Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monster Monpiece (PC) Review

Monster Monpiece was released on the PS Vita two and a half years ago, and was a competent card-based strategy game that was unfortunately mired a silly controversy.  It could also be a bit creepy.  Regardless, it has made its way to Steam, and is now in 1080p!  It looks pretty good, too.

It also boasts having all of the original artwork from the Japanese release, which should mean those four censored images are restored.  This also means all the whiny people can finally chill out and play the game.  However, the PC port lacks multiplayer, which is an odd omission to be sure.  I'm not big on versus multiplayer, so it doesn't effect me personally, but I know others love it, so I'm sure there will be people bothered by this.

As you and your friends make your way around the game world, you will frequently encounter characters that you must battle.  The card battles take place on a 3x7 grid.  Each participant can place a card in the closest 3x3 section, leaving the middle column neutral.  On a card's second and subsequent turns, it will move forward one space (if able), and attack if it is in front of an enemy card.  There are four types of cards- melee, ranged, heal, and support.  Melee fighters usually have higher damage and health, ranged fighters can predictably attack a few panels in front of them, healers restore HP of the friendly card in front of them, and support will increase the attack of the friendly card in front of them.

Monster girls cards have HP and Atk values, and heal/support ones have MP.  Your Atk value does that much damage to HP, and if you run out of HP, the card disappears from the field.  MP dictates how many times a card can heal or buff another card.  Cards also have a family or type, and a color for their border.  If you place a card of the same type on top of another, it will fuse them for the duration of the battle, which adds their stats.  If you summon the same color card multiple turns in a row, you get bonus mana and subsequently, extra health and attack.  These make sense once you start getting into the game and deck creation, plus it adds a few layers of strategy.  At first you don't need to use them, but later in the game you will need all the tricks at your disposal and have a well-balanced deck to succeed.

Now to the infamous part of the game's mechanics.  You can power up cards in your deck by using rub points to...well, rub the cards.  You have to find the right spot on the girls to poke, rub, and pinch to fill up the gauge.  If you fill the whole thing in time, the card will level up, and hopefully get stronger.  Admittedly, it can be a bit creepy, but it's a little better than the Vita version since you aren't grabbing both sides of the Vita and rubbing furiously.  I tried both the controller and mouse for this, and the mouse is easily the better of the two options.  The controller works, but is much slower.  I would very much recommend using the mouse, even if just for this section of the game.

Since the it's a card game, I didn't see much need for the controller.  I did try it and preferred it, but by such a narrow margin that I could easily stick to using the mouse and keyboard.  When I first tried to play the game, it wouldn't work.  I suspect my graphics card wasn't working properly.  Once it was, the game started up and ran just fine every time I played it.  It saves and loads quickly, and the game runs well on my i7.

I enjoyed Monster Monpiece on the Vita, and now that the card artwork integrity is intact, hopefully anyone that had a problem with that will now give the game a chance.  Sure, it had to give up versus battles, which seems strange, but I'm not sure it was a heavily used feature to begin with.  The story give you plenty of battles as you make your way through, that you might not need to fight your friends.  It might not be for everyone, but the card game and battle mechanics are very solid and worth trying out for CCG fans.

The Good:
The game was bumped up to 1080p and contains all the original Japanese artwork on the cards.  It's also a fairly fun and involved strategy card game.

The Bad:
Increasing a card's level doesn't always make its stats better, limiting the usefulness of the function until you can max out the card.

The SaHD:
I'm sure the people who moaned about the Vita release will find something else to complain about for this version...

(Review code for Monster Monpiece was provided by the publisher)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Touhou Genso Wanderer (PS4) Review

Touhou Genso Wanderer is a mystery dungeon style game.  If you aren't familiar with that, you basically run through multiple floors of a simple randomly generated dungeon to get to the end, fight a boss, and then leave.  You have to contend with limited item space, many enemies, traps, and hunger to survive.  Leaving resets your level at 1.  Dying means returning to base with little to no items.

Fortunately, Genso Wanderer lets you keep your items when you die.  You will lose all of your money, though.  This makes it easier to do subsequent runs, since you hold on to your main equipment, but also useful items.  However, the game seems very liberal with the traps that make your weapons weaker, in an effort to balance things out.

It also does a few other nice things.  The main character, Reimu, has four skills you can use while fighting, and each is useful in different situations.  There's a ranged one (my most used one), a skill that hits the three panels in front of you, a piercing distance shot, and an AoE that hits the eight panels surrounding you.  Each of these skills takes a certain number of Danmaki energy, represented by the red-boxed "P" under your health.  You collect a lot of these during your travels, so you can definitely use them when you need them.  Might as well, since they don't stay with you when you leave.

Reimu also has partners that can tag along on the dungeon excursions.  While they can get into trouble on their own, I found that they are extremely helpful.  They also have their own set of skills, but aren't the best judge of when to use them.  You get more as you go through the game, each with different abilities and stats.  Plus, you can also unlock other characters to play as, but I wasn't good enough to get any.

Instead of having smaller dungeons and more of them, Genso Wanderer has longer ones that change scenery every few levels.  The first dungeon changes themes at least five times, and is long enough to have three different shop floors.  The first shop area is a yokai town, which houses the kappa house.  Donating money to each of the three kappa girls (the amounts are separate, which I don't think the game informed me of) can upgrade their facilities.  Thankfully one of them lets you warp to the different shop areas, and as such, was my priority for donations.  Especially since the home base doesn't have a shop to sell your extra stuff to.  Since you lose the money when you die, might as well spend it on some useful items and upgrading the facilities.

To fuse weapons, armor and items, you need Nico points.  These are also dropped by enemies and can be stored at your home base.  Fusion is how you transfer skills and upgrades to other pieces of equipment.  This is probably my favorite aspect of the game.  There are a wide variety of skills, and it's fairly easy to move them to useful pieces of equipment.  More slots open up as the item's level increases, and you can see what skills transfer to what types of equipment.  Alternatively, you can also use Nico points to create some items.  Unlike fusion, item creation is cheap, but needs random drops as ingredients.

The game offers a good length of play, but a lot of it is trudging through the same dungeons over and over until you can complete it.  Even the first boss is stupid hard, necessitating several trips.  I'd prefer taking less damage, since your health is so low.  Equipping a shield didn't seem to help, as the extra damage from dual wielding made enemies die faster, and thus, do less damage.  There's also a couple of story arcs, each with their own dungeons.  You can also unlock a few extra locations, and some dungeons have up to 99 floors.

As mystery dungeon games go, Touhou Genso Wanderer is pretty good.  I prefer more dungeons but smaller, and ramping up to the longer ones, as opposed to what the game offers.  I like that you keep your stuff when you die, and the skills are nice and useful.  That's about all it does to distinguish itself from others in the genre.  I'm still not a huge fan of mystery dungeon games, but I'm sure fans of the genre will like Genso Wanderer.  It might seem easier at first, since you keep your inventory, but the later dungeons won't let you take anything in, and go to 99 floors, ensuring there is plenty of challenge for the diehards.

The Good:
A mystery dungeon game that lets you keep all your items when you die!  I didn't think I'd see the day...

The Bad:
First boss is pretty cheap, and, in the beginning, the dungeons are too long.

The SaHD:
I was very happy to see the attack range extension so early in the game.

(Review code for Touhou Genso Wanderer was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Touhou Double Focus (PS4) Review

Contrary to its same-day released brethren (or is it sistren?), Touhou Double Focus is an action/adventure metroidvania game staring Aya (the reporter Tengu and my personal arch-nemesis in the fighting game) and Momiji (a wolf spirit).  In it, you can freely switch between both characters, each with their own attacks and skills.   Momiji has a close range sword and a defensive shield while Aya is ranged and relies on mobility to avoid attacks.

The X Button is always set to jump, but the other three face buttons can be set to any of the skills you have unlocked for the character, and three different sets of those that you can swap between.  This is pretty neat, so you can make a normal set, a boss set and an exploration set, or any other configurations.  The only part I don't like is you have to set the passive skills on these to actually get any benefit from them.  I might be able to adjust to something like that, but the game doesn't even tell you that's how it works.  I mean, why would I equip a passive skill in an active slot?  That doesn't make much sense.  It would have been nice to get a passive slot or something (how about on the X Button since it already has an active use?)

Each attack or skill you use takes stamina, which is the bar below your health.  Some of these have a charge time (like the heal), which is both good (harder to accidentally use) and bad (might want to use them quickly).  While it is unfortunate that you can't spam attacks, at least stamina refills pretty quickly to make it less of an issue.  I only really had problems after blocking a boss' attack, since that will drain stamina something fierce.

Speaking of bosses, they are a huge pain in the butt when you first encounter them.  The health system is already a bit wonky, and the bosses point that out with authority.  Hit detection is spotty, both for getting hit and for platforms and jumping.  Not a good combination.  Hits can do a lot of damage, especially early on, and there is little to no invincibility time after getting hit.  An even worse combination.  Bosses hit even harder, and tend to cover very large areas with their attacks.  It's all about pattern recognition and patience.  Or just retrying constantly until you succeed.

Oh, and while there are two characters, the health bars are separate, but connected.  Damage drains towards the center, but going over won't kill that character or switch you to the other.  Instead, you take double damage.  Again, the game doesn't tell you this, you just have to find it out on your own after dying super quickly and wondering why.

As you move around the map, you get a few exploration skills that help open up new areas.  I appreciate that they are fairly unique (you don't get a double jump, but something else that lets you go up high), but I have a problem with the default ones the characters get.  Aya can hover in place in the air and Momiji can run up walls.  Sounds great, right?  Yeah, except- surprise, surprise- the game doesn't tell you that.  I got to a point where I couldn't go any further and was confused as to what to do.  I was stuck.  Turns out that I could run up the wall, but I had no idea that was even a function in the game.  If you are wondering why I never ran into a wall to accidentally trigger it, it's because Aya is so much better at normal fights and traversing the areas.  Momiji gets her turn to shine in the boss fights though, as blocking is vital to success.

A really cool idea the game has is letting you create your own warp portals.  There are several books that let you create a warp portal in just about any spot you choose.  Trouble is, they can't be reused or reset, and you don't know how many you have to work with initially.  Still, I tried to be somewhat conservative with them and I never ran out.  I ended up with several left over after finding all the items in the game.  You can also designate which one you will warp to, and holding up while standing at the portal will always return you to the home base.  A nice system, even if not perfect.

Double Focus only takes a few hours to beat.  Of course, it will take you a bit more than the game clock says, simply because you will die a fair amount, which sets you back to the last time you saved at the home base.  There's also a speedrun mode, and a trophy claiming you can beat the game in under an hour.  You also get three difficulty settings.  Note that Easy isn't easy at all.

Touhou Double Focus is at its most fun when you are making your way through the rooms, finding items along the way.  Unfortunately, it can get annoying very fast, which mars the overall experience.  It's also a bit short.  Touhou fans will likely be the most happy with the game, since they would know most of the characters.  Metroidvania fans might find a quick diversion, but it's definitely not the best offering in the genre on the PS4 or Vita.

The Good:
Good customization of the skills, being able to set your own warp points.

The Bad:
Taking damage and of course, the boss fights (did I mention that enough?)

The SaHD:
I would be very happy to see a refined and expanded sequel, since the game does have some good ideas and promise.

(Review code for Touhou Double Focus was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Danganronpa 1&2 Reload (PS4) Review

The first Danganronpa was easily one of the best games I played when it was localized in 2014.  Crazy to think that was three years ago!  The story was a great murder-mystery filled with twists and turns that lead to a satisfying conclusion.  The sequel wasn't quite as good, with better characters but a slightly weaker story.  That's of course up to my personal tastes, but most people agree the trial mini-games weren't as good either.  Even though I know the story, I was very eager to try out the PS4 release of Danganronpa 1&2 Reload, and maybe even get my wife into the story this time as well.

The basic premise for both games is similar: you are one of a group of students at Hope's Peak Academy, a school filled with people that are the best in their field.  However, you quickly become trapped and forced to play a game where the only way to escape is to kill another student...and get away with it.  Once the deed is done, you must gather evidence and figure out who the murderer is, so that the rest may survive.  Maybe you can even uncover who or what is behind this sick game, and put a stop to it.

The first part of each chapter is a lot of dialogue as the students interact with each other, and try to find any escape.  Eventually, someone will be killed, and then you enter the next portion where you have to investigate the crime scene and talk to other students.  Third is the trial, where you must figure out "whodunnit", and also prove it.  When all is said and done, someone else will die, and it is your job to make sure it is only the guilty party.  Then, the story moves to the next chapter until you finally confront the mastermind behind each incident.  I don't want to spoil any more than that, but I did enjoy the stories.  More so the first game, as there were a few plot points in the second that I didn't agree with.

To make the game seem less like a visual novel and more like a game, each trial contains several minigames.  For starters, you don't just refute statements, you use your evidence as "truth bullets" and fire them at the incorrect dialogue.  The possibilities are highlighted, so even if you aren't sure, it is less guesswork than, say, Phoenix Wright can be.  As you go through the game, there are more truth bullets loaded, and you have to figure out which to use.  Plus, sometimes you have to 'capture' a statement and use it as a truth bullet.  It takes some getting used to, but there is a difficulty setting to try and help you out if it's too much.  My wife wasn't very keen on this system, but I was fine with it.

Another of the trial minigames is Hangman's Gambit, where you have to hit letters to spell out a word.  This works ok, but like most of the minigames, feels unnecessary.  The second game has Improved Hangman's Gambit, which is anything but.  You have to make matching letters touch and combine, which then allows you to use them in the word.  Order matters!  If they touch another letter, or sit around too long, they explode and damage you.  It spawns them randomly, making it possibly longer and much harder to not take damage.  I'm fine taking damage if it's my fault and not because of poor design.

Danganronpa 2 also adds Logic Dive, where you must slide down tubes to figure out a chain of thought.  Again, unnecessary.  It also adds the "rebuttal showdown" where instead of shooting, you must cut down your opponent's arguments by using the left stick to slash the statements.  This is a bit of a headache, since you have to do it quickly and if you mess up and hit the wrong statement, you have to do that section over.

The last of the trial minigames are the finales of each one, where you place scenes of the murder together in a comic/manga format.  It's a really cool idea, but sadly isn't perfect.  In the first game, the scenes you insert aren't always obvious, which can lead to errors.  In the second game, it was actually improved.  There are hints to the missing scenes, and you get a brief description of your pieces when you highlight them.  Plus, it tells you instantly if it's correct or not.  You also have less possible pieces at a time, which should make it easier.

Since you could control much of the game with the Vita's touch screen, I wasn't sure how those parts would translate to the PS4.  Then I remembered that the first ones were PSP titles, so the touch screen functionality had to be added, and should be just as easily removed.  Then I also remembered that most parts controlled better with the sticks and buttons, so I figured I wouldn't even notice.  Happily, the game controls just fine on the PS4, and looks a lot better to boot.

Each game's main plot and extra post-game stuff ran me over 40 hours.  In that respect, having both in one package easily makes it worth the price of admission.  As previously mentioned, there are unlockable modes once you complete the main story.  They are a fun diversion, but mostly add up to being able to clean up trophies, unlock skills for use in the trials, and to befriend the other inhabitants of Hope's Peak Academy.  The second game also has another unlockable game featuring Usami.  It's...ok, but make sure to read the controls so you can figure out how to actually plat it.  Other than that, there's not much replay value to the main games, but it is worth playing them through the first time.

So, should you buy this edition?  If you don't have the games on the Vita, and enjoy a good story, then I would recommend it.  You get two games and they look and play great on the PS4.  If you already own them on the Vita, it's a little harder to recommend.  Sure the story is great, but there isn't really much replay other than experiencing the story again.  Plus, the minigames can be hit or miss, and largely feel unnecessary.  At least there is a different, remixed trophy list if that appeals to you.  Even so, I would recommend Danganronpa 1&2 Reload for anybody interested.

The Good:
Some great murder mysteries and characters spanning both games, now in one package.

The Bad:
The Trial minigames can be make or break for some players.

The SaHD:
For the parts my wife played, it was really hard not to yell out spoilers, but thankfully I'm not that much of a jerk.

(Review code for Danganronpa 1&2 Reload was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Blue Rider (PS4) Review

I'm not sure how Blue Rider passed under my radar when it was release late last year.  I check the new releases weekly, and at least look at anything that I don't recognize the name of.  It's also a shmup, so I doubly don't know how I missed it.  That's why I jumped at the chance to review it when given an opportunity.

As opposed to a more traditional shmup, which is either horizontal or vertical scrolling, Blue Rider feels like it was mixed with a twin-stick shooter.  The right stick doesn't aim your shots directly, as it will rotate the screen so you can shoot enemies.  Your ship is always facing the same direction on the screen.  You move yourself through the areas, so there is no auto-scrolling.  Unfortunately, there is momentum to your ship, so it moves a bit farther when you stop pressing the right stick.  Kind of like Asteroids.  In fact, the game feels like Asteroids, but you rotate the screen around instead of your ship.

The spin the screen mechanic isn't too bad, but it did take me awhile to get used to it.  I'm not that great at aiming in twin-stick shooters, and that translated over to Blue Rider.  There are times when bullets come at you from lots of angles, and turning to deal with them and enemies can be a bit much.  I wouldn't say bad, but definitely takes a different skill set than bullet dodging in traditional shmups.

However, the floaty mechanic is the part that I really don't like.  I didn't like it in Asteroids (and everywhere else it reared its ugly head), and I don't like it here.  Such an imprecise system doesn't belong in a shmup, simply because those games demand precision.  It's a system that just goes against the basic principles of the genre.  At least the developers seemed to realize that and tried to help out by giving some space between bullets.  Well, from one target at least.  If you have multiple sources shooting at you, it's no help at all.  At least the hit detection seems precise.

As far as I can tell, there are two different shot types and two different bomb types.  At a few places in each level there are structures that give power-ups when defeated.  If you grab the power-up color that is the same as your shot, it will be powered up one level, and get stronger/bigger.  If you grab the other color, it will switch your weapon.  There's a spread and a laser, and I far prefer the spread (because my twin-stick accuracy sucks).  The two types of bombs are a multi-firing homing barrage and a stronger single fire.  I think the single fire is better, but I would still far prefer the traditional screen clearing blast to the weak offerings the game presents.  They do more damage than the shots, but just don't seem very useful.

You can also find small ships that will shoot at enemies for you, but they don't stay close and don't last very long.  It would have been nice to get actual Options, but alas, it is not to be.  There are also a few relics hidden in each stage, which will give you extra points if found.  The score multiplier in Blue Rider is called "berserk" and will fill as you fight/kill enemies.  If you go too long without fighting, it will drop back down to the base level.  One of the loading screen tips says you can get extra ships if you get a high enough score, but I'm obviously not good enough to do it.

There are 9 levels to complete if you are good enough or tenacious enough.  I couldn't make it that far, but it's nice that you can at least start over on any stage you have reached.  Thankfully they will start you with a slightly upgraded shot.  There is no difficulty options, or really any other options for that matter, and the only help you get is a list of the controls.  Yes, you can figure out several things pretty quickly, but not arming your player with basic knowledge feels like it is just there to pad the playtime.

Overall, Blue Rider is a unique shmup, but not one I liked that much.  The twin-stick shooting-like aspect isn't my preference, but it's really the drifting/momentum that ruins it for me.  While the game might be worth trying out for shmup fans due to its unique nature, there are far better offerings on the PS4 to scratch your bullet-dodging itch.

The Good:
An interesting and unique take on the shmup genre.

The Bad:
If you couldn't tell from the review, the floaty nature of the ship controls.

The SaHD:
The game feels pretty bare bones, but that makes sense for the price.

(Review code for Blue Rider was provided by the publisher)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Then and Now: Mad Max (PS4)

Back in 2015, I tried out Mad Max when I was at PAX Prime.  Sorry, PAX West, because we don't want to offend people by pointing out where it started.  Anyway, I have finally got around to playing the full game, and I wanted to take a look back at my initial impressions, and see if any changed for the full release.

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

This short demo was actually pretty representational of the final game.  You drive around...a lot, get to a place, fight some guys, then do it again.  Combat is fun, but strict.  You can't really mash your way through it, and you can easily miss the counter timing if you do mash.  By default, your health doesn't replenish automatically in or out of combat, so there is incentive to fight well.  You can either drink water, eat dog food (eww), or eat maggots (ewwwwwwwww) to restore health.  I don't think it's a great system, but it at least encourages you to do well.

The driving is a little less painful than my initial impression.  There is a sideswipe maneuver that you can use to damage cars next to you.  Plus, you can do a chunk of damage if you ram them while boosting.  I'm not sure if either of these was in the demo I played, since it didn't tell me about them.  Even so, I'm not too keen on the car combat.  Ramming stuff is fun, but trying to circle around so you can actually hit the other cars is not.  Shooting their gas tanks works fine, but ammo is very limited, at least at the point I'm at.  Also, every bad guy car is faster than mine, which is kind of dumb.  Annoying to fight, and hard to escape.  I'm not looking forward to taking down convoys.

I will definitely give the game its due for having a lot of stuff to do, even if it takes a bit to drive to it all.  There are lots of side quests and other distractions, which I have fun doing.  Especially the scarecrows.  It is so satisfying when it all works and you boost through something and it explodes.  I also like that for big enemy camps, there are things you can do to make it easier to assault them, such as take out snipers, break gates, or silence the war crier.  A big thumbs up for amount of content.

Overall, I'm liking the game so far, even if there is a lot of driving.  It's a part of the Mad Max DNA, and I can make do while actually doing the stuff I find fun.  I have to hope that when I get stronger car parts it will be less painful to have a car fight.