Sunday, March 31, 2013

Defiance Beta Impressions (PS3)

When I first read about Defiance, I got the impression it was a competitive game with MMO elements.  I decided to try the beta, since it was up for PS+ members, and I'm glad I did.  It reminds me of an MMO third person version of Borderlands.  Is that a good thing?  Yes, yes it is.

The character creation was really sparse, and I'm not sure how much of that is because it's a beta and not the full version.  You could choose one of two races, but it didn't say if that actually affected anything (like stats, etc.).  If it is supposed to, let's hope they tell you.  There also weren't very many options to personalize your character, so I'm hoping that armor you find changes their appearance.

The game played pretty well.  With the pistol, I had aim assist and it actually helped (I turn it off in most games, and I'll try it without in Defiance later), but sometimes the aiming was finicky.  It didn't always seem to move at a consistent speed, so maybe it's really sensitive to the analog sticks.  Also the aiming was really tight.  The reticle is a certain size, but only the dot in the middle is where you hit with your shots.  I usually feel in most shooters, you don't have to be that exact, but it feels like you do in Defiance.  It didn't get me killed or anything, but I wasn't as good at shooting things as I am in other third person shooters.

Like other MMOs, you run around and get quests to grab things or kill things.  It was still fun to do here.  One thing I didn't like was enemy spawns.  Since I don't know where enemies are, they would frequently spawn really close and get a few pot shots while I figured out where they were.  A few times it was because it was a normal spawn for the enemies, but most times the quest would spawn the enemies.  I'm not a fan of enemies just piling out of a clown car and the like, so the waves of enemies for some missions were annoying.  I don't know if it was just me, but I sometimes had a hard time picking out the enemies while running around.  Things didn't really stick out from the background enough.

There are some bugs, though, that I'm hoping get ironed out of the final release.  The biggest one I had was related to a quest "boss" that appeared.  Or didn't, as at first there was nothing there after the cutscene.  I was able to run into the area where he was supposed to come out and it was clearly an area you weren't supposed to be able to go.  A bit later he did spawn and I was able to finish the quest.  However, about 20 minutes later someone made him spawn again and it showed me the cutscene and teleported me close to his location, which was halfway across the zone.  So, yeah, I had to run all the way back to where I needed to be.  It was fun being reminded of my old game testing days, though.

I didn't think I would like the game, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It wasn't perfect, but I had fun and I might be able to convince my PS fanboy buddies to buy it so we can all play.  If I can't get a review copy, I'm sure I'll pick it up down the line.  Hopefully the game and show are popular enough that the servers will be around awhile, otherwise it would be pointless to play.  Again, that's the worst part of MMOs.  I'd love it if they all had some offline/ single player component, but they don't really care to do that.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (360) Review

After a friend showed me a trailer for the PC version of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, I was interested in trying it.  Sure, I'm not really good at platformers, but the premise and gameplay looked intriguing.  Once it came to XBLA, I knew it was finally time to give it a whirl.

When the game starts out, the two Giana sisters (Cute and Punk, as they are called in the game) go through a vortex and end up in some other world.  There is no real written story to the game, which very much harkens back to platforming games of old.  The world the sisters enter will change when the sisters do.  Punk Giana has a much more fairytale-looking land, while Cute Giana has a bone-filled land of death.  The best part?  You switch sisters on the fly, and the world changes too.  It's really cool looking, and fun to see how all the scenery and monsters change with it.  To top that off, the music also changes, which is awesome.  Cute Giana has a more mellow tracks and Punk Giana gets heavy metal.  So seeing as each stage has 2 different looks and 2 different musical tracks, you can see why each stage takes a bit longer to load than you might expect.

As cool as that feature is, it is a platforming game, so we have to look at the controls.  The only problems I have are sometimes the jump feels a little floaty.  This makes landing on platforms and monsters a bit difficult at times.  Another thing I have trouble with is Punk Giana's dash.  I sometimes have trouble aiming it where and how I want, but I don't know if this is an issue in the game or with my controller.  Other than those two things, the controls are great.  They are responsive, which is necessary in any platforming game.  Once I figured out that Cute Giana's twirl can function as a double jump, it became easier to land where I wanted to.

There are a total of 23 levels of varying length.  There are 3 bosses, and each one is at the end of the level, not a level in and of itself.  Getting at least 4 stars on the boss stages will unlock that whole world for Hardcore Mode.  That is easier said than done.  In each level there are gems to collect, which can net you up to 3 of the 5 stars possible in a stage.  Thankfully, you don't have to collect every single last gem in a stage to get the 3 stars, so you don't have to obsess over it.  The other 2 stars are for not dying (too much) in a stage.  These are somewhat lenient, but you will likely need to redo some stages another time to get a better score.  You will need to get a good chunk of the stars, since those unlock the boss levels.  You only need about half (thanks loading screen tip!), and so far it hasn't been a problem for me.  If you go slow and look around, you should get enough gems for 2 stars, so just work on the not dying part!

Giana Sisters can get pretty difficult.  Getting hit once will kill you, unless you picked up a shield gem.  This can be problematic on the bosses and parts with enemies grouped close together (or off the screen).  Most times you will fall onto spikes or into acid.  Some parts require very steady movement and precise jumps, and it's not fun to get sent back for a slight mistake.  Some of the crazy frantic platforming reminds me of Legend of the Mystical Ninja back on the SNES (jumping and ducking on moving platforms).  The parts with quick switching are reminiscent of Ikaruga for the Gamecube.  Practice will make perfect in this game, so thankfully there are lots of checkpoints.

If you are after the achievements, be prepared to do each stage at least 4 times.  Once to complete it, once for score attack, once for time attack, and once on hardcore.  Completing it would be the easiest part, as score attack and time attack can be rigid, and require a fair amount of skill to complete for a medal.  As far as I can tell, to get a medal, you have to beat the target time or score.  There's no second place, just first.  It's a bit rigid for my taste, since even some of the earlier stages had me redo them, trying unsuccessfully to beat the score. Getting all the achievements will be for the top players only, since you only get 1 try for each stage in Hardcore.  There's even an Uber Hardcore, which has 1 life for the entire game.  That's just crazy.  Hats off to the few who can pull off such a legendary feat!

All in all, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a good game.  My favorite part is the level and music changing when you swap sisters.  If you are a completionist, there is a lot of content here.  There's a good amount of fun and content even if you aren't, but you probably won't go through the stages in every mode.  It can get pretty crazy just navigating through the levels, but it was fun.  If you enjoyed platformers of yesteryear,  Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams should be right up your alley.

As a bonus, I'll give you some quick tips to make it easier:
1.  Take your time.  Unless you are doing Time Attack, you have as long as you need to get the stage done.  Take the time to look around.  It really helps to see where you are headed so you can plan a bit ahead.  Also, if you are getting jittery from jumping and dodging in the harder parts, pause the game and take a breather.  It might sound silly, but that helped me during a few of the more difficult parts.

2.  You can only dash or twirl before you touch the ground/kill a monster.  Not of each, just 1 period.  So look at which one you will need before just jumping and winging it.

3.  The twirl can function as a double jump.  It took me too long to realize this.  It makes landing on the small platforms so much easier.  Just hold the button down to slow your decent.  Remember you can switch while doing it and still be twirling.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (360) Review

A character with a red scarf who rules over hell?  No, this isn't Disgaea, it's Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit.  It stars a skeleton bunny named Ash who has the noble task of...retrieving some lewd pictures of himself and kill those that have them.  He'll also kill lots of other creatures on the way, just to be safe.

This is a very colorful game.  The bright colors are in a stark contrast to the dark nature of the game, and it works really well.  This makes it seem so lively and different than most games.  It's just oozing with character and looks unique, and the visuals just might be the best part of the game.  Even the over the top violence is so cheery looking that it almost seems wrong...almost.

I really like the music is Hell Yeah.  The vocal tracks are really nice and catchy, especially the shop music.  I also really like the music for the cute world, and it is also used as the ending credits theme.  A lot of the music in this game is catchy and perfectly fits the level they are used in.  There is no spoken dialogue, save the title screen, but I like that.  It feels like a throwback to older games.

Most of the time, Ash rides around in his death wheel, which can saw creatures to death and is equipped with a gun to shoot the out of reach monsters.  You get three basic types of guns.  Machine gun types that have rapid fire, rocket types that are strong but take longer to shoot and grenades.  I never actually needed or used the grenades, since they are limited.  The other two weapons refill quickly, and did the job fine.  The wheel jumps, as the game says, like a rocket pack, so you hold down the button longer to jump higher.  This works fine for the most part, but there are times when I would forget this and end up undershooting my platform.  I always prefer a double jump, but this works fine when you get used to it.

The Right Trigger (RT) will spin the wheel or shoot the gun if used in conjunction with the right stick.  Considering how few buttons are actually used in the game, you think they could be separate buttons.  I had some trouble jumping and shooting, since hitting the stick and RT at the same time would not shoot, but use the saw.  You can also grind your way through rocks, but sometimes it was hard to stick to them while grinding up.  There were also several times I felt the hitboxes were borked.  I ended up killing more monsters because I would get hit while trying to jump over them, whether or not you were that close to it.  It ended up being easier to just kill everything and not try to be fancy.  You get a fair amount of health, but stumbling upon a random spike would result in instant death.  Very old school, but also annoying since sometimes you can't always see the spikes until it's too late.  Ash also seems to get slippery on the edge of ledges, which would either screw up your platforming or drop you to your death.

Occasionally, there are parts where you must go sans wheel.  You are just a rabbit on foot.  You can't attack but you get the double jump that I wanted in the wheel.  Another use for Ash's jump is if you hold the button, he can bounce off of walls.  I did this numerous times on accident, and it irked me.  I tended to hold the jump button down when jumping, simply because using the wheel trained me to do that.  To me, using the wall jump where you had to use it was a crap shoot, since it never seemed to go how I wanted it to.  I would either end on the wrong side of the shaft you can bounce up, or I landed on the edge and slid back down before I could get my bearings.  Needless to say, it added some frustrations.

As mentioned earlier, Ash is tracking down monster that may or may not have anything to do with his missing pictures, and kill them.  There are 101 to kill, to be exact.  After each is damaged enough, there is a mini-game that is used to kill them in some overblown way.  There's maybe 10 or so unique animations, but most are enjoyable multiple times.  They are definitely over the top, and pretty gory.  Well, cutesy-gory, if that even makes sense.  Most of the mini games to actually get the kill are fine, but several can be over before you figure out what to do.  If you have played any of the Wario Ware games, they are like that.  Most have generous time limits, but there are a few that can get pretty aggravating (steal the honey, I'm looking at you).  Overall, they aren't that bad, but you may die a few times while trying to figure them out.

Luckily, death carries no real penalty other than losing whatever money you gathered since the last check point.  It saves fairly frequently, too.  It can be annoying when you have to travel back a fair distance to where you were when you died, but it could have been much worse.  Boss fights will have to be repeated fully, though this wasn't a problem after the first boss.  There were a few times where the difficulty spiked, which lead to more deaths and more aggravation.  These stood out to me, since most of the game is fairly relaxed.

In addition to being in the wheel and on foot, there are a couple of sections where Ash pilots a vehicle, like a submarine or a space ship, or even jumps into a turret to gun down his monstrous victims.  These are nice, since they break up the normal gameplay with something a little different.  They weren't the best sections, but they weren't very long, either.  A nice distraction from the main game, and a welcome addition.

Another thing thrown in are missions given by the future version of yourself.  While that part is cool, the missions themselves were not very fun.  Most are self-explanatory, like collect all the red "coins" or kill x amount of monster in y time.  There isn't a lot of leeway in them, so you better practice them to have a chance.  The worst ones involve doing tricks.  They list the button combination, sure, but they don't tell you that you need lots of height to pull them off.  That coupled with the fact you start falling faster after a bit makes it annoying to figure out.  They also have you do them where there are lots of obstacles in the way.  I really hated most of the missions I tried, so I just did the first ten I could for the achievement and ignored the rest.

Overall, Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is very unique game in several ways.  It was enjoyable, even if some parts were really frustrating and the missions were terrible.  It has a gory charm all its own, and while not a short game, doesn't take as long to finish as it would initially seem.  If you like achievements, it was a fairly painless 400 and can be done easily in a week.   I got it for half off on sale, and it was worth the $7.50 to me.  Although, I don't see myself buying the DLC at all.  If you like quirky games, gory games or platformers, give the demo a shot to see you like it too.

Monday, March 18, 2013

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 (JP) Demo Impressions

(A.k.a.:  Who the hell are these people?)

Now, let me start with what little knowledge I have of One Piece.  Oh, and fair warning: I'm not going to look up anyone's names until after I write this, so it's all based on memory.  Sorry if you are a huge One Piece fan, you'll likely want to strangle me.  Anyway,  I read the manga back when I had a subscription to Shonen Jump, which was many years ago.  I remember reading past when he got the cook (Sanji, I think) and was in the middle of getting the shapeshifting reindeer (whose name escaped me).

I'm going to guess that this game takes place waaaaaaay beyond what little I know.  I see Usopp (or who I assume is Usopp), and he went all Carrot Top on me.  He has a 'fro ponytail and guns (I don't mean rifles).  I remember him being a scaredy-cat and now he can apparently bench the rest of the crew.  Zolo (I still remember when they called him Zoro in the manga) is all "17th century samurai" now?  I guess the do-rag wasn't cutting it.  And Nami...well, she must have saved all that money to buy implants, jeez.

Now...who the heck are the rest of these people?  There was a woman (named Robin, I think) that summons arms and legs out of the ground.  I don't know what devil fruit she ate, but it is creepy.  Then there's the guy with the long katana and can create bubbles...he says "room" a lot.  Rounding out what I assume is Luffy's crew is some guy with robot arms and Jack Skelington.  Yeah...I'm going to have to look into who these people are, since I'm not sure there will be a story mode like the Bleach musou-wannabe or Ken's Rage 2 that explains the rag-tag band of pirates.

Well, enough ignorance, so let's get to the gameplay.  It was really fun.  You can play as both Luffy and..."Room" guy (I'll look up his name later).  They play a bit different from each other, but you can really see the Dynasty Warriors roots here.  Most of the attacks they had hit lots of guys and were satisfying to pull off.  There were also lots of enemies on screen at once, something I really miss from the older DW games.  When you fill up the Style meter (I think), you will temporarily switch to your partner and can play as them for a few seconds.  It was pretty fun to do so, since it allows you to try Usopp and Zolo, who you cannot select in the demo.  Also the "musou" attack (circle button) can be charge to do more damage and take multiple bars.  It was a strong attack and they were cool animations, to boot.  I had to experiment a bit to figure how both of these functions worked, but they were fun to use.

I've heard the game is supposed to come out in the summer here, so I'm betting it will be subbed and download only.  So far it seems like it will be one I want to check out.  I'll have to see if I should try the first one, or if this one is just a huge improvement over it.  Oh, and find out who all these people are...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Air Raid: Fall of Cybertron Transformer Toy Review

Even though I already have the Shockwave figure from the Fall of Cybertron line of Transformers, I was interested in getting the recolor of the mold, Air Raid.  Why?  Well, after looking at his weapons, I figured it was worth it to double dip on the mold.

Don't cross him, seriously.

I really dig Air Raid's bot mode.  He has a nice dark red and black color scheme, with some dark gold accents.  His chest is different than Shockwave's, and I actually like it better.  His head looks cool too, but if I had to pick, I think the signature purple cyclops is a better head.  There is some light piping, but it's not very good so don't expect to have glowing eyes on Air Raid very often.  He doesn't have much kibble, and the wings don't really get in the way.  His legs are a big skinny, but does stand well on his own.

Air Raid's head can turn around, and the shoulders have swivel and hinge joints.  The elbows have hinge and ball joints, giving the arms great posability overall.  The only weakness there is the wrists, as they cannot turn.  With the arms so posable, you probably won't notice though.  There is no waist movement, but he has ball jointed hips.  His knees are hinged, as are his ankles.  The feet don't swing very far, so he can't really stand in the myriad of poses he is capable of, unfortunately.  It's that way because of his alt form, so let's move on to the actual alt form.

It's a floating...cannon?

To me, this is the weakest part of the figure.  As a recolor of Shockwave (from the same line of toys, but an earlier wave), his alt mode is very slightly retooled.  My main problem with the Shockwave alt mode was the wings were too small, but it was farily accurate to the in-game model, so I could let it slide.  This time, Air Raid's alt mode is advertised as being ""Cybertronian Mobile Artillery".  It does look more like a floating cannon than a jet.  The only part I actually like better is there is a small peg on the top to store his sword, but you can also turn him upside down and have a figure hold him as a cannon.  His alt mode is ok, but I think he looks far better and is far more fun to play with in his robot mode.  It's a plus that his weapons store so easily on it, and he's not very hard to transform.

To me, this is the best part of the figure.  I'm a sucker for blades, and I really like the sword that Air Raid has.  It has a lot of translucent red plastic that looks nice, with a painted silver edge.  The sword is split in the middle and these two halves can fold back.  This makes it nice and compact for storage on the alt mode, but could also be attached onto another figure's arm to make a sort of claw.  You could also not fold it back all the way and it looks kinda like a crossbow to me.  A surprisingly cool and versatile weapon.

Of course, that's not his only weapon.  Air Raid also comes with an arm gun/blade contraption.  It can be held like a gun or attached to his arm.  When held, it looks pretty cool, but the blade just hangs back and doesn't plug in or anything.  It's slightly less awkward when attached to his arm, but not by much.  When the blade is extended, it is pretty long and looks vicious.  You could have him hold it with the blade out, but I think it looks much better on his arm.  The part with the gun/blade is removable, leaving him with a double barreled weapon.  If you've seen Shockwave's gun without the signature part on the end, it's very similar, just with 2 barrels instead of 3.  I really like the look of it, but it's not too steady on my figure.  it's just the way this one's hands are produced.  The arm gun attaches super tight when put on my Shockwave figure, so it's not a fault of the mold, just that particular figure.

But does it make Julian fries?

Just like a light nigh infomercial, "wait, there's more!"  You can take the gun/blade part off (or even leave that part attached to the double-barreled arm gun), extend the blade and attach it do the sword.  Just split the sword blade a bit and you make a big and crazy sword.  It's not very practical (assuming plastic toys fight), but it's neat.  A very anime style giant weapon that looks cool but unwieldy.  You could also conceivably mount the gun/blade to a peg and give someone a bayonet or a sweet looking arm blade.

If you liked the Shockwave mold, Air Raid is just a slight retool of that.  If you aren't in love with the weapons, there isn't much reason to get him if you already have Shockwave.  If you don't have the purple cyclops and aren't particularly attached to the character, I'd recommend getting Air Raid.  The robot is solid and the weapons are lots of fun to play with.  Just like Fall of Cybertron Starscream, I had to order him on Amazon since I still haven't seen one in stores.  He was in stock almost constantly, so he shouldn't be too hard to find.  That should also mean he won't be price gouged, so you can find him at cost (maybe plus shipping).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk Review

Atelier Ayesha:  The Alchemist of Dusk is a new entry in the long running Atelier series.  It's plot is separate from the Arland trilogy (Rorona, Totori, and Meruru - try saying those 3 times fast!).  Does it stay true to the formula long time fans have come to love?

It's not a secret to everyone, but I really like the anime art style in general.  This game is a 3D modeled, anime style game, so, naturally, I like it.  There are occasional event still pictures that look really nice, and can thankfully be viewed again once you complete the game.  The whole game is very pastel colored, so it stands out from the usual bright colored JRPGs and the gray and brown WRPGs.  The only thing that bothers me is some of the text issues.  There's a few instances of overlapped text, and there's even more examples of text that doesn't quite fit in the box.  It might not bother everyone, but it was my job to notice this stuff for three and a half years, and that's a skill that sticks with you.

The music is usually some nice cheery RPG music.  There's also an occasional vocal track that reminds me of the Ar Tonelico games.  It's pretty good if not particularly memorable.  The game is dubbed, which is surprising considering the last few Tecmo Koei games.  Much to the chagrin of "purists", there is no sub option.  As unpopular as it might be, I would rather games be dubbed (except Chaos Wars...*shudder*), than subbed, for my own personal reasons.  The option for both would have been nice, but the dub actors are fine, and the file size is huge enough without having double the audio.

The basic premise of the game is you play as Ayesha, an apothocary that wants to find her missing sister.  Early on you meet jerkbag Keithgriff, the bipolar alchemist who tells Ayesha that she is actually an alchemist, not an apothocary, and attempts to help set her on the road to find her younger sibling.  Did I mention he's a jerk?  Anyway, off she goes with 3 years to figure out how to do it.

If you've played any of the other Atelier main series games (ie: not the Iris ones), you will know this time limit well.  All the ones I've played have it, and so does Ayesha.  It always feels a bit arbitrary to me.  It's very possible (and not too hard if you concentrate) to do what you need to do in the game in that time limit, but I don't like feeling rushed.  It's not as bad as it was in Rorona, but the time limit keeps me from diving into the synthesis and actually getting good at it.  In the Iris and Mana Khemia games, I really felt like I could experiment and fully understand the alchemy process.  Not so in the main Atelier games.  There is a tutorial that teaches you the basics, but I really felt that there was so much information that wasn't really communicated.  Most of it is actually in the "help" section in the Library menu, which I didn't discover until late in the game.

What else didn't I like about the time limit?  I didn't want to wander too much, sometimes avoided battles and gathering ingredients, all in an effort to maximize my time.  Is it a deal breaker?  No, but I always felt pressured to cut corners so I was sure to finish within the 3 years.  I'm a completionist, not a speed runner, if that helps you understand where I'm coming from.  I would have loved to gather lots of ingredients so I could play around with the alchemy system and make really good quality stuff, and lots of it.  Instead, I tended to use whatever I had the most of, just to fill the townspeople's requests.

You will want to do those requests, since that is the main way to make money in the game.  Battles yield little and items don't sell for much.  Each request has another time limit, but most of them were doable.  The few that weren't do stick out to me, but there were only three or four of them.  I never felt like I had too little money though, so just make sure to do the requests when you can.  There wasn't much spare time to try and make super equipment either, since you can't make your own equipment, but have to instead enhance things you find.  Again, I was held back by the time limit.

In it's defense, the time limit is more lax here than the other Atelier games.  There's no real intervals, you just have 3 years to complete the main story.  In previous entries, you had six month milestones to reach to get the good ending.  Thankfully, not here.  Sure, there are contests to enter every six months, but they aren't necessary.  So if you want to break into the Atelier series of games, this is a great start.  You get the basic gist of the 3 year limit but freedom within it, which makes the imposing time limit tolerable.

Battles are turn based and fun.  Characters get several skills, which take either MP, AC meter or the super meter.  It's almost too much, but I like having options as to what skills to use when I need them.  Although, some AC (action command) skills need specific positioning, which isn't conveyed in its description.    Positioning effects more than that though, since you do more damage attacking an enemy from behind, but can do useful "pursuit" attacks when next to your party members.  So there is more to the battles than normal turn-based combat, but it's not likely to change anyone's mind if they don't like turn-based fights.  The harder battles can be pretty dynamic and flashy.  It would be nice if enemy levels were displayed on the map when selecting an area, so you would know to avoid it instead of running in and hoping for the best.  Losing a fight returns you to the world map and you only lose a day, but again, that is just more time eaten up.

While at times the time limit feels oppressive, the game actually takes a good long while to complete.  Depending on what you actually do in that time limit, it can easily take over 20 hours for a playthrough.  My wife clocked in at just over 24 hours until the credits and I was even over that!  Unless you have some planning or understanding of how to spend your time, you may want multiple playthroughs to get all the events, endings and trophies.  Unfortunately, all of the trophies are secret, so it's harder to know what to shoot for unless you have played another Atelier game and know what they look for.

New game plus is present and gives you a few advantages from your previous save, but more would have been appreciated.  You keep your current equipment and the money you had, so sell all of your stuff before the end of the third year.  Also, you can't skip any cutscenes, just make the dialog go faster, so going through multiple times can be a chore.  You can skip to the first major town when starting again, which is nice.  I'd prefer to keep a lot more of what you earned, but what you get does help give you a leg up on another run through the game.

Did I have fun while playing?  Yes, I did.  I don't know if I will go back to get the other endings or trophies, though.  While I'm not a fan of the time limit, this is the best it's been in the Atelier games I've played.  I like the look of the game and battles were fun.  I could also play it in front of my kids with no issues (well, except for the hot springs scene) and my wife enjoyed it as much as I did.  If you want to jump into the main Atelier games, Atelier Ayesha is a good point to start.  The time limit is more lax than the others and you don't need to know any back story to enjoy the plot.  Oh, and...


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Starscream: Fall of Cybertron Transformer Toy Review

When I first saw Starscream in the Transformers: War for Cybertron video game a few years ago, I loved the design.  I'm not a fan of the character of Starscream, but loved the way this incarnation looked and wanted to get a toy of him.  They only had four molds in the toy line for the game (one was a recolor), which is almost insulting considering how good the character designs were.  Thankfully, they had more toys for the Fall of Cybertron line, and Starscream is one of them.

Holding it and underslung

As I've said probably four times by now, I really like this look for Starscream.  I'm not too crazy about his face (in both the game and the toy), but the head is excellent.  He's pretty game-accurate, and is sturdy, too. He holds together really well and can stand without much effort.  His head can turn, the elbows bend and the hands rotate.  His shoulders and hips both rotate and swivel.  The knees bend and his ankles tilt.  He's not perfect though.  There is a gap between his chest and back, but it's pretty hidden.  Also the top of the jet is his back, so the tail is pretty obvious if viewed from behind.  It's not really a problem for me, but I know there are people that aren't going to like that.

Starscream's alt mode (the Cybertronian jet) looks faithful to the game.  Well, it's close to what I remember it looking like in the game at least.  He's a little thick for a plane, but that's what I remember him looking like in the game, so it's fine.  He still looks fairly streamlined.  The wings, while small, fit with the compact design of the Cybertronian jet.  There are peg holes on the wings and the legs (near the wing holes), so there are a few places to attach his guns, or other weapons from other figures.  It's also a sturdy transformation, so he holds together really well.

Now for the weapon.  Conceptually, Starscream's weapon is the Neutron Assault Rifle from the game.  Basically, there are two guns, each with a rotatable triple barreled gun.  Each also has two different pegs, so they can be attached in multiple ways.  They can be held, underslung or attached as arm guns.  They can also be put together to make a gun that looks more like the one from the game.  Since there are gears around the barrels, spinning one will spin the other in the opposite direction.  It's a small touch, but really adds that little bit extra cool.  Even though two posts are close, the gun can be held in one hand when combined.  I'm a fan of versatile weapons, so I'm a fan of this one.  It's really easy to use it with other Transformer figures, which makes it even better.

Overall, it's a great figure.  The only problem is it's availability.  I managed to snag one off of Amazon for cost, since I couldn't find one in stores.  If you like the design of Fall of Cybertron Starscream, this figure should be on your shelf.  It's pretty faithful to both modes from the game, he has nice articulation, and the weapon is lots of fun.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Demo Impressions

The demos for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate have been up for a week or so, and I've had the chance to check them out.  I had to try the Wii U version at my friend's house, but I at least got to try it.

As it is with most action games on the 3DS, the 3D looks nice but isn't practical at all.  If you can keep your hands 100% steady while dodging and smashing the monster, more power to you.  For the rest of us, I recommend turning it off during the fights.  The game does look pretty though.

Honestly, I don't like the touch screen camera control d-pad.  Most buttons I go based on tactile feedback, so I always had to look at the screen to make sure I would touch the correct part.  It definitely makes me want a circle pad pro, but too bad Nyko cancelled their awesome one (it was also a shell and extra battery).  According to the demo, the circle pad pro isn't compatible with it, so you would have to wait for the full version to try it.

Other than that, the game was great.  I wasn't sure how to get the lock on button to work though.  Since, my good buddy that you may know as "Mark" from MH Tri told me how to use it.  Anyway, it was fun and controlled really well, the camera notwithstanding.  So far, it transitioned to the small(er) screen really well.

Wii U
The first thing that was really throwing me was how little I knew the Wii U controller.  The second stick is above the buttons, not below, as I'm used to, so I kept missing the face buttons.  After a few minutes, I had adjusted and it felt good.  The controller is a bit big, but didn't hinder me after putting some time into it.  I didn't use the touch screen at all, since I am used to playing Tri, where there is no touch screen.  It might be more helpful to use it, but I don't know yet.

The game looked so good, though.  I really like the HD in Monster Hunter.  Maybe I've just been playing it on my blurry capture unit, but it really did look a lot better than Tri.  The time limit on the monsters is not fun, though.  I imagine for new players, it's even worse.  I had the Plesioth limping, but then ran out of time.  Yeah, there were a few swear words, I'll admit it.  At least I know he's not as bad as he was on the PSP games, so that in and of itself is comforting.  Although, I don't think they should have put it on the demo.  I think just about any other monster would have been a better choice, given how much players hate the Plesioth.

All in all, the demos were a good way to hold me over until the game(s) release later this month.  I am really, really hoping to snag a review copy so I can bring first had impressions of the actual game.  Now to just get a Wii U of my own...somehow.

I just tried out the lock on feature and I really like it.  It's like Phantasy Star Online, so I adjusted to it pretty quickly and it was a lot better for me than the touch screen d-pad.  I think I'll use that if I don't get a circle pad pro by the time I get the game.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires (PS3) Review

As a fan of Dynasty Warriors 7, I was very eager to dive into the new Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires.  Instead of just hacking and slashing, the Empires line of games have a lot more strategy involved.  As a ruler, you must decide to research weapons, train troops, making alliances and other details to make your kingdom strong enough to unite China.  If you are a vassal, you must do what your lord commands, or even attempt to overthrow him or her.  It's definitely a fun diversion from the normal story modes from the main Dynasty Warriors games.

The graphics are pretty good, but do suffer from some odd physics, clipping and pop in with enemy soldiers.  The physics issues were also present in Ken's Rage 2, so if they didn't bother you there, they probably won't here.  The clipping is fine for me, since a chunk of it is from the created costumes.  The pop in is the most problematic, but hasn't actually hurt the gameplay at all.

Like most recent Tecmo Koei games, the only spoken language is Japanese.  It doesn't bother me as much it used to.  I don't know if it's because I got used to it, or because most battles are short so I don't need to listen to much talking.  It's likely somewhere between the two, but I don't mind the Japanese voices.  I will miss gems like Lu Meng's death scene though.  I like the music in the game, but it's pretty much the same music that has been used in the games for as long as I can remember.

The fights are also what you would expect from a Dynasty Warriors game.  You have your normal and charge attack, which changes the end of the combo.  There are basically two different types of battles in the game.  Skirmishes are quick fights that "weaken" an opposing force.  You can't pick who fights in them, other than your main character.  You don't capture bases and can't use special "strategem" cards.  Invasion fights are large scale battles to take over (or defend) one of the territories of ancient China.  Officers can be captured, "strategem" cards can alter the battlefield or give you quick advantages, and you can pick several officers to accompany you into the fray.  Although, in the Empires games, you won't enter battle as much as you normally would, since you do have a kingdom to run.

Well, if you are a ruler, that is.  If you are a vassal, your lord will give your objectives that he or she would like completed.  When you run the show, you decide how to spend your resources, from seeking out officers to hire, getting better weapons, training troops or forging alliances.  It's a fun alternative to battle, and I really liked building up resources so I could level up various parts of my character and kingdom.  I'd recommend reading the various tutorial messages that pop up, since they do help.  Also, read the instruction manual (press the home button while in the game and it's just under "quit game"), as it has lots of helpful info that isn't in the tutorials.  Making my way through the actual running of the kingdom wasn't too hard, but I felt like I wasn't taking advantage of everything offered.  There were lots of options to pick that I didn't end up using, and it took me a bit to understand what picking your fame type actually affected.  It's a nice system with lots of options, and I haven't touched a chunk of them...yet.

There's six different scenarios you can complete, each in a different time frame and containing some different characters.  These scenarios can take a long time to complete, depending on how aggressive the enemy is, or how much you want to build up your lands before unifying the country.  They also have good replay value, since after the initial set up, who fights who and which kingdoms crumble is random.  Plus, once you've completed a scenario, you can replay it with different bonuses (in exchange for bonus points) and even allow officers to die.  I'm not even taking into account the player made officers that can show up...

Which brings me to the best part of the game: create a warrior.  It's no secret that I love to create characters in games (main reason I love the WWE games and City of Heroes/Villains [rest in peace]), and it's a lot of fun here.  There's a fair amount of starting costumes, and a whole lot more you can purchase with bonus points that you get after battles.  The last time I played an Empires game, there were limited costume pieces, but thankfully not in Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires.  Besides being able to make many, many different looks for the character, you can choose their weapon, EX attack (if that weapon has multiple) and both Musou attacks.  I was very pumped for that one, so I wouldn't be stuck with a Musou attack I didn't want, and could make a "greatest hits" character.  Characters you make can be uploaded so others can download them or have them show up in their scenarios.  It's really fun to run across a random Samurai Warriors, Final Fantasy or anime character.  Unfortunately, the ability in the demo to use your created character in a sample battle to test them out is gone, so it takes longer to try out new weapons and musou attacks to find the right fit for your characters.

The trophies in the game don't seem particularly hard, save "complete an entire scenario on chaos difficulty". Most of them are from using the different fame types and their abilities.  You can also get one for getting a sworn sibling (good ol' Peach Garden Oath!) or marrying someone.  Wait, so when I married a woman for the trophy...does that make her a trophy wife?  It's funny that you can marry anyone of the opposite gender, even Lu Bu!  That's what my wife did, and she looked at me funny when I questioned her standards for marrying a big, angry, destructive monster.  Go figure.

There are some online amenities in Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires.  You can upload and download created warriors and they can show up when you play each scenario, as was mentioned previously.  You can also play battles online with 2 players, which is a nice, standard, addition.  You can also do 2 players locally, but in both circumstances, the game isn't built for 2 players, which is my biggest complaint.  Player 2 has to just sit around while not in battle, and they can't even play in skirmishes, only invasion fights.  Also make sure to set the character they want to play as as the second entrant in the fight, and they have to push start to join every time.  I'd really like it if there was either a proper 2 player mode, where they can pick a character that is in every fight, or a free mode where you could just do battles.

Despite the lackluster 2 player mode, the game is lots of fun.  The empire building sections are a nice diversion from the normal hacking and slashing, and it was made even better by running across other players' created warriors while playing.  Each scenario can be long or short, depending on your actions, and the random nature of them can make for some good replayability.  An added plus was my wife enjoyed playing it.  Well, it was an added plus for the game.  She was hogging it when I wasn't playing.  I highly recommend the game for fans of Dynasty Warriors, and if you see a daikatana wielding warrior named're welcome.