Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Surge (PS4) Review

When I first heard about The Surge, it sounded pretty cool.  Action RPG where you control a man with a mechanical exoskeleton?  Sounds awesome.  After requesting it, I found out it's from the people who made Lords of the Fallen, and like that, is an attempt at a Souls game.  There's probably a proper name for the genre, like punishingly hard action rpg-lite, but everyone just refers to it by the game that started the current craze.  I'm not too into them, or good at them, but figured I would still play The Surge, simply because I'm always interested in mech and technology (mechnology?) focuses in games.

The opening scene is really good at setting the tone of the game and the backstory.  There's a nice little twist when you first control your character that I thought was super well done.  I got a little lost trying to figure out where to go after that, but once I did, I was treated to a fairly brutal cut scene that set up the main premise of the plot.  It's fairly quick and does what it needs to do.

Like others of the genre, The Surge has very deliberate combat.  The controls are wonky to me, but don't feel as clunky as similar games I have tried.  I'm not fond of melee attacks being on the shoulder buttons.  Each swing takes stamina, so you can't just hack, slash, and dodge until the enemy is dead.  Well, you kind of can, it just takes a lot longer than a typical action game.  Enemies don't often stagger from your blows, so you have to be careful when you actually attack them, so you won't get hit as well.  Most damage you suffer is pretty big, and you won't naturally heal.  You also won't pick up health packs, but instead have to use a healing item.  You can carry 3 at the start, and they are thankfully refilled at the med stations.

The med stations also serve as respawn points for when you inevitably die (another trope from the genre).  You'll also drop whatever tech scrap you were carrying.  You'll have to go back and get it if you want it.  If you die again, then it's gone forever.  This might not be an issue, but enemies respawn whenever you go back in the med stations.  Sure, this can help you grind a bit nearby, but is also a pain when you actually want to move ahead.  You can, and should, store your excess scrap at the crafting station or the medical bay.

Besides a mechanical focus, what separates The Surge from other competitors in the genre?  Executions.  Many enemies have different areas you can target.  Damaging a target quickly enough builds energy, which can then be used for a cinematic kill called an execution.  There are different ones depending on what area you targeted.  If you damage one part enough, you get a higher chance at drops from that part.  Want an enemy's weapon?  Focus on the arm that is holding it.  Want parts to build a new leg piece?  Keep hitting it and do an execution.

To facilitate this, there is a pretty decent lock-on feature.  Click the stick and focus on your nearest target.  The right stick will then sort of cycle through the different areas you can target.  While this is great for one-on-one, it's not that great when fighting multiple enemies.  You do eventually get a drone to help out a little bit.  Even so, switching targets is a bit of a pain, which becomes a big nuisance when also dodging attacks.  Also there were times I had trouble targeting a certain limb.  It might not have had equipment on it, but it can be hard to tell that when also trying not to get hit.

Besides storing scrap, you use it to create equipment, make it stronger, and level up your core.  Each piece of equipment has a power cost, and the total power you can equip is based on the core level.  Therefore, raising its level will let you equip more and better stuff to defend yourself and dish out punishment to your foes.  Creating stuff took me a bit to figure out, as you need both the salvage and the requisite items to do so.  So, you better learn the executions so you can actually get drops.

Since you will die a lot while learning every enemy's pattern, you will get your money's worth going through the game.  I'm a super cautious player (I save a lot), so it takes me forever to get anywhere in games like this.  For this reason, I really appreciate the shortcuts you can unlock.  I have yet to beat the game, and at my current rate, I could probably do so by the time I'm a grandfather.  Actually, that thought alone is scarier than anything the game could throw at me.

The Surge is an unforgiving action RPG in the vein of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and checks all the appropriate boxes for the genre.  It does have a technological bend to it, and adds flashy executions, though.  Fans of that genre should definitely check it out, but if that's not your thing, The Surge probably won't convert you.

The Good:
Feels less clunky than similar games in the genre and the executions are pretty cool.

The Bad:
Any tiny mistake is paid for in lots of pain.

The SaHD:
Not like it took much, but this is waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy better than their previous offering (Lords of the Fallen).

(Review code for The Surge was provided by the publisher)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Akiba's Beat (PS4) Review

I had a lot of fun playing Akiba's Trip on the Vita and the PS4.  It was a unique action RPG where you defeated synthetic vampires by ripping off their clothes, exposing them to sunlight.  It was goofy and fun.  This made me eager to get my hands on the sequel, Akiba's Beat.

After starting the game, I quickly realized this has very little to do with the previous game, so I guess it's more of a side story rather than sequel?  The story is set in the same place, but involves no one from the first, and the battle system is completely different.  Gone is vampire stripping and in its place, battles straight out of the "Tales of"series.  You fight on a 3D plane, and pressing left or right toward your target will move you toward them, and the opposite direction moves you away.  Holding L1 allows you to free run, which I found very useful for 90% of the game.  Dodging wasn't as reliable as just running away or around targets to avoid attacks.  Plus, the dodge button was either not responsive, or too much so.

You have an AP number, which dictates how many times you can attack before you have to stop for a few seconds and let it fill again.  Even if you have more than your standard attack string, you will pause after it, unfortunately.  Attacking while holding up or down will do high and low attacks respectively, which mixes up what you can do.  Pressing the special attack button with different directions on the left stick can also give you different special moves, which you set in the menu.  Thankfully, you can set another set on the right stick.  I like this since you get so many useful moves, that one set isn't enough when at the end of the game.  You can also set the buttons in the options, which I did since early on I mixed them up often enough.  Like the dodge button, the attacks weren't always responsive either, and not just because I ran out of AP.  It's a fairly big deal in such an action heavy battle system, and was pretty annoying.

Fights with normal enemies tend to be over very quickly, as quick as a few seconds early on.  This is nice, since it means you can usually make your way through the dungeons without sacrificing an afternoon.  Then come the boss fights.  The first two are longer than normal fights, but not by a lot.  After that, the bosses become standard JRPG massive HP slogfests.  Toward the end, I was dreading the thought of duking it out with dungeon bosses, simply because it would take several minutes of mashing attacks.  This gets compounded when they start having two boss fights back to back, which sadly happens more than once.

However!  As you do damage, you build up the Imaging Gauge.  When you do, you have infinite AP for a few seconds, and your damage is increased.  If you use it when the gauge is fully filled, your damage increases as you land attacks, and it lasts for the duration of the song you equip.  Near the end of it, the percent jumps up, and you will output a lot more damage than normal.  The Imagine Gauge is way too strong for normal fights, and does make boss fights a little shorter.  Still, I would have liked it to be more effective on the dreary boss encounters, or even do something great like making casting instant, or even making special moves free/cheap.  Bottom line: it works okay, but could be more interesting.

The story places you in the role of Asahi, a career NEET that does little but stay up late, watch anime, and play games.  I'm pretty sure I went to college with someone who lived like this and also woke up at the crack of 2pm, but I digress.  Progress is broken up into two parts, one where you run around the map, talking to people, and another where you traverse the dungeon, fighting monsters and then the boss, dissolving the delusion.  There are times where you go into the dungeon in the middle of the talking parts, but it's still a back and forth between these two scenarios.  It's not the best balance, since sometimes the running around and talking is a bit long, or the dungeon is, but the fast travel can help with some of that.

As for the story itself, it starts off pretty strong.  Then toward the middle of the story, it starts to go down.  A chunk of that is from my own pet peeves.  I won't spoil things, but one character that behaves a certain way does something that doesn't make sense in context.  Sure, they try to explain it later, but I still think it just doesn't work.  There are other instances, like when the main character has their stereotypical "doubting themselves" arc.  Again, it just doesn't work with how it is presented.  It could, and I get what they are going for, but it's just not pulled off well.  Also at the end they shoehorn in some nonsense, and stuff in some more to pad the length a little too much.  It's a shame the story went so bad for me, since the localization and the dubbing are top notch...probably the best I can remember in an XSEED game.

The dungeons in the game are pretty basic, just rooms connected by hallways, all very block-like.  Some have switches to open doors, and there are treasure chests to find.  Later dungeons get pretty long, but thankfully, several floors are shorter on repeat visits.  Any shortcut is welcome because they get a LOT of mileage out of these dungeons (so get used to seeing them).  There are also enemy encounters littered throughout the dungeon floors.  Getting the spacing and timing for the first strike is a bit of a chore, but it helps.  Assuming it works, as I've had times I was back attacked while facing the enemy.  While I'm usually okay with palette swaps of enemies, Akiba's Beat goes all in.  There aren't many types of enemies, and you will see most of them in all of the dungeons.  I remember remarking to my son when I finally saw a new enemy type after 30+ hours.  The boss designs are pretty good, though.

The story and side quests took me over 60 hours to complete.  If you cut out the side/character missions and the monster killing quests, you could shave some time off of that.  Even so, the main story itself went on for about 10 hours too long.  It felt like the third Lord of the Rings movie, where there were several places it could have ended, but didn't.  It really could have cut out the last chapter or so, and be a much more concise (and better) story.  Admittedly, you will get your money's worth completing the game because of this.  I'd say it's worth trying for "Tales of" fans, but fans of Akiba's Trip should know it isn't really anything like that game.

The Good:
If you like "Tales of" combat, the fights will make you feel right at home.  Good references, localization, and voice acting.

The Bad:
Story goes down as the game goes on...and it lasts longer than it logically should.

The SaHD:
My favorite reference had to be the sequence from the children's trading card game.

(Review code for Akiba's Beat was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (NSW) Review

Shovel Knight is a pretty good game that I'm not good at.  Still, I wanted to try out the two new campaign DLCs, since they are for characters that play very differently to the titular one.  After finally getting a Switch (for reasons that still aren't clear), I figured I would try out the new version on the new system!

I first wanted to try Plague Knight.  Instead of a close range attack, he can throw his little exploding vials.  As you progress, you can buy modifiers to the vial, which give them properties.  The vial can explode in flames, send fire up walls, or throw it up at an arc instead of down toward the ground.  While these are pretty cool, it's not quick to switch to them, so I end up barely using them.  You can also charge up the vial attack, which causes and explosion that launches you into the air (they do explain this at the start of the game).  Even though he has a (bad) double jump, this gives Plague Knight a more powerful jump.  And boy, are you going to need it.

Like Shovel Knight, Plague Knight has a world map with the same set of stages, and a different "town" area.  However, each stage has been slightly reworked to fit Plague Knight's unique abilities.  This means higher ledges and farther jumps.  The vial jump does work, and charges quickly, but has a set angle if you are moving forward while doing it.  This throws me off, since I'd prefer more control.  As it is, I can do it straight up, then move slightly to the side.  As always, I would have just preferred a good double jump instead.  He also relies mostly on temporary gains to health with special potions, but they wear off after your inevitable death.  Plague Knight and I didn't get along, so I moved on to his "friend".

Spectre Knight was next on my list.  He swings a scythe, which means again you have a short range weapon.  His kind of floaty movement and jump seem close to Shovel Knight's, but he has a few other tricks up his bony sleeve.  One, he can briefly run up some walls.  Of course they don't tell you this, old school style, so I sat around on the first screen for a minute before figuring out how to actually move forward.  Wall runs lead to wall jumps, which Spectre can also do.  This mechanic works, but it takes some getting used to.  I had to figure out which walls he can run up, and sometimes it gets messy when I'm trying to jump off of them, only to have him reach the top, or fall off, which then messes up the jump, and has me scramble to not fall in a pit.  Again.

Lastly, Spectre Knight doesn't just swing his scythe in the air, but dashes toward nearby targets.  He will either dash up or down at an angle, which is shown on the potential target.  It's actually really cool.  Plus, this is used many times as a method of mobility to get to higher ground, or to cover a long gap.  It takes a bit to get used to (there are many times I would accidentally dash down instead of up, which would put me in danger), but works really well.  Just be careful when doing it to enemies, since the game loves to bounce you just far enough back that an enemy will still hit you...ugh.  Spectre Knight has even more remixed stages for the bosses, and they will also change their patterns to feel fresh.  I really like that he has a more Megaman-like stage select instead of the map.

Even though I've played the core Shovel Knight before, I tried it again for a few levels.  The gender swap feature is there, so I switched everyone over.  It's not a huge difference to me, but I think it's a very cool feature that I would definitely mess around with.  It also has co-op (I don't recall if it needs the amiibo, which I do have), but I don't have anyone to try it with (my wife doesn't like these types of games).  The three campaigns also feature new game plus once they are completed.  For Spectre Knight, it combines will and darkness into one huge bar, but also constantly depletes it.  I tried for a few minutes, but it's definitely not something I'm going to actually put time into.  It's nice for people who want that extra challenge, though.

Each of the three campaigns runs about 4-8 hours, not counting deaths.  You will get a fair amount of playtime just completing what is offered, and some more if you go for completion, the feats, or any of the challenge modes.  The game can get pretty hard and frustrating, but practicing does help a lot.  There are plenty of times I would get a button or other move mixed up, make a mistake, get flustered when trying to correct it, and make it worse.  Other than that, the controls were pretty good, maybe even the best iteration of the Shovel Knights that I have played (Wii U, Xbox and PS4).  Who knew the four button d-pad could be so useful?

This was probably the best time I had playing Shovel Knight.  Partially is because I think the Switch controls really well, and partially because I've had some practice on other versions.  While I didn't really like Plague Knight's campaign, I really enjoyed Spectre Knight's.  They both use familiar level design (but not the same) with new moves to feel very much like new games.  If you haven't played any versions before, I definitely recommend the Switch version.  If you already own another version, the DLC should be coming as a free update (assuming you bought it before the specified date), so no real need to double (or triple) dip, unless the portability and really solid controls are a necessity to you.  I wasn't sure I would prefer this version, but I think it's the best one.  I'm looking forward to King Knight's campaign dropping, just to see how that mixes things up.

The Good:
Lots of new content for this version (others will eventually update for free for previous owners), Spectre Knight is fun to use.

The Bad:
Many instances of difficulty spikes.

The SaHD:
There needs to be a rule against pits on bosses...it's just mean (and dumb).

(Review code for Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Birthdays The Beginning (PS4) Review

Birthdays the Beginning starts with a simple premise: change the terrain to help create and sustain life in an effort to return home.  It's basically a god simulator, where changing the height of land and water will change the temperature, thereby spawning new life, ending some, and changing others.

It's pretty easy to control, too.  There are two views: macro and micro.  Micro allows you to raise and lower the terrain and the cost of HP.  Be careful with positioning and not to mash the button, as you will inevitably waste HP.  You can also scan new creatures to add them to your massive organism list/tree, and use items.  Or just sit back and watch the creatures roam around.  Time does not move forward in this mode.  As you scan creatures, your level increases, which allows you to terraform larger areas.  This increases the HP cost proportionally.

Macro view allows you to recover HP fairly quickly as time progresses, or fast forward time by spending a little HP.  Basically, you zoom in to change the land, which then changes the temperature, which allows creatures to be born (hence the 'birthdays' in the title).  When you zoom out and let time flow forward, these changes actually start to take effect.  Like real life, it is a slow process, and the results aren't guaranteed.

There are four chapters for the story, which takes you through different parts of the development of life on earth (sea life, lizards, dinosaurs, people, etc).  At first, they give you simple tasks that are clearly laid out, so you can do your best to meet the birth requirements, rinse and repeat until the chapter ends.  Build for a bit, then wait for a bit.  It's pretty fun and helps you get used to the game.  During the third chapter, they decide to open it up a bit, and give you a final goal, but not the necessary milestones along the way.

This is where it frustrated me.  I made all the other goals, and thought I had a handle on how the game functions, and how to do what I needed to.  When they skip over milestones, it became much harder for me to complete it in a timely fashion.  I would meet the temperature and moisture requirements, wait, and...nothing.  Tried giving more room, change some other things, and...still nothing.  Eventually I realized that looking at the 'tree' view of the creatures, not the 'list' view would sometimes help, as there were steps I needed that I didn't know about, like creature Y coming from Z instead of X.  Still, there were times when that didn't help.  Since it takes a bit for the temperature and other things to catch up to changes, figuring out what went wrong can be a long, arduous, and annoying process.

Besides the normal/story mode, there is also a challenge mode, which gives you a pre-made world and objective.  Some of them have special features, like height affecting temperature at a greater rate, and tasks you with completing them.  You have a fairly generous time frame to do so, and it logs your quickest completion.  A nice addition, but probably not one I would finish off.  There's also a free mode, which I think was patched in, which is good for trying out new things, relaxing, or cleaning up some of the creature specific trophies.

Overall, Birthdays the Beginning was alright.  Not great, but not terrible.  It was fairly relaxing as long as all the milestones were working, but annoying when they didn't seem to, despite the conditions being met.  You will get around 10-20 hours out of the story mode, a few more out of the challenges, and a lot more if you dive into the free mode.  A solid offering for the price if you like god simulator games.

The Good:
Fairly easy going god simulator that won't give you the same experience twice.

The Bad:
It can take awhile for changes to show, which doesn't help you learn as quickly.  Annoying when life doesn't happen even though conditions are met.

The SaHD:
Weird that global warming is a useful thing in the game.

(Review code for Birthdays the Beginning was provided by the publisher)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Toukiden 2 (PS4) Review

I really enjoyed the first Toukiden, more than I thought I would.  I figured Tecmo Koei's first foray into the monster hunting genre would be a bit shaky, but it was solid and felt familiar enough, yet different, from other offerings.  I ended up playing it for many more hours after reviewing it, and was very excited to finally get my hands on the sequel.  Of course, I had the carryover demo to help satiate me beforehand, so I was able to hit the ground running in the full release.

If you haven't played the first Toukiden, or read my review of it, I'll briefly cover the basics.  You play as a slayer who is tasked with defending a village from various monsters called Oni.  This involves choosing a weapon, getting some allies together, and hitting them a lot until they die.  You can then purify them, which gives you an item.  Each medium and large Oni has several parts that have their own durability.  If you hit them enough, the part will break off.  Those too, can be purified.  While you can sever legs and arms, most time the monster gets a phantom version so they can still use it to move and attack.  Those parts can still be targeted, which can aid in stunning  or tripping them, giving you a few seconds to hit them without fear of retaliation.

The controls are mostly the same as the first entry, but with a few new additions.  Square, Triangle and Circle will do different attacks based off the weapons types.  X is your dodge button, which is the same as last time.  Filling up your weapon gauge still allows you to do your super attack that will sever a monster's limb instantly.  Running and the Eye of Truth no longer drain stamina, which is nice.  Also newly added is the demon hand.

The demon hand adds a new layer of mobility for your character.  You can target an Oni with it to pull yourself to them quickly, which can help in hitting their higher sections.  You can also use them in the environment to go up ledges and across gaps.  The unity gauge has also changed to be used with the demon hand.  When it is filled, you can target a monster's part and break it, sometimes permanently.  It's different per monster, but some can be left legless, dragging themselves around to fight you.  It's really useful and cool.  At first I didn't really care about the demon hand, but after smashing off an Oni's arms and watching it walking around trying to peck me, I realized its true worth.

Mitama are back, and also slightly reworked.  They don't level up as before.  Instead, doing different things will unlock and level up their skills.  There's also very specialized skills that some have, affecting other types of mitama or certain weapon types (think of the corporate buzzword "synergy").  The second and third mitama give you new skills.  One is activated by holding R1 and pressing R2, and the other activates automatically when the conditions are met.  They have lots of new skills, too, like filling up your weapon gauge at the cost of health, or keeping you from dying when your health is out.  It took me a bit to get used to how the new skills worked, but I do like them.  Besides just reworking the types of mitama already present, a few more have been added..  I still really like my spirit type, but I'm starting to like the plunder type as well.  The command type is a bit of a let down, though.

The story mode for the series went through an overhaul.  It used to be just like Monster Hunter, where there was dialogue bits in the town, and you would take missions from the counter, complete them, then repeat to press on through the story.  Now, the town has the different "ages" outside of it in a giant, connected map that you can run around in.  There are plenty of Oni, items to pick up, side quests to complete, and even collectibles.  There are also random "joint operations" where you help another slayer out (or even a Tenko).  When you complete it, the slayer will temporarily join you, effectively giving you a fifth party member.  You can encounter other player's characters in this way.  When encountering a large or medium sized Oni, there is a barrier keeping you within a certain area.  It's possible to leave the blue types, but red keep you in.  These are for quest targets, so you probably don't want to run from them anyway.

When I first experienced the large map, I though it was just a side thing to do, where you could free fight Oni and gather stuff.  It took me way too long to realize that this is where the campaign takes place.  I thought about if I liked that or not, and finally decided it was actually a good choice.  It moves it farther from the game that inspired it, but gave it something unique that works really well.  I don't know if it needed the collectibles, but I really like the new, large, connected map.

The multiplayer stays closer to its roots.  However, instead of having a map with different zones, you are basically put in the area with the target(s).  You will be in a section of the normal map, but within the red barrier area.  This makes missions much faster.  I wasn't able to find an online lobby the few times I tried, but you can do the quests offline with the story characters or a copy of anyone that you have the card for (other players, basically).

While the first Toukiden and the Kiwami expansion had story and plot, Toukiden 2 has more.  The story is a bit predictable towards the end, but the character backstories are really good.  Going through the story and some of the side quests took me 25 hours.  Completing the rest of the side quests and doing the hunting missions will rack up many more hours.  I've put on an additional 20 hours and still have more to do.  Like the first game, the difficulty isn't as high as its competitors, mostly because you can take AI with you almost constantly and they can revive you.  I had no difficulties going through the story, although some of the later monsters hit very hard.

If you are a fan of the first Toukiden, like myself, I would definitely recommend Toukiden 2.  Just realize that they have changed some things to better separate it from the crowd, which I could see alienating some people.  I actually really like the changes, and had a lot of fun playing through the story and side quests.

The Good:
Expands the game in interesting ways to further differentiate itself from its inspiration.

The Bad:
The changes may alienate some fans of the genre.

The SaHD:
I'd really like to play online with my friends, but none of them have the game.

(Review code for Toukiden 2 was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds (PS Vita) Review

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a visual novel set in Kyoto, Japan in the mid 1860s.  It stars a female protagonist searching for her father.  She quickly becomes a "guest" of the Shinsengumi, and the story unfolds from there.  Kyoto Winds is also a remaster of the previous Hakuoki, which came out a few years ago on the PS3 and Vita.  The story has been partially reworked, adding more minor characters and romance-able targets for the leading lady.  Sadly, the story has also been split in two, and this is the first part of it.

The story is pretty entertaining overall.  You interact with many different characters, which feels more logical for such a big group, as opposed to cramming all the characters into every scene.  There's also a fair amount of voiced dialogue.  Of course I expected some, but with so many characters, I expected less than there ended up being.  If the dates in the game match up with historical dates, it would make sense why there are sometimes big jumps in time (up to about a year) during the story.  Otherwise, it would be kind of strange that a lot of things happen in a month or two, but then nothing for the next four months.

Many points in the story will task the player with choosing an option which affects how the story unfolds.  Some of these make big differences in the short run, but in the long run, the story unfolds in much the same way.  Since the story is based on historical events, it makes sense that that would be the case.  Sometimes the following scenes feel a bit disconnected from some of the choices.  Basically, there seem to be better options to make the story flow perfectly, but you don't have to do that.  What your choices do greatly affect is which characters you can raise your relationship with.  This, in turn, changes which final chapter you get in the game.

When I say "final chapter", I don't mean the story's conclusion...yet.  It's only the first half of the entire tale.  This was a bit of a disappointment.  The breaking point is a pretty logical one (at least in the routes I did), so it isn't some awful cliffhanger to leave you waiting for the next part.  With so many different last chapters, I'm curious to see how the second game deals with that at the start.

Like most visual novel games, Hakuoki runs about 4-6 hours for your first playthrough.  There are several points where a different choice will change parts of the game, plus a route for each of the characters gives you some good replay value.  Finishing the game once allows you to choose at what point to start at, and then select one guy to set the relationship at high or low.  This makes it easier to see the alternate routes without having to skip through parts you have already seen.  Plus, when you come to a choice, previous selections will be marked with different font color, which aids in choosing another.  While a lot of this stuff should be standard in visual novels, I'm still very happy that it's included here.

If you think it would be hard for a guy to play and enjoy an Otome game, you would be mistaken.  Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds in an interesting story that is unfortunately split in two.  That is made better by the fact that it splits in a logical place, and with so many different ending chapters, has replay value for hours, even if you have to wait for the full story to conclude.  Visual novel fans should definitely give it a try.

The Good:
Interesting story with some nice twists, and plenty of ending routes.

The Bad:
Having to wait for part 2 to finish the story.

The SaHD:
I've seen Ruroni Kenshin, so I recognize a few of those names.

(Review code for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was provided by the publisher)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Marvel Heroes Omega (PS4) Closed Beta Test Impressions

Marvel characters meets Diablo-like gameplay?  Sounds like a great idea.  I have played a few hours of the PC version, but early on my computer couldn't handle it, so I waited until I got a machine that could.  Even so, it was a game that I really wanted to use a controller for, and was very happy when it was announced to be moving to consoles under the slightly changed name of Marvel Heroes Omega.

There's a new intro mission that has you play as a few of the Avengers while introducing controls and key aspects of the game.  After which you will then do the old tutorial level, the Raft.  If my memory serves me correctly, this Raft mission is a bit stream-lined from its old version, and I like this one better, mostly because it feels shorter.

It's a good thing too, since story progress is saved by character.  So, if you switch to a new one, they want you to do the Raft again to get a level and some starter gear.  With so many characters already available to try (and more that I have to wait patiently for), it's a nice idea, but there are easier ways to just try a character out.  First, there is a training room hidden in the list of teleport locations, which lets you attack a set of dummies to try out your powers.  If you want live combat, you can just enter the first street zone and run around beating up a few punks to see how it feels.

So how does it play on a controller?  For me, it's great.  You move with the left stick, and the face button uses your moves.  Several moves don't have a cooldown, so you can either hold down the button or press it continuously to use the moves.  Holding down the L2 will give you access to another set of four moves once you have them unlocked.  Setting what skill was on what button was easily done from the skill menu, too.

L1 will use a healing item, although I wasn't sure how many I had.  Maybe it isn't limited, but a cooldown?  The right stick doesn't move the camera, which I thought it would.  Instead it...does nothing?  I'm not sure what it, R1 and R2 do.  I imagine one would do the ultimate skill, but I didn't play far enough to find out.  I should when there isn't the looming threat of a character wipe, though.

However, the biggest thing I was excited about was the inclusion of couch co-op.  Many of you may know that I play several games with my awesome wife, and after sinking hundreds of hours into Diablo, Marvel Heroes Omega is a game we were itching to try.  It took a bit to get everything lined up (she apparently couldn't actually pick a character to join unless I was already in a mission), but after that it worked out really well.

The second player is basically sharing the account of Player 1.  This is good because you only have to buy characters for one account to get the benefit for others.  Inventory is shared, too, which is good (easy to give pieces to other characters) and bad (capacity will get filled faster).  With loot still being character specific (a choice I'm not too keen on), it helps to not have to trade or drop it so the other player can use it.  Of course starting inventory limits are not conducive to my play style (I'm a hoarder), so I know I'll spend some G to increase it.

As much as I enjoyed the game, I of course had a few problems as well.  Some of the UI text is absurdly small, even on a 55" TV.  I imagine (and hope) that will be fixed by launch.  I also would have liked a help page that showed the controller layout, since I had a devil of a time trying to log out the first time.  It turns out it's cleverly hidden in the lower right corner of the screen when you first open the menu.  I guess I've played too many other MMOs, since I was looking for it in the options, and other places for several minutes before I just saw it sitting there, laughing at me.  Lastly, when you level up and gain a new skill, it puts it on a button.  Fine, but it tends to duplicate it, or just put it over one you had before if you've set up the buttons manually.  It's not game breaking, but it's weird and annoying.

It's safe to say I had fun in the closed beta for Marvel Heroes Omega.  I set out to try different heroes to see who I might have to buy, and to play some couch co-op.  Both goals were met, so now I have to wait patiently for the open beta, and then the game's launch!  I'm definitely looking forward to that.

The Good:
Lots of heroes to choose from, controller works great...and did I mention couch co-op!

The Bad:
Some UI elements aren't optimized

The SaHD:
Really, really looking forward to when my boy Juggernaut is added.  And of course Venom!

(Founder's Pack / Closed Beta access codes for Marvel Heroes Omega were provided by the publisher)

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Silver Case (PS4) Review

The Silver Case was Grasshopper Manufacture's first game.  Originally a Playstation game released in 1999, it was recently remastered for a PC release, and now it's on the PS4.  The game is a crime drama adventure game split into two parts, Transmitter and Placebo.

Transmitter follows the main character (that you name) and their story through 7 chapters.  While the stories don't always appear connected, they are in sometimes obscure ways.  I was able to follow most of the plot, but a few points escaped me.  Some of these are things addressed in the Placebo portion of the game.  Placebo only has 5 chapters, stars a different character, and gives a different perspective on the happenings of Transmitter.  As already mentioned, it fills in a few gaps, so it isn't as ancillary as it first appears to be.  Also, finishing all the cases on one side unlocks a bonus one for the other, which is new content not from the initial release.  Sure, they are really short, but new is new!

Being a Suda 51 game, you know it has to be dripping with a unique style.  In that respect, The Silver Case doesn't disappoint.  Part of the game's style is the background imagery.  There's lines, letters, symbols and other things floating around.  At first it was really distracting, but once I was used to it, I thought it was pretty neat.  Plus, it helps that every chapter had its own color and thing going on in the background, making them all feel unique.

In addition to that, there are also a myriad of ways the game shows things.  Many characters have portraits (that are different for the two "sides" of the story), there are still images, 3D models, animation and even some live action videos.  It's all kind of crazy, but since it uses them at least a few times each, it kind of works.  There is little spoken dialogue, so the game uses a text noise when writing the dialogue.  It actually has a few different noises, which is nice.  However, it just kind of cycles among them, instead of having certain people's sound one way, as a way to differentiate people from others.  That would have been cool.

When you aren't scrolling through and reading dialogue, you will likely be moving around the game's limited 3D environments.  These sections are the weakest part of the game.  It's also the only "gameplay" you get, which is what makes it an adventure game and not a visual novel.  Anyway, the controls for them half make sense, but are still jumbled.  I get the movement, but selecting what thing to do (movement, system, etc.) with the wheel feels very cumbersome.  There's an alternate way, where you hold the L1 button and use a face button, that feels more natural.  One of the characters even points out that it won't makes sense, but that you will get used to it.  They don't say that it gets better, mind you, only that you'll accept it and move on.  While these sections aren't fun, in the Placebo story, they feel superfluous.  Many times, you basically move a square forward and interact with something to advance the story.  I guess it at least gives you time to save.

Early in the game, my dislike for these sections was cemented.  I was moving around in the first room you can move in, and I couldn't go anywhere.  I examined what I thought it wanted me to, but all I could find was a door it wouldn't let me though, a panel that I could type stuff in, and a blurry picture that seemed like it would be important if it was legible.  After about 10 minutes, I found a comic book near the ground.  "Ok, great the game is going to have collectibles during these parts," I thought.  I wandered around for a few more minutes, just not understanding what I was missing.

Then I tried to walk though the door again.  And it worked.  "What?!" I yelled (actually, there were more expletives in what I yelled).  I apparently had to pick up a silly and useless collectible in order to go through the door.  Sadly, that wasn't the only time I would not know what to do, only to find out it was look up or down on a specific panel and a specific direction.  Sigh.

In the Transmitter half of the game, several of the 3D sections have puzzles to figure out.  The first ones I came to didn't really give any indication of what I was supposed to do (remember that panel I mentioned?), and being already confused, I didn't know what to do.  There's a little magnifying glass icon, that when hit, solved the puzzle for me.  So what was the point of actually doing it?  I don't know.  After completing all of those ones in the same way, I figured out what you were supposed to actually do to solve it.  On one hand I think it's silly to just easily give the solution like that with no penalty, but on the other I appreciate that you aren't stuck when they just dump a puzzle on you with no explanation.

The other puzzles don't have a button to solve it for you, and they aren't very hard when it comes down to it.  I will admit I got stuck several times, but it wasn't usually because of an actual puzzle, but more that I didn't know what part of the area I was supposed to walk to, or look up or down or something else that feels pointless.  Luckily getting all the questions right in the 100 question kumite isn't actually a puzzle, since that wasn't going to happen.  (Apparently, they always ask in the same order, meaning a guide will get it done.)

While I do have some big problems with The Silver Case, I think the story is interesting.  There are parts that don't feel as well explained as they should be, and there's a few twists that feel unnecessary, but I enjoyed it overall and kept playing to find out what was going to happen.  I'd enjoy it more as a visual novel, since the movement sections were far more painful than they should have been.  The style is the game's strongest point.  Still, if you are a fan of some avant-garde design and story telling, The Silver Case is worth a playthrough, especially if you have played any of the related Suda 51 stories.

The Good:
Pretty interesting story, very unique style.

The Bad:
The 3D environments.

The SaHD:
One of the characters nicknames the main character "Big Dick", which makes for some hilarious lines...which I unabashedly took screenshots of.

(Review code for The Silver Case was provided by the publisher)