Category Archives: Game Reviews

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Review – PlayStation 3

If you haven’t read any of my previous reviews then you probably won’t know that I have a love of RPGs and all things anime, so imagine my surprise when I found out that two of my favorite companies, developer Level-5 and the legendary animation company Studio Ghibli was pairing up to make a game over 2 years ago. After a long agonizing wait, North America finally gets its stateside release of Ni No Kuni: Wraith of the White Witch on the PS3.

The partnership of these two amazing companies has brought about a journey that spans two worlds and touches the heart at the most unexpected times. I can’t say a whole lot about the story without spoiling the good bits but I’ll lay out the basics. The story follows the happy-turned-tragic life of young Oliver in a 1950’s inspired world. After a freak “accident”, Oliver’s mom succumbs to a heart attack after saving her son from a watery grave. Yeah, I know this comes off as a bit much, but this story may just have a happy ending for the player after all for those willing to stick through Ni No Kuni until the very end.

In true Level-5 and Ghibli form, Oliver awakens in a magical fairy in his world. This little Welsh speaking fairy with a lantern as a nose jewelry reveals to Oliver that there is another world from which he came that is in danger. It turns out that Oli-boy, is the Pure-Hearted One, the only one that could save their parallel world using magic as his weapon. As an added bonus for saving their world in true JRPG form, Oliver may have a way to help himself in the process. One of my favorite things about that Ni No Kuni is that the gameplay is a unique mixture of classic RPG elements and some creature training goodness.

Ni No Kuni is different than most of the RPGs that I’ve played over the years. I’m used to just beating the daylights out of any enemy in my way via swords and daggers and the like. In this world the key method of attack is magic, not that that stops Oliver from beating on creatures with his wand. Combat is a nice mix of real-time and turned-based action with a few twists. For starters, players are allowed to move around the battlefield at will which is fast becoming the norm for modern RPGs. The actual fighting works via a rolodex menu setup and timers which is classic fare. Whether it’s in a dungeon or out in the world, the enemy count in Ni No Kuni is off the scales. Sometimes it’s downright annoying when you defeat an enemy and take a few steps forward only to have another one standing there when you turn around, but on the bright side it’s a great way to level grind occasionally should the need arise.

The biggest and most welcome feature is the creature training and future capturing that occurs as you hit critical points in the story. You get your first creature, or Familiar, from Oliver’s heart while the rest are earned via story events or added features. Very similar to a certain franchise, these Familiars level up as you use them and can even evolve if given proper attention. The downside is the creature’s level resets back to level one when you do this, but the character is stronger for it. Some of the creatures you get naturally are pretty awesome like Thumbelemur, but there are a bunch of amazing enemies out there that any player would want on their side. With a little help from a certain character you can catch them and use them in battle. The one thing that makes this game unique is that you share the same health and mana bar as your familiars so if they are defeated so are you. It’s all about managing what abilities to use and when, whether it is via Oliver and his friends or their familiars.

There is more to the world of Ni No Kuni than meets the eye. There is a level of emotional elements that ties the two parallel worlds together. One of the main elements in the game is that an evil man has caused discord in the fantasy world resulting in some of its inhabitants losing heart in their everyday lives. Oliver, being the little wizard-in-training that he is, has to help restore what was stolen from these people on a regular basis throughout the game via magic. For instance, if someone is lacking the courage to do something, then he has to find another person in the surrounding area that is filled with an overabundance of it. There are several side quests as well as main story elements that require you to restore people to their former selves, usually to some reward. It’s a touching element that I haven’t encountered in any other gaming experience.

Ni No Kuni heavily focuses on friendship, family, and helping out others throughout its course and this is ever so apparent in the side quests. By visiting a certain shop in each town you can take jobs for those in need of a little help. Some quests are about curing someone of “broken heartedness” while others will have you collecting items or defeating X number of monsters. Completing these tasks will earn you stamps on a card. Upon filling up a card you can redeem them for perks that will aid young Oliver in his quests such as running faster on the world map.

As I said before Studio Ghibli are masters of what they do. One of the main reasons, I love this game so much is that I felt like I was actually in one of their films. The hand-drawn animated sequences alone are absolutely stunning, but it’s Level-5’s ability to take Ghibli’s trademark style and create the world and its inhabitants in 3-dimensional space. Their ability to create and blend these two styles is a marvel itself. The world at large is beautifully vibrant and detailed right down to the monsters and landscape. There are also the little atmospheric nuances such as cloud shadows and light particles that really flush out the presentation.

The graphics are topnotch but the music and audio are what really completes the package. Most of the major conversations are spoken in either English or the native Japanese. For the sake of my review I went with English. That and I didn’t want to reinstall the 4GB of game date just to see what a Welsh fairy sounded like in Japanese. The score for Ni No Kuni is everything that I expected in a project involving Studio Ghibli. This largely has to do with the composer chosen for this project which is none other than the renowned Joe Hisaishi. Hisaishi’s trademark style is as instantly recognizable to the ear as is Studio Ghibli’s art to the eyes. It’s only fitting as Hisaishi has scored most of Ghibli’s most successful films to date. Every track be it the exotic Middle Eastern inspired tone of the city of Al Mamoon to the touching theme song is absolutely perfect for Ni No Kuni. I’m looking forward to the soundtrack when it releases in March.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was an experience unlike any RPG that I’ve ever played. The story was engrossing right to the end as I felt myself rooting for Oliver and his new friends the whole way. The fantastic art direction of Studio Ghibli and the attention and craft of Level-5 is just astounding throughout. The score is out of this world awesome and the voice cast is well done. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch isn’t just another RPG on the market; it is an adventure that every PS3 owner should experience. This is a must buy!


Ace Combat Assault Horizon: Enhanced Edition Review – PC

Ace Combat is easily one of the most recognizable flight-combat franchises when it comes to console gaming, but PC gamers who want to experience high-intensity, high-altitude aerial combat normally get their wings clipped. The PC is traditionally known for the more serious “flight sim”, but Namco Bandai is about to change all that with their outstanding release of Ace Combat Assault Horizon: Enhanced Edition.

For those who are wondering; yes, this is the same game that released to consoles back in 2011, only this version has been greatly enhanced, both in content and technology, allowing for stunning high-resolution graphics up to 1900×1200, and loads of bonus content previously offered as DLC for the consoles including 8 aircraft, 2 maps, 27 skins, and 9 skills upgrades. So, if you’ve never played Assault Horizon or even if you did and want to relive the adventure, the $35 Enhanced Edition for the PC may just be the cheapest airfare you’ll find this winter.

The PC version maintains support for exciting multiplayer action with up to 16 players as well as co-op missions, but the biggest improvement has got to be the additional support for flight sticks; something the console version lacked. Pretty much every current Windows-compatible joystick is supported and works great, adding greatly to the immersion of the flight-combat experience. For those without a stick, rest assured your gamepad or Xbox 360 controller is fully supported, and yes, you can play the game with a mouse and keyboard but seriously…why would you want to?

Assault Horizon introduces all sorts of new concepts, features, and gameplay modes. First up is that we are no longer flying in the fictional reality of previous games, but this time we are fighting in real world locations like Miami, Dubai, and Washington D.C. You’ll still get a nice mix of environments ranging from deserts and mountain ranges to battles over the ocean and populated cities. The choice of aircraft is staggering with multiples types of planes for each sortie based on air, ground, or multi-purpose superiority, and secondary weapons packages to complement your play style.

This latest Ace Combat introduces a few twists into the standard game formula by adding new types of aircraft with specific missions related to those craft, so you might find yourself hanging out the side of an attack chopper operating a chain-gun, or you might be piloting an air support mission in your nimble Apache helicopter, or perhaps making a nighttime bombing run in a stealth bomber where you have to fly in low beneath enemy radar. You’ll even get to man the guns in an AC-130 for some high-altitude ground support complete with night vision. Keep in mind, these non-fighter missions are spread thinly across the story, so they make for a nice diversion, and they are usually paired up with a traditional fighter mission.

Of course the big new feature for Assault Horizon is the dogfighting, and this is by far my favorite new element of the game. Love it or hate it, you will have to engage in these epic Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay-Tony Scott chase sequences. Gone are the days of flying in circles and double-tapping the missile button every time you get a lock tone. You now have to get into a close proximity and watch for the DFM indicator then tap LB+RB to swoop into position on the enemy six and proceed to give chase, unloading your machine gun and trying to fill up the new missile lock circle to fire close range rockets. During these intense chases your plane will be on partial autopilot. You still need to keep the enemy fairly centered on the screen or the DFM will break and you will have to reacquire your target.

These DFM chases will often swoop down to the deck or twist through city streets, oil fields, shipping yards, or other confined areas creating some of the best and most intense flight combat moments in gaming history. Early in the game I was skimming the coast along Miami Beach less than a hundred feet off the highway then out to sea where my machine guns were sending up giant plumes of water. Midway through the game you are flying over Dubai with that famous building that looks like a sailboat and the manmade landmass that looks like a palm tree. And near the end of the game you’ll be flying and weaving through Washington D.C. and all the familiar landmarks. I even took out a chunk of the Washington Monument.

The longer these DFM chases last the more likely some other pilot will get on your six forcing you to pull an evasive maneuver, and if timed properly, can put you on the tail of a new target. Enemies you are pursuing can also perform these same breakaway moves, but you have a microsecond to counter his move and line-up for a critical hit. It’s actually a sophisticated combat system that is extremely rewarding to master. Much like DFM, you also have ASM, which puts you on a guided semi-autopilot path for ground attacks. Basically, you find the trigger point in the sky marked with a triangle and hit LB+RB and begin your low-level run unloading guns and any ground missiles or rockets you have equipped, while dodging any incoming SAM fire or other planes trying to lock-on.

Assault Horizon looks like a Hollywood blockbuster with amazing camera angles to capture all the action, especially in the DFM mode that will actually position the camera from the point of view of the selected weapons pod (on the wing or under the plane). Until now I have played all my Ace Combat games from the nose camera (sometimes the cockpit camera), but Assault Horizon is the first time I have ever played from the chase view. This was partly due to the incredible plane graphics and detail, but mostly because of the frequent use of DFM, which will take you out of the plane anyway. Those other views are still available and look fabulous, and I did still use the nose view for the chopper missions, even though those evasive barrel rolls made me nauseous.

Aside from the great plane models and fantastic camera views the locations look amazing with plenty of real-world scenery that most of us will recognize. It’s always more emotionally immersive to be fighting over your own soil than some distant land. As always, the satellite photography looks great and unlike the console version where things start to lose their detail when you drop to the deck, the satellite photography and number of 3D buildings rising from the detailed ground texture has been greatly enhanced. Overall, it looks incredible and is still the best looking air-combat game out there.

Where Assault Horizon truly shines is in the audio presentation with what can only be described as the most powerful score since the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. While there is always that underlying military action theme at work, there are also all sorts of original tracks that make use of authentic instruments and cultural genres based on the part of the globe where you are flying. You get these eerie choral parts like you heard in Hunt for Red October whenever Russians are around, and then all sorts of cool tribal/native music when flying in Africa. Even the energetic rock/pop/rap closing credit theme made an impact. And the music knows when to slip into the background of the Dolby Digital mix so you can enjoy the quality dialogue, professional voice work, and authentic sound effects of jet engines, rotor blades, machine gun fire, and missile explosions.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is a surprisingly lengthy game that will take you all over the world in a variety of mission types in various planes and even as a few different characters. There is much greater emphasis on story this time; a gripping narrative written by New York Times Best Seller and military author Jim DeFelice, and the presentation has moved beyond still images and comic panels, and we now have full 3D walking around parts between missions and even briefings where you can control your view with the stick. Expect a solid 8-10 hours to finish the game, and with so many great Games For Windows – LIVE achievements to earn, you’ll easily be playing again.

There is also a significant multiplayer component for competitive online play with up to 16 pilots in deathmatch and ground assault modes, and some awesome mission co-op games that let you bring up to two other pilots into the story with you. The online modes supports drop-in/out multiplayer, so your games are always full, even when other fighters eject in mid-game.

Easily the best, most original, and most complete flight-combat game to date, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon will have you on the edge of your seat with a death grip on your controller or stick as you engage in some of the most cinematic air combat since…sorry…no movie can even compare to what you will experience when you climb into the cockpit of this game.

Ace Combat has finally come to the PC and it’s awesome. Wheels up in thirty…


Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Review – PlayStation Vita/PSP

In my years of gaming, I’ve played countless horror games where schools have made an appearance or have been the focal point of the action. None however were as excellently disturbing or captivating than Team GrisGris’ 2011 release of Corpse Party for the PSP. It’s been a little over a year since that fateful trip I shared with the classmates of Kisaragi Academy and it seems the powers that be weren’t too keen on my escape. It was apparent that I was destined to take another chapter from the scary crap lesson book of horrors as I dove happily into my review of Xseed and 5pb’s newest release, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows for the PS Vita and PSP.

At first appearance, you would think that Book of Shadows is a sequel to the original, but that is far from the truth. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows actually takes place before, after and during the events of the original story. If you played the original, then you’ll pretty much be up to speed on the events thus far. You don’t necessarily have to have played the original, but I would recommend it before playing this one.

Book of Shadows features eight tales that present alternate timelines where some characters go into Heavenly Host with a sense of déjà vu knowledge of their potential fates. It’s your chance in these chapters to try and change your fates by choosing the right decisions. Some of these chapters actually flesh out a lot of the backstory of some of the secondary characters in the first game. For example, players will get a look at Ms. Yui’s life before the events of Corpse Party in the “Encounter” chapter. There are several other characters that you will get to meet apart from the main cast throughout each chapter. Some of them I recognized in name from the original story, which was a nice treat and a great way to expand the story of this school of horrors.

Book of Shadows not only introduces other characters and scenarios to the player but also brings about a more personable experience by shifting the adventure into a first-person point and click survival horror. I rather enjoyed this change of pace, not that the original was flawed, but the suspense is more ramped up when you don’t know what’s going to happen from one room or hallway to the next. Like most point and click experiences Book of Shadows uses the analog sticks to move a cursor around the screen looking for blue highlighted areas to great effect. Another new feature is the ability to save practically anywhere, which saves a lot of time if you walk yourself right into a dead-end.

One of the most interesting things about Book of Shadows is the newly added “Darkening” System which brings about an insanity element to the series. The more horrific events or items you trigger the more your character descends into a frightened state and the graphics alter for the worst. This can impair your ability to make the right decisions sending you right into an early grave if you don’t keep your player as calm as possible. Any bad choices could end in one of many “bad endings” before you make it through to the true ending. Half the fun of Book of Shadows is discovering all the endings and it’s one of two ways to unlock the final chapter of the game. For those that played the first game you can unlock the final chapter by importing your save file from that game – a nice little loyalty reward.

As was the original, this horror story is available to play on both the PSP and Vita, so I took the opportunity to make use of the larger more vibrant screen despite no actual control advantages. I must say right off that the game doesn’t suffer one bit unlike some games as it takes full advantage of the screen without any noticeable stretching. Most of the time you’ll find yourself in dark corridors and classrooms filled with the remains of dead students and spirits so the game is pretty bleak to begin with.

That doesn’t mean that the developers slacked off though. The bleakest moments of darkness are just as detailed as the happiest moments in the warm sunlight. Book of Shadows features sharp visuals seen in its hand drawn character models and its gruesomely tragic deaths. The horror aspects of this point-n-click style can be down right repulsive to the faint of heart but I didn’t mind it in the least despite the tragic events that have plagued our society as of late. Nevertheless, Xseed and 5pb have created a work of fiction that is richly detailed and features great atmosphere.

Part of that atmosphere comes from its out-of-this-world soundtrack and audio effects. The score alone is amazingly creepy but it’s the audio technology in Book of Shadows that really makes this adventure memorable. Horror titles are usually best played on a console with the lights turned off, surround sound volume way up and during the wee hours of the night. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows however offers something most portable games don’t; the use of binaural 3D audio effects when using headphones. Using the same technology as in the original Corpse Party you are able to hear speech, haunting sound effects and maniacal childish laughter that seems to come from practically anywhere. I dare you to play this game at night with headphones on and lights off and not get chills down your spine. I will point out that the spoken dialogue in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is completely in Japanese so get ready to read. Personally, I love this game just the way it is as some localizations don’t pan out so well. Luckily Xseed is on their A-game once again.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is a game that almost begs to be played more than once if for no other reason than to experience all the possible endings, good and bad. But there is more to be had for the truly dedicated player as you can unlock music tracks, art stills and my personal favorite, the voice actors’ interviews which adds a more personal touch to the game. There is even a weird little mode that allows you to create your own custom conversations from spoken lines throughout the game.

I love horror games and more importantly I loved Corpse Party. Book of Shadows may have a different gameplay style but it is still 100% Corpse Party to its very core. The eight short stories that are contained within complement the original title as well solidify it as the newest addition to the haunted tale of Heavenly Host. The music and audio is to die for and the characters are memorable…both the living ones and the dead. If you like a disturbingly good tale, I highly recommend buying a copy of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows from the PlayStation Network today, plug in those headphones and turn out the lights.

NHL GameCenter Xbox 360 App – Game Chronicles Video Review

The NHL’s 2013 season has just kicked off and in order to get the hype going among gamers, the hockey league has partnered with Microsoft and released a special NHL GameCenter application on the Xbox 360 console, via Xbox Live.

The new app allows Xbox 360 worldwide access to all sorts of great things, including live games, replays, classic matches, and videos from the NHL VideoCenter, although you do need things like an Xbox Live Gold Membership to download the app and a GameCenter subscription to watch live games. Even so, hockey fans can enjoy a wide variety of features in the app:

  • Follow the Action from the 2013 NHL Season – Get real-time game scores, player stats and team standings. All Xbox Live Gold Members can also follow the action on and off the ice from the NHL VideoCenter. Watch the best goals, saves and hits from around the league this season.
  • Live Games and Replays with NHL Game Center Live – With your NHL GameCenter Live subscription ($49.99 USD for the 2012-13 season), watch live, out-of-market games from the NHL regular season. Miss a game? Watch full-length archived games or condensed replays from this season and last.
  • Every game with an HD-Quality Picture – NHL GameCenter delivers every game in a beautiful, HD-quality picture, and each broadcast gives every fan the option of the Home or Away audio feed. With NHL GameCenter on Xbox 360, you will feel like your team is the home team.
  • Keep Up With Your Favorite Teams – NHL GameCenter on Xbox 360 lets you personalize the experience to get to the information you care about most. Select up to five teams to follow so you can be sure not to miss a beat on your favorite teams and players. Get the scores, player stats, schedule and live games, right at your fingertips.
  • Season Central – A quick calendar view of the league schedule or just your favorite teams is a click away. Season Central is the best way to find out what games are on today, this week, or next month.
    Mini Guide – The Mini Guide gives you a quick preview of all of today’s action right at the bottom of your screen, and makes it easier than ever to switch between games.
  • Split Screen – Keep an eye on the rest of the league while cheering on your home team! With Split Screen, you can watch two games at once and do just that. Watch live games on both screens or a live game on one while you catch up with a game recap on the other. You can control both screens independently, pausing and rewinding each separately so you never miss a second of the action.
  • Classic Games from NHL Vault –Relive your favorite moments in NHL history with on-demand access to over 800 classic games from NHL Vault. Watch some of the best Original Six battles from the 1960s or re-watch the best games from the Stanley Cup Playoffs through the years. You now have the best way to watch these games on your big screen with Xbox 360.
  • Voice and Gesture Control with Kinect for Xbox 360 – Focus on the puck instead of looking for the remote. Navigate through Season Central, or play, pause, and rewind that behind-the-back goal, all with the power of Kinect for Xbox 360.

The new app can now be downloaded onto the Xbox 360 via the Xbox Live Marketplace.

 

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable Review – PlayStation Vita

Just two months shy of its sixth birthday, Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable makes its handheld debut on the PS Vita. We reviewed the original game back in 2007 when it released on the Xbox 360 and were not terribly impressed with the gameplay or graphics, but succumbed to its B-movie charm and goofy premise. Not much has changed at the core of Earth Defense Force 2017. The graphics are still dated, although they may look slightly better on a 5-inch screen versus a 55-inch screen, and there has been a modest effort to update the content with new levels, characters, and even some multiplayer options.

The plot is as clichéd as anything you might watch on MST3K or a TCM sci-fi marathon. Aliens are invading Earth and they are using giant insects and robots to do their dirty work while their mammoth ships eclipse the skies above. As a member of the Earth Defense Force it is your job to use every weapon at your disposal to kill every non-human entity in sight…over and over again. Yes, the sights may change slightly but the gameplay seldom evolves from the mindless mashing of the fire button and nimbly avoiding the advancing swarms of alien infestation. Thankfully, the varied weapons are so powerful and fun to use that the repetition gets lost in the awesomeness of pure firepower.

As you lay waste to countless alien hordes you’ll need to collect a seemingly endless supply of loot drops; everything from ammo and health to new weapons, which always keeps you moving into the fray when commonsense tells you to backpedal. Don’t ask why that giant ant was carrying a med kit or rounds for a gun it can’t even wield. If you start pulling at the threads of this concept the entire game will unravel. By design, the game practically demands to be replayed as that is the only way you can experience the new weapons you unlock as well as replaying with the new character, Pale Wing. She has a jetpack and energy based weapons which give the game an excitingly fresh perspective, both in verticality of movement and new combat tactics.

While Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable may have smoothed over the framerate issues from the Xbox 360, there is still plenty of boring level design, bland textures, and poor draw distance that will have enemies and skyline structures popping into view from just a few blocks away. Often it’s not a big deal since you are focused on some giant creature or robot that is right in your face, but when the enemy clusters are scattered out you will often have to rely on the mini-map to find new targets. Character modeling and animation is simplistic and the menus are something from the 90’s. The music is campy and the dialogue is humorous at first until it starts repeating to the point of annoyance.

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable really shines if you can find a few other people with the game, as the Vita version supports up to four players for local or online co-op of the entire 60-level campaign; a nice improvement over the local-only, couch co-op, splitscreen on the Xbox 360. They also added a versus mode, but after a week of post-launch searching I couldn’t find a single person playing this mode. Sadly, there was no use of any Vita specific features other than some extremely awkward touchscreen aiming. How cool would it have been for an augmented reality mode where you had to shoot alien critters in whatever scenery you had in your camera view?

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is an okay shooter, but after six years I would have expected something a bit more polished and entertaining. Admittedly, the PS Vita library is lacking in new releases, but that shouldn’t mean we have to accept this lackluster effort. The biggest improvement is the online modes, but if you can’t find anybody else with the game then even those cease to become a feature, and as a solo shooter there are better Vita games out there for the same money or less. Wait for a sale or just skip this and wait for the next alien invasion.


DmC: Devil May Cry Review – Xbox 360

I’m a big Devil May Cry fan and have been playing the series from the very beginning, so I was extremely interested when I heard that Capcom was rebooting the franchise with DmC; even more so when I learned that Ninja Theory was going to be developing this next-gen reimagining. Sure, faithful fans of the series may balk at the subtle tweaks to characters and events, but at the core of DmC lies the insane and stylish combat and mind-blowing action we expect from a Devil May Cry game. Ninja Theory delivers all that and more…

We meet up with Dante after a wild night at the club. A bang on his trailer door quickly turns into a tutorial level to beat all other tutorial levels as a Hunter demon pulls Dante into Limbo and destroys his trailer. Thankfully, Dante manages to put on a few clothes in a classic Mike Myers (Austin Powers) “hide-the-naughty-bits” cutscene, the first of many humorous pop-culture and even self-referencing bits of comedy.

The tutorial does a great job of easing you into the basics of combat, both for your sword, Rebellion and your dual-wielded pistols, Ebony and Ivory. But you’ll constantly be learning as you add more satisfyingly vicious moves to your repertoire and bolster your arsenal with new weapons like the Arbiter, Osiris, and Eryx just to name a few. About six hours into the game you will be switching weapons and cycling through new ones in mid-combo for some of the most creative chaos in recent memory. Stringing together lengthy and original combos fuels your score and your Style ranking, just one part of your overall score and rank for each of the 20 levels in DmC.

With so many weapon types and so many uses for those weapons it can all seem a bit overwhelming, so I was surprised to find just how flowing and intuitive the combat ended up being, even when you throw in some of the more powerful and nastier creatures in the rogues gallery. Your grapple-like device has dual functionality, both in level navigation as well as combat in that you decide whether you want to pull something toward you or pull yourself toward it. This is great for grapple-swinging through areas or yanking a shield away from an enemy, or even launching yourself straight up to fight a Harpy on her own turf.

Weapons have multiple combos with various button sequences that can be triggered from the ground or in the air and then combined with other attacks or even other weapons to create cool combos, and your pistols can be used to extend those combos into some startling scores. And as much as the left and right triggers determine the “polarity” of your grapple, it also chooses your Angelic and Demonic slant to combat; an important factor in some battles as some elemental enemies take more or less damage based on the type of attack. You can yank an enemy toward you then quickly kick him away or launch an enemy straight up then jump up to flurry him with sword slashes or yank him down to the ground and perform an aerial ground pound attack. The options are truly endless, and for the first time in a fighting game I was never relying on any one set of “favorite” tactics. The combat is always evolving dynamically with each encounter.

While combat controls are virtually flawless the same can’t be said for navigation. The camera has a mind of its own and requires constant tweaking as you navigate these eerie 3D worlds. Grappling is made easy by a blue and red color coding system, and for the most part ledge-hopping is easy enough until you factor in the air-dash move, which for some reason is not nearly as responsive as it should be and ends up responsible for numerous death falls, retries, and missed collectibles. Something as easy as jumping from the top of a fountain to free a second-story Lost Soul from the wall shouldn’t take more than 12 attempts, but it did.

DmC is surprisingly long. My initial 8-hour game session took me to level 13 with seven more levels still ahead – not bad for a 3D action-platformer in this day and age, and keep in mind that is just my first pass. By design, many of these levels are going to need to be revisited as you collect keys, weapons, and new abilities that will grant you access to previously inaccessible areas of the levels in order to find more collectibles like keys, secret doors with mini-game challenges, and Lost Souls struggling to free themselves from the environment. And of course, each level is scored and ranked so you can compare your performance with that of your friends or the entire world on the Xbox Live leaderboards.

What DmC lacks in next-gen visuals is more than made up for with one of the most stylized graphical presentations since the cel shading in Borderlands or the fantasy art style of Darksiders. Your time in the “real world” is usually limited to cutscenes and story bits, with most of the gameplay taking place in the ethereal world of Limbo, a world overcast in radioactive reds with all sorts of haunting special effects and the occasional smoky image of someone from the “other side” trickling through if you stand still long enough. Even more interesting is when the game periodically reverts back to the real world and you can see the results of your actions in that world. Dante and the other members of the cast all look like they stepped out of a gothic graphic novel. Their art design is only trumped by the expert motion-capture used for animating Dante’s endless list of combat moves that somehow bring a physicality and weight to his swinging of a sword or skidding to a halt after landing an air-boost leap.

The soundtrack is great if you love death metal and head-banging energetic rock accenting all your bloodletting. There are few moments of quiet that reveal creepy environmental effects, but even when the game takes a dramatic twist the music maintains a certain level of demonic and evil influence. The voice acting is superb; even the intentional over-the-top bits, and I loved all the quips from Dante, both internal dialogue and one-liners directed toward the enemy.

There is no multiplayer for DmC and I am fine with that. While I see a possible co-op game in the future, perhaps featuring Dante’s twin brother, Vergil, this was not the time, and I for one applaud the choice to release a quality single-player experience rather than try to cram some awkward multiplayer modes into the package. With a 12+ hour initial pass and potentially twice that time lying ahead for total completion, achievement hunting, and score competition, DmC will keep you busy for the better part of a month.

DmC is just a few control refinements away from perfection. The combat is massively complex in scope and refreshing intuitive in execution with so many options and so many stunning visuals that sometimes it’s hard to believe you are responsible for what you are seeing on the screen. The evolving combat can quite literally get away from you and take on a life of its own. Normally, by the time you get to the end of one of these games you are just muddling through to see the story resolution, but DmC is one of the few games in the genre that is just as fresh at the finale as it was during the introduction. Whether you are a longtime fan like me or even if this is your first Devil May Cry game, DmC is the first must-play game of 2013 that no action gamer should even consider skipping.


Anarchy Reigns Review – Xbox 360

Platinum Games seems to be on their “A” game with the release of Anarchy Reigns for Xbox 360 this week. I have to say that I enjoyed a brutally satisfying brawler that continuously throws hordes of enemies at you in a world that’s one more carpet bombing away from being a… wasteland. Oh right, that’s pretty much the summary of the world in which Jack Cayman lives in.

Anarchy Reigns could be easily described as a sequel to the 2009 Wii exclusive MadWorld which features the same dual chainsaw-wielding Chaser. This time you can play the single player experience, either the biker garbed Jack or the arm-blade wielding pretty boy Leo. Each offers two very distinct play styles while navigating the same locales. Anarchy’s main focus however is actually in its online multiplayer though I wouldn’t jump into that until you have a good grasp on the combat.

The combat in Anarchy Reigns could easily be summed up as a button masher where you pummel your enemies until they blow up or turn into a blue puddle, but there are some tactics required to being successful in the long haul as I quickly found out. If you choose to learn the ropes via the single player, you’ll find that most enemies can be dispatched with a few well placed punches or chainsaw hits. As you progress further though it is quickly apparent that using blocks and evades are crucial to avoid being K.O.’d at the worst moment. I don’t know how many times I would be doing just fine up until the point that 4+ Executioner behemoths would rush me at once and I’d get trounced thoroughly.

The single player is broken up into four stages and progression is fuelled by a point system. For every enemy you defeat you come that much closer to unlocking one of the three side or main missions by the way of experience points. Once you complete all three main missions you get treated to some good old-fashioned wisecracks mixed with few moments of sorrow and remorse before heading off for your next locale. The cast banter of this little romp happens to be one of my favorite parts about Anarchy Reigns aside from chainsawing mutants in half.

One of the things that makes Anarchy Reigns live up to its name and keeps players on their toes is the A.T.E, or Action Trigger Events that can pop up at any time, both in the single player venue as well as the multiplayer modes which I’ll cover in a second. Among these events that spawn to make every mission and multiplayer match different are runaway semis, carpet bombings and black holes, just to name a few.

To make things even more interesting players get access to power-ups throughout each level by way of slot machine boxes or random chest-carrying enemies that spawn periodically. These range from health packs and triggered shields to full on rampage triggers and my personal favorite, the sniper rifle. The only drawback is that once activated you can’t use your chainsaw until the item is depleted. There are also five blue safes half-hidden around each stage to find to collect concept art and other goodies as you go through the campaign.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the single player with all its quirks but the real lasting power of Anarchy Reigns is found in its online multiplayer modes. While pummeling computer AI foes into oblivion is a blast, it’s no substitute for butting heads with other real players for top bragging rights. This is where anarchy truly reigns as you can compete in everything from classic deathmatch and team deathmatch to the crazy blend of brutality and sports with Death Ball. One of my favorite modes is Battle Royale where everyone is your enemy and there’s no such thing as safe. It’s up to you to stay one step ahead of the others and two steps ahead of the calamity in a 16-player hell on earth battle.

One of the best parts about the multiplayer as a whole is that you can level up any one of the 16 different characters that you’ll have available to you after getting through the campaign. If you join the many ranked players around the world you’ll be put in evenly balanced team-based or free-for-all matches which is pretty cool.

As I said before, I really did enjoy the campaign, especially seeing some of my favorite characters from MadWorld brought over into the world of color; a world that screams disorder. The stages that you’ll see in both the campaign and multiplayer are beautifully designed shells of what was probably once prominent locales. Of all the places Jack or Leo will travel, I have to say that I liked Hong Long the best with its rather neo-Chinese visuals. The environments and characters may not be the most polished creations in gaming, but I think it suits the game perfectly and the cutscenes sprinkled throughout the campaigns are easily my favorite parts.

The real treat to Anarchy Reigns is the awesome voice actors attached to this project including industry vets Steve Blum(Jack), Yuri Lowenthal(Zero) and Stephanie Sheh(Rin Rin) to name a few. Steve’s role as Jack is one of the main reasons that I love this game so much. If awesome vocals wasn’t enough the score to this game is insanely awesome. I love everything from jazzy tune on the menu screen to the hip-hop/rap that keeps you pumped from the first punch to the last beatdown.

What surprised me the most about Anarchy Reigns is that it hits shelves this week with a price tag of only $30 dollars. Sure, the game lacks some polish here and there and I thought that after viewing the opening static scrolling backstory that this review was going to go downhill fast. But the truth is I really enjoyed Anarchy Reigns on a number of levels. The combat is brutally fun, the online was addictive and the music and voice acting rocked. There’s not much more that I could ask for in a brawler following in the steps of MadWorld. If you love chainsaws, a few pretty girls and a whole lot of mayhem, I definitely recommend checking out Anarchy Reigns for the Xbox 360.


Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review – Xbox 360

I have to admit I was pretty excited when I learned that the sequel to Epic Mickey was coming to next-gen consoles. The entire time I was playing the Wii-exclusive original I kept telling myself how much better this would be in HD with better controls…or at least a better camera. Having spent much of December playing both the 360 and the Wii U versions of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two I’ve come to learn the truth in the saying, “be careful what you wish for.”

The sequel stumbles right out of the box by making this game heavily reliant on information and story content that only players of the Wii original will be privy, but it doesn’t stop after the opening intro. The game continues to alienate franchise newcomers time and time again, as nonstop references to people, places, and events are tossed around like common knowledge. It’s been close to a year since I played the original and I was struggling to remember a lot of this information. I can’t imagine someone coming into this with a blank slate.

As the name implies, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is designed heavily around co-op adventuring, which is all fine and dandy assuming you have someone ready to play with you for the endless hours you’ll need to invest in the game and don’t mind splitting your screen. We’ll get into the troublesome controls in a bit. Player one is Mickey while anyone who picks up a second controller can drop in or out as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Mickey continues to use his paintbrush to unleash paint and thinner with fire hose imprecision to either restore or erase the word around him, while Oswald zaps things with electricity or uses his helicopter-like ears to airlift Mickey around annoying platform levels.

If you attempt to play the game alone you may be better off splitting the screen and controlling both characters at once as the AI driving Oswald is pretty pathetic. He will continually get stuck on architecture or refuse to follow you to a specific area. In one level I had revealed a chest and needed Oswald to fly me to the ledge, but he would not join me from the jumping-off point, so I had to grab a controller, manually move him to my ledge then drop out of the game so the AI would finally fly me to the chest. Clearly, if you want to go for all the collectibles and secrets in the game you had better bring a friend.

The world of Epic Mickey 2 is impressively large and complex which makes the lack of any guidance whatsoever completely unforgivable. You are continually given quests or told to talk to a certain person or go to a certain shop and then left to stumble around the colorful landscape in search of these obscure waypoints. There are no icons, dots on a map, or dotted line showing the way. Early on I was told to go get a camera from the camera shop on the other side of the earthquake crack and I spent the next hour wandering the area looking for the shop, going in and out of every other possible shop but no camera shop. In complete desperation I jumped into the sewer and somehow magically arrived in a new part of town that was home to the camera shop. When a kids game is so poorly designed that a 30+ year gaming veteran is ready to toss the controller and the game out the door I can’t imagine what little kids are supposed to do. The game does offer a map view, but even it is so vague it is of little use.

While I enjoyed the visuals of the Xbox 360 I really missed the tactile feel of aiming my “brush” using the Wiimote, so I’m guessing the PS3 and its use of the PS Move make for the best HD experience. Gamepad controls are extremely stiff for moving and sloppy for aiming and the camera, while better than the original, still has plenty of problems that will often lead to missed jumps and missed connections when trying to hitch a ride with your partner. The camera loves to swing down low and behind and will fight you as you try to position it higher to try and actually make a jump. Of course your camera is also your aiming unless you decide to switch to a first person view, but then you can’t move.

This all translates into rather bland combat that may or may not require Oswald to stun an opponent so you can thin them out or paint them into friendship. Ultimately, you’ll avoid combat or simply run past enemies rather than tolerate the poor controls required to fight them. Boss fights are even worse, especially playing alone since many fights are designed around having the boss attack Oswald while Mickey attacks the boss, but in solo play the AI pretty much keep Oswald in close proximity to Mickey making him the shared target of any boss affections.

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is a pretty game to be sure, both its HD gameplay graphics and the stylized storyboard panels used to create the animated cutscenes. There are also great sound effects and some classic Disney music including many of your familiar themes blended into the score. The voice acting is “authentic” Disney which also means it is extremely annoying and for some reason many of the throwaway lines are repeated to the point of insanity. And if you ever step away from the game make sure to pause or mute or Oswald will drive you up a wall with his urging to get back to action. And love it or hate it, Epic Mickey 2 brings music into the game with a singing mad scientist who only speaks in song.

The sequel expands on the original ideas with talking characters, a much bigger world that will take 20-30 hours to finish and twice that to complete. New inks are added to the mix and there are numerous side quests and even some RPG elements, but none of it ever comes together in anything coherent or even enjoyable. It’s just a bunch of loose content tossed into a Disney theme park that you’ll stumble around trying to check off.

I love animated platform adventures, and I was really hoping Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two was going to join the ranks of Jak and Daxter and Ratcher and Clank, but with its awkward camera, jerky controls, and directionless gameplay, I can’t really recommend this game to anyone but the most devoted Disney fan with infinite patience and a friend who shares that passion.


Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review – Wii U

I have to admit I was pretty excited when I learned that the sequel to Epic Mickey was coming to next-gen consoles. The entire time I was playing the Wii-exclusive original I kept telling myself how much better this would be in HD with better controls…or at least a better camera. Having spent much of December playing both the 360 and the Wii U versions of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two I’ve come to learn the truth in the saying, “be careful what you wish for.”

The sequel stumbles right out of the box by making this game heavily reliant on information and story content that only players of the Wii original will be privy, but it doesn’t stop after the opening intro. The game continues to alienate franchise newcomers time and time again, as nonstop references to people, places, and events are tossed around like common knowledge. It’s been close to a year since I played the original and I was struggling to remember a lot of this information. I can’t imagine someone coming into this with a blank slate. At least Wii U owners have the option of seeking out and playing the original game on their new system.

As the name implies, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is designed heavily around co-op adventuring, which is all fine and dandy assuming you have someone ready to play with you for the endless hours you’ll need to invest in the game and don’t mind splitting your screen. We’ll get into the troublesome controls in a bit. Player one is Mickey while anyone who picks up a second controller can drop in or out as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Mickey continues to use his paintbrush to unleash paint and thinner with fire hose imprecision to either restore or erase the word around him, while Oswald zaps things with electricity or uses his helicopter-like ears to airlift Mickey around annoying platform levels.

If you attempt to play the game alone you may be better off splitting the screen and controlling both characters at once as the AI driving Oswald is pretty pathetic. He will continually get stuck on architecture or refuse to follow you to a specific area. In one level I had revealed a chest and needed Oswald to fly me to the ledge, but he would not join me from the jumping-off point, so I had to grab a Wiimote and Nunchuck, manually move him to my ledge then drop out of the game so the AI would finally fly me to the chest. Clearly, if you want to go for all the collectibles and secrets in the game you had better bring a friend.

The world of Epic Mickey 2 is impressively large and complex which makes the lack of any guidance whatsoever completely unforgivable. You are continually given quests or told to talk to a certain person or go to a certain shop and then left to stumble around the colorful landscape in search of these obscure waypoints. There are no icons, dots on a map, or dotted line showing the way. Early on I was told to go get a camera from the camera shop on the other side of the earthquake crack and I spent the next hour wandering the area looking for the shop, going in and out of every other possible shop but no camera shop. In complete desperation I jumped into the sewer and somehow magically arrived in a new part of town that was home to the camera shop. When a kids game is so poorly designed that a 30+ year gaming veteran is ready to toss the controller and the game out the door I can’t imagine what little kids are supposed to do. The game does offer a map view, but even it is so vague it is of little use.

The Wii U marks a decisive improvement in visuals over the classic Wii version, but for some reason the game insists (nay, forces) player one to use the GamePad even though the Wiimote and Nunchuck combo are clearly the more intuitive control scheme for this game. This may be the first co-op game on the Wii U where people are arguing over who doesn’t have to use the GamePad. Even more puzzling is that despite the obviously dual-stick mentality of the Mickey controls you cannot play the game using the new Pro Controller. Not only is the GamePad a bit large for this type of game, you may find your game time limited by the short battery life. And it’s not like they are doing anything fancy with the device. You get a map and touch icons that basically duplicate what you get on the big screen if you hit +Start. There is no motion control or even support for using the GamePad as a camera viewfinder in the numerous photo hunt missions. You can’t even swap the game to the smaller screen for remote play. What could have been a fantastic system launch title for the Wii U turns out to be a lackluster and lazy port.

GamePad controls are extremely stiff for moving and sloppy for aiming and the camera, while better than the original, still has plenty of problems that will often lead to missed jumps and missed connections when trying to hitch a ride with your partner. The camera loves to swing down low and behind and will fight you as you try to position it higher to try and actually make a jump. Of course your camera is also your aiming unless you decide to switch to a first person view, but then you can’t move.

This all translates into rather bland combat that may or may not require Oswald to stun an opponent so you can thin them out or paint them into friendship. Ultimately, you’ll avoid combat or simply run past enemies rather than tolerate the poor controls required to fight them. Boss fights are even worse, especially playing alone since many fights are designed around having the boss attack Oswald while Mickey attacks the boss, but in solo play the AI pretty much keep Oswald in close proximity to Mickey making him the shared target of any boss affections.

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is a pretty game to be sure, both its HD gameplay graphics and the stylized storyboard panels used to create the animated cutscenes, but the game seems to stutter in places and framerates are far from consistent. It’s never game-breaking but for a system that is “on paper” more powerful than the current competition it is still inexcusable, especially for a game that isn’t even attempting to mirror the TV to the GamePad screen.

There are also great sound effects and some classic Disney music including many of your familiar themes blended into the score. The voice acting is “authentic” Disney which also means it is extremely annoying and for some reason many of the throwaway lines are repeated to the point of insanity. And if you ever step away from the game make sure to pause or mute or Oswald will drive you up a wall with his urging to get back to action. And love it or hate it, Epic Mickey 2 brings music into the game with a singing mad scientist who only speaks in song.

The sequel expands on the original ideas with talking characters, a much bigger world that will take 20-30 hours to finish and twice that to complete. New inks are added to the mix and there are numerous side quests and even some RPG elements, but none of it ever comes together in anything coherent or even enjoyable. It’s just a bunch of loose content tossed into a Disney theme park that you’ll stumble around trying to check off.

I love animated platform adventures, and I was really hoping Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two was going to join the ranks of Jak and Daxter and Ratcher and Clank, but with its awkward camera, jerky controls, and directionless gameplay, I can’t really recommend this game to anyone but the most devoted Disney fan with infinite patience and a friend who shares that passion, and if you do decide to get it you may be better off with the classic Wii version, which is oddly enough, better in all the important ways than this lame Wii U port.