Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Skylanders: Superchargers (Xbox One) Review

The Skylanders games have been around for a few years, and each year a new thing is added.  In Skylanders: Superchargers, that addition is vehicles.  While initially hesitant about how this could change the series, I was very open to giving it a try and see how this new direction plays out.

Surprisingly, it goes really well and fits in with the franchise.  Where before there were specialized gates that required a specific element or type of Skylander, now there are sections that need one of the types of vehicles.  In practice, each part with a vehicle is one of the stars to earn in a level.  Thankfully, you only need one of any vehicle (a land one is included in the Starter Set) to get through the whole game.  Before, each level had up to three stars that you could earn, one from beating the level, one from being under the par time, and the last for getting all of the hidden stuff in a level.  I actually prefer the new way, of each vehicle section is a star.  To me it felt like doing it that way made it so I would want to get and use each type of vehicle, rather than I had to.

The non-vehicle sections of the game are very similar to the last game.  You run around and fight minions of Chaos, jump around the platforming sections, and solve a puzzle or two while searching for hidden chests.  The controls worked fine for the most part.  The only problem I had was with Supershot Stealth Elf.  Her cannon has a function where if you hold down the button, it will keep shooting.  Sometimes it didn't seem to register that I was holding it down.  Also, getting hit or slight changes in terrain would break it off, and I would have to then press and hold it again.  It was kind of annoying, but not a huge deal.  There were no problems with Spitfire, and he is also really fun to play.

While the game offers a lot of new stuff, how does the old fare?  The previous game in the series, Trap Team, alienated some players because it relied too much on the new.  In a way, this is true for Superchargers as well, but it doesn't feel as bad.  Any character can ride any vehicle, but you get a boost for matching the element, and a special boost for matching the actual pilot to their vehicle.

You also unlock parts to modify your ride, but the special supercharger Skylanders are required to put the upgrades on.  It's a bit of a downer, but workable, since the Starter Set comes with two.  The worst part about that, though, is in the hub world.  Walking near the vehicle station will have a voice remind you that only the supercharger Skylanders can modify the vehicle, and it gets really annoying if you are walking around the hub with a non-supercharger.  The new portal that comes with the Starter Set also has a slot for the traps from Trap Team, and they unlock a Skystone card of the trapped villain, plus give you a limited number of new attacks while you are driving or flying around.

Now onto the important part - how did my 8 year old like the game?  It's probably no surprise, but he loved it.  He took to the vehicles immediately.  When asked what his favorite parts is, it's driving the car around.  He likes to go into the vehicle testing area and just drive it around while shooting bad guys.  While we don't have any other vehicles (yet), my son really wants to get some more, so I'd say the vehicles are a good addition to the series!

If you play two player co-op, the vehicle controls are split between the players.  One player drives and the other gets a reticle for attacking and gathering money.  It works really well and is pretty fun, giving both players something meaningful to do.  My son was also kind enough to switch with me fairly often, but he preferred to drive.  As mentioned before, I could collect the money and bits while he was doing so, which made him able to focus on not getting hit rather than trying to make all the jumps to get collectibles.

There's over 10 stages to go through, and each takes longer than I thought it would.  This is good from a gameplay standpoint, even if I would prefer shorter levels and more of them.  Each stage would be even longer if we had the other two vehicle types.  There's some extra challenges, races and missions in the hub if you want more to do.  I'd say you get some decent value from the game, even if my son doesn't do much to find every item and secret in a stage.  I have no idea why, since I figured he would pick up on my completionist tendencies.  Also in the game, there is a lot of dialogue between the characters.  Most of it felt unnecessary to me, but my son didn't mind all the talking.  It would be nice to have a function to skip the dialogue and cut-scenes, though.

Skylanders: Superchargers was a lot of fun to play.  The driving sections were fun, and played well in single player and co-op.  While the older figures do have some limitations, they weren't as bad as the previous game, as any character can drive any vehicle.  My 8 year-old son really liked the game, and especially loved driving the car around.  I'm looking forward to getting an air and sea vehicle to play the sections of the levels I missed.  If you or your kids like the Skylanders games, you should enjoy this one as well!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PS4) Review

It should be well known by now that I really enjoy the Disgaea series.  I've liked every entry in the series so far, so I was of course eager to get an early review code for Disgaea 5.

For the uninitiated, the Disgaea games are a series of strategy RPGs (SRPGs for short).  You move and attack on a grid and alternate turns between you and the enemy.  Stats and levels go crazy high, and the plots revolve around demons and the Netherworld.  Every item and piece of equipment has a random dungeon inside of it.  There are lots of character types to use in battle, and a lot of other things that set it apart from other SRPGs that are around.

Does the game still hold up to the Disgaea standard for gameplay?  Yes, it does.  Is the plot something that fits in the universe?  Yes.  There is a very powerful Overlord trying to take over all the other Netherworlds, and your small group is going to stop them.  Are the characters decent?  I'd say yes.  Most of them have extra things about them that aren't readily apparent, and their conversations tend to be humorous.  It's no horse weiner, but there are some funny parts.  Particularly, I like Red Magnus as the wrestler/Hercule (from Dragonball Z) role.  At first, Seraphina annoyed me, but she got less so as the game went on.  None of the characters are particularly groundbreaking, but done well enough.

So now that we got the basics out of the way, what about the changes?  Given the subtitle of the game, I'll start with the Revenge meter.  Now all characters get a new meter next to their portrait.  As they or their allies take damage, or they dish it out, the meter will fill.  When full, a unit enters Revenge Mode, where all of their skills cost 1 SP and they only do critical hits.  If the unit is an Overlord, they also get a powerful Overload skill (which I keep reading as Overlord skill).  These skills don't take your turn to use, which is a big deal in a game like this.  I don't have to tell you how great it is to be able to use any skill for a negligible cost.  However, the effect only lasts 2 turns, so make use of it while you have it, or stay clear of a powerful opponent who is out for revenge!

Most of the other changes are small, but I like most of them.  Each stage has a one time bonus that you get for maxing out the bonus gauge.  While it isn't a huge thing, it's nice.  The character world is now presented like a board game, where you make your way around a board and try to land on spaces that give you things, like mana, HL or stat increases.  If you run out of moves, you will halve any bonuses you receive.  If you make it to the end, you pick a bonus (better aptitude, more counters, etc.) and any subsequent runs will cost a lot more mana.  This cost resets if you reincarnate, which is nice.  The character world feels a lot different and easier to use, and I approve.

Groups return, and allow you to put your characters in various groups that have different effects.  One might give bonus experience or mana relative to how much the leader earns, or let you capture enemies.  These groups can be leveled up by sacrificing prisoners that you have captured or have surrendered.  Prisoners can be interrogated, which lowers a meter.  When the meter is out, they can be made allies, roam around the pocket Netherworld, or give bonus experience when sacrificed to level up a group.  Since there are a lot of Netherworlds, you can also send some of your extra characters to explore them and bring back prisoners, items and gain experience.  I really like that there are good uses for the extra people you acquire in the game, and a reason to have them get levels and have some gear on.

The item world stages are small and don't have many enemies, which is good.  This has been the case for the last game or two, but it seems faster to go through them in this game.  The biggest change is that you have to actually finish the level to get a level for the item, as it is now a bonus gauge reward.  The boss floor even has an extra level gain at the top of the bonus list.  There are a few other ways to gain bonus levels for an item, which is cool.  Innocents can now be moved off of items without being subdued.  Yay!  Now they have to be subdued to combine them.  What?  It's not a huge deal, but it is strange.  If I have to pick one, I'd rather move them without subduing then combine without subduing.  I'm not sure why we can't have both.  Subduing them still increases their value, which is still a reward for going into the item world and defeating them.  Either way, I'll take this change.

Probably my favorite change is to character creation.  While it used to cost mana to create, it now takes money (HL).  For me, money is a much easier resource to gain in the Disgaea games, so this change is huge to me.  Plus, you can also spend some extra money to increase the newly created character's level closer to your highest level character.  This makes it so much easier to have a new person actual contribute instead of being regulated to the B Team.  Characters can also now equip a secondary weapon, and switch during combat for different situations.  I love these changes.

Is there anything I don't like in the game?  Sure!  When you are in the pocket Netherworld that serves as your base, a song plays.  There are some vocals to the song, and it gets annoying pretty quickly.  It feels like the whole song is a thirty second snippet that is endlessly repeated.  You spend just enough time in the Netherworld that I was hoping for a way to turn off just the song that plays.  Other than that, my only annoyance were the battles that are clearly skewed against you.  They didn't feel as bad as the ones in Disgaea 4 at least, but there are a few.  Grinding fixes this, but it's not an ideal solution to balance.

With all of the things to do in the game, it can eat up a lot of time.  Going through only the story is almost impossible, since there are a lot of other things to distract you.  Entering the Item World to level up equipment, using the Character World to make someone even better, or even end game challenges that require mind-boggling stats to overcome.  Disgaea games do require some grinding, and Disgaea 5 is no exception.  It didn't feel necessary very often, or for very long, but that could be because I tend to use the Cheat Shop to increase the experience percent I get to minimize grinding.  Even so, it is easy to lose over a hundred hours and have fun doing so.

Disgaea 5 is really fun to play.  The core SRPG aspects of the game are still intact and working great, and my gripes with the game were small.  The many new additions and changes make this one of the best Disgaea games yet, and a must play for any strategy RPG fans.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bladestorm: Nightmare (PS4) Review

Bladestorm was released several years ago on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and it was Koei Tecmo offering their take on the Hundred Years War between England and France.  Now, the new and improved version, Bladestorm: Nightmare, is available on the PS4.

While you might initially think that since Koei Tecmo made the game, it would be like Dynasty Warriors, but set in a different place.  Well, it's not.  However, I would totally play that game.  Anyway, the game is a much more tactical game.  It's like a midway point between Dynasty Warriors and Nobunaga's Ambition.  You will run around with your troops and attack enemies yourself, but you have some ability to give commands to people in your group.

You play as a mercenary, and can gain control of any troop type you come across and have the book for.  The book basically allows you to gain experience for that group, and hence, use them.  Each troop type is strong or weak against other types.  These can be changed mid-battle, as long as you go near another type.  Plus, if you have comrades near you, you can have them join your army and travel as a stronger brigade and lay waste to the opposition.  Of course, the trade off for that is you won't have them available to send elsewhere.  This larger group can be broken up if you do need that luxury though.

If it sounds a bit messy and complicated, that's because it kind of is.  The functions are simple enough to understand, but remembering what combination of buttons does what can be a chore in and of itself.  The controls are not like any other game I have played, and took a lot of getting used to.  They work well enough, but it's not very intuitive and I had some trouble remembering what button did what and how to do certain things.  And, no, I'm not that old.

Battles themselves take place on a large field that houses many troops, leaders, towns and castles that you have to either defend or take.  There's also no loading that I noticed while running around the large areas.  That's cool.  The uncool part is that it shows a lot of what's going on around you, even if it isn't things that are important to your mission.  It felt like they showed everything, even you didn't need to see it for the task at hand.

Admittedly, I frequently had no idea if I was doing the right thing or not.  There are lines telling me where to go, so I usually followed them and took over bases they pointed to.  Nearby were other bases that I sometimes took over and sometimes didn't... it didn't seem to matter.  Other bases were gained or lost, and I didn't know which ones or if it was important.  I felt lost most of the time, just following the lines and killing troops.  Although I would win, I didn't feel as though I was helping much, just trotting along and trying stuff, which I guess worked?  I can only infer that from me not losing.  There seemed to be a lot going on and I wasn't sure if I was helping or just showing up.  If that was the feeling they were going for, just being a cog in the machine, then mission accomplished.  If I was meant to feel more important, like I do in Dynasty and Samurai Warriors battles, then one of us was doing something wrong.

The Nightmare side of the title is the new mode added for the new gen versions.  It is an original story set around the same period, but involves monsters and other mythological creatures in with the normal British and French troops.  While it isn't realistic, I think it is a neat alternate timeline idea to have things like skeletons and trolls attacking both sides so they band together to combat a higher menace.  Some enemy leaders are large monsters that require special ways to take them out.  You can command these new troops types as well.  Battles in this mode seem much longer than their earlier story mode counterparts, with even the first one taking me an hour.  While the normal story stages seem more piecemeal, these are much larger struggles.  However, it was still difficult for me to know if I was doing well until the stage was almost won.

There are a lot of stages to complete, and the story mode itself has two main campaigns, depending on which side you help.  The Nightmare scenario is a third campaign, which will add more playtime.  If you like the style of game, you should get a lot of playtime out of the game.  With battles lasting up to an hour or more, just going through once is likely around 30-40 hours.  If you want to try for all the trophies, it's another one of the long haul games that will set you back over 100 hours easy.

I will admit I like the premise of Bladestorm: Nightmare.  It's not a bad game, and there are some fun parts.  I just didn't feel like it clicked with me or that I was "getting" it.  Since I would win the battles, I guess I did what I was supposed to, but it usually felt accidental or that my portion wasn't doing much.  Again, this could easily be on my end and not the game's fault.  It's a title I may go back to more in the future, as I do like the Nightmare campaign.  If you are going in looking for more of a Koei Tecmo Warriors experience, you are going to be disappointed.  As an action/strategy game, it does alright.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson (3DS) Review

I enjoyed the first Senran Kagura on the 3DS, even though it was flawed.  I was excited for the Vita game, Shiovi Versus, and loved it even more than the 3DS entry.  So when Senran Kagura 2 came out in the US for the 3DS, I was again looking forward to jumping into the bouncy ninja world.  After all, this one could be even better!

Senran Kagura 2 is more of a 3D brawler than then the first (which felt more 2D).  Shinovi Versus, the PS Vita title, also was 3D, but sadly did it better.  It's really hard to keep enemies on the screen lots of the time, so it's easy to get hit and not know exactly where you should be attacking.  This was present in the other games, but it seems worse here.  You will lock onto enemies easily enough, but it doesn't lock the camera on them, making it next to useless.

The girls have a lot more differences among them now, with some characters having a power-up on the X Button instead of a strong attack.  The combo system doesn't seem as deep though, and chasing after a launched opponent is too slow.  Personally, it seems like one or two characters improved, but the rest either stayed the same or got worse.  The two worst (in my opinion) didn't get any better at all.  Enemies fell out of my super attacks often, or were knocked out by my partner.  Bosses and tougher enemies easily shrug off your hits and just start hitting you in the middle of your combo.  To me it's not that they changed a major thing and it screwed up the game, it's just several little things were either not changed or made worse.  Not enough to ruin the game completely, but enough to put a damper on my fun and enthusiasm for the game.

Frantic mode has also received an overhaul, as you don't have to choose it only at the beginning of a mission.  Now you can easily activate it when you are transformed and have full scrolls (super meter).  It will constantly drain health now but provide infinite scrolls.  If you hit enemies, you will regenerate some health and stay in the mode longer.  I like these changes because it makes it more of a gamble with better pay offs if you use it right.  The strength boost and infinite scrolls can make short work of a tough enemy, but only if you hit!  Lose too much health and you are kicked out of the mode and left with little health and no scrolls.

Easily the best addition in the game is the tag function, which allows you to have two people fighting at a time, either with one player switching between them, or two player co-op.  You also get tag team super moves to deal out lots of damage.  Co-op is done locally or online, and sadly I was not able to try either.  None of my friends have the game and when I tried to search online, there was nobody.  However, in single player it works fine except for one thing.  By default, the button to switch is also the button used to dash after a launched enemy.  While it will switch people and chase the enemy, it is more of an inconvenience than not.  Switching it with the R Button works better, but it just seems weird to have both functions on one button in the first place.

The story picks up right at the end of the previous game.  For better or worse, it actually includes fights from that game here.  It's nice for people who skipped the first one, but I didn't like it so much simply because I already did these fights, making the first chapter just a repeat.  However, the Orochi boss fight is much more refined and easier than that in the first game.  The cut scene before did have me ask aloud "Why does Orochi have boobs?"  This wasn't answered.  Another thing I wasn't too keen on: this story and Shinovi Versus can't exist at the same time, so three games in and we already have alternate timelines?  Really!?

Anyway, there are five chapters and over 60 missions in the game, most lasting 2-3 minutes.  There is still a fair amount of dialogue, and even some text plot, but not as much as the first game had.  The side stories that helped flesh out the characters are also gone, sadly.  Instead of two stories, one for each side, it is one single story with multiple events and perspectives.  The plot is enjoyable but just doesn't seem quite as deep as the first game.  They did compensate with a better enemy variety and actual bosses this time.  No more only fighting the other girls as bosses!

My two favorite (non-Murakumo) ladies lay down the law!
While there doesn't appear to be a free mode where you can use any character on any level, there is a Yoma cave that has over 100 missions on 14 floors.  The difficulty ramps up each floor, and you can do any level next to any that have been completed.  Some of the later floors will unlock weapon skins for the various characters, but I wish they were spread out a bit more.  On its own, this mode is pretty fun and you get some nice rewards for it.  It still feels like it is there to grind levels in place of free play on any completed level, and it isn't as good for that.

Besides weapon skins, you can equip up to three shinobi stones that improve your stats.  This is a great addition to the series and helps you refine or differentiate the characters.  To get a stone, you have to complete a challenge mission.  They have different requirements, like only dash attacks will damage, you can't get hit, etc.  The rewards are worth it since the stones help a lot.  Thankfully the challenge missions have to be done once, not once per side or character, and all characters can equip unlocked stones at the same time.  The challenge missions can get pretty hard, though.

I found some difficulties just making my way through the story mode.  A few times I would stop and run through the Yoma cave a time or two to grind some levels and make the missions easier.  Utilizing the new Frantic mode helps a lot in the tougher fights.  Overall there doesn't seem to be as much content as either the first Senran Kagura on 3DS or Shinovi Versus on the PS Vita.  However, doing all of the story, Yoma cave and challenge stages will get you your money's worth and and set you back 30+ hours.

Also unlockable are plenty of costumes to put the lovely ladies into.  You can also change their hair color and styles, and each costume has a few color choices.  There are a lot of options, which is always welcome.  There is also a photo mode where you can take pictures of them in various poses and even two at a time.  While these costumes will be shredded by either you or the enemies, the girls will stay in their undergarments.  No SD faces or beams of light in this entry!

One extra cool thing is the DLC character that you can unlock for free if you have a save file of Senran Kagura Burst.  However, you have to select an option in that game for it to save it separately.  Since it was a digital only title in the US, I would think this wouldn't be an issue.  It's only an inconvenience, but it seems dumb to have to do the extra step in the first place.  Oh well, at least then you get the character for free.  Even if he's pretty much a joke character, it is the first playable male character in the series!  There are also a few other pieces of paid DLC that add more costumes and missions.

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is pretty fun, but I think I prefer the first one to this.  I know I like Shinovi Versus better.  The tag mechanic is fun, even if it takes getting used to, and some of the changes are for the better.  It doesn't feel like there is as much content as before, but there is still plenty and the story is nice, too.  The stripping is still out in full force, but isn't as risque as the Vita outing.  So overall not a bad game, but a bit of a let down for me personally.

Friday, September 25, 2015

LBX: Little Battlers eXperience (3DS) Review

When I first saw LBX: Little Battlers eXperience, I figured it for a robotic Pokemon game, which would have been really cool.  I was only half right, as it shares more in common with Custom Robo than the monster collecting franchise.  This can be a good thing.

The first fight or two went perfectly fine, and I won.  The next fight was significantly tougher, and I lost.  Thinking I was supposed to story-wise, I let it go... and got hit with a game over.

"What?" I said.  "But that guy took little damage and did a lot, surely I was supposed to lose."

So I tried it again.  Knowing that it wasn't scripted that I lose, I changed my tactics and barely scraped out a win.  I later received a pistol and had in mind a strategy to ensure that loss wouldn't happen again.  Shoot from a distance, then switch to melee when they got close.  This... didn't go as well as I had hoped.  I was able to get some wins, but a loss or two as well.

I noticed that it tended to be a losing proposition for me to fight at a distance, and went back to primarily using melee.  To get them close without having to dodge bullets, I would hide around the environment and sucker punch them when they closed in.  It was super effective.  It also made the game more fun, since I was able to consistently win.  Although, I wasn't really proud of winning like that.

As previously mentioned, you run around a small area and fight other robots.  There are up to three people per side, and there are handicap matches.  There are some different styles too, such as one takedown to win or three, even if only one on one.  I don't really like the one on one with three takedowns, but I do like the battles with only one takedown to win.  My favorite fights are the three on three.

These multi-bot fights tend to be in the "danger" zones, which are similar to dungeons in other RPGs.  While moving around in them, there are a lot of random encounters, and they tend to be against multiple opponents.  Outside of these zones, there are special people marked on the map that will challenge you to an LBX fight if you agree to it.  These people level up each episode, so they will always be a decent challenge.  They each use different rules, so some are street regulations (the one takedown that I prefer) or standard regulations (the three takedowns I don't).  There's even some boss fights in the game that are not against other LBXs.

The controls are fairly spot-on.  Attacks are done precisely, and the jump responds when I need it to.  I don't always jump as far as I think I will, but that only costs me a second while jumping up the terrain.  Switching weapons and targets works well, with my only problem being the placement of the D-pad in relation to the Circle Pad.  It's not feasible to switch targets while moving, so I tend to do it while blocking.

You can equip up to two sets of weapons, and you have a good variety to chose from.  There are basically melee and ranged weapons with several types in each.  Equipping them will gain experience separately, and they each have their own special attacks.  There is a meter you fill during combat that will allow you to use these special attacks.  I feel like there is more to it than that, since I can't always use it even when I have enough meter.  Enemies can also use them, but thankfully you can dodge them.  When one is activated, you have several options on how you want to try and avoid the attack.  You don't always know what special attack they are using, and each one has one way to dodge it completely.  However, I found that if you stick a special attack at the end of the combo that knocks the opponent into the air, they cannot dodge it.  Nice!

Each LBX can equip several pieces of armor, and each piece gains experience from battle.  So if you find a set you like the look of, putting work into it can make it as good as something better.  Besides the equipment, there is also a small grid of an LBX's core that can equip different things.  Each robot needs at least a motor, battery, cpu and core memory, but there are also auxiliary pieces you can equip.  Add in the ability to have multiple batteries and motors for extra benefit, and you can see the combinations of everything are near endless.  It might be a bit much for younger fans, but I love stuff like this.

The story mode of the has 12 episodes, and follows the TV show pretty closely from what I've heard.  I didn't even know there was a TV show, but the game is fun even without that.  It takes about 25-30 hours to run through it, but there is a lot of post-game content if you want to keep playing.  All of the best parts and weapons are only obtainable after the credits roll, and you have to beat some tough opponents for them.  Again, this seems similar to Custom Robo, which isn't a bad thing.

While I won't spoil the story, there were a few things I want to highlight.  Usually in a game/show/story like this, where a plucky young kid has to save the world, there isn't much explanation as to why the adults don't just beat up the kid and take his/her magic mcguffin and end the story.  In Little Battlers eXperience, though, they actually do bother to work this into the plot.  It's not foolproof, but I do appreciate it.  It also explains why they will take over the world by fighting with children's robots, and why they are so important.  It's a huge leap ahead of saving the world with trading card games!

There is some online interaction where you can fight other players.  I personally didn't try it, as I don't know anyone else with the game and I'm not big on that kind of versus stuff anyway.  There are a few downloads that will give you capsule machines.  They are costly but have some strong equipment if you get lucky.  Plus there are passwords you can put into the game that will unlock high level parts and weapons to buy.  They are expensive, so you won't just breeze through the game by entering the codes.  However once you save enough money...

Not knowing what to think at first, I was excited to try out LBX: Little Battlers eXperience.  It went well for a bit, then got aggravating when the computer opponents would easily out-damage me.  Once I figured out a winning strategy for myself and got some gear I was comfortable with, the game became much more fun and a little easier.  There are a ton of parts to collect and weapons to try out.  While I don't think I will be able to put in enough time to 100% the game, there is a lot of content and I enjoy playing it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Persona 4: Dancing All Night (PS Vita) Review

One of the year's most anticipated "niche" games this year has to be Persona 4: Dancing All Night.  It takes the cast of Persona 4 and places them in a new genre of games... rhythm dancing!  And rest assured, it is definitely a Persona game.  The story mode is very heavy on dialogue and character interactions.  The first chapter is probably the biggest example of this, as there is a lot of dialogue and two short tutorial stages that teach you to play the game.  The following chapters still have a lot of story, but it's not quite as skewed against the gameplay.  If it matters to you, the game's story is in canon with the original Persona 4, and strangely enough, Arena Ultimax (the fighting game).  These poor kids have dealt with a lot of weird stuff... so what's next, an MMO cooking game?

It isn't really a problem that the game is so story heavy, I just didn't expect it.  It makes a decent dichotomy, letting you rest between all the quick finger work of the rhythm stages with relaxing dialogue sections.  I will admit that during the first chapter I commented "dancing all night, more like talking all night!"  Eh?  Eh?  Heh I'll let myself out.

Anyway, on to the gameplay.  As with most rhythm games, you must time your button presses when the note/symbol reaches the designated point.  You can get a rating of Miss, Good, Great and Perfect depending on how close it is when you push the correct button, and getting several in a row will count as a combo.  There are also Scratch and Fever rings, which you activate by hitting either analog stick/nub thing on the Vita.  I felt like those always came up faster than the notes, even if they didn't.  These can be ignored if you want, but it is really beneficial to at least hit the Fever ones.

A good shot of the screen layout and some costumes!
If you hit enough of them by certain points of the song, you will activate Fever Mode.  These sections will have the chosen partner for the song come out and dance with you.  Also, hitting a Good note will not break the combo during this time.  If you miss too many notes, the song ends.  It's also easy to be focusing on one side of the screen and miss a note on the other, so make sure you are looking to see what the next note is.  Hitting notes on Easy and Normal difficulty isn't too bad, but it can get tough on Hard... which makes sense.

Instead of hitting the designated buttons to hit the notes, you can alternatively touch the screen in the appropriate place.  I found this much harder, so I stuck with hitting the buttons.  I also tried the game on the Playstation TV.  It worked, but the game is harder to play on a big screen.  The problem with sometimes missing a note on the other side of the screen becomes much harder on a 50" TV versus a 5" screen.  The Dualshock 3 worked perfectly fine for all button inputs though.

Going through the story mode wasn't very hard.  Thankfully, I did not have to repeat any stages.  There is also a Free Mode that has all of the songs (most have to be unlocked by playing other songs in Free Mode) and a difficulty selector for each one.  I can do all of the songs on Easy and Normal, but the Hard ones are... well, hard.  Practice makes perfect after all.

But if you don't have time for that, there are unlockable items you can purchase with the money you earn in game.  These items can make the songs easier or harder and apply modifiers to the score and money you earn from them.  It's a really nice system to make the harder difficulties more accessible, or to make them devilishly hard so you earn some bragging rights.

That's not true, I beat a song on hard...
That's not all you can buy with the money though.  Each character has a few costumes and accessories that can be purchased for use in their songs.  Although, that brings up one disappointment I had in the game.  Each song only has the one character that can be used on them.  I get that it's because the dance matches up to the song, but I think it would be cool to use your favorite characters in your favorite songs.  You can unlock a few different partners to show up during the Fever time, so there is that.  Also, there are some DLC songs, but these do not have dancing in them.  You still hit the notes as normal, but there is a video playing in the background.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a fun game.  While it is an entirely different genre from the original Persona 4, it still fits, thanks to its dialogue-heavy story mode.  There is a good selection of songs to play and very customizable difficulty.  I think fans of Persona will get enjoyment out of the game and listening to the music.  It reminds me of Theatrhythm in that respect, as it is a competent game, but also a great excuse to listen to some good video game music.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS Vita) Review

It's safe to say I like the Danganronpa universe.  Over the previous two games, I've gotten sucked into the world and characters.  So when a new game in the series is coming out, I want to check it out.  Unlike the first two, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a third-person shooter (TPS for short) instead of the usual SAW meets Phoenix Wright story-driven awesomeness.

First off, the world and style is very fitting for the franchise.  The backstory is crazy and violent, as it a lot of the scenery.  Joining the abundant trademark pink blood are the new nondescript colored bodies.  The new characters and situations fit right in with the other games, expand that universe, but are still contained enough to be understood by people that haven't played the other two games.  (If you haven't, you really should.)  The game definitely lives up to its "M" rating.

However, one of the drawbacks to me is how much story there is.  While I do enjoy story-driven games, it feels like there is just too much for this genre (TPS).  It breaks up the action numerous times, and tends to just be a lot of dialogue that feels unnecessary.  I like the amount of dialogue in the other Danganronpas, but it fit there.  It just doesn't mesh well with a more action-driven game, as Ultra Despair Girls is.  It does make it more unique, but I feel the world and characters already do that, and having lengthy dialogue every other screen just feels overbearing.  I'm not complaining that there is a story, just that there seems to be too much unnecessary dialogue for the type of game it is.  This does get a bit better as you get further in the game.

That could be excused if the gameplay itself was great.  To me, it's average at best.  It also feels a bit off to me.  Aiming at an enemy's weakpoint felt more frustrating than just shooting them.  Normally in shooters, the head is the go-to weak spot.  Here, it is the red eye of the Monokuma bots.  It's much smaller and harder to hit, but sometimes it would just work, even if I thought it wouldn't hit it.  The slow and not very smooth aiming make it even harder to take advantage of such a necessary mechanic.  The enemies themselves seem to move in slightly odd and unpredictable patterns, making even basic aiming problematic at times.  Plus, when you stop aiming, there is a second where you can't move very quickly, which gets me hit.  It was the biggest problem on some of the game's bosses, since they can cheaply hit you anyway, which just exacerbates the problem.  I did try the game on the Playstation TV in hopes that the Dualshock 3 would be an improvement, but it was a marginal one at best.

Why do I think it is necessary to take advantage of the eye shot?  Well, the ammo you get tends to be low, and you can very easily run out while fighting large groups, which happens a few times per stage.  Ammo rarely drops in the middle of fights, so you are stuck with what you have when it starts.  There are machines you can shoot to get an item, but the items aren't really tailored to your current situation.  I've gotten hearts and batteries when they were full, but I needed ammo.  Or they give you ammo for the next section, not what you need to fill up.

There is one more main gameplay mechanic, namely your second character.  While you mostly play as Komaru, Toko (from the first game) follows you around and helps out.  During battle, you can press the Triangle button and she will taser herself, unleashing her alter ego, Genocide Jack.  She will use her trademark scissors to cut up the enemies, making the game a hack and slash for a few brief moments.  She's fun to use and really helpful because of her invincibility.  It makes sense from a gameplay stance, so I used her for trouble spots (annoying enemies or bosses).  She also gets some impressive super moves, but I rarely needed them.

There are definitely aspects of the game I enjoy.  Several times during the game you come across a Monoku-man arcade machine, that shows you an overhead view of the next section.  These rooms are more puzzle-based, and have a solution that will eliminate all of the enemies at once.  They aren't hard to figure out, as I didn't run across one that took me more than two tries to get perfect.  There are pretty fun, since you wipe out a bunch of Monokumas and get some drops from them.  Also, the different enemy types tend to have weaknesses to either a certain shot or even used themselves as a weapon.  There are bombing Monokumas that can be used to kill others nearby and Ball Monokumas that can be sent rolling back into their friends.  Once you learn them, they tend to be life (and ammo) savers.

Each chapter is longer than I would have thought.  There are five total, and each takes about 3 to 5 hours.  It's a good length for the main story, especially for a third-person shooter, but doesn't have much replay after that.  Most of the replay will come from trying to get the collectibles or trophy hunting.  I only ran across one bug during my playtime, and it only caused me to have to retry a section.  This does count against you at the end of the stage, but only one retry won't make you miss the highest grade, so it wasn't too bad.  Annoying, though.

While it's not a bad game, I was a bit disappointed in Danganronpa Another Episode.  The shooter elements don't feel right and the large chunks of story break up the action too frequently.  I appreciate that they tried something different with the universe, but they should have taken the genre into account and played to its strengths.  While I don't think making a generic third person shooter and slapping a Danganronpa skin over it would be a masterful game, it would be an improvement here.  Overall the game is ok, and fans of the Danganronpa universe will likely play it, but those are the only people I would recommend trying out Ultra Despair Girls.  If you want to get into the series to see what it is all about, I would heartily recommend starting at the beginning with the first game.