Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Video Content on my Youtube Channel

I'm glad to finally get some more video content for my YouTube Channel.  I still have a lot of unused Monster Hunter Tri videos that I could make, but those might be too old for people to care.  I also had a ton of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate videos, with audio... but the stupid laptop had a bad hard drive and I ended up losing all of it.  I'm still a little bitter/sad/angry about it, since there's nothing I can do to get it back.  I guess it's just another thing to file against Sony.

Anyway, first up is my first Transformers video review, the Vehicon from the Transformers Prime line of toys.  After seeing some other people do reviews for the last few months, I got a webcam and decided to try it myself.  I have a few more already filmed but not edited for the next few weeks, too.  As much as I'd like to do more of the recent toys, I can't really get a lot of those, so my reviews will be a mix of older and newer ones.  The first few videos will be a bit rough as I become more comfortable doing them, so bear with me and I hope you enjoy them!

The other content I'm finally putting out is a "Let's Play" that I'm doing with my wife.  We've discussed doing them before, and which titles to do, and decided to start with Legend of Dragoon PS1 Classic.  It was on sale a few months ago, so I purchased the digital copy (I still have my physical copy somewhere) and thought it would be fun to replay it while recording ourselves.  While not quite as unknown as most of the games we enjoy, it's fun to bring some more exposure to an overlooked gem in the Playstation's RPG library.  I'm not sure if we will play through the whole game, but hopefully there's some interest in watching us play and talk about stuff.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 (Vita) Review

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is a remake of the first Hyperdimension Neptunia game.  Not content with being just a port to the Vita, the game boasts a reworked story, guest appearances by later characters, and the battle system from the later games.  To me, changing the story is a mixed bag, since it was the one aspect that I wanted to experience in the first game.  It's a good thing for those that completed it, since they have something new to experience, but since most people skipped the first, they are the ones missing out.  Like all of the Neptunia games, the story is silly and has some great lines, and it was pretty enjoyable.

Sadly, a few of the characters in the original have not returned for various reasons (real world or otherwise).  To replace them, some of the characters from Victory have been added.  The upside is the DLC tickets I purchased for the first game aren't as much of a waste, since I won't be able to use them here.  The bigger upside is you actually get the other CPUs in your party at various points in the game.  Before, you had to do crazy long quest chains and raise their shares very high to get them.  It feels more natural to get them this way, since they fit better into the story and the overall quest of the game.  There are three characters that are DLC, and thankfully they are cheap.  As of this writing, they are only a dollar each, which is better than the previous games' prices for characters (about $3 each).  They aren't necessary, but fans of the series will probably like to purchase them.

The gameplay is more in-line with the sequels than the original Neptunia.  Battles are started by contacting a creature on the map, and then fought in a small area.  You can move in a circle around your starting location, and your attack area is a little box.  Different weapons and skills have different areas of effect, and it is very possible to hit multiple enemies with a single turn.  EX Finishers and EXE Drives make their return, allowing you damaging combo enders and super moves respectively.  It's a good system, because it encourages some strategy, like where to position your people, and which attacks to use when.  It's an improvement over the original game, simply because you can heal outside of battle.  Well, you can with items, and they are easy enough to afford.

Another addition to the game is the "Remake" system.  You will frequently get plans that, when developed, allow you change dungeons.  They can be added to the world map, have the harvest items change, or even add stronger enemies.  It's a nice system and easy to understand.  There was a similar thing with flags previously in the series, but this is much more fully realized, plus easier to use.  Several of the settings can be toggled off to meet your needs.  The plans can also add new items to the shops plus other bonuses, like having a 100% escape chance from battle.

Although, with this system it is possible to open up extra dungeons before you have a hope of defeating the enemies in them.  My biggest gripe with the game is the balance, and the aforementioned aspect doesn't help.  Bosses tended to be much, much stronger than the enemies in their dungeon.  While this makes sense, it was annoying to be able to easily beat every encounter in a dungeon, but still get wrecked by the boss.  Occasionally, there are even times where there is a back to back boss fight, where the second boss is significantly stronger than the first.  The difficulty balance of this entry into the series isn't quite as good as the previous ones.  The times I encountered something similar in them, it was much later in the game.

Sadly, the best way around this is to grind.  I ended up grinding in pretty much every dungeon, so I would have enough levels to beat the boss, have enough materials for plans, and be able to complete quests.  The grinding itself isn't so bad, but the necessity of it put me off.  When a boss or tough enemy didn't kill me, I kept on playing and enjoying the game.  The random difficulty spikes are bad, but once past them the game was fun.  So you will get a good amount of playtime from the game, but a chunk of that is because of all the grinding you need to do.  Either that, or save some time and use the remix option to make enemies weaker.  It seems to only affect their attack power, not their HP, but every little bit can help.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 does a really good job remaking the first game and fixing the biggest flaw it had (the no healing outside of battle).  While sadly the only way to experience the original story is with the original game, this one fits better into the later continuities, and is just as silly and funny as all the others.  The game is easier and more fun, but requires lots of grinding to make your way through the game.  At times, the difficulty spikes made me want to stop playing.  I'm glad I didn't, since the game is really engaging when I wasn't seeing the game over screen every 20 minutes.  Although you will see each dungeon map reused for other dungeons, the game is fun and fans of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series will enjoy it.  This also makes a great entry into the series, since it is a remake of the first game, and gives a good taste of the series as a whole.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited (Vita) Review

As was the case with the previous Disgaeas, Disgaea 4 has made its way to handhelds, currently the Vita.  It brings some new improvements and the DLC while making it all portable.  The game looks great on the Vita's screen, although there were times where it was hard to see the field because there is only so much space and the text has to be readable.  Thankfully, most times you can minimize the clutter and it never hindered me, it was just a minor annoyance.  The audio sounds a little off, but I'm betting it's because of the Vita's built-in speakers.

Gameplay is similar to other Disgaeas.  Battles are all on a grid-based area, with your movement and attack ranges dictated in # of panels.  There are colored areas, called geopanels, that can have various effects if a geoblock is placed on it, which affects all panels of the same color.  Unlike the geosymbols from other Disgaea games, the blocks can be stood upon to also gain there effects.  Plus, there if a block of one color is thrown onto others, they will disappear, similar to puzzle games where you match the colors.  I really like these changes and hope they return in future games.  Old staples from the other games, like lifting, throwing and tower attacks are still present here.

The game controls really well on the Vita, with the only negative being the slowdown that occurs in the item world.  Floors with item generals are so big with so many effects that the system is trying hard to display them all.  Moving the cursor is noticeably slower, and using skills also makes everything look like it's in slow motion.  The touch screen functions aren't very plentiful, but they don't need to be.  What is there works fine, even if I rarely used it.

The biggest gripe I have with Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is the reliance on mana.  In the other titles, mana was used to pass bills in the senate (or version therein), make characters and reincarnate.  Now, almost everything seems to need it.  Want to learn a weapon skill or spell?  Need the mana for it.  Want to make that skill stronger?  Use mana for it.  I can't decide if I like powering up skills and spells with mana.  On one hand, it's great because it makes them noticeably stronger, and you can finally upgrade skills like Espoir painlessly.  On the other, it sucks to have to choose to power up a spell and increase its damage range, or save up for a new spell.

Because of the new system, you also don't get weapon proficiency.  I'm ok with this, since it makes it easier to switch weapons types if you have too many of a particular type.  However, then you need mana to buy the weapon skills.  To make it better, units will learn unique skills, which are awesome (and I hope they return in future games).  Overall, I'm torn by the system.  I like parts of the mana necessity, but not others.  I can't say it's an improvement, but it's not really worse, either.  While you do get a lot more mana in Disgaea 4 than previous games, the huge need of it isn't necessarily for the better.

The item world of course returns.  For the uninitiated, the item world allows you to enter any item or piece of equipment you own to power it up.  It makes a series of random dungeon floors that you have to traverse.  Every ten floors you get an option to exit for free, otherwise you need to use an item.  In addition, there is a feature called Charaworld.  It's like the item world, except you go into one of your characters to power them up.  Things that before were done from the senate, like increasing your movement panels or throw distance, are done in this way.  It's cool, but sadly this is the way you learn other spells and skills.  While I like the charaworld for its other functions, I vastly prefer the mentor/pupil system for learning skills.  Especially the one in Disgaea D2, since you could change them so easily.  Also, it does take awhile to get the charaworld, since you have to reincarnate and store 100 levels with a single person to get the bill for the senate to pass.

As in the other portable versions of Disgaea, there are added features to pull those repeat buyers back in.  First off is the cheat shop, found in D2, which, while not as robust as that game's one, is still great.  That could be why the mana wasn't as big a problem as I though it would be at the start.  All of the DLC characters and things are in the game as well, although you have to beat it to get access.  They even threw in two extra stories, Fuka and Desco's (ugh) and Valvatorez and Artina's backstory.  They are fun extras, but if you've played the PS3 game, it might not be enough to pull you back in.  Normally, these open up when the main game is completed, but there is a code to unlock them from the outset.

As with all the other Disgaeas, A Promise Revisited is long with lots to do.  I lost count how many hours I sank into just the main story so I could complete it (it was easily over 40).  I felt it went on too long though, considering they call the last four chapters "the final chapter".  The story was engaging and interesting, which helped push my through to the end.  A few of the battles in those chapters felt like filler battles to pad its length.  The other part I really didn't like was all the artificial difficulty.  Since they want you to grind and overpower your characters, many battles had odds completely stacked against you.  Large areas of ally damage or enemy boost were common, or setups where enemies would fuse and magichange to catapult their stats.  Many of those times could be countered with understanding how to work the system and change it in your favor.

A few battles, notably in the last two chapters, would make me roll my eyes with how cheap they were.  The real final boss is especially guilty, as it can move almost the entire field, attacks a large area, has jacked up stats, and gets a 10% stat boost for every enemy on the field.  Did I mention it also creates and enemy every turn?  Yeah, it's frustrating... but not impossible.  I wouldn't mind stuff like that for extra battles, but I don't like them while I'm just getting through the story.  Good tactics could overcome many of the one-sided levels, but there's always at least the option of grinding and using brute force to get through.

Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited has a lot of content for your money.  If you like strategy RPGs or the Disgaea series, I definitely recommend picking it up.  If you have not played Disgaea 4 on the PS3 (me), then get this version instead, since it has several additions and improvements.  If you have played #4 before, there is some new content that you can actually jump to right away (hopefully one day the console save files will carry over to the handheld ones, so you can save yourself a few hundred hours), so it would be worth playing if you wouldn't mind starting over.  The story might drag on for a bit and there is an over-reliance on mana, but the story is engaging, the game is fun and there is a ton of stuff to do.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014, Xbox 360) Review

Released around the same time as TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is based off of the recent Nickelodeon cartoon.  The graphics are pretty good, and are close to the cartoon's visuals, but there is a lot of clipping in the game.  As far as I can tell, the cartoon's voice cast all reprise their roles, but the audio quality is spotty.  Some lines are fine, but others sound terrible, as if the microphone was too sensitive, or that the volume was turned up to equalize it.  The audio is just poorly done overall.

You have all four turtles at the outset, and can switch between them just about whenever you want with the d-pad.  The game is reminiscent of the old arcade games, even down to the life bar.  It's total hack and slash gameplay.  To mix it up a bit, you can throw enemies when they are stunned, use a radial attack or super attack when your special meter is filled, and even get some ninja tools.  The throws don't always work when they are supposed to, since if an enemy is doing an action, you can't throw them until it's done.  Like one of the old NES games, you can even throw the enemies onto the screen.  It's a nice throwback to the old game, and even kind of funny, but its obstructs the view until it's gone.  The ninja tools -shuriken, smoke bombs and flash bombs- are fun to use, but you don't get them very often, and they cannot be carried to the next stage.  It would have been more fun if they either carried over, or if they were available in more stages.

Overall, it's not a very difficult game.  You get several lives, and you don't reach game over until all the lives are gone and all the turtles have run out of health.  Enemy attacks are usually easy to dodge, provided you can move away from them.  The hit detection is very spotty.  Frequently I would get stuck on enemies and different parts of the environment while trying to move around.  If in the middle of a fight, I would usually get hit because of this.  It's not game-breaking, but it could have used a lot more polish to make it work properly.  Especially the AI, since they don't really help attack at all, only occasionally throwing an enemy that you were probably starting to attack.

The game has 15 different levels, and the time it takes for each one ranges from about 3-15 minutes your first time through, especially if you are seeking the collectibles.  The collectibles are worth finding, since they unlock upgrades and other game modes.  To run through the game with my 7 year old son, it took just over two and a half hours.  We had found all but two of the collectibles, so we did go back for those later.  Beating the game unlocks a Time Attack mode, where you will do the same stages (including the unskippable cutscenes), but try to get under a target time.  The only stages that are difficult to do like this are the boss stages.  Bosses are only vulnerable to damage at certain times, but their attack pattern is random, so you might be waiting awhile before you can actually hit them.

There's also a Survival mode, where you just fight waves of enemies.  It was kind of fun to do that, but again, it's mostly mindless button mashing.  The game was very forgiving, and we made it to wave 40 before we let ourselves die because the waves were becoming ridiculously long.  If you collect all the mutagen canisters, you unlock a silly old-school style arcade game where you fly a ship around a city and blast aliens.  Not a great reward, but at least better than its associated achievement.  The achievements in the game are not hard at all, so I suspect it will show up on many a achievement hunter's gamercard.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did have its fun.  I played through the whole game co-op with my 7 year old and he had a blast.  The game is short, and very unpolished, but worth a rental if you are a fan of TMNT.  The game is more aimed at children, and my son had a lot of fun playing it, and even played on his own for a few hours.  It's not really worth purchasing, unless it's for a younger kid, and even then I wouldn't recommend it at it's release price.  However, it is a lot better than Out of the Shadows.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tangram Attack! (3DS) Review

Tangram Attack! is a puzzle game on the Nintendo 3DS that presents players with an image made up of 7 different pieces.  Most pieces are triangles of various sizes, but there is an odd square or parallelogram thrown in for good measure.  These shapes make up a surprising amount of different pictures, although you will see repeats if you play enough.  The game starts off with an Academy mode, which teaches you the basics.  You must cut off each piece, but a piece can only be removed if it would take one cut.  You will quickly shave each piece off of the image until they are all gone, then another image will appear.

The Academy mode does a good job of increasing difficulty as you go.  It starts with each piece having a different color, so it's easy to see them all.  Each tier, or belt, as the game puts it, will remove a color until the image is one whole color, but still made up of seven pieces.  Some of the Academy stages are really tricky, especially the ones that must be done quickly.  Most times, cutting the pieces off isn't enough, and you must shoot for a high score, which requires you to cut the pieces off with no mistakes.  Doing so gives you a score multiplier.  Any mistake is costly, as it resets that multiplier.  While the premise of the game is simple, it is actually pretty hard, simply because there are some parts of the images where the pieces left can fit together in more ways than one.  It's frustrating to have your multiplier banished because you cut the two triangles in a square shape the other way.  Occasionally, the cut would register incorrectly as well, which would also kill your score.

The other three modes are Zen, Arcade and Blitz.  Zen has no time limit, but if you get three mistakes on a single puzzle, you lose.  It's nice to not have the time limit, making it easier to keep big combos, but it is easier than you might think to get three mistakes.  Arcade has a time limit that gets replenished as you solve puzzles, but each mistake costs a chunk of time.  It's a good middle ground, but there's still a lot of pressure from the time, especially as you get farther in.  Arcade also has a Frenzy Mode.  It shows each piece as a different color, which can help you get big points.  Blitz mode gives you 60 seconds to get as high a score as possible.  If you just randomly cut around, you can clear a surprising amount of puzzles, but of course your score will suffer.  Again, taking some time will get the best results, but Blitz is pretty unforgiving.  It's my least favorite of the modes the game has to offer.

The three of those modes have all pieces of the same color (except the few times you get Frenzy), making them fairly hard.  Thankfully they are not offered from the outset so you get the better learning curve offered from Academy.  It would be nice to have a difficulty slider for those modes, and just offer less points or something to even it out.  There is a hint feature, which costs 1000 points to use, but if you have a large multiplier, it's well worth the cost.  Getting points in each of these modes will level you up, which seems to offer no bonuses other than letting you prestige when you get high enough.  Of course, by that time you will likely have all the different images memorized, and can solve each very quickly.

There's even some badges you can earn by doing various feats.  Similar to achievements or trophies, you can get badges for reaching prestige mode in each game type, or getting very high scores.  They are quite challenging, so practice if you want to get them.  You can also change the pattern on the back of the pieces.  It's more useful than it might seem at first, since you can use the pattern to help differentiate which way to cut the pieces when there are multiple possible solutions.

Tangram Attack! is very pick up and play friendly.  It gives a good visual and brain workout.  I like to do games like this and Brain Age soon after waking up, as it gets my brain into gear quickly.  While not the best puzzle game I've played, the game can be very addicting.  If you are a fan of puzzle games, you should at least give Tangram Attack! a try.  The game is a lot harder than it seems, and punishes your score harshly for any mistakes.