Archive for July 2017

Lost Dimension Review Originally Published : Jul 29, 2015

July 21, 2017

It may be a dated reference but back in 2001 before Anderson Cooper became a world renowned journalist with CNN, he hosted a little known show for ABC titled The Mole. Teams had to work together to solve challenges but one of them was a saboteur. They worked against the team from within to spread lies and ultimately ruin them. Now think if they applied that to a video game. In Lost Dimension you are Sho Kasugai, one of eleven people with special psychic abilities tasked with saving the world from a madman known as The End. The mysterious villain has nuclear missiles aimed at many of your world’s major cities. You have to climb the tower and defeat his robotic army to proceed to the top where you can take on The End and disable the nukes. It’s not that simple though. There are traitors within your group and each floor you must sacrifice one of your eleven teammates to continue going upwards. Eliminate the wrong people and you may end up without anyone left on your side. The traitors are randomized so no two games may be the same.

It is the randomized nature of the game that ultimately hurts the story. By having every character be vulnerable to being erased it’s not guaranteed that any character sticks around leaving the majority of the dialogue in missions vague and repetitive. That’s not to say there’s no character interaction. Between missions you can talk to your teammates and have one on one conversations with them to learn more about them and build stronger bonds. Maximizing the bonds give you a bonus mission where even more revelations are made about your team. Unfortunately some of the conversations end up being super awkward, especially when they try to add in anything to do with adult relationships. One character asks if you want to “hug” her while another female character has a disturbing suggestion that you can use her sexually if you want to.

Elaborating on my earlier complaint about the missions, I feel that the game shoots itself in the foot by having a heavily scripted first chapter with a set traitor and an intriguing end sequence leading up to the vote. That chapter is a highlight of the game, the remaining votes end up feeling empty. If you catch the traitor they calmly congratulate you, “Good job you caught me!”, then they go quietly out of existence never to be mentioned by your team again. The idea of a random traitor is an interesting one but tends to do harm to the structure and story of the game. A lot of the time, in missions especially, it seems like the characters are just spouting random lines rather than having a conversation. I personally find that story is one of the most important things in an RPG and perhaps think that the entire first play-through should have been scripted rather than just an exciting first chapter. Also as a final kicker the true ending of the game requires a second play-through. The original ending without any spoilers is short and vague, unsatisfying so.

Every character has their own set of about 20 abilities to use in combat each with their own unique animations. Unfortunately there’s not much variance in enemy designs so expect to see the similar looking robots in all the battles. The anime portrait of the characters are also nice to see, each character has a large amount of expressions which helps to bring life to the cast. Each floor of the tower has its own design so you won’t get sick of the scenery as you progress through the game.

The music is fitting to the game. A highlight in the score would be the tense suspenseful music that plays when the vote is occurring. The main title’s theme is high energy while the safe room music is calming. Standard stuff, but is appreciated. The voice acting is fine, the actors try their best to deliver emotion with their lines, some of the dialogue comes off as awkward. Unfortunately the game is not fully voice acted so some conversations will just be filled with generic hmms, ok! and huh.

To progress through the tower you must take on the battles of each floor. There are about 6 or so battles per floor with one usually being optional. The battles unfortunately don’t offer much in the way of strategy, each battle’s win condition is either defeat all enemies or defeat the boss. If you’re under-levelled you will have a hard time overcoming your enemies. Be prepared to replay missions to gain levels because just doing each mission once is usually not enough to keep you on the same level as your enemies. Staying together when possible is the strongest option for most if not all battles. I played through the entire game on Normal beating each mission, some multiple times and when I reached the final floor I had barely enough money to buy the best weapon for one of my characters let alone the team. I grit my teeth and upgraded as best I could and went into the final battles and ended up beating it my first try.

The skill trees are quite wide. Unfortunately you don’t get enough skill points to see what a character can do until you’re almost done your first play-through. When you lose a character they drop a skill cube with all of their abilities and you can no longer upgrade the character which means if you want to remove the traitor from each chapter you may end up lacking key abilities that will hurt you by the end of the game. In New Game+ this is fixed by giving each character a large amount of ability points at the start so the cube will end up being much more useful when it’s inevitably dropped.

Figuring out and then eliminating the traitor is also not as exciting as one would hope would be. You bring 5 people with you into any battle and when you finish the battle you get to see the number of traitors in your group. Then you must use process of elimination until you know the three traitor candidates per floor. Once you have your suspects you can use your “Deep Vision” ability to probe into the person’s mind to find out if they are the traitor. You only get a few vision points per floor to use this ability so choose wisely. Deep Vision is a mini-game where you make Sho chase thoughts in a person’s mind until you get the revelation on if they are or are not the traitor. Then you must attempt to convince your teammates who the traitor. This requires you to replay battles since that’s the only way your teammates will ask you who you think the traitor is. So the entire process becomes grind to find out who the traitor is, then grind until you’ve convinced enough people that you will win the vote (Which is 1-2 people per battle). So expect to grind.

A lot of this game is grinding, a flaw when you’re expected to replay the game multiple times to get the full story. The battles lack excitement and figuring out the traitor and turning your team against them just takes time and even more replaying battles. There is however a bit of a charm to the game. The cast of characters are a oddball bunch with their own quirks that you wouldn’t usually find together in one game. One character is obsessed with “all things cute”, being so committed to this belief that she puts on a fake British accent(because she finds it cuter than her own voice), another is so obsessed with everyone getting along that he even thinks we can be friends with the main villain, The End. All have their own secrets that you unlock through maxing your bonds with them. Even in battle all the characters are unique in their abilities. The way they move across the map, some float, others can teleport and some just walk. Lost Dimension is a great idea for a game and I had fun with it in spite of my complaints. If you are a fan of SRPGs and are interested in the premise I would recommend grabbing this game, just don’t expect a strong story and be prepared to spend a lot of time replaying missions.

Score: 7

Advertisements

The Last Word (PC) : Originally Published MAY 29, 2015

July 20, 2017

Last Word is a word duel role-playing hybrid of Clue, Rock Paper Scissors, Ace Attorney and Tug of war. That sounds insane, but is there genius within the insanity? Originally created within 30 days for the 2014 Indie Game Maker Contest, Last Word finished in second place garnering high praise from the judges. The developer has since remastered and polished the game for this re-release on Steam.

You are Whitty Gawship, a photographer who is invited to an upscale party. Upon arrival you realize that this is no ordinary party, that conversation is means to power. Getting the Last Word literally means everything and everyone is trapped due to a mysterious force keeping them there with a one-way intercom (because how can one get the last word against a one-way intercom that cannot hear you?). Your task is to work together with the other guests to find out why you’re there and find a way to escape.

The graphics are simple; each guest is from a different house so they show up like board game pieces on the map represented in monochrome sprite form by their color and what accessories they are wearing. Whitty is blue with her bowtie, Seymore is grey and has his glasses. When you are talking to someone a detailed drawing of the character appears that is distinctive and well-drawn. A small complaint I have is there should be more expressions for the characters especially in the battles. It would be great to see their faces change as the tides turn instead of the same static picture. The Music is also nice, fitting of the party that you are at. The Soundtrack would be served well if they had a few more tracks. That being said, though the music ends up being repetitive, I never really got sick of any of the music of the game. It is also impressive to note that the composer of all the music is also the sole creator of the game, Merlandese.

The keyboard controls are simple and there is also gamepad support if you would prefer that. The battle system takes some getting used to, as the ingame tutorial and additional learning materials don’t really help the process along. It is kind of just something you have to learn while playing but it thankfully doesn’t take too long to figure it out. You and your opponent are dueling with words across a grid; you have to choose different tones and matters of speech to try to push the meter of your opponent to its breaking point, winning the battle. It’s reminiscent to a game of tug of war. As you level up your character you gain more abilities and can customize your character in different ways. You can have a small advantage in the form of an intimidating handshake, or even the perk of staying in the battle the first time your opponent pushes you to the end. There is even a perk that adds more strategy to the battles in the way of red dots you show up on the grid that replenish one of your meters if you can end your turn on one. By using your skill points which in this game are called bows that you get from battling houseguests and leveling up to customize your character and equip those skills.

Battle is not the only form of game play though. You also must figure out the mystery. You do that by exploring every nook and cranny of a house filled with secrets. You level up your topics of conversation by gossiping with the other people in the house and then you can unlock new conversations and secrets with your new found knowledge. Each chapter adds new conversations, new things to gossip about and new areas of the house to explore.

The Mystery of the estate is intriguing; the characters are distinct and stand out. From the jovial Judge Boasting, to the timid Seymour Saymore. There is humor in the writing; almost everything in the house is able to be interacted with. Your intelligence and attentiveness to the plot pays off with many of the secrets requiring you to remember what everyone is saying.

Last Word is a short game but finding all the secrets can take time. There are challenge battles, multiple endings and the game will make you want to jump back in to find anything you may have overlooked. The battle system though daunting to learn at first is original and fun. Last Word teases a sequel and I hope that the Twelve Tiles follows up on the tease. Merlandese has created a solid game with a colorful cast of characters and a great soundtrack. My last word about Last Word is that I want more of it.

Score: 8

High Strangeness Wii U 5/15/2015

July 19, 2017

Move over Axiom Verge, you’re not the only indie title this year made by a very small dev team that is heavily, heavily inspired by a Nintendo series. This games journey started in 2009 with a Kickstarter funded at $1500, and now High Strangeness has been released on the Wii U E shop. With a development team of 4 people they promised to bring us a retro game that was inspired by the NES and SNES adventure classics of old.

Inspiration is one of High Strangeness’ biggest strengths but also one of its biggest downfalls. Within minutes you’ll know the inspiration for the game draws heavily from the Legend of Zelda. From the fireworks (bombs), to the CDs (boomerang), or the similar jingle when you find a secret in a room. Your main weapon is a flashlight that you swing like a sword, but it has no additional functions other than hitting enemies. This game aspires to be The Legend of Zelda but the lack of originality is unfortunate though. Renaming items and not changing their functions is not good enough to set itself apart, it is just putting a new skin on a weapon.

The 16 bit graphics are very well done and look great while the 8 bit style is intentionally ugly, but works within the confines of the game. You have to switch between the two art styles frequently and both serve the game fine. A small complaint is that the enemies seem too big for the screen, it’s most likely to draw detail to the enemies but it can cause a bit of a claustrophobic feeling as if the game was zoomed to a resolution that isn’t changeable. The music is great. It’s a simple chiptunes soundtrack sure to dredge up nostalgic memories of games from your past. It never seems out of place and since you’re never in one place too long you won’t get sick of any of the music.

The game feels great on the Wii U gamepad but it also works just as well on the TV, there’s no difference between the two. The combat is reminiscent of your typical Zelda game but begins to show its flaws on the very first boss fight. The complaint I had earlier about the enemies being too big comes into play here.The boss spawns enemies nonstop making a already small screen even smaller. You don’t get the crisp feeling of hitting a enemy, the crack of the bat so to speak. You swing your flashlight, see the visual cues of red and eventually the foe will die.

Nearly all enemies drop the eyeball, this games health restore and currency. Each time you have to manually pick them up each time and it’s always 1 currency per enemy. You could repeat killing the same easy enemies over and over again and spend maybe a hour to max out your character. Death means nothing which takes away the tension of any battle. When you die you will not lose currency, and you just start again in the same room losing no progress. Even if you’ve killed enemies and didn’t pick up the currency, the currency remains there for you to grab. It causes the game to almost become a zen experience. Traversing from dungeon room to dungeon room solving the puzzles, and defeating the bosses. It’s relaxing in its own way. There’s no missable items or sidequests so you are on rails opening up the remainder of each dungeon area until you get to the boss.

The puzzles are a fair amount of fun and requires you to use all the items in your inventory to solve them. Nothing too original. Use your 8 bit vision find a hole in the wall, blow up the hole with fireworks. Use your records to hit a switch you can’t reach. That kind of stuff. Unfortunately like some other games of old you have to go into your menu to switch items when that could have been assigned to a button to scroll through them.

It makes it very disappointing that once the final couple of dungeons come along that they lower the amount of puzzles making a short game even shorter. The final dungeon didn’t have any puzzles, the one before it had about 3 puzzles most using the item given to you immediately before the dungeon. The games limited length really comes in to hurt it. There’s not many boss encounters and the ones that the game does have are either too easy or only challenging due to the weird sizes of the enemies.

The story is your typical chosen one story. Your main character is sucked into a world he doesn’t understand with new monsters and allies (a talking cat?!) he must go into the dungeons to collect all of the crystal skulls to save everyone before the mysterious hooded men get to them. Unfortunately, the story comes off as fairly predictable. The majority of the story is told through cut-scenes which are a bit of a letdown at times due to the art needing more polish. It makes you wish they would just use in game assets for them rather than have scrolling text on a poorly drawn picture. The story also falls apart at about the halfway point of the game, leaving you with a unsatisfying rushed ending.

High Strangeness can be beaten in 3-4 hours. There are no side-quests, no optional routes or collectibles to keep you occupied. The game is by no means bad but with the length that it is and it lacking any incentive to replay it, I cannot highly recommend it for the current price. If you are a die-hard fan of Zelda and Secret of Mana and other great adventure games this game would be fine to buy and complete in one afternoon.

Score:4

(This review was based on the Wii U Version of the game)

Baseball Riot Review

July 18, 2017

Baseball Riot is the newest offering from Finnish developers 10tons. Despite the name, it is not a sports game but instead it is a physics ­based puzzle game. This follows 10tons earlier PS4 releases Tennis in The Face and King Oddball, both great games. Will Baseball Riot also score another hit for them or will it be a swing and a miss?

You play as Gabe Carpaccio, a former baseball player whose career is cut tragically short by a ball to the knee. He takes it in stride until he finds out that his former team has been bought out by the corrupt Explodz energy drinks. He sets off to save his former teammates, now mindless slaves to the evil energy drinks. Each level seems simple enough, you get three balls and you must knock out all enemies. Knock three people out with a single shot and you will gain an additional ball. Throughout each stage there are also stars. Collect the three stars and defeat all foes to master the level. It starts fairly easy but as the game progresses your targets grow in number and more obstacles are added. An example of an enemy would be the Explodz Scientist: they wear a special suit that must be hit twice before they are vanquished.

The game is split up into eight worlds; earn enough stars in one world to open the airport to the next. More enemies are added with each world creating a fair learning curve as you continue through your hero’s journey. The game has a quirky art style and an even quirkier sense of humor (Expect a lot of ball puns). The music is fun to listen to but the lack of variety in tracks is unfortunate. I’d love if each world had its own theme to add even more life to this already colorful game. All the elements mesh well together from the ragdoll way your foes fall as they are struck to the sound effects of the ball bouncing around the stage while the retro funkesque music plays in the background.

I had a lot of fun with Baseball Riot and enjoyed my time spent within its weird world. The stages are short but can be challenging and it is easy to get absorbed wanting to play one more level, one more world. My only other complaint would be that compared to its predecessors, Tennis in the Face and King Oddball, it looks like it lacks the bonus content that the other two games were packed with. The earlier games had secret worlds and challenge levels that you could unlock while playing the game. Unless I missed something this game stays pretty straightforward. It is possible that there is more hidden within the game because even though I beat the game and got all the achievements, I did not get three stars in all of the levels.

I highly recommend also grabbing Tennis in the Face and King Oddball. Baseball Riot is a fine follow­up despite the lack of bonus content and I look forward to the next balling experience from the 10tons team.

Score: 8 

Actual Sunlight Vita Aug 20, 2015

July 17, 2017

Warning: This review discusses serious themes of depression and suicide as found in Actual Sunlight. Reader discretion is advised. (If you are depressed, I do not recommend playing this game at all.)

Actual Sunlight is billed as an “Interactive Short Story” about a overweight man in his early thirties who is depressed. It was originally made with RPG maker and has since been released to the Steam and Vita marketplaces.

Interactive may not the correct word to use when talking about this game. The game is about 45 minutes long with no decisions to make or paths to choose. You must simply examine everything in each room you are in and read the thoughts of your main character which are presented mostly on a black screen for you to read The character, Evan Winter is a misanthropic, alcoholic man with suicidal thoughts.

I cannot recommend this experience. It is a self biographical story of a person with severe issues. It was not cathartic according to the writer, Will O’Neill, which he talks about in a interview with Polygon. I don’t think it would be very helpful for people with depression either for it appears to attempt to justify suicide. Which is ridiculous.

According to Evan Winter’s depressed mind people like him are lying to themselves if they carry any hope that there is a meaningful happy life for them that extends into their forties, fifties or seventies. This is simply untrue, life can change at any given moment, good or bad.  I hope people who are this severely depressed have people watching out for them and are able to get the help they need.

I will not go further into detail on my personal thoughts on the story of this game. As a game I do not recommend Actual Sunlight. It’s short, bleak, has no gameplay elements and is not worth the price-tag of $5.

Score:0

Sadame Review Originally Posted 3/2/2016

July 17, 2017

The Reviewing website I worked for is going the way of the dodo so I am reposting all of my reviews here for archival reasons.

Rising Star Games has brought the Japanese developed game Sadame to North America via the 3DS E-Shop. Sadame is a 2D Action RPG/Arcade Brawler hybrid that throws you in a fantasy version of past Japan as you fight hordes of demons and soldiers led by the fearsome general Nobunaga. You can choose to play as one of four unique characters. The Monk with fearsome weaponry and high impact spells can make quick waste of big foes. A Samurai who glides across the map with his twin blades deflecting attacks as he cuts down his enemies. The Rogue is the master of the long range, her bow allows her to attack enemies from afar while in close range she can imbue her polearm with powerful spells and pierce through enemies striking them on the way in and on the way out. Last but not least the Ninja who is great at flinging quick cheap spells and even quicker blades at anything that crosses his path.

There is a lot of customization to be found throughout the game. As you finish each level you will get loads of loot of varying strengths that are specialized for each of the four characters. You may find yourself with a sword that is perfect for your Samurai or a bow for your Rogue. Inventory is shared so it is encouraged to make a save for all four heroes so you can sort the spoils between them. It may prove to be a bit overwhelming to manage each character, thankfully you can hold up to 500 items so you won’t often find yourself running out of space but sometimes it will prove difficult to choose what to keep and what to sell. Weapons vary from what spells can be used while they are equipped can be augmented by different gems that drop and can only be equipped as you augment your character’s stats while they level. Expect to refer to the manual to figure out what works best for you.

The game seems perfectly suited for co-op but unfortunately one of its biggest weaknesses is that there isn’t any. Streetpass can fetch warriors for you to have as a computer controlled partner which might work for some, but given that this is a lesser known title it might prove troublesome to find someone who has the game. There is an alternative which allows you to borrow a character from another save file that you own, this is the preferred method because of the shared inventory system. However, this brings another problem if you haven’t been replaying every mission as each character they will quickly fall behind and die within a few hits forcing you to replay missions as different characters to keep everyone up to par. On top of that the AI of your partner is pretty terrible, either they end up getting trapped by a box or a wall in the level or they are charging headfirst into a group of enemies and getting massacred. It’s not that big of a deal on the default difficulty level since you can beat the level alone but it’s still disappointing.

The art and music of this game are exquisite. There are 20+ unique bosses to encounter within the game and each one looks intimidating and worthy. Some levels will have you cramped on a small boat as you survive waves of enemies while others will send you through forts and caves to explore and eliminate the enemy forces within. One of my favorite levels you must pass through a city that you were told was burned to the ground. You arrive and the city stands, the villagers seem normal and not aggressive. But as you begin moving through the city suddenly they start to attack you, yelling incoherently about a great fire deity and then demons begin to appear among their ranks. It only escalates from there.

Sadame, though confusing at times, is a fun game. The difficulty ramps up towards the end and it’s unfortunate you’ll end up having to do most of this alone due to the AI. Once you beat the game you can unlock new difficulty levels and everything carries over from one playthrough to the next. Although I would not recommend Sadame to people who are not familiar with action RPGs, I find there is enough within this game to justify the price tag and if you are a fan of the genre I recommend you grab yourself a copy.

Score: 7 = A good game with a few small problems.