Thursday, January 23, 2014

Plants Vs. Zombies (Vita) Review

While looking for things to download and play on my PS Vita, I ran across Plants Vs. Zombies, which I had obtained thanks to Playstation Plus.  Seeing as how I was one of maybe ten people on the planet that had not played it yet, I figured I would give it a go.  I am glad I did.

The game has a very colorful, cartoon-y look and it's very easy to make out what's what on the screen.  The animations are also really good, from the bobbing sunflowers to the furrowed brow of the corn-a-pult when attacking.  All the plants and zombies move and have personality to them, which really makes the game really pop when looking at it.  The zombies do make their typical groans, but the music is pretty catchy.

Plants Vs. Zombies is a tower defense style game, which is a genre I do not have much experience in.  Basically, there is an opposing force that is trying to get to the end of the map and you have to stop them.  This game has the playing field on a grid, with the zombies coming from the right.  You must collect sunlight to buy the plants you need to stop them.  Thankfully, the touch screen of the Vita makes this very easy to do, as you can just touch the plant you want and touch where it goes.  Sunlight can be collected by touching it or shaking the Vita when the sunlight is onscreen.  It makes the action really quick without overwhelming you.  It's really nice to have the speed of the touch screen (as opposed to using an analog stick or d-pad) when the huge waves approach.

The first few levels of Adventure mode teach you about the first few plants and how to play the game.  Every 10th level is harder than the rest, and is kind of like a boss fight.  After that, you will switch defense locations around the house.  It starts in the backyard, but extends to the pool, at night and even the roof!  Each location has something unique that you must make use of different plants to be the most effective.  For example, only certain plants can be put directly into water, and the slanted roof makes it harder for straight shooters to hit their targets.  It mixes up the levels enough that you don't get bored.  Overall, there are 50 levels to complete and the last is a massive boss fight.

After completing Adventure, you unlock a bevy of mini-games and extra levels to do.  These are really fun, so it's a shame that you get so little while going through Adventure, just to get them all dumped on you once it's complete.  You get several survival levels, which play how you would expect.  A personal favorite are the levels where you play as the zombies.  A lot of the unlocked levels are puzzle ones, where you have to figure out how to beat them.  Overall, there are a lot of extra modes and levels to do once you are done with Adventure mode and don't feel like playing that anymore.

Throughout playing, you will collect money that can buy stuff at Crazy Dave's shop (the back of his car).  Most of it is just extra stuff, but there are a few actual plants to use in the modes.  It takes a lot of money to buy everything in the shop, and at first it takes time to get that money.  After it's all purchased, there's just nothing left to do with the money.  Sure, you could keep buying fertilizer and the spray for the Zen Garden, but that will just give you more money.  Unless you are after trophies, there isn't much you will need to buy at all.  As far as I've heard, the money was a real problem in the earlier versions, so I guess I'll be fine that not as much is needed in the Vita port.

Most of the trophies in the game won't take a lot of effort.  You'll get some without even trying, and there's a few completion ones.  There are a few lengthy ones, like beating Adventure mode twice and some of the long survival fights.  Unfortunately, there is no level select for Adventure mode, which would make some a little easier or faster to get.  A very achievable list, but the last few will require many hours.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Plants vs. Zombies.  The game is a lot of fun and has tons of content.  I only played the Vita version, and I imagine the game is much better with touch controls versus using a controller.  I highly recommend this version, and it even has me wanting to play the upcoming Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.  I even let my 6 year old play some and he enjoyed it too.  Most of the stuff is beyond him at this point, but there was enough of the quicker stages that he had fun playing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bravely Default Demo Impressions

The demo for anticipated RPG Bravely Default hit the 3DS e-shop recently.  The graphics are very similar to Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light, and it's supposed to be.  The characters are super-deformed 3D models, and they look pretty good.  The 3D effect in the game is what you would expect.  It works fine, but not amazing.  The music, however, is good.  I especially like the boss music, but it's all good and fits the areas well.

The battle system takes normal, turned-based RPG combat, but adds a twist.  The 'default' function is basically the guard, as you will take less damage, however, it also will save the point you get that turn for use in a later turn, so in effect, you can stack your turns by defending.  The 'brave' function will use those turns to unleash several actions in one turn.  Now you know where the title comes from.  Also, you can use brave without using default beforehand, but you will put off your turn until your points equal zero (you get 1 point per turn).  It adds some strategy to the mix, since you can try to save your turns until the enemy is open, or send yourself into the negative to end things early.

Borrowing from the best Final Fantasy games, the job system is also in place in Bravely Default.  You pick one class to be, and you can choose the action abilities (magic, etc.) from one other unlocked class.  You can also equip a few passive abilities that you have learned.  Each passive costs a certain amount of points, and your characters have a max of 4 points.  There are some really good ones, like 'multitask', which sometimes allows you a second attack if you choose 'attack' that turn.  This was amazing on the ninja job, since it can dual wield without penalty, and each hand attacks separately.  So, you could have four attacks in one turn, just by picking attack.  Combining it with brave... well, that is some good damage.  Another useful skill was 'buff up', which increases your attack and defense by 5% per turn, and it stacks up to 50%.  This was really useful for boss encounters, since those last enough turns to make the skill worth it.

The demo is basically a series of quests that are taken one at a time.  I found that after each one, I needed to grind for a bit to raise my level and afford some better equipment before being able to tackle the next.  It reminded me of old-school RPGs, for better or worse.  At first, I didn't like that I could only take one quest at a time, but there's less than 10 in the demo, so I understand why.  However, the fairy on the menu screen (I didn't catch her name if she gave it) would tell you what the quest is, so you don't have to look it up on a sub menu if you forget.  You could complete all of the quests in about 7-8 hours, and I put 9 into it to max out the level (20) and all the job classes for all the characters.  That's really substantial for a demo.

The final thing thrown into the demo is a sample of the town building aspect.  You get a villager, and they can clear away debris for space to build facilities in your town or build/upgrade a facility.  It takes time (during play or sleep mode) to clear it and build the shops, and each villager shortens the time needed.  To get more villagers, you have to use street pass.  I was able to clear it all and fully upgrade each shop without any other villagers, it just took a few days of sleep mode.  I'd much prefer to actually get some more villagers, since they will directly carry over to the full game when it releases.

Bravely Default was a really good demo that let you play the game, but not actually a part from the full version.  It lets you experience the town building, battles, quests and some of the job classes.  You can put several hours into it, which is great for a demo, and certain milestones (bosses defeated) will unlock items for the full version.  If you like job classes in RPGs, or old-school turn based RPGs at all, give the demo a try and have some fun!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Best Games in 2013

Looking back at the last year, I thought I'd collect a list of the best games I played (or reviewed) in 2013, in no particular order.

Yeah, the review was posted just after the new year, but I was playing it before the review posted (obviously).  And yes, the game came out the year before, but I really played the game in 2013, since that's when I finally purchased it.  Even so, the game is a fantastic single player experience if you enjoy stealth games.  The whole game is just done right with regards to stealth, travel and playing it your way.  The sheer amount of freedom and the options at your disposal make the game worthy of replaying.  It may be short, but it is sweet.

Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds
Fun, beat-em-up gameplay, awesomely 16-bit sprites and fluid animation make this a fun game to watch and play.  There's challenge, skill and stat upgrades, unlockable characters and multiplayer.  What's not to like?  It's a shame more people don't know about this title, since it is one of the best games I've played in 2013.

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness
I had some reservations about playing this game.  The original Disgaea is my favorite game, so I was unsure if the sequel would live up to the expectations I would have.  While it did not replace the original as my favorite game, Disgaea D2 is a wonderful strategy RPG that had many improvements to the series.  I'm not as hot on the plot, but the gameplay is top notch.  Definitely a worthy successor to the series and a great game that I recommend to RPG fans.

Project X Zone (3DS)
True, there is no formal review of this great RPG on my site, but that's only because I had other ones to right when I was playing it.  I will hopefully still have a review in the future, as the game is really fun.  I love the combat, since it rewards you for timing, and they find a way to cram in all the character's signature moves into the combos.  While I don't agree with every choice for who is included in the game and who isn't, the insane amount of characters, enemies and locations from each franchise is amazing.  The story isn't great, as it is a flimsy excuse to gather all the characters, but I really enjoyed the game.  Try the demo, and if you like the combat, check the full game out!

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (3DS)
Finally, the Phoenix has come back!  To 3...D...S!  I love the PW series, but didn't enjoy Apollo Justice or Ace Attorney Investigations as much.  I was excited to see the return of my favorite defense lawyer (sorry Perry Mason) to the courtroom, and it was worth the wait.  The story is engaging, the characters memorable, and it still has the best 3D effects in any game I've played.  No objections to this game!

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii U/ 3DS)
Surprised?  Probably not, if you ever listen to the XGR weekly podcasts.  While still only an improved and expanded version of the Wii, it is very worthy of pouring many, many hours into (almost 300 and counting).  It's a bit strange to do, but the cross-save feature works, and the cross play is great too.  I wish the 3DS could connect to the Wii U game and both could play online, but alas, no dice.  It's a fun multiplayer experience that has my friend come over every Tuesday so we can put some more time into it.  Hopefully Monster Hunter 4 will come to the states, so we can keep it going!

So there you have it.  Kind of surprising to me that I had three games for the 3DS, when I'm not that happy with the system in general (maybe if I had an XL...).  There are a few that just didn't quite make the cut, so I'll list them below, in no particular order.

Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep (Borderlands 2 DLC)
Foul Play
Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2
Saints Row IV (rental review)
Diablo III

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dishonored (Xbox 360) Review

Dishonored is set in a unique world, where there was a sort of industrial revolution set about by the discovery of "whale oil".  It is harvested from whales (obviously), and is used to power many machines.  The world looks similar to ours, but has a very different atmosphere and developed in a unique way.  Currently, there is a plague hitting the town of Dunwall, and Corvo, the character you play as, was sent to another county to ask for aid.  Upon your return, you are framed for the murder of the empress and the kidnapping of her daughter.  Time to clear your name.

The characters of the world are slightly stylized, meaning they look human but have different proportions and don't look 100% realistic.  They look pretty good, as the style of characters fits well into the world that has been created.  There is a lot of spoken dialogue, as all the major characters are fully voiced, and the random guards and other characters have a few lines of dialogue as well.  The voices are done really well, too, which helps the immersion.

Basically, the goal of each mission is to eliminate a key target.  You will go to an area close to your target and must make your way to them, bypassing numerous guards and other hazards.  Usually, you will want to take the stealth approach, but you can throw down and fight if need be.  This isn't advisable, since the swordplay isn't very good in the game.  You can parry and attack, but being offensive is the best way to throw away your health.  Guards, well, guard, and can do so even when completely open.  A guy will be aiming his pistol at you, but can magically block your attack with his sword from his hip before your swing hits him (and you are the one with super powers?).  Plus, the first person perspective makes it harder to fight groups of enemies, and there will likely be at least one guy taking pot shots at you while you try to deal with his buddies.

The stealth controls, however, are spot on.  On the normal setting, guards rarely see you when they shouldn't, and it's pretty easy to hide from them, even when you are close.  When behind cover, you can "lean" to check around corners and people can't see you.  Bodies can be picked up and moved, so as to not give away your position.  You can also map four different items or powers to the d-pad for ease of equipping.  Activating your equipped power or item is a quick button press away.  I didn't have any issues with the controls through the whole game, since they are fairly simple, responsive and fairly intuitive.

There are a myriad of powers, devices and paths to reach your target.  The game dubs this "play your way", and it is appropriate.  There are several ways through each area, from on high, down low, street level, and sometimes by way of possessing a small animal and making your way through small holes.  Or you can use whatever combination of those you want.  It's fun and refreshing.  There's even lots of things in the environment, from collectibles to items and money, so exploration is good.

Your power choices will also help you get to your target.  As mentioned earlier, you can possess small animals to make use of alternate routes.  You can slow or stop time to run through infested areas.  My favorite power is the one you get by default, Blink.  It is a short range teleport that is insanely useful throughout the game.  You can move beyond guards that are staring right you, or reach a higher ledge to another room.  Another fun power is one that will automatically disintegrate enemies that are stealth killed.  No need to hide the body!

To complete the "play your way", there are also non-lethal ways to get rid of the main targets.  Exploring the environment or listening to others can clue you in to what you will need to do.  Because of this, you can compete the entire game without killing a single person (or animal!)  There's even an achievement for it, but it's actually a fun challenge to do anyway.  The levels are designed in such a great way to make all of that possible.  Being able to make your way through the game with any combination of powers and playstyle is my favorite part of the game.

There are 9 missions in Dishonored, and multiple ways to accomplish each.  The time to play these can vary greatly based on your preferred style.  If you just go through, and stealth kill who you can, and flee or fight when seen, you can make your way through the game in a few hours.  If you want to go through the game as a ghost, never being seen nor killing anyone, it will take a lot of saving and reloading.  That, in turn, will make the game take much longer (it took me about 15 hours to do it this way).  The game itself is fairly short, but didn't feel short at all, it felt just right.  Plus, with different ways to play, powers to try, things to find and quests to complete, there are many reasons to play through the game a few times.  If you are so inclined, there are also three pieces of DLC that give combat trials and extend the story by having you play as Daud, the man that assassinated the empress if you want to extend the experience further.

As if the different ways to play the game weren't enough reason to play it several times, those that want achievements or trophies will surely be doing it.  You will need to play through it twice, to get both high and low chaos achievements.  Thankfully there are none for difficulty, so play whatever level you are comfortable with.  There's several for doing various things, like using the powers to move fast, stealth killing people, and completing a level without being spotted.  The hardest and most time consuming are for finishing the game without killing anyone and one for not being seen for the entire game.  My favorite ones are for neutralizing the main targets in non-lethal ways.

If you like stealth-based games, you will likely enjoy Dishonored.  The story is pretty decent, but the gameplay is the best part of the package.  It may be on the short side, but the many ways to play and several different paths to take give it good replay value.  I'm still amazed that you can do the whole game without killing a single person.  It's easily the best stealth game I've played, and one of the best games I've played recently.