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.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Summer Gaming 2015 Wrap-up

Since it's around the time where summer ends (my kids have gone back to school but I haven't), I figured I should wrap up my summer gaming to see what I actually played some of.  Sadly, I didn't do as much as I had planned to, mostly thanks to having so much stuff to review.  So, I guess not that sad, since it's good to be so busy with official reviews!  On to the wrap-up:

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
It definitely reminds me of the previous entries in the series.  I kind of liked the three original games, but didn't finish any of them.  I kind of get tired of them at some point.  Thieves in Time had the nice aspect of having you use different heroes at different times.  I think one of the other games had that too, and it's pretty cool.  I don't know if I'll play it much more, but I could easily go back to it at some point.

Front Mission Evolved
Normally, I'm not allowed to play Front Mission games.  I tried back when 3 released years ago, and got a little mad at it.  Or a lot of mad, considering how unbalanced and cheap the AI is.  Anyway, I convinced my wife to let me try this, since it is a third person shooter, not the terrible SRPGs (yes they managed to ruin a great combination of robots and SRPGs).  While it is essentially a Front Mission skin on a third-person shooter, it isn't bad.  I only played two levels or so, and it was just a fairly standard TPS where you shoot enemies, shoot collectibles and get to the mission markers.  I'd like to at least finish the campaign someday, since it would likely only take a day or two.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge
I will admit I have a certain fondness for generic/average games.  Hunted: The Demon's Forge definitely fits that bill.  It is a fairly generic action RPG, but it does have co-op.  You have to do the game's first level/tutorial before you can do that though.  I did the first level, and it is a lot longer than you would think.  I'd like to play more and try out the co-op, I just have to find some time to do it with my wife.  Other than that the game was ok.  The story isn't very good but it does feature the voice work of Lucy Lawless!

Bulletstorm is pretty funny, in an immature kind of way.  I like that it's an over the top shooter and doesn't take itself too seriously.  It's pretty fun, and definitely one I will go back to and finish off the campaign.  I don't really know anyone else that plays it, so sadly won't do much of the echoes mode. but I will at least get my money's worth from playing the story mode.

Army of Two: The 40th Day
I did like the first Army of Two.  It wasn't great, but had some good moments.  Frustrating ones, too, especially on the hard setting when you had to rely on the AI.  The sequel seemed like more of the same, which is good.  They added some moral choices and unlockable weapon parts.  Fun, and I would like to go back and finish the campaign before moving on to the third game in the series, which was a Games with Gold freebie.

Gears of War: Judgment
This was another Games with Gold freebie from a few months ago.  I do like the Gears of War series, and was looking forward to trying the finished Judgment.  I know it gets a lot of hate from the fans, but so far it isn't bad.  It does try a few new things, like the "classified missions", which give additional challenges if you choose to do them during your missions.  The tower defense-like sections were cool too.  Another game that I want to run through the campaign and finish the story.

Crimson Dragon
Crimson Dragon was pretty fun.  The first few missions were rough until I got to the point where I could hire a wingman.  I hired my buddy's dragon, who was a higher level, and it made the next few missions much easier.  Controls are ok, and this type of game controls better to me not inverted.  Still, it takes a bit getting used to that.  The camera is the thing I have the most trouble with.  Your view swings around a lot, which makes aiming much more of a pain than it should.  I guess they wanted to make it harder, but I wish your view wasn't moving all around while you are trying to aim and dodge.  I didn't get motion sick, but sick of the cheap damage and enemies escaping!

There's also a few sections (notably boss fights) where you enter a free-flying area.  Reminiscent of the "All range mode" from Star Fox, these sections are a pain in the butt.  I really hated them, as the controls just felt sloppy.  It was too hard to do anything meaningful, and you get hit a lot from off screen.  Making the boss fights have at least one section like this is horrible.  Overall, though, the game was kind of fun, save for a few annoying parts.  I wish I could have tried the multiplayer, but it seems like everyone moved on already.  Of the games I intended to play over the summer, this was the one I put the most time into.  Having bite-sized missions and a daily login bonus sure helped!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

SMITE (Xbox One) Review

When I first heard about SMITE, I was definitely interested.  I'm a fan of mythological people and creatures, so I knew who most of the character in the game were.  Once the game came to consoles on the Xbox One, I had no excuses not to try it out.  I haven't played many MOBAs, but I have some friends that really like the genre, so I figured I would play with them and try to have some fun.

The goal of most MOBAs is to destroy the opposing team's base creature, which is called a titan in SMITE.  To do so, there are three lanes that your characters and the AI minions will use to get there.  Along the way are friendly and opposing turrets, and a phoenix guardian at the end.  You will want to destroy these turrets and eventually the phoenix so their is a clear path to the titan.  Taking any of these head on is suicide, so you want to clear a path for your minions to be your shield.  This is, of course, not taking into account the other team is doing the same as you inevitably clash with them.  Killing an opposing player will cause them to respawn with a timer, and that might be your chance to push the lane and try to clear out a tower or the phoenix.

SMITE's difference to other MOBAs is the camera, which is situated behind the player, more like a third-person shooter than something like Starcraft, and the skill-based attacking.  Given the perspective, actually hitting enemies does require correct aiming.  It's a nice hybrid of MOBA with third-person shooting controls.  The other controls work pretty well, and are usually laid out on the screen for ease of use.  The only one that took me remembering was using the Right Bumper to cancel a skill.  Pressing a button once will bring out the reticle for your attack, and pressing either it or the attack button (Right Trigger) will execute it.  Many times I would press the B Button to cancel it, but it wouldn't work.  I eventually taught myself to hit the RB.

There are several modes, each with its own map.  There is Arena, Joust, Conquest, Assault and Siege.  Arena is the closest to a pure versus mode.  You have a circular arena with very few places to hide.  It is 5 on 5 with a straight shot for your minions to the other team's base.  Matches can also be over the quickest out of all the match types.  Given how bad I am at fighting other players, I expected to dislike Arena.  However, it was probably my favorite mode, so maybe I'm not so bad at that and just bad at all the other stuff?

Anyway, next is Joust, which is 3 on 3.  There is only the one lane with a few side jungles mostly for buffs.  Since there is a lower player count, skill and level gaps can be even wider without more people to help each other.  Also, someone quitting out of the game is much more severe than in other game types, giving a huge advantage to the non-quitter side.  Sadly, in any mode, having a person leaves will put you at a disadvantage, since the AI won't take over, nor will it put a person there, so you just have to deal with the band hand you have.  Joust is still kind of fun, though.

Conquest mode is the bread and butter of the game, as it is the classic mode.  It's 5 on 5, 3 lanes and lots of jungle areas and buffs.  You need a good amount of skill at fighting other gods, plus knowledge of how to take advantage of minions and jungle buffs to come out on top.  It's a fairly fun mode, and likely has the most people playing it at any given time.  It can also last the longest, with matches commonly going on for 30-45 minutes.  Make sure you have a chunk of time when you sit down to play Conquest.

The last two are Assault and Siege.  Assault is 5 on 5 with one lane, so it is similar to Joust, but with more players.  That is the good part.  The god you play as is randomized, so it can be a real crap shoot to play this mode.  That is the bad part.  If you don't know most of the gods, then I would recommend avoiding this mode for awhile.  Siege is 4 on 4, and the map has two lanes on either side of a jungle.  There are siege monster that you can get to spawn (not fully sure how) to help attack the enemy camp.  While that is a new twist, it is pretty similar to the Conquest mode, but sadly not available in co-op.

SMITE can be played by yourself, and it will match you for a team.  This is fine, but it becomes much more fun when playing with your friends.  Thankfully, if you form a party with them, the host can queue you all up for games and it does a great job keeping you together and matching others to your group.  You can also join a league or clan if you want to.  If you aren't keen on fighting other players, you can do most of the game types as co-op against AI bots.  Sadly, you miss out on most achievements by doing so, though.

One big knock against the game and the genre as a whole is how much knowledge you need to be effective.  It's easy enough to learn the controls and get the basic idea, but you really need to know a lot of things about the lanes, strategies and what your character should be doing.  Also add in the vast amounts of purchasable items that your character equips and uses.  If you don't learn all of these things, you can still play the game, but you won't be near as effective as someone who does.  It can happen all too often that you will start out fine, but get outclassed more and more as the match goes on.

I'm not trying to kill anyone's enthusiasm for playing the game, but if you want to play against other players, be prepared to either do some homework or get used to seeing your spawn countdown a lot.  You can thankfully take a lot of it at your own pace, and I would recommend starting by finding a character you like and fits your play style, then branch out to your optimal skill and item set up.

However, one thing in battles that is difficult to overcome is a level difference.  Even if you have a good skill set up and aren't bad at the game, you can easily be on the losing end of a confrontation if the opponent has a few levels on you.  From one side, I understand that if you are playing better/getting more experience, you should have an advantage, but from the other side, you are kind of screwed if even two levels below an enemy.  Long-term players may disagree with these points, but this is true from my experiences with the game.

While the game is free to play with rotating heroes every so often, you can also purchase the heroes if you want to use them outside of their free rotation.  Each character also has numerous costumes, with more being added all the time.  Some of these costumes are really cool (Super Chronos 64, La Roca and too many others to list here are particular favorites), but will set your wallet back by a chunk if you want to get a lot of them.  You can also spend your diamonds (which are usually bought with real currency) for random chests that may contain special prizes.  Mercifully, there is a cooldown after purchasing one so it is harder to blow through your diamonds in a quick amount of time.  It also cuts down on accidental spending.

SMITE can be a lot of fun, but it is very competitive and takes a lot of knowledge to be even average at the game.  Sadly, I'm not very good, but I like playing with my friends while trying to figure it out and get better.  There are several game modes to try and many, many characters to play as (provided you have the time or money).  Since it's free to play, I can easily recommend people give it a go.  You might want to devote some time before hand to tutorial videos on the internet to get a feel for how each character type is to play.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Amnesia: Memories (PS Vita) Review

Amnesia: Memories is a visual novel that follows the life of a college-age girl as she seeks to gain back her memories.  When the game starts, your consciousness has collided with a wandering spirit named Orion, which has displaced some of your memories.  He then offers to take you to one of the parallel worlds where you may have come from and will assist in getting your memories back so the two of you can part ways.

I wasn't sure how I would like the game, since there are some dating sim elements to the game as you have to relearn all about your boyfriend.  However, the mystery element of what was happening in each world and trying to reclaim your memories was fun and interesting.  Plus, there are a few different worlds to choose from, each that focuses on a different guy.  Each world draws from the same selection of characters, but their personalities and actions may be very different.  The situations your character has to deal with are also very different, making each story unique.  I didn't think it would be the case and was pleasantly surprised just how different each world is, while still being familiar once you have done one of them.

There are many choices to make in each world, and a lot of the choices affect the feelings the characters have for each other and the ending you earn.  This feels much more like a choose your own adventure story than the previous visual novel I played, and I like that.  Of the four runs I did in the game, I got two good endings fairly easily, while the other two I got the bad ending first.  I eventually figured out how to get the normal and good endings of those worlds, but it took some time and experimentation.  I'm a fan of multiple endings, as it can give some good replay value.  Considering how long each story is, and that there are five of them, each with multiple endings, you get a surprising amount of playtime out of the game (even if you are save scumming).  I approve!

Besides the main stories, there are two mini-games that you can unlock.  There is a rock-paper-scissors and an air hockey game.  The RPS is pretty self explanatory, one will beat the other, but there is a twist to the game.  If your choice beats the opponents, you have to quickly select the following hammer icon and hit them to get the point.  There is a helmet icon as well, that is used to guard against the hammer.  So, even if you won the match, make sure to tap the hammer to actually score a point!  If the opponent wins, the helmet will protect you.  This is especially important against the last opponent, who is fast with the hammer, and counter picks your card 90% of the time.  Pretty cheap, but he is able to be beaten.

The air hockey is the other unlockable mini-game.  You hold the Vita sideways and keep your finger on the paddle while trying to hit the puck into the opponent's goal and keep it out of your own.  It works pretty well, but the paddle doesn't instantly follow your finger placement if you move it fast or far.  The biggest problem was my finger would not be as smooth on the screen after a few rounds.  Other than that, it played fine.  Both mini-games are a decent diversion from the main game, or something to do after completing all of the story lines.

Also included is a gallery that will show you any of the CG stills you have seen in the game, as well as log the different endings you achieved.  Sadly, it doesn't appear that you can see the endings again from here, which would have been nice.  Still, it's good to see the list, so you know what endings you have and haven't seen.  This helps completionists like myself when trying to do it all.

Not knowing how I would like the game, I was pleasantly surprised at how fun Amnesia: Memories is.  The story of each world was interesting, as it took similar characters and locations, but changed the situations enough that each was clearly a separate story.  It had the mystery of figuring out what was going on paired with choices that effect how the story unfolds.  With five stories and multiple endings, there is a good amount of playtime, especially so for a visual novel.  I would recommend visual novel fans or gamers who like a good story check the game out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 (PS4) Review

The Pirate Warriors series of One Piece games are the hack and slash entries, much akin to Dynasty Warriors.  Being made by the same people, it makes sense.  Plus, it works and makes for a fun game.  Each stage has your chosen character running around and defeating lots of enemies (on average more than a Dynasty or Samurai Warriors stage).

Attacks are pretty similar to other KT hack and slash games.  Square is your normal attack and Triangle is your ranged attack (Usopp's is reversed).  Each button has its own combo that you can change the ending of depending on when you hit the opposing button during the combo.  It takes awhile to earn most of the moves, so I usually would mash square for most fights, which worked fine.  There is also a Kizuna attack by pressing the Circle button when you have a full meter.  These are basically musou attacks, which are good for damage and you are invincible during them.

Unique to this series is the team meter.  In each fight, you will have at least one friend.  As you do combos, a meter will fill and once it reaches at least level 2, pressing the attack button one more time at the end of your combos will summon that friend for an attack.  Hitting enemies in this way gets exclamation points, which is one of the things that affects your battle rank.  They also give Crew Level experience, which gives skills, unlocks and even coins of that character.  If you completely fill the friendship meter, pressing R2 will summon them (and any others that have the clasping hands icon) to attack with you until the meter runs out.  During this time, if you press Circle, all the summoned members will join in a devastating team Kizuna attack.  Besides being dramatic and flashy, finishing off a named opponent with it will give extra coins.  Plus, it is an awesome way to finish a stage!

At certain times in a stage, members of your team may have a little crown icon near their portrait.  If you fill an extra level of their friend meter during this time, they will unleash their Hero Power to help out.  Some are more helpful than others, Chopper's being especially good, as it heals some of the HP of people on your side.  However, they are only available during set times of each level, so they can easily go unnoticed or unused.  A nice little extra, but not really something to count on in a pinch.

Each stage in story mode has a Legend that has bonus requirements to get one piece of a picture.  Certain percentages will award bonus coins, which are used per character to level up stats and unlock abilities.  The coins are also obtained from leveling up their Crew Level (similar to a friendship meter) or defeating them in combat.  You will have to repeat several stages a few times to get the necessary coins from some characters or to meet the bonus requirements for the Legend.  It's theoretically possible to do them all at once, but it is much more likely that you will do the stage at least twice.  Thankfully these can also be done in Free Mode, so you can repeat the levels with different characters.

There are also special coins that will unlock new special moves or other unique things.  These are usually unlocked by filling out a level's Legend or some other special requirement, which are listed after you have past the point where you can first unlock them.  Using one of the special coins will not use it up, so it is worth the extra trouble to get them.  While coins to upgrade stats and moves are nice, there is also Beli Growth to quickly get levels for lower characters.  You can pay in-game money to raise a character's level up to the highest level achieved by a character.  This system exists in a lot of Warriors games by now, and it isn't much different here.  It does seem cheaper here than other games, and you get lots of money, so there is no reason not to use it.  It saves some time level grinding that you can use for coin grinding!

The story mode itself follows the plot of the manga/tv show, which is preferable to someone like me.  I have only seen the first few arcs of the show/manga (I stopped in the middle of them getting Chopper), so many of the characters and situations are unknown to me.  This way I can enjoy the gameplay and learn more about the series.  I know at least the previous entry in the series was an original story, which is also good for series regulars.  But if you know the story already, fear not!  There is also a non-story mode that focuses on doing stages and unlocking extra characters.

Dream Log is that mode.  You will fight your way across may islands on your way to unlock special characters that can only be gained from this mode.  Any unlocked character can be chosen once you load into the mode.  This is fun, since you can try out lots of different characters while unlocking more.  The stages tend to be a little shorter than the story stages, plus there aren't any cutscenes to distract you.  There are also no individual Legends for each stage, instead opting for several that are spread across the mode, for defeating x% of the islands or other goals that are cumulative.  That way, you don't really have to re-do any of them unless you want to go for the S rank.  Plus, there is no selectable difficulty, but the stages aren't hard when you are starting out.  They also list the recommended level so you know how hard of a time you are going to have.  A fun mode for when you are done with the story, or if you just want a break from it.

Like most Warriors games, there is couch co-op and a form of online co-op.  For online, there are "rescue requests" that you can send or be sent from other players for a particular stage.  If you answer them, it will connect you to the host and you will be able to do the level with them.  It's not an ideal method to play with your friends, but nice for playing a quick level or two with random people.  The biggest boon to playing multiplayer is making the stages easier.  The downside is it doesn't seem to add your scores together, so it is harder to get high ranks.

As fun as the game is, there is one gripe I have.  Now I understand that there is a nice automatic recording function built into the PS4.  I also understand that developers can block certain scenes from being recorded, mostly story scenes so it won't "ruin" the story or whatever other reason.  However, every cutscene in Pirate Warriors 3 is blocked, so whenever one comes up, there is a large obtrusive message informing me of that.  Plus, another one when the scene is over and recording has resumed.  Sometimes scenes are linked together by a small loading section that it does bother to record.  So, you can get a steady stream of system messages butting in to your experience.  It doesn't hinder gameplay really, but it is very annoying.

I enjoy playing One Piece Pirate Warriors 3.  I like that the story follows the manga/anime plot, since it isn't one I have kept up on, and now am up to speed on who a lot of the characters are.  The hack and slash formula works well for the franchise.  The game isn't too hard, is lots of fun and their are many characters to choose from.  There is some grinding to get coins and other rewards from different stages, but it didn't feel that necessary until much later in the game.  Thankfully it is really easy to catch up levels of lesser used characters, which would have been a much bigger gripe if that required grinding.  Fans of One Piece or the Warriors series of games should definitely check out Pirate Warriors 3!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

PAX Prime 2015 - Day 2

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes
I played this with two other guys.  The goal of the demo was to figure out how to get through the puzzles and fight the boss.  Strangely, it worked and, all things considered, it was kind of fun.  I doubt I'd want to do the whole thing with three people, but at least trying it was ok.  I did like the different costumes Link can get and wear, and they each have a specialty, for better or worse.  I picked the samurai one because it looked cool, but was no extra help in our dungeon.  The dungeon we did required bombs and arrows, and it wasn't too hard to figure out what to do.  Actually doing it, on the other hand, wasn't quite as smooth.  Trying to get the order right of who picks up who with strangers can be a challenge.  Communication and listening are key for this game.  Oh, and patience, too.

Who doesn't love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night?  (If you don't, just skip to the next one)  I do, so when I happened upon Chasm in the Indie Megabooth, I stopped and checked it out.  It is a 16-bit side scrolling action adventure/ metroidvania.  The guy at the booth explained that there are a few different map types, and that it is set once the opening cut scene starts.  So the map isn't random, but there are a few variations to give some replay value.  The game was pretty fun, but a bit clunky in movement and attacking.  It, like many other games, isn't very forgiving.  It's all well and good, since I do like the genre, so I will try my best to play the game when it releases next year.

Final Fantasy Explorers
When first shown, the game seemed like the Final Fantasy version of Monster Hunter.  While that is somewhat true, the game resembles the previous Square Enix release Lord of Arcana.  Combat was easy to understand, but I did have to be careful.  I wasn't treating it like a Monster Hunter game, and did die to the boss.  It was fun though.  At the start there were multiple jobs to choose from, so I choose the monk, one of my favorites.  I do want to try the finished game later this year (or next, whenever it comes out).  My only complaint was that the C-stick didn't operate the camera.  Hopefully it is a menu option or defaults to that in the full release.  To operate the camera, it was like Phantasy Star Online, where a button will center it.  No touch screen d-pad or anything, and I don't recall if the actual d-pad did it (which would be uncomfortable anyway).

When Cuphead was first unveiled, I really liked the look of it.  Once they later showed gameplay, I knew I had to try it.  And... well, both of those held up.  The look of the game is very much like the old 1930s animation and it works.  The demo at PAX had only a tutorial that showed the controls and boss fights, so I tried three of them.

The first was in a plane against a giant bird.  It was very much like a shmup, a genre I enjoy, but it's not quite as smooth.  It's workable, but not quite as good as a dedicated shmup system.  Almost beat that boss, but didn't.  Second was against a giant potato and then a giant carrot, which I did manage to win.  Third was against a pirate on a boat that would attack with shots, a hanging chest and a shark/octopus from different parts of the screen.  That one I didn't win.

It was a pretty fun game, although very unforgiving.  Enemy shots were small, and your graphic not so much, so dodging was, well... dodgy.  You only get three hearts, so three hits and you are out.  No continuing in the demo, as it just put you on the map/menu and you had to do it again.  Two player might be fun, so I'm still looking forward to trying the full game when it releases.

Xenoblade Chronicles X
First off, I didn't play Xenoblade Chronicles X, since they were only having gameplay demonstrations with a dude I used to work near (there is 0% chance he remembers me, though).  Anyway, I watched several of the demos and went to the panel about the art, where they showed off the special edition coming this winter.

They showed off getting quests, skills and even mid-air battles in the mechs, which I didn't know was a thing in the game.  The guy also ran around various parts of the map, enemies and talked about weather effects.  Xenoblade Chronicles X looks like it has a ton of content and I am looking forward to it.

The special edition also got me excited.  The lithograph is ok, and the art book looks really nice (and big!), but the USB drive is what I really like.  It looks like a zohar!  It also has 10 tracks of the soundtrack on there.  Sure, it could, and should, have the whole thing on it, but I'll just get the other tracks through some other means.  I'm glad it was still able to be pre-ordered when I got home, since I couldn't do it while at the show.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PAX Prime 2015 - Day 1

LEGO Dimensions
This was the first game I got in line for.  I almost got to go to the station that had a lot of figures, like Ghostbusters and Jurassic World, but a press guy came in and, of course, got preference.  First impressions of the figures, though... they are smaller than I thought.  Not the minifigs, they are the right size, but the vehicles are small.  They are closer to the minis that you can find next to the register for $3-4.  So, even more than before, I feel the packs are overpriced.  Yes, I know they fit in line with normal LEGO costs, but I also feel those cost too much.  Anyway, seeing the figures didn't dissuade me from thinking the set is more expensive than it should be.

I decided to play the Scooby Doo level, since I saw the kid in front of me do the Doctor Who level.  First off, I like that the look of the game changed to more closely resemble the newer Scooby Doo cartoons.  Cool, I like that they try and match the property in their respective level.  Also, the Doctor has two sets of health, which is cool because he has two hearts.  Nice small touches, which I do appreciate.

However, the game itself seemed overly complicated.  I'm used to puzzles in the LEGO games, but these seem even more involved for no real reason.  It started out normal - break things to get pieces to build stuff, and use certain characters to do certain actions.  Fair enough.  Then I dug up an item which could either show where switches were, change the colors of the pad (or something similar) and another function to solve the puzzle.  I had to attack it, pick the right one, switch my character, get to an area, then switch where the character was on the physical portal.

While I appreciate that they do something with the placement of the characters in the physical space to add something unique, I know it will quickly get tiresome.  Unless the portal is wireless, I won't have it close, since kids + cords = disaster.  I don't want to have to mess around with the physical pieces so much.  That's better for children, but the puzzles seem better for adults.  So... no one wins?  It could turn out ok, but I'm much more leery of buying the game on its release than I was two weeks ago.

Viking Squad
Located in the indie megabooth, I wondered by Viking Squad, a 3 player beat-em-up.  It was pretty fun.  Unforgiving, like the trend it nowadays, but fun.  I teamed up with 2 random guys and we beat the sub-boss (which the developer assured us many people hadn't done), and lost to the boss (which the developer claimed only 1 team had defeated).  It was really easy to get hit, and damage was high.  There is a helpful slide maneuver, but it didn't seem possible to cancel into it, which would make it much more useful.  There is one character who can block, so hopefully you can cancel into that to make it more survivable.  It is a game I'm looking forward to playing next year when it releases on PC and PS4.

Mad Max
Even though Mad Max was releasing soon (when I was at PAX, it just came out yesterday), I figured why not check it out.  As another WB game, it too lifts the combat from the Batman Arkham series, but then adds some Grand Theft Auto driving.  That was fine.  After looting a few things and fighting three guys, I then had to do car combat.  Aiming while driving was somewhat automatic, which was nice, but it took me a bit to understand that.  If you are in the right position, you can shoot the gas tank on the back of an enemy car and it will explode.  However, it is hard to get into the right position.  That said, I ran out of ammo and was reduced to ramming the objective vehicle to try and complete the mission.  That was long, annoying and boring.  So hopefully it isn't quite so bad in the full game.  Overall, the on foot segment was fun but the driving wasn't.