linearity was more apparent than it is in other games, I still enjoyed making progress. The game is very dark, definitely a horror story, but outside of its many jump scares, I didn’t find it too scary. Although playing with the right mindset and the lights out made it a tense experience. I enjoyed the gameplay, but it’s a unique FPS in that the single player is the main draw, which is okay with me. I loved the lighting system and the flashlight (even if it wasn’t attached to a weapon) and special mention should be given to the atmospheric sound design, very creepy. I’ve been to hell and back and I believe Doom 3 is a worthy game in an iconic series.