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)