Saturday, December 31, 2016

ReCore (Xbox One) Review

ReCore is a third person shooting action and adventure game where the main character, Joule, must team up with three robot companions and brave the harsh environment of Eden Prime.  It's a pretty good looking game overall.  Sure, the prismatic cores look a bit...weird, but I'd say it is solid otherwise.

Another really good aspect of the game is Joule's movement.  She starts with a boost dash, that works in midair, and a double jump right off the bat.  She can also dash before jumping, and still gets her air dash.  This allows her to cover a lot of ground quickly.  Plus, it is super vital for many of the harder platforming segments.  In addition to that, one of the robot chassis can pull Joule up special tracks, and another allows her to glide, giving you even more movement and exploration options.  I loved how many movement options Joule had right from the get-go, and that a few were added later.

Sure, it's not perfect, since there were plenty of times I had trouble landing on small platforms because it can be hard to know where exactly you will land, but that's a problem in many 3D platforming games, so while I can complain, I don't hold it against this game only.  Many of the platforming checkpoints aren't too far back, but a few are annoying.  Plus, it is annoying that you can only take 2 of the 3 cores with you, also leaving behind 3 chassis.  Overall, though, I didn't find the platforming too hard, especially considering some of the other games I've played this year.

The shooting in the game is pretty solid, and it even has an automatic lock-on.  Since enemies can run around a lot, this is very, very helpful.  Predictably, it can be hard to pick which target you want when there are numerous enemies clustered together.  The lock on also has a far range, which is sometimes inconvenient in its own way.  Joule's rifle eventually has 4 different colored shots, each effective against enemies that share the same color.  It works much better than I thought it would, and it is worth your time to switch when fighting strong enemies.  If an enemy has one of the colors that Joule can't replicate, hitting it with either color that makes it up (hope you non-artists remembered your color wheel!) will get the bonus damage.

Besides the main dungeons, there are several optional ones.  Well, ostensibly optional.  You need to gather half of the prismatic spheres to actually beat the game, so you will probably need to try out the extra dungeons at some point.  There are three types: combat, traversal and adventure.  Combat involves only fighting, traversal is only platforming, and adventure is a mix of both.  To get the bonuses, you have to shoot all 8 hidden switches, get the yellow key, and do it under a time limit.  That would all be well and good, but unfortunately, you also have to do all of them at the same time for the last bonus.  Yuck.  (I unabashedly used the time cheat to do this, since I don't want to run each dungeon 5+ times.)


I have to also talk about why the game was likely released at a budget price.  It's simply not finished.  This is most obvious in the large areas of the map that have little to no things for you to do.  Sure, they have collectibles and a few chests thrown in there, but you can tell that there is so much  more they could have done.  One area isn't even technically accessible until future DLC makes it traversable (although there is a glitch that can get you out there).  Also, once you are near the end, you have to basically stop and go around to collect prismatic spheres to get through the final dungeon.  This just extends the game unnecessarily.  If it wasn't so obvious, it might not be as distracting.

Is ReCore a fun game?  Overall, I'd say yes.  It's clearly not finished, but I enjoyed playing it.  It took me 20 hours to get to the final dungeon, but several more to track down the cores needed to proceed, which I would have done anyway.  The game was easily worth the price I paid (Black Friday prices).  I would easily recommend the game for action-adventure fans.

The Good:
Fun game, Joule has great movement options and there is lots of exploration.

The Bad:
The game is obviously not complete, but still released.  Having to do all of the dungeon challenges in one run without a cheat isn't fun.

The SaHD:
You know, I'd actually like to see a sequel to this game, but I'm sure it didn't sell well enough to get one, which is a shame.

(ReCore was purchased by reviewer)

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Dwarves (PS4) Review

The Dwarves comes to current gen consoles and PC, and is based off a series of books.  I had not previously heard of the books, but that wasn't really a detriment to the game's setting or story.  Most things were explained enough that I got the basic gist, or were popular enough fantasy ideas (such as magic, the different races, etc.) that I wasn't lost.

While the game first appears to be an action game, you quickly discover it is a real time strategy game.  You will automatically attack whatever target you are facing, but can move around and use your special abilities.  It's also a good idea to move around to fight near your buddies, so they can cover your back.  It is super easy to get surrounded, and you lose health very quickly when you do.  It's also a quick trip to a game over.

The special abilities use the little shield icons that live under your character's health bar.  These are usually built up by taking and receiving damage, but there are a few other special circumstances that can also increase them.  The abilities are mapped to the d-pad, which works fairly well.  Press the direction once to set up the aiming, and then press the X Button to use it.  It's always worth the extra second or two to aim it, even if you are being attacked while doing so.  The X Button will also use the last ability you used, for quickly doing the same thing again.  I'll admit I'm not sure I like that, since I kept trying to hit X to attack, and ended up using an ability.  I'm sure others will like that function, though.  Also note that your special attacks appears to hit your friends (which can inconvenience them), but not damage them (which would be horrible).

The AI will control any characters that you are not currently using, but they will not use your special abilities, for better or worse.  Better because they won't waste them, but worse because you end up having to switch among your characters frequently to use the abilities, making it harder to keep track of any one person.  Considering the big melees you find your characters in, you need to keep track of them.  Thankfully, even when zoomed out enough to see the big picture of what's going on, it was easy enough to see my people and who they were targeting, even if it might not be so easy to do anything about it.

Besides battles, the flow of the game is unique as well.  At first you get a big battle that serves as a tutorial.  Fair enough.  After that, it kicks over to your main character.  There is a bit where you move around and talk to people before setting off to the world map.  Your starting quest is simple enough in premise, but quickly snowballs into an epic journey.  The world map is composed of many points connected by paths.  You can choose where to move along the webwork of places.  However, each move takes 1 day and 1 ration per character, so if you want to wander around, you'll need to find or buy more rations as you go.  There are a multitude of different events at the various points of the map, and they have different resolutions.  For these minor points, it's like a choose your own adventure, and it's actually really cool.  Plus, you can have unique experiences each time you play through the game.  Awesome.

While that's all fine and dandy, there are two huge downsides to the game.  First is the difficulty of the fights.  When your small group fights 3-5 enemies at a time, it works fine.  However, there are plenty of fights against 20 or more enemies, which is absurd.  You have to quickly switch between your characters and use their abilities, or move them out of danger, and then rinse and repeat until the battle is over.  If any one character loses all of their health, it's game over.

This, in turn, highlights the next problem: the load times.  They are long and frequent.  Moving to a new area?  Loading screen.  Plot scene?  Loading.  Died in combat again?  Loading.  Sure, the game looks really pretty, but having to load often and taking its sweet time doing it really drags down the experience, especially after the third time trying a difficult fight.  Yuck.

Overall, The Dwarves has a unique battle system marred by its unforgiving difficulty, and a great map/event system marred by long loading times.  It can be a fun game when it wants to be.  It also has a lot of replay value, if you can get past its hurdles.

The Good:
Battles are unique and can be fun.  The choose your own adventure style map and events gives a lot of replay value.

The Bad:
The battles can be way too difficult, which then highlights the very long (and frequent) load times.

The SaHD:
Is the sequel to this going to be The Elves?

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization (PS Vita) Review

Sword Art Online comes in again with its third gaming entry, and again continues the continuity set forth in the first one.  However, playing the others beforehand isn't required, as the developers have learned a few things since the first game released.

I have yet to play the second game, Lost Song, but I don't feel like I'm missing any story.  Unlike the first game, Hollow Realization starts with very little backstory.  It's just enough to set up roughly who the characters are, and optional bits explain the overview of the last two games.  It's a huge leap forward from the first game, whose jumbled mess of an explanation was only useful to those that knew the story already.

Before most of that, however, you must complete the battle tutorial.  While I do appreciate games dropping you into the action quickly, this battle tutorials are not for the basics, but for the newer systems.  So, they won't make you press every button (this is how to attack...etc.), or tell you about how to do special moves, but they instead teach you when to stagger enemies and how to chain skills.  Based off this tutorial, the combat is something I'm going to have to get used to.  I'm not even sure I got the skill chain successfully, as it never said that and the monster eventually died.  Either way, I was done with that and ready to move on to the game.

I did eventually 'get' the combat, but it took me a few hours.  While the game appears to be more hack and slash, that won't help you get good at the game.  To put it another way, it works on normal enemies, but not on bosses.  You have a normal combo, but can place an unlocked skill as the combo ender, which is a really cool feature.  Otherwise, you can equip and activate up to four skills.  Rather than be in a standard configuration, they are based on the Triangle button and various commands with it.  It's not the best solution in my book, but you can call up the command bar if you want access to more.

Kirito can also parry enemy attacks.  You rarely have enough time to do it on reaction, so you just have to know when to do it.  I rarely ended up using it, and mostly dodged.  The dodge is much more reliable, but it unfortunately costs SP.  SP is also used to activate skills, and restores slowly, so you have to prioritize which you want to use it on.  The dodge is also unfortunately not an animation skip, so you have to be careful that you aren't in the middle of an attack when you need to use it, as you won't be able to until after the attack finishes.

Since the game is supposed to be you playing as a person playing an MMO, you only really control your main character (Kirito unless you make one).  You can't directly control the other party members you have, such as asking them to heal you, but you have some influence in what they do.  There is an icon on the lower right of the screen that allows you to compliment someone, which, in theory, shapes what abilities they do when in your party.

Still, it would be easier if I could just have them heal me.  Especially Silica.  I don't want to take her along in the first place, but her class is listed as healer, so I expect her to do that.  Kirito doesn't get a healing ability, and I don't want to just chug potions all day when there are other party members with me who can help me stay healthy.  It would give them something to do, since they aren't too keen on attacking.  When you are busy hacking and slashing away at enemies, it's easy to lose sight of your friends, but watch them when you get a chance.  In any instance where you have to sit back for a second (or a named monster puts you to sleep for over 30 excruciating seconds), you may notice that they don't do much.  Sure, they are helpful at using skills for a chain when you ask them too, but they don't attack near as much as you do.  They really do rely on Kirito for everything.

Hollow Realization's story seems par for the course for Sword Art Online.  Kirito quickly meets a young woman that he decided to help for no real reason.  Just like Yui.  And Strea.  And Philia.  And Yuuki...the list goes on.  Here's some minor early-game spoilers.  The girl he helps this time is a null character who has an incomplete quest.  Instead of reporting it, or at least making fun of a bug like a normal gamer would, they decide to protect her.  What?  I'm pretty sure an actual gamer wouldn't try to befriend the bug and help it stay in the game rather than get fixed.  Maybe they are just enamored with her personality, like Yui?  Nope, they blatantly state that she is a null character, meaning she has nothing to her.  She's a place holder.  She is somehow more bland than the Create A Wrestler move stand-ins, Red and Green.  They are also in the game's beta phase, when stuff like this is to be reported and fixed.  Of course doing what they do just rolls into the plot, but it's still a bit of a ridiculous premise to me.

Anyway, on to where the game takes place.  The areas of Ainground are really big.  Much bigger than I would think.  The nice part of this is that you have plenty of space to move around and fight enemies without bumping into additional enemies.  It's really easy to fight one at a time.  The bad part is it takes awhile to go from one end to the other.  The start of each area has a teleporter that, once activated, allows you to warp to it from the map.  Switching areas and returning to town are thankfully very easy affairs.  You only have to deal with the fairly long loading times.

When moving around the first area, the first groups of enemies are appropriately leveled.  The next few groups (still in the first area) were a few levels higher, which made me think I had to grind to get though the first area.  I did grind, but I didn't need to.  Enemies in each area have a level range, so some are higher than their neighbors.  This isn't ideal, as it confused at least one player (me).  Also, you can reasonably take on enemies that are 2-3 levels higher than you (unless they are named monsters), which I didn't know at the time.  Unfortunately, the game will also throw random super high level monsters into an area, but they are easy to avoid until you can actually fight them much, much later in the game.

Most story quests are clearly marked on the map, or at least which area the objective is in, but it isn't always so clear.  There are a few objectives that you are given very basic directions for, and you end up wandering around until you can figure them out.  It can put a damper on progression.  Side quests will tell you in the description where you are likely to complete them, which is very helpful.  However, each area can be rather large, so you still have to run around (or remember) where to fight the required monsters.  There's a third type of quest, which are events that randomly appear on the map when you enter.  These are clearly marked with circles, so you know the area they take place in.  So, even if you are at a loss how to advance the story, there are plenty of things to occupy your time.  Or at least mine, since I love doing side quests.

Will Sword Art Online fans like Hollow Realization?  Likely.  It's not a bad game, even though it has some issues.  I could see the PS4 version being better with regards to loading and draw distance, so that may be the version to get.  Hollow Realization at least makes it more approachable for new fans to jump into the games without an unnecessarily long introduction to the universe.  I can see clear differences between this and the first game in the series, and to me, it still shows that the developers are trying things out to see what works and what doesn't.  It's worth playing for fans of the show, but I still feel we aren't to a great Sword Art Online game...yet.  It is getting closer, though.

The Good:
The game starts off much better than the first one.  Large areas to explore and plenty of quests to complete.

The Bad:
Story quest progression can be very vague at times.  The AI companions aren't very helpful.

The SaHD:
I'd like to see the game go full action RPG, and allow more fluid combat.

(Review code for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization was provided by the publisher)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite - Dream Entrants

Wow.  The game that easily could not have been has been officially announced.  Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite is coming in 2017 (supposedly).  So far we have seen Ryu (duh), Megaman X (my favorite incarnation, and I'll accept him over Zero since Zero has had his day), and Morrigan (duh) for the Capcom side.  Marvel is bringing Ironman (duh x3), Captain Marvel (awesome), and Captain America (thumbs up, soldier!)

It's back to 2v2 and has also been confirmed that there are no assists this time around, which should help with balance, even if I'll miss them.  The Infinity Stones also make their return.  As of this writing, it is unknown if they behave like they did in Marvel Super Heroes, or maybe even like X-factor from UMvC3.

As is normal with announcements like this, it's time to say who I want added to the roster, even if they have little to no chance (for some of them).  First up, Marvel.

My first Marvel choice is Venom.  It was an easy choice.  With Spiderman and Marvel coming together somewhat, this does have a chance to happen.  Besides being one of my favorite Marvel characters, he was a lot of fun to use in the Vs. series, and I missed him in the previous installment.  His symbiote attacks would be a great addition to the game.

My second choice?  Who else but Juggernaut.  He was always a blast to play, and I want him back.  Not likely, since Marvel and the X-Men are on the skids, but you never know.

Third choice?  Darkhawk.  I have no idea if he's still relevant, as I haven't read his comics since the mid 90s, but his design was always cool.  I don't even remember what moves he might have, but it would be cool to see him in the game.  Not likely, though.

Considering this is likely some sort of tie-in to the Infinity War movie, I think it's likely to include Thanos.  I don't want him as the boss, or even at boss level strength, but having copies of the gems would give him a great move set.

My first Capcom choice might be obvious.  I want a hunter from Monster Hunter.  I don't want different stances or other gimmicks to incorporate the various weapons.  Just make them special moves.  Give them the great sword as a default (slow, good range, heavy hitting), and make the hammer spin a special move, maybe the insect glaive vault as another, bowgun as a get the picture.  Plus, I want a super where the hunter does a superman dive, and if it connects, the Rathalos runs over the opponent.  Awesome!  I think there is some chance of this happening, since Capcom is understanding that the series does sell outside of Japan, but we shall see.

Next would be to bring back Phoenix Wright.  Keep him mostly as he was, but don't make him a joke character.  Let him actually be effective enough to work on a team.  If not, I will keep comparing the developers to Sam Raimi and his travesty of Spiderman 3.  *shudder*  Anyway, I don't think this is likely, but I'd like it to happen.

I got to rep another Capcom favorite, Sengoku Basara.  After some deliberation, I went with Masamune Date.  Not my favorite, but his 6 sword style will definitely set him apart from other combatants.  Plus, he's one of the two poster boys for the franchise, so that will help.  Again, not likely, but it should be.

While we already have a Darkstalker, I always pull for Jedah to be included in the crossover games.  Why?  He's the coolest one.  He has great moves, a unique look, but plays familiar enough to not be an oddity.  Plus hearing that laugh while doing one of his two awesome super moves would be great.  I think he has about zero chances of being in a game over Morrigan and Felicia, since that's all people care about from Darkstalkers.  As long as there is no Dimitri, I can deal with that.

Another great series that I want a character included from is Rival Schools.  Most of them might appear too 'normal' to hang with the rest of the cast, so I have to lean toward Demon Hyo as the entrant.  His dual swords (one of which is a broken blade with phantom cool!) and fearsome demeanor would fit right in with the rest of the cast, and still rep another Capcom forgotten favorite.

Did I go this long without recommending someone from Power Stone?  It was the first thing that jumped into my mind when Ryu yelled it out in the trailer, so of course I would put someone in from that series.  My constant choice for that is Ryoma, since he's really cool.  Plus, he could take back his move that Virgil stole in UMvC3.  Either give him his Power Stone form as a super/gem move, or even leave him in it the whole time, I don't care.  Another forgotten Capcom classic that needs to be represented.  I think all of my Capcom picks are very unlikely, but they do need to bring in some fresh blood from lesser known and lesser shown titles.

Last, I'm going to recommend a boss for the game.  No, it's not as great as Galactus (who Ghost Rider could obliterate), but the end of the trailer made me think of Ultron.  Then I thought he could be a great boss.  From the old Marvel cards I collected, I remember Ultron would upgrade himself after each defeat to have a stronger form.  So, make him a 3 stage fight like Abyss from MvC2.  He has 3 different forms, each stronger than the last.  If you wanted to cross him with Capcom, infect him with the Sigma virus.  Or make him integrated with Sigma.  However, I would prefer that at least one form is the P90-X Hardball mech from Lost Planet.  It's big, mechanical, ties a Marvel character into a Capcom one, and is reminiscent of Tatsunoku Versus Capcom.  I haven't worked out the other forms yet, but so far I'm liking the idea!

I don't usually do this, but please leave any dream picks you have in the comments section below.  I'm interested in what characters other people want in!

Friday, December 2, 2016

A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One) Review

Set years before Final Fantasy XV, A King's Tale is Noctis' father telling him a bedtime story.  To keep with the way-back feeling of the setting, the game is a 16 bit retro side scrolling beat-em-up.  How can that go wrong?

There are three different attacks and a dodge set to the face buttons.  X is your quick attack, Y is the strong attack, and B is the shield bash.  Different combinations of the buttons make up the simple 3-hit combos in the game, all of which are available from the start.  If you are not near your enemy, the quick and strong attacks will have Regis throw his sword and teleport to it and continue his combo.  This usually works, but sometimes you end up teleporting to another foe when you are trying to fight the one in front of you.  The shield bash only does damage as a combo ender.  It also deflects projectile attacks back at the sender, where the quick attack will send it at another target.  The dodge is set to the A Button, and is useful to get behind enemies, or get out of a group of them for some breathing room.

Regis can also use magic, but not from the start.  As you progress, you unlock 3 different elemental spells that must be charged to be used.  Oh, and you need MP, too.  Sometimes defeated enemies drop MP pickups, which is the only way to refill MP.  It's not much, so you really need to save it for when you need it, such as against the magic-weak Flan.

If you can hit enemies enough without being hit yourself, you can summon one of Regis' friends for a devastating attack.  Plus, his Armiger gauge will also be building, which allows Regis to do a super strong attack at a single target.  Summoning any of his friends beforehand will allow them to do an extra attack during the Armiger attack.  These are really useful, but the not getting hit part means it's hard to use these wonderful tools when you may need them most.  Still, they can be crucial on boss fights to help you survive.

Combat in the game is pretty fun, but does hamper some of that fun behind a wall of complexity.  Different enemies are vulnerable to different types of attacks.  Pretty standard fare for the genre nowadays.  When they are then mostly immune to the other two attacks, it gets really messy when different types all cluster together.  There's also two different enemies that are only really vulnerable to the shield attacks.  So, you end up just mashing B to defeat them.  This isn't too excited, and since only 1 of your three attacks does damage, it takes longer than it should.

Plus, sometimes there are simpler ways around the complexity.  Flans are very resistant to physical attacks, but you can wail on them, build up a companion attack, and just use that to destroy them.  No need to use MP.  Cactuars will dodge after you hit them once, but they always try to go behind you.  If you turn and attack, you will likely hit them with a combo ender and stun them, which allows you to then mash attack to kill or seriously injure them.  While there is a fancier method, why not just do that and save yourself the time and effort?  I can get behind complex situations, but when there is a simple solution, the complexity isn't that well implemented.

The story mode can be completed in under 2 hours, which is really short.  As an old-school Final Fantasy fan, I did appreciate the final boss, who you will just have to see for yourself.  There is an alternate ending if you are so inclined to go through it again.  Upon completion, you unlock dream battles, which are small arena-like fights with special conditions, like fighting many ranged enemies, all flans, etc.  Each also has a challenge star, which are optional challenges for each mission, like not using magic, or doing it quickly.  This does add a little more content, but it's about the simplest thing they could add.  Some last a lot longer than they should, which also helps to limit the fun you have.

Obviously I'm going to love the look of the game, and is was pretty fun, too.  It was overall a good freebie for preorders of Final Fantasy XV, and might be worth a few extra bucks ($5 or less) if sold at a later date.  It's pretty short and there isn't much replay, but it is totally worth playing for beat-em-up fans or old-school gamers.

The Good:
Fun little downloadable freebie with awesome retro graphics.

The Bad:
Tries to be more complicated that it should be, makes later fights messy.  Short.

The SaHD:
Is the town really called Insomnia?  Is that the best they could do?

(Download code for A King's Tale: Final Fantasy was obtained free with preorder)