Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morphite (Xbox One) Review

When I first heard about Morphite, it sounded like No Man's Sky, but with a story.  It's a space exploration adventure game.  You guide Myrah and travel from planet to planet to find out the secrets of the legendary Morphite.  Plus, there are tons of extra planets that are randomly generated when you land on them.

When you first see the game, it can be a jarring experience.  I immediately thought it looked like a child colored an N64 game.  I'm not meaning that in a negative way, that was just the impression I got.  The worlds are very colorful, and not big on detail.  What they are big on is visible polygons.

The story isn't really ground breaking, but it's enough of an excuse to hop from planet to planet and battle bosses.  The story worlds are not randomly generated, and have some light puzzle solving.  My main complaint with the story is that it's trying too hard to be funny.  However, they do succeed with your robotic companion Kitcat, who I find very humorous.  Maybe I just have a weakness for sarcastic robots.

Exploration involves a lot of moving around, jumping, scanning creatures, and later on, some grappling.  There are a lot of things to scan, from plant life to creatures and even some minerals.  There are even variations of each one: strong, weak, and even rare.  Trouble is, there was little to no visual difference between them.  So, you end up running around, trying to scan anything and everything to see if it's a new one.  Little and quick creatures are also annoying to scan.  It's not the quickest scanning, and the lock-on is really bad for it.  Scanning kind of a pain, but you do need the money and rare scans.

Story locations are marked on the star maps, but on the actual planets very little is.  Objective markers would have been nice for the times in the second half of the story where I was lost and confused.  The maps in general just aren't good.  Sure, they show the outline of the land, but no detail.  Oh, and they are limited to your current elevation, meaning they change a lot when going up or down.  Ugh.

Besides scanning and jumping, you will also be shooting.  After all, not everything in the universe is friendly.  Fighting on foot is very basic.  You aim with one stick, move with the other, and shoot with the trigger.  The Left Trigger locks on.  It works slightly better than it does for scanning, so it's best not to rely on it.  Ammo can be pretty scarce.  Thankfully, the basic pistol will slowly refill to 5 shots if it runs out.  It's not a huge help when your max is 100 shots, but at least you won't be left defenseless.  Switching between the different weapons and the scanner isn't very quick, either.  While I didn't die that often (at least from health loss), you can die pretty quickly if you aren't careful.  The boss fights aren't very hard, either.

Moving in space is little more than picking a destination from a star map.  You can only go so far as you have fuel.  Fuel will regenerate over time, so it's best to hang out in a space station and do some trading, or explore a planet and do some scanning.  There are some random events while traveling too, like finding items, losing money, finding traders, and getting jumped by enemies.  Like land battles, space battles are very basic.  You are in a stationary turret, and try to aim at the enemies.  Every shot produces heat, so you don't want to shoot so much that you overheat your gun and have to wait.  There's also a dodge that you can use every few seconds to try and avoid damage.  The space battles function, but they aren't terribly exciting.

What else can you do?  Well, you can sell your scans.  Rare scans and harvested minerals can be used for various upgrades to your suit and ship.  The necessary rare scans come from similar sources.  Need heat resistance?  Get a rare scan from something in a hot environment.  It makes sense, but can be a hassle trying to track down the last few you need.  Ship improvements are just pure money, and weapon upgrades require money and mineral resources.  Minerals are gained from shooting the appropriate rocks randomly on planets.  Sometimes you find a good amount, and sometimes there is only one.  The improvements get pretty substantial though, so it's worth doing them.  I'd recommend fuel first, so you can go to farther systems much faster.

As with most games, there are problems abound in Morphite.  There are holes in the environment and strange invisible walls.  I'm betting most of these are because of the random worlds.  I've fallen through the map several times, and some even on story stages.  I've gotten stuck in the environment and on various places on planets.  Some of these can be solved by quitting to the menu.  It thankfully saves very often, but the worlds are generated when you land on them, so even if going back to the same one, it will have a different map.  One story planet kept locking up while I was trying to load it up.  My last big gripe is that I can't adjust the viewing area.  This cuts off text on all sides of my screen and just bothers me constantly.

So is Morphite just No Man's Sky with a story?  Not as much as I would have thought in the beginning.  It has a distinct visual style, and an unremarkable plot saved by a back-talkin' bot.  The randomly generated worlds can be nice, but feel too much like each other to stand out.  The shooting aspects are very basic.  Scanning everything can be fun as you try to find the rare scans you need for the next upgrade, but you will end up doing it a lot.  It's not a hard game, but does have annoying parts that keep it from being a relaxing experience.  Overall, it's worth trying, but likely won't end up being memorable.

The Good:
Many worlds to explore, upgrades to purchase, and story to uncover.

The Bad:
Lacks polish or depth in many areas.

The SaHD:
How awkward was that scene where you learn about the grapple gun?  It just sounded like a video game.  It wasn't natural at all.

(Review code for Morphite was provided by the publisher)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (PS4) Review

Danganronpa is back, and I was excited to play it!  The first was a great game with a immensely interesting story.  The second was good too, but the trial mini-games lowered enjoyment.  So, let's dive in and see what's good and bad about Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.

The game is still split into chapters, each consisting of three components: Daily Life, where you talk to your fellow students until someone is killed; Deadly Life, when you investigate the crime; and the Class Trial, where you use your evidence and prove who the killer is...so only they will be punished.  By being murdered, of course.  This flow is the same as the first two games, and it still works well.  The only Daily Life additions are new gift items that can give an extra scene, and the items that unlock new areas of the school.  The first is a nice addition, but always made me afraid I was going to miss these scenes (I did miss one of them).  The second was a clever way to lock off parts of the school, which has been in all three games.  Honestly, they aren't necessary, but I liked them.

The biggest game changes are of course in the trial sections.  Just like last time, some are okay, others are terrible, and a few are pretty good.  I'll start with the debate-like things, and then transition to the dreaded mini-games.  Non-stop Debates are still the basic trial aspect, and remain largely unchanged.  You cycle to whichever Truth Bullet you need, aim, and shoot it at the offending part of someone's statement.  Newly added are the Panic Debates.  These are basically Non-stop Debates with three people talking over each other.  Sometimes one yells, and you have to shoot their words down.  This is actually a logical addition to the trials, but it's not necessarily fun, especially the last one of the game.

If you played the first two games, and you should, you may remember capturing an opponents statement to use as a temporary truth bullet.  It never quite clicked with me.  Now it has been replaced with lying.  No, really.  Now when you hold the firing button on a truth bullet, it changes it into a lie bullet.  It's still only used once a trial, and feels strange.  I like the idea behind it, but it just seems weird that in an effort to find out the truth, you lie.

Another new addition is the Scrum, where you break into two sides, and have to match the opposing side's argument with your facts.  Like most of the changes, it doesn't feel necessary.  However, since it's not hard at all, I like it.  The last new debate mechanic is the back route.  This allows you to skip some parts, or...uh...actually, I don't know.  I never figured out where to do these, or even how, so I have no idea what happens.  I'm pretty sure they exist, though!

Now for the mini-games.  Remember the out-of-place snowboarding one in Danganronpa 2?  Well, that's gone and replaced with Psyche Taxi.  It's a little better, but takes longer.  So I guess that's a lateral move- not really better or worse overall.  Hangman's Gambit is back, because of course it is.  Thankfully no longer "improved", this one is just V3.  It's also bad.  This time letters float across the screen, but you can't see them.  Every few seconds a light quickly passes by to illuminate the letters.  You can hold the X Button to slowly expand a light in the center, but it costs concentration.  While you think this cost might be the bad part, I think it's worse that it's stuck in the center.  Either way, it's not fun to try and remember what each letter is while figuring out what word(s) they want.

So are there any new mini-games I do like?  Surprisingly, yes.  Imagination Excavation hides objects under a layer of colored tiles.  Hitting a group of tiles that are the same color makes them disappear.  Any tile touching them changes to the next color in the line (3 or 4 total depending on difficulty level).  The idea is to keep up that cycle until you uncover the item you want.  I actually like this game and play it in the casino to get medals for unlocks.  Unfortunately there, you can't sacrifice time to get rid of non-linked blocks like you can during the trial.

The strange rhythm mini-games near the end of the trials is also present.  Called Argument Armament, these have unfortunately taken after the Hatsune Miku games, and has the key buttons all over the screen, making it harder.  There's a new 'hold' type that wasn't explained, and took me many misses to get the timing down on them.  These are more annoying than previous times, but I really like the artwork of who you are arguing with in the background.  It even changes as you 'damage' them.

The closing argument comic panels are also back, and they are near perfect.  Placing the cursor over the missing panel gives a clue, and placing it over the possibilities tells you what it's about.  That second part is needed because the panels you have to place are tiny.  You also know instantly if something is wrong, and it waits until the whole thing is correct before going through it.  I really like these, and am glad to see them done so well.

The first Danganronpa set up a story so good, there really wasn't much room to expand.  The second installment did its best, but didn't quite live up to its predecessor, despite having stronger characters.  V3 doesn't do any better.  Half of the twists I like, but the other half are just bad.  Either they don't make sense, are unexplained, or have characters act completely out of character.  Speaking of characters, this game has an even higher number of characters that I can't stand.  I thought it would be hard to beat Hiyoko, but they proved me wrong with Kokichi.  Yes, a prominently featured know-it-all troll is a great idea (sarcasm).  It's easily one of the most annoying and horrible character types.

Past that, the bad twists make it harder to actually figure out the trials.  In the first two games, I had reasonable ideas about what happened, and who had done it.  I got all of them right (except the one I fully disagree with) well before the actual reveals.  Personally, I loved that.  It makes you feel smart, and having enough clues beforehand makes it seem like the story and game were well crafted.  The sheer randomness of some of the twists takes that away, and replaces it with the urge to bash your head into a wall.  I should have seen this coming, when the first trial went a new direction that just felt there to swerve players.  I thought that soured me on it, but we still had not reached the bottom.  That honor belongs to the final twist, which I will not spoil.  I really want to, because I don't like it and I don't think it's any good, but I'm a nice guy.

There are of course unlockable things once you get through the story, but they are different from previous offerings.  First is a wannabe dating sim, which is pretty much there to get you the rest of the friendship events, and the associated skills.  This used to be half of the collecting resource/time management sim games in previous entries.  Now, that half is just by itself, but the other part (which I enjoyed) is gone.  Replacing it is two separate, but heavily linked, games.

First is a board game (chara world?), where you pick a character card and take them through three 'years' of school to raise their stats and teach them skills.  A lot of this is up to random chance.  If you know me, that's a huge minus in my book.  The game is also pretty mean.  If you don't get to the goal within 12 turns or so, you can't take the final exam.  Then, you get sent to the despair route, which is filled with despair panels that drop your stats.  Sounds fun, huh?  You pretty much have to blaze through as fast as you can to ensure you hit the goal first.  Oh, and the final exam is way too hard.

Second, those built up characters are then used in a dungeon crawling RPG called Monokuma's Test.  It looks like the original Dragon Quest games.  It's also pretty fun.  However, you won't gain experience in this mode because they need to force you to do the Talent Plan board game.  You do gain enemy drops and money.  Enemy drops help you make equipment for your characters, and the money is used to buy new character cards from the vending machine.  Sadly, it's random, but at least I quickly got the two characters I most wanted.  Hello nurse and Peko Peko!  Then you take the new characters through the board game, and repeat the cycle anew.  I haven't put a lot of time into these yet (only a few hours), but I can easily see myself coming back to them.  Even if half of it is mean, it's kind of fun, and I want to get the rare versions of my favorite characters.

Even after sinking so much time into Danganronpa V3, I'm on the fence if I like it or not.  The flow of the game is still intact, and there are aspects that I enjoy.  Many new additions felt either unnecessary or outright bad, and the twists felt too random to enjoy.  The new post-game stuff is pretty enjoyable, though.  I'm sure fans of the first two games will play V3, but I get the suspicion that a large portion won't enjoy it.

The Good:
Flow is still the same from the first two games, some good new characters, and a few of the trial aspects have been refined.

The Bad:
The story, the rest of the characters, and of course, most of the trial mini-games.

The SaHD:
Keep the machine gun skill on for the final chapter!

(Review code for Danganronpa V3 was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hidden Dragon Legend (PS4) Review

Prior to release...ok, prior to getting a review code for it, I had not heard of Hidden Dragon Legend.  It's an action adventure game featuring intense sword fights in a fictional world grounded in ancient Chinese culture.  What could go possibly go wrong?

The story starts off really slow.  Literally.  You have to drag yourself through a room just to get started.  It feels like it takes forever to get to the part where the story is actually starting, which isn't really the best way to get people interested in what's going on.  Then it starts jumping forward through the passage of time, as if to make up for the beginning.  It's just really odd pacing that didn't mesh with me.  It also lays on the mysterious stuff really early on, dropping tons of characters and dialog that doesn't make sense until much later in the game.  Speaking of dialog, it's not that great either.  I'd have to say it's more comically bad than ear bleeding, though.

As you make your way through the various stages, you will have to fight many enemies.  Your sword has a normal and strong attack that are used for various combos.  You can also jump, which may help you hit the airborne enemies.  There's a dodge that costs stamina, so you can't spam it.  At one point in the game, you will also get throwing knives to give you a weak distance attack.  Under your health are five circles that fill up as you damage enemies.  These allow you to use a few special moves.

Unfortunately, the fighting just isn't that good.  The special moves are costly and take way too long to fill up.  The weak attacks work on normal sized enemies, but are almost useless on the bigger foes.  The jump just doesn't feel right when trying to hit the flying enemies.  It's super easy to get hit, even when trying to dodge.  Plus, the dodge doesn't seem to have invincible frames, making its usefulness suspect.  A block would have been really useful and welcome.  Enemies also jump around, making it a hassle to gather them up and hit them.

And those are the better parts of combat.  The bigger enemies frequently have super armor, so they can ignore your attacks and retaliate.  They don't seem to follow patterns, so you can't take advantage of openings as much as you should be able to.  They can also attack way too fast for how durable and strong they are, leaving you no time to dodge.  It's just a huge pain to fight them.  It's even worse when they come in multiples, or with other enemies.  In fact, fighting anything in groups other than the weakest grunts is a pain.

So the fighting might not have worked out so well, but what about any other aspects?  Well, the stages themselves are usually okay.  There are hidden and hard-to-notice offshoots that house extra chests.  You will gain a few different weapons and abilities as you go through the story, so some of these are not available your first time through the stage.  It's pretty easy to go back, too.  Just select the stage from the menu and you can replay it.  This is also good for getting some extra healing potions.

While you have a double jump (yay!) and a dash that works in the air (double yay!), the platforming isn't the best.  There are precise jumps, and the jumping didn't feel that great to me.  Sometimes the double jump just didn't want to activate.  The grappling claw you get partway through the game functions pretty well, though.  I found it easy to aim while using it for platforming.  However, in combat, it was just the opposite.

Overall, I don't think Hidden Dragon Legend is that good.  The platforming is okay, and the style of the game is nice, but the fights are what drag it down.  Evening out the difficulty and adding some polish would help the game a lot.  Even doing more with character and skill upgrades would have been a plus.  As it stands, you could easily skip it.

The Good:
Decent stage design, the setting and gameplay feel unique.

The Bad:
Fights have uneven enemy difficulty, which kills the fun.

The SaHD:
A super responsive dodge would make a lot of the fighting problems disappear.

(Review code for Hidden Dragon Legend was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Battle Chasers: Nightwar (Xbox One) Review

When I first started Battle Chasers: Nightwar, I only knew it was an RPG.  The visuals hooked me instantly.  The story animation and art is done really well.  In the game itself, the character designs, enemy models, and environments look spectacular.  It really looks like the 3D modeling of a comic book.

There's a reason for that.  Apparently, Battle Chasers was actually a comic book series from the late 90s to the very early 2000s.  Well, according to its Wikipedia page, the final(?) three issues are supposed to come out after the game, so I guess I shouldn't say "was" a comic book series.  Also, it seems Joe Madureira, the original creator is involved in making the game.  I guess that's why the game looks so good.

You might be wondering why I learned all of this.  The simple reason is it relates to one of my few problems with the game.  The story in the game is mostly self-contained, but the characters already knew each other.  It was obvious that I was starting in the middle of their tale, and I wondered if it was some property that I didn't know about.  It turns out that it was.

Anyway, the world map is fairly big, and you move from place to place on set paths.  Some places have alternate paths, which sometimes avoid enemies, and sometimes lead to extra places.  Fights are clearly labeled, and there are chests and gathering points on them, too.  If you want the enemies or gathering points back, you can either complete a dungeon or reload the game, which can be really useful to do.  The town shops are also accessed from this map, which took a bit of getting used to.

Once you find and enter an exploration area or dungeon, you will have more freedom of movement.  They also contain treasures, items to examine, and wandering monsters.  Each character gets abilities that you can use in these areas.  Some are just generally helpful, like the robot's heal.  Others can be used for exploration, like Gully's rock destroying punch.  Pretty much all of them can be used when making contact with an enemy to give you an edge in combat, too.  I would like it if they weren't as limited as they are, and only staying at an inn replenishes their uses.

Battles are tried and true turn-based fun.  Your speed, or in this game, haste, determines when and how often your turn comes up.  At first you get what appears to be a normal set of actions, but as you level up, there are some nice surprises.  Besides having a normal attack, there are alternates.  For example, Garrison also gets a move that does less damage than a normal attack, but applies bleed.  There are some special moves that will get an added benefit from that, on top of the fact that the target will suffer damage over time.  Calibretto, the healing robot, has a normal move that removes debuffs from a party member.  Status ailments are considered debuffs, so this is a very useful move.  Too bad I often want him to attack instead.

The other cool and unique concept is overload.  When you do a normal attack (or some other actions), you will build up overload.  When you use a skill that takes MP, you will use overload first.  So, it's basically extra MP.  Sadly, it usually doesn't stay with you after combat, but it does mean you can never actually run out of MP.  If you do, just attack and you'll have some more!  Now you know why I want my healer attacking, so I can do some healing for free.  I don't always get to take advantage of overload, but I really like it.

Battles themselves are sometimes harder than I would have thought.  Enemies hit hard, and it can be hard to keep up with the healing.  Even so, I did go a long time without needing to resurrect somebody.  If enemies are weaker, you can just mash attack on them, but as you go further in the game, and especially during the boss fights, you will want to plan out your moves.  Since battles are turn-based, you have the time to do so, and I suggest you use it.  Some fights are linked, where you will have to fight them back-to-back with no break in between.  These can wear you down, but are good for building up overload.

Each character can equip a weapon and armor (unique to each person).  In addition, there are 3 slots for a ring, necklace, and trinket (not unique to each person).  These obviously change your stats, usually for the better.  There are plenty of times that equipment gave different bonuses that the previous piece, so I had to choose which I thought was better.  I guess my biggest complaint with the equipment is that it seems to be random loot drops from chests, meaning you may get too many for characters that don't need it, and not enough for those that do.

There is a crafting system, so you can eventually make some equipment yourself.  It might be good, but it feels really inconsistent.  You can't just make the stuff you have recipes for, you also have to be at the right place.  Strewn about are different facilities that allow you to make stuff.  There's several of them in dungeons.  While that can be useful, it's just strange.  Really, I'd just like a more convenient place to do it, so I could actually play around with it and see if the crafting system is actually worth using.

Besides equipment, another way to make your characters stronger is with perks.  These act as passives, and there are various effects.  Some increase various stats, like dodge, attack power, or stamina, while others can make your active skills better.  There are also a few that just do generally useful stuff, like a small heal at the end of battle, or being able to keep a little bit of overload.  I really like those types of perks.  My favorite thing about them is that they aren't permanently assigned.  As far as I could tell, you can freely reassign the points (outside of combat) as the situation dictates.  Some are better for random encounters, and maybe you have others for a tough boss fight.  While I don't think they really mentioned the perks, except for a loading screen tip or two, it is something you should get into as early as you can.

One other personal problem I have with the game is the saving.  It's a full auto save environment.  There are multiple save slots, so you can either have multiple playthroughs, or have other people play on your profile, but each only really has that one auto save.  While it saves frequently, and I haven't had any issues with that, I would love to be able to make a hard save.  Mostly for my piece of mind, but also so I can play around with the crafting stuff to better understand it.

Besides the main quest, there are a few other things to do.  There's a fishing mini-game, because of course there is.  It's fairly simple, and therefore not bad.  You can also do some side quests, and even special hunting quests.  Add in the arena fights, and well, you have a fairly standard set of extra stuff to do in an RPG.  Even so, it's not really a knock against the game, just nothing new.

I really liked playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar.  The art is cool, the game is fun, and the battles are just difficult enough to get you to think.  I'd like some more polish in the information areas though, as there were things that I only learned about from random loading screen tips.  RPG fans, I strongly encourage you to play it.

The Good:
A solid and fun turn-based RPG with enough character and unique mechanics to not feel old.

The Bad:
A few small issues: only auto save, crafting system is a bit weird, and I actually learned stuff from the tip screens.  I'm not really sure why that last one is a negative.

The SaHD:
I think I'm going to check out the comic books at some point.  I'm interested in these characters.

(Review code for Battle Chasers: Nightwar was provided by the publisher)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bad Apple Wars (PS Vita) Review

Bad Apple Wars is a visual novel...or maybe a cooking game?  Okay, probably not the latter.  It's a otome visual novel set in a mysterious school.  There is a brewing conflict between the people that obey the rules, and those that break them (these would be delinquents, or "bad apples").  As the new girl in class, you will quickly choose which side you are on.

And I do mean quickly.  The first major route change is at the end of the prologue, with the next big one soon after.  This second choice is fairly innocuous, as it just changes the next scene, but the following choice pretty much locks you into a character's route.  Well, it's not technically their route, since the flow chart doesn't list it as such, but you will be pretty much stuck talking to that character for the rest of the game.  I'm on the fence about if I like that or not.  On one hand, having such a major choice appear so small is not good.  On the other, it does make the narrative more consistent.  In turn, that strengthens the already interesting story.

Choose Your Destiny...

Another jarring thing is that there are no dialog options, even though there are points that feels like one would pop up.  Your choices are which side you are on, then which guy you talk to to start their route.  This sounds worse than it actually is, though.  I didn't really notice I hadn't made a dialog choice for awhile, as I was still engaged with the story.  The plot moves along pretty quickly, especially once you get to what the game considers a character's route.  There are a good and bad ending plus a special epilogue.  For awhile, it was very unclear to me what you could do to affect this.  It's all laid out in a nice flow chart, so at least you can clearly see what you have done, if not what you need to do.

One unique feature in the game is the touch system.  Several CGs of characters during the story have places that you must tap.  Most times it just gives more dialog.  However, there are two near the end that are much more important.  Normally, touching the wrong place just doesn't do anything.  In these special scenes, you can only touch the wrong place so many times.  If you don't do it correctly, the scene still moves ahead, but is slightly different.  I eventually realized that this was what affected the ending in the absence of dialog choices.  I'm still not sure what effects the epilogue.

I don't see a game clock, like most visual novels, so I have to guesstimate my time.  It seems to be near the standard 6-8 hours for the first playthrough.  It's worth going through multiple times, because just about every other scene involves whichever guy's route you will end up in.  Plus, you don't really learn much about the others during a given route, and their backstories are pretty interesting so far.  Even if you skip the parts you have already seen, the other half of the game is still new.

Bad Apple Wars has a very unique setting, many differences to each route, and a very interesting story.  Admittedly, the story seems much more natural if you become a bad apple, but not in a way that messes up the narrative if you don't.  Getting the different ending routes is pretty unclear, but it's still a fun and worthwhile visual novel.

The Good:
Good use of color, interesting story.

The Bad:
Important route choice is early and innocuous, unclear how to get the different endings.

The SaHD:
I'm surprised some voiced characters didn't have a graphic.  It's not a huge deal, but it surely is a curiosity.

(Review code for Bad Apple Wars was provided by the publisher)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mystik Belle (PS4) Review

Mystik Belle is an action-adventure platformer made by Last Dimension and published by Wayforward.  After seeing the humorous trailer, I knew I wanted to review it.  It doesn't hurt that the graphics look like sweet 16-bit candy.

On its surface, the game is basically a Metroidvania.  However, it's also littered with point and click adventure game-like puzzles, and it works really well.  You'll find items that you have to use a certain place, usually to get another item to use elsewhere.  If you have played something like Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, or Disc World, then you get the basic idea.  Sure, mashing fetch quest puzzles with exploration does increase the likelihood that I'll get stuck (which I did several times), but both aspects of the game didn't clash with each other the way disparate elements sometimes do.

The only limitation of this that I don't like is the limited inventory space.  Belle can only carry so much.  Thankfully there are several warp chests around the map, that you can put items into and retrieve at another (at least on the normal difficulty setting).  Anything you leave will stay where you left it, which is a nice touch.  Even so, you will probably make a few trips to these chests to grab things you need.  Also, there is an apple you get at the beginning of the game (the hall pass).  If you don't have it, an invincible reaper will creep around and kill you instantly if he catches you.  So, you will probably want to carry that with you at all times.  If you never leave a screen without it, you'll also get a trophy.  What a good student!

The combat portion of the game is pretty solid and enjoyable.  It's also not very hard.  Belle can jump and shoot.  After each boss fight, you get a new spell, which will eventually get you a charge shot and a dash, both of which have combat applications as well as exploration.  The charge shot especially is great on boss fights.  Even so, boss fights aren't really that hard.  In fact, few parts of the game are actually hard.  When you come in contact with something, it damages you, but you also damage it.  This happens frequently because Belle's sprite is fairly big.  You take very little damage, unless you come into prolonged contact with it.  Since there is no invincibility time on a hit, it will basically drain your health while you stand in or on it.  There are no save rooms or items to heal your health, so you have to rely on drops from enemies.  There's just enough of them that it isn't really an issue.

The only really "hard" fight is the final boss of the true ending route.  Even then, it's only because it doesn't follow the normal gameplay.  I'm not going to ruin what's going on, but you must do something completely different to everything you've done up to that point, and they don't even provide instructions as to what the controls are.  That, and you will die in like 4 seconds, leaving you almost no time to figure out what you are supposed to do.  I was very frustrated at that part, but I wasn't going to give up while standing on the finish line.  I made it through, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

The platforming aspect didn't quite feel as good as combat.  There are a few jumps that are at the limit of Belle's jump, either distance or height.  The game feels pretty loose when she's near a ledge, which would sometimes cause me to fall when I was making sure I was far enough that I could actually jump the gap.  Sometimes the dash or double jump just didn't want to work.  Most times a missed jump is just having to get back up, so it's not the end of the world when it happens.  It's just an annoyance.

While the game is fun, it's also short.  It took me just under 3 hours to get the "good" ending, and that was done in one sitting.  I was only missing four items to get the true ending.  Finishing that up took only another 30 minutes, although I did use a list for those last items, since they aren't marked on the map.  It turns up I had seen two of them, but forgot they were there when I could actually get them.  Doh.  The only real replayability is for the achievements and trophies, of which there is a speed run one.

Mystik Belle is a fun action adventure platforming game with some point and click adventure puzzle solving thrown in for good measure.  It's a quick game, and not really difficult.  The art and animation is wonderful.  It's worth playing if you are a fan of Metroidvanias.

The Good:
The gameplay, the art, and enemy design are pretty top notch.

The Bad:
Felt a bit short for the cost, and the true ending boss fight is not fun.

The SaHD:
It took me way too long to get the "Belle?  BELLE!" trophy joke, but once I did, it made me laugh.

(Review code for Mystik Belle was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4) Review

Senran Kagura comes out with another spin-off game, this time a third person shooter called Peach Beach Splash.  No, they aren't using real guns, or even ink guns, but water guns.  So the girls run around in skimpy bathing suits, soaking each other.  Yeah, I'm not sure why this didn't come out sooner, either.  Let's splash!

I was initially worried when the multiplayer option was so prominent on the menu.  After picking single player, I was immediately thrust into a multi-part tutorial.  After completing that, I was then greeted with the single player options.  A character's load out is a small deck of cards which will comprise your weapon, pets, and abilities.  The weapon aims and shoots like you would expect in a third person shooter, but there is a lock-on.  Each weapon takes a different amount of water to fire, and you can refill by holding the square button.  There does seem to be a delay in getting it to start, though.  After trying all of the weapons, and felt the normal assault rifle was the best fit.  It had range, rapid fire, and a decent ammo capacity.

The pets and abilities will be ready to use after a few seconds.  They are randomly distributed in one of three slots you have, activated by the d-pad.  Once you use one, another will take its place and have to charge.  Some of these are very good, so don't ignore them.  The shield ones are invaluable against named characters and bosses, and also a great way to have the time to revive a teammate.

Lastly, there is actually a bonus for using your water on your own characters.  This won't hurt them, but will get them wet.  If they get wet enough...wow that sounds inappropriate...they will enter a powered up state called Soaking Wet.  Original, I know.  This temporarily gives you unlimited ammo.  It's great.  It's also just as hard to get the AI to do it to you.  With unlimited ammo, you become a force to be reckoned with.  Some guns, like the mini-gun, become monsters with how good they are when they don't need to reload.  I have to assume that good multiplayer strategies revolve around using this mechanic with certain loadouts.

The "normal" selection of girls is present, with some of them being unlockable as you go through the story or other modes.  There's even a few there that I don't recognize.  I have to assume they are from a game or games that haven't been released in the US yet.  Hopefully that changes soon.  Because each girl just uses cards for weapons and abilities, there is no real difference between them.  On one hand it kind of sucks because your favorite character might not be as fun to play, since they all play the same.  However, it means you can basically only use the character(s) you like.  Plus, Hibari is no longer bottom tier!  What an upgrade!

"But wait," you might be thinking, "is this really Senran Kagura?  Where is the system to destroy clothing?"  Fret not, as they have added Squirmy Finishes.  Once you drain all of an opponents health, they stay prone for a few seconds, which gives you time to run over and activate this feature.  You pull out a duck squirt gun, and shoot the poor girl with water.  You can buy different colors of water because...I don't know.  Anyway, you can shoot the face, chest, or...bottom.  If you do it enough within the time frame, the girl's top or bottom will fall off, revealing that trademark shine.  Shooting them in the face doesn't seem to do much.  Maybe it's a tame option?  If there's a way to knock off more than one article of clothing, I haven't found it.  Plus, you can't do it to the final girl defeated, since the match just ends.

Water fights are fine once you get used to them.  My first problem was telling everyone apart.  I know the characters, but they all start in the same white bikinis.  When there is water flying everywhere, girls jumping and dashing around, all looking largely the same...it can get confusing.  The first team on team fight was kind of a mess.  Afterward, I set all the girls in colors of bathing suits by school, so it was easier to tell them apart.  I also eventually figured out that different outfits are on different tabs in the dressing room, so you can put the girls in their normal or shinobi clothes.  And yes, those will rip.

As you can probably guess, each school has their own story line and progress.  With all four completed, a fifth story opens up.  Each has 10-15 stages total, and each match goes by pretty quickly.  They also culminate with a boss fight, which can actually be difficult.  In addition, there are "Paradise Episodes" to complete, which are smaller side stories, focused on different groups of the girls.  The final single player section is the "V-Road Challenge", which are basically tournaments.  Complete one, and you can challenge the next.  Unlike the story stages, these tournaments offer good money for completion.

Completing levels with give you some money and a card pack.  The money you get feels really low, at least on the easiest difficulty, and you need a lot of cards to level things up.  I assume it's a slow gain because you are supposed to get some for playing online.  I didn't try the online versus, mostly because I have no interest in it.  I tried once to do the online survival, where you fight waves of enemies and protect certain objects, but wasn't able to find another player.  I did a few waves by myself, but it would certainly be more fun with others.  That actually gave good money too.

All in all, Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash is a fun spin off game.  The shooting is fast and solid, and there is enough single player content to satisfy me.  It won't replace the core game, since none of the girls play different from each other unless you change their cards, but fans of the series should try it out.

The Good:
Bouncy ninja girls getting each other soaking wet.

The Bad:
The only differences in characters is what cards/weapon you give them.

The SaHD:
This feels like it should have come out in June, not September.

(Review code for Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash was provided by the publisher)