Tales of Berseria Review: The Game For Every JRPG Fan

Tales of Berseria Review

Platform: PS4, Steam

Publisher: Bandai Namco

Release Date: January 24th, 2017

In a genre permeated with the new generation growing weary of traditional JRPGs, the Tales series has remained steadfast. Despite the clamor for open world environments, the series has attempted to update it’s style while staying true to its roots. Tales of Zestiria was a step in the right direction but fell short with fans. I brought Zestiria, the collectors edition in fact, and while there weren’t any egregious errors, I just didn’t care enough to finish the game. Tales of Berseria, set 1000 years before Zestiria, is a return to form for every JRPG fan.

Disclaimer: This review may contain some light spoilers for early parts of the game.

Awesome:

“Everything is worth watching and discovering to learn more about the characters and the world”.

Story is Dynamic Dark and Engaging

Velvet's Demon Arm
Image Credit: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/tales-of-berseria-ps4/

The story follows the adventures of Velvet, a once doting sister turned vengeful demon. After a certain event unfolds in the first hour of the game, she is exiled to a jail cell for 3 years. In that time she has snacked on demons and had plenty of time to plot her revenge. With the help of her brother in laws Malakhim Seres, she escapes from the jail picking up the beginning of her rag tag group of companions. Mind you, this is only 2 hrs or so into the game and the world unfolds from here. It is easy to take this story at surface value but stick with it and you won’t be disappointed.

The story is told through the series staples skits, anime cut scenes and in game cut scenes. Everything is worth watching and discovering to learn more about the characters and the world. If you played Zestiria or watched the anime there are many call backs. Players will be able to see how the names and lore have changed. For example Malakhim are Seraphs that are able to be seen by the general population after the events of the prologue. Why did things revert? The game will explain it.

Berseria’s Characters Are Awesome

Tales of Berseria Party
Image Caption: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/tales-of-berseria-ps4/

This game follows the traditional scope for JRPG tropes. The only outlier may be Velvet because she is the anti hero to Zestiria’s Sorrey. She is selfish, arrogant, single minded in her revenge with no remorse. For some that has been a turn off but for me it is refreshing. One of the themes of the game is reason versus emotions. The characters are battling this dichotomy through out the game and it’s intriguing to see how it manifests itself in each one.

The skits and side quests help to further flesh out the characters, their motives and growth. If you’re a side quest skipper I wouldn’t suggest it for this game because you may miss things. You won’t miss anything major and important things are reiterated in the main quest so never fear. There have been some conversation about the English voice acting but I found it fine. Players have the option to change it before they start every save so test it out.

Music and World Building is Perfect

Environments in Tales of Berseria
Image Credit: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/tales-of-berseria-ps4/

Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of open world games. But this game seems to get the formula just right. With the inclusion of fast travel and items to lower enemy encounters players can travel the world unhindered if they choose to. The world is colorful, big and littered with random items and treasure chests. Early in the game players are tasked with finding various Katz by collecting Katz orbs that are everywhere. Opening these chests are easy especially if you go on foot.

Katz and Orbs
image credit: www.Gamona.de.com

The environments are not repetitive and reflect the region they are located. Hellwaus is an icy cold climate so there is snow everywhere, the NPCS are wearing parkas and the enemies tend to be colored in deep blues. The area music tends to be light giving the area personality. The whole thing flows and fits for each place characters visit.

Quality of Life Changes For Everyone

tales of berseria options menu
image credit: https://www.pcinvasion.com/tales-of-berseria-pc-technical-review

Players can customize every part of their game play experience at will. I mentioned the voice acting can be changed at the beginning of every game. The games battle difficulty can be changed in game at any time. When the game starts the sound came from my controller and TV. That can be changed at will as well. The skits can now be skipped through to help the time pass quickly. If there is a side conversation available the NPCS have a green exclamation point above their head. This even counts for staying at the Inn so players no longer need to waste Gil to not miss scenes.

I mentioned the Katz chests above but these chests also contain the costumes for the characters. One of my gripes was being nickeled and dimed for these, and you can still buy them, but there are more in game options.

Not So Great:

Skits May Be Too Long and Too Plentiful

Berseria Skits
Image Caption: http://www.dualshockers.com/2016/09/14/tales-of-berseria-gets-lovely-1080p-screenshots-in-english-and-new-trailer/

This is an odd complaint since I said this is a good thing about the game. Sometimes you want to get from A to B and you’re unable to do that because the game will stop you for conversation. When it does it can appear to be long winded especially if the skit is comedic. While it’s awesome for character building it can be annoying for players that want to grind away.

It’s Hard To Get Ingredients For Cooking

TOB cooking menu
image credit: http://www.abyssalchronicles.com/tales-of/tales-of-berseria

Cooking is always one of my favorite things in the Tales series but they made it more complicated. There is a basic recipe that players can easily buy and find ingredients for but some others require an extra step. Players will need to use the ship exploration to find new recipes and ingredients for those recipes. The game keeps track of where you get them but you have to wait a 30 minutes to get it. Even then, those ingredients are RNG based so you may not get what you need. As you travel to different locales foraging for the stuff in dungeons and the environment may help but I just want to buy it.

The Battle System Is Fun But May Be Broken

“At this point, I can probably perform Power Ranger call outs of all Eizen and Magilou’s Mystic Arts”.

Battle System
image caption: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/tales-of-berseria-ps4/

I wasn’t a fan of Armitization in Zestiria. I wanted to see all my characters on screen and didn’t want powerful spells locked behind combining. They did away with that system in Berseria. However, Velvet has the potential to allow players to button mash and strong arm their way through the mobs with no real strategy or skill. For example, when she is in her demon form she can’t be killed but her health is ticking down faster the longer she is in the stance. This quirk can be exploitable if you know what you’re doing.

The way the game tries to explain the battle system can be a bit confusing and overwhelming as well. Luckily the help tab is easily accessible for review at any time for pointers. Artes are still here in their Tales glory but when your other characters perform them there is no way to shorten or skip the sequence. At this point, I can probably perform Power Ranger call outs of all Eizen and Magilou’s Mystic Arts. It may be annoying for some players but I can tune it out.

Enhancements, Dismantling and Mastering Skills Can be Overwhelming

Tales of Berseria weapon system
Image Credit: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/tales-of-berseria-ps4/

I’ve used this system for the characters weapons and I’m still not sure what I’m doing. The game will throw repetitive sets of gear at you but each one may have a unique extra skill attached. The characters can permanently learn the skill that each piece of weapon/armor contains after their earn enough experience for it. What that means is that characters may have on a low level piece of gear even if a better one has come along until said skill is mastered.

This has become more of an issue for me as later party members trickled in. There were sets of gear that I dismantled that may have had skills for them to learn. Players will either, not worry about it, save sets of gear until they get a whole party or re-buy old sets of gear to have the party member learn skills later on. I went with the save set option once I figured out the pattern. The one bright side is that there does not seem to be a limit for the amount of items and armor you can carry so horde away.

Exploration and Hide Out Are Underwhelming

Exploration in Berseria
Image Caption: http://www.dualshockers.com/2016/09/14/tales-of-berseria-gets-lovely-1080p-screenshots-in-english-and-new-trailer/

I mentioned the exploration when it comes to recipes but it serves another purpose. Players can find extra outfits, rare sell-able items and special items that provide lore for the world through exploration. Players will have to send the ship out constantly at 30 minute intervals to unlock additional islands. This feature while interesting didn’t add much to the experience. Another feature was the introduction of a hide out players will acquire for story reasons. There is no way to customize the building at all which is a let down. Since players can already get costumes from exploration, incorporating furniture in the finds may have helped make it feel more like home.

Menus Make The World Go Round

Tales of Berseria menu

Most JRPGS have menus in it. It comes with the genre and it is to be expected. This game just appears to have an abundance. There are so many tabs that the game makes fun of you and gives players a title for it. The good thing is that they are easy to sort through and manage to stay organized.

Nope I Don’t Like This At All

“I had to train myself to look in that corner at all times in fears of missing a skit or wasting valuable exploration time”.

Why Are the Notifications There?

I have virtually no complaints about this game except for one thing, the placement of notifications. In the lower right hand side there are two icons, one for when your exploration ship returns and when a skit is available. The exploration icon is a gray white ship that is kind of easy to spot. The skit icon is a green outline of a person and the name of the skit doesn’t always stay active. I missed this entirely for the first 2 hours of the game. Mainly because a lot of the environments have blend-able backgrounds like grass. I had to train myself to look in that corner at all times in fears of missing a skit or wasting valuable exploration time.

Who Is This Game For?

Tales of BerseriaDisclaimer: Since this is my first review for the site I will say that I do not care for traditional review scores and will instead recommend if this game is worth the time of the player.

This game is for JRPG enthusiasts who want some comfort food. In the vein of I Am Setsuna, Tales of Berseria scratches an itch that Final Fantasy 15 left wanting. If players are into story, character development, free extras and plenty of game modes to challenge themselves with this is a good fit. It is worth the 60 dollar launch price and if you were like me, the Collector’s Edition provides some great goodies as well.

Have you played Tales of Berseria? What did you think of the game? Did you have some of the same likes and dislikes? Let us know in the comments section.

Ratchet And Clank (2016) Review

The Same Amazing Tale Through The Eyes Of Another.

Insomniac Game’s world renowned duo of the galaxy’s finest heroes have finally made their comeback and to say the very least, they have done so with an inter-galactic bang. Ratchet And Clank (2016) is jam-packed with a combination of the most profound characters from the series to date, oodles of outer-space adventure throughout the now revamped reaches of the the Solana galaxy and sprinkled with the famous Ratchet And Clank humour that fans of the series have grown to love and adore. For those who are yet to indulge in this blast from the past, I will be keeping spoilers under the hat, so don’t fret.

Developer of the series, Insomniac Games have recreated this heroic pair’s first adventure together which players first indulged in upon it’s Playstation 2 release in 2002. This recreation of the first Ratchet And Clank instalment is narrated from the perspective of Captain Quark, famous muscular antagonist, wannabe protagonist of almost each and every game in the series to date. In taking this approach with the games narrative, Insomniac have been able to collectively bring together numerous characters, races and tie in events of quite significant contextual value from the more recent instalments. With this, Ratchet And Clank (2016) is not only nostalgic gold for the die hard fans of the prior games but is also riddled with the very best content from the series as a whole, making it all that more appealing as a new game to first-time players.

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Where It All Began

Ratchet And Clank (2016) as mentioned prior is a slightly new take on the very first of Ratchet And Clank’s heroic endeavours. The Lombax and his robotic companion still have the same fateful meet and still spend the duration of the game trying to stop the infamous Blarg, Chairman Drek. The planets from the first Ratchet And Clank make a reappearance, looking as stunning and visually encapsulating as ever. Although initially some would consider it boring playing a recreation of game you’ve played numerous times before, this new addition to the Ratchet And Clank series holds no monotonous or tedious feel whilst playing through it’s beautifully remastered levels. Insomniac did a great job of  hurling in some different characters to mix up the general story line, consequently planting seeds of doubt causing you to question how the game would actually meet it’s conclusion. This feeling of unknowing gave the game good drive and definitely maintained the heart of my eagerness as I played.

Ratchet And Clank (2016) plays out almost as a movie, possessing all the typical twists that have been the ebb and flow of the series so far. I also found myself beset by the Ratchet-y humour the series is predominantly renowned for that by no means fell short in this instalment.

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Moving On Up 

Although the first game in The Ratchet And Clank series (2002) was the pinnacle of the greatness Insomniac Games has tried to maintain throughout the games over the years, it’s potential was far from utilized due to the platform it was made for. Now thanks to the ever-expanding capabilities of Playstation 4, Insomniac has been able to take the blocky, 2D graphics from the original game and transform them into being very smooth and pleasing to the eyes of the player. Vibrant colours and the smooth dynamics of the environment bring the game to life around you, making your playthrough that much more pleasurable. It also entices the more thorough level of exploration Insomniac like to draw out of players when it comes to Ratchet And Clank.

Not only are the planets scattered throughout the Solana galaxy rich with colour and overwhelmed with visual goodness – like seriously, don’t get me started on the water; so pretty, but the level of detail put into each and every character and NPC (non-playable character) in the game is phenomenal. We see these amazing characters that Insomniac has developed oozing with accentuated emotions and expressions, seriously Ratchet looks absolutely adorable. Even during a challenge playthrough I found myself re-watching each and every cut scene, mesmerised by just how great the characters looked. Furthermore, not only do the characters, planets and well EVERYTHING about the game look absolutely on point, they feel great too. Gameplay is joyously smooth and unlike it’s predecessor, Ratchet And Clank (2002) character manoeuvring isn’t at all clumsy and Ratchet will come to a halt when you demand so as opposed to running a marathon at the flick of an analog – I understand that’s some serious over-exaggeration there but back in the day, that was some frustrating stuff right there.

On another extremely positive note, in the time I spent trophy hunting and eventually picking up the platinum for this game I hadn’t encountered a single glitch that had effected my gameplay or that i’ve even noticed to be quite honest. Insomniac were seemingly efficient on tying up any glitchy loose ends as patches were swiftly introduced in order to address any issues other players may have encountered. Good on ‘ya Insomniac.

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Out With The Old, In With The…No Wait, keep the old 

The beauty of this Ratchet And Clank instalment above all others is Insomniac’s attempt to bring together the series as a whole. As you sift through the many planets of the Solana Galaxy, you come across countless references to various other instalments to date. Whether it be a reference to a seemingly cute, blue, menacing ball of fur (Protopet from Ratchet And Clank 2) or a certain space pirates treasure buried at the bottom of the ocean in a resort (Romulus Slag’s treasure from Ratchet And Clank Future Series). Not only are there physical signs of Insomniac’s attempt to reconcile the series but also in the general game dynamics it becomes evident that there is some means of combination of the weapons from the original trilogy and the graphics and visual style of the future series – I find it hard to believe it was unintentional.

However, Ratchet And Clank (2016) isn’t all just a reiteration of the prior games as there are also some pretty nifty new features that have been added. Although the gold bolts have maintained their position as the prime collectible throughout the game, skill points have sneakily found their way into becoming trophies as opposed to an in game collectible. Do not worry yourselves however as the replacement collectible although not as challenging, is just as fun and also gives you the opportunity to test yourself with a bit of Ratchet And Clank trivia – I’m trying not to spoil it too much here.

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We’re Glad You’re Back Ratchet

For me personally, the Ratchet And Clank series has always won me over with it’s prominent sense of humour, fantastically constructed planets and galaxies alike, and indescribably brilliant characters complete with on point voice acting. Insomniac have carefully filtered through and identified the greatest elements of the series as a whole and strung them together in order to successfully make a fan-orientated game that is also a fine addition to any first-time players collection. As a long term fan of the series I would hands-down say Ratchet And Clank (2016) met my expectations and furthermore, it exceeded them.

Firewatch Review

Igniting fires within the hearts Of many…

Quite recently, the more sentimentally valuable games have taken the gaming world by storm, games that require you to delve deep into the downhearted story of another. These video games require less button mashing and instead tend to test your widespread span of emotion, usually leaving a lingering melancholy feeling within you forever more. Campo Santo’s recent release of such a game, Firewatch is sitting well up there with some of the most poignant games to date on behalf of it’s breathtaking setting, genius writing and extraordinary voice acting.

In this stunning first-person adventure, the player takes on the role of Henry (voice by Rich Sommer) who Firewatch swiftly allows us to establish after a chucklesome/ grief-stricken opening sequence, is a man intent on escaping some hardship back home. As soon as Henry begins his hike to his lookout tower in Shoshone National Forest, the powerfully atmospheric setting of the game takes it’s hold on you, completely engulfing your senses almost making you yourself feel in need of a deep breath of the pure and natural forest air. Campo Santo’s attention to detail in regards to rustling of leaves on luscious trees and bushes, the chatter of birds and other wildlife and even the sloshing of streams and lakes all merge to make the setting of Firewatch effectively encapsulating and immersive. Furthermore, Firewatch is a visual masterpiece. It’s almost ”cartoony” graphics capture the vibrancy of the rich forest setting. Each and every way you look in Firewatch is gracefully pleasant on the eyes and it makes exploring Shoshone National Forest all the better.

 

firewatch 5

 

On The ‘Ol Dog And Bone

Upon arriving at his station at Two Forks Lookout, Henry begins his first and profoundly most important human interaction within the game with superior and fellow lookout, Delilah (voiced by Cissy Jones). The pair of perfectly cast characters communicate via radio in which the pair bounce of each other with their dry sense of humour and sarcasm. What’s more is Firewatch offers the player several ways in which Henry can respond to Delilah. You can either choose to respond as a miserable middle-aged man, counter-pry Delilah’s constant prying or simply sit on the fence. Although limited and unable have a direct impact on the story of the game, these dialogue options are still fun and enhance the immersive factors of Firewatch. As the pair talk more you start to unveil parts of Delilahs character. Upon initially coming in contact with her she is evidently quite dry, hiding behind bad jokes, making it clear she has her walls built up pretty high (you find out the reasoning as to why this is as you play). Throughout the proceedings of Firewatch, Henry gradually allows Delilah to unload some of the emotion she is packing and in doing so you realise that the pair are undoubtedly similar and their blossoming relationship is portrayed so well that it feels real. You can speak to Delilah at almost any point throughout the game, whether you are admiring a view of a magnificent vista you’d like to share with her or simply to report on something you’ve found. Delilah will always have something to say and due to her brilliance as a character I found myself trying to engage her at every opportunity.

Anyway, after Delilah introduces herself among poor jokes and failed attempts to get to know Henry a little, our protagonist calls it a night and Day 1 of Firewatch concludes, essentially signalling the completing of the first chapter in a sense.

 

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What Lurks In The Forest 

Henry’s first assignment as Firewatch is to deal with a couple of teen pyromaniacs, illegally setting off fireworks by the lake. This is where the story truly gets rolling. Upon scolding these drunken teens you are left to believe that is the end of it however, weeks later the girls are reported missing. At this point the game takes a sinister turn. Brilliant scripting then proceeds to make the atmosphere increasingly scary and tense, it is like the moment your stomach drops in a good film or book when the twist becomes evident. From then on exploring the National Forest becomes dark, almost evil and instead of lolloping around, taking in every ounce of the serene woodlands beauty, you’ll find yourself exploring rigidly and with caution, inadvertently turning your head at every bush that rustles or branch that snaps beneath your feet. The forest seemed to have consequently turned into an eerie and frightening place. At one point I found myself breaking a sweat as I made a break for my lookout tower to escape a rustling bush at nighttime, like seriously, it was that scary. Sudden bursts of haunting orchestrated music (composed by Chris Remo) bump up the intensity, suddenly the lighthearted first person adventure you thought you were playing, turns into a dark thriller game, yet the urge to play on remains.

 

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Wilderness Explorer

Firewatch not only gives you the perfect setting to explore but it also gives you so much to do within it. There are tons of supply caches Henry can loot, full of letters and notes from prior lookouts. These offer a another level of insight into the game and some offer the chance to get to grips with the story a bit better. This being the case I personally hunted down these puppies in order to try and build a timeline of events of what happened with particular characters mentioned. Simply exploring the terrain as a whole is generally quite fun, grappling down dangerous rockfalls and navigating through the vast forest areas. Firewatch and it’s level of immersion makes hiking the woodland feel relatively realistic and ultimately that much more enjoyable. I also found that searching the towers of previous lookouts and remains of old campsites really quite interesting. Furthermore and most importantly, you can even adopt yourself a pet turtle (little Turt Reynolds was my best company throughout the game). Firewatch is a short game but it does well to compensate by giving you plenty to do within those few hours of play time.

 

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Final Verdict 

Firewatch was nothing short of a completely phenomenal game. It took the narrative of a great novel or film, combined it with a unbelievably fascinating setting and sprinkled more than enough monumental characters and in doing so has made one of the most poignant games I have played to date. The way the story swiftly turns on it’s head from being bubbly and fun to intense and daunting enhanced every reason I was intrigued in the game initially. Firewatch has the respectable power to appeal to the younger generation primarily interested in the more aesthetically pleasing side to the game but also to appeal to adults who understand and can potentially relate to the real life problems that are occurring throughout the game. Although Firewatch was only a few hours long, I unquestionably enjoyed every second indulging in this completely beautiful game.

Splatoon Global Testfire Impressions

Splatoon

Nintendo killed it at E3 last year. From Zelda to Yoshi’s Woolly World, it seemed that everyone had at least something interesting to look forward to. Out of left field Nintendo announced Splatoon, a third-person shooter for the Wii U. It looked vibrant, colourful, fresh, and full of character.

It was a game that intrigued me despite a few worries I had about the product, and having played it during the global test, I’ve learned a lot more about what the game has to offer.

The Bad

Playing With Friends? I Think Not

I’d like to get the obvious out of the way and say that I’m puzzled at Nintendo’s choice to completely shun any sort of party and friend play. In the 90s Nintendo dominated the multiplayer scene, and yet they seemingly skimp as much as possible when it comes to modern multiplayer.

Why can I not play with my friends in a party? Why can’t I hear them speak? Why must I use third-party applications to have fun with your game?

I shouldn’t have to ask all of these questions, as all multiplayer games offer at least some sort of party play.

Matchmaking Since 2015

As I just mentioned, most multiplayer games use a tried and true formula that makes the experience smooth and enjoyable, something Splatoon seems to have completely disregarded.

Half of my time with Splatoon was spent looking at menus and error codes. Whenever I’d try to join a public match, I’d be told that the lobby was full and promptly booted to the main screen again for another try.

Instead of reaching for say, ten accessible lobbies to try and place the player in, it seems that the game tries to connect to one random lobby (I hope it’s at least based on ping) and if it’s full or the connection is bad, you have to start the entire process over.

Why do we have such archaic framework for your prime multiplayer experience? Why can’t there be an algorithm that searches for several lobbies at the same time, putting the player into the best and quickest fit with the least amount of trouble? At the very least give us some half-functioning browser like Battlefield has. At least then I’d know if my lobby is full before joining.


Motion Controls Are The Future

The Gamepad is a remarkable controller. It feels comfortable and light while offering several beneficial and innovative features. Why, however, Nintendo feels the need to force motion controls on us at first is beyond me.

To learn the game you have to play the tutorial, yet the tutorial only offers motion control rather than a prompt asking the player what they’d prefer. I felt sick swinging my viewpoint around with the Gamepad, and I don’t think it’s viable at all in any sort of competitive setting where quick aiming is a must. I’d much rather use thumbsticks, which are thankfully not entirely disregarded.

I would like to say that for what they are, the motion controls function well. It’s probably one of the best implementations of motion control for aiming, but it still doesn’t jive with me.

Options Menus Are For Punks

 Most games allow the player to pause the action to change up some key settings that anyone might want to customize. Not in Splatoon however, as it seemingly revels in the fact that it disregards basic game functions.

Want to adjust your sensitivity? Do you feel that the volume is too high or the brightness too low?

None of these settings are accessible through the pause menu, rather, you must exit to the main screen just to change these settings; an extremely inconvenient and annoying prospect.

Something like camera sensitivity or inversion is essential to a player’s ability to play the game. Something like this might only need a slight tweak to get that perfect feel, so having to go in and out of games just to adjust your sensitivity is beyond ridiculous to me.

I had to put up with several bad matches just so that I could test out the sensitivity until I found something that I felt fit my style of play. Furthermore, if you consider the bad matchmaking system in place, it makes doing this time-consuming and utterly frustrating.

Class Changing Ain’t Easy

 This is yet another misstep that turns out to be agonizing for no good reason. If you want to change your class in Splatoon, you can’t just do it upon death like almost every other class-based multiplayer game. Rather, you have to again drop to the main menu and start the matchmaking process over again.

I’ve now mentioned twice how bad the matchmaking is handled, so you can see the problem with all of these drop-outs.

It’s OP!

It seems that the paint-roller class has some balancing issues. While other classes slowly take away the opponent’s health or have a large charge time for long-distance shots, the paint-roller nearly instant kills anyone it comes in contact with. You essentially just roll the paint on the ground and charge enemies like a bull, racking up kills left, right and centre.

The downside to this class is that you can’t engage anyone that isn’t directly on even ground with you, but it hail’s in comparison when you consider how easy it is to downright slaughter other players.

 I admit that it is probably too early to start yelling OP, but the paint-roller seems to be the obvious choice for not only kills, but how quickly you can paint the map in your favour. (a key factor of who wins and who loses).

One Map, Or Two?

I am having a lot of trouble remembering whether I played one map or two maps. I am leaning towards two but they were both so grey, white and samey that I couldn’t really distinguish what map was which.

It is probably too early to make this point a bad point, as I am sure Nintendo made the rest of their maps varied, but the two maps we got to test felt so similar that I am still wondering as I write this, how many I had access to.

Splatoon

 The Good

Give Us Smooth, Give Us Silky

It is no secret that Nintendo loves colour. Every game they create has beautiful, vibrant visuals that age incredibly well. Splatoon, while not as colourful as something like Yoshi’s Woolly World, is still a vibrant and colourful experience.

The maps start out pretty basic, but as your team and the enemy start slinging paint all over the level, it becomes increasingly messy and colourful until you’re fighting in what appears to be a neon rave.

It’s really pleasing to the eyes and the OCD to have the ability to literally add colour to the game, especially in a competitive multiplayer setting.

Mini-game Inbound

I previously mentioned how awful the matchmaking and connection issues are, but what I left out was the one saving grace to all of this nonsense: a loading-screen mini-game.

I am a sucker for mini-games and this doesn’t disappoint. Whenever the game is doing any sort of matchmaking, you are left to play a jump-centric platformer game on the Gamepad’s screen.

It certainly doesn’t fix the issues I’ve presented, but it makes it much more enjoyable to suffer through!

 Lag Is A Thing Of The Past

With any multiplayer experience, it’s probably too early to tell how the game will function after launch, but if we can take anything away from this experience, it’s that we won’t be suffering from a lot of lag.

Splatoon runs like a dream when it runs, and that is saying something. I encountered no lag or framerate issues, nor any sort of choppiness with the other players in the lobby. It was nice to see no rubber-banding, no warping, no lag spikes. All of it felt great and smooth, and I’m grateful for this after spending months with Battlefield 4, or, as I like to call it, ‘a test of patience’.

Prepare For Battle

 Splatoon doesn’t have much downtime when you are actually in a match. It’s actually surprising how frenetic and consistently engaging the action is. You hardly spend time wandering around, as the maps feature many tight corridors and many flanks for sneaky engagement. Couple this with your ability to spawn anywhere you please (as long as you land on your paint), and you won’t be searching for things to shoot very often.

The addition of your squid form makes it all the better as well. When you’re a squid, you can quickly swim through your ink and hit big jumps for mad air that give you the boost you need to enter the fray as soon as possible.

It makes for fast-paced gameplay and it makes you feel more active in your pursuit of victory.

The Gameplay Is Where It Counts

I think that one of the best aspects of Splatoon thus far is just how well executed the gameplay is. When we get past the pretty colours and the fluidity of movement and map design, we’re left with what is essentially a tight shooting experience.

The classes are varied and they possess unique abilities such as a bubble shield or a paint radar that obliterates everything in it’s proximity, The weapons all have their unique feel and functions that vary in importance depending on the encounter, The controls feel responsive and fluent; you don’t have to spend much time fighting with them.

When you partner all of these things with nuanced maps that compliment the gameplay exceptionally well, you’re in for a great time with a game that knows what it is trying to do.

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I’ll Be Damned If It Doesn’t Feel Good

When all’s said and done, Splatoon is a game that feels great to play. The controls are tight, the action is consistent, the classes are varied, the mechanics are unique and engaging, and the art and sound design is top-notch. Nintendo nailed the gameplay, despite the fact that they almost completely disregarded some of the important UI and matchmaking tricks that modern shooters utilize.

It was a very flawed experience, and despite that, I am still anxiously waiting to play more.

Pokemon Shuffle Review

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With Nintendo’s recent announcement that they will start venturing into mobile development, there is endless speculation as to what kinds of games they might develop in the future and how they will use (or possibly abuse) the free-to-play models that the devices are known for.  Fortunately, we already have a glimpse of how Nintendo may tackle the mobile market with Pokemon Shuffle, a free-to-play 3DS game that can best be summarized as “Candy Crush with Pokemon“.  That’s not to say that the game doesn’t have a few of its own twists on the formula; it’s just abundantly clear where the business model for this title was taken from.

Pokemon Shuffle is a your typical match-three puzzle game with a few unique mechanics.  For one, you’re matching your own team of four Pokemon that you select from your collection at the start of each stage.  Each Pokemon has a type, attack value, and special effect that can trigger when they’re matched.  Using Pokemon will earn them experience and level them up, gaining more attack power.  Pokemon won’t evolve over time and their evolutionary forms have to be caught seperately, but certain Pokemon can Mega Evolve during a stage if you have its Mega Stone and place it at the front of your team.  To start a Mega Evolution, you’ll need to fill the Mega Gauge at the side of the screen by making matches of that Pokemon.  Mega Evolution lasts for the remainder of the stage and gives that Pokemon more power and a more valuable effect.  The new and old ideas meld together well and make this a distinctly Pokemon-styled puzzler.

Now the question is how you actually add Pokemon to your collection.  Each stage in the game is represented as a battle with either a wild Pokemon or a rival trainer.  Defeating a wild Pokemon will give you a chance to capture it while trainers will challenge you with a mega evolution and reward you with the corresponding Mega Stone upon victory.  Building an optimal team for each stage requires strategy as certain Pokemon will be significantly more useful on certain stages.  There is a option to have a team automatically optimized for you, but this will only account for type advantages and attack power with no regard for effects.  The most skilled players will be able to balance out the values of various effects to truly optimize their teams on their own.  Effects do have a great deal of significance as enemy Pokemon won’t just stand around while you line up combos.  Some will occasionally disrupt your board by freezing your some of Pokemon or replacing them with stone blocks or weaker Pokemon.  Others will only allow you a scarce few turns before they flee, forcing you to chain strong combos immediately.  Many stages are genuinely difficult and will demand an optimized team to get through.  The one major issue is that there isn’t any kind of preview for the stage that you can build a strategy off of, so tactics for harder stages will have to be built through trial and error.  Also, the cascade effect is still a big factor and massive combos will result more often from luck than from tactics and the biggest chains won’t really feel earned.

Story is nonexistent as the game focuses simply on the “gotta catch ’em all” motto of the franchise.  Even the rival trainers you meet are represented as black silhouettes of characters from the main line of games.  It’s a bizarre decision that only reduces the game’s personality as opposed to what it might of had if it they’d just directly ported art assets.  There’s also little sense of exploration as the campaign follows a strictly linear path from start to end save for the unlockable expert stages.  The only facets of personality that the game has come from the adorably minimalistic artstyle and the somewhat bland musical score.  The intended tone is best set by the Mega Evolution theme, which is less like an elevating point for an intense battle and more akin to the goofiest carnival music you’ve ever heard.  Pokemon Shuffle is structured like a casino machine and it’s not ashamed to embrace that with its aesthetics.

The most vital factor to consider a free-to-play game is the business model and, fortunately, Pokemon Shuffle handles it quite well.  Spending real money will get you virtual jewels, which can then be exchanged for hearts or coins or can be used to keep going on a stage that you’re about to fail.  Hearts are needed to play stages while coins can be exchanged for consumable power-ups or Great Balls that are twice as effective at catching wild Pokemon as the default Pokeballs that you have an unlimited supply of.  Both hearts and coins can be acquired without having to spend jewels as a heart will automatically be given to you every thirty minutes if you have any less than five.  Coins are even easier to get as you’ll receive some every time you win a stage and when you check in online daily.  Even jewels can be acquired without spending anything as they’ll be awarded the first time you defeat a trainer and during special events.  These are rare, but it’s the sentiment of generosity that helps make the game more enjoyable.  There are also regular free content updates and daily challenges that provide plenty of replayability.  You’re bound to feel the paywall hit whenever you run out of hearts, but Pokemon Shuffle is as generous as it can be while still expecting to make a profit.   Given that cosmetic items like those seen in League of Legends and Team Fortress 2 can’t work in a game like this, the business model couldn’t be much kinder to consumers outside of just making the game outright free.

Pokemon Shuffle works best as a bonus game for the 3DS that players can turn to in-between rounds of full games and makes for good bit of variety.  It’s certainly worth downloading; just don’t let it nickel-and-dime you too much.

VgamerZz_1

Final Score: 7/10

The Wolf Among Us: Cry Wolf Review

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Generally reviews are pretty straight forward from a writer’s perspective. Play the game, dissect the game, review the game. Even if the process is complex, the steps are rudimentary … that is to say, if the game actually functions.

In the case of The Wolf Among Us: Cry Wolf, the game ceased to cooperate so many times that it has delayed the review for weeks. Every time I attempted to tackle the game, it denied me access with bug after bug, as if it wanted to remain out of the limelight.

Cry Wolf is the most frustratingly broken episode Telltale has ever created, yet regardless of technical aspects and a few questionable design choices, manages to surpass everything that In Sheep’s Clothing attempted. That is, after  I was finally able to surpass the myriad of bugs that awaited.

The fifth and final chapter in The Wolf Among Us has you returning to the shoes of anti-hero Bigby Wolf. As with past episodes, you will once again get to guide Bigby on a path of redemption or destruction, that is, when the game allows you to actually make real choices.

A common problem with Telltale games is that they offer both immensely satisfying and stressful choices, but as a contrast, offer the illusion of choice that tricks the player into believing they’re a part of the story. Several times in The Wolf Among Us, be it Cry Wolf or Smoke and Mirrors, you will have to make what appears to be a hard decision, only to have your character guided to the same place regardless. It’s not an apparent problem until you’ve had to replay the game either due to bugs and frustration, or by choice, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

A studio like Telltale, famous for character driven adventures, has earned the reputation of provoking both an immense attachment to characters, and tough choices. That said, one must argue: is the choice meaningful or impactful if you know that it’s simply an illusion? The answer is no if you were to approach me with the question.

When you’ve explored every musty, dank corner that Cry Wolf has to offer, you realize that you are frequently stumbling upon story-breaking illusions. A good example of this is (introductory spoiler) when you have to chase down two cars, and Telltale deceitfully leads you to believe you have a choice, only to be forced onto the car regardless of how many ways you attempt to take the other. It is this kind of thing that really makes Cry Wolf frustrating and disappointing, though luckily for fans of the series, intense action, dramatic tension, fantastic writing and plot twists await regardless of this criticism.

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Bigby and the tale of the various citizens of Fabletown definitely comes to a close on this chapter, and almost nothing feels left unexplained. After four episodes of exposition and mystery, it’s very satisfying to have all of the enigmatic plot points unraveled and explained in a meaningful and memorable way. Some of the moments in this chapter stand out as some of Telltale’s best work to date, and though I’ve said that a lot, it’s commendable to them that they can continue to outdo themselves on a regular basis.

From the moment the Cry Wolf begins to the ending credits, there is not one moment of fluff or filler to be witnessed. It is direct and straight to the point without spending too much effort on down time. Telltale has put the more investigative, explorative aspects on the backburner to keep this chapter always in your face with its drama.

I must mention that this chapter suffers from being quite short however, but it never feels as if you’ve missed out, simply that they needn’t drag on which is essentially the very end of Bigby’s interactive story.

It’s nice that within the approximate hour and a half chapter, you do spend a lot of time engaged in the typical Telltale dialogue trees. You’re constantly arguing and reasoning with the people you meet or are bumping into again, and luckily, Telltale has avoided making every interaction feel samey and predictable, a major criticism of In Sheep’s Clothing.

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These interactions would be nothing if it weren’t for fantastic character development in the previous chapters, and that is made quite clear by how much you will feel yourself caring as the events unfold. Characters you despise, you like, and characters you like, you despise. It’s that third dimensional writing that makes almost every single character you meet memorable. Nobody is perfect, and nobody is either entirely evil or entirely good.

As mentioned earlier, Cry Wolf spends little time developing already established characters, but they nonetheless remain as unique and interesting as ever before, even if you don’t get to spend much time with some of them. No matter the importance of the character, they’ll make an appearance, and the finale wraps things up for everyone. It may not be a Lord of The Rings-esque ending that shows the life and death of each character, but no one feels entirely left out.

The ending itself is a pleasant surprise. It felt as anything could’ve happened, but the route Telltale took with the exposition, pacing and the final conflict was a fantastic choice on their part. It kept you in the dark until the very last moments, and struck with revelations and explanations at just the right intervals. The final conflict is heated and intriguing, and the way they implement the core mechanics and the progression of Bigby as a character to impact the ending is quite fitting.

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When all is said and done, Cry Wolf managed to redeem In Sheep’s Clothing with a hard hitting, suspenseful ending full of mystery and tension that any Telltale fan would be stricken by.

There are a few glaring issues such as illusory choices and bugs that prevent progress from being made, but once you conquer that, Cry Wolf is a game definitely worth playing.

VgamerZz_1Final Score: 8/10

Entwined Review and Gameplay

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On the gaming world’s biggest stage Entwined was born to high expectations. The short presentation during Sony’s press conference introduced the title as the first game from a group of recent college grads, a new Sony studio called Pixelopus. The short gameplay segment shown featured flowing audio and striking visuals, immediately recognizable as the barrel gameplay from games of old. The short presentation ended with the announcement that it was on sale, right then, to Playstation 4 owners.

The abrupt announce and sell strategy of Entwined may seem a bit shady to some, but after playing through the game I can assure you there is nothing to worry about. In short, Entwined complicates one of the classic gameplay types so intuitively that it remains interesting for an entire game. The music is paced and varied, with the best tracks earning a place in your memory. The visuals are great for the same reason music visualizers are, they manage to match the speed, music and gameplay in a way that’s beautiful without being in the way. As the game culminates, the difficulty can become off-putting, until you overcome the challenge and it is appreciated for it’s purpose. The game comes across as a good freshmen effort that promises greatness in thee years to come.

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The gameplay evolves and challenges you through each of the game’s nine section’s or ‘lifetimes’. Beginning simply, every few seconds players align two characters, each controlled with an analog stick, against a grid they can pass through (Check the gameplay below to see this in action). Each character, a blue bird and orange fish, is stuck in the right and left hemisphere’s respectively. The movement allows for small twists to the base gameplay, for example as the two  get closer they become green and are able to pass through green spaces. While this may sound simple and even be simple for the first two or three lifetimes, the difficulty and complexity of each level increases dramatically. The level design is smart, with one level requiring the two characters to always occupy opposite sides and the next required no synchronization at all. This building and twisting of expectations builds throughout the game and makes the real challenge of hand-eye coordination all the more difficult.


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As to the story, the gameplay and objectives lend themselves to a tale of connection and reliability. Many subtle messages are sent through minute actions, such as the two characters relying on each other for success and the relationship between the players movement. The undertones of relationship can be ignored for other facets as well, whether the soon to be beloved soundtrack or the elegantly stylized visuals. Entwined’s soaring soundtrack makes good use of quiet melodies and driving hooks, more than once pairing with vista’s for truly chilling set-pieces. The visual design changed slightly with each passing lifetime along with the music, making this one sharper, this one electric and that one airy. The best part in the game happened toward the end as all the past aesthetics’s and music blended for the last level. Halfway through the game I expected the collage, but that didn’t decrease the inexplicable happiness I felt seeing all the little bits and pieces brought together underneath the games best track. The culmination wowed me in contrast to previous levels which I enjoyed, but didn’t love.

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The problem with Entwined is the problem of many indie titles. Difficulty is to blame for the only real unpleasantness found within Entwined. While the game is by no means ‘hard’, the punishment dealt out during later levels serves only to distract and frustrate the overall calming experience. In the moment it feels so out of place, being mad at this game that has thus far has only projected joy and peacefulness. Disconnecting from the characters you have come to endear, while remembering that this is a video game that you can loose, can be disheartening to say the least. Entwined manages to alleviate some of the irritation by making players feel triumphant over the difficulty through the stellar music, but for some, the frustration may be too much to get past.

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Entwined provides a good experience all around with standout looks and sounds that will leave a player entranced. The game is a bit short at only 2-5 hours, and the difficulty is problematic for some. Overall, I thoroughly appreciated the atmosphere, enjoyed the distinctive gameplay and  reveled in a completed challenge. Entwined carries on the mood, individuality and aspirations of games like Journey and The Unfinished Swan with the same gumption and less polish.

VgamerZz_1

Final Score: 8.5/10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WK4jIN9GvP4&feature=youtu.be

Wolfenstein: The New Order Wrap-up

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Author’s Note: This ‘wrap-up’ assumes basic knowledge of Wolfenstein: The New Order. An uninformed reader may still enjoy the piece, but you have been forewarned that characters names WILL be used without backstory and the second to second gameplay WILL NOT be explained. There are spoilers for the game’s ending in one paragraph toward the bottom, with  tags for where they begin and end. Enjoy!

Since Wolfenstein released a couple of weeks ago talk about the stellar FPS has died down. I thought it was amazing, with satisfying gameplay and intelligent storytelling. The game deserves to be talked about, but instead of doing a review I thought I might try something different. Wrap-Ups will be a type of review, but instead of giving a score I will discuss some of the best and worst areas of a game. Hopefully the overall tone will clue you in as to how I felt about the game, it’s story and gameplay. These ‘finer points’ may seem like excessive critique of a video game, but if we as gamers don’t critique our favorite games and properties we can’t expect them to get any better, individually or as a whole. Hopefully some of these points come across as clear and thought provoking, but you be the judge.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Wolfenstein begins like any other shooter, and that’s good. There has been a general discontent regarding the beginning of Wolfenstein for being uninteresting, a cookie cutter FPS. I saw that as exactly the case. The opening scenes are ripped straight from every shooter since Modern Warfare 1, replete with ‘water-cooler’ moments and ‘brotastic’ cutscenes. At first I was bummed out by it as well, but then the game slowly began teaching me it’s language. As I played, it taught me that the game had a stealth mechanic (one that was actually quite good, but I’ll cover that more later), and that the world was filled with collectibles and pickups and helmets. It allowed me to wade into it’s world, capture it’s tone and take my time. After playing through the complex narratives and systems, I found the beginning well suited for setting up the game’s villain. Veteran FPS players could reach General Deathshead easily, while newcomers would have faced a climb to reach the game’s antagonist. Either way, when Deathshead either removes all sense of your power or makes all the work you have done seem inconsequential, it stings. Not to mention he forces you to make a decision you are absolutely unprepared to make. While the setup may be droll and indistinguishable from modern FPS sensibilities, it sets players up for what really makes Wolfenstein great in an effective manner. When compared to other introductory sections in the FPS space, the opening hours of The New Order put tutorial laden shooters to shame, and while it may not be a selling point, I certainly appreciated it.

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After the opening mission, Captain Blazkowicz is put out of action for 14 years. The passage of time is handled better than many games and even a few movies manage to. The Captain is put in a wheel chair and placed by a window, and from there his surroundings speed up and slow down depicting moments of clarity and confusion. It abruptly stops the day Nazi’s come and destroy the hospital/ward. The family who cared for Blazkowicz are murdered, with only the daughter taken captive. As the Captain struggles upward and regains his faculties, the game never blinks as to how much time has passed. Players are kept in the dark until the ensuing level on how long he sat there. I admire Machine Games’ confidence in keeping players in the dark, unaware of anything except the driving thought to kill Nazis. The lack of timeline information traditionally infers that not much time has passed, so when it is revealed that 14 years have gone by and the Nazis managed to win WWII, it comes as a shock to the player as well as Blazkowicz. The best characters are built when player and character can connect in even the smallest instances, and I felt this was an eloquent way to start shaping the Captain we see for the rest of the game. It’s these subtle things that I may even be putting more thought into than the developer, but I appreciate it nevertheless.

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Talking about Captain Blazkowicz brings up one of the downsides I had with the game. The ever present whisper our protagonist speaks in drove me crazy. There were times when he would talk and the voice fit well, but all too often that talk would be dialed back to a dissonant hushed tone. The worst offenders were mid mission as robots, soldiers or fiery explosions were met with whispered comments and observation by the Captain.  While the story didn’t suffer from lower decibel lines, in the moment these struck me as weird and out of place in a game with dual wielding shotguns.

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The combat itself held many surprise I wasn’t expecting from the newest Wolfenstein. In retrospect, I think Wolfenstein managed to do what Dishonored set out to do better. Dishonored promised a city that reacted to players play, but ultimately this led to players who were action-oriented just facing more enemies while being stealthy kept enemy numbers low. Wolfenstein has this same idea but on a more moment to moment basis, as almost each encounter can be dealt with quietly with reduced troop numbers or not. This meant that players who wanted a run-and-gun Wolfenstein of old could have that, but those who were more interested in stealth or story could facilitate that. The shooting when things did get loud felt great. At the start I found the shortness of ammo and other resources restricting, but as Blazkowicz’s arsenal opens up, the shortness of ammo made me more resourceful, trying out different weapons on different enemies. The stealthing mechanics were simplistic and smart. After getting a silenced pistol early on in the game, players could headshot foes from huge distances with only the targeting reticle. Once enough stealth kills are made, Blazkowicz is able to throw knives for an instant kill as well. These silent killing options paired with hidden pathways through almost every combat scenario ensure that players can get the job done quickly and quietly. Both arsenals are important in killing the commanders, enemies which call reinforcements that are found in almost every combat scenario. All the intricacy found in the combat make Wolfenstein earn a status above that of the ‘mindless’ shooter, as it is evident while playing how much thought went into each encounter.

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Besides the commanders there are quite a few other opponent types found throughout the game. These ‘other opponents’ are mostly robots, and unfortunately they become a pain to deal with during the latter sections. While the design of every mechanical Nazi looks fantastic, the way they can slaughter you isn’t as great. The speed at which death comes when facing one of these opponents hurts, a fact which doesn’t help how much ammo it takes to kill them. Unloading multiple full magazines is enough to take down the smaller machines, but the larger they get the more force it takes to dispatch them. The change up in combat, which usually consists of mowing down foot soldiers, grinds to a halt when these behemoths enter the room. With one present it provides a nice challenge, but when multiple arrive the difficulty skyrockets. Toward the end of the game players face many such situations, and it becomes a grind after the second or third death.

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But besides the combat, the game tells an interesting story almost devoid tropes and typical subject matter. Outside the existence of Nazi’s. the games premise feels fresh. With the war won by Nazis everything is industrialized, and the artists had a lot of fun creating unique spaces to show that in. Acting as the resistance to such a mighty power can be daunting, but the game allows entire sections from the 16 chapter long campaign to be about interacting with other characters and exploring environments instead of fighting back. Building the connection to places is effective, whether it be a concentration camp or a secret hideout, you feel the oppression or comfort each space projects. Specific story moments never pull punches either. Whether sitting down on a train after getting coffee or returning to previous locations I will remember these interactions for a while. The story built characters you wanted to be proud of, feel sad for and fight with. Wolfenstein managed to make me interested in a first person shooter’s story for the first time in years and that’s something special.

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****Spoilers Begin****

The ending was an entirely different beast. It chiefly suffers from the high expectations set by 10 previous hours of outstanding content. As expected, it depicts Blazkowicz confronting Deathshead for a climactic battle, but a few story beats within the fight fell flat. It begins with Deathshead putting the brain of your former friend into a robot and telling it to kill you. After a short fight Blazkowicz defeats the robot and puts an end to his suffering friend, but the scene has no real emotional pull. To begin the only background we had with the character was during that first hour of the game before Deathshead took his brain, so there was really no moment where you could start to like that character. Secondly, the fight is over so quickly that there is never enough time to think about what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Lastly, the entire fight your old friend is begging you to kill him, which may have worked, but it came off as cheesy and cheap. After that, Deathshead himself comes out and you are tasked with taking down his giant mech suit. The fight seems as if it will be a long drawn out battle, but the first stage is done by simply firing tow cannons at some air balloons so lightning will strike the general. After the battle is taken inside, a tense fight occurs while the room is filled with fire, smoke and debris. After the fight is over, the game has a few moments of excitement before it slows down, and players are left wondering why the narrative went from fast paced boss fight to slow introspective moment. The story ends with ambiguity as to Captain Blazkowicz fate, and sloppily puts a bow on an intelligent, well paced main storyline.

****Spoilers End****

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Before writing this I had little desire to jump back into the Nazi resistance, but after getting my thoughts down I may just jump back in. Luckily the game provides an interesting reason to, with a slightly altered storyline and all those aforementioned collectibles. Wolfenstein captured my attention every moment I played, and while it may have lost some luster toward the shaky ending, I still came away happy with the experience as a whole. But this is just my feeling on the game, and I want to know what you thought. Be sure to leave responses in the comments below and let us know what you liked and didn’t like from Wolfenstein: The New Order. Also be sure to check back soon for more wrap-ups and all sorts of video game coverage from us here at Vgamerz.

Vertical Drop Heroes HD Review

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In this day and age, it’s much easier for independent game developers to create and share their games than it has ever been before. Naturally, this can result in a multitude of sub-par games (one only needs to scour Kickstarter for a little while to see this), but Vertical Drop Heroes HD by Nerdook Productions isn’t one of those games. I was a bit doubtful at first, given the number of procedurally-generated RPGs and rougelikes on platforms like Steam and GOG.com. However, I was surprised at how fun and addicting VDH can be.

The game is a “procedural platformer RPG hybrid with roguelike elements, where your hero adventures through randomly generated stages.” The goal of VDH is simply to gather coins, buy power-ups, beef up your heroes, and make it through from start to finish, beating down bosses and minions along the way. There is no grandiose, complex fantasy plot, no epic journey to parts unknown, no princess in another castle. There is simply the joy of beating up baddies, leveling up, and dishing out tons of damage. And, truth be told, that’s what I love about VDH.

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In Vertical Drop Heroes HD, you start off the game by picking from a small selection of heroes, each with different stats and powers. Once you’ve selected your hero, you’ll be introduced to the game’s hub, where you can buy weapon upgrades, item upgrades, upgrades to your “Pacifist points,” view your unlocked powers, and select “New Game +” mode if you’ve finished the main game. Once you’ve prepared yourself for the fight ahead, you can head through the portal into the main game, or, if you have enough coins, skip a few levels and start from a later level in the game.

At the beginning of each level, your hero will be dropped at the top of the stage. From there, you must use your platforming and sword-swinging skills to make your way to the bottom of the level, where you’ll find the level boss and portal to the next level waiting for you. How you make your way to the end of the level, however, is entirely up to you. Levels are randomly generated, with platforms, minions, coins, keys, items, boxes, and chests. You can use coins that you find for power-ups throughout the game, including permanent powers that you can purchase from merchants scattered throughout the levels and shrines that will give your heroes temporary stat boosts and powers for the remainder of the level. You’ll be able to use the keys you find to unlock chests and gates to obtain more treasure, unlock cages containing allies who will help you progress, or to bypass the level boss entirely and open the gate to the next level. You might also come across characters that will request that you kill certain enemies or collect certain items, in return for gold or stat increases.

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Of course, being a rougelike game, your hero will probably die at the beginning of the game, and you’ll have to select a new hero to use. Luckily, your coins and power-up purchases will carry over to your new heroes, making progression very rewarding as bosses and minions become easier to overcome. Of course, if fighting is not your thing, the game also presents hero progression through “Pacifist points,” orbs that you can collect as you fall through the stage, avoiding enemies as you go. Trying to complete levels without fighting minions and bosses presents a new challenge to the game, as fighting enemies can sometimes become unavoidable. Thankfully, there are powers, allies, and even enemies that can blast through platforms, opening up new paths for you to fall through as you journey downward.

With all of these options for progression, stat upgrades, and various unlockable powers, Vertical Drop Heroes HD is a delightful, addicting game with high replayability. With all this, plus a split-screen mode for two players and online multiplayer, you have a generous amount of content in a deceptively small package. For its $5.00 price-point, VDH is a great value, and is a nice way to unwind. If you want a break from your typical shooters or stealth-action games, this game is a great alternative. Just sit back, relax, and slash your way through hordes of minions and bosses.

Pros: Fun and addictive gameplay and progression; High replayability; Multiplayer

Cons: No story; Simplistic style; May seem easy to more experienced gamers

Released On: May 20th, 2014     Tested On: PC

Developer: Nerdook Productions      Publisher: Digerati Distribution

 Final Score: 8/10

Trials Fusion Review

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If you’re like me, you probably spent countless hours in computer class playing the original Trials flash games. RedLynx had taken an incredibly simple idea and added a polish to it that we hadn’t really seen in the genre. Flash forward to the release of Trials HD in 2009. The game received critical praise and a steady fan-base because of their perfection of the concept and successful attempt at bringing it to a home console.

After HD and Evolution, fans expected another game would appear on the horizon. Cue Trials Fusion, an absolutely fantastic culmination of all of the ideas presented in previous titles, with a nice new paint job to boot.

Trials Fusion, like its predecessors, appears to be quite the shallow game at first glance. You play as an unnamed test subject as he attempts to make his way through each course, designed by some ambiguous corporation for reasons unknown. The entirety of the game has you driving left to right, and contains only a few basic control options.

You hold R2 to accelerate, L2 to brake, and the left thumbstick to lean forward or backward. Pressing triangle allows you to bail, essentially committing suicide, but beyond comedic value, it doesn’t really have much purpose. You do eventually unlock the ability to pull off stunts by holding the right thumbstick in certain directions, adding another level of depth for those who seek it.

The idea that the game is controlled with such limits makes it appear to be nothing but an ‘Excitebike HD’ of sorts. This couldn’t be further from the truth however. While you are restricted by these concepts, the real depth comes into play when you factor in the obstacles you must overcome, the physics you must master, and the absolutely devilish design of the courses. RedLynx has shown that they have conquered the art of level design, as each stage is more interesting and challenging than the last.

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a sight to behold

They help keep things fresh by adding in locales that contrast each other aesthetically, and courses feel unique because of the changes of pace so frequently offered. One level will have you on an ATV as you fly over sand dunes, while another might have you in a factory that constructs the paths as you drive over them. Ideas like this keep things interesting, and there is never a sudden change in difficulty.

The learning curve for the levels is almost flawlessly balanced, and courses contain enough checkpoints to make anyone, veteran or newcomer, capable of toppling even the most challenging of obstacles. That said, RedLynx locked the harder stages behind medal requirements, so every player, good or bad, must start improving their scores and collecting medals if they wish to progress beyond the normal tracks. It is a smart move as it forces people to improve their skills, and in the end, makes the reward of completing the harder levels all the more satisfying.

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This is truly embarrassing

In Trials Fusion, each stage has a total of four obtainable medals. Simply completing a stage nets you a Bronze medal, but to get Silver, Gold, and Platinum, you must fulfil time requirements and complete perfect runs. It sounds easy enough, but the stages are designed in such a way that every tiny jump can mean success or failure if you are even remotely off on your speed, jump, angle, or timing. The levels ramp up to an almost impossible degree, and I found myself struggling to get past singular parts of a stage, based on the fact that RedLynx demands perfect execution on the ‘Expert’ and ‘Master’ tiers.

The game never feels unfair however. It never feels as if they’re trying to deceive you with flawed design. Every obstacle and checkpoint is deliberately and carefully placed so that you will always have a fair chance, granted you learn the mechanics. It’s also extremely useful that they’ve allowed you to watch friend’s replays, as I found myself learning a lot from players with a higher skill ceiling than myself on particularly cruel areas.

If you manage to overcome all of the metaphorical obstacles RedLynx has thrown at you, know that your journey is far from over. Beyond completing the 53 stages, each stage comes with a set of three optional objectives. They range from finding hidden paths, running over flowers, doing tricks in specific orders and other obscure actions. It adds an entire layer of depth for the completionists, and adds to the overall replay value.

They’ve also included several items for customization that give you a bit more control over your character and his vehicle of choice. Though the offerings are quite slim, it’s nice that you can give your favourite bike a different colour scheme, or dress up your character as you please.

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Am I in Heaven?

Beyond the single-player offering, Trials Fusion comes with a very robust track editor in the vein of LittleBigPlanet. You are given a set of tools that allow you to place objects, customize the weather conditions, the location of the sun, the time of day, and essentially any small tweaks you could think of. You can even change the geography to your liking, and as far as I can tell, there aren’t many drawbacks to the system in place.

Upon completion, you can share and upload your tracks to the online servers, and as expected, browse through community creations and nominated favourites. It truly makes an already replay-heavy game endlessly entertaining.

The one major disappointment I have with Trials Fusion is that they do not offer a competitive online feature. Trials is designed in such a way that it almost feels criminal to not have one, though to my knowledge, they have something planned. To counteract this issue, Redlynx has given players the option of playing with their friends via couch multiplayer. While it is definitely welcomed, especially in a generation focused entirely on online features, it would be nice to have a proper system in place for those who want to play with their online friends or compete against the best of the best.

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I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more

Trials Fusion offers nearly endless replay value, a plethora of tracks to play all with their own objectives, leaderboards to conquer, and a track editor that is bound to keep you occupied for months to come. Trials Fusion is, in my opinion, RedLynx’s biggest achievement to date.

If you appreciate tight game design or are a glutton for punishment, it behooves you to take a chance with Trials Fusion. 

Final Score: 9/10