Animal Crossing Pocket Camp — 2Q2019 issue

Camp­ing with friends

My love affair with Ani­mal Cross­ing began in 2003, a year after the Game­Cube ver­sion was released in the U.S. It wasn’t enough to merely start a life with a char­ac­ter — known as Rubes(kitty) — in my pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated town known as Tokyo; I had to col­lect every­thing in my cat­a­logue, build my house into a man­sion and catch every insect and fish just for com­ple­tion sake. In the ensu­ing 16 years, I have played every iter­a­tion of Ani­mal Cross­ing avail­able. So, you can imag­ine my pal­pa­ble joy when a mobile ver­sion of Ani­mal Cross­ing was announced in 2016. Cue Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp in 2017, and I’m still going strong in my quest to build the per­fect camp.

Pocket Camp is a spin­off of the main Ani­mal Cross­ing series but retains ele­ments of the series. Famil­iar tasks such as pay­ing off your debt for your liv­ing quar­ters, com­plet­ing requests for ani­mals that visit or improv­ing your finances through item sales are abun­dant in the Pocket Camp land­scape. New to the series is the timed rota­tion of the ani­mals that are in one of four loca­tions scat­tered around the land­scape. Four ani­mals will be in these loca­tions with options to talk to you and request items; whether you choose to give them the spe­cific items they request or just chat it up for expe­ri­ence points is up to you. Also new are the afore­men­tioned expe­ri­ence points. Each ani­mal has a meter that gauges their friend­ship level with you. The higher the level, the more rewards they give in exchange for items they request. The rewards are also new, usu­ally in the form of Leaf Tick­ets and raw mate­ri­als that are used in craft­ing fur­ni­ture and clothes that can be used to dec­o­rate your camp site and RV.

Pocket Camp, in its most sim­plis­tic form, is a dumbed down portable Ani­mal Cross­ing main game that requires inven­tory man­age­ment and micro trans­ac­tions. And it’s a sat­is­fy­ing way to get that quick Ani­mal Cross­ing fix. Much like the main series, it’s relax­ing and fun to pop in and check with the camp site to see what’s hap­pen­ing, pick up some gifts or get involved in fes­ti­vals and events at my own leisure. Time is still mea­sured real­is­ti­cally, and insects and fish are still viable at cer­tain times, though the sea­son require­ment is not in use. Money is still prac­ti­cally around every cor­ner, and it’s eas­ier than ever to pay off the debt of upgrad­ing your hum­ble abode when rare bugs and fish are more plen­ti­ful this time around. It’s also quite nice to be able to buy items from other play­ers world­wide in an item mar­ket­place with the Mar­ket Boxes option. The econ­omy that has devel­oped still has some work to do, but the abil­ity to find rare insects, fruit, shells and fish for sale from other friends and strangers is a great start.

For a long­time Ani­mal Cross­ing player, the fun in Pocket Camp is imme­di­ately there but not with­out some caveats. After a cer­tain point, the in-game cur­rency of Bells ceases to be a prob­lem. While scarce in the early going, Bells aren’t an issue once the final upgrade for the RV is obtained and paid off. I now reg­u­larly have about 1.8 mil­lion Bells on hand daily and can’t spend it fast enough on things other than craft­ing and a rare item inven­tory econ­omy that has con­ve­niently sprung up in my friends list. This is like the issue of Bells in the main series so while it’s not sur­pris­ing, it’s still an issue that needs to be reme­died with more things to do. And, the price of Leaf Tick­ets is a bit much. Their addi­tion is help­ful, but their pric­ing should be adjusted. Also, in-game cur­rency should be allowed to be used to buy Leaf Tick­ets. That would give another rea­son to hoard money later in the game.

While it might not be a main­line game, Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp is still a neat and wel­come addi­tion to the Ani­mal Cross­ing fran­chise. With its con­tin­ued updates and addi­tions, the Ani­mal Cross­ing pop­u­la­tion is still growing.

Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition — 3Q2018 issue

Father of fight­ing games gets super upgrade

Gone are the days of roam­ing a local arcade to play the throng of would-be chal­lengers and pre­tenders to the throne of the best local fight­ing game cham­pion. In its place are home con­soles designed to push the power of the arcade. Fight­ing game fran­chises have had to keep up or suf­fer irrel­e­vancy or, worse yet, extinc­tion. The ear­li­est king of the genre, Street Fighter, has had a chal­lenge of sorts: con­tinue for­ward or go the way of its ride-a-longs of the ‘90s. Super Street Fighter IV attempts to con­tinue the tra­di­tion with mostly success.

Super SFIV, at its core, is a fight­ing fan’s dream. A robust engine with plenty of options for either the novice or the advanced, SSFIV makes play­ing a fight­ing game easy. Even if you haven’t played since the hey­day of SFII, there’s a lot of com­pelling con­tent here to draw you in and get you started in the world of com­pet­i­tive dig­i­tal fight­ing. Var­i­ous modes are here, ready for a deep dive, and there are more than enough new char­ac­ters and old stal­warts to make fight­ing inter­est­ing. The gen­eral rule of thumb is, if the char­ac­ter was in SFII and its deriv­a­tives, SFIII or SF Alpha, there’s a good chance they are avail­able for play in SSFIV.

Fight locales asso­ci­ated with many of the char­ac­ters are avail­able with a great sound­track accom­pa­ny­ing them. SSFIV does an excep­tional job of remind­ing more expe­ri­enced fight­ing enthu­si­asts of the Street Fighter ori­gins and piquing the curios­ity of newer fight fans. The con­trols also hear­ken to the old days, so much so that it’s easy to pick up and play and learn about the dif­fer­ent sys­tems afforded to each char­ac­ter. Most new char­ac­ters will play like an older char­ac­ter on the ros­ter so it’s easy to learn the nuance of fight­ing with a new­comer if you’re expe­ri­enced with pre­vi­ous SF games. If you aren’t expe­ri­enced, there’s a great tuto­r­ial mode that runs through combo and movesets of each char­ac­ter to teach the basics. That var­ied level of depth goes a long way toward replay value.

My one gripe out of all the love­li­ness that is the mixed nos­tal­gia fest of SSFIV is that it’s Cap­com being Cap­com as usual. For the unini­ti­ated, Cap­com gained a rep­u­ta­tion in the ’90s for hav­ing a solid fran­chise in Street Fighter II but not being able to count to three. The con­stant upgrad­ing and reis­su­ing of SFII got old quickly. And, quite frankly, Cap­com hasn’t learned its les­son because Street Fighter IV should not have mul­ti­ple retail ver­sions of its upgrades. Arcade Edi­tion should have been an update that could be bought dig­i­tally and down­loaded to patch the game up to what­ever ver­sion Cap­com wanted con­sumers to have. Even when the orig­i­nal ver­sion was released, the capa­bil­ity was there. This just screams of cash grab and Cap­com being igno­rant of tire­some tac­tics wear­ing on the fan base. The fact that Ultra Street Fighter IV — one more ver­sion beyond this one — exists is proof pos­i­tive of this.

Other than the fiasco of mul­ti­ple ver­sions, Cap­com has a solid win­ner on its hands with the fourth entry in the long-running series even as it fades into the back­ground in favor of SFV. If SFV is not your cup of tea, but you want to stay cur­rent with the world of Street Fighter, SFIV is a good bal­ance and at the right price now to delve into the world of Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm — 3Q2018 issue

The ulti­mate beginning

Naruto Uzi­maki. From 1999 to 2017, Shonen Jump Magazine’s hyper­ac­tive ninja knuck­le­head had a major impact on the geek cul­ture scene as well as anime and manga. From graphic nov­els, to other nov­elty mer­chan­dise and video games, many anime fans world­wide fol­lowed his rise from out­cast of his ninja vil­lage to its leg­endary sav­ior. Dur­ing Naruto’s rise, there were many video games for var­i­ous sys­tems that fol­lowed every adven­ture of our blonde, blue-eyed hero and his friends. I got the oppor­tu­nity to play one of the Naruto-based games after a recent game shop­ping expe­di­tion when I found Naruto: Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm.

Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm is a hybrid con­sist­ing of fight­ing and role play­ing game ele­ments. Free Bat­tle mode allows you to choose one main fighter with two backup char­ac­ters against another player or the console’s choice of char­ac­ters in var­i­ous stages taken right out of the Naruto uni­verse. Free Bat­tle also allows you to earn extra cash if you defeat their oppo­nents using var­i­ous moves known as nin­jutsu. The extra coinage will be needed in the role play­ing mode, Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode, dur­ing which you con­trol Naruto in var­i­ous mis­sions that involve episodes 1 to 135 of the anime series.

I found every­thing from the cin­e­matic intro to actual game­play excel­lent. Namco Bandai brought their expe­ri­ence in mak­ing games like Tekken and Soul Cal­ibur and com­bined it with Masashi Kishimoto’s guid­ance in devel­op­ing the per­fect exam­ple of a video game based on a pop­u­lar anime fran­chise. Every stage, land­mark and char­ac­ter are por­trayed per­fectly in the game mak­ing me as if I was trans­ported to the Hid­den Leaf Vil­lage. The con­trols are easy and will help you pull off some up-close cool com­bos when cer­tain but­tons are dis­played. They’re also great dur­ing the explo­ration of Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode as you’re try­ing to find hid­den items and mis­sion locations.

Another cool thing about the game was that the music from the anime series was not only kept intact, but also was done in Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound. The voice act­ing in the game is high cal­iber thanks to Namco Bandai work­ing with Viz Media and Stu­diopo­lis Inc. to bring together the orig­i­nal Eng­lish voice actors to reprise their respec­tive roles. Even with the excel­lent Eng­lish voice act­ing, you can also play the game in Japan­ese with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles for a more authen­tic feel. Any­one who has not played a Naruto video game will find it per­fect for either a hot or rainy-day after­noon, or a friendly fight­ing game tour­na­ment at any anime convention.

Namco Bandai did an awe­some job of bring­ing Naruto to the PS3 in addi­tion to pub­lish­ing addi­tional games based off this iconic fran­chise. For now, Naruto’s jour­ney to be hok­age has ended suc­cess­fully, with a son ready to take up his own chal­lenges. Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm is a great start show­cas­ing Naruto’s early adventures.

Devil May Cry 4 — 3Q2018 issue

Devil’s in the details: DMC4 a nice break from Dante

Capcom’s “Devil May Cry” series is a game that has basi­cally rede­fined the term “hack–and-slash” in video games. With the first three games using hack-and-slash style as well as action-adventure ele­ments, I won­dered what new sur­prises would the fourth install­ment of the series bring and to which system?

DMC 4 fea­tures demon-hunter extra­or­di­naire Dante, but the story and main char­ac­ter has changed for a more intense expe­ri­ence. Tak­ing place in a remote island town called For­tuna, you assume the role of Nero — a younger ver­sion of Dante — who is a mem­ber of the Order of the Sword. The Order of the Sword is a mil­i­tant reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion formed to destroy demons based on the actions of the Demon-Knight Sparda, who rebelled against the demon under­world to pro­tect human­ity. At a recent cer­e­mony to honor Sparda, Dante smashes though a sky­light and kills the priest lead­ing the cer­e­mony, set­ting off a chain of events that would not only put Dante and Nero on a col­li­sion course with each other, but also would lead both demon-hunters through a greater mys­tery to find out the true inten­tions of the Order and to stop a more vicious plot of a demon-invasion.

While Dante’s role in DMC 4 is not as the main char­ac­ter, he does still play a key role in the game as a playable char­ac­ter in cer­tain scenes. Nero is not to be taken lightly either as his arse­nal con­sists of his Devil Bringer arm, his mechan­i­cal sword Red Queen and his dou­ble bar­rel revolver, Blue Queen. Nero can gain an extra advan­tage to accom­plish his mis­sion by gath­er­ing “Red Souls,” DMC’s orig­i­nal game cur­rency, and “Proud Souls,” a new cur­rency. After a mis­sion is com­pleted, Pride Souls can power up Nero’s tools rang­ing from extend­ing the Devil Bringer’s reach to more pow­er­ful shots from the Blue Queen. The con­trols for Dante and Nero are easy to use thanks to the PS3’s Six Axis controller’s built-in ana­log fea­ture, which I found help­ful with cam­era issues from time to time.

The excel­lent detail that is used in each level comes to life in the back­ground and cin­e­matic scenes. These were done with high def­i­n­i­tion tech­nol­ogy that will make you feel like you are play­ing with a mas­ter­piece of art instead of a video game. Capcom’s sound team brings their A-game again. Each sound and vocal effect com­bined with Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound gives an orches­tral qual­ity to the game. Cap­com did a great job in voice and motion cap­ture for DMC 4. Johnny Yong Bosch (Bleach, Street Fighter IV) brought Nero to life and Reuben Lang­don repris­ing his role as Dante.

Devil May Cry 4 shows what Cap­com is capa­ble of doing when they let their devel­op­ment team do its job: make their games enjoy­able. DMC4 is a chal­leng­ing, but enjoy­able way to kill free time when you want to get your demon-hunting on. The replay value is strong espe­cially if you are a vet­eran DMC player; this game is worth your hard-earned cash.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend — 3Q2018 issue

Guilty Gear suc­ces­sor cleans up nicely in fight­ing game arena

Fight­ing game con­nois­seurs have a robust buf­fet to choose from these days. There’s Mar­vel, Street Fighter, Tekken and Mor­tal Kom­bat for tour­na­ment purists, a new Soul Cal­ibur has been announced, and a new Smash is on the hori­zon and the older games in the series are still played in some cir­cles. Guilty Gear, which has always been qui­etly in the back of the lunch­room, was a mix of tour­na­ment and casual, so it stands to rea­son that its spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor — BlazBlue — would mimic that notion.

BlazBlue arrived in the fight­ing game scene as a new entry in the port­fo­lio of Guilty Gear devel­oper Arc­Sys­tem. Tak­ing what they learned from that series, Arc­Sys­tem improved upon the for­mula they’d cre­ated with gor­geous visu­als, a rock­ing sound­track and impres­sive game­play options that ensure you’ll have plenty to do.

BlazBlue CSE starts off rather intim­i­dat­ingly. From the begin­ning, there are quite a few modes to choose from. If you’re not informed, you might be a lit­tle lost try­ing to under­stand just where you should start. With a var­ied plate to choose from, at the very least the modes are inter­est­ingly designed and add value to an already-packed game.
The stand­out fea­tures, how­ever, are the graph­ics and story. As with Guilty Gear, you’re get­ting a treat visu­ally. The level of detail in each char­ac­ter and the back­grounds make the game worth sit­ting down and study­ing. If you’re into anime, the aes­thet­ics were designed with you in mind.

The story is also wor­thy of com­par­i­son to most mod­ern anime. It’s con­vo­luted and com­plex and has twists and turns involv­ing a multi-layered cast. There’s a lot about the search­ing for a sav­ior and magic — which isn’t out of place for an Arc­Sys­tem game. It feels famil­iar but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s lay­ered and deep.

Learn­ing the mechan­ics for most fight­ing games is a mixed bag. Some games expect you to be able to jump in and mas­ter the basics as if you’ve done noth­ing but play fight­ing games all of your gam­ing life. Oth­ers like to give you a tuto­r­ial so that you’re not lost and quickly putting the game down, never to return. BlazBlue CSE is in the lat­ter cat­e­gory: So con­cerned is the game about you learn­ing to play and mas­ter all that it has to offer that it throws a sur­pris­ingly deep tuto­r­ial mode at you. It slowly increases the level of com­plex­ity and the mechan­ics are spot on and easy to grasp. All fight­ing games need the type of learn­ing tool that’s offered here.

If you love Guilty Gear or if you just want a deeper sto­ry­line than what’s cur­rently offered by the larger more well-known titles on the mar­ket in fight­ing games, BlazBlue promises to deliver a rich expe­ri­ence. It deliv­ers on that promise with a com­mit­ment to extend­ing beyond just the reg­u­lar fight­ing game expectations.

Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival — 1Q2017 issue

Rolling the dice with Ani­mal Crossing

Judg­ing from the stand­point of an avid Ani­mal Cross­ing player and enthu­si­ast, the con­cept of new games com­ing into my beloved fran­chise is not always wel­come. There have been par­tic­u­larly good games (i.e. Wild World, the orig­i­nal game) and mediocre offer­ings (Happy Home Designer and City Folk). Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a lit­tle bit of both: It’s a fun take on the Ani­mal Cross­ing uni­verse, but it needs a lit­tle bit of pol­ish and more things to do to keep the con­cept of a board game based on the fran­chise interesting.

I’ve always referred to Ani­mal Cross­ing as the series about doing noth­ing. Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val takes that con­cept and turns it on its head. With Fes­ti­val, you’re tasked with mov­ing around a typ­i­cal Ani­mal Cross­ing town in the form of a large board game. The town is trans­formed by spaces that can be events, Stalk Mar­ket sale stops and vis­its from the usual assort­ment of guests that visit a nor­mal town in the franchise.

What makes the game fun is the usage of all things Ani­mal Cross­ing. Game time is deter­mined by a cal­en­dar that uti­lizes events com­monly found through­out the series, and vil­lagers that you would encounter in town show up to help out player char­ac­ters. The player char­ac­ters them­selves are Ami­ibo fig­urines that you pur­chase and input into the game. For exam­ple, GI has about 25 Ami­ibo, eight of which are Ani­mal Cross­ing related (Digby, Celeste, Isabelle, Vil­lager, Tom Nook, Mable, Rover and K.K. Slider) that can be used to play through a ses­sion. These char­ac­ters can col­lect points to unlock new out­fits and modes in the plaza based on game per­for­mance. The tie-in to the series ben­e­fits the otherwise-tired Mario Party for­mula and enhances the charm of what would prob­a­bly be a tire­some exer­cise in board game management.

Using some of that inher­ent charm of Ani­mal Cross­ing, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val plays well and looks great. There is a notable pas­tel sheen over every­thing in-game, but it still looks just like you’d expect Ani­mal Cross­ing to look: Bright, col­or­ful and smooth. Because we’re long past the janky block graph­ics of the orig­i­nal game, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is closer in style to the lat­est game in the series, New Leaf, and it works in its favor. The sound­track is also in line with the New Leaf era and it’s ser­vi­ca­ble. It’s not the main fea­ture of the game, so I’m not expect­ing it to reach the realm of New Leaf’s great tracks, but it’s not unpleas­ant so it works just fine for what it’s asked to do.

My main com­plaint about Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val, how­ever, has more to do with the pol­ish of the final prod­uct and some of the addi­tions. It feels as though there isn’t enough to do in-game, quite hon­estly. While the board game is fun, it’s not enough to keep me inter­ested long-term. The addi­tions in the plaza — mini-games that use Ani­mal Cross­ing ideas — are cute but get old quickly, and some are out­right frus­trat­ing, even for a long­time player like myself.

The trivia sec­tion, for exam­ple, tests your knowl­edge of the series. Set­ting aside the fact that there shouldn’t be a time limit to answer ques­tions that test your prowess of a series that has at least seven games, the ques­tions are incred­i­bly obscure most of the time and require that you have ency­clo­pe­dic mem­ory and under­stand­ing of how the series works. Most peo­ple just look­ing for a fun board game aren’t going to know the answers, let alone know them quickly. I have been play­ing Ani­mal Cross­ing since the “Pop­u­la­tion grow­ing!” days of 2003, and I had trou­ble with quite a few of the ques­tions asked. There should be more to do, more inter­ac­tion with the town that you play in and more of an attempt to dig deep into that well of seven games.

Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a unique take on a series that has man­aged to endure and improve over the past 15 years with new con­cepts and inno­va­tion. If there is some con­so­la­tion prize for stay­ing on this board, it’s know­ing that while it could use some pol­ish and flesh­ing out, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a good roll of the dice and gam­ble that paid off for the Ani­mal Cross­ing franchise.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Max­imo con­tin­ues the quest to res­cue the princess

I have a love and hate rela­tion­ship with Cap­com. For every game they develop and pub­lish that will be a smash hit by being more cre­ative and stick­ing to the basics, they churn out five or six copies of the same game with­out break­ing any new ground (i.e. Street Fighter V). I won’t even men­tion how they stud­ied the Kon­ami code of dis­pos­ing of one of their great­est game series and its leader. With this view of Cap­com off my chest, let’s look at a game that is orig­i­nal and has become a suc­ces­sor to the clas­sic games Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island: Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory.

You take the role of said char­ac­ter, Max­imo, who, after return­ing from a bat­tle to pro­tect his king­dom, finds out that his main lady Queen Sophia is cap­tured by his once-trusted adviser, Achille. To make mat­ters worse, Achille has devel­oped a drill that has pierced the under­world, allow­ing him to cre­ate an army of undead mon­sters to ter­ror­ize the king­dom. All is not lost as is seems that as Max­imo was free-falling, the Grim Reaper makes a deal for him to return to the liv­ing world in exchange for return­ing the lost souls to the under­world. Max­imo accepts and begins his quest to free Sophia and restore the peace taken by Achille.

Max­imo retains the ele­ments from Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island but allows free­dom to explore all of the stages thanks to its 3D design. Max­imo has the abil­ity to run, jump and crouch to avoid ene­mies and is eas­ily con­trolled with use of the ana­log con­trol stick. Max­imo is also ready for bat­tle with his trusty sword and shield, which can be thrown at approach­ing ene­mies and capa­ble of wip­ing out all ene­mies on the screen if the right power-ups are applied. In addi­tion to his sword and shield, Max­imo has his armor which, if all the parts are gath­ered, he becomes invin­ci­ble for a brief period.

A heads up: Make sure that Max­imo keeps his armor as long as pos­si­ble since like Arthur in Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins, if Max­imo takes too many hits, he would be down to his box­ers, which would lead to his death if he takes another hit. Also, con­trol­ling Max­imo is not dif­fi­cult, but some prac­tice is rec­om­mended to get adjusted to mov­ing around.
The stages are excel­lently designed and guar­an­teed to make you feel that you’re in Maximo’s world. The game’s music is an enjoy­able mix of orig­i­nal and remas­tered tracks from the orig­i­nal Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins. The chal­lenge level is ridicu­lously high, guar­an­tee­ing great replay value.

Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory is one of those type of games that will please fans of old-school adven­ture gam­ing who want to play the genre with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. In my opin­ion, Max­imo is also a exam­ple of what Cap­com can do when they allow cre­ativ­ity to flour­ish instead of always milk­ing their golden fran­chises to death.
Well done, Cap­com. Well done.

Devil May Cry 3 — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Dance with the devil in Dante’s rebound adventure

When I finally got my own copy of Devil May Cry 3, I read that it brought back the melee action that made the first game awe­some to play, but it raised the bar for future install­ments of Capcom’s demon-slaying series. Was the praise heaped upon DMC3 well deserved or was this another way of Cap­com milk­ing a great game series dry for more cash? I got my answer in Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awak­en­ing, Spe­cial Edi­tion.
Set as a pre­quel to the orig­i­nal DMC, we find our fear­less demon hunter Dante begin­ning to set up shop when a mys­te­ri­ous man named Arkham arrives with a invi­ta­tion from Dante’s brother, Vergil. This “invi­ta­tion” turns into a demon-style, reveal­ing that Vergil has not only helped in res­ur­rect­ing a ancient demonic tower, but also he wants Dante’s amulet to open a por­tal to con­nect the human and with the demon worlds. Dante, of course, is not pleased and sets off to stop Vergil and his plans of world domination.

DMC3 starts from the begin­ning as an explo­sive non­stop melee with brief but impor­tant tuto­ri­als for play­ers to mas­ter Dante’s moves and his sig­na­ture weapons. In addi­tion to the tuto­ri­als, four dif­fer­ent com­bat­ive arts called “styles” are avail­able to Dante, giv­ing him var­i­ous abil­i­ties to increase the power of var­i­ous guns, strik­ing weapons, dodge attacks, and unleash­ing hand-to-hand com­bat with dev­as­tat­ing results. Once Dante defeats a cer­tain boss, he will be able to use them in the form of unique, var­i­ous weapons. There is a lock-on fea­ture to directly tar­get ene­mies that, with prac­tice, will be a valu­able tool to rip ene­mies apart. Also in the spe­cial edi­tion, there are two modes of play: Nor­mal, which is basic DMC speed; or, Turbo, where EVERYTHING is clocked up 20 times the nor­mal speed of the game to test your skills. Also, you can play the game not only as Dante, but also as Vergil, who has some seri­ous weaponry and moves that would make Jubei Yagyu be in awe.

The game music fits each level with a Phan­tom of the Opera type of feel while the bat­tle scenes uses an electronic/heavy metal beat that heats up the bat­tles. My only issue is that it’s repet­i­tive every time I fight ene­mies, but it’s well done nonethe­less. The voice act­ing in DMC is top-notch thanks to Reuben Lang­don as Dante and Daniel South­worth (Power Rangers: Time Force) as Vergil. Both actors did the motion cap­ture and voice work for their respec­tive characters.

With the good comes the bad, how­ever. While I appre­ci­ate the use of ana­log con­trol in addi­tion to mov­ing the screen cam­era around, the con­trols are tank-like. That is frus­trat­ing because if I’m sur­rounded by ene­mies, I’m easy pick­ings. Also, the auto­matic fir­ing abil­ity of Ebony and Ivory is still in DMC3 but it requires rapid press­ing instead of the fluid ease found in the first game. I also had to stock up (and I mean STOCK UP) on red orbs to pur­chase power ups for Dante and his weapons or learn new moves since the game was try­ing to do a stick-up job every time I need to make some upgrades. For­tu­nately, I could replay each mis­sion to get more orbs or level up.

DMC3 lives up to its high praise guar­an­tee­ing plenty of chal­lenge and replay value when you just want to get medieval on things but legally. This Spe­cial Edi­tion is a no-holds barred adven­ture in demon-slaying with the best in the busi­ness. If Cap­com wants to do a movie for Devil May Cry, I’m for it, but do it right; in other words Cap­com, stick to the story and the pay­day bonanza will take care of itself.

Super Mario Maker — 1Q2016 issue

 

A mas­ter­piece in the making

Super Mario Maker is the Mario game that isn’t quite the stan­dard Mario fare but is the game you didn’t know you needed. It is, along­side few oth­ers, the killer app for the Wii U.
Let’s start with what Mario Maker isn’t. This isn’t your reg­u­lar Mario hop and bop, save the princess adven­ture. In fact, lit­tle story if any exists and Peach is barely men­tioned or ref­er­enced. This is Mario stripped down to his bare ele­ments, show­ing how his adven­tures come together. It’s also really an excuse to revisit Mario’s past and get some of the newer enthu­si­asts up to speed, just in time for Mario’s 30th birth­day.
The stage is set by uti­liz­ing some of Mario’s great­est games. Mak­ing an appear­ance are ele­ments from the orig­i­nal plat­form­ing mas­ter­pieces Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3. Join­ing those are sec­ondary great­est hit Super Mario World and the more recent hit New Super Mario Bros. U. All four games rep­re­sent some crown­ing achieve­ment for the every­day plumber and thus have some merit for mak­ing you revisit these set pieces to cre­ate your own mas­ter­piece.
Cre­at­ing that mas­ter­piece is sim­ple and intu­itive. The level edi­tor focuses on lev­els, not worlds, and wisely makes the process quick and pain­less. Want to make a level with 10 Bowsers under­wa­ter only to face off against a lone Ham­mer Bros. before the end gate in Super Mario world style and graph­ics? That’s easy. But this is also where the only gripe that I have with the game rears its head. While you may want to make that stun­ning gaunt­let of pain imme­di­ately, you’re lim­ited because of the game’s unlock­ing sys­tem. Game styles beyond the initial two and ulti­mately the major­ity of your cre­ation library are unlocked via a time sys­tem that goes by days. You can speed it up, but it’s intended to make you the cre­ator spend sev­eral days try­ing out the sys­tem and get­ting a feel for new ele­ments in a paced envi­ron­ment. I can appre­ci­ate the sense of not want­ing too many ele­ments all at once, but the sys­tem is a lit­tle slow and frus­trat­ing when I have a mil­lion ideas that I can’t fully imple­ment for sev­eral days ini­tially.
Mario Maker looks fan­tas­tic for the most part. The non-level edi­tor graph­ics look great and are crisp. The game runs off the Wii U graph­i­cal power so while your newer game styles and non-editor graph­ics look good on the Wii U gamepad and on the TV, your older graph­ics for most of the styles are going to look a lit­tle bad at 1080p res­o­lu­tion on a newer TV. Nin­tendo took a risk in not jazz­ing up the older game styles and it paid off, quite hon­estly. I’d rather play a SMB3 level in the way that it would have looked on the orig­i­nal NES than a fixed ver­sion that’s been changed.
In addi­tion to the graph­ics, the sound­track is a mix of new and old. The main themes asso­ci­ated with each game style and level type (Ground, Under­wa­ter, Under­ground, Cas­tle, Air­ship and Ghost House) are remixed for use dur­ing the edit­ing process. They are found, though, in their orig­i­nal form when an actual level is played. The remixes are great and bring some­thing new to the table, while using the orig­i­nal ver­sion does a lot for immer­sion. The game’s illu­sions to spir­i­tual pre­de­ces­sor Mario Paint don’t hurt, either. It, too, had a unique sound­track and hear­ken­ing back to that era of cre­ativ­ity in sev­eral places such as the sound­track is a  wel­come inclu­sion.
What I love most about Mario Maker is its sense of Mario love. It’s not afraid to let the gamer take con­trol and it’s also about Nin­tendo let­ting folks in to see the wheels turn behind one of its most iconic fran­chises. Nin­tendo clearly loves Mario, whether it’s from a mon­e­ti­za­tion point of tak­ing its inter­nal level edi­tor and turn­ing it loose on the pop­u­la­tion, or from the stand­point that Mario is Nin­tendo and he’s been given the royal treat­ment for a job well done for the past 30 years. Super Mario Maker is the company’s love let­ter to Mario fans and well done let­ter at that.

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny — 3Q2015 issue

Onimusha 2 has ele­ments of sat­is­fy­ing sequel

Pre­vi­ously, I reviewed the first game in Capcom’s crit­i­cally acclaimed series Onimusha, where his­toric fig­ures and moments in Japan­ese his­tory were mixed with action/adventure gam­ing, third-person com­bat and brief moments of puz­zle solv­ing. After play­ing the first game, I won­dered if the sec­ond install­ment would keep the suc­cess­ful for­mula and raise the bar for future install­ments. When I received Onimusha 2: Samu­rai Des­tiny, I put on my custom-made samu­rai armor and pre­pared to have my ques­tions answered.
Onimusha 2 con­tin­ues the plot of cho­sen war­riors work­ing to pre­vent Oda Nobunaga from uni­fy­ing Japan through the use of demons called genma. Set 10 years after the first game, Nobunaga has risen to power despite the defeat of his demonic bene­fac­tor Fort­in­bras, who was stopped by orig­i­nal pro­tag­o­nist Samanouske Akechi. With Samanouske in hid­ing to per­fect his new demon slay­ing abil­i­ties, it’s up to Jubei Yagu to take up the sword and acquire five leg­endary orbs and use them to stop Nobunaga before his dark plans of con­quest becomes real­ity and demons become the dom­i­nant species of Earth instead of man.
Game­play in Onimusha 2 remains the same but does have some new ele­ments. Dur­ing com­bat with ene­mies, you can still fight through ene­mies, but if timed cor­rectly, Jubei can per­form “Issen” (light­ing slash) on var­i­ous ene­mies, allow­ing him to con­tinue for­ward, giv­ing him a brief minute to defend him­self or retreat. Another ele­ment is the require­ment to solve cer­tain puz­zles to obtain cer­tain items or gain access to cer­tain areas. For these puz­zles, I highly advise uti­liz­ing patience and strong mem­o­riza­tion as they have a much stronger effect in Onimusha 2 than in the first game. The final new ele­ment is role play­ing that enhances the sto­ry­line. Jubei can not only inter­act with non-playable char­ac­ters, but also gain allies who will give infor­ma­tion or assist him in boss bat­tles pro­vided he is in con­stant con­tact with them or if his allies are not involved in their own plans to defeat Nobunaga.
In addi­tion to new allies, you will notice that Jubei is nor­mally equipped with his sword, but can acquire weapons such as bows and arrows, a matchlock gun and other weapons that use the power of nat­ural ele­ments. Jubei does have two other advan­tages to help as well: The abil­ity to tem­porar­ily trans­form into Onimusha with enhanced attack power; and, the power to acquire var­i­ous souls with­out the use of a ogre gaunt­let to upgrade his armor and weapons.
The con­trols will not present any level of dif­fi­culty espe­cially if the Dual Shock ana­log con­troller is used. You can appre­ci­ate the qual­ity of the char­ac­ters’ move­ments in game­play and in the cut-scenes which may make one won­der if they are play­ing a samu­rai adven­ture game or watch­ing a movie.
The music per­formed in this game is excel­lent as Capcom’s sound team always brings their best efforts, guar­an­tee­ing that the music will be a treat. If you enjoy instru­men­tal Japan­ese themes, you’ll prob­a­bly love the sound­track.
Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Des­tiny did exceeded my expec­ta­tions for a game to be con­sid­ered a true samu­rai mas­ter­piece. This not only shows that Cap­com can unleash their bril­liance if they really try, but also shows other devel­op­ers that in order to bring a superb gam­ing prod­uct involv­ing var­i­ous ele­ments of Japan­ese cul­ture, they must will­fully present his­tor­i­cal ele­ments prop­erly while craft­ing a high qual­ity sto­ry­line. I can not wait to start the next chap­ter of the Onimusha series where the next des­tined hero strikes another blow to Nobunaga’s ambitions.