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.

Ultimate NES Remix — 3Q2015 issue

The ulti­mate retro package

It’s one thing to trade off of nos­tal­gia. And we all know Nin­tendo does that often and well. What we don’t often get to see is Nin­tendo using its his­tory to change the way its games are played. Until now. That’s where Ulti­mate NES Remix comes in. The ques­tion is, do you want to play these remixed games again and at what price?
Remix takes a few of your favorites NES titles and adds dif­fer­ent con­di­tions to them in an attempt to spice things up a bit. In Super Mario Bros., for instance, you have to reach the goal in a cer­tain amount of time or defeat a cer­tain num­ber of ene­mies within a time limit. That’s the mun­dane stuff in the begin­ning. Later edicts get harder the fur­ther down a game’s list you go so as to pro­vide more of a chal­lenge. Whether or not you enjoy these chal­lenges depends sharply on whether or not you enjoy play­ing games you prob­a­bly already have played and want to see some­thing dif­fer­ent within them.
While the chal­lenges may be dif­fer­ent, there isn’t much else dif­fer­ent about the games. The music and graph­ics from the 8-bit era remain intact and about the only thing that’s changed is the slick mod­ern pack­ag­ing of the Ulti­mate Remix itself and the addi­tion of leader­boards and cham­pi­onship mode. So, don’t come into this expect­ing depth or some mag­i­cal upgrade to mod­ern day stan­dards of graph­ics.
If you enjoy the days of yes­ter­year and can and will pay $30 for a com­pi­la­tion chal­lenge pack­age, by all means shell out for Ulti­mate NES Remix. The chal­lenges are amus­ing for the most part, and there are a few extras that make play­ing through the mul­ti­tude of games offered (16 in all) a real treat. But take it with a large grain of salt and look at it for what it is: A chance to drag the orig­i­nal NES games out that you loved as a kid, more than likely, to get a piece of your now-adult wal­let. Ulti­mately, this could have been a lot more.

Katamari Forever — 3Q2015 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamespot.com

Retread re-roll

The sit­u­a­tion may have changed slightly, but the premise is still the same in Kata­mari For­ever, the fifth game in the quirky series. Whether or not you’re into the “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it” method of gam­ing will deter­mine if you can stand another trip to the cos­mos with a kata­mari.
Just in case you haven’t played a game in the series, let’s get a refresher. Kata­mari titles involve rolling up a sticky ball with every­day objects to increase the ball’s size. The larger the ball, the more pleased some­one is — usu­ally the King of All Cos­mos. That’s because the king is an idiot and rou­tinely destroys some­thing related to his job of pro­tect­ing the cos­mos. His lack of com­mon sense and coor­di­na­tion usu­ally means the Prince of All Cos­mos — that’d be you, the player — has to cre­ate new stars and recon­struct the cos­mos. This premise has worked for the past four games, and it’s really no dif­fer­ent sto­ry­wise except for the addi­tion of the cousins to help in appear­ance only (added in We Love Kata­mari) and the fact that the king has been replaced tem­porar­ily by the Robot King of All Cos­mos. Absur­dity thy name is Kata­mari.
Noth­ing has really changed, mechanics-wise, either. There are a few addi­tions to the reper­toire of the Prince, such as the Prince Hop and the King Shock, but oth­er­wise you’re still rolling along to pick up items to make your kata­mari grow. The series isn’t known for its growth and this is a major rea­son why. While it’s easy to con­trol the Prince and maneu­ver the Kata­mari, there still should be some inno­va­tion at this point, five games in.
The sound­track also suf­fers from stag­na­tion. Kata­mari Damacy, the first game in the series, was known for hav­ing a great sound­track. As a mat­ter of fact, we’ve lauded the sound­track relent­lessly through­out our lifes­pan at GI. But try as we might, we’re still try­ing to under­stand why there isn’t as much cre­ativ­ity used in the musi­cal por­tion of a game that con­jures so many dif­fer­ent cre­ative thoughts. The music of the first game inspired so much, yet by the time of For­ever, it seems that well has grown dry. It’s still a good sound­track, but I was expect­ing more from this.
Over­all, if you still love pick­ing up a con­troller to save the cos­mos and cre­ate kata­mari, you’ll prob­a­bly be work­ing to stop the Robot King of All Cos­mos. Oth­er­wise, you’re not really miss­ing any­thing you haven’t already seen. Keep rolling by this one if you want a fresh experience.

LittleBigPlanet — 3Q2015 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamespot.com

A class in mas­ter crafting

There are always games that come with a cer­tain amount of hype. These are the titles that every­one raves about but wind up on your never-ending pile of shame. You’ll prob­a­bly buy it but never actu­ally get around to play­ing it or play­ing it long enough to see what all the fuss is about. Lit­tleBig­Planet is one of those such games.
Quirky is the first adjec­tive I’d use to describe the plat­form­ing game fea­tur­ing Sack­boy, an anthro­po­mor­phic crea­ture that’s fea­tured front and cen­ter at the heart of the game. Sack­boy can be Sack­girl as well, and that’s part of the charm of the game. It can be what­ever you want it to be and do just about any­thing you want it to do, in the name of get­ting from point A to point B. The quirk­i­ness comes in the fact that the envi­ron­ment in which it does so is all about Play-Share-Create. The lev­els of Lit­tleBig­Planet are meant to be user-created and shared for online play among the LBP com­mu­nity, so the depth of the game is imme­di­ately obvi­ous and worth the price of admis­sion alone.
Con­trol­ling Sackboy/girl is sim­ple, yet not with­out its prob­lems. It’s much like play­ing any plat­former of the past 20 years and the con­trol scheme is sim­ple and intu­itive in let­ting you fig­ure out what to do and how to apply it later. Where it fal­ters is the jump­ing mechan­ics. While obvi­ous and sim­ple, the jump­ing does feel slightly off and floaty, which is a prob­lem in a game that relies on that mechanic to carry it. It’s annoy­ing to have to re-do sec­tions of a level solely because of a missed jump, and that detracts from the core expe­ri­ence.
While the mechan­ics could use tweak­ing, not much else needs work. The sound­track is fan­tas­tic and fits the game per­fectly. It’s a good mix­ture of indie folk and pop, and it imme­di­ately reminds of the bril­liance that is Kata­mari Damacy. The graph­ics are also in the realm of per­fect and evoke a cer­tain sort of charm that begs more playthroughs just to see what devel­oper Media Mol­e­cule could come up with next. It’s breath­tak­ing and sim­plis­tic, like a child’s world come to life, and begs to be admired.
Lit­tleBig­Planet is one of the few games of the past few years that demands to be played and war­rants pur­chase of sys­tem just to play it. If you haven’t both­ered to play it by now, you need to stop what you’re doing and get on it. It has its minor prob­lems but they’re noth­ing to keep you from enjoy­ing what’s con­sid­ered a mas­ter­piece. It’s worth every moment of its Play-Share-Create moniker.

Thief — 3Q2014 issue

Photo cour­tesy of Polygon.com

It takes a thief

You know, once in a while, a game comes along that is just full of fun stuff and guilty

William Har­ri­son, GI con­tribut­ing editor

plea­sures that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ladies and gen­tle­men, this is that game. Thief is a game that when I first heard about the orig­i­nal — way back when it was only avail­able for PC — I thought it was one of those games I would have liked to play but didn’t think it would be fun. Man, was I ever wrong.

Thief places you in the role of mas­ter thief Gar­rett as he works his way through a city run by a greedy and blood­thirsty Baron and his guard known as the WATCH. Use the shad­ows to your advan­tage and truly make what is theirs … yours.

Eidos/Montreal and Square ENIX put forth a great effort in mak­ing this game a real­ity and bring­ing it to home sys­tems. Thief is actu­ally the fourth incar­na­tion of the series, set dur­ing the time period around the same time as the Black Plague, I think; they don’t really tell you when it’s set or where it is rel­e­vant to any time period. I only say dur­ing the time of the Black Plague because of the dis­ease that runs ram­pant called the gloom, which is a lot like it.

The stealth game­play is the main rea­son why I’m a huge fan of this game. I like the fact that it’s a major part of the game and there is an achieve­ment for mak­ing it through the game unseen. There is the rat­ing sys­tem where I seem to always strad­dle the line between ghost and oppor­tunist in my quest to see if I’m still as sneaky in stealth games as I claim to be.

As of press time, I haven’t fin­ished Thief but the story and the free roam­ing aspect are awe­some. At times, I wan­der from the story to explore, roam aim­lessly and rob peo­ple blind just like in real life.

The city and the char­ac­ters are beau­ti­fully designed and ren­dered but it seems to be miss­ing some­thing. The music — as far as atmos­phere goes — is OK but it seems that you can’t really hear it. And, a lot of times the inter­ac­tions between char­ac­ters is almost a joke because you can some­times barely hear what a NPC or your­self are say­ing. Appar­ently, sub­ti­tles are a bit of a must to catch every­thing being said.

I’m not quite sure how the old Gar­rett matches up to the new Gar­rett since I haven’t played the PC titles but hope­fully it’s not too far off. I really do enjoy this game, but it seems that it isn’t really all that long, at least not when you get into the story-specific mis­sions. There is still a free roam ele­ment there but there are also points where you can’t go back and that seems like it’s pun­ish­ing the player and slap­ping you say­ing, “You want to explore?! NOW!? The fate of the world is at stake!!”

Thief is a really good stealth, make-you-feel-guilty-in-a-good-way sort of game and should def­i­nitely be played by all. The fact that it’s the fourth game but also a reboot of the series is fine, but the fans of the older games may have a prob­lem with the dif­fer­ences. Sound issues aside, this is a hell of a steal.

DDR Max 2 — 2Q2014 issue

Choos­ing a sev­enth dance card

There comes a time in every long-running gam­ing fran­chise when said fran­chise has to grow up. That tran­si­tion may come in the form of a new coat of paint or through a purg­ing of char­ac­ters, a reboot, if you will. But every fran­chise goes through it, and Bemani and Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion, in par­tic­u­lar, are no strangers to this. By the point of Max 2, the sev­enth main mix in the series, DDR had to do some­thing at the risk of grow­ing stale. So, con­tin­u­ing the trends started in Max it was.

Max 2 presents itself as an inter­est­ing beast, even if you’re inti­mately famil­iar with the series. There’s a new mode to play, Oni — which intro­duces the con­cept of a “three strikes and you’re out pol­icy” with courses to play — and the over­all look and feel has been upgraded from the days of yore. Max 2 rep­re­sented the mid­dle of a new era for DDR, begun with the whole­sale do-over of Max. There’s not much new in the way of con­cepts for Max 2, and that’s all fine and well. Since Max’s changes were regarded as a fail­ure and an unnec­es­sary slash-and–burn of the fran­chise, Max 2 works toward undo­ing the mess made previously.

The game does well with updated aes­thet­ics. The song wheel (intro­duced in 5th Mix), the foot rat­ing (dropped in Max), Groove Radar (intro­duced in Max in favor of the foot rat­ing) and Freeze arrows return. The re-introduction of the foot rat­ing sys­tem is the best idea that could have come from clean­ing up Max’s mess. The Groove Radar and foot rat­ing sys­tem give you all of the per­ti­nent song dif­fi­culty infor­ma­tion that you will ever need. The song wheel looks bet­ter than ever since it’s now in its third iter­a­tion and Freeze arrows don’t seem to be such an aber­ra­tion as they once were in Max.

The song list is inter­est­ing mix of updates to old favorites as well as new entries aimed at adding some­thing new to DDR. Not that Max didn’t do that very well, but Max 2 is about a greater vari­ety of songs and it shows in the fact that there’s not a new Para­noia in sight — at least in the arcade ver­sion. The home ver­sion attempts to inject a new iter­a­tion of the famil­iar song, but it’s not nearly as suc­cess­ful as it thinks it is. Yes, Para­noia Sur­vivor, one of the boss songs of the sequel Extreme, is present and avail­able for play in the Japan­ese con­sole ver­sion, but its inclu­sion as a pre­view song isn’t really nec­es­sary. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why destroy the myth of Sur­vivor — the first 10-footer Para­noia — by show­ing its hand early? My prob­lem with Max 2 is illus­trated by this point: The game some­times feels like a re-tread of pre­vi­ous entries, and it shouldn’t. I was under the impres­sion that the rea­son for the deba­cle cre­ated by blow­ing up DDR with Max was to avoid just the sort of prob­lems that you’re going to run into with Max 2. Though, in its favor, Max 2 has Maxx Unlim­ited, which is my favorite Maxx song out of the entire bunch.

I have to com­mend Kon­ami for at least try­ing to right the wrongs com­mit­ted with Max’s well– mean­ing phi­los­o­phy of start­ing over. It just feels a tri­fle like Max 2 is slack­ing into old habits. Max 2 may not feel like it’s cheat­ing on its diet started by Max’s slim­down but by hav­ing a few extra songs, Max 2 isn’t nec­es­sar­ily push­ing the plate back like it should and it shows.