Thursday, October 10, 2019

Habroxia (Switch) Review

Since I'm always in the mood to try a new space shoot-em-up (aka shmup), I jumped at the chance to review Habroxia.  Its old school, charming visuals are very reminiscent of classics like Gradius, but with some new twists to make it a unique experience.

At the start, you can only do Story Mode.  This presents the stages in a linear fashion.   Each is fairly short, and most end with a boss fight.  There are 15 in all, which is more than I would expect, but compliments the shorter stages rather well.  The bosses themselves feel different from each other, but aren't the most visually distinct.  They do fit with the game's aesthetic, however I'd be hard pressed to name them, or tell you what stage they are from, if just shown a picture.

Most of the stages are side-scrolling, but sometimes one of the game's unique features kicks in.  The "perspective" will shift, and the game briefly becomes a top-down scrolling shooter.   It's done really well, as you are usually safe when it happens.   The choice to include it is interesting, for sure, and breathes some fresh air into the genre.  Some bosses are even top-down, as opposed to side-scrolling.  I don't always advocate games outright copying each other, but this idea could easily be done in some other shmups, and it would be neat to experience again.

The game is not overly hard, even though there was a stage or two that I failed a few times.  This is thanks the game's rogue-lite system of upgrades.  Some enemies drop credits when defeated, which can be used between stages to buy permanent upgrades to the ship.  These are persistent through story mode.  Costs increase for each as their level rises, and they are very useful.  It's not necessary to fully max out the ship to complete the game, either.  I went for shot power, speed, and spread, but never ended up getting the health upgrades.  That might explain why I failed a couple of stages.  Even so, I made it through with only a few rough spots.

However, credits are not the only way to upgrade your ship.  Power-ups are also occasionally dropped by enemies.  There are even two flavors: ship power-ups, and items.  Ship power-ups are similar to the upgrades.  You can get stronger shots, missiles, and health.  It seems redundant at first, but these can temporarily be used instead of upgrading your ship.  By temporary, I mean they only last on the current stage.  They are also vital for the other modes discussed later.

Items are things that should be familiar to shmup fans.  Bombs that damage everything on the screen, a shield to take a hit for you, and a few others.  One is a powerful but short laser beam in front of your ship.  It penetrates, and does a lot of damage to bosses.  Very useful. There's another one, with a wave-looking icon that I couldn't figure out what it does.  I didn't see any kind of tutorial, or explanation, and there was no visible effect.  I tried to avoid that one in lieu of one that was actually useful.  If someone finds out what it does, let me know!  The ship can only hold one item at a time, and once you use it, it's gone.

Habroxia's controls work well, but took me a few minutes to get used to.  Instead of using a face button to fire, players use the shoulder buttons.  The R Button shoots in a straight line in front of the ship, while the L Button fires shots above and below you.  This would be great, but shots are not very quick, even when maxed out, so switching to the top and bottom shot was never useful to me.  Plus, it only fires in both directions when you aren't moving.  If you move, it only shots in that direction.  So, even less useful than it already was.  I'm sure there are some players would can use it effectively, but it's not me.  Also, I rarely needed it.  Luckily, using both triggers to shoot will give you a small spread shot.  This is what I used most of the time, while occasionally switching to the front shot for a few parts.

As for the other modes, they are unlocked after beating the story.  First is Invasion Mode.  Ever play Space Invaders?  For this mode, it is vertical, and you must destroy random waves of enemies before they reach the bottom and get past you.  This mode also contains bosses, power-ups, and items.  It's easily the most interesting of the extra modes to me, but still not as exciting or fun as Story Mode.  Second is Rescue Mode, which tasks you with rescuing astronauts.  It's an okay mode, but gets a little boring after awhile.  The levels are random for this mode, and repeat fairly often.  Killing an astronaut ends the mode, so you have to be careful with your attacks.  The third and final unlocked mode is Shield Maiden Mode.  Your ship only has 1 bar of health, so you have to rely on the plentiful shield items to keep yourself alive.  Shields tend to be very useful in games like this, but I don't like the ones in Habroxia.  They seem to disappear on me.  I'm not sure if they have a timer, or the hitbox is the shield and not the ship, or maybe both of these.  If it's not reliable, I'm not really a fan.  So, a good concept for an extra mode, but not one I would play very much.

Habroxia is a fairly simple game that harkens back to early shmups, while adding modern features to the mix.  It's pulled off really well, and is definitely a neat little game that I recommend shmup fans try out.

The Good:
Fun retro-inspired space shooter with modern, unique elements.

The Bad:
Extra modes are not that exciting.

The SaHD:
The credits mini-game is fun.

(Review code for Habroxia was received from the publisher.)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Utawarerumono: Zan (PS4) Review

If you have seen any of my earlier reviews, you may have run across the one I did for Utawarerumono: The Mask of Deception on the Vita.  I liked its mix of strategy RPG and visual novel, even if some parts of the story fell flat.  I was cautiously optimistic about Utawarerumono: Zan, since it takes a game I like, changing it from one genre I enjoy, to another that I also enjoy.  Instead of being an SRPG/visual novel, it's now a hack and slash action RPG.

With such a genre shift, there are plenty of ways to make it work, and just as many to ruin it.  The first issue would be paring down the story.  It's a generalization, but I think a chunk of people that really enjoy action games don't want to sit and watch hours of story.  A lot of the plot is handled with text over a still image, or a brief scene of characters talking.  As much as I like the CG images, it would have been nice to have more scenes acted out between the character models, and made a lot more visually interesting.  I don't think it would be too much of a stretch, since there are already battle models for most of the characters.

The story is definitely missing large chunks from the original.  Most of the basics are covered, but there are still things that I thought were important that were left on the cutting room floor.  A lot of the everyday life sections are gone as well.  On one hand, these sections annoyed me more often than not, as they tended to be "pile crap on Haku".  On the other, it helped flesh out the characters, and gave voice to their uniqueness.  At least Anju is much more tolerable when they cut out 95% of her interactions.

However, I'm still on the fence about is how much of the story is covered.  When the game was first announced, I was hoping it would cover both Utawarerumono: Mask games, as I didn't think there would be enough battles from the first game to handle the genre shift from SRPG to Action RPG.  That would be the second issue.  While most of the battles from the original did make it over, there are a chunk that are wholly original.  Framed as missions given to Haku's group from their employer, they do fit in with the story without feeling tacked-on.  Still, I think it would have been better from a gameplay perspective to have both games, but I understand why that didn't happen.

But, the story isn't likely why you are here.  If you were more interested in that aspect, you should just play the original.  This game is mostly action. Each stage is set in a small location, with enemies that appear.  Square is your normal attack string, while Triangle is a different attack, many times something with range, or some other special property.  Triangle can also be used for a combo ending attack if used in the string, but it's nowhere as complex as something like Dynasty Warriors, despite sounding similar.  To add some unique moves to combat, holding either Square or Triangle will do another attack.  The Square version can be thrown into combos, while the Triangle cannot.  Still, some of the held Triangle moves are very useful.  Haku's with the pierce damage scroll is particularly effective.

If you played the originals, you might be wondering where the chain attacks are.  Well, those are also present.  These are mapped to circle, and require some of your spirit gauge to use.  As you attack foes, the spirit gauge under the health bar begins to fill.  Pressing circle will start a stronger, unique attack.  As the attack proceeds, a ring appears on the screen.  When the glowing ring reaches the edge, pressing the button again is a perfect chain.  Hitting it correctly refunds some of the spirit spent, so it's worth trying for.  Up to two different chains can be equipped, with a shoulder button switching between them.

The combat system is entirely functional, if not super smooth.  Normal combos are pretty good, but lack variety with so few ender options.  The chain attacks are nice, but can't be worked into combos, and can also be hard to aim at your intended target.  Maybe that's just me, though.  In the original game, the chains were ever present in your techniques, where they are used much more sparingly here.  Thus, it's harder to learn the timing, or knowing how many chains there will be before you use the skill.  Useful, but they take way too much practice and luck to be reliable.

There are a few modes offered.  First is story, which, predictably, covers the parts of the story retained from the original.  Some chapters are battles, while others are just story.  Next up is Battle Recollections, which is pretty much the story stages, but with two secondary mission objectives thrown in.  There is an unlockable hard difficulty version of these stages, for more content and challenge.  Next is Free Battles, which recycle the story locations, but with different enemies, objectives and secondary objectives.  These are broken up into five different tiers, each harder than the last.  Higher ranks are gated behind story levels and previous free mission completion.  However, they can reward you with higher tiers of equipment creation, so they are worth doing.  Lastly, there is the Battle Arena, which are individual challenges for each of the characters that reward them a new chain skill.  Some of these modes can also be played in online co-op.  My PS+ has sadly lapsed, so I was unable to try the online.

Gaining experience is fairly straightforward.  You do a mission, defeat some enemies, and get some experience.  Gaining a certain amount will get your character a level.  The stat increases from only gaining character levels are okay, but you really need to acquire bonus points to get the best bonuses.  These points, called BP, are usually only be gained from secondary objectives.  Sadly, completing the objective the first time gets you the biggest bonus, as the amount gained is reduced for any subsequent completions.  Add in that only participating characters gain the BP, and you can see where the grind comes in.  Doing every mission once with the same character (where possible) likely still wouldn't max them out, so you will be doing some missions over and over again.  I don't think it's necessary to max a character, but it's a long grind if you are inclined to do so.

Equipment is handled very much like the original game. Instead of things like armor and weapons, the characters equip skill scrolls.  These tend to increase a stat, like extra attack power, or add something else, like a health regen.  The total number of scrolls that each character can equip is different, and can sometimes be increased by their Specialty stat.  You won't get many scrolls going through the game.  Instead, you need to create them by spending the in-game money.  You pick a tier, and either create one item, or a group of 10 for a discount.  After that, what you get is a random selection from the list.  Gaining a scroll again will increase its level up to 10.  You can also get special elemental tomes and new costumes.  This isn't the only way to get costumes, because there are some in-game achievements that also grant them.  It's worth checking the Military Medals, and work toward completing it for those bonuses.  It's nice that it's not hard to get new and stronger scrolls, but the random aspect can be a pain when you just need that one last item in a tier.

Overall, Utawarerumono: Zan is pretty fun. It's not the best representation of the story, and not the best hack and slash, but it is enjoyable. If you want to experience most of the important parts of the story, but don't want to sit through the visual novel or SRPG battles, then this is the way to go. Even if you prefer the original, it's worth playing for Utawarerumono fans looking for something a little new.

The Good:
Quick and fun fights, get most of the important story bits without spending 40+ hours reading.

The Bad:
Powerful enemies can be cheap, story feels way too cut down.

The SaHD:
Why is any creature bigger than a person ungodly powerful?  How does anything survive in this world?

(Review code for Utawarerumono: Zan was received from the publisher.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Rambo (The Movie): The Video Game: The Experience: The Review (The PS3)

The Logo: The Picture

As I've mentioned before, I finally broke down and got a subscription to Gamefly several months ago.  One of the games on my radar was Rambo: The Video Game.  I had not heard good things about it.  Still, I was determined to try it.  It's an on-rail shooter, and there was a similar one I had played in the arcade that was pretty decent.  How bad could this be?

Sadly, it was de-listed from the US PSN store before I could purchase it.  Well, it was there for awhile, even having a sale, but never low enough for me to take the plunge.  I would have, if I had known that it would be gone soon after that last sale.  When I signed up for Gamefly, it was one of the first games I put in my queue.  It spent a few months staying "unavailable", with brief moments of availability, but didn't coincide with when new games were shipped to me.  Then, fate and a cosmic event aligned, and it was delivered to me in all its disc-ed glory.

Or something like that.  Thankfully my PS3 had enough room left to install the game, and I was eventually on my quest.  The opening cut scene is...not good.  It's hard to knock the graphics, as it is a PS3 game from several years ago, but you can definitely tell it is a budget game.  Still, that's not the important point, the gameplay is.

However, we had to get to that.  Making my way through the menus, I discover that the only thing I can actually do at this point is start the story.  There are no levels to select (not even the first one), no open challenges to complete, and no weapons to switch.  Just starting the story, and assigning a controller.

Wait, what?  I then remembered that, as an on-rail shooter, it could also use the Playstation Move controller.  It was too late for that, so in I jumped.

It was...quite the experience.  Using the controller was a huge pain in the butt.  The actual act of pushing the button to shoot was fine.  So was using the stick to hide (think Time Crisis).  Reloading was not that great, though.  Unlike other, superior light gun games, you can't just pull the trigger again or shoot off the screen to reload.  Instead, you need to push a separate button.  The only reason for this is because the developers wanted to take an idea from Gears of War, and add active reloads.

For the uninitiated, reloading during active reload puts some kind of meter on the screen.  If you time the button press correctly, you get a bonus, hit the "normal" zone to get nothing extra, and hit the bad zone to mess up even further.  Rambo doesn't give bonus damage for correct timing.  Instead you get twice as many bullets.  It's a nice idea, but is then saddled with the bad timing penalty for half ammo.  This might be easier to deal with, as I rarely hit the bad zone, but the meter is really small and hard to see.  It's on the cursor.  While it's where your eyes may naturally rest, it also moves around a lot, and makes seeing a tiny, precise meter on it much harder to learn.  They get a point for trying something, but I found it better to just ignore it completely.

That just leaves one thing left: the aiming.  Aiming with the analog stick was the main reason using a normal controller is such a bad idea.  The sensitivity on the thing is through the roof.  It's very hard to aim precisely, let alone quickly, which is not a good thing in an on-rails shooter.  Shooting is kind of its main thing, and it just wasn't done well.

So, I dug out my PS Move controller and started charging it.  I also found my nunchuck Playstation Navigation controller to pair with it, and charged that too.  Well, attempted to.  I only had the one cable, and charging through the computer didn't do a whole lot.  I switched them when I thought one was done, but it really wasn't.  So, the next night I jumped in again, swapping the charger cord as needed.

Everything was fine until I had to pair the controller.  I paired the Move, and all it would let me do is start the game.  I was worried that the Navigation controller wasn't paired as well, but couldn't figure out how to move the cursor without it.  Plus, since the Move was paired, I couldn't use the regular controller to select anything.  Despite my better judgement, I pressed on.

Using the Move by itself was almost worse than the controller.  In fact, I'm just going to say it is.  Aiming is better, for sure, but that's about it.  It needs to face the screen to work best, and luckily I had a cheap gun attachment.  Advancing through menus required pressing the X Button, which is now on the top, and awkward to hit quickly.  Reloading was done with Square, I think.  That was awful, considering how much you will be doing it.  To get into cover, you had to hold the Playstation Move Button, and flick the controller in that direction.  Truly awful.

I quit out and reloaded the game, since I couldn't find a way to try to pair the Navigation controller with the Move.  When I got to that point again, I tried pairing the Navigation controller first.  No dice. So, I had to pair the Move, and figure out how to actually move the cursor.  Eventually, holding the Move Button and swinging the controller moved the cursor. It's a horrible design.  Why not just put the cursor on the screen and let me use that to highlight and access things?  The implemented way was not only unintuitive, it was unresponsive.  It luckily worked the last time I did it, otherwise I would never have figured it out.

So, I had to select "pair another" to actually sync both controllers to finally play the game the way it was hopefully intended.  By this point, I had started the opening movie/long "hidden" loading screen three times, and sat through too much of it before I could skip to the game.  Now you see why's it's more than a review of the game, but a review of the experience.  So little of my "play" time was actually game play!

As it stands, the game isn't that good anyway.   Aiming was still too sensitive, but the other controls were passable.   Reload was a button on the Navigation controller, and moving to cover used the stick.  You can even throw a grenade, but like the rest of the experience, it's not the most intuitive or accurate thing.

The game claims to go through the whole trilogy, but I wasn't really looking forward to finishing the first stage, let alone several more.   Like similar game ideas, you move from scene to scene, shooting enemies and taking cover.  Reloading feels like a chore.   It just takes too long, and isn't as seamless as shooting off screen or something similar.  There's a rage mechanic thrown in for good measure, which will give you back health when you kill enemies during it.   It's fine, but not enough to save the game.  If you get further than I could stand, you theoretically unlock challenges and different weapons.

It may be more fun with another player, but I can think of much better ways to spend time together.  There could have been a good game from the premise, but it's not Rambo: The Video Game.  If you are so inclined, try it for the sheer novelty, but don't expect anything good.  I'd recommend sticking to the far superior light gun game offerings.

The Good:'s a good use for the Playstation Move controller?

The Bad:
Controls are not good and the game just isn't fun.

The SaHD:
It might not seem it based off my reviews, but I've actually rented good games from Gamefly, too.

(Rambo: The Video Game was rented from Gamefly's service.)

Monday, July 29, 2019

DS Game Impressions - Bleach, Dragonball Z, Infinite Space, Lufia

While going through and deleting a few half-baked reviews, I ran across this one that I had completely forgotten about from a few years ago, so here it is!

My friend lent me a few DS games that I wanted to play but didn't have, so I tried them out and have collected a few impressions of them here.

Bleach: The 3rd Phantom
I know very little about Bleach, but that isn't a big issue for this game.  It is set before the events of the anime/manga so it's more of a prequel.  It's a strategy RPG like Disgaea, so I was happy to dive in and give it a try.  You move on a grid, but thankfully can attack in a square around your characters, instead of the usual "plus" pattern.  When you choose to attack an enemy, the game will show this confrontation from a different viewpoint.  It switches to a side view, and the animations for the attacks are really cool and fun to watch.  Sometimes the attacks will include a special attack, adding to the damage done.

The only thing I don't like are the skills you can use in battle.  Most cannot be used after you move, making healers almost useless.  Also, you need to equip your items to use ahead of time, which I didn't catch on to at first.  The stat and skill upgrades are nice, though.  Upgrading your weapon can give you more skills, extra power for ones you have, or other bonuses.  You need to unlock one before the next in the line can be used, so planning is essential, since I don't think you can have all of them.  The game was so fun that I bought my own copy.  Now if only they made it so it didn't write "Bleach" somewhere on every screen in the game...

Dragonball Z: Attack of the Saiyans
Brought to my attention by Mole during one of the recent podcasts [recent at the time of original writing -editor], I decided to check it out, since I am a fan of Dragonball Z and turn-based RPGs.  First off, the game looks good.  The map sprites are cool little super deformed version of the characters and the battle animations are nice to look at.  The battles themselves are turn-based (as mentioned previously), where you can attack, defend or use a skill.  Skills are powerful, but costly.  They can be upgraded with points obtained from victories and new skill can be revealed when certain skills level up.  There don't seem to be many skills to learn, and it takes awhile to get enough points to buy anything.  There's also a "sparking" meter, which is presumably used for super moves.  Until you get those (I haven't yet), the meter is pretty useless.

Story-wise, the game starts just before the martial arts tournament when the Z fighters first see Picollo Jr. (the young one).  Along the way, you take control of different characters and do various unimportant tasks.  It takes over an hour to get Goku in the part, and then fight Picollo.  After that, you resume doing unimportant things that presumably lead to the fight with Napa and Vegita.  While it's nice that they don't just rehash the show/manga plot verbatim, the things you do just don't feel special or interesting.  Also, story bits in the game seem to take longer than they should, since there is a small pause after a text bubble goes away and before characters do their emoticons.  They also do them frequently, which just made the uninteresting story bits take that much longer.  So while the game looks good and the battles are fun, the story makes the game actually kind of boring.  I don't know if I'll play it much more.

Infinite Space
This is a game that's been on my radar for awhile.  Space exploration and battles with grid-based equipping.  It sounded really fun, but the price and availability has always been a drawback.  When I started, the first thing I noticed was the graphics.  It reminded me of the Transformers DS games which kind of looked like crap.  Ugh.  Well, I can look past that, especially for an RPG, so I dove further.

It was a letdown.  The space battles are interesting, but get annoying pretty quickly.  Most things in the game are not explained well at all, adding to the frustration.  The more I played the game, the less I liked it.  Some are small gripes, like your initial target in space battles is not the ship in the front, which you actually NEED to attack first.  There are plenty of big gripes too, like the computer AI being almost perfect.  I didn't even get the melee battles, but I read about them, and it seems I dodged a bullet by not getting that far.  As sad as it is, I'm going to pass on it and save that chunk of change.  I'll happily give my friend back his copy.

Last but not least is Lufia.  This is a series I really need to get into, since I enjoyed the original on SNES back in the day (and I still need to get my own copy of that).  I have the GBA one, and should really play more, but I wanted to give this one a try since I've seen it for pretty cheap.  First off, it is an action RPG, not a turn based, but that wouldn't be enough to deter me.  The combat is ok, but not that great.  You don't get many moves so it's not as fun as it could be.  You get a pretty effect on your attacks midway through the combo, but all they seem to do is obscure parts of the screen for no benefit.

The combat can be a bit wonky, mostly from using the d-pad to move in the 3D space (it would be perfect for the 3DS circle pad).  It's easy to get hit, and you take more damage than you might think.  This is offset by the "retry with level boost" option on the continue screen.  There's also a lot more platforming than I would have guessed, and it's about as bad as you'd suspect.  While the game is funny and doesn't really take itself seriously, it's not as fun as the old Lufias.  A bit disappointing, and fans are better off skipping this one.