Wednesday, January 31, 2018

VESTA (Switch) Review

VESTA (the game) stars Vesta (the character) and her robot friend Droid as they make their way from the bottom of the facility to the surface.  Along they way they will both use their unique abilities to make it through each stage, carrying enough energy to power their way to the next.

Both characters have different functions to get through the levels.  Vesta can drain energy from generators and robots, and then give that energy to other generators.  This allows doors to open, platforms to move, and conveyor belts to turn on.  She is also small enough to fit in tunnels strewn about the various levels.  Droid, being much bigger and stronger, can move boxes, block some environmental traps, and throw Vesta across gaps.  It can also shoot out missiles, which can incapacitate enemy robots, allowing Vesta to drain their energy.

As mentioned before, both characters have to reach the end area to complete the stage.  For most of the stages, Vesta will also need to have full energy in her pack.  This is usually the trickiest part of the game, but once you realize that, it is much easier to plan for.  Levels don't have a time limit, so it's not an issue to backtrack for the energy, or look around when you don't know where to go.  The story is separated into 4 chapters, each with 8 levels and 1 boss fight.  Several stages have a checkpoint that you will start over at if one of your characters dies.  Droid can take 3 hits, but Vesta can only take one...and can't fall down very far.  Also, later stages have floor panels that fall after you walk on them, which can strand you.  Thankfully, you will always be able to complete the stage from the checkpoint state if and when you die or have to restart a stage.

While the game is mostly charming and fun, there are some drawbacks.  The puzzles aren't overly difficult, but occasionally it can be hard to tell where you are supposed to go.  I had a major obstruction on a level in chapter 2, where I needed to have both characters go through a door at the same time.  I had tried to have them both go in the door separately, and the level didn't end.  For some reason, this is also one of maybe two stages that doesn't end with both characters reaching an elevator.  I've also missed a platform or two if it is from the bottom of the screen.

Hit detection isn't always that accurate, either.  When trying to hit an enemy with one of Droid's missiles, they sometimes brush the target, leaving it unaffected.  However, environmental obstructions must be given a wide berth, or your missile will hit it and explode.  If you pass by an enemy with Vesta, they will sometimes attack a different direction completely, and still hit and kill her.  If hit detection were consistent, I could at least plan for it better.  Lastly, I did run into some bugs when falling into pits.  Most times it is just being stuck below the ledge, but not fully in the pit.  One time I was able to run around under the stage.

VESTA isn't a very long game, only lasting a few hours, but it is pretty fun.  There isn't much replay value, though.  Each non-boss stage has secret items to find, but as far as I can tell, they don't actually do anything.  Maybe the PS4 version has trophies for them?  Anyway, the game has some problems, but they are relatively minor.  It's an interesting puzzle game that is worth trying for even casual puzzle fans.

The Good:
An interesting puzzle game that doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Bad:
Enemy hit detection feels off.

The SaHD:
The story is pretty interesting, but easy to miss.  I think I've got it down for the most part, but it would have been nice to unlock the back story messages in the menu so I would know if I was missing anything.

(Review code for VESTA was received from the publisher)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blaster Master Zero (NS) Review

Blaster Master, one of the classic games on the NES.  I remember it for its two distinct styles, having both side-scrolling and isometric views, plus the old pause trick.  I'm sure more people remember that from Mega Man 2, though.  Anyway, I remember not being very good at the game, and seeing people go through the game years later, it could easily benefit from a remake.  Inti creates brings us that remake, with some very good additions.

After one of the nice new story scenes, the game starts in a side-scrolling section, where Jason is piloting the Sophia vehicle.  You can roll around, jump, and shoot in 5 directions.  The R Button helps lock you in to shooting diagonal or upward while moving side to side, and is a very helpful function to get down.  As you go through the maps, there are several upgrades you get, giving you different charge shots, sub-weapons, and even letting you climb on walls.  The Switch's d-pad buttons make controlling the action feel good.  My only real complaint with movement is that the car has some momentum to it.  This can make it hard to precisely jump and land on platforms, which you do need to do at times.  I did eventually get used to it, but it's not something I like in games.

Jason can and has to jump out of the vehicle at various times to progress.  While doing so, you can enter one of several dungeon areas, where the game switches to an old-school Zelda-like isometric view.  I prefer the analog stick for these sections, since it was easier to hit the diagonals with them.  The R Button is used to strafe, and it might even be more useful here than the side-scrolling sections.  Jason's blaster can also power-up by collecting the right item, but powers down when taking damage.  It's a very old-school concept that I'm not too fond of.  However, once I figured out that I could change shots, and how to do so, I saw the ridiculous power it holds.  The final shot is amazing.  The ones leading up to it are less so, but one or two of them have solid uses.  Many of the dungeon segments (and boss fights) were a lot easier with the final blaster shot, as long as I could hold on to it.

I got the normal ending and credits at just under 6 hours.  I then went back, grabbed the two or three things I missed, and got the true ending 3 hours later.  It would have been shorter, but I really don't like that last area.  After getting the true ending, you unlock two more modes.  Shortly after release, there were additional DLC characters that were free, but now are paid extras.  As free additions, they can be fun to mess around with.  Personally, I didn't feel like playing the whole game over after completion, but will likely use the DLC characters after some time has passed.

The difficulty of the game felt right.  There were parts and boss fights that were hard, but they didn't feel too hard.  The game does get noticeably easier once you have (and use) the highest level of Jason's blaster.  It's a nice reward for going (mostly) unscathed.  It was really easy to get hit, both in and out of Sophia, and I'd personally like a tad more invincibility time after taking damage.  It was a little too short for my tastes.

Overall, Blaster Master Zero is superior to the original.  Adding save points was a huge plus, and giving directions in some of the more questionable decisions (after area 3, go all the way back to the beginning for area 4...what?) makes a huge difference.  I always wanted to like the original more than I did, and Blaster Master Zero proved that there was a good game hiding inside.  It also proved that remaking the right game in the right way can make it a fun experience.

The Good:
Great update/remake of the original.

The Bad:
Sophia momentum took getting used to, easy to get hit at times.  Oh, and slippery ice areas are never fun.

The SaHD:
Having to have your transponder on for the final area is a strange requirement.

(Blaster Master Zero was purchased from the E-shop on sale)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Agents of Mayhem (Xbox One) Review

As a fan of Saints Row IV and Gat Out of Hell, I was eager to try out Agents of Mayhem, since it's essentially a spin off game based off one of the Gat endings.  I was fully sold on playing it once I saw the achievement art.  Eighties greatness!

Like Saints Row, this game is a third person shooter.  Instead of one agent, your team consists of three that you can switch between as the need arises.  Each agent has a different weapon and special moves.  There are machine guns, chain guns, get the picture.  All of the agents were unique and stood out as characters.  The specials were sometimes like grenades, sometimes debuffs, or even an alt-fire for their weapon.  To round out their abilities, agents also can use a mayhem move when the meter is filled (this meter isn't shared among them, either).  Most of these were a joy to use.  I'll admit Hollywood, while not my favorite agent, has a great mayhem move.  Just like a Michael Bay-esque action hero, he gets dramatic music and lots of explosions.  It's useful and appropriate.

Movement is...okay at best.  Sure, it has some nice stuff, like a triple jump and a dash/air dash (for some agents).  The dash has a cooldown that isn't shown, but I eventually got the timing down.  The triple jump is serviceable, although it doesn't really seem to cover enough ground considering how high some of the buildings are.  There are lifts and other things to help you get to the top, but being able to scale buildings was something done much better in an older, similar style game.  If the agent doesn't have an air dash, they can usually grab a wall and pull themselves up a bit higher.  While it has its uses, I feel the air dash is better and more useful.

Aiming is also an aspect I had some issues with.  The longer you hold the stick in a direction, the faster it will move.  That's...great for some people, but it almost always messed me up.  I constantly overshot targets while trying to aim at them.  I really wish there was an option to change or reduce this.  There is a sensitivity option, but it doesn't seem to affect that.  After a few hours, I got used to it.  The aiming is also pretty generous, so you don't have to be dead on to get a hit.  You do still have to be pretty accurate for a critical hit, though.

As you kill enemies and complete missions, you will gain experience and level up.  Each level grants a point that can increase one of your passive skills.  Being a team player (and having read some sage advice), I put all my points into the squad skills first, since they would benefit all members of my team.  Each agent also has three core abilities that you must use an upgrade core to buy.  These can either be obtained from mission rewards, or by collecting 10 core fragments around the world.

Oh, and there's still more.  There are three modifiers agents can equip to customize their skills and weapon.  You also purchase base upgrades that effect the whole team as the agency levels up.  Gremlin tech is basically consumables that are special attacks, buffs, or debuffs.  Finally, there is Legion tech, which are extra modifiers that you equip to your modifiers.  It might sound complicated, but it makes sense once you start playing the game.

The game flows like most typical third person open world games.  Go to a place, do the thing, get rewards.  There's some collectibles around the map, but they are basically the core fragments.  I like that you need to do two part missions to unlock new agents.  The second part is basically using them, so you learn what they are capable of.  Since you should switch your teams around a lot, this is useful knowledge.  Story missions are made up of multiple parts, and not many opportunities for a break.  While there is also a mission replay feature, you have to beat the game to get it.

For the open-world aspect, there are many other things to do around the map.  They are all pretty much random, which is good and bad.  Good because you can always have more to do, but bad because they tend to be generic, and you can never be "done" with them all.  That ties into the random contracts that you can do.  Legion also has secret bases that have hidden entrances that can appear out of the environment.  It's something that I would have thought about as a kid, and it's cool to see it here.  It feels legit.  Unfortunately, these bases start to feel very generic because they are randomly assembled from a few different room types.  Completing a base, or taking back and outpost can spawn one of Legion's doomsday weapons.  Doing these wasn't fun for me.  I kept doing them because I wanted to at least try them all.  Getting a golem to spawn took me 22 attempts...which is sad because there are only 3 possibilities!

I liked Agents of Mayhem, but the aiming and movement could use a little work.  It reminded me a lot of Crackdown, a game I love, but wasn't as good as that sadly.  The world is built like Crackdown, but is definitely covered with a Saints Row IV skin...just look at all those purple lights!  I liked my rental enough to eventually purchase and complete the game.

The Good:
Lots of things to do, and characters to do it with.  Some funny jokes and the achievement pictures are awesome!

The Bad:
The movement and aiming could use little work.  Enemy lairs feel very generic.

The SaHD:
At various points, the game was definitely getting harder.  Then I noticed the game kept upping my difficulty setting as I played.  Don't do that!

(Agents of Mayhem was rented and later purchased from Redbox)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017: The Good, the Bad, and the SaHD

Man, looking at last year's post, I had some high hopes for 2017.  Considering the travesty that had taken place the previous November, I'm not sure why I thought things would be okay.  Anyway, let us start with the good stuff from 2017.

There were some really fun games released this year, so was hard for me to pick a favorite for the podcast.  Tokyo Xanadu was a lot of fun.  I didn't know what to expect going in, but the combination of story/characters that I liked with some fun action-RPG gameplay made it one of the best games I played this year.  Similarly, I had a blast playing Killing Floor 2 with my friends.  There were a few other good games, like Monster Hunter Stories and Disgaea 5 Complete, too.  Even though it released last year (but in 2017 on PC), World of Final Fantasy is a wonderful game.  I bought and played it on the Vita early in 2017, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of Final Fantasy.

As much as I rightfully dislike Nintendo, the Switch is a great system.  Easily their best one since the Super Nintendo.  It's what the Wii U should have been, in my opinion.  While the battery isn't the best, I play it most often in portable mode.  For slower games, I can even lay down on my bed, prop the screen sideways on my nice stand, and hold just the joycons in my hands for the ultimate lazy experience.  If we could get some visual novels on the system, I'd be even happier.  TV mode is also good, where I use the Switch Pro controller for things like Fire Emblem Warriors.

On the Transformers front, we had some really good releases this year (if you could find them).  Titans Returns brought back the headmaster gimmick, where the head transforms into a little robot.  Triggerhappy and Topspin are solid and fun figures.  They both turn into different spaceships that I'd love to see in a shmup-type game.  Masterpiece Megatron also debuted this year, and although I got a KO of it (in my defense, the official is hard to get and way too pricey), it is a wonderful figure, and a good one to display for my collection.  The transformation is pretty crazy, so I don't think I'll be doing it too often.

For the record, The Last Jedi was pretty good, too.  There were some things I didn't agree with, but it was enjoyable.  More importantly, my wife liked it (she's the huge Star Wars fan of the house).

Now for the bad.  There's an elephant in the room, and it has tiny hands, bad hair, and is a complete douche.  So, obviously, the worst thing is the state of my home country, the United States, but we will try to focus on other things.

Gaming wise, Drive Girls was a big miss.  The idea was fun and quirky, but the gameplay just didn't add up.  Bad decisions, boring enemies, and unexplained combat mechanics all dragged it down.  Metroid: Samus Returns had some fun elements, but was again a disappointment (the melee counter was way too prevalent).  Breath of the Wild, while an okay game in its own right (small inventory and weapon durability are two things I hate in games), didn't feel like a Zelda game, and deserves to be here, too.  The Nintendo love train gets way out of hand.  I think every one of their releases saw a month of massive Twitter hype, and it got old fast.  The only consolation was that it would drop off completely the next month.  Remember ARMS?  Yeah, me neither.

However, the worst gaming-related thing was what happen with Gazillion and Marvel Heroes Omega.  I got review codes for the starting bundles, and tried the game out.  I really enjoyed it, and played with not only my wife, but one of my other friends as well.  Gazillion then closed down, but the servers were supposed to be up until the end of the year.  Turns out, they just left them up that week, and shut it all down.  None of the actual workers for the company got their severance or accrued vacation pay, either.  I'm sure the a-hole that ran the company (into the ground) was well compensated at the expense of everyone else, though.

For Transformers, the big negative was distribution.  There were several figures that just didn't get wide enough releases.  While normally the first waves are overstocked and later waves under, this year felt even worse.  Besides the fact that "the normal" should exist like that, even the second wave of things barely hit stores.  The movie line was especially bad.  I'm assuming that the movie didn't really catch on had something to do with it, but also decisions about the toy line itself were terrible.  It was just loaded with repaints or re-releases of figures from the previous movie.  There was a Barricade in the first wave, and it was the only new deluxe mold for a bit.  I never saw the Cogman figure in stores, and I only saw one report of two figures anywhere in my state.  The few good figures didn't last long on shelves, assuming they were even there.  I'm glad I got Nitro the first time I saw him, as it was probably the last!

For the new year, I am definitely excited to play Monster Hunter World.  The demo showed me that the game hasn't really changed that much, but I could easily do without following the monster's tracks with my bloodhound firefly.  I'm still undecided what system to get it for.  I might have more people to play with on the PS4, but I want to support companies that actually release stuff on the Xbox One.  Plus, the XB1X enhancements (if they do them) would look amazing.

I'm hoping for some good sales on some of the stuff from 2017 that I don't have yet, and a few more good review games for the Switch.  The new Transformers line, Power of the Primes, should be in full swing soon.  I'm sure the distribution will still be a mess, but I'm going to try and get the few figures I'm really interested in.  I'll again hope the QC gets better than the previous two years.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni (PS Vita) Review

In the vein of Senran Kagura, Valkyrie Drive is about women fighting each other and possibly ripping each other's clothes.  Unlike its sister series, the girls team up in pairs, where one becomes the weapon of the other, which can power up several levels.

Combat is hack and slash, but not as deep as I would like or am accustomed to.  The square button is your basic attack, while triangle is a signature attack.  You can hit it at very limited points in the normal combo for a few alternate attacks, but there's no reason to.  You have to chain back to the square attacks to continue, so why even bother?  Hitting triangle by itself also does little, since you have to hold it down to charge the attack to actually use it.  Again, not really worth it (except for maybe Mana).

You can launch an opponent back (by holding circle) or up (by pressing circle), and chase them for an air combo.  Trouble is, the air combos aren't good.  You only get three normal hits before dropping a bit.  Yes, you can keep chaining those three as long as you are in the air, but you drop so much that it is rarely worth it.  Triangle in the air does a ground pound, which is kind of useful, as it will drag a person to the ground.

There are decent mobility options, since you can dash toward a target by holding the X button until your feet glow.  This is a cool move, and useful, but I don't like it being a charge.  I had trouble getting the timing down, and frequently messed it up.  Just a press versus a charge would have been better.  You can also launch people multiple times, and do the dash to chase instead of a normal one.  I feel like they spent too much time putting this fairly useless stuff in the game instead of making combat better.  Yes, you get a tiny damage boost for doing this stuff, but it's not worth it on normal enemies, and you can't do half the stuff on the opponents that matter.

As you fight, you gain Syncro Gauge levels, which you can use to activate Drive and Drive Break.  As the girls gain Extar (weapon) levels, they can go up to four Drives, which further increases damage and gives access to Drive Breaks.  I like the multiple levels you can drive into, but I don't like that you don't get a super move for the first Drive.  This makes it kind of useless.  If you remember Senran Kagura, finishing a stripped opponent with a super rips off the remaining clothes, and leaves them in a humiliating pose.  If you hit a stripped opponent in Drive with a super, it strips both opponents.  Double your fun?

The game follows a basic structure of doing all of the levels in a chapter to unlock the next.  As you get toward the end of the story, the plot might not go as you expect it would.  Afterwards, you unlock an alternate story that requires you to beat specific stages with the max rank.  It's a bit of a pain, but your increased levels from the end of the game should help.

At various points in the story, you will have to fight bosses.  These are large beasts that look pretty cool.  Unfortunately, these fights are not fun.  Whereas most normal fights are on the ground, the boss fights are entirely in mid-air.  This makes most super moves completely worthless, as they won't hit.  The bosses move around a lot, and hit you really easily.  It's annoying to have to constantly dash and hit them a few times before sinking down too low.  While the designs of the bosses are cool, the design of the fights themselves are anything but.

As if replaying some chapters to unlock another ending wasn't enough, there are also different collectibles found in the different stages.  What's available is clearly shown on the stage select, but it can be difficult to find them all on your first run.  The first type are the three sections of a lingerie slate that gives you a special set if you get all three in the level.  Thankfully any you find will count toward the completion, so you don't have to find all three in one run.  Second is the little grope machine that, um, makes sure the girl's rack is a high enough rank, letting them into a small room and another special set of lingerie.  Some stages also have special challenges to complete, and they can get pretty hard.  It kind of reminds me of the ones in Bayonetta.

Besides the Story mode, there is an unlockable Challenge mode and Survival mode.  Survival is...ok, but some of the later difficulties of it get ridiculous.  The challenge mode basically wants you to repeatedly do some of the finer functions of the game.  Basically a lot of the stuff that uses circle and the dash move, and other things that boost your attack strength.  I wasn't really looking to master the pretty superfluous systems for the meager increase in attack power, and having them all named "phantom" something didn't make me better at remembering which was which.  I did a few of the challenges, but I'd only recommend the headache if you want the platinum.  For better or worse, the trophy pictures make a long, connected image, which is always something I think is cool.  It's almost exactly like the Lost Dimension list.

Like Senran Kagura, there is a shop that has probably way too much to buy in it, and a lingerie gashapon machine.  At first I liked the new machine, since if you hit the button at the right time, you got a better chance to get something new.  Unfortunately, it only increases the chance by about 50%, which is next to nothing when down at the bottom.  The percent still falls disproportionately with the number you have unlocked, meaning when you have 20% of them left, putting max money in the machine only gives you about a 30% chance to get a new pair.  Spending that much (the max amount) should always guarantee me a new pair, since it would require way too much time to grind stages for that cash.  As before, it's better to just sit there and spend the least amount for more chances.

It took me 27 hours or so to beat the first 20 stages, which then tells you about the alternate path and lets you try for that.  I completed all but one stage on the normal difficulty, and only had to heal on the second to last stage.  The final boss was the only part I couldn't do on normal, mostly because it's just a poorly designed fight for the last of the poorly designed bosses.  It would take another few hours to unlock the alternate stages and go through them.

I had some high hopes for Valkyrie Drive when I first heard about the premise.  Unfortunately, the lack of satisfying combat, too many useless mechanics, and terrible boss fights drag the game down.  If you are a fan of action games, there are better to be played on the Vita.

The Good:
Interesting idea, the graphics are nice, and the playtime to cost ratio is good.

The Bad:
The boss fights and the combat.

The SaHD:
Cross this game with Drive Girls to make Valkyrie Drive Girls.  Would it be twice as terrible, or would they cancel each other out and make a good game?  The world may never know.

(Code for Valkyrie Drive was won through a contest)