Friday, March 27, 2015

Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One) Review


When I first saw Ori and the Blind Forest announced, I didn't pay much attention to it.  It looked very pretty, and I figured it to be one of those arts-y games that tries to be so unique and stylized that it ends up looking like a load of others, much the way cover-based shooters want to be gritty and realistic, but end up looking brown and gray.  When given the chance to review it, I figured I could give the game an actual chance to impress me the way the trailer didn't.

I was expecting Ori to be a platformer, but was pleasantly surprised to see it has a lot of influence from the Metroid series.  While some may describe it as a Metroidvania type game, I would disagree.  There isn't any real levels or equipment to power up your character.  Yes, you do fill a bar and get a skill point, but it isn't really a level up in the traditional sense.  The skill points go in one of three lines that will give you more attack power, show power-ups on the map or something similar.  Even so, most improvements come from the various power-ups around the map instead of the skill tree.  The environmental pick-ups are where you get things like a double jump, more health and so on.  So to me, it is much more like Metroid than a Metroidvania game.

The controls are fairly responsive, but Ori moves pretty fast.  It feels like slight tilts of the stick and he will quickly move that direction.  While nice for getting around, it makes jumping feel much less precise than I'd like.  Also much less precise than the game wants, because there are a lot of tough platforming sections that need you to be spot on to get through them.  There are numerous tiny platforms that you have to land on, and it can be really tricky to do so.  Some parts even have some on the wall and upside-down platforming.  Really cool, but also equally disorienting.

Attacking in Ori is another hit and miss affair.  It's great that your normal attack is a ranged homing attack, and since it's not Ori that is shooting, you can do it while carrying or moving objects.  Nice!  However, there is a minimum lock-on range that must be met before your attacks will actually go toward your target.  It took me too long to figure out when the enemy has a red aura, the shots will go toward it.  Too bad the range seems so inconsistent.  It's definitely not line of sight, since you can hit things around corners and above or below you, but it seems like if you can see it, the lock-on range is greater.  I'm still not sure that's correct, though.  Also, the damage you do seems good at first, but gets really low on most enemies.  Even when spending skill points to level it up, enemies seem to take more shots than should really be necessary.  This could easily be a personal thing, but when one spider or slug takes two shots, should a similar looking one nearby take five?  I don't think so.  Or if you really want to keep that, make the stronger enemies actually look different so I know that they are different versions.

The damage you take also fluctuates.  Some spikes kill you instantly while other just damage you.  There wasn't any difference that I could tell, since some inescapable spike pits would just damage you until you died instead of mercifully killing you instantly.  Enemies start off doing one point of damage, but quickly start doing more.  I figured the point of getting more health was so you could take more hits, but in reality you will just start taking two points of damage instead of one from similar enemies.  So you aren't really taking more hits, just keeping up with the damage increases.

Ori starts off with a nice story, and not much difficulty, but it quickly ramps up.  It's not always consistent, since there are more than a few parts that have sudden difficulty spikes, especially the 'chase' scenes where you have to escape some calamity.  They are long, you are unable to save during them, and it is very easy to mess up, even a little, which then results in your death.  Yuck.  There are other places that have very tricky platforming, so I hope you have to reflexes to keep up.  I didn't usually, and died many times as a result.  The one saving grace is the save system.  You can save almost anywhere.  The ability takes a point of energy, but is easily worth it, especially when you can get skill points that give you health when you spawn the save point.  There are auto saves and a few static save points, too, if you are crazy and want extra challenge... or forget to use the create-a-save.

Another thing that got to me was the scenery.  While pretty, it does occasionally get in the way.  Branches in the foreground can block you from seeing enemy projectiles or make some jumping sections more difficult.  At one point you have some teleporting doors that move you to another place on the screen.  While not bad by itself, when you have to rush through some of these sections, it can be pretty disorienting, and hard to react in time, even if you know where you will come out.  Sometimes the scenery makes it hard to see where you are in relation to either door, or had to tell if you have even gone through it.  It's not horrible, but a little tweaking to those parts to make it more player friendly would be really nice.

Ori and the Blind Forest is well-made game with rich visuals.  I'm sure many people will really like it, and for the most part I do, too.  However, the spikes in difficulty and imprecise jumping left me feeling more frustrated than happy as I progressed through the game.  At least the save system is fantastic and there are plenty of secrets and power-up collecting to keep you busy if you decide to delve into the game.  The game is more hardcore than I expected, and more unforgiving that I wanted.  Still, for the crowd that loves challenging games, Ori and the Blind Forest is one game they need to check out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype (PS Vita) Review


Do you like shmups?  Those spaceship shooter bullet hell games?  I love them.  Not many come to the US, so I like to try the ones that do.  Soldner-X 2 was a game that came on my radar awhile after its debut on PS3.  Some time ago, I read about a forthcoming Vita version, and waited until that came out to give the series a try.  On a side note, I really don't like the term shmup, but it's the accepted term for the genre, and it requires less typing that "spaceship shooter".

While Soldner-X 2 is very similar to a bullet hell game, it's not quite there.  It just feels too sloppy.  Successful bullet hell games are very patterned, precise and calculated.  Soldner doesn't feel like that.  Controlling the ship doesn't feel precise enough, but that could easily be because of the Vita's analog nub and not the fault of the game.  Enemy appearance patterns are scripted, sure, but they have strange patterns that just work against the game.  While thankfully they don't appear from the left side of the screen (behind you), they do pop out at just about everywhere else.  I feel that is to make the game harder, since enemies can pop up in front of your face, or right behind you while you try to get a power-up.  Since you don't die in one hit, it is just a cheap way to damage you.  I get the impression the life bar is because you will take cheap damage, and if one hit killed you, very few would stick with the game.

Each stage ends with a big boss fight, true to the genre.  They can be long experiences, since you have to whittle down their health little by little.  Of course, each has at least two forms or stages to them.  There are two separate bomb-like attacks that can help.  Sadly, they both feel weak (but do look cool).  You can only get one of each, so it's not like you can stack a few to save you.  They just don't at all feel as useful as similar attacks in other shmups.

There are three ships, one of which is unlocked after completing some of the challenges.  They have three different weapons that can be easily swapped to.  While each weapon is different from each other, it's not as huge a change as I would think.  One ship has a flamethrower, that while cool, seems really weak and not as useful as the default laser.  There's also a wave beam, that again, seems weak for how hard it is to use.  I found the default laser the best option throughout the entire game, and with both ships.  Weapons don't change to get better when you power them up, which is disappointing.  They do power-up, but it just makes them a little stronger.  I would go through the trouble of powering them up, but they never felt like they got stronger.  The effect was so minor I'm not even sure it works.

You also get chasers to help you out.  Chasers are small ships that follow you around and shoot when you do.  These are super helpful.  Unfortunately, they are also timed, so they only hang around for a bit, and then abandon you to the mercy of the alien armada.  At least they persist through your death until their invisible timer runs out.

Most bullet hell games are not only about surviving, but amassing a huge score.  Soldner-X 2 is no different in that regard.  Besides the score, they also rate you (I'm not a fan of that in any game).  They higher your grade, the more enemies there are, which in turn makes it harder.  Fair enough, that's kind of cool that it will seamlessly get harder as you get better.  However, one of the ways it scores you is by collecting rings that enemies leave behind when killed.  That's fine, other shmups have medals and coins and stuff when you kill guys for bonus score, so that part is fine.  My problems with it in Soldner-X 2 are: 1) they stay where the enemy died on screen, 2) they disappear pretty quickly, 3) they appear from random enemies and 4) there are many lulls in ring distribution, especially during boss fights.

It doesn't necessarily impede progress, but I dislike the rings.  If you do what you are supposed to and shoot the enemies, it can be way too dangerous to collect the rings, since they stay in the same position on the screen where they dropped.  Better shmups have some rings, coins, etc stay on the ground where the enemy was and others fall toward the back/bottom of the screen, so you can get a fair amount without putting yourself in mortal danger for a few points.  The game warns you when the chain is going to drop, but there isn't much you can do about it.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what enemies drop rings, and boss fights have big lulls where your combo just dies, since you aren't killing anything.  It's not an irredeemable system, but it would need some changes to be less frustrating.

There are seven stages to complete, but the last two have to be unlocked by collecting secret keys that certain enemies drop.  While in theory I should hate that, I actually kind of like it.  The stages you can access are pretty long and give a decent playtime, plus the keys give you a good incentive to play stages multiple times.  It does kind of suck that you can't beat the game unless you randomly get the keys or look up where they come from, though.  There's also some unlockable challenges to complete.  I'm not really a fan of these in any bullet hell games I've played so far, and Soldner-X 2 is no exception.  They are really tough, but of course you have to complete some to unlock others.  I wish they would just have most of them unlocked at the start.  You at least get another ship or a trophy for completing some of them, and they can be made easier by switching the difficulty.

The DLC adds three more stages, and more secret keys to collect.  The second of those stages in particular is really cool, since you are basically travelling along a giant battleship for the entire stage.  There is more story in the stages, but I don't feel they were cut out of the base game, so I'm not against the DLC existing.  It definitely adds more playtime and trophies if either interest you, and it's only a few bucks extra.

It might sound like I'm overly negative with Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype, but it is a competent game.  I think it's far from great, but easily could be with a few tweaks.  It can be fun and it has a fair amount of replay value with getting the keys and completing the challenges.  It's worth playing if you like shmups, but there are far better available.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Grim Fandango: Remastered (PS4) Review


Grim Fandango Remastered!  I know there was a lot of fervor and excitement when it was unveiled at E3 last year, and it's finally here in the newest gaming generation.  I will say that I have not played the original, so all of my impressions will be with fresh eyes... for better or worse.

You start off as Manny, who is a grim reaper.  It's an old-school point and click adventure game... where you don't really point or click.  Well, you do kind of click.  Anyway, you move around, talk to people, take items and solve puzzles to make your way through the story.  Moving is very fluid, provided you have it on the non-tank controls.  Even though there's a trophy for playing the whole game with tank controls, I'd recommend skipping them.  Yes, it is the way it originally was, but like Resident Evil, it's much better without having to fight awkward controls.

I like the look of the game.  It's very film noir-looking and crisp, thanks to the remastering.  Well, except for the video clips from the original.  Since those were pre-rendered, they can't be hit with the magic remastering brush.  It's obvious they are from 1998, but I can't really hold that against the game, it's just startling when it happens.

The story and the writing are good.  I mean, you get to play as a guy who is the grim reaper for a day job!  That's pretty neat.  Some of the lines are really clever, and there is enough serious with the silly to make it seem more natural.  The characters are all distinct, even if some of them are tropes.  The story quickly went ways I didn't think it would, and I like that it skips forward in time, so we get a better sense of how things change.  It just feels more realistic... well, as much as it can playing as a dead guy working off his debt by being a grim reaper.

However, the game is not flawless.  I'm sure fans from the original release will take issue with that, but it's true.  Since it's a point and click game, you have an inventory of stuff that you can use at various times to solve the puzzles.  The idea is sound: Manny keeps the items in his coat, and pulls each one out to use it.  However, this makes the inventory rather cumbersome, since you can only see one item at a time and have to scroll through each one to get to the one you want.  They also don't have descriptions, but pressing a button will have Manny talk about it, which helps if you aren't sure what something is.  Thankfully they routinely dump unnecessary items, so you aren't burdened with a massive collection by the end.  Still, the whole system is just a neat idea that isn't intuitive.

The puzzles themselves are inconsistent, but that is par for the course in point and click adventure and puzzle games.  Some solutions are readily apparent, and some require lots of poking around, trying different things.  Items you can take or things you can interact with are not highlighted in any way, so you will be doing a lot of poking.  That part is fine, since otherwise those types of games would be much quicker to complete.  Though unfortunately, sometimes you understand what you have to do, but the way to do it is not clear.  Yes, you can look them up (and I even did once or twice), but that's not an excuse for the sometimes oddball ways you solve a particular dilemma.  It will also cut down the playtime considerably if you use it often.  This game definitely won't hold your hand or help you at all to progress.  It's all up to your grey matter (and the internet).

Grim Fandango is a charming game.  After playing it, I see why people speak fondly of it, and were excited for the remaster.  It does show its age more than a few times with the jagged video clips and awkward solutions to puzzles.  The game is fun, but I'm not sure the remaster will create new fans.  For fans of the original, it's likely a must-buy.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Blackheart (PS Vita) Review


Noire, from Hyperdimension Neptunia fame, is now starring in her own game.  Instead of a normal RPG, this time it is a grid-based strategy RPG, like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics.  Accompanying her is not only her console rivals/friends, but also new characters made to represent famous game franchises.  Instead of fighting her rivals in a console war, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart instead focuses on recruiting the generals to unite the land.

While the characters are the same as Neptunia, this game has some very big differences.  Character models are super-deformed, with their big heads and little bodies.  Instead of Gamindustri, Noire takes place in Gamarket.  Battles are no longer old school turn based combat, but instead take place on a grid.  At least the CPUs can still transform in battle... if only for a few turns.

One big thing that sets it apart from other SRPGs are the fields themselves.  Not content with just having a battle area, a lot of them have traps or gimmicks to them.  These include moving platforms, pitfalls and areas that damage you when you move on them.  While these are a cool, unique idea, they are too in favor of the enemies.  Stepping on the damage zones will end your turn as well as damage you.  Ugh.  Most enemies you fight on these stages can float, so the floor doesn't damage them.  Or it just doesn't damage them anyway, because...reasons?  The CPU forms can float, but it is temporary, situational, and not all of your party can do it.  If it affected the enemies, it wouldn't be so bad, but it's too one-sided for my taste.  Plus, enemy attack ranges are better than yours.  At least that's legit, since the main games do that frequently.  Still, cheesy does not equal difficulty!

Noire contains some of the various systems from the Neptunia games, but tweaked a little to fit in with the different style of game.  Blueprints are still used to add new items to the store, but they are usually obtained as battle rewards.  It's also harder to know where to get the items you need, since some are drops from enemies, some are quest rewards, and the rest are from treasure chests in the battles.  In previous games, you could see what enemies and even what items were obtained from each dungeon.  Now, you just have to remember or look it up.  It's not horrible, just very inconvenient if you are missing a certain item, and have to figure out where you get it.

When Peter Moore talked about Wii360, this is not what he had in mind.
The lily system also makes an appearance.  Now when you use a skill when next to your fellow teammates, they will give you a peck on the check and reduce the cost of the skill.  Besides being a bit silly, it is a very useful thing to take advantage of, since skills are so costly.  Character challenges have also returned.  These were little things like killing enemies, getting symbol attacks and jumping, and rewarded you with permanent stat upgrades.  This time they are tailored to the type of game, so you get them for being the party leader, breaking objects, and of course, killing enemies.  I really liked this little addition to the Neptunia games, and I'm glad it at least returned in Hyperdevotion Noire.

Instead of quests like the main series, Noire has extra battles to complete.  Completing them will reward you with extra items, and usually a blueprint, so it is worth doing them.  They are all repeatable, just like the story battles.  Actually, re-doing a story battle gives new items, so it's best to do them again too.  It's a nice and convenient way to level up, but it's really a product of not having areas to run around in or random battles.  I like that you can repeat the story battles, but I feel it's also a cop-out to pad the game's content.  You will probably end up doing each battle a few times to grind some levels, since Noire also takes that from the main series.  I didn't have to grind for every battle, but there were a few that necessitated an extra level or two to make it through.

I really like SRPGs, and Hyperdevotion Noire is no exception to that.  It's a fun game, even though it has its flaws and frustrations.  It's still a silly take on the gaming industry, although this entry seems a bit more serious than the rest.  Not that serious, though, as the humor is still present.  I like the characters focusing on game franchises rather than consoles, as that opens up a lot of new possibilities.  If you don't mind some grinding or uneven odds, and like either the Neptunia series or SRPGs in general, I'd recommend trying out Hyperdevotion Noire.

Senran Kagura 2 and Onechanbara Z2 Announced for US!

Xseed announced a few days ago that they were localizing (for the US) both Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson for the 3DS and Onechanbara Z2: Chaos for the PS4.

I'm a fan of Senran Kagura after playing the first one on the 3DS.  I prefer the fighting system on the PS Vita one, Shinovi Versus, but the original is still solid.  Deep Crimson is supposed to be a direct sequel, but doesn't mention the SV girls, so I have to assume it is set in the sixth months between those two games.  Either way, I'm eager to get my hands on it later this year.  Wait... I probably should have phrased that better, considering the game...um... here's the trailer!

The other one is another Onechanbara game.  As far as I know, only one other has come over here, both on the Xbox 360 and Wii (?!), which was Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad.  I played the 360 version and have all achievements in the game.  It was a lot of fun!  There were a few frustrating spots, like the final boss, a boss fight halfway through, and trying to perfectly time combos for some unlocks and achievements... but you do fight a killer whale zombie boss in it!  What other game can boast that?

Anyway, the game was fun, it was a budget title and I ended up buying the expensive DLC for the extra characters.  I kept hoping someone would bring another of the series over, and I only had to wait 8 years!  (Seriously, I asked the people at the D3 booth at PAX one year if they were going to bring out any more)

You can see the announcement trailer here.  XSeed teased that they would release an Onechanbara game this year, and the silhouette matched to a previous game on the PS3.  It seems we will get this instead, but at least it's on PS4!  Just like Deep Crimson, I'm excited to play Z2: Chaos.  Maybe we will get both Onechanbara games?  I'd be happy with that.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Paperbound dated for PS4 and Steam

Paperbound has been given a release date of March 31, 2015 for the NA PS4 and Steam (April for EU) at a price of $9.99.  It is a downloadable title that sounds a little like Smash Bros or Towerfall Ascension.  It sounds like the multi-player is local only, so hopefully it can be Shareplayed.  They also announced that bots are included to round out a team or so you can play single player.  Here's their description of the game from the press email:

"Paperbound is a smash-up brawler that combines platforming, twitchy combat, and gravity redirection in a competitive couch multiplayer setting. Between one and four players (with AI bots added in the mix) run with scissors, walk on walls, and lob ink bombs in whimsical-yet-intense battles within the pages of old books. In addition to the 360 degrees of gravitational freedom, several other twists add to the tension and drama of a match, such as the "escape through the page tear" victory mechanic which brings a second phase to the combat and causes players to momentarily team up with their adversaries."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lost Dimension coming this summer to US

Atlus sent out a press release this morning to announce that they are going to bring Lost Dimension to the US (NISA is going to do the EU release).  Here's their information on the game:

IRVINE, Calif. ­­­-- March 11, 2015 -- In Lost Dimension, a tactical RPG published by ATLUS, an extraterrestrial being literally called "The End" is here to bring about the...uh... end of the world. Only a group of 11 psychically gifted warriors - each with unique abilities - are even remotely powerful enough to challenge this madman, but it won't take long for players to discover The End is not their only foe. As the protagonist, players have the extra special gift of psychic visions, a power that reveals that amongst his most trusted allies are traitors working to bring about the apocalypse. Lost Dimension will be available in stores and digitally beginning summer 2015, exclusively on the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and the PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system for $39.99.
To subdue the threat The End poses to the entire planet, several countries create a special forces group called SEALED, which is comprised of eleven psychics with superhuman abilities. Each soldier has their own talents and skillsets to use in combat, which can be expanded after gaining enough experience in the field. Bonds of friendship will form amongst the members of SEALED, but be mindful of which allies to keep close, as The End mandates the player must begin eliminating teammates.  Make sure to accuse the right teammate of being a traitor though - once the final battle with The End begins any remaining traitors will fight the main character alongside him.

KEY FEATURES:
  • A Cataclysmic Whodunnit! - Not only will players have to keep their eyes focused on strategically defeating the enemies laying in wait on the field of combat, but they need to carefully watch party members' tendencies in order to expose the traitor. At the end of every floor, players will be forced to vote and eliminate one of their trusted allies, and the consequences for choosing incorrectly could be dire...
  • Spoiler-Free Zone - In addition to a variety of game mechanics to help assess teammate loyalty, Lost Dimension's traitor system is randomly determined, assuring that no two players will be faced with the same playthrough. Sorry, kiddies, but it's impossible to look up the answers this time around.
  • Psychic Warlords - Each character in the party is a master of a different sphere of powers. There's the girl who controls molecular behavior to burn or freeze anything/anyone in her path. There's the guy who can teleport all around (also with the bonus superpower of being satisfyingly cocky). And there's even someone with an identity crisis because all he knows how to do is steal everyone else's powers.
  • Keep Your Friends Close... - In between battles, players will have the option to chat with teammates and develop closer bonds with them. Juggling these friendships and keeping track of who participates in battle will be the key to sussing out the traitors and assuring that, by the time you reach The End, it won't be... the end... for you and your allies!
Lost Dimension is a tactical RPG from ATLUS and developed by Lancarse. It will be available in the Americas beginning summer 2015. NIS America has publishing responsibilities for Europe, also slated for a summer 2015 release. For more details on the game, please visit the official website at http://www.atlus.com/lostdimension. This game is not yet rated by the ESRB.

When I read about the game late last year, it sounds really interesting.  I think the mysterious traitor aspect sounds like a unique idea, and could make each playthrough very different.  It is coming to the PS3 and PS Vita, and the title is PSTV compatible.  No word on cross-buy, but I'm thinking it will go the way of Dragon's Crown, and forego that awesome feature.