Friday, December 29, 2017

Blossom Tales (Switch) Review

What is a grandpa to do when his grandkids demand a bedtime story they haven't heard before?  Make one up, of course!  I really like this premise for Blossom Tales, a retro-styled game obviously inspired by the old 2D Legend of Zeldas.  To better fit that premise, there are times the story has added elements as the grandkids chime in.  There are even a few scant places that have player input, with minor changes.  While a great idea, it would have been better to throw in a few more of those choices to make its unique inclusion better stand out.

At first, the controls felt odd to me.  A is your sword attack, but other usable items and sub-weapons can be mapped to B and X.  After playing for a bit, this configuration worked well and I got used to it.  It is strange that the Y Button can't be mapped to a third item, or do anything at all.  I really like that each non-consumable item just takes your magic meter, which refills over time.  No more running out of arrows or bombs!  The only minor gripe I have with the items is the bow.  You have to hold the button for a second before the arrows can be fired.  I get that it is to represent drawing the bow, but it can be very inconvenient.

Combat in Blossom Tales is pretty good.  The sword's range is decent, but it is strangely weaker than all the sub-weapons, even the boomerang.  It's easy to get hit, but there are plenty of hearts in destructible things.  Plus, the game is generous with money and gives you a good chunk of healing items for free.  I do have a few problems, though.  There are times when there are many enemies on the screen.  Boss fights can get really chaotic when they have fancy effects, attacks, and enemies all over the screen.  Usually at this point it's best to ditch tactics and just keep smashing and heal as needed until the fight is over.  Bosses don't display their health, but the screen flashes a bit when they take damage.  As they do, the flash changes from green to red.  When all the effects are flying around, it is nigh impossible to make out this element.  I'll say it doesn't ruin the game, but some of these aspects should be tweaked to better work together.

Being so inspired by Zelda, there are of course many puzzles to solve in Blossom Tales.  While not nearly as hard as the brain twisters in Ittle Dew 2+, they have their fair share of problems, too.  I'll admit I do like some of the puzzles.  One where pieces are rotated to make connected lines (like the old Pipe Dream game), shooting arrows through torches to light other torches, sliding block puzzles, and walking over a pattern of tiles without stepping on the same block twice were pretty fun to do, and required thinking.

Probably my biggest gripe with the puzzles I don't like is that they just go on for too long.  I can tolerate them in short, small bursts, but they just keep going, which increases my agitation.  There is a Simon Says-like memory mini-game that I really disliked.  Having to remember 3 to 5 in a row is fine, but they sometimes go up to 7+!  That might be passable, but they only show it once, the patterns are random, and messing up at all starts all the way over at the beginning.  If I'm having trouble with 7 in a row, I don't really want to have to re-do 3, then 4, then 5, then 6 in a row before attempting the 7 in a row again.  My short-term memory isn't that great, so you might have better luck than me at these puzzles.

There are also sections where you have to walk along narrow paths without falling.  Again, sounds okay until they have crumbling paths that mean you have to rush.  Oh, and they also throw in enemies, traps shooting at you, and conveyor belts pushing you toward the edge.  Definitely another pain in the butt, amplified by having to do the whole room over again if/when you fall, even if there is stable ground in the middle of the course.

If you rush through the main part of the game, it will last about 8 hours.  If you are poking around for all the secrets and items, it will of course run you a few more.  Unfortunately, there isn't a way to mark which caves/holes/etc you have been in, and which still have something to collect.  There are a few side quests to collect various item drops from enemies.  While these quests aren't tracked, you will basically need 20+ of each item dropped.

Overall, Blossom Tales is a lot of fun.  Even though I have some small issues with the game, it's still worth a playthrough for old 2D Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past fans.

The Good:
Fun game that harkens back to two of my favorite 2D adventure games.

The Bad:
The puzzles/sections I don't like last too long, and boss fights feel too chaotic as you progress.

The SaHD:
If you are playing for fun, I wouldn't stress about money or getting every heart piece.  You should have plenty by the end.

(Review code for Blossom Tales was provided by the publisher.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Killing Floor 2 (Xbox One) Review

Killing Floor 2 is a fast-paced first-person shooter where you battle waves of enemy monsters called Zeds.  Between each wave, you can spend your earned money for armor, ammo, and new weapons.  After the last wave, there is a boss fight, which is a nice and unique addition to the formula.  My only real complaint about that is the lack of bosses.  There are only three (four including the new free seasonal Krampus update), so you will fight the same one many times.  At least they all behave in different ways, so they don't feel that similar.  Even though most enemies just run up to hit you, there is a nice variety in what you fight to make fights frantic and interesting.

There are several characters to choose from, but it only really affects what they look and sound like.  Furthermore, there are some costume accessories and outfits you can put on them.  Some are only for one person, and some are for multiple characters.  There are a passable number of customization items at the start, but you have to earn more.  Unfortunately, most of them are from random loot boxes you earn in the game, and then most of those require real money to unlock.  In-game currency, called Dosh, that you earn from daily and weekly challenges unlocks a free loot box, but it takes longer to earn those.  Thankfully the game is first-person, so you won't see your own character that often.  That means I can mostly ignore the customization stuff and focus on the gameplay.

Besides the character you play as, you can freely choose which class you are before a match.  Each has different starting weapons, recommended weapons, grenades, skills and perks.  However, you can buy weapons from any of the classes if you want to.  Your character has a total weight limit of 15, and each weapon has a weight value.  At first I was apprehensive about this, but the matches are short enough, and I quickly learned which weapons I wanted, and had just enough room for what I needed.  This isn't great for experimentation of various weapons, but in playing multiple classes and multiple matches, you will likely try out enough to know what fits your play style.

Kills with different weapons will give you experience for the class that it comes from.  I worried that this would slow down the level gain for the main class, but it doesn't seem to.  Plus, you can use a leveled up class to get some experience for a new class you want to try.  At every fifth level, it adds a perk to that class.  There are two possible choices, and you can switch between them any time you aren't in a match.  I really like this.  There are also skills for each class, like the Demolitionist setting a trap on any door they weld or letting other players get a free grenade.  Some get better as the class levels up, like the Field Medic's extra armor.

Another unique addition is Zed Time.  Occasionally when you get a kill or headshot, everyone enters Zed Time, when the world all slows down.  This is best used to carefully aim for more headshots.  Many max-level perks give you bonuses during this time.  That's a good thing, because otherwise it can be hard to use.  The slowed down aiming is useful, but the slowed down reloads are excruciating.  This is less of a problem with most guns, but with single-shot ones, like my grenade pistol, it can be a problem.  Still, a fun system.  It makes things more dramatic.

Thankfully, there are a lot of maps to choose from.  I prefer the brighter ones so it's easier to see the Zeds.  On the Outpost level, my friends and I found a great spot for defense.  It can be hard to stay in a good spot, since between waves you will be running to the open pod for resupply.  Strewn about the maps are various collectibles.  While I do like that, I'm not a fan that you have to get all of them in one run.  Two of the levels make this especially hard.  In those places, each round is in a different location, so you can easily miss them when going from round to round.  It's a neat idea for a stage, but not for gathering collectibles.

If you are a fan of horde mode in games, where you fight waves of enemies, then Killing Floor 2 is an easy recommendation.  The microtransactions are a bit of a downer, but the amount of classes, weapons, and stages gives you plenty to do.  Unfortunately, I have had a few game crashes, and some connection issues, but I think the later is my router dying.  I have fun playing the game by myself, but I'd really recommend grabbing a friend or four and dive in together for a ton of fun.

The Good:
A fun shooter against waves of enemies with lots of classes and weapons.  Even more fun with friends.

The Bad:
A few more boss types would be nice.  Not too fond of giving the player boxes they have to then pay real money to unlock.

The SaHD:
I'd recommend turning on enemy names in the options, as it makes it easier to call out specific enemies (although my friends and I have great nicknames for them already), and makes it easier to remember which ones you need for daily challenges.

(Review code for Killing Floor 2 was provided by the publisher)

Friday, December 15, 2017

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Xbox One) Review

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was not an entirely unexpected release (they have done the other movies before), but one that's different from the normal release.  Instead of following multiple movies, it follows one.  Because there isn't quite enough content from just that one film, there are added levels to help flesh out characters or plot points.  At least it follows the story better than the Disney Infinity set for the same movie.

Like the other Traveler's Tales LEGO games, this is a third person action adventure game.  You go through each level, fight some bad guys, solve some light puzzles, and get to the end.  The levels in The Force Awakens are pretty good at following the movies.  They also intersperse the vehicle sections into the normal levels.  The LEGO games I played usually had those as their own separate level.  There are lots of collectibles in each level, and goals to complete to unlock things.  You can't do everything the first time through the level.  Once you unlock more abilities, you can revisit the levels and get the things you couldn't before.  While this is par for the course, you now have to finish the story mode before you can do free play for a level.  While it's a good idea to do that anyway, it seems like an odd restriction.

I haven't really played many LEGO games since the first LEGO Batman, so some of these changes might not be new.  Different characters have different abilities, although now most of those have an associated mini-game to them.  Grapple pulls require mashing, which makes sense to me.  Strength requires...a timing one?  You'd think mashing would make more sense there.  Protocol droids have to match a series of symbols.  Astromech droids have to match wheels.  This one actually makes some sense, as it reminds me of Artoo's spinning robot plug.  Still, on the whole they feel unnecessary.  I don't really like to do them, nor do I want to.

Speaking of unnecessary and not fun, they also added cover-based shooting sections.  These mimic third-person cover-based shooters fairly well.  You stay in cover by default, and have to hold the left trigger to peek out so you can shoot.  They at least warn you when an enemy is targeting you, but it's still a pain to aim and shoot most troops.  Sometimes it auto-aims, which helps, but other times it won't, despite someone really close to where the cursor starts.  I get what they are going for, but it just doesn't work.  Considering the developers don't bother to fix problems with the game, I doubt these will ever get better.

Following only one movie instead of three also comes with another pit fall: length.  There's much less story to go through, making the game rather short (to be a stormtrooper).  My wife and I were able to get through the entire story in less than 10 hours.  There are the extra unlockable levels and other activities to do if you are so inclined.  Also, lots of collectibles to find and characters to buy.  Sure, a vast majority are in no way necessary, but I guess it adds to the playtime.  This release also features the biggest variety of non-characters that nobody really wants to play as, just to give more "content".

Like the other LEGO games, it isn't too hard to go through the levels.  If you die, you will just lose some studs (currency) and respawn.  The only real challenge is trying to figure out what they want you to do at times, from having to do a new mini-game, to figuring out what you have to do to move forward, to fighting with the flight controls.  Most times it didn't keep the inverted control settings for either player.

If you have enjoyed all the other Traveler's Tales' LEGO games, you should enjoy The Force Awakens.  My wife and I had enough fun to finish the story.  Still, it didn't change my opinions on these games.  Instead of fixing the problems, they just add things, most of which are unnecessary.  I don't want a mini-game for every ability, and I certainly don't want those shooting sections.  The extra levels of things not seen in the movie are a decent though, but also feel unimportant.  The fact that the game only covers one movie is another thing that hurts this release.  If you want to play it, I would recommend renting it, as you can easily beat it in that time.

The Good:
Some of the silly stuff is actually pretty funny.

The Bad:
Character ability mini-games and the shoot out sections are not necessary nor fun.

The SaHD:
Let's hope the inevitable LEGO The Last Jedi incorporates some of Rogue One to pad out its length.

(LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was rented from Redbox)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tokyo Xanadu EX+ (PS4) Review

The Vita version of Tokyo Xanadu was a pleasant surprise earlier this year, and I was looking forward to trying out Tokyo Xanadu EX+ on the PS4.  Newly added content should be the icing on the top of this cake.

The core of the game is largely the same.  Kou and his friends get caught up in the mysterious world of Eclipses, doorways to another realm, and Greeds, the monsters that live in the Eclipse and feed off people's negative emotions.  There will be story scenes as Kou goes through school, which leads to finding a new Eclipse, where you enter to save someone, and fight a boss.  The story is pretty good and the characters are enjoyable.  Each chapter has "free time", where you can hang out with various characters to deepen your relationship with them.  This costs a finite resource (now correctly known only as affinity shards), so you can't be really good friends with everyone in one playthrough.

When in an Eclipse dungeon, you will run around, fight monsters, dodge their attacks, and hit switches.  The controls are pretty responsive, but a bit unusual for me.  Attack is the X Button, Jump is Circle, and ranged attack is set to Square.  I would usually prefer them shifted one button clockwise, and set them that way in the options.  I still would mess them up, so I just set them back.  Maybe it was because I played the Vita one a lot?  New to this version are the EX moves that each character gets.  You build up the meter for them, same as the other special attacks, and unleash them with the R2 button.  These are cool and really powerful, plus you are invincible during them.  I don't know if they were needed, but I do like them.

While the difficulty of the original release felt just right, it now seems higher and also less consistent in EX+.  In the first dungeon, enemies and the boss both did a lot of damage.  It seems like that should be the most balanced portion of the game, since you know the player's level and equipment at that point.  The dungeon in the first bonus chapter was also more difficult than I think it should have been.  It was a little better in the second dungeon, but the difficulty changes were still noticeable.  The bosses seem to have more HP, which makes fighting them more of a slog than it was, and many enemies are just stronger.  I decided to bump it down from the "normal" setting to "easy", which made a difference.  However, there were still portions where enemies did too much damage with their attacks, and sections where I could just blow through them.  I suppose I have to grind now, even though it was very well balanced in the initial release.  It's not enough to make me dislike the game, but it is a disappointing change.

So what else have they added to make people double dip (assuming they are one of the small handful of people who own a Vita)?  Well, for starters the localization seems to be much better, as I haven't noticed the issues I had with the Vita release.  You can also travel to Kou's room, and put up decorations.  Certain decorations will have a cut scene with another character that raises your max HP.  While I would not be sold on just being able to decorate a room as a great new feature to highlight, the stat boost is always welcome.

The biggest and best new additions are the side stories available at the end of each chapter.  These focus on other characters in the story and helps flesh them out as characters.  The first one is especially good, since it gives you a preview for later in the game.  You play as new playable character White Shroud, and the new element: Light.  Light is strong against all the non-shadow elements, while shadow is strong against light and...the other elements.  Hmmm, that doesn't seem thought out, does it?  Anyway, White Shroud is fun to play as, and I really enjoyed the side story additions.

Despite the difficulty issues, I enjoyed playing Tokyo Xanadu EX+.  If you played the original, there is enough new content that I'd recommend playing it again (too bad the save file doesn't transfer).  If you didn't play the original, but like good action RPGs, then I'd also recommend the game.

The Good:
Added content make this good game worth revisiting.

The Bad:
Higher and inconsistent difficulty.

The SaHD:
Now that the original version has been out for a bit, I found a guide that specifies the hidden quests.

(Review code for Tokyo Xanadu EX+ was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

School Girl / Zombie Hunter (PS4) Review

Trapped in a school, surrounded by zombies, and no way to escape...what's a girl to do?  Bust out some guns and start blasting!  That's the basic premise of School Girl / Zombie Hunter, a game set in the Onechanbara universe with the title that explains it all.

The game features a single player campaign as well as multi-player missions.  The story is divided into 5 chapters, each then broken up further into 5 to 7 missions.  Side missions are unlocked after completing each chapter.  Missions have story scenes before and after them, which usually take longer than the missions themselves.  I would like a way to advance the spoken dialogue without skipping the scene entirely.  Character selection on most missions is fixed, but some allow you to choose.  Plus, when you complete a mission, you can replay it with any of the girls.  This is useful for getting collectibles (because of course there are collectibles), and grinding.

Each girl starts with a proficient weapon type, but you are free to equip them with up to five different weapons from any type.  I like to keep at least their default one, as most are pretty useful, but I also give each an assault rifle, as it seems the most useful and well-rounded, and a sniper rifle.  The rocket launcher sadly didn't seem as useful as I wanted, and not just because the explosion can easily damage you and your allies.  Since weapons don't really differentiate the girls, they each have a unique skill.  Some are more useful than others, notably Akiha's item-less resurrection, and Mayaya marking the location of items and collectibles.

Besides the different types of weapons, each weapons has many variants.  There are varied stats like attack power and reload speed to consider when equipping your characters.  Plus there are additional bonuses, like blast that knocks enemies down, and dismember, which can cripple the zombies.  You will also unlock outfits and shoes for the girls to wear.  These don't affect your stats, so choose whichever you want.  Lastly, you can change the girls' underwear.  It tracks the time worn for each girl, which at a certain point actually is used for something.  It's weird to be sure, but it is Onechanbara after all.

The default controls are okay, but not really a configuration I would use for a third-person shooter.  The jump I could deal with on the triggers, but having the zoom/look down sights button as a face button is just too weird to me.  Thankfully the controls can be changed, so I set them more like a traditional shooter.  This ended up working really well for me, although the aiming sensitivity and myself were always at odds.

Even on the normal setting, the game's difficulty seems inconsistent.  Some missions are really easy, and some can get quite hard.  It's mostly because of the different enemy types.  The normal, slow zombies pose little threat.  There are some special ones that glow green or orange, which explode in a poison or concussive blast respectively.  These are only a problem if they die near you, or your melee attack doesn't knock them away.  Still, not too bad.

Then there are the glowing red ones.  These will run at you as fast as they can.  As you might have guessed, they are really annoying.  Partially because they only respond to being shot when they die, partly because it can be hard to shoot them, and mostly because the game isn't designed to deal with them.  They are too aggressive, and you can't do much about it.  There is a dodge roll, which takes stamina, and can't be chained too closely together.  Plus, if you do it too early, they just run up to where you rolled to, and hit you there.  Your melee attack may work, but you can't interrupt your reload with it.  I could deal with one or two of these enemies, but they tend to come in groups.  If one hits you, the rest usually will too, which just adds damage you can't mitigate at that point.  Enemies can spawn pretty much anywhere, including right next to you or behind you, and the red ones can spawn while running at you, leaving you no time to react.  Honestly, I wouldn't have a problem if they weren't so constant and numerous on many missions.

The best way to deal with the difficulty is to grind for experience.  The only real way to get experience is by killing enemies, as the end reward is directly tied to the number of kills you get.  So, missions that don't require you to kill enemies, or only have bosses, won't help you much.  Difficulty also doesn't give any kind of bonus, so you are best off grinding a timed survival mission on the easiest setting, since you will kill more enemies that way.  Overall, this system makes gaining levels inconsistent, furthering the need to grind.

While the game boasts multiplayer missions, they are noticeably more difficult than the story ones.  You can have up to five people play them, and it seems to be geared for that, no matter how many join.  I tried a few times to play missions, but was only able to get into a mission twice.  The first time, the other person and I barely won (probably because he was a much higher level), while I wasn't as successful the next time.  At first, I thought the online might be good for grinding, but it's way too difficult to be useful for much of anything.  If you are lucky enough to have a full group, it might be okay, but good luck finding one.

School Girl / Zombie Hunter is a pretty average game.  It has a few neat aspects, like the character skills and the weapon variants, but doesn't do many unique things.  The difficulty is wildly inconsistent most of the time, and the loading screens could use...anything to make them not just black screens for several seconds at a time.

The Good:
A good amount of missions to undertake, good variety of weapon abilities.

The Bad:
The red, rushing enemies are annoying, and the difficulty feels all over the place.

The SaHD:
Wait, why do the girls from this school normally carry pistols?!  And how does the jamming not affect the radio?  And since it doesn't, how come they still can't leave?

(Review code for School Girl / Zombie Hunter was provided by the publisher)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Demon Gaze II (PS Vita) Review

Demon Gaze II is the sequel to the first Demon Gaze, which came out on the Vita...over 3 years ago?!  Wow, time has flown.  Anyway, that game was okay, but had some huge spikes in difficulty that left me kind of down on the title.  Since then, I've gained a better appreciation of the dungeon RPG genre, thanks to some really good titles.  I was anxious to see how Demon Gaze II stacks up to its predecessor, and to the genre as a whole.

Like most other dungeon RPGs, you move around a grid map and battle in first person.  The dungeons themselves are uncovered as you move through them, and there are a few trap panels, which will damage you.  As you did in the first game, the point of each dungeon is to find the magic circles, use a gem to start a fight, and win the fight to claim the circle.  When all circles are claimed, the way to the boss will be open.  Overall, the maps felt smaller than the previous game, and thankfully there were less gimmick panels.  There's also some nice shortcuts that you can open up.

To start a circle battle, you give up one to three gems.  There are gems for each type of equipment, plus some special ones that make the enemies stronger, or the resulting item better.  If you win the fight, you will get a drop of whatever type(s) of gem you used.  Use a helmet gem, get a helmet as an enemy drop.  While in the last game these gems were plentiful, you will have to buy a vast majority of the ones you use in this game.  I did get a few, but nowhere near enough for all the circles you encounter.  Considering how big of an issue money is, this is disappointing.  Also disappointing is the fact that you can no longer save your game at any circle.  This was a very nice feature, and I wish it had returned.

Battles themselves are almost identical to last time.  They are turn-based and first person view.  You pick what each party member will do on that turn, and then they play out in order of agility.  There's a lot of text while you do it, so you can use the triangle button to speed it up.  The same button can be used to repeat the actions you did last turn, which is great for grinding.  One reworked feature is demonize.  Since your party members are previous bosses, who have powered forms, the demonize command will change them into that form.  Your party members will power up, gain access to new skills.  Every turn, it takes one level of star power per character.  you can get more by killing enemies.  It's very useful on bosses and tough enemies.  The star power gauge is also used to defend from star gaze, an ability that strong enemies have.  If effected by star gaze, your non-main character party members attack each other and you.  While an interesting idea, I don't like that since it makes fights against those foes take a lot longer, because you have to save the gauge for the counter skill, instead of doing more damage with demonize.  There's also demon fusion for another stat boost and advantage in battle.

Boss fights are important, because that is how you recruit new characters.  The first three bosses can be done in any order.  These fights just felt right, since I didn't need to grind to beat them.  However, I had to grind to beat every boss after that, which wears me down.  It does give a bit of extra money, which you will need, since resurrecting a character gets ridiculously expensive as they level up.  Dying would be less of an issue if bosses and other strong enemies didn't have whole party attacks and such high damage skills.  Also, while instant death spells are rare in Demon Gaze II, they are always a big no-no.

If you have seen any of the PR for this game, you probably noticed that dating sim elements are mentioned.  This is the maintenance feature, and it is used to power up you and your party members, plus give them some personality.  Maintenance costs one crystal, and you have to poke the person at some part of their body.  Yes, it's pretty much as weird as it sounds, and reminds me of Moero Chronicle.  It is not as risque as that, but it's on the same street.  The real poke is just one try, but there are a few practice pokes beforehand.  At lower likability levels, it will leave up your best spot.  Getting a "perfect" is much better than a "good", and will raise the likability more as a result.  When it is at 100%, you can take the demon on a date and gain a new skill or stat boost.  The skills and boosts are good, and worth doing the dates for.

Prometh is back, and she can store your items, resurrect party members, and strengthen your equipment.  To strengthen something, you must use ether.  Ether is gained by sacrificing a weapon or piece of armor, and you only gain ether that relates to the specific thing you sacrificed.  So if you recycle a katana, you get katana ether, which then can power up another katana.  It probably works pretty well, but I don't have enough extra stuff to really play around with it.  Remember that you have to buy gems now, as they rarely are given out beyond a few early ones.  I don't really have the extra money to blow on extra gems, which I would just destroy to power up other ones.  In my mind, it's a bit of a design flaw.

So would a fan of dungeon RPGs like Demon Gaze II?  I think so.  Most aspects of the previous game have been improved, although I miss the abundance of gems and being able to save at any unlocked circle.  I really like having the demons as party members instead of making my own party, as it gives them actual character.  While it takes longer than that game to reach a point where grinding is necessary, it still occurs unfortunately.

The Good:
A dungeon RPG that is improved over its predecessor in almost every way.

The Bad:
Still requires grinding.  Money and equipment are harder to get.

The SaHD:
Why do so many demons start over at level 1 when you recruit them?  That's only mildly helpful.

(Review code for Demon Gaze II was provided by the publisher)

Monday, November 27, 2017

ELEX (Xbox One) Review

Did you play Risen or either of its sequels?  Did you enjoy them?  If yes, then you will likely enjoy ELEX.

Oh, you'd like some more info?  Fair enough, as I have more to say, but be warned that there are many comparisons between the two.  The team responsible for the Risen games has fully entered the current generation of games with their new offering, ELEX.  Instead of being a fantasy world, this one is set in a post apocalyptic fantasy world.  That probably comes across as sarcastic, but I admit I really like the idea of the game and the world it builds.

ELEX's world is pretty big, too.  There are several different environments, which all make sense in the context of the game.  There are plenty of places to visit, items to loot, and enemies to fight.  Several factions all fight for dominance, and you can join them, or work against them.  There are lots of quests to complete, too.  For better or worse, these will send you all over the map.  While this is to be expected of later quests, there are too many of these early on.  When you are just starting out, and hit the first town, you'd like quests that are close by, with weaker enemies, so you can build up your level and inventory.  Too bad the developers don't agree with that player-friendly philosophy.

Some early quests can be completed in the town, but most involve running to other places.  I'd be fine with that but again, theses are past enemies that you have no business fighting.  You will just die really quickly.  You can get eventually get a partner to run around with you that makes fighting a little easier.  However, you still have to go past monsters much too strong for you before you can complete the companion quests.  The only real solution is to run away from enemies and try to avoid them.  Showing a suggested level for quests might be a good start, but I'd really just prefer the enemies around the town were beatable at reasonable levels.  It shouldn't be too much to ask to have a balanced game.

Now we get to the combat.  Like Risen, it is pretty stiff.  Enemies can do a lot of damage to you very quickly.  You have an attack, block, roll, and jump.  Attacks are fairly self-explanatory, and do well enough on their own.  If you connect with enough hits together, you will build up a meter that allows you to execute a special move.  This would be good, except for the bad aspect of combat: stamina.

Attacking takes stamina.  Dodge rolling takes stamina.  Blocking stifles your stamina regeneration.  Attacking enough times to fill the special rarely leaves you with enough stamina to then actually use the move.  Dodging and enemy's attack tends to leave you too far or without enough stamina to counter.  Blocking doesn't seem to reduce the damage much (maybe a shield would help, but I can't really afford that and skill training).  Worst of all, stamina isn't tied to a stat, so the only way to increase it is by training in a particular skill, which will take hours to be able to get.  I'm not a fan of these kind of limiting factors in fighting, as the fun level just crashes.

With no HUD, you know it's a glamshot.
On the other hand, ranged combat felt pretty good.  The damage seems good, and it gives you an early advantage in encounters.  The only drawback is having to find or buy a lot of ammo.  Needless to say, money isn't always that easy to come by, especially in the early game.  It gets better as you go (especially with some key skills), but doesn't help the first 10 or so hours, where the difficulty is killer.  Switching from melee to ranged worked okay at best, but I think that's because my controller's d-pad isn't what it used to be.

Probably the best aspect of the game is the jet pack.  This allows you to explore, take shortcuts, or sometimes avoid enemies.  It takes a bit to get used to how it works, but after a few minutes of practice I was long jumping like a pro.  The added vertical dimension to exploration really opens the world up.  The companions seem to have them too, so you won't leave them in the dust when you use it.  If it wasn't for the jet pack, I'm not sure I could have survived the first few hours of the game, since it is so dangerous.

When you level up, you gain 10 stat points and a skill point.  The stat points you can allocate yourself, while you must pay a trainer to use the skill point.  The skill trees are all clearly laid out, as is the requirements for that level of skill.  Trainers are marked on your map as well.  Except for the rising costs of training, I think the skill and stat system works pretty well.  I'm betting you can still mess up your character though.

At many points through your adventure, you will have to make choices.  These can affect your "coldness", which is how human you act.  Many of your responses affect this, even ones you wouldn't think.  If the coldness matters, I'd really like to know which responses affect it, since most feel random.  Depending on your answers in quests, there are different outcomes.  Standard, yes, but appreciated.  Of course there are also romance options in the game.  The dialogue in the game is pretty good, save for my problem with the coldness rating.

I remember the difficulty curve in Risen, so I put ELEX on easy at the start.  It was still very rough, and I shudder to think how bad things can get on the hardest setting.  You take a lot of damage from enemy hits, and can very quickly get out of your league when just moving around the map.  Since enemies don't display levels, your only indication of difficulty is the skull icon next to an enemy's health.  That means they are too strong for you.  If it's not there, they still might be.  Point is, the game is way too hard and unforgiving on even the easiest setting, since there is no effective balance.  That really kills my enjoyment.

ELEX has some very unique things about it, but is also massively bogged down by abysmal game balance.  It's very similar to the Risen series, just with balance that is somehow even worse.  I really wanted to like the game far more than I did.

The Good:
The setting, world, and story are pretty good.

The Bad:
Lack of quest and enemy levels, and did I mention the balance?  I think I did, but they game just doesn't want you to have fun playing it.

The SaHD:
The money is called Elex shards, Elex, and shards.  It's pretty confusing for the first few hours.

(Review code for Elex was provided by the publisher, THQ Nordic)

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)