The VGamerZ Monster Files: Specter and the Monkeys (Ape Escape)

Monkeys

When you think of the real icons of video game villain-tude, the usual suspects arise. Bowser, Albert Wesker and his sunglasses-indoors-like-a-simpleton routine, Sephiroth… We know them, we love them, and some of us whine uselessly on the Internet about who’s ‘best.’

But in the grand scheme of villainousness, there’s one thing that doesn’t come to mind: time travelling monkeys.

Nevertheless, Specter and his band of fellow furry fiends are the antagonists of PlayStation classic Ape Escape. This 1999 platformer had arguably the oddest premise the genre (or any other freaking genre) has ever seen.

Specter was an innocent circus monkey. You know, dancing about, juggling knives, playing with itself and not caring who’s watching, all that usual monkey stuff. By some freakish chance, he inadvertently tries on the Peak Point Helmet, the intelligence-augmenting invention of a local crazy professor. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good thing.

Specter the monkey king.
Specter the monkey king.

With his newfound genius and a dash of good ol’ fashioned crazitude thrown in, Specter goes all megalomaniacal on us. He outfits all the apes in these helmets, and they rampage through the professor’s laboratory, where the clever old bugger has just completed a time machine. You see where this is going, of course, and Specter sends his henchmen backwards and forwards though time to create some bizarre new monkey empire.

Of course he does. Nothing screwy there.

All of this is a fine excuse for varied levels in a platformer, taking us from prehistoric dinosaur-y jungles to the technologytastic future. Your objective in each is to capture a specified number of monkeys, with all kinds of gadgets from the professor. A humble net suffices for the early ones, but in later levels these wily beasts will be armed themselves.Stealthy approaches and/or a fair amount of firepower of your own will be needed to succeed.

Specter himself has the fanciest (and deadliest) flying machine any monkey has ever owned. Quite a final boss.

Project Beast First Gameplay Leaked

Project Beast

From Software’s upcoming Project Beast, rumoured to be a Playstation 4 exclusive, has had its first gameplay leaked this fine evening. Though this seems reminiscent of the first screenshots that were shown, this is high quality, and comes in video format. The images prior to this didn’t really do the game much justice, but praise the sun, as this is looking like it will be a gorgeous game.

Though the youtube link is nice, a higher quality version can be found here. I’d definitely recommend hitting it up if you want the ultimate viewing experience.

I can’t even express my excitement for this game. Dark Souls II was a fantastic experience, and I am hardly able to wait until E3’s hopeful showing of Project Beast.

Also, shotguns.

The Games You May Have Missed: Cel Damage HD

Cel Damage

HDification (because that’s a term) has really been Sony’s thing of late. They’ve brought us the rather spangly Final Fantasy X HD, and a rather cool new God of War combo pack. And just when high definition couldn’t get any higher or… definitioner, there was another more obscure entry.

Feast your eyes on Cel Damage HD, which has just arrived on PSN.

This more obscure entry originally hit the Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox in 2001. It’s a brilliantly toontastic racer from Pseudo Interactive, which basically eschews the ‘racing’ in favour of ‘cutting your competitor’s SUV in half with a big ol’ chainsaw.’ Oh yes indeed. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, and we’ll take a look.

As we know, cartoon characters take all kinds of unholy punishment on a regular basis. How many anvils did Tom take to the face in pursuit of Jerry? How many cliffs did Wile E. Coyotte plummet over? And yet, resilient buggers that are, they always returned unscathed. And that’s the premise of Cel Damage.

In this demented car combat game, a crew of toon-freaks (safe in the knowledge that their death is never permanent) shoot, freeze, burn and otherwise explodinate each other. You can choose from the likes of Sinder, the furious demon midget, Fowl Mouth, the 1930s gangster duck, and B.T Bruno the portly truck driving dude. Each have their own personal weapon by default and their own vehicle. Not forgetting, naturally, their own selection of ‘humourous’ soundbites.

Cel Damage 2

There are three modes of play: Smack Attack, Flag Rally and Gate Relay. The first is merely a contest for ‘kills,’ while the others are a little more race-flavoured. Gate Relay sees you dashing in an underpants-on-fire hurry between checkpoints on the map, and Flag Rally has you collecting flags. Flags that roam the level independently on tiny little stumpy flag-legs.

Along the way, you’ll work through arenas sorted by a theme. Wild West, Space, Spooky, the usual cliches are out in force. On each, you’ll find Mario Kart-esque power up boxes, containing a random weapon. Some are more deadly than others, or allow for more fiendish tactics, and there’s a wide range. Freeze rays, tommy guns, hand grenades, axes, that old favourite the boxing-glove-on-a-spring… you’re spoilt for choice.

Cel Damage HD is not a remake. As with the HD Editions before it, this is simply a prettier version of what has gone before. It’s also rather a shame that the developers didn’t take the opportunity to add any online functionality. Nevertheless, the cel shading does look eye-massagingly pretty in HD. A little like the Wii U Edition of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Is it Really the Best Game Ever? #4: Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy

When it comes to big ol’ fame-tastic franchises, Final Fantasy will inevitably be mentioned. For many, this enduring and seminal series (because I’m an alliterate twice in two sentences sort of guy) is the very last word in… RPGing goodness.

This time, we’re taking a look at the best game in the series: Final Fantasy IX.

Before rage-spittle starts flying all over your monitor, that’s ‘best’ in the most objective sense it’s really possible: the highest compiled score on gamerankings and metacritics and suchlike. So just what is it about the ninth game? Let’s have a quick muse.

Final Fantasy IX was released in 2000, the last in the series to hit the PlayStation. At this point, the series had been gathering momentum worldwide thanks to the almighty Final Fantasy VII. This installment, a few years before, popularized the genre and was many gamers’ first real taste of it. But for the long-time Fantasists, it was something new.

Final Fantasy IX 2

Games VII and VIII eschewed the familiar job system, in favour of more customisable characters. This had been a hallmark of the games since the first release in 1987, and was a sad loss. It was also one thing that Final Fantasy IX tried to address.

First and foremost, the game is a love letter to the franchise’s roots. Everything from the colour scheme of the dialogue boxes to clever little puns about Clouds and Squalls screams throwback. But there’s more to it than that.

Without parading over ground which has been endlessly trodden, it’s a poignant and gripping story told well, and presented in brilliant style. The game’s art has a kind of storybook aesthetic, which I’d say makes it the most ‘charming’ of the Final Fantasies. I had seen nothing quite like it, and it still looks wonderful today.

The familiar gameplay itself was also buffed to a fine, shiny sheen of… shiny sheen-ery here, and the sidequests are enjoyable and actually rewarding. Then there’s the glorious soundtrack. There can be no doubt that this is a very special package.

Sony’s H1Z1 Won’t Be a “Pay to Win” Type of Game

H1Z1

Sony recently announced that they’re going the multiplayer zombie survival way with H1Z1, a first person game that draws a lot of inspiration from Day Z and other similar products. Unlike those, though, H1Z1 will be a free to play game, with microtransactions included. Apparently, however, Sony are not planning to ruin the game by making it playable only if you spend money on it – on the contrary!

According to Sony, who are following a nice route with H1Z1, discussing with the community and creating a subreddit for the game, the microtransactions will only be available for the more cosmetic options and will not affect core gameplay. In other words, weapons and ammo and water will be free, but you will be able to purchase clothes and other wearables that won’t directly affect the gameplay.

Here’s what SOE’s John Smedley posted on reddit to explain the situation:

We will be selling wearables. We felt like this will be a good, fair revenue generator. However – we recognize how important finding wearables in the world is so you’ll be able to find and craft a lot of stuff. We agree that’s something important.

We will NOT be selling Guns, Ammo, Food, Water… i.e. That’s kind of the whole game and it would suck in our opinion if we did that.

Nor will we sell boosts that will impact #2.

Emote Pack – of course we’ll have the basics for free. But we felt like this is another good and fair revenue generator.

Character slots – feels reasonable.

Crates – You can find crates sometimes in game. They’re filled with random cool stuff from the store. We’re considering letting you see what’s in them before you buy a key (ala Dota 2.). This idea isn’t fully locked yet.

He went on to explain that all the purchased wearable items can be looted from players that you kill, but the player that purchased it also keeps the purchased item even after death. I already see this turning into an easy to exploit thing as friends will start killing each other just to get the item. There will, however, be some durability attached to all wearables and eventually you won’t be able to wear them, but I still think that this will be heavily exploited by gamers.

However, it’s good to hear that Sony doesn’t plan to ruin the game with microtransactions and instead goes for the “pay for extras” method, which will probably be always accepted by most gamers.

What do you think about this pay scheme? Are you satisfied with it?

The Games You May Have Missed: Destiny of Spirits

Destiny

There were some bowel-looseningly big releases in March, there’s no denying. What with South Park: Destiny The Stick of Truth and Titanfall and other such wonderment, it was a gametastic month. But for me, one of the highlights was a comparatively obscure Vita offering.

Destiny of Spirits arrived last week, and was an under-the-radar release for… just about everybody, to be frank. It’s another of the handheld’s free to play apps, following the likes of Travel Bug and Ecolibrium. This one, though, is rather more substantial, and is sure to be an intriguing little title for strategy fans.

It’s an online social strategy game (apparently, I had no idea that was a thing) with light RPG elements. The premise is that all of the evils of our world –warfare, famine, pollution, Justin Bieber, those darn telemarketers who phone while you’re in the shower and make you dash over all drippy and towel-y to answer their useless call– have seeped into the Spirit World, and corrupted some of its inhabitants. The leader of the goodly spirits needs you to marshal her forces and defeat the newborn ‘chaos’ spirits.

There are three versions of Destiny of Spirits: one for Europe, the US and Asia. The social aspect is a little like that of Pokémon, in that particular spirits (which range from fairies and fire demons to sea serpents and assorted gods) are only available in certain versions. This gives incentive to trade with international players, and the Friend system facilitates this by quickly matching you up with compatible players worldwide.

Oh, the two-dimensional humanity!
Oh, the two-dimensional humanity!

But before you get into those mechanics, you have to get started in the Spirit World. The game’s hub is an interactive globe, with your starting point being your real-world location. From there, you tackle your enemies one area at a time, defeated bosses allowing you to progress to the next. Victories also grant you summon stones, with which you can gain new spirits to add to your party.

Battles are fairly rudimentary, all told. Each warrior has an element, effective against one and weak against another. Your forces and your opponents appear on the screen looking like rather ambitious board game pieces, and fight it out pretty well automatically. You can choose targets and initiate special attacks, but otherwise the turn-based beatings deliver themselves.

All in all, Destiny of Spirits is a much ‘gameier’ game (because that’s a thing) than other offerings of its sort. It is something easy to dismiss at first, but which may well engross you if given the chance.

Sony Releases List of All 2014 PS4 Titles

Sony

Earlier today, Sony released a post on their official US blog that lists every single game coming out for the PS4 in 2014; a very informative and useful guide for PS4 owners.

Taking a gander at their post, it’s quite clear that the PS4 has a great line-up for the year. Showstoppers like The Order 1886 and Destiny, indie gems like The Witness and Child of Light, and surprise hits like The Evil Within and The Division all suggest that the PS4 was a wise choice. It’s finally worth noting that this list will change throughout the year, as more games are announced and dates are solidified.

What games have you the most excited to be a PS4 early adopter?

Whatever Happened to… Final Fantasy Job Classes?

Final Fantasy

Back in the days of yore, when we sported ill-advised hairstyles and mobile phones the size of housebricks, things were simpler. Our RPG stars were succinctly characterised into ‘jobs,’ and everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing. Final Fantasy Warriors would righteously smite enemies in the eyeballs with pointy swords, White Mages would heal them, and Janitors would sweep up the monster guts afterwards.

Truly, it was a golden, sense-making age.

Job classes were introduced in the first Final Fantasy installment. After naming each of your four intrepit heroes, you’d assign them a role, a literal job. This defined the weapons they could equip and the abilities they could use in battle, and had a huge impact. Thief, Black Mage, Warrior and so forth are each gaming icons in their own right, though the characters themselves were nameless (beyond whatever you chose to input).

Final Fantasy White Mage

It was quite a rudimentary system in its original form, offering only a scant few choices. As the series progressed, though, more and more rather eccentric jobs were added. By Final Fantasy III, we had the brilliantly camp –Peter Pan called, he wants his tights back– Ranger, a projectile fighter who favoured the longbow. There was also the Viking, complete with horned helmet and defensive abilities that allowed him/her to shrug off bullets like the Terminator.

A few games later, Dark Knights and Berserkers and all kinds of other crazies were vying for our attention. I remember delighting in switching between many different jobs, just to see what each can do and experiment with fitting a party together. Ah, memories.

Then there was Final Fantasy VII, which did away with jobs entirely. Instead, each party member could be customised with Materia stones, allowing anybody to use any skill freely. Since then, the series has brought us many different ways of dealing with this. There was the junction system of VIII, in which you could merrily assign magic to every stat; similarly making your characters serve any purpose you wished.

The final PlayStation installment came closest to rekindling the magic. Final Fantasy IX did not mention any jobs by name, but simply locked each party member into an appropriate set of skills. The game was an intentional homage to the series’ roots, but didn’t quite scratch the itch in this regard. The recent Bravely Default does so with aplomb, though.

Does Vita’s ‘Toukiden: The Age of Demons’ Beat Monster Hunter at its Own Game?

Monster

Monster Hunter, as we know, is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon. The franchise gained some modest acclaim in the West with Monster Hunter Tri, but before that it was certainly obscure around these parts. In Japan, though, it is the biggest of big deals. It couldn’t get any bigger or… dealier. Those guys can’t start their day without jabbing a large dragon or two in the eyeball with a lance. That’s just how it is.

These Hunterholics never did embrace the Vita. A lot of this can be attributed the fact that Capcom’s action RPG has never made it to the console. But there have been similar releases. The wonderfully creepy Soul Sacrifice brought us hunting with a hideous that-thing’s-got-a-mouth-where-its-stomach-should-be feel, and a nightmarish aesthetic. Already a success with a sequel confirmed, the genre is gathering momentum on the handheld.

Next up is the spangly new Toukiden: The Age of Demons from Tecmo Koemi. The setup will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ventured into Monster Hunter before: you are a novice hunter, moving into a small village plagued by… demonic nasties. Your goal is to work your way up through the ranks, from simple quests against small fry to dispatching huge slavering death-beasts. Of death.

Toukiden 2

Scavenging items from defeated foes will allow you to forge new weapons and armor sets, thus ‘upgrading’ your character until they are a match for bigger, toothier, angrier beasts. In between quests, you are returned to the village ‘hub,’ where you can listen to the prattle of the NPCs, visit the shops, all the usual RPG trappings. There is a small assortment of different weapons to master, longsword, bow, spear and such, each of which perform a little differently and cater to different combat styles.

It’s all very Monster Hunter, in short, but much more than a simple clone. In Toukiden, as in Soul Sacrifice, there is a substantial narrative to follow. The story focuses upon the Slayers (hunters) and their war against their enemies, the demonic Oni. Said beasts’ assaults have become more coordinated, and the warriors of the village suspect there is a new ‘leader’ of sorts in their ranks. While it’s hardly The Da Vinci Code levels of intricate plotting, it’s a welcome addition to the game that is lacking elsewhere.

In the missions themselves, Toukiden is again different. You can’t bring a limited satchel of items, or set traps or bombs for your opponents. You rely solely on your weapon and your equipped Mitami. This is the soul of a departed warrior, which you can affix to your chosen stabbing stick at the blacksmith. It will grant you different abilities in battle, and there is a huge selection of them in each of the eight disciplines.

Toukiden 3

These determine the powers you can use. The Attack style bolsters your power, for instance, while the Healing style allows you to remove status conditions and revive teammates on the fly. With the more combo-heavy combat style, quests in Toukiden feel rather more streamlined than Monster Hunter. As does the game as a whole.

Without much of the between-mission micromanagement, this new Vita effort has rather more of an arcade-y feel to it. It is all around more accessible, I’d say, and brings a Feudal Japanese charm to the genre in its aesthetic and some of the weapons choices. Inspired enough to appeal to fans, certainly, but with some unique touches all its own. Whether these are for the better or worse will be down to the player’s feelings.

Source of images: sgcafe.