Tag Archives: Now Playing

Devil May Cry 3 — 1Q2017

Devil May Cry 3-02
Photo courtesy of GiantBomb.com

Dance with the devil in Dante’s rebound adventure

by Brandon Beatty
by Brandon Beatty

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.
Score-4The 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

Super Mario Maker-15

A masterpiece in the making

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 Super Mario Maker-27an 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 Score-5only 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

Onimusha 2-01Onimusha 2 has elements of satisfying sequel

by Brandon Beatty
by Brandon Beatty

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 Onimusha 2-26elements. 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.
Score-5In 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

Ultimate NES Remix-02Ultimate retro package

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-2-5While 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

Photos courtesy of Gamespot.com
Photos courtesy of Gamespot.com

Retread re-roll

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 Katamari Forever-09additions 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.
Score-2-5The 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

LittleBigPlanet-09
Photos courtesy of Gamespot.com

A class in master crafting

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.

Score-5The 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. LittleBigPlanet-04The 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

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com
Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

It takes a thief

by William Harrison
by William Harrison

You know, once in a while, a game comes along that is just full of fun stuff and guilty 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 Thief-05making 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.

Score-4The 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

ddr-max-2-16

Choosing a seventh dance card

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.

Score-4The 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 ddr-max-2-05new 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: JP flag w stick iconThe 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.

Metroid Prime — 2Q2014

Photos courtesy of IGN.com

The return of Samus after 8 years is welcome

Lyndsey-cutout-2013
By Lyndsey Hicks

As a longtime fan of the Metroid franchise, I suppose I could be forgiven for not making the immediate leap onto the Prime bandwagon. After all, Super Metroid is my beacon of hope still shining for 2D games, a symbol of the pinnacle that the genre reached. I mean, I plan to name my firstborn daughter Samus. That’s how much I love Metroid. So, when Prime hit the shelves, I was duly skeptical. It had been eight long years without so much as of a whiff of Samus’ scent in the market of solo games and I was starving. Enter Prime.

Prime isn’t so much a pure Metroid game as it is a combination of metroid-prime-06Metroid and first-person shooters of the day. What you need to know to understand Prime is that it’s set between Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus, and it’s the first real game in the series to start putting the pieces of the Metroid saga together. Samus roams around Tallon IV to uncover the past of the Chozo (her caretakers after the death of her parents in a Space Pirate raid), and takes on the villainous group, who are conducting biological experiments on the planet. That’s the meat of the story essentially, but it mostly means that you’re going to do some exploring. This being Metroid and all.

Score-3The first-person controls could have been hazardous to the game’s health but they aren’t. They’re actually simple to use and surprisingly easy to get used to even if you’re intimately familiar with Super Metroid’s setup. My main concern was how does Samus’ action translate to the first-person mold? Can she still move around fluidly? And, how is the action handled when she has to switch to Morph Ball mode? All of these questions were immediately answered with a simple playthrough. Action is fluid and movement is clean and paced well. There are no problems with switching modes, and I rather liked how that is handled. It’s almost as if someone on the development team at Retro Studios remembered what it was like to imagine you were Samus in the Varia Suit.

I appreciated the atmosphere of Prime, considering that if a game is to be called Metroid in any way, it must have the “Metroid atmosphere.” I certainly got that as I meandered through maze-like caverns with foreboding music playing gently in the background. What I appreciated about the soundtrack mostly was the use of old themes to tie the games together. You can tell you’re playing a Metroid game if you listen hard enough, and I liked that the issue wasn’t thrown in my face constantly. I didn’t need to be hit over the head repeatedly that this is a Metroid tale, and the music was polite about reminding me.

My only problem with Prime is that while it feels like a Metroid game should, I wasn’t that immersed in the tale. Every Metroid game released up to this point, I played through and was engaged thoroughly. Prime? I really couldn’t get into the story that much, and I didn’t really care all that much about the Chozo. I realized that because of the way Metroid ends, Samus can’t really go back to the Mother Brain issue. However, Prime just struck me as boring.

Prime was the start of a good thing, obviously, since there are two sequels and a host of spinoff games. What I was most pleased with, however, was the fact that Samus returned in top form. It was about time. Eight years was way too long to go without using some version of the “Metroid instinct.”