Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tokyo Tattoo Girls (PS Vita) Review

While it might not seem like it at times, I am a bit selective of what games I review.  There have been some titles that I've pre-screened and decided against.  When deciding if I wanted to ask for Tokyo Tattoo Girls, I couldn't find any gameplay footage.  Even the official site had two vague screenshots.  I decided to jump in anyway, if only to satisfy my curiosity.

When you first start a new game, you get the backstory, pick a girl, and go right into the thick of it.  Well, you can view the tutorial before you start, and I'd recommend it.  At this point I quickly discovered why there wasn't any gameplay videos.  Most of the time, you are just staring at the map of the 23 wards.  Every few seconds, a day passes in game, and you will recruit more punks and clanswomen from every ward that you have started to invade.

There is stuff you can do, but a lot of the game happens automatically.  Each turn/day you earn some money, which you either use for a skill, or to create or upgrade a tattoo.  Most tattoos will increase your charisma or threat.  Higher charisma will recruit more punks per turn, and threat does the same for clanswomen.  These tattoos are also more effective in certain zones.  It does say on the zone what types it is, but there's no way I'm going to keep which zone is what type straight when there are so many of them.  I just went with "raise both stats and it goes faster".  It sounds silly, but it works.

Money can also be used to pay for temporary effects, like recruiting more people, or restoring your honor (life bar).  There is a second page of skills, which I didn't even know about until I had gone through the game three times.  Restoring your honor is useful, since running out is game over, but most of the other ones aren't that great.  There is one that encourages the girl to invade a new zone.  This one is a bit strange, since they pretty much start invading much faster than I would like them to.  I did use the skills early on, but eventually just do them for the associated trophies.

As your girl barrels through the zones, invading a lot of them at the same time, sometimes they will turn red.  When they do, the alert level is high.  You can use a skill to reduce this, but not for long.  Sirens will randomly appear on these zones, which denotes a clan war...I think.  If you click on it, you lose some honor and it goes away.  Sometimes a little graphic appears with character pictures moving toward each other.  I won most of these, and you don't lose honor if you win.  I don't know why some have the graphic and others don't.  I'm pretty sure it's just random, as most times I had many more people in the zone, but still lost the turf war.

When you recruit every person from a ward, you will then find the boss.  After some dialogue, you get to make a choice.  There are three results: okay, good, and super.  "Good" and "super" will restore some honor, while "okay" does not.  Regardless, you will win the fight (that they don't really show) and take over the ward.  If you answered the "super" answer, you will get a special CG picture of the ward boss, which can be seen again in the extras menu.  Since there is a line of dialogue with each one, you have to unlock each boss' picture with each of the playable girls.  It would be nice if subsequent runs with the same girl marked which answer(s) you gave and the rating.  Like the ward types, there's no way I'm going to remember 23 different answers for six different girls.

There are four difficulty levels, and you will get a special item by completing each level with each girl.  These can be used by everyone in a subsequent game, so there's no reason to skip the easy setting.  My first game was on normal, and I won.  Completing normal with a girl will unlock hard difficulty for her, and completing hard will open the hardest difficulty.  While there were some times my honor was low, I was never in any real danger of losing, even on hard (I haven't done the hardest yet).  Once you figure out what you have to do, the game isn't too hard to complete.

Each run takes about 2 hours or so, depending on difficulty, skill usage, random events, and what tattoos you buy.  With six girls and four difficulty settings each, that can be a lot of staring at the map as it changes colors.  I went through four times with various girls on different difficulties.  If you want the platinum trophy, you have to go through the game with each girl at least eight times.  That seems a bit excessive.

Tokyo Tattoo Girls is definitely a unique game.  While there isn't a whole lot happening on the screen at any given time, you do have to pay attention and do some mirco-managing.  Even so, it's kind of relaxing and I found some enjoyment playing the game.  I don't know if I'd recommend it, since I think most people will be turned off by the lack of things to do.  People that enjoy sim games might enjoy it though.

The Good:
Unique game, can be kind of relaxing.

The Bad:
A lot happens automatically, and not a lot is going on most of the time.

The SaHD:
I once had 17 zones taken over at the same time or within a turn of each other...that was very hectic, as I barely had a chance to save or even use a skill between dialogue scenes.

(Review code for Tokyo Tattoo Girls was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ittle Dew 2+ (Switch) Review

I'm not familiar with Ittle Dew 2+, as I had not even heard of the first game.  Given that it was on mobile, PC, and Wii U, that's not surprising.  When I saw a screenshot of the sequel, I knew I wanted to play it.

If you have played the old (and awesome) top-down Legend of Zelda games, Ittle Dew will look very familiar.  Same perspective, similar idea.  As Ittle and her flying fox friend Tippsie, you must brave the eight dungeons to rebuild your raft, and continue your adventure.  The game also looks really good.  It mostly appears cel-shaded, but with a hand-drawn style mixed in.  Character portraits are very expressive, and the dialogue is pretty funny, too.  It obvious from the get go that the game doesn't take itself too seriously, all the way through the end credits.

As you wander around the island, you will fight many enemies.  Or, run past a lot of them, as I ended up doing.  Combat is pretty solid, save for the hit detection.  It feels like it was a bit too easy for me to get hit, especially when trying to attack foes.  There are weapon upgrades that give extra range to your attack, which helps this problem, but doesn't do much for the first couple of hours.  There is a roll, but the timing of it never quite clicked with me.  I could get it to work sometimes, but most times it just didn't work out.  It's also way too easy to fall into pits.  I lost track of the number of times I would just slide in, while feeling I had room.  That got annoying.

Besides your melee weapon, you eventually find a wand, ice ring, and dynamite.  The wand is not very strong, but gives you a distance advantage.  It's also really hard to aim.  Using the d-pad buttons on the switch, I could aim in the 8 standard directions without much trouble, but enemies could be at any angle.  Using the analog stick to precisely aim was a huge pain.  It reminds me of aiming in twin stick shooters, which is something I am really bad at.  So, if you are comfortable with those, aiming the wand might not be so hard for you.  The overly sensitive nature of the analog stick may be why I was filling into pits so many times.

The ice ring creates a block of ice, which can be pushed.  It can also damage enemies.  The range of the attack is abysmally short, because it's a ring, so I barely used it for that purpose.  It is the only thing that can damage the slime enemies, which thankfully you don't encounter very often.  The stick of dynamite is slightly more useful as a weapon.  You put it just in front of you, and it will explode after a short time.  If you have used a bomb item in any similar game, you will get the idea.  It's still not the best weapon, as you have to get close enough that the blast will affect the enemy, which can get you hurt.  At least the explosion doesn't hurt you.

These weapons also double as puzzle solving devices, which is pretty neat and pulled off well.  The stick can hit switches and light fires (when the weapon itself is on fire).  The dynamite can destroy some blocks, but also trigger switches with a delay.  This is used more than you might think.  The blocks the ring makes can be used to depress pressure plates, which is absurdly useful.  The wand is used to hit switches from a distance.

While these may seem mundane, the way they work together is impressive.  You can hit the ice block and shave a part of it off, making a diagonal surface.  This allows you to reflect the wand attacks, or push it at an angle.  The dynamite can be frozen, giving you more time to move away before it blows.  The wand can also be used to move push blocks at a distance, or even diagonally.  That last bit tripped me up at a puzzle late in the game.  The puzzles are a decent spread of easy, medium, and hard ones, but boy are those hard ones difficult.  The dream world has a dungeon for each item, where you can only use that item.  Sadly, I can't figure half of them out.

While the map can be a pain to access (hitting the Minus Button on the Joy-con isn't really convenient), it is very detailed, and I like it.  Since so much of the game is exploration, all cave and building entrances are marked on the map once you find them.  Caves that link multiple areas are clearly marked, and if you find all of the stuff in a place, it gets a check mark so you know you don't have to go back there.  Dungeons get a little crown on them if you have found everything inside as well.  There are maps that tell you where some of the secrets are, and it marks these locations with an "X".  Overall a great map system.

The first half of the game felt very fast, which then slowed down in the second half.  Probably because I starting dying a lot.  Enemies do a lot of damage, which is exacerbated when they shoot out way too many projectiles.  Oh, and did I mention the projectiles have decent tracking on them?  Yeah, that's pretty dumb.  That's why I ended up just running away from enemies, as they started getting pretty cheap.

I took less than 8 hours to complete it, so it's a pretty short game, but there's good replay and speed run potential.  I didn't do all of the optional and dream dungeons, mostly because I'm not good enough to do them.  The dungeons can be done out of order, and there are shortcuts in each if you do so.  There's also lock picks that you can use instead of a dungeon key, which will be fun to see which ones people skip.  I'm actually very interested in seeing a speed run of this game.

Old school top-down action adventure fans should definitely check out Ittle Dew 2+.  It scratched a gaming itch I've had for awhile, and looked awesome doing it.  It had a few flaws that grew as the game progressed, but I ultimately enjoyed it.  If you want a fun game..."Ittle Dew".

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

The Good:
Great map, lots of exploration, inventive puzzles.

The Bad:
Enemy attacks, damage, and sliding into all of those pits.

The SaHD:
So, are the health potions alcohol or something?

(Review code for Ittle Dew 2+ was provided by the publisher)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Creeping Terror (3DS) Review

When a group of friends enter a creepy mansion , they end up getting a memorable experience...just not the one they hoped for.  Ultimately, they have to survive the horrors that await them in Creeping Terror, a 2-D side scrolling horror game on the Nintendo 3DS.

The game starts off pretty slow.  It sets up the story, then has you explore the underground area for a bit.  The game then picks up when you finally find hit the first enemy encounter.  I tried to run away, but my stamina drained really fast.  I walked away as I waited for it to recover, but got caught.  So, I had to mash the A Button to escape.  It appeared as though I filled the meter in time, but fell over.  Then, I had to quickly mash it again.  Like the first time, it appeared like I won, but didn't.  Game over, man.

Okay, then, time to try again.  This time I skipped the event scene, which was not a good idea.  This didn't give me any time to start moving away, and was immediately caught.  Knowing a button mashing segment was coming up, I won it.  I took off and escaped.

Most of the time, you will be walking around the different areas and finding items.  Arisa moves pretty slowly, but you can hold down the R Button to run.  When not being chased by an enemy, your stamina is infinite.  The abandoned buildings and caves Arisa explores can be very dark, but thankfully she brought her phone, which is used as a flashlight (because of course there's no reception).  Some items are usable inventory items, such as food to replenish your max stamina, a charger for your phone, and defensive items to use on the monsters.  There are also necessary keys and such for progression, and collectible notes to find.  The notes provide some nice backstory.

While you won't run into enemies constantly, it does happen.  Since there is no real way to fight back (the usable items only stall the enemy for a few seconds), you'll have to book it out of there and find a place to hide.  While you do have the time and space to run away, the hiding places aren't marked on your map.  While some would say that makes it too easy, it's not always easy to remember where they were, since the map has no real detail on it, other than a basic layout.  When I know an enemy is near, I make sure to know where the closest hiding spot it.  At least the safe rooms are properly marked.

If a monster catches Arisa, as noted before, you will have to mash the A Button to escape.  Getting caught lowers the max stamina, which then shortens the distance you can run.  Another hazard to avoid while escaping are the small piles of rubble that Arisa trips on.  To avoid this, have your phone on.  Yes, tripping while running from the monster is a horror cliche, but I give credit for making a logical reason for it to happen.

The game isn't really hard, but it's easy to get lost.  Several times I wasn't sure exactly what to do, and would just wander around until something happened.  One time I ended up triggering an event where I lost an item, and retrieving it gave me the actual item I needed.  I generally had an idea whereabouts I should look, but not always the exact place.

It only takes about 4 hours or less to get through the game, but there are a few different endings.  That's some decent replayability.  The game is short enough that you can do multiple runs without a huge time commitment.  I'd also recommend doing a playthrough in as few settings as you can manage.  This makes it much easier to remember where things are located.

While not the type of game I usually play, Creeping Terror was pretty fun.  It's a well made game that could use a few improvements (I'd really like hiding places marked on the map), but is worth playing through at least once.  It can be scary, but was less so when I figured out the tell for most enemy appearances.

The Good:
Interesting and well made horror game.

The Bad:
Easy to get lost, would like some more detail on the map.

The SaHD:
One enemy you can hide from should be able to smell you, whether or not it can see you.

(Review code for Creeping Terror was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online (PS4) Review

A new MMO has hit the scene in Gamindustri.  Gaining access to the beta, the four CPUs and CPU candidates take to the internet and create characters that...look justlike they do.  Oh, so they are those kind of people I guess.  Time for Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online.

I'm pretty sure this is a spin-off game, since it doesn't play like the core games.  It more resembles the hack and slash releases like Tagmension, but even then doesn't feel enough like them.  The areas are bigger than Neptunia fans have dealt with before, and the action takes place in the same environment.  It's all real time, too.  Like an MMO, you fight enemies, gather materials, and open chests.  Also like an MMO, the initial loading to start the game takes a long time.  Thankfully, most loading in the game is very short.

The controls feel off to me, and took time to get used to.  The Square Button is attack, and X is jump, both of which make sense to me.  Triangle uses an item, if they are set.  I'd like it better if you could cycle to "no item" even with some equipped, so you won't accidentally use one.  R1 locks on to an enemy.  It wouldn't be my preferred button, but I eventually got used to it.  Holding L1 brings up the skill pallet, mapping them to the face buttons.  R2 is block, and L2 is dodge.

While initially I thought the dodge would be useful, it doesn't seem to do much.  It's fast, but doesn't go far, nor seem to offer invincibility.  Blocking is much more useful.  It not only lowers damage received, but if you time it correctly, you will parry the attack, taking zero damage, and hit them back.  The timing for the parry doesn't seem that strict, and I was able to pull it off fairly regularly.  However, the block itself can be very fickle.  There were plenty of times I would hold the button, and not actually be blocking.  You can cut some attack animations with it, but many others leave you wide open, as you won't enter a blocking state if you press the button too early.  That's what annoys me the most about it.  It can also be hard to tell if you are actually blocking because of all the action and effects on the screen.  If I can see I'm not blocking, I know to press and hold the button again, instead of thinking I am and taking full damage.  Blocking and parrying were very helpful throughout the game, but could be made more reliable.

In addition to a control scheme that feels off, the jumping and movement are also finicky.  Both feel too sensitive, with slight movements making the character go farther than I intended.  It's very hard to do small adjustments.  Turning was almost the opposite.  Pushing in a different direction doesn't immediately have the character face that way.  Instead, they turn more toward the way, but not enough.  It's most pronounced when you barely miss grabbing a gathering point.  These are definitely some things I'd like to see modified to make movement feel better.

You can only directly control the leader, but you can switch who the leader is.  I wouldn't recommend doing it in combat, since you switch leader and party members through the menu.  Someway to quickly switch would be nice.  The other three characters are controlled by the AI.  You can vaguely direct what they do based off the AI settings, but that still leaves much to be desired.  They rarely block or attempt to dodge attacks, even if doing so will save their life.  Healers only really heal if people are under 1/3 their total HP, which may be too late.  It could be that sometimes they are out of SP, but without a quick way to switch to them, I rarely have time to check.  Setting them to behave like their class makes it a bit better, but they still die because they are low on HP and don't make an attempt to survive.  Since it's really hard and costly to resurrect someone in the field, I'd prefer they try and live instead.

The environments themselves present some problems.  Many times I would get stuck on a wall, or small bump on the floor.  Sometimes the hang-up is when you try to jump, lowering the distance you will travel.  Enemies are really bad at realizing terrain heights, and sometimes just stand around if you are higher or lower than they are.  If they do attack, and you parry it, you can be sent off small ledges, which then negates your counter attack.  That's not a great reward for getting the timing right.

I had a few other problems during my time with the game.  I had one crash as I fought a boss, and I'm unsure why that happened.  It was only the once, and while I was annoyed that I lost 45 minutes of work, I can dismiss it as a one-off.  A few times during boss fights I would also get stuck in place.  I could still attack, but couldn't actually move in any direction.  It was really frustrating, and cost me a fight or two.  I eventually figured it's because I was using the awakening skill right next to the boss.  It somehow would trap me inside them.  It stopped happening when I realized the cause, but it's still a bad thing to happen.  Hopefully it gets rectified in the future.

When not in a dungeon, the town menu will look very familiar to Neptunia fans.  There are little chibi sprites of the people about town, and putting the cursor over them will have speech bubbles.  You can select the various shops, services, look for a guild quest, or view new events.  There's even a board for the multiplayer quests.  In a nod to Dragon Quest, you can only choose to save in the cathedral.  Other than that, that game auto saves when you go back to town.  Sadly, you only get this save, and cannot choose a different save slot.  I haven't had an issue with it, but I'm not a fan of just one save slot, and having that slot an auto-save in an RPG.

Half of the time, the story progression feels very fast.  You hit key points with speedy regularity.  The other half of the time, story progression is aimless.  You aren't really told what to do, and basically must resort to doing random guild quests.  After doing a few, a story event will appear, and you can proceed onwards.  It's a weird dichotomy that never feels right.  At least I only had to grind once or twice.  It's also one of the shortest Neptunia games, taking about 20 hours from start to end.  If you want platinum trophy completion, it's probably a few hours after that.

Overall, I think Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is pretty fun.  I'd recommend it to fans of the Neptunia series, even though they have likely already played it.  It has some annoyances, and could use another layer of polish, but it's still pretty enjoyable.

The Good:
I enjoyed the story and presentation of the game.

The Bad:
Story progression feels aimless at times, the AI isn't great, and the controls took me awhile to get used to.

The SaHD:
I wondered why Blanc didn't create her character with big...uh, file sizes.  Strangely, they did address this in a side skit, which I didn't think they would have thought of.  Also, this game should really be Vert's.  While they make a joke about that, it's silly she still doesn't have one when the rest (and IF) do.

(Review code for Cyberdimension Neptunia was provided by the publisher)

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Mummy Demastered (PC) Review

What happens when you mix WayForward's wonderful sprite animation, their metroidvania pedigree, and a blockbuster movie license?  Well, you end up with The Mummy Demastered, a 16-bit looking side scrolling action adventure...that needs better mixing.

Off the bat, the game looks really cool.  The sprites and animation are top-notch, and what I expect from WayForward.  The music ranges from average and forgettable to downright annoying.  You control your agent to run and gun through several areas of the map that don't always feel like they should match up.  I mean, if you are that close to the headquarters, why would you take a helicopter to the starting area?

Anyway, the map isn't the point of the game.  The action is.  Too bad it's just not that good.  Hit boxes seem off, the damage is too high, and there are too many enemies on most screens.  Crows move in medusa head patterns, and are somehow not the most annoying enemy.  Screens have lots of little crawling and jumping monsters that can be hard to aim at.  Many enemies have cheap placement just off screen so you hit them when you are trying to advance.  Most things take too many shots from your default gun, which drags down the fun.  To top it off, you can't even damage things that are too close to you, but of course they hit you, even if it doesn't seem like they even touched you.

You will get new weapons to use, but they all have limited ammo.  So, you may be like me and save them for bosses.  Even so, you will quickly run out of ammo in those fights.  Outside of boss battles, there are plenty of ammo drops, but still not enough to replenish what you use just to go anywhere.  If you are full of an ammo type, it will still be dropped.  Why not replace that with health?  Health pick-ups don't drop near frequently enough, considering how much damage enemies can do.  Plus, there are no rooms that restore your health to full, meaning you have to grind to restore it.  Not a good design decision.

Boss fights aren't much better.  The first was fine, but the second was just a horrible experience.  Lots of damage, lots of time, and it didn't always stick to its patterns.  In fact, they all take way too much time if you just use the default gun.  Because of the death mechanic (see rant below), you won't get any spent ammo back if you die.  So, you have to either hope you win, take forever, or grind for drops.  Not a great choice.

How about the platforming?  Well, it's not that great either.  It feels a bit stiff.  I'm not sure if there is a slight delay in jumping, or maybe the floor properties of the ledge aren't great, but there were plenty of times I tried to jump off a platform only to fall down.  I was playing with an Xbox 360 controller, and it didn't feel like it was a peripheral issue, just an issue in the game.  There's also plenty of low and inconsiderate ceilings that can get in the way of jumps.  I will admit the ceiling grab you get is really cool, even if the environment designs quickly limit how much you can use it.  It's like Mark of Kri all over again.

Now we can move on to the unique mechanic in the game that I alluded to earlier: the death mechanic.  If/when you die, your agent revives as a zombie.  At first I thought it was a cute animation, but nope, it's an actual enemy you fight.  Oh, and did I mention that it has your stuff?  Well, it does.  So, now you have to kill it.  With the default weapon.  And the default health.

You read that right, you have no upgrades whatsoever, because this is a new agent.  So you have to fight an enemy that has the weapons you did, but with the default stuff.  Ugh.  Oh, and you will only get back the ammo you lost.  Did you have 5 shots left in that machine gun?  That's what you recover.  Never mind that the zombie agent shot at you with that same gun 50 times, or threw 10 grenades, since you clearly didn't have that.  Somehow, he did.

It's a nice idea.  It fits with the game theme.  It's also not fun at all, and in fact sucks out any fun you were having.  You just end up in a worse position than when you died.  Thankfully if you die on a boss, the undead agent won't be with the boss, but the room before.  Since it automatically saves when you die, you have to get creative to avoid it.  Once I reached a new save point, I would quit out and copy that file to an empty slot.  If I died, I would copy it back and continue on, so I could avoid the annoyance.  That's not an effective way to play a game, but made it less stressful.

Like other metroidvanias, there are secret rooms and items to collect.  The teleport rooms are nice, as it's just a chopper that you ride to other drop zones.  The elevators to other areas are rappelling stations.  Another nice fit.  I'm also a fan of opening up some blocked rooms with grenades and their upgrades.  All three of these things are very appropriate to the setting, and are pulled off well.  Past that, we also get collectibles.  Not upgrades, actual little trinkets you pick up that don't really do anything.  I guess they ran out of useful stuff for players to find.  While I'm not opposed to collectibles in games, these don't feel like there was any care put into them.  The medallions are seemingly placed at random, and rarely hidden.

I'm not sure I have to reiterate my overall feelings on the game, since it should be pretty obvious.  The Mummy Demastered is far from WayForward's best work, and also not a very fun game.  It has promise, but fails to deliver in just about every way.  I wouldn't recommend it to metroidvania action/adventure fans.  Maybe if you really liked the latest movie, but even though I doubt it.  Well, at least it doesn't have a melee counter that you constantly need!

The Good:
Graphics and animation are good.  Some elements seem very appropriate to the setting and license.

The Bad:
Too many enemies; too much damage; hit, ledge, and jumping detection feel off; the death mechanic, and really just a lot of things, big and small.

The SaHD:
I shudder to think what the game would play like if it came out when the movie did.

(Review code for The Mummy Demastered was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morphite (Xbox One) Review

When I first heard about Morphite, it sounded like No Man's Sky, but with a story.  It's a space exploration adventure game.  You guide Myrah and travel from planet to planet to find out the secrets of the legendary Morphite.  Plus, there are tons of extra planets that are randomly generated when you land on them.

When you first see the game, it can be a jarring experience.  I immediately thought it looked like a child colored an N64 game.  I'm not meaning that in a negative way, that was just the impression I got.  The worlds are very colorful, and not big on detail.  What they are big on is visible polygons.

The story isn't really ground breaking, but it's enough of an excuse to hop from planet to planet and battle bosses.  The story worlds are not randomly generated, and have some light puzzle solving.  My main complaint with the story is that it's trying too hard to be funny.  However, they do succeed with your robotic companion Kitcat, who I find very humorous.  Maybe I just have a weakness for sarcastic robots.

Exploration involves a lot of moving around, jumping, scanning creatures, and later on, some grappling.  There are a lot of things to scan, from plant life to creatures and even some minerals.  There are even variations of each one: strong, weak, and even rare.  Trouble is, there was little to no visual difference between them.  So, you end up running around, trying to scan anything and everything to see if it's a new one.  Little and quick creatures are also annoying to scan.  It's not the quickest scanning, and the lock-on is really bad for it.  Scanning kind of a pain, but you do need the money and rare scans.

Story locations are marked on the star maps, but on the actual planets very little is.  Objective markers would have been nice for the times in the second half of the story where I was lost and confused.  The maps in general just aren't good.  Sure, they show the outline of the land, but no detail.  Oh, and they are limited to your current elevation, meaning they change a lot when going up or down.  Ugh.

Besides scanning and jumping, you will also be shooting.  After all, not everything in the universe is friendly.  Fighting on foot is very basic.  You aim with one stick, move with the other, and shoot with the trigger.  The Left Trigger locks on.  It works slightly better than it does for scanning, so it's best not to rely on it.  Ammo can be pretty scarce.  Thankfully, the basic pistol will slowly refill to 5 shots if it runs out.  It's not a huge help when your max is 100 shots, but at least you won't be left defenseless.  Switching between the different weapons and the scanner isn't very quick, either.  While I didn't die that often (at least from health loss), you can die pretty quickly if you aren't careful.  The boss fights aren't very hard, either.

Moving in space is little more than picking a destination from a star map.  You can only go so far as you have fuel.  Fuel will regenerate over time, so it's best to hang out in a space station and do some trading, or explore a planet and do some scanning.  There are some random events while traveling too, like finding items, losing money, finding traders, and getting jumped by enemies.  Like land battles, space battles are very basic.  You are in a stationary turret, and try to aim at the enemies.  Every shot produces heat, so you don't want to shoot so much that you overheat your gun and have to wait.  There's also a dodge that you can use every few seconds to try and avoid damage.  The space battles function, but they aren't terribly exciting.

What else can you do?  Well, you can sell your scans.  Rare scans and harvested minerals can be used for various upgrades to your suit and ship.  The necessary rare scans come from similar sources.  Need heat resistance?  Get a rare scan from something in a hot environment.  It makes sense, but can be a hassle trying to track down the last few you need.  Ship improvements are just pure money, and weapon upgrades require money and mineral resources.  Minerals are gained from shooting the appropriate rocks randomly on planets.  Sometimes you find a good amount, and sometimes there is only one.  The improvements get pretty substantial though, so it's worth doing them.  I'd recommend fuel first, so you can go to farther systems much faster.

As with most games, there are problems abound in Morphite.  There are holes in the environment and strange invisible walls.  I'm betting most of these are because of the random worlds.  I've fallen through the map several times, and some even on story stages.  I've gotten stuck in the environment and on various places on planets.  Some of these can be solved by quitting to the menu.  It thankfully saves very often, but the worlds are generated when you land on them, so even if going back to the same one, it will have a different map.  One story planet kept locking up while I was trying to load it up.  My last big gripe is that I can't adjust the viewing area.  This cuts off text on all sides of my screen and just bothers me constantly.

So is Morphite just No Man's Sky with a story?  Not as much as I would have thought in the beginning.  It has a distinct visual style, and an unremarkable plot saved by a back-talkin' bot.  The randomly generated worlds can be nice, but feel too much like each other to stand out.  The shooting aspects are very basic.  Scanning everything can be fun as you try to find the rare scans you need for the next upgrade, but you will end up doing it a lot.  It's not a hard game, but does have annoying parts that keep it from being a relaxing experience.  Overall, it's worth trying, but likely won't end up being memorable.

The Good:
Many worlds to explore, upgrades to purchase, and story to uncover.

The Bad:
Lacks polish or depth in many areas.

The SaHD:
How awkward was that scene where you learn about the grapple gun?  It just sounded like a video game.  It wasn't natural at all.

(Review code for Morphite was provided by the publisher)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (PS4) Review

Danganronpa is back, and I was excited to play it!  The first was a great game with a immensely interesting story.  The second was good too, but the trial mini-games lowered enjoyment.  So, let's dive in and see what's good and bad about Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.

The game is still split into chapters, each consisting of three components: Daily Life, where you talk to your fellow students until someone is killed; Deadly Life, when you investigate the crime; and the Class Trial, where you use your evidence and prove who the killer only they will be punished.  By being murdered, of course.  This flow is the same as the first two games, and it still works well.  The only Daily Life additions are new gift items that can give an extra scene, and the items that unlock new areas of the school.  The first is a nice addition, but always made me afraid I was going to miss these scenes (I did miss one of them).  The second was a clever way to lock off parts of the school, which has been in all three games.  Honestly, they aren't necessary, but I liked them.

The biggest game changes are of course in the trial sections.  Just like last time, some are okay, others are terrible, and a few are pretty good.  I'll start with the debate-like things, and then transition to the dreaded mini-games.  Non-stop Debates are still the basic trial aspect, and remain largely unchanged.  You cycle to whichever Truth Bullet you need, aim, and shoot it at the offending part of someone's statement.  Newly added are the Panic Debates.  These are basically Non-stop Debates with three people talking over each other.  Sometimes one yells, and you have to shoot their words down.  This is actually a logical addition to the trials, but it's not necessarily fun, especially the last one of the game.

If you played the first two games, and you should, you may remember capturing an opponents statement to use as a temporary truth bullet.  It never quite clicked with me.  Now it has been replaced with lying.  No, really.  Now when you hold the firing button on a truth bullet, it changes it into a lie bullet.  It's still only used once a trial, and feels strange.  I like the idea behind it, but it just seems weird that in an effort to find out the truth, you lie.

Another new addition is the Scrum, where you break into two sides, and have to match the opposing side's argument with your facts.  Like most of the changes, it doesn't feel necessary.  However, since it's not hard at all, I like it.  The last new debate mechanic is the back route.  This allows you to skip some parts, or...uh...actually, I don't know.  I never figured out where to do these, or even how, so I have no idea what happens.  I'm pretty sure they exist, though!

Now for the mini-games.  Remember the out-of-place snowboarding one in Danganronpa 2?  Well, that's gone and replaced with Psyche Taxi.  It's a little better, but takes longer.  So I guess that's a lateral move- not really better or worse overall.  Hangman's Gambit is back, because of course it is.  Thankfully no longer "improved", this one is just V3.  It's also bad.  This time letters float across the screen, but you can't see them.  Every few seconds a light quickly passes by to illuminate the letters.  You can hold the X Button to slowly expand a light in the center, but it costs concentration.  While you think this cost might be the bad part, I think it's worse that it's stuck in the center.  Either way, it's not fun to try and remember what each letter is while figuring out what word(s) they want.

So are there any new mini-games I do like?  Surprisingly, yes.  Imagination Excavation hides objects under a layer of colored tiles.  Hitting a group of tiles that are the same color makes them disappear.  Any tile touching them changes to the next color in the line (3 or 4 total depending on difficulty level).  The idea is to keep up that cycle until you uncover the item you want.  I actually like this game and play it in the casino to get medals for unlocks.  Unfortunately there, you can't sacrifice time to get rid of non-linked blocks like you can during the trial.

The strange rhythm mini-games near the end of the trials is also present.  Called Argument Armament, these have unfortunately taken after the Hatsune Miku games, and has the key buttons all over the screen, making it harder.  There's a new 'hold' type that wasn't explained, and took me many misses to get the timing down on them.  These are more annoying than previous times, but I really like the artwork of who you are arguing with in the background.  It even changes as you 'damage' them.

The closing argument comic panels are also back, and they are near perfect.  Placing the cursor over the missing panel gives a clue, and placing it over the possibilities tells you what it's about.  That second part is needed because the panels you have to place are tiny.  You also know instantly if something is wrong, and it waits until the whole thing is correct before going through it.  I really like these, and am glad to see them done so well.

The first Danganronpa set up a story so good, there really wasn't much room to expand.  The second installment did its best, but didn't quite live up to its predecessor, despite having stronger characters.  V3 doesn't do any better.  Half of the twists I like, but the other half are just bad.  Either they don't make sense, are unexplained, or have characters act completely out of character.  Speaking of characters, this game has an even higher number of characters that I can't stand.  I thought it would be hard to beat Hiyoko, but they proved me wrong with Kokichi.  Yes, a prominently featured know-it-all troll is a great idea (sarcasm).  It's easily one of the most annoying and horrible character types.

Past that, the bad twists make it harder to actually figure out the trials.  In the first two games, I had reasonable ideas about what happened, and who had done it.  I got all of them right (except the one I fully disagree with) well before the actual reveals.  Personally, I loved that.  It makes you feel smart, and having enough clues beforehand makes it seem like the story and game were well crafted.  The sheer randomness of some of the twists takes that away, and replaces it with the urge to bash your head into a wall.  I should have seen this coming, when the first trial went a new direction that just felt there to swerve players.  I thought that soured me on it, but we still had not reached the bottom.  That honor belongs to the final twist, which I will not spoil.  I really want to, because I don't like it and I don't think it's any good, but I'm a nice guy.

There are of course unlockable things once you get through the story, but they are different from previous offerings.  First is a wannabe dating sim, which is pretty much there to get you the rest of the friendship events, and the associated skills.  This used to be half of the collecting resource/time management sim games in previous entries.  Now, that half is just by itself, but the other part (which I enjoyed) is gone.  Replacing it is two separate, but heavily linked, games.

First is a board game (chara world?), where you pick a character card and take them through three 'years' of school to raise their stats and teach them skills.  A lot of this is up to random chance.  If you know me, that's a huge minus in my book.  The game is also pretty mean.  If you don't get to the goal within 12 turns or so, you can't take the final exam.  Then, you get sent to the despair route, which is filled with despair panels that drop your stats.  Sounds fun, huh?  You pretty much have to blaze through as fast as you can to ensure you hit the goal first.  Oh, and the final exam is way too hard.

Second, those built up characters are then used in a dungeon crawling RPG called Monokuma's Test.  It looks like the original Dragon Quest games.  It's also pretty fun.  However, you won't gain experience in this mode because they need to force you to do the Talent Plan board game.  You do gain enemy drops and money.  Enemy drops help you make equipment for your characters, and the money is used to buy new character cards from the vending machine.  Sadly, it's random, but at least I quickly got the two characters I most wanted.  Hello nurse and Peko Peko!  Then you take the new characters through the board game, and repeat the cycle anew.  I haven't put a lot of time into these yet (only a few hours), but I can easily see myself coming back to them.  Even if half of it is mean, it's kind of fun, and I want to get the rare versions of my favorite characters.

Even after sinking so much time into Danganronpa V3, I'm on the fence if I like it or not.  The flow of the game is still intact, and there are aspects that I enjoy.  Many new additions felt either unnecessary or outright bad, and the twists felt too random to enjoy.  The new post-game stuff is pretty enjoyable, though.  I'm sure fans of the first two games will play V3, but I get the suspicion that a large portion won't enjoy it.

The Good:
Flow is still the same from the first two games, some good new characters, and a few of the trial aspects have been refined.

The Bad:
The story, the rest of the characters, and of course, most of the trial mini-games.

The SaHD:
Keep the machine gun skill on for the final chapter!

(Review code for Danganronpa V3 was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hidden Dragon Legend (PS4) Review

Prior to release...ok, prior to getting a review code for it, I had not heard of Hidden Dragon Legend.  It's an action adventure game featuring intense sword fights in a fictional world grounded in ancient Chinese culture.  What could go possibly go wrong?

The story starts off really slow.  Literally.  You have to drag yourself through a room just to get started.  It feels like it takes forever to get to the part where the story is actually starting, which isn't really the best way to get people interested in what's going on.  Then it starts jumping forward through the passage of time, as if to make up for the beginning.  It's just really odd pacing that didn't mesh with me.  It also lays on the mysterious stuff really early on, dropping tons of characters and dialog that doesn't make sense until much later in the game.  Speaking of dialog, it's not that great either.  I'd have to say it's more comically bad than ear bleeding, though.

As you make your way through the various stages, you will have to fight many enemies.  Your sword has a normal and strong attack that are used for various combos.  You can also jump, which may help you hit the airborne enemies.  There's a dodge that costs stamina, so you can't spam it.  At one point in the game, you will also get throwing knives to give you a weak distance attack.  Under your health are five circles that fill up as you damage enemies.  These allow you to use a few special moves.

Unfortunately, the fighting just isn't that good.  The special moves are costly and take way too long to fill up.  The weak attacks work on normal sized enemies, but are almost useless on the bigger foes.  The jump just doesn't feel right when trying to hit the flying enemies.  It's super easy to get hit, even when trying to dodge.  Plus, the dodge doesn't seem to have invincible frames, making its usefulness suspect.  A block would have been really useful and welcome.  Enemies also jump around, making it a hassle to gather them up and hit them.

And those are the better parts of combat.  The bigger enemies frequently have super armor, so they can ignore your attacks and retaliate.  They don't seem to follow patterns, so you can't take advantage of openings as much as you should be able to.  They can also attack way too fast for how durable and strong they are, leaving you no time to dodge.  It's just a huge pain to fight them.  It's even worse when they come in multiples, or with other enemies.  In fact, fighting anything in groups other than the weakest grunts is a pain.

So the fighting might not have worked out so well, but what about any other aspects?  Well, the stages themselves are usually okay.  There are hidden and hard-to-notice offshoots that house extra chests.  You will gain a few different weapons and abilities as you go through the story, so some of these are not available your first time through the stage.  It's pretty easy to go back, too.  Just select the stage from the menu and you can replay it.  This is also good for getting some extra healing potions.

While you have a double jump (yay!) and a dash that works in the air (double yay!), the platforming isn't the best.  There are precise jumps, and the jumping didn't feel that great to me.  Sometimes the double jump just didn't want to activate.  The grappling claw you get partway through the game functions pretty well, though.  I found it easy to aim while using it for platforming.  However, in combat, it was just the opposite.

Overall, I don't think Hidden Dragon Legend is that good.  The platforming is okay, and the style of the game is nice, but the fights are what drag it down.  Evening out the difficulty and adding some polish would help the game a lot.  Even doing more with character and skill upgrades would have been a plus.  As it stands, you could easily skip it.

The Good:
Decent stage design, the setting and gameplay feel unique.

The Bad:
Fights have uneven enemy difficulty, which kills the fun.

The SaHD:
A super responsive dodge would make a lot of the fighting problems disappear.

(Review code for Hidden Dragon Legend was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Battle Chasers: Nightwar (Xbox One) Review

When I first started Battle Chasers: Nightwar, I only knew it was an RPG.  The visuals hooked me instantly.  The story animation and art is done really well.  In the game itself, the character designs, enemy models, and environments look spectacular.  It really looks like the 3D modeling of a comic book.

There's a reason for that.  Apparently, Battle Chasers was actually a comic book series from the late 90s to the very early 2000s.  Well, according to its Wikipedia page, the final(?) three issues are supposed to come out after the game, so I guess I shouldn't say "was" a comic book series.  Also, it seems Joe Madureira, the original creator is involved in making the game.  I guess that's why the game looks so good.

You might be wondering why I learned all of this.  The simple reason is it relates to one of my few problems with the game.  The story in the game is mostly self-contained, but the characters already knew each other.  It was obvious that I was starting in the middle of their tale, and I wondered if it was some property that I didn't know about.  It turns out that it was.

Anyway, the world map is fairly big, and you move from place to place on set paths.  Some places have alternate paths, which sometimes avoid enemies, and sometimes lead to extra places.  Fights are clearly labeled, and there are chests and gathering points on them, too.  If you want the enemies or gathering points back, you can either complete a dungeon or reload the game, which can be really useful to do.  The town shops are also accessed from this map, which took a bit of getting used to.

Once you find and enter an exploration area or dungeon, you will have more freedom of movement.  They also contain treasures, items to examine, and wandering monsters.  Each character gets abilities that you can use in these areas.  Some are just generally helpful, like the robot's heal.  Others can be used for exploration, like Gully's rock destroying punch.  Pretty much all of them can be used when making contact with an enemy to give you an edge in combat, too.  I would like it if they weren't as limited as they are, and only staying at an inn replenishes their uses.

Battles are tried and true turn-based fun.  Your speed, or in this game, haste, determines when and how often your turn comes up.  At first you get what appears to be a normal set of actions, but as you level up, there are some nice surprises.  Besides having a normal attack, there are alternates.  For example, Garrison also gets a move that does less damage than a normal attack, but applies bleed.  There are some special moves that will get an added benefit from that, on top of the fact that the target will suffer damage over time.  Calibretto, the healing robot, has a normal move that removes debuffs from a party member.  Status ailments are considered debuffs, so this is a very useful move.  Too bad I often want him to attack instead.

The other cool and unique concept is overload.  When you do a normal attack (or some other actions), you will build up overload.  When you use a skill that takes MP, you will use overload first.  So, it's basically extra MP.  Sadly, it usually doesn't stay with you after combat, but it does mean you can never actually run out of MP.  If you do, just attack and you'll have some more!  Now you know why I want my healer attacking, so I can do some healing for free.  I don't always get to take advantage of overload, but I really like it.

Battles themselves are sometimes harder than I would have thought.  Enemies hit hard, and it can be hard to keep up with the healing.  Even so, I did go a long time without needing to resurrect somebody.  If enemies are weaker, you can just mash attack on them, but as you go further in the game, and especially during the boss fights, you will want to plan out your moves.  Since battles are turn-based, you have the time to do so, and I suggest you use it.  Some fights are linked, where you will have to fight them back-to-back with no break in between.  These can wear you down, but are good for building up overload.

Each character can equip a weapon and armor (unique to each person).  In addition, there are 3 slots for a ring, necklace, and trinket (not unique to each person).  These obviously change your stats, usually for the better.  There are plenty of times that equipment gave different bonuses that the previous piece, so I had to choose which I thought was better.  I guess my biggest complaint with the equipment is that it seems to be random loot drops from chests, meaning you may get too many for characters that don't need it, and not enough for those that do.

There is a crafting system, so you can eventually make some equipment yourself.  It might be good, but it feels really inconsistent.  You can't just make the stuff you have recipes for, you also have to be at the right place.  Strewn about are different facilities that allow you to make stuff.  There's several of them in dungeons.  While that can be useful, it's just strange.  Really, I'd just like a more convenient place to do it, so I could actually play around with it and see if the crafting system is actually worth using.

Besides equipment, another way to make your characters stronger is with perks.  These act as passives, and there are various effects.  Some increase various stats, like dodge, attack power, or stamina, while others can make your active skills better.  There are also a few that just do generally useful stuff, like a small heal at the end of battle, or being able to keep a little bit of overload.  I really like those types of perks.  My favorite thing about them is that they aren't permanently assigned.  As far as I could tell, you can freely reassign the points (outside of combat) as the situation dictates.  Some are better for random encounters, and maybe you have others for a tough boss fight.  While I don't think they really mentioned the perks, except for a loading screen tip or two, it is something you should get into as early as you can.

One other personal problem I have with the game is the saving.  It's a full auto save environment.  There are multiple save slots, so you can either have multiple playthroughs, or have other people play on your profile, but each only really has that one auto save.  While it saves frequently, and I haven't had any issues with that, I would love to be able to make a hard save.  Mostly for my piece of mind, but also so I can play around with the crafting stuff to better understand it.

Besides the main quest, there are a few other things to do.  There's a fishing mini-game, because of course there is.  It's fairly simple, and therefore not bad.  You can also do some side quests, and even special hunting quests.  Add in the arena fights, and well, you have a fairly standard set of extra stuff to do in an RPG.  Even so, it's not really a knock against the game, just nothing new.

I really liked playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar.  The art is cool, the game is fun, and the battles are just difficult enough to get you to think.  I'd like some more polish in the information areas though, as there were things that I only learned about from random loading screen tips.  RPG fans, I strongly encourage you to play it.

The Good:
A solid and fun turn-based RPG with enough character and unique mechanics to not feel old.

The Bad:
A few small issues: only auto save, crafting system is a bit weird, and I actually learned stuff from the tip screens.  I'm not really sure why that last one is a negative.

The SaHD:
I think I'm going to check out the comic books at some point.  I'm interested in these characters.

(Review code for Battle Chasers: Nightwar was provided by the publisher)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bad Apple Wars (PS Vita) Review

Bad Apple Wars is a visual novel...or maybe a cooking game?  Okay, probably not the latter.  It's a otome visual novel set in a mysterious school.  There is a brewing conflict between the people that obey the rules, and those that break them (these would be delinquents, or "bad apples").  As the new girl in class, you will quickly choose which side you are on.

And I do mean quickly.  The first major route change is at the end of the prologue, with the next big one soon after.  This second choice is fairly innocuous, as it just changes the next scene, but the following choice pretty much locks you into a character's route.  Well, it's not technically their route, since the flow chart doesn't list it as such, but you will be pretty much stuck talking to that character for the rest of the game.  I'm on the fence about if I like that or not.  On one hand, having such a major choice appear so small is not good.  On the other, it does make the narrative more consistent.  In turn, that strengthens the already interesting story.

Choose Your Destiny...

Another jarring thing is that there are no dialog options, even though there are points that feels like one would pop up.  Your choices are which side you are on, then which guy you talk to to start their route.  This sounds worse than it actually is, though.  I didn't really notice I hadn't made a dialog choice for awhile, as I was still engaged with the story.  The plot moves along pretty quickly, especially once you get to what the game considers a character's route.  There are a good and bad ending plus a special epilogue.  For awhile, it was very unclear to me what you could do to affect this.  It's all laid out in a nice flow chart, so at least you can clearly see what you have done, if not what you need to do.

One unique feature in the game is the touch system.  Several CGs of characters during the story have places that you must tap.  Most times it just gives more dialog.  However, there are two near the end that are much more important.  Normally, touching the wrong place just doesn't do anything.  In these special scenes, you can only touch the wrong place so many times.  If you don't do it correctly, the scene still moves ahead, but is slightly different.  I eventually realized that this was what affected the ending in the absence of dialog choices.  I'm still not sure what effects the epilogue.

I don't see a game clock, like most visual novels, so I have to guesstimate my time.  It seems to be near the standard 6-8 hours for the first playthrough.  It's worth going through multiple times, because just about every other scene involves whichever guy's route you will end up in.  Plus, you don't really learn much about the others during a given route, and their backstories are pretty interesting so far.  Even if you skip the parts you have already seen, the other half of the game is still new.

Bad Apple Wars has a very unique setting, many differences to each route, and a very interesting story.  Admittedly, the story seems much more natural if you become a bad apple, but not in a way that messes up the narrative if you don't.  Getting the different ending routes is pretty unclear, but it's still a fun and worthwhile visual novel.

The Good:
Good use of color, interesting story.

The Bad:
Important route choice is early and innocuous, unclear how to get the different endings.

The SaHD:
I'm surprised some voiced characters didn't have a graphic.  It's not a huge deal, but it surely is a curiosity.

(Review code for Bad Apple Wars was provided by the publisher)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mystik Belle (PS4) Review

Mystik Belle is an action-adventure platformer made by Last Dimension and published by Wayforward.  After seeing the humorous trailer, I knew I wanted to review it.  It doesn't hurt that the graphics look like sweet 16-bit candy.

On its surface, the game is basically a Metroidvania.  However, it's also littered with point and click adventure game-like puzzles, and it works really well.  You'll find items that you have to use a certain place, usually to get another item to use elsewhere.  If you have played something like Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, or Disc World, then you get the basic idea.  Sure, mashing fetch quest puzzles with exploration does increase the likelihood that I'll get stuck (which I did several times), but both aspects of the game didn't clash with each other the way disparate elements sometimes do.

The only limitation of this that I don't like is the limited inventory space.  Belle can only carry so much.  Thankfully there are several warp chests around the map, that you can put items into and retrieve at another (at least on the normal difficulty setting).  Anything you leave will stay where you left it, which is a nice touch.  Even so, you will probably make a few trips to these chests to grab things you need.  Also, there is an apple you get at the beginning of the game (the hall pass).  If you don't have it, an invincible reaper will creep around and kill you instantly if he catches you.  So, you will probably want to carry that with you at all times.  If you never leave a screen without it, you'll also get a trophy.  What a good student!

The combat portion of the game is pretty solid and enjoyable.  It's also not very hard.  Belle can jump and shoot.  After each boss fight, you get a new spell, which will eventually get you a charge shot and a dash, both of which have combat applications as well as exploration.  The charge shot especially is great on boss fights.  Even so, boss fights aren't really that hard.  In fact, few parts of the game are actually hard.  When you come in contact with something, it damages you, but you also damage it.  This happens frequently because Belle's sprite is fairly big.  You take very little damage, unless you come into prolonged contact with it.  Since there is no invincibility time on a hit, it will basically drain your health while you stand in or on it.  There are no save rooms or items to heal your health, so you have to rely on drops from enemies.  There's just enough of them that it isn't really an issue.

The only really "hard" fight is the final boss of the true ending route.  Even then, it's only because it doesn't follow the normal gameplay.  I'm not going to ruin what's going on, but you must do something completely different to everything you've done up to that point, and they don't even provide instructions as to what the controls are.  That, and you will die in like 4 seconds, leaving you almost no time to figure out what you are supposed to do.  I was very frustrated at that part, but I wasn't going to give up while standing on the finish line.  I made it through, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

The platforming aspect didn't quite feel as good as combat.  There are a few jumps that are at the limit of Belle's jump, either distance or height.  The game feels pretty loose when she's near a ledge, which would sometimes cause me to fall when I was making sure I was far enough that I could actually jump the gap.  Sometimes the dash or double jump just didn't want to work.  Most times a missed jump is just having to get back up, so it's not the end of the world when it happens.  It's just an annoyance.

While the game is fun, it's also short.  It took me just under 3 hours to get the "good" ending, and that was done in one sitting.  I was only missing four items to get the true ending.  Finishing that up took only another 30 minutes, although I did use a list for those last items, since they aren't marked on the map.  It turns up I had seen two of them, but forgot they were there when I could actually get them.  Doh.  The only real replayability is for the achievements and trophies, of which there is a speed run one.

Mystik Belle is a fun action adventure platforming game with some point and click adventure puzzle solving thrown in for good measure.  It's a quick game, and not really difficult.  The art and animation is wonderful.  It's worth playing if you are a fan of Metroidvanias.

The Good:
The gameplay, the art, and enemy design are pretty top notch.

The Bad:
Felt a bit short for the cost, and the true ending boss fight is not fun.

The SaHD:
It took me way too long to get the "Belle?  BELLE!" trophy joke, but once I did, it made me laugh.

(Review code for Mystik Belle was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4) Review

Senran Kagura comes out with another spin-off game, this time a third person shooter called Peach Beach Splash.  No, they aren't using real guns, or even ink guns, but water guns.  So the girls run around in skimpy bathing suits, soaking each other.  Yeah, I'm not sure why this didn't come out sooner, either.  Let's splash!

I was initially worried when the multiplayer option was so prominent on the menu.  After picking single player, I was immediately thrust into a multi-part tutorial.  After completing that, I was then greeted with the single player options.  A character's load out is a small deck of cards which will comprise your weapon, pets, and abilities.  The weapon aims and shoots like you would expect in a third person shooter, but there is a lock-on.  Each weapon takes a different amount of water to fire, and you can refill by holding the square button.  There does seem to be a delay in getting it to start, though.  After trying all of the weapons, and felt the normal assault rifle was the best fit.  It had range, rapid fire, and a decent ammo capacity.

The pets and abilities will be ready to use after a few seconds.  They are randomly distributed in one of three slots you have, activated by the d-pad.  Once you use one, another will take its place and have to charge.  Some of these are very good, so don't ignore them.  The shield ones are invaluable against named characters and bosses, and also a great way to have the time to revive a teammate.

Lastly, there is actually a bonus for using your water on your own characters.  This won't hurt them, but will get them wet.  If they get wet that sounds inappropriate...they will enter a powered up state called Soaking Wet.  Original, I know.  This temporarily gives you unlimited ammo.  It's great.  It's also just as hard to get the AI to do it to you.  With unlimited ammo, you become a force to be reckoned with.  Some guns, like the mini-gun, become monsters with how good they are when they don't need to reload.  I have to assume that good multiplayer strategies revolve around using this mechanic with certain loadouts.

The "normal" selection of girls is present, with some of them being unlockable as you go through the story or other modes.  There's even a few there that I don't recognize.  I have to assume they are from a game or games that haven't been released in the US yet.  Hopefully that changes soon.  Because each girl just uses cards for weapons and abilities, there is no real difference between them.  On one hand it kind of sucks because your favorite character might not be as fun to play, since they all play the same.  However, it means you can basically only use the character(s) you like.  Plus, Hibari is no longer bottom tier!  What an upgrade!

"But wait," you might be thinking, "is this really Senran Kagura?  Where is the system to destroy clothing?"  Fret not, as they have added Squirmy Finishes.  Once you drain all of an opponents health, they stay prone for a few seconds, which gives you time to run over and activate this feature.  You pull out a duck squirt gun, and shoot the poor girl with water.  You can buy different colors of water because...I don't know.  Anyway, you can shoot the face, chest, or...bottom.  If you do it enough within the time frame, the girl's top or bottom will fall off, revealing that trademark shine.  Shooting them in the face doesn't seem to do much.  Maybe it's a tame option?  If there's a way to knock off more than one article of clothing, I haven't found it.  Plus, you can't do it to the final girl defeated, since the match just ends.

Water fights are fine once you get used to them.  My first problem was telling everyone apart.  I know the characters, but they all start in the same white bikinis.  When there is water flying everywhere, girls jumping and dashing around, all looking largely the can get confusing.  The first team on team fight was kind of a mess.  Afterward, I set all the girls in colors of bathing suits by school, so it was easier to tell them apart.  I also eventually figured out that different outfits are on different tabs in the dressing room, so you can put the girls in their normal or shinobi clothes.  And yes, those will rip.

As you can probably guess, each school has their own story line and progress.  With all four completed, a fifth story opens up.  Each has 10-15 stages total, and each match goes by pretty quickly.  They also culminate with a boss fight, which can actually be difficult.  In addition, there are "Paradise Episodes" to complete, which are smaller side stories, focused on different groups of the girls.  The final single player section is the "V-Road Challenge", which are basically tournaments.  Complete one, and you can challenge the next.  Unlike the story stages, these tournaments offer good money for completion.

Completing levels with give you some money and a card pack.  The money you get feels really low, at least on the easiest difficulty, and you need a lot of cards to level things up.  I assume it's a slow gain because you are supposed to get some for playing online.  I didn't try the online versus, mostly because I have no interest in it.  I tried once to do the online survival, where you fight waves of enemies and protect certain objects, but wasn't able to find another player.  I did a few waves by myself, but it would certainly be more fun with others.  That actually gave good money too.

All in all, Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash is a fun spin off game.  The shooting is fast and solid, and there is enough single player content to satisfy me.  It won't replace the core game, since none of the girls play different from each other unless you change their cards, but fans of the series should try it out.

The Good:
Bouncy ninja girls getting each other soaking wet.

The Bad:
The only differences in characters is what cards/weapon you give them.

The SaHD:
This feels like it should have come out in June, not September.

(Review code for Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash was provided by the publisher)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Conan Exiles (Xbox One) Game Preview

I'm sure many people's first knowledge of Conan Exiles was that it allowed nudity, and even had a character creation slider to set size.  Once I sat down to play the game preview of the Xbox One version, I realized I didn't even know what type of game it was.  Needless to say, I was surprised to find out it's an open world survival game.

I tried my first run, carefully setting up my character and reading stuff.  I didn't have much time then, so I had to quit out and hope that it had saved.  I tried to return later, but the single player needs an internet connection.  Sigh.  After finally getting it to work again, I found it had saved my stuff.  However, it also seemed to stop giving me experience.  I also quickly learned that the game tells you nothing.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there is a huge area between too many tutorials and not enough.  Conan Exiles is, at the moment, firmly in the "not enough".  I don't think it tells you how to do anything other than the button prompt to read stuff.  This wouldn't be as big of an issue, but you kind of need to know a lot of stuff in a survival game.  I need SOMETHING to go on here.  What are these meters?  What should I actually do?  How do I build stuff?  I don't really have time to figure it out if doing so makes me starve or dehydrate.

I eventually figured out a few things I could harvest, and that I could eat bugs for a minuscule food boost.  I also ran into a lake...and monsters.  I somehow won my first fight.  Then I lost my second.  The game respawned me...somewhere.  There is no map or minimap that I could find.  Since you asked, yes, that IS a bad decision.  Even so, I could only craft five things, and was unsure what to do.

So, I started over with a new character.  Unfortunately, it seems you can only have one offline character, and that co-op is only online.  Hopefully that changes in the full release.  Like 7 Days to Die, I'd love to play it offline and couch co-op with my wife.

Even so, I was finally gaining experience, and had some ideas of what to do.  Still annoyed about the lack of map, though.  When I leveled up, I could increase a stat!  I don't know what each stat does, though, since as I might have already mentioned, the game doesn't tell you things.  You also use level up points to purchase crafting recipes.  This is kind of neat.  Plus, I finally found how to get more than five things to craft!

Sorting through all of the things you can craft is a pain, though.  Once you do find what you want, or think you want, you then have to have enough stuff to actually make it.  Even basic things seem to take a lot of stuff to actually make.  So, I hope you grabbed a ton of stuff while on your way, since no map will make it harder to find your way back.  Don't grab too much and become encumbered.  Also remember to make a bed roll!

Finding a place to put it was a bit of a chore, too.  I build a few walls, a door, and a foundation to put it on.  Good thing, since you actually need a foundation to attach the walls to.  The problem was getting them to play nice.  The foundation pieces, walls and ceilings didn't always attach to each other.  I'm not sure why.  So, my "house" has a hole at the top.  The interface to build and actually put them down was kind of a mess, too.  In fact, most of the UI in general wasn't that good.

Combat isn't much better.  You have to be pretty precise with your aim, which is just as annoying in combat as it is for mining and gathering.  Well, humans have that problem, not the AI.  When hit, it moves your aim to the side, so you have to re-adjust to actually hit the next blow.  I don't think that happens to your enemies when you hit them.  You seem reasonably sturdy, as it took several hits to down me.  Unfortunately, the same applies to your foes.  That's only really annoying when attacking the animals for their skins, as it's a chore to chase after them after each attack.

So what things am I hoping they fix or add?  Well, a few optional tutorials, and some in game info to start.  I'd really like a mini-map, or a compass so I can figure out where to go.  No, I don't want to have to craft them, just give me something basic so I can find stuff.  It would be nice to have single player not need online, and have multiple save slots for multiple worlds.  If at all possible, I'd like couch co-op instead of online only.  Other similar games have it, so I would think it's possible.

If you are a fan of Dark Souls-like difficulty and like survival games, then boy do I have the game for you!  For everyone but those ten people, I'd say wait and see how the game develops closer to launch and see if it's been improved before forking over your money.  Conan Exiles is definitely a game preview, as it's not ready to be released, but does have a lot of potential.

The Good:
Fans of survival, crafting and hard difficulty will get some fun out of it.  Plus, the music is very reminiscent of Conan.

The Bad:
The game offers no help, tutorials, or information to get you started.

The SaHD:
Once it's more complete, I'll play with the server options, as it looks like there's some nice settings there.

(Review code for Conan Exiles was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA (PS4) Review

While not a game series I talk about often, I do have a fondness for Ys III.  I played it way back on the SNES, when my friend bought the game.  I think I eventually traded him for it, but regardless, I remember it being hard but fun, and having cool artwork in the instruction booklet.  I haven't really played many other of the series, except some of Ys I and II on the DS...and Ark of Nepishtim.  Strangely, I don't recall much of either title.  Still, Ys VIII sounded interesting enough to give a try, and I'm very glad I did.

I'll say that the first impression of the game wasn't great.  It's a PS4 title, but the graphics don't seem to support that.  Especially the water.  This could easily be because it's also a Vita title, so I'll look past that.  Also, a game should not solely be judged on its looks, but they will and should play some part in the overall impression.

Ys VIII is an action rpg where you battle creatures and find other castaways on the deserted isle of Seiren.  Fights are in real time, and you will need to be quick on your toes to avoid getting hit.  Dodging at the right time will slow down time for everyone but you, allowing you some free hits.  Hit detection felt a bit off most times, with attacks hitting me before it looked like they should.  Still, there were plenty of times I pulled off the dodge.  The game is sometimes generous with it to, and enemies won't aim-bot you with their attacks.  There are times when they blatantly do so, especially the bosses.

The controls just felt a little off.  Attacking is done with the X Button, and jumping with the Circle Button.  I would have preferred them each moved one button counter-clockwise.  You can actually re-map most of the controls.  I thought this would help, but I think I used the default just enough to make switching not feel right either.  I ended up switching back, and just tried to get better.  I still made mistakes occasionally.  Maybe my brain is what's just a little off.

As you explore the areas, you also find materials and treasure chests.  Materials as used to trade for or make items, including weapon upgrades and armor to wear.  Sometimes you find a blockade that can be moved when you find enough people, which I thought was a pretty neat way to limit areas of the game.  Adol and friends also find adventure equipment as you wander around, which will help you reach even more areas.  I will say several of these were not stereotypical to me, like boots that let you walk on top of mud instead of sinking.  They are all useful in several places, so thankfully you can eventually equip more than one.  Even so, you might have to swap more than you'd like.

Besides the main quest, there are side quests, invasion battles, and suppression battles.  The side quests have time limits, but based on plot progression, not real time.  Still, it's best to do what you can as soon as possible.  Suppression battles are like small scale horde mode fights.  There are several waves of enemies, and you must defeat them before they can destroy the town gates.  While kind of fun, these fights are mostly optional.  Invasion battles are you going into an area to destroy monster nests.  You have to light torches and keep them lit to weaken the nests while you hit them.  They make sense in the context of the game, but still feel largely superfluous.

Ys VIII has its fair share of difficulty.  It starts off fairly easy, but steadily ramps up throughout the game.  There are a few annoying battles, usually involving a boss or the ancient species before you get special weapons for them.  Being an action RPG game, its content leans more toward the RPG side, offering many hours of playtime with lots of story and side quests to keep you occupied.  I'd say it's easily 35-40 hours for your first run through the game.

I wasn't sure I would like Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA when I asked to review it, but I'm happy that I did.  It's a very fun action RPG with fun exploration aspects.  It offers a good amount of content, too.  I'd recommend it to action and action RPG fans.  You'll find a lot of things to enjoy!

The Good:
Several characters to use, a big island to explore, many fights to be had, and lots to do.

The Bad:
Boss fights can be tiring, early fights against the ancient species are annoying.

The SaHD:
I really could have done without the murderer subplot.

(Review code for Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA was provided by the publisher)