Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Longest Five Minutes (NS) Review

An old-school RPG with a twist?  While that vague description is commonplace today, The Longest Five Minutes definitely has an interesting idea for a game.  You begin at the end, specifically the final boss fight, and learn that Flash, the main hero, has forgotten everything.  Faced with the final five minutes of the fight, Flash must remember everything that led him to this point if they have any hope of defeating the demon king.

As a premise, it's a cool idea.  There's a very basic RPG here, but broken up into small chunks that you play as the main character remembers them.  Plus, I chuckle that the hero gets amnesia at the end of the game, where the trope is he/she starts with it.  As you approach the end, the story pulls together into a coherent narrative.  While a lot of it is pretty standard stuff, there's a few twists for good measure.  Some felt a little random, though.

The RPG portion of the game is mostly small sections that are a part of the overall story.  If you have played any RPG, take one dungeon and the plot surrounding it.  That is one memory in The Longest Five Minutes.  I like that it cuts out a lot of grinding, traveling, and superfluous other things, making the game feel more concise.  It's like a game without a lot of fluff.  Because they are only connected through the final battle story, equipment, items, and money earned are not shared between these RPG sections.  You will have appropriate equipment, but can buy some things and find some others in chests.  Strangely, some chest items aren't as good as things you start with.  Selling them for money wouldn't matter, so I don't know why they are even there.  While initially I wanted more things to carry over, it does let you focus more on completing the dungeon than exploring every nook and cranny to find all of the stuff laying around.  Plus, you aren't always going in the same direction since the story is out of order.

The party's level is set based off where the RPG section takes place, but you do still get experience and money from fights.  After all, it wouldn't be an RPG without that.  However, since this isn't the first time you have done it, it is dubbed "re-experience".  This is basically another set of levels that actually does carry through the whole game, and adds extra stat points.  Many memories also have bonus missions that will give more re-experience at the end of that section.  Most are things I would do anyway, but there are a few that are a pain.  These involve the three mini-games during certain sections of the game.  The mini-games are okay at best, but you have to get way too high of a score for the bonus.  I still bothered to get them all, but it was definitely the low point of the game for me.

Battles are probably the least interesting part of the game, but they aren't bad by any means.  They are just very standard old-school turn-based RPG battles.  You pick what action your four party members will do, then the turn plays out in order of speed.  Thankfully there are little graphics for your party, and they will do some animations, so it's a definite step above something like Dragon Quest.  Enemy designs are really good, too.  Battles are over pretty quickly, as most take less than 3 turns.  Most boss fights don't take very long, either.

While the dungeons for each section look different from each other, they aren't always the best at each floor/etc. looking different.  As you go through the game, the dungeons get longer, and you travel up and down floors repeatedly.  When each floor looks similar to the last, it was easy for me to get disoriented and lost.  I still made it through, but it could have been a little less confusing.  Maybe a dungeon map would help.

The non-RPG sections of the game is basically the final boss fight, and all the story that surrounds it.  There are several choices you can make during it, some of which will affect the subsequent narrative.  Some of these give extra or different RPG memories, while some will give you a "game over".  You can save during much of the final boss story, which I didn't realize until very late in the game.  It's also possible to jump back to re-do choices, and then skip forward close to where you left off.  Once you have finished all of the non-ending RPG sections, you can freely jump back into those as well.  It took me a bit to get it all down, but it's a very nice function that's pulled off well.

The Longest Five Minutes is an enjoyable RPG.  The idea behind the game, the re-experience system, and being able to jump around the timeline are done very well, and give the game its unique flavor.  Battles and dungeons were not the most interesting, thought.  Still, I'd recommend the game to old-school RPG fans, as this is an interesting take on a classic motif.

The Good:
I'm a sucker for those nice retro graphics.  The game is pretty fun, and the premise is somehow unique while feeling like a trope.

The Bad:
Battles offer nothing new, not much incentive to grab treasure chests.  Cool and unique enemy designs.

The SaHD:
Looking at the trophy list for the Vita version, it would have been another platinum if I had reviewed it instead of the Switch version.

(Review code for The Longest Five Minutes was received from the publisher)

Friday, February 9, 2018

Iconoclasts (PS4) Review

Iconoclasts is an action/adventure game in the vein of Metroid. Robin, a mechanic, just wants to fix things and make life better for people.  As the game progresses, she gets caught up in a giant battle between classes and ideologies.  However, much like the triangle motif prominently displayed in the game, the first half is a climb toward greatness, while the second half is a slide to rock bottom.

First off, though, the game looks great.  It's very colorful, enemy designs are solid, and the animations are awesome.  Some of the music is pretty good, too.

Exploring starts off fairly basic, but you learn a few new tricks along the way, and gain new abilities to make it much more intense.  Sadly there is no double jump, but Robin can use her charge shot to get a little more height on a jump.  This is a useful maneuver that is easily forgotten.  Robin's trusty wrench (spanner for those of you across the pond) will also be used many times throughout the game to open doors, hang from things, bop enemies on the head, and swing across gaps.  It took me a bit to get the timing/range for this, but after an hour or so I was traversing with it like a pro.

You will also be fighting enemies as you make your way around the world.  Robin's gun gets a few different shots, each of which can be charged, and are used for exploration as well as combat.  The basic shot also has one of the best functions I've seen in a game like this.  The shots will automatically angle at opponents that are close, but not in, one of the four cardinal directions.  This is super useful, and a great addition to the genre.

Further in the game, there are plenty of enemies that have to be taken out in specific ways.  For instance, maybe only a certain shot will work, or having to stomp on them first.  While it does add complexity, it gets annoying more than it is inventive.  Using the wrench to reflect back the occasional shot can be fun, but having to use it to parry a boss' sword attack is not.  Things like this make some boss and enemy fights too gimmicky, which readers may remember is one of my gaming dislikes.  The difficult parts are often annoying, not "challenging".

This is also true of the puzzles the game throws at you.  Some are easy to figure out, as they are simple, or look more complex than they end up being.  Some are able to be worked through, as a little trial and error will have most people figure them out.  The rest just had me stumped for minutes at a time.  There are unfortunately boss fights that are like that, too.  The game gives you a bit of information, but has no help if you are stuck.  I know that some old school gamers love that kind of thing, but I'm against too much or too little instruction.  If it isn't built in a way that someone can figure it out quickly enough, then it needs to be more clear.

All of the game's main power-ups are story-based, but there are treasures to find.  These all contain materials that are used for the game's crafting.  I'll admit that I have no idea how to get some of the treasures.  Robin can craft several different bonus skills that do things like allow an extra hit, or make the wrench attack stronger.  Up to three can be equipped at a time, and there are multiples for stacking purposes.  These bonus effects will quickly disappear when you take damage, but can be repaired as you destroy enemies and small statues.  It's a fairly nice skill system overall, even if they are overly fragile.

The story of Iconoclasts is actually pretty good.  It's a tale of oppressive religions and how cultures clash, which may lead to everyone's demise.  This story is much more of a focal point than I thought it would be.  However, it feels a little sporadic at times.  It's a lot heavier and gorier than I would have suspected, and at times a little too realistic.  Most of the characters are huge jerks that just don't learn their lesson or change their ways, much in the way many people refuse to improve themselves.  I'll give the game bonus points for letting you control other characters at a few points in the game, even if it forces you to re-learn a few basics.

Going through the game without much backtracking (or getting stuck) takes about 10 hours.  It will be a few more than that if you track down every treasure chest.  As strange as this is to say, I think the game could have been a bit shorter.  There are several times, especially near the end, where the game just throws out-of-place things at you to pad its length.  It's not The Return of the King's many endings, but more like moving the goal posts.  The first half of the game wasn't that hard, as you had time to learn boss patterns.  The second half got devilishly difficult, filled with inescapable damage, multiple hard enemies at the same time, and gimmicky boss fights.  Again, it was more annoying than hard.

I'm torn on Iconoclasts.  On one hand, the game looks awesome, and I really liked the game for awhile.  On the other, it got very annoying and the fun just disappeared.  It has some really good ideas, but also flounders on others.  If you are one of those people that still has fun while getting smacked around trying to figure out what to do, then you should play Iconoclasts.  While the game is impressive for its eight year development, I think it needs a few more tweaks to be as great as it could be.

The Good:
The art and animations of the game are wonderful, and the first half of the game is really fun.

The Bad:
The second half is loaded with annoying "difficulty", and stretched out a bit too much.

The SaHD:
Each culture having its own save statues was a nice touch.

(Review code for Iconoclasts was received from the publisher)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

VESTA (Switch) Review

VESTA (the game) stars Vesta (the character) and her robot friend Droid as they make their way from the bottom of the facility to the surface.  Along they way they will both use their unique abilities to make it through each stage, carrying enough energy to power their way to the next.

Both characters have different functions to get through the levels.  Vesta can drain energy from generators and robots, and then give that energy to other generators.  This allows doors to open, platforms to move, and conveyor belts to turn on.  She is also small enough to fit in tunnels strewn about the various levels.  Droid, being much bigger and stronger, can move boxes, block some environmental traps, and throw Vesta across gaps.  It can also shoot out missiles, which can incapacitate enemy robots, allowing Vesta to drain their energy.

As mentioned before, both characters have to reach the end area to complete the stage.  For most of the stages, Vesta will also need to have full energy in her pack.  This is usually the trickiest part of the game, but once you realize that, it is much easier to plan for.  Levels don't have a time limit, so it's not an issue to backtrack for the energy, or look around when you don't know where to go.  The story is separated into 4 chapters, each with 8 levels and 1 boss fight.  Several stages have a checkpoint that you will start over at if one of your characters dies.  Droid can take 3 hits, but Vesta can only take one...and can't fall down very far.  Also, later stages have floor panels that fall after you walk on them, which can strand you.  Thankfully, you will always be able to complete the stage from the checkpoint state if and when you die or have to restart a stage.

While the game is mostly charming and fun, there are some drawbacks.  The puzzles aren't overly difficult, but occasionally it can be hard to tell where you are supposed to go.  I had a major obstruction on a level in chapter 2, where I needed to have both characters go through a door at the same time.  I had tried to have them both go in the door separately, and the level didn't end.  For some reason, this is also one of maybe two stages that doesn't end with both characters reaching an elevator.  I've also missed a platform or two if it is from the bottom of the screen.

Hit detection isn't always that accurate, either.  When trying to hit an enemy with one of Droid's missiles, they sometimes brush the target, leaving it unaffected.  However, environmental obstructions must be given a wide berth, or your missile will hit it and explode.  If you pass by an enemy with Vesta, they will sometimes attack a different direction completely, and still hit and kill her.  If hit detection were consistent, I could at least plan for it better.  Lastly, I did run into some bugs when falling into pits.  Most times it is just being stuck below the ledge, but not fully in the pit.  One time I was able to run around under the stage.

VESTA isn't a very long game, only lasting a few hours, but it is pretty fun.  There isn't much replay value, though.  Each non-boss stage has secret items to find, but as far as I can tell, they don't actually do anything.  Maybe the PS4 version has trophies for them?  Anyway, the game has some problems, but they are relatively minor.  It's an interesting puzzle game that is worth trying for even casual puzzle fans.

The Good:
An interesting puzzle game that doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Bad:
Enemy hit detection feels off.

The SaHD:
The story is pretty interesting, but easy to miss.  I think I've got it down for the most part, but it would have been nice to unlock the back story messages in the menu so I would know if I was missing anything.

(Review code for VESTA was received from the publisher)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blaster Master Zero (NS) Review

Blaster Master, one of the classic games on the NES.  I remember it for its two distinct styles, having both side-scrolling and isometric views, plus the old pause trick.  I'm sure more people remember that from Mega Man 2, though.  Anyway, I remember not being very good at the game, and seeing people go through the game years later, it could easily benefit from a remake.  Inti creates brings us that remake, with some very good additions.

After one of the nice new story scenes, the game starts in a side-scrolling section, where Jason is piloting the Sophia vehicle.  You can roll around, jump, and shoot in 5 directions.  The R Button helps lock you in to shooting diagonal or upward while moving side to side, and is a very helpful function to get down.  As you go through the maps, there are several upgrades you get, giving you different charge shots, sub-weapons, and even letting you climb on walls.  The Switch's d-pad buttons make controlling the action feel good.  My only real complaint with movement is that the car has some momentum to it.  This can make it hard to precisely jump and land on platforms, which you do need to do at times.  I did eventually get used to it, but it's not something I like in games.

Jason can and has to jump out of the vehicle at various times to progress.  While doing so, you can enter one of several dungeon areas, where the game switches to an old-school Zelda-like isometric view.  I prefer the analog stick for these sections, since it was easier to hit the diagonals with them.  The R Button is used to strafe, and it might even be more useful here than the side-scrolling sections.  Jason's blaster can also power-up by collecting the right item, but powers down when taking damage.  It's a very old-school concept that I'm not too fond of.  However, once I figured out that I could change shots, and how to do so, I saw the ridiculous power it holds.  The final shot is amazing.  The ones leading up to it are less so, but one or two of them have solid uses.  Many of the dungeon segments (and boss fights) were a lot easier with the final blaster shot, as long as I could hold on to it.

I got the normal ending and credits at just under 6 hours.  I then went back, grabbed the two or three things I missed, and got the true ending 3 hours later.  It would have been shorter, but I really don't like that last area.  After getting the true ending, you unlock two more modes.  Shortly after release, there were additional DLC characters that were free, but now are paid extras.  As free additions, they can be fun to mess around with.  Personally, I didn't feel like playing the whole game over after completion, but will likely use the DLC characters after some time has passed.

The difficulty of the game felt right.  There were parts and boss fights that were hard, but they didn't feel too hard.  The game does get noticeably easier once you have (and use) the highest level of Jason's blaster.  It's a nice reward for going (mostly) unscathed.  It was really easy to get hit, both in and out of Sophia, and I'd personally like a tad more invincibility time after taking damage.  It was a little too short for my tastes.

Overall, Blaster Master Zero is superior to the original.  Adding save points was a huge plus, and giving directions in some of the more questionable decisions (after area 3, go all the way back to the beginning for area 4...what?) makes a huge difference.  I always wanted to like the original more than I did, and Blaster Master Zero proved that there was a good game hiding inside.  It also proved that remaking the right game in the right way can make it a fun experience.

The Good:
Great update/remake of the original.

The Bad:
Sophia momentum took getting used to, easy to get hit at times.  Oh, and slippery ice areas are never fun.

The SaHD:
Having to have your transponder on for the final area is a strange requirement.

(Blaster Master Zero was purchased from the E-shop on sale)