Friday, February 28, 2014

Retro City Rampage DX (3DS) Review

Retro City Rampage DX was recently released on the 3DS e-shop, so I revisited this throwback to NES era goodness to see how this newest version held up to the others.  For the most part, the DX is the same as the other versions.  The graphics are still 8-bit and awesome and the soundtrack is still retro and well done.  They did add some new screen filters, which is great because I really liked those in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions.

Mostly, I'll talk about the changes and how this version stacks up to the others.  If you are interested in more of the game systems, story and things, start with my reviews of the PS3/Vita and Xbox 360 versions.

First up, the lower screen now houses a mini map.  This is very, very useful.  Previously, I would frequently pause to make sure I was taking the right roads while getting to my destinations.  This new function makes it easier to get around the map, even if I frequently crash while looking at it (thankfully I don't do that in real life).  Another awesome use of the bottom screen is weapon selection.  Tapping the weapon will bring up the list of available weapons so you can quickly switch to the one you want.

Second, the arcade challenges have been reworked to be more "concise".  Basically, the time limit was cut in half and the scores changed accordingly.  This change is ok, it doesn't really make them easier but makes it easier to replay them.  I still found several challenges hard, but at least my failures took less of my time.  Plus, there were also a few tweaks to some of the missions, to make them a little more streamlined, and the arcade games were also reworked.

A third change is to the shooting.  Now you can jump while shooting, effectively skipping part of the animation.  This is essential for saving your health.  Before, you had to wait a bit after shooting before you could jump, but not anymore.  Unfortunately, because of the lack of a second analog stick, shooting must be done with the lock-on (Y Button).  I always found this inferior to the second stick, as it makes the game harder.  Sadly, there is no support for the Circle Pad Pro accessory, but I wouldn't be able to use one even if there was (since I don't have one).

The last major change was to the game's camera.  While driving, it will shift toward the direction you are going so you can see more of the screen.  Since the DS screen is smaller than consoles or the Vita, this is very helpful so you don't crash.  I didn't have any problems with the view while playing the game on the 3DS, so this change was good, even if not immediately obvious.

The mini map and weapon selection on the bottom screen is very useful and a great advantage this version has over its predecessors.  However, the easy way to shoot is now gone, making the 3DS version harder and more frustrating.  Overall, is the game still good?  Yes.  Is it better than the previous ones?  Not really.  I'd recommend Retro City Rampage DX if you don't have access to the other systems.  As much as I like the game, I feel the console versions are better, or the Vita version if you want to take the game on the go.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita) Review

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a Vita port of a PSP game with some enhanced controls (mainly you can use the touch screen).  Since the PSP version didn't make it to the US shores, this will be most people's first exposure to the series.  The premise is fifteen high school students enter into a prestigious school, Hope's Peak Academy, which only accepts students that are the best at what they do.  Soon, they become trapped in the school and must enter a deadly game: kill another and get away with it or be trapped forever in the school.

The art style of the game is unique.  There isn't much motion, but the character designs look good and you can tell all the characters apart.  When moving around, characters and other various objects are flat and placed above the environment, almost like cardboard cut-outs.  While some may not like it, I do, as it is very unique and sets it apart visually from other games.  You can also unlock the various pictures used throughout the game and character concept art.  Also, I should note that the blood is pink... not sure why that is.  Well, the fresh stuff, anyway.  Dried blood is still dark red.

While the game is very text heavy, there are actual voices for the characters.  Most lines are not voiced, but many start with the character saying a phrase or some other thing.  It's enough that gives you the impression they are talking without having every line voiced.  However, the trials are almost all voiced, which is cool.  The characters all have different voices and perform well, which is a bonus considering the range some of the characters have.  The music is also good, as it is unsettling during many parts and fits the mood of each scene.

The game is split into chapters, and each chapter into three parts.  The first part is Daily Life, where you go about your business, making the best of the situation.  When you have Free Time, you can pick another student to spend time with and strengthen your bond with them.  You can also opt to give them a present, which, if they like, will increase their friendship.  When you increase the friendship level, you will get another page of their Report Card and either a skill or an increase in SP.  Both of those are used in the Trials, which I will talk about soon.  It's very worth your while to spend your Kuma Coins on presents to give the others, as the skills help out a lot in the trial sections.  It can be a pain to get good presents out of the machine (since it's random), but you get a fair amount of coins from trials so it shouldn't be much of an issue.

The second part of a chapter is Deadly Life, where you must investigate to find out the who and how of each murder.  The investigations are very interesting, and filled with enough information that you can actually figure out what happened.  This will lead into the third part, Class Trial, where evidence must be presented and refuted quickly in order to reach the truth.  The trials are more fast paced than I would have initially though.  Lines move forward in real time, since they are voiced, and your counter to certain statements must be aimed to actually have an effect.  It sounds strange on paper, but the concept is well executed.  Each new concept is introduced one at a time, so you have some time to get used to each element before you have to combine them all to win.

Besides just refuting claims and presenting evidence, you will sometimes have to enter Bullet Time Battles (yes, they are really called that).  These are basically a showdown between your character and another, where you must shoot down their arguments in a rhythm-based minigame.  They are actually pretty fun.  However, my favorite part is the very end.  At the climax of the trial, you help reconstruct how it played out by placing scenes in a manga that shows the crime.  It looks really neat, even though it was sometimes frustrating to figure out what the small icon was representing.  All of the trial sections are timed, so you really have to pay attention and act fast.  There were several times I passed by the phrase I needed, so I had to wait until it cycled back, since there is no rewind unfortunately.

I'm not going to talk about the plot, since I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but it's good.  The mystery of what's going on and who has done what kept me hooked.  During Daily Life, I would anxiously await for the murder to take place and poke around for Kuma Coins.  Once the murder happened, I was absorbed in the game and wanted to play the rest of the chapter until its satisfying conclusion.  The plot as a whole was also really good and I enjoyed it.  Admittedly, I figured out most plot elements before they happened...maybe I'm psychic.  Nah, it's probably just good intuition.  The characters in the game are very different from each other and complex, so it's worth paying attention to all the details and interacting with them.

Unfortunately, the only real reasons to replay the game are to experience the story again, or get the rest of the trophies.  Speaking of trophies, you can't get them all in one run through the story.  Fortunately, after completion you will open up an extra mode that will allow you to clean up the rest of them, which is pretty nice.  You'll get a trophy after each chapter, and one for each character's filled out Report Card.  One other note, when it says "every class trial" in the description, it just means all sections of one trial.  So the gold for taking no damage becomes much easier.  It's not a hard platinum, but will require a bit of time (or luck for the items).

If you enjoy murder mysterious or games with very engaging plots then definitely play Danganronpa.  I very much enjoyed the story and characters, and the trials at the end of each chapter were entertaining, if sometimes frustrating.  It took me maybe 12 or so hours to make it through the game.  The game was hard to put down, and thankfully the extra mode unlocked at the end gives you more time to play if you aren't ready to leave the game world.

Random note:  I was surprised when one character used the phrase "for serious".  There's only one other person I've ever heard use

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Assassin's Creed III (Xbox 360) Review

I am a huge fan of the first two Assassin's Creed games.  Yes, I really did enjoy the first one, believe it or not.  However, Brotherhood and Revelations were big disappointments to me, so I felt that the next game in the series, Assassin's Creed III, might be the title to make me stay with the series, or leave it entirely.

The beginning had a lot of promise.  The game looks nice, and I like the more organic scenery in the Frontier.  They also streamlined the controls a bit, which is nice, but really just means you hold less buttons.  The auto-parkour climbing is nice, but doesn't seem any more accurate at figuring out where you want to go than in previous entries in the franchise.  At least you are now cramping your hand less.

The attack targeting doesn't seem quite as good as AC II, especially the chain kills.  Maybe they reduced the distance you can travel for them, or made the button inputs more precise, but I had difficulties doing chain kills.  I still got them, but not nearly as frequently as I had in the previous entries.  Even normal attacks seemed to not be as precise.  Many times I would push the analog stick in one direction, trying to indicate my intended direction, and the game would auto target another enemy with my attacks.  I do remember this being a problem in previous games, so I think it's more something that hasn't changed than a problem with just AC III.

Assassinating targets is about as fluid as ever.  Running, walking, drop and ledge assassinations worked almost flawlessly, as I only had problems with a few ledge kills.  Drop assassinations would sometimes get me a double kill, which are always fun to do.  Strangely, that was the only way I got them, so I'm wondering if they took them out the normal standing ones.  Connor has two hidden blades, and guards would stand close enough together, but I didn't get any double kills that way.

That's not the only things that changed.  Armor is no longer in the game, and the health is revamped.  You have the same meter throughout the game with no way to increase it.  It takes significantly less damage to kill you, but you heal between fights.  I actually really like this system.  It never felt harder to me, only better.  Counters are also easier, since you don't have to press as many buttons to pull them off, and it's just as easy to counter with the hidden blade as any other weapon.  In fact, I rarely fought with anything else, since the hidden blade counter kills were so satisfying.  Also, it felt easier than just attacking guys.

Although the counter system is better and more streamlined, combat is still not advisable.  Guards easily surround you, and reinforcements come in from seemingly nowhere.  That's what makes it a shame that a lot of times the game forces you into fights.  Many side quests involve open combat and even most of primary targets have fights as part of them.  I miss in the older games where you could get a majority of the primary targets by assassination, and then just escape.  Unless you have to fight for your task (such as liberating a fort), or are far away from civilization, it always seemed better to escape than fight entire brigades.  Escaping had its own set of troubles, from near psychic guards, inconvenient spawns and lack of suitable hiding places.  It was usually a chore to escape, but still better than hunkering down and killing the lot of them.

Besides the main story, there are many extra things to do.  You can recruit people for the homestead (your main base of operations), engage in hunting or brawling clubs, trading and even privateer missions on the high seas.  I enjoyed recruiting people for the homestead, but sadly most of it wasn't available until after the main story.  The naval missions were kind of fun, but could drag on much too long for my taste.  If I was into seafaring and pirates, I probably would have liked them better.  There's almost too much to do in the game, and some strings of quests seem to go on and on with no end in sight.  Although, they were a fun diversion from the main game, and I'm glad I didn't have to purchase any more banks or blacksmith shops.

Story wise, the game is a decent follow up to the second Assassin's Creed.  Without giving much away, there's a cool plot twist near the beginning, but the ending is a bit of a let down.  It's also a pretty slow moving plot that takes a while to really get going.  Most targets you kill will wax philosophical about how you each side thinks they are right and other such things, attempting to portray the protagonist's side as the one in the wrong.  I'd be fine with that if Connor would respond in kind.  Instead, he just kind of listens to them, and then moves about his business.  It's nice that he sticks to his guns, but I'm not a fan of just one side giving their views to the other.  At least have our hero respond, so his position doesn't seem as week (since he's not defending it).  Although, I like that they portray both sides in the Revolutionary War as selfish, with both good and evil in their ranks.  It's more realistic.

Overall, the game kind of came out average to me.  I was expecting to either love or hate it, to chase me away from the series forever or welcome me back.  Surprisingly, it didn't do either.  There was some really fun stuff, but also frustration.  It wasn't as good as Assassin's Creed II, but better than Revelations, so it ended up just being in the middle ground.  I think fans of the Assassin's Creed franchise should give it a try (if they haven't already, considering when I was able to play it), but I'm not sure it would convert anybody new to the series.