Game reviews and editorials. Simple, and clear.

Dead Nation

Developer: Housemarque
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Top-Down Shooter/Action
Release Date: PS3
November 30, 2010 (NA)
December 1, 2010 (EU)
Rating: M
MSRP: $14.99

With a hoard of zombie games being pushed onto various platforms in substantial quantities, it is easy to get lost among the one’s that are worth playing, and those that are better left for dead. Dead Nation actually sits happily in the middle, falling somewhere between a zombie lover’s fun reprise to an old school top-down shooter, to being a casual gamer’s worst nightmare of boring game play with mediocre graphics. Depending on where you fall on this slider will determine how appealing this games actually sounds.

The story is limited, but still pretty solid for a downloadable game. Jack McReady and Scarlett Blake are the only two humans that are immune to the virus overrunning the city, turning everyone into zombies. While this part of the tale seems familiar, the way it is told through each character’s narrative is very detailed. In between chapters, there is a small chunk of the story revealed as each character makes their way through the city’s shambles and hopefully to freedom. As I stated above, the story is actually quite well told, and isn’t a writer’s worst nightmare. There is no climbing out of one plot hole only to fall into another one. It may not be a story worthy of being the next Resident Evil, but it certainly holds it’s own.

The game play is done a little differently than the last top-down zombie game I played (Zombie Apocalypse). While both joysticks are utilized in this game, the right stick is actually only used for aiming and facing directions while running. All of the actions in the game are performed primarily by the triggers. This includes melee, shooting, sub-weapons, and dashing. The game starts the characters off with a rather slow shooting rifle, that comes complete with infinite ammo. Throughout the course of the game, there are large chests that contain more weapons, as well as money for upgrading them. The D-Pad is used for changing both weapons and sub-weapons, and the R3 is used for reload.

What makes this game unique from other zombie games is that it actually feels like a real zombie outbreak. No longer are the zombies mindless drones that moan and wait for the character to come to them, but rather they are actively looking to kill you mercilessly. When I say mercilessly, I mean it. Running too far forward without ensuring a clear path will almost always mean instant death. Zombies hide everywhere, from inside of dumpsters and trucks to behind cars. Not to mention that the lighting in the game is extremely limited (when played at the proper setting) so if the flashlight attached to the gun is not facing in the proper direction, there are chances that the zombies will not even be seen before they start eating the back of your head. Add this on to the fact that if you shoot and don’t kill the zombie, it is incredibly fast, this adds up to be a very difficult game. Zombies are attracted by noise and bright lights, so there are many ways to keep them off of the player, the only problem is that those options are limited in nature.

There are a wide variety of zombies to kill in this game, adding a bit of mix to the monotony, but there is no denying that if you are a zombie game guru then chances are you have seen something similar to these breeds of zombies in a different game. That doesn’t mean to say that killing them is any easier. The game does not play on a “Contra-style” one hit kill, and in fact, uses a health bar to allow a player to take several hits. Even if the health gets dangerously low, they have incorporated the “rest to heal” some of your health feature that is in many FPS games now. Something I am not a fan of, is that whenever the health bar is low, your screen turns obnoxiously red, which makes for seeing the already difficult to see zombies even harder.

All of the weapons and even sub weapons are customizable via the currency (gold?) that is obtained in the game. Gold is acquired by killing zombies, opening chests and even popping the trunks of cars. Most guns offer upgrades to clip size, firing speed, power and total ammunition. The sub-weapons offer upgrades typically to quantity and power/blast radius. This really doesn’t mean much in single player, but is extremely helpful in coordination when playing co-op. Each player can focus on a particular style so that fighting the zombies can be done in a much more effective fashion. Each player is also equipped with three pieces of armor (body, arms, and legs). These three, when combined in different fashions alter the characters strength, stamina and endurance. These three stats determine how effectively the character can charge through zombies, their speed of movement, and how much damage they can take, respectively.

While this game plays like an action/shooter game in that aspect, it still has arcade style features pinned onto it. A score is constantly kept from the time a game is started until game over. When killing zombies, a multiplier is accumulated at the top of the screen. Continue to kill zombies, and that multiplier will increase, thus giving a higher score per zombie. Get hit, and that multiplier will fall drastically. This is all factored in at the end of each checkpoint, where you are evaluated and given a weapon’s shop to change equipment and such. Scores are not only kept on an individual level, but on an international level as well. This adds a whole new level of competition when trying to keep your specific country at number one. All of this can be done in either single player or up to two player co-op.

Graphically, the game is pretty much what should be expected out of a top down shooter. While there were a few moments when I had to stop and comment that something looked particularly interesting, for the most part, I was neither impressed or disappointed. Some of the explosions can be nice to watch, and the zombie models, albeit small, are detailed as well. The pros to this are that with such a small graphical pull, the developers were able to allow the models to lay on the ground without having to magically disappear so as not to sacrifice frame rate. The con, of course, is that this style of graphics in a game is not what a Playstation 3 owner is looking to see utilized.

Musically, the game sits right where one would expect a zombie game to sit. The ambient sounds and groans from zombies coupled with an eerie track are exactly what is needed to set the mood for this type of game. Unfortunately, with the camera angle being so high, players feel more ‘removed’ from the action, and may not be as responsive to jumpy situations. In other words, even with the lights off, a player can still play this game for a few hours and find peace in their sleep later that evening. As with the graphics, I was neither impressed nor disappointed.

Overall, this game sits right at the halfway mark for me, with a few positives to make it stand out more than most. It is neither a must own, nor something I feel should be shelved for all eternity. The developers did a great job turning what could have been another mindless top-down dual analog game into something that actually required brain cells, and was hard not simply by overwhelming a player with hoards of zombies in a confined space (which this still sort of does), but actually makes the player resort to skill and some small tactics. This is especially true in the multiplayer. The response to this game is going to be varied, depending on who picks it up and plays it, but I would definitely recommend anyone a fan of either zombie games or top downs to at least go to a friend’s house and play it, if nothing else. The experience alone should be enough to appreciate that not all zombies are imagined in the same way by everyone.

Overall: 6.0 / 10.0

Likes:
+ Co-op gameplay.
+ New approach to zombie ‘personality’.
+ Lighting is gorgeous.

Dislikes:
– Another top-down shooter.
– Only ten levels.
– Hard to see at times.

Innovative:
~ Difficulty is acquired by new gameplay.
~ Zombies responses to players and environment.
~Tons of zombies without slightest bit of lag.

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Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: DC Entertainment, Eidos Interactive, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, Square-Enix (JP)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: PS3, 360 –
September 2, 2009 (AU)
August 25, 2009 (NA)
August 28, 2009 (EU)
Windows – 
September 15, 2009 (NA)
September 18, 2009 (EU)
Rating: T
MSRP: $59.99

Batman: Arkham Asylum took everything a fan of the series could ever want out of the series, and placed it effectively into what could be one of the best games I have played in 2009. With plenty of gadgets, familiar and not-so-familiar faces, and a whole cast of brilliant voices, Batman left little room for error. The Dark Knight punched, kicked and silently took down much opposition to become a solid contender for the prestigious title of one of the best games I have ever played.

I am not usually the super hero gamer type, but what intrigued me to pick up this game were the voices they chose to use for the characters. Batman, Harley and Joker were the original voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, a cartoon t hat I grew up on as a child. That alone was enough to excite me to purchase this game come launch day. Little did I know what an incredible game I was picking up.

The tale starts off showing Batman, who is driving The Joker back to Arkham Asylum. The slightly deranged clown had escaped, but as always, Batman has subdued the maniacal clown once more, and peace has returned to Gotham. That is what The Joker wants everyone to believe, because little does anyone know what The Joker has in store. Instead of The Joker being put away, the whole island is locked down, with everyone inside playing pawns to The Joker’s master plan. Batman must retake Arkham Asylum back from The Joker, or face having to see Gotham City a simple crater on the map. No sweat right? The game does a lot to bring fans both new and old something that they are looking for.

Right off the ‘bat’, the game is absolutely gorgeous. There is so much detail and time taken to perfect everything within the game, from the ghastly environments, to every single pore on Bruce’s face. I was simply blown away by the sheer beauty of the game, and with the Unreal Engine running at full steam, the game is given such a sense of realism, there would be no shame in finding out if Arkham Asylum actually existed. All of the character models are proportionate and gorgeous, fleshing out the characters in ways I never thought possible. At times, the grunts look a little goofy, especially when Batman kicks them in the shins, and they grab their skulls like it was just smashed into a wall. It is a minor flaw, but nothing that would deem the game horrid to watch. The eerie atmosphere gives a perfect taste to what the world of Batman should look like. Also, the models used in the game and during movie sequences are the same, so the game can enter and exit a movie with no transition, and no sacrifice of graphical quality.

Batman plays very fluidly, and with little effort, anyone can pick up a controller and start playing with little to no difficulty. The combos are called ‘freeflow combos,’ and it is ideal for this game.  However, it takes skill, precision and patience to master the combat mechanics. A player can get by a good third of the game simply spamming the attack buttons, however that will not get anyone far after a certain point. The fighting system is based off of a very fluid combo style system, where each attack mixed with a directional button will seamlessly allow Batman to move from one henchman to another with no delay. His acrobatics in between are impressive as well. Batman is also outfitted with a variety of gadgets (unlocked through progression) to neutralize his foes. His trusty batarangs, of course,  are offered from the start. I really tried hard to find a flaw in the combat system, but outside of my own errors, the system is flawless. It provides the ideal amount of button input with careful planning to ensure that you retain the highest combo while fighting the villains.

There is an experience based system that is incorporated within the game that allows for unlockable upgrades  for Batman, such as more gadgets, enhancements to said gadgets, more health, and so on. The experience you gain also restores any stamina that was lost during a fight. I completed the game on hard and felt that nine times out of ten, the game was ideal in difficulty. There was a boss fight or two that I did get stuck on for quite some time (including the final fight) but nothing that made me want to quit the game. Once all of the upgrades are unlocked, however, the experience system becomes nothing more than a tack on. Assuming that the player has reached this far in the game, there really is no need for health recovery as by now it should be easy to dispatch foes, or die. Something I am a little disappointed about is the lack of being able to use any of Batman’s vehicles. One of the neat perks to being Batman is the various modes of transportation he had at his disposal. While the gadgets are cool, nothing beats racing around in the Batmobile.

Batman has a sort of investigation mode called ‘detective mode’ that allows him to pick up various inputs and use those as a tracer to find things. For example, if he is looking for an individual, and they have left a trail of blood, this ‘detective mode’ will pick up a sample, and match that blood to any spots of blood on the island. This mode also allows you to see through walls and pick up any foes that would otherwise be hidden. The Riddler doesn’t make his appearance as an adversary for Batman per say, however he has left over 200 riddles and hidden things for Batman to find. These could be anything from finding green question mark trophies to solving a riddle using the environment and ‘detective mode.’

The ambient music in Arkham Asylum does a wonderful job setting a darker tone. The wavering shadows, paired with the screams and grunts of the tenants are all amplified by a haunting soundtrack that not only sets the mood, but has traces of that ‘batman feel.’ I will admit, none of the songs had me singing long after the game was shut off, and I certainly won’t be rushing to any import stores to find it, but it does well for what it is being used for: creating suitable atmosphere.

Something that really intrigued me about this game is the unlockables and collectables within the game. They are not the every day run-of-the-mill unlockable, this much is true, but it adds more value to the player by actually being USEFUL. First, there are the typical unlockables which come in the form of these side missions you can do. One set of the missions is focused on silent takedowns, and the other is focused on freeflow combos. There are also full scaled models of the characters within the game, allowing the players to appreciate just how much detail went into each character.  Finally, there are the character bios. These were by far the most incredible unlockable I’ve run across in a game in quite some time. The character bios not only show you the character in more of a comic book format, but give you a detailed explanation of where they came from, their background, and some of their stats. There are a few characters who even have interview tapes that give a bit more depth about what makes each one tick. For those of us (like myself) who do not follow Batman religiously, this made me insanely curious to exactly how the relationship between Batman and some of the characters played out before they landed in Arkham. Unfortunately, some of those comics are almost a century old. Content like this though adds so much more to a game than simply trophies or achievements. There was so much history written in just those 25 or so bios that I felt compelled to keep learning more.

I know there are a lot of positive adjectives in this review, and it is for good reason. Batman: Arkham Asylum is an extremely well crafted game capturing the elements in gaming that define this industry for what it is: creative and artistic. When the game is completed, the player will also notice the large team that was used to engineer such a game, and with good reason. There are very few details missed, with little wiggle room. Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of those few games I would consider a masterpiece. It is not flawless, but has such great value not only to gamers, but to fans of the series. When a company can take a franchise as epic as Batman and reinvent the look and feel without losing what makes Batman the superhero that he is, you have acquired a rare talent. Arkham Asylum does just that.

Overall: 9.5 / 10.0

Likes:
+Incredible ‘Freeflow’ combat system
+Beautiful Graphics
+Perfect match of difficulty and length

Dislikes:
-Few flaws in animations
-Music doesn’t truly stand out
-Lack of diversity in villains

Innovative:
~Batman: Reinvented and nostalgic
~Stealth mode shows MGS is not the standard
~Detective Mode adds a fun element to finding new objectives

Soul Blazer

Developer: Quintet
Publisher: Enix
Genre: Action/RPG
Release Date: SNES
January 31, 1992 (JP)
November 27, 1992 (NA)
January 27, 1994 (PAL)
Rating: None
MSRP: Unknown

Soul Blazer is one of those games right up there with the other SNES ‘legends’ that I can pick up anytime and just play it through. It never gets old, and while it is not the most perfect game out there, it still has a great fun factor that is associated with it.

Soul Blazer starts off as “The Master” explains to the hero (named Blazer), that the world is being overrun by Deathtoll, and he must free the souls of the villagers and animals that Deathtoll has imprisoned. The objective is to take Blazer through these various worlds, defeating monster spawn points and ‘freeing’ the souls. This is usually followed up at the very end of each world with a boss, which often releases the soul of the most important individual in each town, and pushes the story forward. Told through each character, the story is actually quite involved. The only issue is that it can be easily overlooked if there is no speaking done with the other characters. I have read elsewhere that there is an element of love between Blazer and another character in the game, but I don’t remember seeing it. Still, the story is well written for being as old as it is, and does well fleshing out exactly what is going on, and how the people feel.

The game is played out like a typical action RPG. Experience points are gained through fighting the monsters on the field. There are no separate ‘instanced’ battles, and everything happens in real time. The main method of attacking is a sword, and there are magic spells that are granted as the game progresses forward. It is possible to miss spells and weapons through the game, but it will hinder and possibly even halt progress in some instances. The enemies are relatively predictable, and would seem to offer no challenge, however I had found myself dying on various parts due to the sheer power of the enemies. There is no place to truly grind out levels, so Blazer is kept at a level that is on par or slightly above that of the enemies he is facing.

Swords, shields and armor are collected and boost your attack and defense respectively. The magic that is obtainable throughout the game are powered by gems, which are collected via fighting enemies, opening treasures, etc.  however by collecting  a certain set of items, Blazer is granted with the ability to use magic infinitely. Each weapon and magic spell have various uses through the game, providing the player with countless ways to defeat their enemies. There are some enemies that carry specific resistances and can only be killed via one or two specific methods. Items in the game are held in an inventory, but only one item of any kind can be held at one point. Fortunately, they are all fairly effective so there is really no need for more, unless you are a really terrible gamer.

The music is not as epic in this game as it is in most SNES games, however there are plenty of memorable jams that will be remembered after the game is shut off. Quintet does tend to recycle some tunes from it, giving quite a few of the towns the exact same song. There is also a song that plays just before the save that I could really do without, due to it’s tendency to be obnoxiously loud. The music that is played during boss fights and most of the exploration, though, is some of the catchier stuff to listen to. Fortunately, that is where most of the time spent playing takes place.

As this game was a bit newer and longer, there is a battery back up to allow for three save files at one time. Overall, there is probably about 10 to 12 hours of play time, meaning the game could be completed in one sitting. However beyond the completion of the game there are really no extra features or reasons to play through again. Any time I have picked the game back up to play it, I would just start another save file and get to work again. Then again, this game is a little older, so the challenges all came from playing the game the first time around, anyway.

The only real downsides to this game were the controls at some points and the alignment of Blazer’s sword. The controls themselves were fluid and easy to maneuver Blazer around the map. This could potentially put Blazer in trouble, however, as the loose and quick movement is as much a benefit as it is a curse. I often found myself running too far forward and smashing into the enemies, or not running close enough to actually hit them. I got used to it as the game played on, but there is definitely a learning curve. Not to mention Blazer does not run in ordinal directions. This can sometimes be frustrating when trying to step on the soul releasing switch, but it never bothered me enough to mind. The other thing that must be watched is Blazer’s sword strafing. Holding down either one of the shoulder buttons will make Blazer extend his sword outwards and continually face that direction. The issue arises when you are facing north. For some ungodly reason, Blazer’s sword is actually shorter when he is facing north, and therefore is more prone to being hit. I am not sure why this is, but it is quite easily the worse glitch in the game.

Overall, Soul Blazer is definitely worth playing at least once in a lifetime, as there are lots of positives to the game to allow the negatives to mean anything. There is a solid, comprehensive story if the time is taken out to chat with the characters. As I stated before, the game can be completed in as little as 10 hours, if not faster, and has it’s memorable qualities. After all, we wouldn’t be writing about it 19 years later to share our experiences, now would we?

Overall: 6.5 / 10.0

Likes:
+Interesting gameplay
+Rather fleshed out characters
+Bold story

Dislikes:
-Controls are a bit sketchy
-Odd sprite glitches
-Final boss was insanely tough

Innovative:
~Second game to utilize soul saving system
~Did I mention the story?
~Missable equipment and spells

Spiral Knights

Developer: Three Rings Design
Publisher: SEGA
Genre: MMO/Dungeon Crawler
Release Date: PC, Linux, MAC
April 4, 2011
Rating: None
MSRP: Free To Play, with paid features

Spiral Knights takes the typical MMO, takes out leveling, and adds in heavy reliance upon teamwork. Add in cute characters that look like the Heartless people from Kingdom Hearts, a ton of dungeon crawling, and a system that utilizes real cash transactions wisely, and a new breed of MMO is born.

Albeit small, there is some back story to Spiral Knights. The knights have crash landed on an alien planet, Cradle, and are trying to ban together to stay alive. Using the resources from the monsters and planet, each knight must explore the Clockworks, an underground civilization of such that is home to many hostile creatures, including mutant jellies. The objective? To reach the core of the planet to see what this strange new planet has in store for the knights!

The worlds themselves are based off of real time, so going down in the morning will not be the same as going down during the evening. This adds a bit of a random element to the typical monotony of dungeon crawling. There is also a very easy party crafting system that really does all the work in the back-office. There is really no touching it unless there is a specific knight that the player wants to add in themselves. Leaving a party open allows anyone to join, and joining a party is as simple as going to the world and clicking join. It is very easy and intuitive.

All of the areas are instanced, meaning that the player and their party are in their zone alone. No one can steal that party’s loot or currency (labeled crowns in this game), and the party is free to roam at their own pace. The game is heavily based around party play, so there is little effect when trying to go it alone. I can give you many stories of the ill fate my character has found trying to solo beyond a certain floor. The floors themselves are broken out into tiers, where a gate stops a character from going further down without having the proper equipment. This is also good, as being under equipped will find a knight being pummeled much earlier than he or she wanted.

Dungeon crawling costs a knight Mist Energy (ME). Each day, the servers provide 100 ME for each knight to adventure on, that is gradually regenerated (I believe it is one energy every 15 minutes). To go down on an elevator costs 10 ME. Once all of the ME has been expended, the player must wait until they have enough energy to perform actions again. This energy is also used for crafting weapons armors, and items, as explained below. This is all the free portion of the game, and can be used to fully enjoy the game’s features. There is also the option to purchase Crystal Energy (CE) which can be done in one of two ways. The first way is by actual funds. The cheapest amount is $0.75USD, while the most is $49.99. The most expensive nets the knight 20,000 CE, which is a whole lot of adventuring and crafting. I personally was able to make 5,000 CE units last for about two and a half weeks, and that was with making errors and spending my energy unwisely. It can deplete faster, and it can deplete slower. It is all dependent upon the gamer’s play style.

There is also a feature to use crowns (in-game currency) to purchase mist energy from players. It is usually pretty expensive, but is driven entirely by a market system. Therefore, supply and demand of said energy is solely the determining factor on how much one must pay to receive 100 units. The energy is only sold in 100 unit increments. This is a more friendly way to purchase more energy without having a credit card handy. The best part about this game is that it does not rely on money to allow a player to enjoy the game. Granted, that player may not advance as fast as someone who is using money, but the dependence is non-existent.

There are vendors who sell equipment and recipes, but there is sort of a ratio to it all. Equipment from vendors is expensive as sin, cannot be made over and over but is relatively accessible. Recipes from vendors allow for crafting of that equipment at any time, usually at a lower cost for both the recipe and the weapon, but also use crystal/mist energy to craft anything, thus cutting down play time if no extra energy is purchased. The final way is via another player, who usually sells either the weapon or recipe at a premium, but makes it much easier to obtain as they have all ready done all of the work. Once obtained, the pros and cons stated above still apply. One thing I do not like is the difficulty to achieve the latter equipment pieces. It can take a player upwards of weeks to find one piece of armor or helmet that is needed to move further.

Death in a party is carried out very differently in Spiral Knights, as there are no experience points distributed, there is no real way of penalizing the player for dying and reviving themselves. Therefore, they have made the feature cost ME/CE. It starts out at a very low amount, and gradually increases each time the feature is used. I have seen it go upwards of 300+ CE to revive, which can start to get costly if the player continues to do it. The other way of revival is if a player comes to revive the downed knight, however it is at the cost of half of their health bar. I will admit, about 90% of the community is good with teamwork, but there have been the select few that simply do not understand the concept and will not revive anyone.

The final aspect that the player should be aware of is the mineral system. I do not have full mastery over it, however the Spiral Knights Wiki should be able to provide the necessary information needed to understand it. Throughout the levels there are mineral deposits that the knights can carry on their back. The mineral deposits are shared, so if one knight picks up a blue mineral worth six units, then the entire party receives that six units. Therefore, it behooves the players to seek out the biggest gems they can find. These minerals are used to construct the stages that the knights can play on, and alter what they see within the worlds. For example, if a knight places in so many of one mineral, then the overall element that the enemies may end up carrying is fire (allowing them to set you on fire with each attack). It is a complex system, but incredibly worth seeking out the solutions if finishing the levels are the player’s ultimate goal.

As it is an MMO, I feel the need to make mention of the community and the community driven aspects of the game. The game places a lot of emphasis on teamwork both in and out of the dungeon, so when exploring the dungeons has been completed for the day, there is much trading to be done. As far as I could see, the people were generally friendly. I had no real issues. There are plenty of servers, and none of them carried any real lag issues worse than the others. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with what I was playing with.

Graphically, the game does not give any real wow factor behind it. My system was powerful, so I was able to render the graphics at the highest setting, and really, it looked no better than an early PS2 title. The polygons were smooth, and there were no over the top glitching with sprites falling outside of where they should be, but there will be no one playing this game simply for the visual aspect of it. The coloring and shading are perfect for this style of game, however.

All in all, the game was an exceptionally fun game, with new twists and game elements that made it fresh and new. There are not many MMO’s like it, if any at all, and if you are confined to playing a game with no credit card, I would definitely recommend this one. Spiral Knights is an entertaining game that breathes life into the free MMO’s by offering gamers a new and challenging MMO, with little reliance on outside currency. The game also requires no real install, which is useful if the computer being used is not allowed to have games installed on it. Despite both the pros and cons, I would tell those who appreciate a good MMO to give it a shot, because I do feel it is worth playing, but I assure you that you are not missing anything dire if you do not. If you fall into it as I have, I can assure you that it is insanely addictive.

Overall: 7.0 / 10.0

Likes:
+New Style of MMO
+FREE to play
+Cute and quirky characters

Dislikes:
-Later equipment becomes harder to acquire
-Payments are needed to advance quickly/play for longer periods
-Mineral system is difficult to understand

Innovative:
~Dungeon crawling made easy with a quick build party system
~Mineral system determines what worlds will be like
~Worlds change based on current time

Developer: Monster Games/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Flight Simulation
Release Date: 3DS
NA – March 25, 2011
EU – March 27, 2011
JP – April 14, 2011
AU – April 14, 2011
Rating: ESRB E
MSRP: $39.99

When the need for a casual flight sim, with easy going objectives and a laid back feel arises, Pilotwings Resort steps up and rises to the call. Having nearly a 15 year break from the franchise, Nintendo chose an ideal time to launch a sequel to the franchise. I was certain that a game of this caliber, with a very small fan base of only the most hardcore gamers would be laid to rest after the Nintendo 64 title, Pilotwings 64, was launched. However, born anew under the turn of the new revolution for handheld games, Pilotwings Resort brings all of the fun into a whole new dimension.

Pilotwings Resort is very self explanatory from the moment the game is turned on through each and every menu. From the title screen, there are two separate game modes available: Mission Mode and Free Flight Mode. The other menu option (aside from Options) is Diorama, where unlockable images of the vehicles are placed to view. Fans may recognize the island that the game takes place on. It is none other than Wuhu island, the same place used in Wii Fit and Wii Sports Resort.

In Mission mode, the objective is to advance through the classes, starting at Training and ending with Platinum, totaling 42 missions all together. Each mission is assigned a specific vehicle that must be used to complete the objectives while being graded on the very familiar scale. This scale measures how fast the mission was completed (with a time set to obtain the most points), how many rings/orbs/speed panels must be obtained, landing impact, and landing accuracy. These points are then tallied up at the end of a stage and give a ranking of one, two or three stars. The three stars can also be outlined in red, signifying a perfect score (140/140, for example).

Free flight mode isn’t as simple as it sounds. Using any vehicle, the player is able to freely fly about the island with only one restriction: a time limit. While flying, there are balloons, rings, trophies, stunt rings and information circles that can be flown into to collect. As those items are obtained, more time is given during free flight, and dioramas are unlocked. The vehicles available to use are based on which ones were unlocked during the Mission mode, so there is a lot of reliance upon each game mode to complete the game. The game also requires the player to use all of the vehicles to obtain the different balloons and rings, as only the ones applicable to the vehicle being used are actually highlighted and able to be accessed during that flight.

Some of the new features that they’ve added is the ability to use a Mii saved on the console to be the avatar within the game. The Mii isn’t blatantly visible except when a mission is over, or the vehicle has been wrecked in some manner. Speaking of, wrecking in this game no longer constitutes an immediate mission failure, but rather restarts the aircraft in the last viable place to continue the mission. This makes for a much more fluid experience as the player is no longer required to restart from the very beginning just because of one simple mistake. There are also the addition of speed plates. These plates require the vehicle to be traveling at a certain speed to break through them and score the points. This can also be challenging, as the plates must be broken towards the center as well to obtain the maximum points. Therefore accuracy and speed are both needed to ensure a good score at the end of a level. There are also a few brand new vehicles that have been added to the repertoire that add quite a new flair to the game. While I will not spoil all of them, I will talk about one: the squirrel suit. Quite easily the biggest surprise, the character starts off with a jet pack, and after flying through a special ring, the Mii throws off the jet pack. Much like sky diving was in the old games, the character is plummeted towards the island. However, the suit that the Mii is equipped with is webbed under the arms and legs, allowing for wind resistance to slow and maneuver the character within the sky. It absolutely blew me away the first time I saw it.

Visually, the game is beautiful. With no 3D, it is easy to see that the 3DS makes leaps and bounds above the DS/DSi’s graphics. With much smoother polygons, as well as a further visibility range, it is quite easy to see the difference between the two systems, and just how much raw power that the 3DS is capable of. Where the “awe factor” really comes into play is the 3D aspect. It took my eyes a bit of getting used to, but, as stated in my 3DS first impression, that the 3D slider does not make the images pop out of the console, but rather adds depth to the game, allowing the player to determine distance with greater ease. Rings are much more easy to fly through, there is no more last minute correcting to fly into an orb, and accidental tree smashing are no longer a problem. The aircraft’s relative distance to everything in it’s surroundings are all very clear now. This became very apparent when I had to fly through a cave. I (nearly) made it through without hitting a wall. I got a little bold, however, and went a bit faster than I should have.

Musically, the game does retain the peaceful soundtracks that I can remember from the older games. Flying a hand glider will present much softer music than, say, using a jet pack. I personally was not overly impressed, and actually don’t feel like I am missing anything when I turn it down to listen to something else. Still, the game is not renowned for its impeccable soundtrack, and therefore, I have not judged too harshly on it. It still goes with saying that listening to the soundtrack will not spur the urge to hunt on import sites to purchase a copy to listen to outside of the game.

A few things I wish they had or kept within the game were the second rendition of the hand glider. In the Nintendo 64 version the player was presented with a hand glider that had an enormous wingspan. It looked a lot more incredible flying with that than the stumpy hand glider that is usable in this game. Also, I miss having the instructors for each flight class. A flight simulator is hard to give ‘personality’ to, but those instructors, who were done away with after the first game added personality and flair to the game. They were proud when the player’s score was high, disappointed when it was sad, and angry when the player made foolish mistakes. It might just be my own personal preference, but I do believe they added an element into a flight sim that simply will not be found anywhere else. With the addition of the 3DS’s new online capabilities, some way of sharing best times or even flying with friends would have been a simple, yet effective way to prolong the life of the game. While it has a decent amount of re-playability, Pilotwings Resort, unfortunately, will not last forever.

Overall, for brand new 3DS owners, Pilotwings Resort is the perfect game to not only demonstrate the capabilities of the 3D features, but also a perfect introduction game to ease the player’s way into the 3D gaming realm. Without being high stress, games like this are few and far between. Offering seven vehicles, 42 missions, and hundreds of collectibles during Free Flight mode, there is enough content in this game, despite its multi-player drawbacks, to make Pilotwings Resort a solid game to own.

Likes:
+3D is gorgeous
+Lots of objectives
+New vehicles

Dislikes:
-Soundtrack is okay at best
-No multi-player functionality
-Re-playability is low after game completion

Innovative:
~Vehicles
~Crash Sequence
~Free Flight Mode is Objective oriented

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: PS3 Exclusive
NA – February 23, 2010
EU – February 24, 2010
AU – February 25, 2010
UK – February 26, 2010
Rating: ESRB M
MSRP: $59.99
Console Played On: PS3

Heavy Rain is one of those games that is not easily forgotten. The game stars four main characters, whose stories start separate, but gradually intertwine within each other to create a compelling, and emotionally driven storyline. The Origami Killer, a deranged lunatic who abducts children, murders them, and leaves behind a small origami figure within the child’s hand is the main antagonist of the game. The main character is Ethan, a distraught man who is struggling to keep his family together, and is pushed to the brink of insanity when his only son is kidnapped by the Origami Killer. His story, along with Madison, a photojournalist who suffers from insomnia; Norman, a profiler detective from the FBI covering the Origami Killer case; and Scott Shelby, a retired detective turned private investigator, become deeply woven in a powerfully emotional story.

Interactive dramas are not widely known as a popular style, so to pick one up and play it was an experience in and of itself. The game is played not on a scale of “beat the game or it is game over,” but rather an “every choice has a consequence.” Every action that is taken throughout the game influences what sort of ending is received and those consequences could cause any or all of the said main characters to die. The mystery of the Origami Killer could remain a mystery, and the kidnapping could end in murder, just as all the rest have. There are so many possibilities within the game; it is almost too complex to think about simply through words.

How far would you go to save your loved ones?
Graphically, the game is breathtaking. Within the game, the developers show how they modeled real people to achieve the facial expressions, which are so real it is as if a movie was being played. There are no animations where arms glitch funny, or a leg mysteriously falls through the floor. The motions were all captured using tiny cameras on real human bodies. Therefore, if an arm can bend in a certain way, then it can in the game. This plays in well with the trials that Ethan will have to face to save his son from the killer. Everything was rendered from the same images and polygons, so the cutscene characters are the same ones being used to play through the game.

The gameplay mechanics are simple, and yet quite complex at the same time. On a very basic level, Heavy Rain is played with a series of well timed button presses, tapping and holding, with a mixture of joystick rotating and controller shaking. Combining some or all of these actions together will allow the character currently being used to interact with his or her environment or surroundings. This can be as simple as pressing X, or as complex as holding X first, until square shows up, holding that and X, and then shaking the controller to allow the character to climb a fence. Quantic Dream really did a wonderful job integrating a simple control scheme to feel more involved than it really is. During the course of the game, R2 will allow the player to listen to the thoughts of your character at any given moment. This not only allows insight of what the character is thinking, but allows greater depth and understanding of the characters within the game.

Listen to the thoughts of your characters, they’ll help you through the game.
The story speaks volumes for itself. I personally got emotional through various parts of the game, and was involved from beginning to end. At the very beginning, it can be a little slow at first, but the game really uses that introduction to teach players the functionality of the controls, and how your actions change the outcomes. The player will also be presented with moral choices to make through the game that make the player question whether or not the decision that was made was actually right. The game, as spoken by the producer, is only meant to be played through once though, as you get the best experience making all of the choices the first time around, and reaping those consequences (both good and bad) the entire way through. At any point in time, the decisions and actions can be costly, even going as far as to killing off all of the main story characters, allowing the Origami Killer to remain free.

I can honestly say the only flaw within the game is the fact that it is really only meant to be played once through. The decisions that are made the first time around are spontaneous and, therefore, are the staple of how the game is meant to be played. Afterwards, obtaining trophies is all that is really left, and that is simply a matter of replaying chapters in a different fashion to earn them. Do not get me wrong, the first play through will be glorious in and of itself. However, like a good book, once the ending has been revealed, re-reading that book does not have the same luster as it did prior.

The player’s actions can cause a character to die at any moment.
Overall, Heavy Rain is a must have for anyone looking for the reason why gaming is an art form, and not just a hobby. With a compelling storyline, a gripping plot, beautiful surroundings, and one of the most unique ways of playing a game that I have ever experienced, Heavy Rain is a game that in and of itself makes having a PS3 worthwhile.

Liked:
+Incredible story and realism.
+Highly fleshed out characters
+Unique gameplay (enhanced with Playstation Move)

Disliked:
-Limited replayability

Innovative:
~Gripping story from beginning to end
~Interactive drama is brand new for PS3, and is a unique genre overall
~Listening to the thoughts of the characters

Rating: 10 of 10

Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date
X-Box 360 – August 27, 2008
PS3 – August 31, 2010 (NA), November 3, 2010 (EU)
Rating: ESRB T
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points
Console Played On: Microsoft Xbox 360

Castle Crashers is a typical side-scrolling beat-em-up that’s not so… well… typical. The Behemoth has taken this old formula, added a little spice to it (some role playing elements), and stuck it in the oven to reheat, and when it came out, it was a smoldering hot dish with a bit of flair added in. The objective of Castle Crashers is to rescue the four princesses that have been abducted by the evil dark wizard, who just so happens to wreck the town while he is at it. The game starts off with four unlocked characters: a fire knight, an ice knight, an electric knight, and a poison knight. The Behemoth does a fantastic job recreating this age old formula into something new, exciting, and quite frankly, a blast to play.

The story starts out in a little party that the knights and civilian are all enjoying. A little bit of music, some good food and dancing for everyone! That is, until the day is completely and utterly ruined by the dark wizard, who selfishly takes the kings crystal and all four princesses. Thus begins the journey of the Castle Crashers! There are over 30 stages to play through, and the story is rather entertaining. The humor is very sarcastic, with a strange affinity with stool. I know this sounds foul, but I promise upon playing the game, the stool fits into the storyline perfectly. While it is difficult to really establish a story when the majority of the game is meant to be a series of button mashing, Castle Crashers does a really nice job keeping everything flowing in a neat and orderly fashion, despite the chaos.

With that being said, while being a beat-em-up style, the game doesn’t require severe cramping of thumbs to get the job done. They offer various combos in the form of mixing light attacks with heavy attacks, culminating various results from it. These attacks are unlocked as you progress through your levels. Each level up grants a knight stat points to place into attack, magic, defense and agility. The knights are also equipped with various types of magic, depending on the knight you use. There is also a slight variation between the looks of each magic, with many types of ways to use the magic (wide area, focused bullet, etc.). Castle Crashers also offers various sub weapons, from a bow and arrows, to a sandwich to turn the knights into giant, muscle headed rage machines.

The multiplayer feature is nothing new in terms of this style of game. Where The Behemoth has taken things a step further is by allowing knights to battle it out in various arenas and mini games within the game. The two mini games available are called “All You Can Quaff” in which the player presses buttons alternatively to eat food as fast as possible, and “Arena” where the player may partake in five different events. Also, at the end of any level where a princess may be rescued, the knights are forced to battle it out to the death, as only the strongest knight may stand victorious and receive the kiss from the princess. The mixture of cooperative and competitive game play adds for a surprising twist during the stages.

Castle Crashers has a plethora of different things that make it fun in terms of replayability. There are several pets (called animal orbs) that can be collected throughout the stages that give you various bonuses or perks. Some are as simple as allowing a knight to jump higher, while others give more experience for each enemy defeated. There are a slew of weapons that are both well designed, and hilarious. The knights can wield anything from an ice sword to the leg of a skeleton. I even fought with a giant piece of sausage at one point. After completing the game, there is an insane mode that becomes available, which grants the ability to play through the game one more time on a much harder difficulty, but allowing more experience points to be earned. With four characters to start, and 23 total playable characters (not including downloadable/secret unlocks), 64 available weapons (not counting DLC, for PS3 there are 69), and 26 animal orbs, there is plenty to do within Castle Crashers. There are also mini games that can be played outside of the original adventure.

Graphically, Castle Crashers is a 2D side scroller, so there isn’t anything that stands out. However, everything is illustrated vibrantly, and nothing looks like anything seen in another game. It reminded me of the kind of art that we are seeing in Flash powered games now. That being said, the graphics really didn’t do anything for me. It is different, but nothing is over the top. Musically, however, the game is impressive. The soundtrack isn’t doesn’t always fit with the game, but it’s really unique in that aspect.

All in all, Castle Crashers proved that games using old formulas can still bring something new to the table and be exciting and original. The Behemoth team has done an excellent job redefining what it means for a game to be a side scrolling beat-em-up. There are many facets to this game that make it an enjoyable experience for anyone to pick up and play, and have a good time doing so. As with any game of its kind, the feeling of repetitiveness will loom overhead as the formula is constructed to only go so far. Do not take that as a fault though, as I still feel this is a solid game to have in any gamers’ collection.

Liked:
+Tired formula born anew.
+Tons of characters, weapons and collectables.
+Extremely replayable.
+Music was catchy.

Disliked:
-Repetitive
-PvP is a little one sided

Innovative:
~Weapons, Knights and Magic is all fresh and new
~Pet System
~Catchy, upbeat music

Unknown Gamer gives Castle Crashers an 8 /10.