Friday, November 28, 2014

Costume Quest 2 (Xbox 360) Review

Four years after the release of the charming and fun Costume Quest, we are finally treated to a sequel.  Set just after the events of the first game's Grubbins on Ice expansion, Costume Quest 2 gives us another story of siblings Wren and Reynold saving the world.  This time, they must travel through time and stop a candy-deprived dentist from taking over the world.  Yes, the plot is silly, and not as good as the first, but it's well told and there are some good lines.

The game looks a lot like the first, with stylized cel-shaded locations and characters.  You still walk around a small area and find chests, hit candy out of objects, trick or treat, and find enemies.  You can still strike enemies from behind for a little extra damage at the start of battle.  The roller skates that allow you to boost up ramps return as well  So, in a lot of ways, it's more of the same, which is a good thing.

It's not the exact same, though.  The bonus for getting a preemptive strike doesn't seem as powerful.  You lose your previous costumes, but the new ones have some new exploration abilities to use on the maps.  There's now pinatas strewn about to give you more candy, and respawning enemies to help boost your level.  You can also buy maps of each visited area to make sure you have collected every secret in them.  There's also purchasable upgrades for each costume that not only power it up, but change its appearance.

Battles are, again, a similar affair to the first.  Time a button press correctly and you get more damage.  Do the same on defense to cut down your damage received.  To add something new, you will also get a combo attack for some more damage, and a counter attack on the defensive side.  The counter move is really nice, but you get it pretty late in the game.  Given how short it is, you don't get much time to enjoy it.  Special moves now require a meter to be filled, and aren't usable every 3rd or 4th turn as they were previously.  They do seem more powerful to compensate, though.  Stamps are gone and replaced with cards.  The cooldown on each is several battles, so save them for when they are needed most.  I rarely used any because the cooldown was high.  There are some really nice ones that boost xp and candy (money) gain, and even ones that make enemies damage themselves when they attack.  A good variety to play around with.

The biggest downside of the game is the length.  I had about 8 hours on the clock when I had finished the game and got every achievement, card, costume and quest completed.  Outside of missing the one missable achievement, there aren't many reasons to replay except to play it again.  The game also isn't too hard.  It feels like damage is higher than the previous game, but it still feels more forgiving.  And that is with me having the useless candy corn costume in my party the whole time.

If you are a fan of the original Costume Quest, you should definitely get Costume Quest 2.  It may be short and sometimes feel formulaic, but it's more of the same battles and exploration that you enjoyed previously, but with some cool new costumes.  If you like turn-based RPGs, I'd recommend starting with the first Costume Quest, but this is still a very solid title.  It pretty much does what a good sequel should, keep the good and familiar while adding a few new things to liven it up.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit (Vita) Review

Hot off the heels of Shinovi Versus, Senran Kagura hits us with another domestic release, Bon Appetit.  While the previous two are action games, this one is... a rhythm game about cooking battles.  Yes, you read that correctly.  As is clearly stated from the outset, this is just a silly side game and has no bearing on the actual plot.

Being a rhythm game, you must push the correct button or direction at the correct moment.  There are two different lines that go from right to left that these buttons appear on.  I'm not sure why there are two, but I think it's so they can fit more buttons in a smaller area.  The directional buttons that must be pressed are color-coordinated to correspond to the face button (circle, triangle, etc.) so it's easier to see when there are a lot of quick moving buttons on the screen.  Granted, the buttons are color coded on the system controllers, not the Vita, so it's borderline silly to do that for a Vita game.  Silly as it is, it's still helpful, especially when there are so many buttons shooting along.

Each of the 10 songs are separated into three rounds.  Winning one of the first two rounds will damage the clothing of the opponent.  If you win the first two rounds and do really well on the third, you will completely strip the opponent, and they will be wearing the now infamous chibi faces and light stripe.  There's also two halves of a heart meter (one per round) that if you fill, will create a special heart button that can give you a humiliating camera view in the background for a few seconds.  While this is a reward for performing well, it's also distracting.  If you ignore it to do better, then it's not much of a reward, huh?  I probably shouldn't admit this, but I've almost dropped a combo a few times while they are playing in the background.  Plus, they look so sad at the end of the scene that I almost feel bad doing it.  Almost.

Winning a round treats you to a scene of Hanzo (Asuka's grandfather, master ninja and tournament creator) enjoying the dish.  Each girl creates a different dish, so there are 10 of these scenes.  The are definitely silly and over the top, but they get old pretty fast, and I was skipping them after seeing them two or three times.  However, the real treat for winning and completely stripping your opponent isn't Hanzo's scene... it's the special.  Your opponent will be placed on a pastry and covered with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.  It's as suggestive as you might think.  While it fits the tone of the game, I think it's even more risque than anything else so far in the series.  And that's an accomplishment, to be honest.  I didn't think it possible while keeping the game under an AO rating, but they did it.  To me, it's not a problem since it's on a handheld system, but as with the action games in the series, I wouldn't play it around my kids.

There are three settings, easy, normal and hard.  Easy is really easy.  I rarely missed even one note in a song, and I'm not really well versed in the current rhythm genre (I was really good at Bust a Groove and decent at Parappa).  Normal seems like a big step up from easy, and was challenging.  I can now consistently win at the normal setting (except Daidoji's song), but not without a mistake or two.  Hard is ridiculous to me, since that's where they add in the up direction and the triangle button, plus have more and harder button sequences.  The way it plays reminds me of the Hatsune Miku game demo I tried a year or so ago.  On the harder settings, the challenge for me was hitting the strange sequence of buttons and not on getting the timing.  I'm not sure if that's how rhythm games are nowadays, but I would prefer the focus be on timing.  Even so, I was able to complete all 10 stories on easy or normal.

Each character's story is 5 levels long, and takes about 30 minutes total to make your way through.  There's 10 girls to use (or 11 if you purchased the DLC characters for Shinovi Versus) and many costumes and underwear selections to unlock.  Each girl has their own song, 2 of which are vocal.  There's also an arcade mode which picks opponents based on the difficulty you select.  It's a decent value for $15, and you'll get your money's worth if you go after the platinum.  A few of the trophies require you to grind out a lot of songs, so if you really like the game, you might want to hold off on those until you get the DLC expansion that adds the girls from Shinovi Versus to give you a broader selection of characters and songs.

Fans of the Senran Kagura series will get the most out of the game.  It's a different style, but you'll know the characters and situations, and get more out of whatever story is present.  Rhythm fans may also enjoy it, but I'm not sure how it stacks up to other rhythm offerings.  Plus, if you aren't accustomed to the world of Senran Kagura, some of the racier aspects might be startling.  The game itself is decent, but I don't think it would convert anyone not into the series.  If you are a Senran Kagura fan and rhythm games are not your thing, you can skip it and not miss out on any ongoing plot.  If you are interested, the game isn't very expensive unless you get it and the forthcoming expansion, plus, a lot of the Shinovi Versus DLC (free and otherwise) will also work in Bon Appetit.

Game Trek: The Next Generation (of Consoles) - Part 6

Stardate 1014211141:

When the news of the $50 price drop on Xbox One consoles and bundles for the holiday came out, my mind starting swimming with ideas.  Maybe, despite the initial crash, I could end up getting an Xbox One as well.

I had a plan of action to get it the cheapest I could.  First, order the white Sunset Overdrive bundle for store pick up from Best Buy.  Since I had a week to pick it up, I could order it the Tuesday it released and pick it up the next Sunday, when the price dropped.  Then, return and rebuy with the lower price, and apply my coupon and mover's coupon (that may have cost me a lot to acquire).

I ordered the Sunset Overdrive bundle on the Tuesday it was released, and resisted all my urges to go pick it up.  Supposedly it was possible to get the adjustment even if it was open, but I didn't want to risk it.  On Sunday, I went and did they whole return/rebuy.  It took a bit, since they were busy, but there was no fighting, and the CS lady got it all taken care of.  Well, except for scanning my reward zone card, but I could fix that later I was told.

While I'm very happy with my deal, I know it's not the best.  The next Saturday, there was a few hour period where you could also get the free year of XBox Live.  It had some trouble stacking with the mover's coupon, since that is for 1 item, but I have a few years stored up already.  I'm happy that I got a good price, and the bundle I wanted.  Now to enjoy the sun(set)!

There's still the issue of the ticket, but I haven't heard back since I disputed it, so we will see how that goes...

< Part 5

Friday, November 14, 2014

Styx: Master of Shadows (PS4) Review

Styx, the wise-cracking, foul mouthed companion from Of Orcs and Men now strikes out in his own game.  Making full use of his shadowy and thief talents, you must keep to the shadows and master your skills to complete your missions.

Granted, this is my first PS4 game, so I can't compare it to too many others, but it looks really good.  The lighting effects and detail is noticeably higher than games from the previous generation of consoles.  There are a few visual hiccups, though.  There is some noticeable pop-in of some of the environment while crawling around the tunnels and some while rotating the camera sometimes.  I wouldn't call it screen tearing, since it looks different than that, but it's similar.

As you can infer from the title, Styx: Master of Shadows is a stealth-based game.  It's third person, so you get a better view of your surroundings.  This helps, since many items lying around have physics to them.  If you walk to close to a chair, or across a broom and bucket, you may knock them over, giving away your position.  This is the first game I've encountered that in, and I think it's really cool (even the times it screwed me up).  You also have an amber mark on your shoulder that glows when you are in full darkness, so it's easy to tell if you are likely to be seen.

Although, there are plenty of times I've been seen while standing in complete darkness.  Hugging a wall or at least standing behind something fixes that, but I felt the enemies saw me times when I was standing still in the dark.  They also have really good peripheral vision, so make sure you only approach them from the back, or you may get a sword in your face.

Each mission is divided into a few large areas with multiple paths through them.  This is one of the game's strengths.  There are lots of places to explore if you want to avoid enemies, sneak up on them for a stealth kill, or hide a body.  There is some platforming, too, since you have to jump around from ledge to ledge and climb to some areas.  Unfortunately, this is a bit spotty, since the jump isn't scripted, like the Assassin's Creed games, so it can be a little frustrating trying to jump far enough, or land on that small ledge.  It works for the most part, but there were times that a jump looked possible, but was just too far.  Trying to drop down and grip a ledge was annoying, since you had to walk off the edge slowly to do so.  It always felt like I would just fall down and die.  Why not just make it the drop button?  Anyway, movement was sometimes frustrating, but workable.  Just make sure you save a lot.

Styx does get a few abilities to help deal with threats.  He can carry a few throwing daggers for distance, and even has acid to melt a body away.  You can create a clone to fit in some areas, or even as a diversion.  If you are caught, your enter a duel with most enemies.  You will have to parry or dodge their attacks several times in a row, and then you can kill them when they are off balance.  It's not too hard, but you can die quickly if you don't get the timing down.  Unfortunately, not all enemies can be dueled.  Partway through the game, knights are introduced, and they are unaffected by your weaponry.  If they catch you, you are just dead.  Yuck.  They make the game harder, or at least force you to be more cautious and clever if you want to take them out (or just avoid them).  At least the new enemy types are spaced through the game, so you continuously get new challenges.

There are eight missions in the game (counting the prologue), and they took me about two hours game time each.  However, that two hours doesn't count all the time spent messing up and loading.  I wasn't trying to do perfect runs, but at the very least I didn't want to be seen (I was trying to be very stealthy).  This involved a lot of trial and error, which increased my playtime by a lot that isn't reflected in the end stage totals.  Missions have some replayability, since there are many paths to the end, and different play styles.  If you are a completionist or trophy hunter, you will very likely repeat each mission more than once, so you can get all the insignias (not killing, speed run, etc.) and the extra experience it gives for your skills.

If you like stealth games, I'd recommend Styx: Master of Shadows.  It's not the best one I've played (can anything topple Dishonored?), and it is far from the worst.  There is a lot of trial and error if you are a perfectionist, but it's usually possible to muddle your way through the levels and correct your mistakes if you don't want to keep re-loading.  The platforming isn't as smooth as I'd like, but the large, explorable areas make for some good replay value.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Game Trek: The Next Generation (of Consoles) - Part 5

Stardate 1014210144:

During this time, I kept checking out Cowboom and Craigslist to see if anything in my range popped up.  Then, two days after my pawn store debacles, Cowboom had a sale on PS4s for $100 off, making them $250 before tax.  The one I snagged included everything but the manual and the wired headset.  Sweet!  Not as great as the under $200 people lucked into, but acceptable for me.  Since I was a new customer, I could use the promo code for an extra $10 off.  Not great, but why not save 10 extra bucks?  Total with tax was about $265.  I was very happy, and anxiously awaited when it would be delivered.

My buddy David also bought one, so he could return the one he got at the pawn shop.  He paid for faster shipping so he could resume his Samurai Warriors 4 playing.  His had the actual PS4 box, but the included charge cable was for the PS3.  Whoops.

A week after my order, it finally arrived.  It took a few extra days to actually ship, but somehow UPS got it to me in a timely fashion.  I say "somehow" because UPS Ground is really, really slow.  I assume most packages are walked to their destinations.

Anyway... I was excited and opened up the package.  It didn't include the box, which I wasn't counting on (but would have been nice), and also didn't have the charge cable or hdmi cable it was supposed to.  Hmmm.  After asking some people and talking to David, I sent an email to Cowboom asking about them.  They offered a partial refund, which I happily took.  Buying those cables isn't expensive, but if they were supposed to be there, might as well take the discount.

I had cables I could use as substitutes, and tested it out to make sure it works.  It did!  I was super happy that I was almost the full way to getting into the current gen of consoles.  Only one thing left to do...

<Part 4 | Part 6>

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Game Trek: The Next Generation (of Consoles) - Part 4

Stardate 1014210143:

I sent a text to my buddy asking if he's seen any PS4s or XB1s at his store, and price range.  He says "yes" and "300".  Cool, if I can bargain that down a bit, or at least top off at $300 after tax, it's in the accepted price range.

I go to his store and see a PS4 there.  Problem is, the price is $350.  I decide against it, but ask my friend about the discrepancy.  Last he checked, they were $300, but he thinks they bumped it up because it's close to the holiday season.  Fair enough.

So the next day I plan to drive by a few pawn shops to see what they have and pricing.  Most were easy to locate, but few had either system.  One did have a XB1 with Kinect, but it was $400.  Not bad, but not great either.  It had Titanfall taped to it, but I didn't ask if it was included, or just showing it as available.  If included, it's a slightly better deal, but still not good enough.

One store was stupid hard to find.  I passed where it should have been, and drove down the road about another mile before finding a decent place to turn around.  Then, I saw the store, but not in time to turn in.  So, I hit the next turn and attempt to go just beyond it and turn back.  I bet you can see how this will go.  No right turns until much later down the road.  Then, on the way back, I couldn't find it again.  Apparently, it was the fabled ghost pawn store.  I chalk that one up as a loss and hit the remainder, with no results.

My friend then texts me and says they just got in a PS4.  He talked to his boss and I can get it for $300 +tax.  Not bad, but I needed under $300 after tax, so I tell him I'll think about it.  He mentions that one of our other friends bought one from him yesterday for that price.  Remember the one I saw in the second paragraph?  Turns out my good buddy David bought it.  Heh, small world sometimes.

<Part 3 | Part 5>

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Game Trek: The Next Generation (of Consoles) - Part 3

Stardate 1014210142:

While reading the Cowboom thread, one user mentioned that he got his new gen systems cheap on Craigslist.  I shook my head.  How had I forgotten about that?  So, I added a tab for Craigslist and would check that every few hours for both PS4 and X1.

Most wanted too much.  Well, they might have been fair prices, but not for used stuff.  A few were good enough for me to contact them... but they were duds too.  One in particular, however, went above and beyond.

It advertised trading a "bang bang" for a PS4.  There was a link posted in the ad, but you had to copy and paste it for it to work.  I didn't, but the address had something firearm-related in it.  Wow.  More than likely not legal, but the dude (I assume) wanted to trade a Beretta pistol for a PS4.  For meeting Craigslisters, it's always best to meet somewhere public, for safety.  I don't know how safe it is when you know the other person is bringing a gun.  Seriously, it seems way to easy to end up with both.  I mean, either the guy bringing the gun holds up the other, or you trade the gun and then he holds you up.  It's not really a win-win situation...but it is humorous.

Needless to say, Craigslist didn't pan out for the first week, and then I remembered by old co-worker/friend that worked a pawn store...

<Part 2 | Part 4>

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Samurai Warriors 4 (PS3) Review

After what seems like a long wait since the third game, Samurai Warriors 4 has made its way to the west.  As most Warriors sequels, it brings a new mode, more characters and a few other changes while trying not to mess with its 1 vs. 1000 hack and slash style.  I like most of the Warriors games, so I was looking forward to this releasing, since I actually prefer Samurai to Dynasty.  While the game is subbed only, which makes it harder for me to pay attention to objectives, I was happy to see there was far less pop-in versus Orochi 3 Ultimate, which released around a month ago.

To add more to the hack and slash formula that has worked so well for Tecmo Koei over the years, they added a hyper attack.  It effectively replaces the strong attack, and adds a new combo string to each character.  It does not replace the strong attack as a combo ender for the normal attacks, so you basically lose 1 attack that wasn't very useful, and gain another whole string with new enders.

The hyper attack usually has your character dash a short ways while attacking.  It's great for groups of grunts, and that's exactly what it is for.  It's almost overpowered, but officers have little trouble batting it away.  Therefore, there is a split in your combos.  Hypers are best for big groups of weak enemies, and the normal combos are best for officers.  I'm totally fine with this.  I really like the new hyper attacks, since it seems much more like an anime samurai, attacking so fast you can't see it.  I should mention I love that trope a lot, so it almost caters directly to me.

In a similar vein to the 3DS Samurai Warriors game, you have two characters on the battlefield at a time.  You can switch between the two and, thankfully, give simple orders to the one you aren't using.  Each battle contains multiple objectives that can give you extra rewards for completion.  Having two characters makes a lot of them actually possible by yourself.  The objectives themselves are fine, but expect to play each stages multiple times if you are a completionist, as you can't see what the objectives are, or who you need to use to get them, until the stage is completed once.  It is possible to get them all the first run though, but that is an exception rather than the norm.

You can bring several items into battle with you that give various buffs.  Gone are enemies sometimes dropping these buffs, like double attack or defense.  This doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would, since choosing when to activate something makes it easier to get it when you need it.  Each playable famous officer also has a personal treasure that gives a special effect, and it has a cooldown, rather than the one per battle use of the regular items.  Getting said personal treasures is a bit more difficult, since each officer must be killed a certain way for a chance at getting it.  I'm not sure what affects the chance, but regardless, it will take lots of grinding to get them all.

The weapon and skill system is, again, slightly revamped from its previous iterations.  Skills have a max level, which is determined when you get it, and requires gems to upgrade.  You get plenty of gems and money, so that part isn't the issue.  However the skills and max levels of them are random, and you can't merge items to transfer skills.  No more making your perfect weapon... you have to hope that you randomly get it.  Ugh.  Thankfully, you can transfer weapons to other people, so you can spread around the love to characters you have yet to use, and make sure they can survive the battles you throw them into.

The stories are broken up into factions, focusing on a few select characters per each.  They also vary in length, from 4 stages for the lesser factions to 8 or more for the big ones (Nobunaga, etc.)  The presentation is fine, but I would prefer a more streamlined one, so it is easier to see what happened when, or at least put the years at the start of each stage.  I know the games aren't 100% historically accurate, but I'd still like to be able to figure out what happened when without drawing a chart.

The new mode for the game is Chronicle mode.  Seemingly based on the 3DS games, you create your own character and run around Japan fighting battles.  You can meet up and befriend famous officers, which you can also play as if you want.  It's pretty open ended, and the battle objectives don't matter as much.  Plus, making your own character in these games is really fun.  Though, I'd like to see a bit more instruction for Chronicle mode, explaining what affects what, so you aren't just moving around and fighting without purpose.  They even brought in the quiz levels from Hyrule Warriors, although they are much harder here.  The ask things like, "which is the eldest brother", or "who's name is written differently in Kanji?"  Not impossible, but not really geared toward western audiences.

Like most Warriors games nowadays, there is a good amount of content.  Going through the story modes takes 20+ hours, and chronicles mode adds a lot more.  It could end up being endless, given the random nature of it.  Plus, if you are going after trophies or completion, there is a lot of grinding and re-doing levels for the personal treasures, objectives and rare weapons.  The two player is done a lot better than previous games, since you choose if you want single, co-op or online when you select story or free mode.  No more remembering to hit start at that one point every single level.  The only real problem with two player is there is a small dip in draw distance and frame rate.  It's not as horrible as a lot of people would have you believe, but it is there.

Samurai Warriors 4 is, to me, a great addition to the series.  The hyper attacks are a lot of fun, and adding what amounts to a second combo string gives each character a lot of moves, plus the rage mode/spirit meter returns.  The new characters fit in, and some of them are lots of fun to use.  The story mode offers a good chunk of playtime, and the Chronicle mode lets you create your own character and adds even more content.  The random nature and length of the Chronicle mode will be off-putting to some, and the highly objective-based battles in that and story mode aren't the most seamless the series has had.  It's still lots of fun, and I recommend it to any Warriors or hack and slash fans.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Game Trek: The Next Generation (of Consoles) - Part 2

Stardate 1014210141:

Skip forward a week or two, and I'm still bummed about the whole thing.  Who wouldn't be?  Not only could I not save $40 on the X1, but getting the coupons may have cost me $200.  I happened across one of the CAG threads about Cowboom, and remembering that they sold cheap used consoles, decided to read up on it.

I was in some luck.  There was a $100 off coupon for PS4s.  They put about 1 or 2 in stock when they updated, so it was hard to snag one, but I might as well try.  Their days rolled over at 10pm my time (central theirs), and that was the best time to get some.

To sweeten the deal, they dropped the price of some units to about $275 or so.  With the coupon, it made it about $180 shipped.  That's a crazy good deal and I wanted to jump on it.

Except, I was at Marcus' house that night.  So, one of the big people pushing me to get one ironically may have kept me from getting one.

The next morning, the price went back up, so the coupon made them about $285 shipped.  Still a decent deal, but I couldn't find ones that came with controllers.  Factoring how much and when I could get a controller, I didn't feel it was a good enough deal.  However, checking the thread so much did lead to another idea...

<Part 1 | Part 3>

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Game Trek: The Next Generation (of Consoles) - Part 1

Stardate 0914210141:

I figured it would be awhile before I could jump into the new generation of consoles (XBox One and PS4) ever since they were released about a year ago.  I was able to get a Wii U thanks to my wife's retail job, so that part was taken care of.  Also, that was not the best idea in hindsight.  More about that some other time.

Anyway, I didn't think I would be able to get one or both of the others this year, until my wife mentioned that she didn't want that to keep me from getting a review copy of something.  We had some extra Paypal money, and if something panned out, I would get more.  I would use it to get a PS4, and use something else to get an X1.

The plan for the X1 was pretty simple.  Get two mover's coupons, use one to buy a prepaid Visa gift card, taking that down 10%.  Then buy the console and use the second coupon, taking it down 10% again.  So total for the white X1 would be 320+ tax or so.  Good deal.

The thing for the extra Paypal money to get the PS4 fell through, so that option was off the table.  Sucks, but at least I could still get one of the new gen systems.

Or could I?  Two days before my coupon was valid, they changed it so it could no longer be used on a Visa gift card.  So that's $40 that I wouldn't be able to save.  Bad, but I might be able to recover from it.  Well, until the other shoe dropped.

The next day, I get a letter in the mail.  It has a speeding ticket from when I went to the Post Office to get the mover's coupon.  That was pretty much the last nail in the coffin.  So on top of not getting that extra $40 off, I might have to pay a $200 ticket.  The universe definitely took a dump on my that time.

Part 2>