Tuesday, October 25, 2016

MegaTagmension Blanc VS Neptune + Zombies (PC) Review

MegaTagmension Blanc VS Neptune + Zombies is certainly a mouthful, but also a spiritual sequel to Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed.  As such, it is a 3D action game where you hack and slash your way through groups of enemies and tough bosses.  After reviewing the PS Vita release, I have come back for seconds with the PC release on Steam(here).

The game follows the Gamicademy movie club as they seek to make a zombie movie to help out their school.  They quickly enlist Blanc to write, direct and star in the movie.  It's a very silly story, frequently lampooning the zombie apocalypse genre.  To make your way through the game, you take on a series of 'cuts' (basically missions) that go through the film club's ordeals while making the movie and saving the day.  It's fairly linear, which is an improvement over Action Unleashed, but still has good replay value.  Some scenes are slightly different depending on who you choose to use.  Each mission is short, but overall you get several hours of gameplay spread over the 12 chapters.

The action in the game is solid, although I prefer the previous game's special move system to MegaTagmension's cooldown.  The tag mechanic works well, but I rarely ended up needing it.  There's a weapon upgrade system that has a combo of being confusing and not very useful, ensuring that I almost completely ignore it.  The multiplayer can thankfully be done by yourself, and offers some very unique boss monsters to fight for their loot.  It's a fun addition that lets you play with other people (still strangely no local co-op).  I only tried online a few times, and it worked really well for me when I eventually found a game/had people join me.

While it is probably possible to play the game with the keyboard and mouse, that is no way to play an action-heavy game.  The Xbox 360 controller comes to the rescue once again, and it feel really good.  It ran flawlessly with the game, and I think it plays better than it did on the Vita, and certainly better than on the Playstation TV (Vita TV for those in the know).  The game also looks better in this incarnation, as would be expected, and runs really smooth on my system (i7, 16gb ram).

MegaTagmension Blanc VS Neptune + Zombies is a fun action hack and slash game.  It is more focused than the previous offering, and I would recommend it for fans of that game or any of the Neptunia series to try out.  It isn't that hard, and you can play with your friends (or strangers) online.  It's not going to replace the main series, but it is a very fun diversion for 10-20 hours.

The Good:
Fun hack and slash action game, good character selection, fun story.

The Bad:
Bosses can be much stronger than the stage level suggests, ignorable crafting system.

The SaHD:
Still hoping for the Vert themed game... (although Iffy's was fun)

(Review code for MegaTagmension Blanc was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 (3DS) Review

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 brings back the run and gun action of the previous game, but adds a much appreciated extra - a whole new character.  The formula is similar to last time, you pick a stage, run through it trying not to get hit, and beat the boss at the end.  Copen, the added player character, will fight the same bosses, but in a different order, giving players a different experience in his journey.

Gunvolt is an adept with lightning powers, and his abilities are near identical to those from the last game.  As such, his gun isn't his main source of damage.  It still does a tiny bit, but its main purpose it to tag enemies.  By default, he can tag up to three enemies (or even stack them on fewer targets), which will focus his lightning attack onto them.  This attack is much stronger than just using his voltage field, but that has its own uses too.  Since it is a field around him, it can destroy physical projectiles, making a useful shield.  It's also used to power occasional things in the environment.  Using his powers drains his EP meter that you can let refill slowly on its own, or press down twice to charge it up quickly (but you are open to attack during this time).

Gunvolt can also dash and jump, but cannot dash in the air without an item (bummer).  If he still has power left in his EP meter, taking a hit will drain some of that instead of doing health damage.  This is paramount to your survival in the game.  There are plenty of times where you can't avoid damage, and have to use the shield to avoid HP damage.  When he defeats some of the bosses in the game, Gunvolt gets a different shot type for his gun, which can make it easier to tag some enemies.  Lastly, Gunvolt has three SP marks in the lower left of the screen that allow him some special attacks.  The default is a strong attack, and he quickly learns a healing one.  This was very useful to me, but it is a very weak heal.  There are other SP skills he learns, but I didn't end up using any others, since I needed the heal so often.

Copen, Gunvolt's rival, is also playable in this game, and plays differently than his blue counterpart.  For starters, his gun does more damage, and is his main source of attack.  Copen also has an air dash.  However, his air dash consumes a refillable resource called Bullits.  These also power his anti-damage shield, called prevasion, like Gunvolt's.  There are a few times where I ran out of Bullits when air dashing around, causing me to fall in pits.  One of the hazards of trying to rush through a stage combined with old habits.  If you dash into an enemy, it marks them so Copen's attacks will track the target.  This is a really useful function that I discovered on accident, since I didn't see the game point it out.  It is hidden in the Help section, but I doubt I would have looked there if I didn't stumble upon it by accident.

Where Gunvolt gets different shot types from bosses, Copen can somewhat mimic their attacks.  This is yet another meter he has, but it really feels natural to me as an old Megaman player.  In addition to the nice attacks and damage they cause, Copen can still use his gun while using the boss attacks, meaning he can dish out some serious damage in short order.  It's one of the big reasons I had much more fun using Copen than Gunvolt.  The other was the difference between their prevasion shields.  Using Copen's takes away from your mobility (air dash), where Gunvolt's takes away from your attack (can't use the voltage field).  However, I had the same problem charging both of their respective meters.  Pressing down twice to charge didn't always register, regardless of which pad I used to control them.

Overall, the game wasn't too hard for me.  There were a few tricky spots, especially with Gunvolt, but I was able to persevere through them.  With Copen, I was able to dispatch all the bosses without dying, thanks in part to his playstyle and stronger heal.  Admittedly, I think the game would be better if you could dodge all the attacks the bosses have.  There are several that hit the entire screen, or enough of it to effectively do the same thing.  It goes against my Megaman/Monster Hunter instincts, but you are supposed to abuse the anti-damage shields for both characters to get through without taking damage.  Still, I'd rather all attacks be avoidable.  Especially since most bosses have cheap hits that are hard to survive even with the shield.

Gunvolt also has some RPG elements.  Killing enemies gives experience that will level you up.  Levels grant more health, so the game becomes easier as you play through it.  Also, there is equipment that you can craft.  The pieces necessary to craft them come from the bonus game at the end of every level.  It takes a lot of luck or grinding to get most of the pieces.  By the time I had finished the game, I only had enough pieces to make one thing for each character.  Copen's was a skill chip I really wanted, which is nice, but if I got that far without it, I probably didn't need it at all.  If you do want them, then replaying levels and attempting the challenges is the only way to go.  Too bad you have to replay a stage to attempt the challenges for it.

The missing mid-battle dialogue was such a big deal after it was removed from the first game.  While on one hand I am glad to have it included in Gunvolt 2, on the other hand it is useless.  If the game stopped so you could actually read it, it would probably be better.  As it stands, your character banter while the action is going on, meaning you either take lots of damage to try and read it, or just ignore it.  To make matters worse, the dialogue box and character portrait takes up valuable screen space, making the fight even harder.  It's sadly better to just turn them off.

It only takes about 3 hours to make it through one of the characters' story, so double that for the whole package.  Even so, it's a game that I can see myself replaying, just to get better at fighting the bosses, and figuring out which weapon is best for each.  I wouldn't want to replay the levels just for material drops, but that would happen as I was re-playing through the game, and it is certainly an option to other players out there.  There are also challenges to try and complete for extra items, but you unfortunately can't get most of them your first time through the stage.

Overall, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is a very fun game.  It is very reminiscent of the old and awesome Megaman X games, while being different enough to not be a copy.  The game isn't very long, but there are reasons to replay the stages, and having two different characters is always a plus.  The prevasion shield is a useful mechanic, even if I think the game relies on it a bit too much.  I had a ton of fun playing as Copen, so I hope he continues to show up in the game.  I would definitely recommend the game to fans of the first Azure Striker Gunvolt, Megaman games, and side-scrolling action games.

The Good:
A fun and challenging side-scrolling action game that I can see lots of potential in learning enemy/boss patterns in order to improve.  Playing as Copen was a lot of fun.

The Bad:
Have to replay stages/grind to get drops to make equipment you don't really need.  Some enemy attacks unavoidable.

The SaHD:
The ice/slippery level is really annoying.  Can we as a gaming community just stop doing these kinds of levels?  It was cute the first few times, back on the NES, but they just aren't fun.  Do any players actually enjoy them?

(Review code for Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Azure Striker Gunvolt (PC) Review

After a successful launch on the 3DS over a year ago, Azure Striker Gunvolt has come to PCs via Steam, and brings improvements to address some of the problems players had with the initial release.  It returns the mid-battle dialogue, voices and updated translations.

Gunvolt himself is a lightning septima, hence he can generate electricity and attack foes with it.  He can also dash, jump and shoot his gun.  Although his gun does damage, the amount is very little.  Its main purpose is to tag targets.  Normally, Gunvolt's electric powers are a field around him.  However, if you use it while a target is tagged, the attack will track them and do a lot more damage.  This is his main method of attack, and you can do it as long as you have EP, the semi-circular meter under Gunvolt.  It can refill decently fast on its own, but you can also quick charge it by pressing Down twice.

Additionally, if you get hit, it deducts from your EP first, as long as you have enough.  This can only happen if you actively aren't using your EP.  Unfortunately, this means in order to defend yourself, you have to give up most of your attacking prowess.  Also unfortunately, the game seems built upon your ability to abuse this mechanic.  Finally, Gunvolt also has SP skills, denoted by the card-like icons in the lower left.  These are slow to charge up, but offer special effects, like a powerful attack or heal.  The heal was very useful, and the one that I used 90% of the time.  Too bad it isn't a very good heal.

There's a good variety to the ten stages, as some have some sort of gimmick that uses Gunvolt's lightning abilities, whether they are used to move platforms, operate switches, or float with magnets.  These parts are kind of neat, but I feel they were used just a bit too much.  To get through all the areas, it takes about 3 hours, and more if you want to get all the hidden gems or complete the challenges.  You are likely meant to grind the stages since the extra levels would make things easier.  Unfortunately, you will also fight all of the bosses at least twice.  Other than that, there is a speed run mode, and endless attack mode, and an easy and hard difficulty modes to give you more bang for your buck.

Killing enemies gets Gunvolt experience, which is used to level up once certain experience thresholds have been reached.  This gives him more HP, so it is possible to grind a bit and get more health to make the game easier.  Plus, every time you complete a level, you play a bonus game to gain materials.  There is a very rudimentary crafting system in the game, and the gear you make can provide you with some bonuses or extra abilities.  Trouble is, you either have to grind out the stages multiple times and complete some optional challenges to get enough loot to actually make something by the time you are nearly done with the story.

The difficulty level of Gunvolt feels closer to the old school, but with some new sensibilities like checkpoints.  I did die a few times, but not as much as similar games from back in my youth.  The stages definitely had parts that were difficult, but the bosses felt more like they relied on cheap hits to get damage.  More than one of them has an instant kill move that is nigh unavoidable.  Fun.  I can definitely see room for improvement, as the goal is to get through the stages without getting hit rather than just get through it.  It's pretty hard, at least for the bosses.  It's not overly hard to not take damage (most times), since the prevasion anti-damage shield helps out a lot, but that won't help you keep your score if that is of importance to you.

Since the game was adopted from the 3DS release, there are a few strange holdovers.  For one, the menu in-between missions is presented as closely as possible to the original, so you have two smaller screens on the screen.  I get why that is, but it does look weird to me.  Second, Gunvolt's SP skills are mapped to F1-F4.  I don't see a way to map them to something much easier to hit on the controller.  As it stands, I would have to move my hands quickly and accurately to the keyboard, because there's no way I would play a game like this without a controller.  Seeing how responsive the Xbox 360 controller is with this game, I see no need to try otherwise.  One last holdover from the 3DS release would be exiting the game.  In the game, there is no menu option to exit the title.  Instead, you hit ESC, which just immediately closes the game out.  It works, but it's jarring and I didn't see that listed in the controls, so it took me a bit to realize that's what exited the game.

Azure Striker Gunvolt can be a fun game.  Blasting through the levels, tagging opponents and using lightning powers is a lot of fun.  The difficulty is uneven at times, and bosses are plagued with cheap hits to mar the overall experience.  It's still worth playing for side-scrolling action game fans, and old school fans of the Megaman franchise.

The Good:
Familiar type of game with some very unique mechanics and different ways it is used in the stages.

The Bad:
Relies too heavily on the prevasion mechanic to avoid health damage.  Bosses can have some ridiculous attacks.

The SaHD:
I can't tell if the different shot types you get just aren't very useful, or if I'm missing what makes them so good.  The standard shot worked the best for me through the whole game.

(Review code for Azure Striker Gunvolt was provided by the publisher)