Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Review – Xbox 360

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is by far one of the most enjoyable fighting games I’ve played in a long time.I finally got to play my first Naruto Shippuden game and I was so glad it was from the Ninja Storm series. I’ve been a huge fan of Naruto since I first started reading it in Shonen Jump magazine and was instantly hooked.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 begins at the very beginning, literally, you start the game fighting the Nine-Tailed Fox in Konoha, Naruto’s hometown but the fight is set during the birth of Naruto himself. We’ve never really been given a real glimpse of that fight but now we can experience the attack of the dreaded fox ourselves as well as the person who staged it simply dubbed “the masked man”. It’s a great way to start a game that has so much to deal with the Fourth Hokage and the Nine tails and how it is all so connected to that very beginning and explains how Naruto isn’t just a war orphan whose parents died during the attack of the fox.

Enough story; you came to hear about the game itself and that’s what you’re getting. The fight between Hokage and Masked Man is in full swing and after defeating him once you suddenly take on the role of Third Hokage fighting the Fox itself while jumping from roof-top to roof-top and using all sorts of Jutsu (Ninja Skills) to fend him off. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 really shows its visual beauty in fights like this and gives you a taste of future things to come in your journey through it. When do you finish off the Fox as the third you are thrust back into the fight against the Masked Man once again. The game does this in a very smooth way so it seems like you are just watching another episode of the anime itself, one that you get to be in control of and choose your own path.

The transitions are different from the usual and at some point I’m sure the developers were thinking to themselves that maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea to just thrust players from one fight to another without any sort of intro or warning but since every fight is story based and needed to advance the plot it never felt like a filler event just to extend the game time.

As this is my first Ninja Storm game I don’t have anything to compare it too but combat felt really fast and quite responsive, exactly what I expected from a fighting ninja game, I mean seriously who wants a slow ninja? I have done a bit of research and learned of a few tweaked mechanics such as you can enter certain characters “Awakened” state on command instead of during low health situations where it might have been your only way to make any sort of comeback, personally I’m not sure how I feel about that as I would have liked to experience the feeling of hope and know I might still have a chance versus being able to start at your most powerful state right from the beginning and not having a last ditch attack to use. Doesn’t matter much in story mode as I all I wanted was to be able to use sage mode on command, which you can’t! What was the point of spending all the time training for the skill only for it to be used once during a cutscene and very shortly during one other fight?

Speaking of story mode and tweaks, a new addition is the path system. During certain fights you will be able to choose between the “Legend” or “Hero” path, both give you points and advance the story but I went legend the whole way through and it opened up tons of scenes and fights that aren’t part of the anime, the best one for me was the final battle where you fight all six reanimated Jinchuriki or tailed beast hosts at once with no help when you choose “Legend”, the “Hero” path split the fight into a one versus three in two sections, one for Naruto and one for Killer Bee, the other host that has not been captured, but I felt that wouldn’t give me that sense of being a bad ass, just for future reference I regretted that decision as it took me close to an hour to get past that part alone.

These decisions make it so the game differentiates from the plot of the show so it doesn’t feel like you are watching the exact same thing you might have finished on the last episode, no matter the choice you always end up going back to the correct time line and can’t do anything crazy like become a rogue ninja and attempt to destroy your allies, not that anyone would do that…right ? I certainly wouldn’t be against it. The ending of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a totally non-canon and it was probably the biggest disappointment in the entire game for me. It’s true that the game is supposed to only show what’s currently been aired but it went much further than that, quite far into the manga to a point where I was getting really hyped up by how much story was actually being given to us and I almost expected to at least find out why there were suddenly two Madara Uchiha kicking everyone’s butt in the battlefields. *Spoiler! You find out the real Madara died and he is the reanimated one that gets brought back during the final chapters so the “Masked Man” goes back to being named “Tobi”, though he says names have no meaning.

Regardless the game ends exactly how the manga and show would with Naruto defeating “Tobi” and his mask falling off so we can see his face…wrong. we never see his face and are left with the biggest cliffhanger ever which is where the game diverts from being canon to non-canon and the war ends at that with Naruto going back to Konoha and the game entering a free roam state where you get to do event after event to unlock a few more characters that get added to the versus roster. A major letdown for some fans but one that gives us time to hone our skills till the next Ninja Storm.

After the story you can free roam as previously stated but I would like to add that you could do so during the game and nothing ever happened, events don’t start to happen until you beat the story, it was just a way of going from one load screen to the other, one that really annoyed me when I had to spend 10 minutes walking through a town just to hit a load screen with cutscenes that took me miles away and about to enter a fight, really unnecessary. Load screens were also used too often in my opinion and until I installed the game to the hard-drive were really annoying me to the point where I walked away a few times knowing there would be a few lines of dialogue, another load and then finally get to fight.

As much as I would have liked to go online and get my butt kicked by the pro Storm players I was never able to make a connection or join one in the online battle mode, I blame my crappy apartment internet but I hope to get that fixed soon. I hear it’s a blast with people seriously dedicated solely to mastering each and every technique the game  has at its disposal.

In conclusion Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 improves upon the previous games with faster combat, great visuals and incredible responsive controls. The game manages to keep me connected to each character even during the ridiculous fights I had to go through thanks to such a great story, even if it does have a few parts that aren’t quite how I expected them to turn out, Ninja Storm 3 keeps the player fully engrossed into the action and leaves them hanging for the next installment of our future Hokage’s story and hopefully see the final climactic battle between friends.


Lincoln Blu-ray Review

My preferred taste in movies usually leaves me feeling a bit “left out” when Oscar season rolls around, but that still doesn’t stop me from watching the big award show and seeing what the more “cultured” people are watching…and liking. When it comes to a movie about Abe Lincoln I would be more likely caught watching him killing vampires than sitting through Steven Spielberg’s award-winning opus, but after seeing the various clips during the Academy Awards I have to admit my interest was piqued, and thanks to my wonderful job as an entertainment editor a Blu-ray copy arrived for review, so now I wouldn’t have to wait until the film hit HBO or some other movie channel.

Spielberg has been planning this film for quite some time now, and the end result is nothing short of cinematic perfection. Lincoln is arguably one of our nation’s most beloved presidents, and there is so much material the film could have used as a launch point, but rather than create a by-the-book biography that covers all the trite material we learned in grade school Spielberg chose to stick with the last four months of Lincoln’s legendary term as our country’s 16th president. Based on a screenplay written by Tony Kushner and inspired by the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, “Team of Rivals”, this massive document was whittled down to a mere 70 pages that deals solely with Lincoln’s desperate attempt to not only end the Civil War but also get the 13th Amendment passed through the House of Representatives.

Spielberg steers clear of his traditional “big spectacle” works and tells his story through lengthy speeches complete with flowery (and authentic) dialogue, and lingering camera shots that immerse you in every scene. With the exception of the opening battle sequence there are no huge set pieces or big action moments to distract from the gravitas of the content. And while the script and incredible production values are all worthy of a Spielberg production there is no denying the contribution of the award-winning cast led by none other than an unforgettable Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. There is not a single second of the film that you are not convinced you are somehow actually seeing some lost footage from 1865.

While most of the film deals with Lincoln and his cabinet trying to figure out how to get his anti-slavery amendment passed as well as lengthy congressional debate scenes featuring outstanding performances by Lee Pace as Democrat Fernando Wood and Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Thaddeus Stevens, there is still time to briefly delve into the trouble relationship between Abe and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, brilliantly portrayed by Sally Field. David Strathairn also turns in an excellent performance as William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State and trusted confidant, not to mention a host of other exceptionally talented actors all bringing their A-game in honor of Lincoln and Spielberg.

While Daniel Day-Lewis effortless dominates every scene in which he appears (which is most of them), credit has to be given to the gorgeous cinematography of Janusz Kaminski, Rick Carter’s meticulous production design, and the incredibly authentic costumes created by Joanna Johnston. As far as period pieces go, it just doesn’t get any better than this. And while the choices made on how to show (or rather not show) the inevitable conclusion at the Ford Theater, and end the film with a more triumphant recreation of Lincoln’s second inaugural speech might seem a bit emotionally manipulative, I found the unpredictable conclusion completely satisfying.

There is no denying just how good this movie looks on Blu-ray, especially given the dark and moody nature of the cinematography that bounces between sepia tone colors to almost pure black and white monochromatic sequences. The 1080p/AVC transfer is loaded with detail allowing you to appreciate the work that went into the hand-stitched wardrobe, the silk-screened wallpaper, and the hundreds of handwritten notes and documents that litter the tables in the White House offices. Colors are desaturated if not entirely absent and there is an overall softness to the film, but black levels and contrast are consistently solid throughout.

The DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio track may seem a bit underutilized in a dramatic dialogue driven film such as Lincoln, but all the channels come into play for scenes like the opening battle sequence and the big debate sequences on the House floor. There is little use of LFE so my subwoofer rarely barked and my rear channels only came into play for exterior shots and circling camera shots in Congress. All of the dialogue was heavily prioritized to the front center with occasional panning to the left and right. It was all expertly balanced, and I never missed a single dramatic word or a single bar of John Williams’ memorable score.

At first glance Lincoln would appear to be loaded with extras considering they had to use a second disc to house them, and while the bonus features that are provided are quite good, you can’t help but want more. We all know Spielberg doesn’t do commentaries, but we do get some insightful interviews in several of the features starting with “The Journey to Lincoln”, a 9 minute feature with director/producer Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Tony Kushner, Daniel Day-Lewis, Rick Carter, and author Doris Kearns Goodwin who discuss the long road from book to screenplay to the big screen. “A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia” is a brief 4-minute look on location shooting in Richmond Virginia while “Crafting the Past” spends 11 minutes going into more detail on how these locations were enhanced, sets were built, and props and wardrobe were researched and crafted.

Disc two is home to several features exclusive to this four-disc set. “In the Company of Character” is a 10-minute all-too-brief look at the process and commitment of the actors to bring their characters to realistic life. “Living with Lincoln” is perhaps the most rewarding of the features. Clocking in at 27 minutes, we get much more information on the entire creative and production process of making this movie a reality. And finally, “In Lincoln’s Footsteps” is a 17-minute documentary that covers anything the other features may have left out including John Williams’ choice to not only record the soundtrack in Chicago but use their orchestra as well in a nice tribute to the state of Illinois; the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment as well as Lincoln’s home state. There is also a standard DVD copy and a digital copy that looks pretty good on my iPad as long as I’m watching in a dark room.

Lincoln is available in two releases; a two-disc Blu-ray with only the first two features and a standard DVD copy, or the four-disc set I’ve reviewed here today. With only five dollars separating the two, the digital copy alone makes the upgrade worth the cost, but the best of the bonus features truly are on that second disc. Regardless of which version you buy, everyone needs to see this inspirational movie featuring some of the most memorable performances in the history of film, and Blu-ray is the only way to appreciate this dark and brooding masterpiece.
















STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC – RISE OF THE HUTT CARTEL PREVIEW

 
STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC – RISE OF THE HUTT CARTEL
Hands-on Preview Event Coverage by Mat Houghton

I arrive in Texas the week after all the musicians have left town, or just rolled up the blankets and finally gotten to sleep, and the crisp seems an equally welcome respite to me after the swelter of Florida. I’m not here chasing the next musical wave or trying for the smooth vibrations of Hollywood buzz. No, here I’m after more ephemeral prey. Chasing the ever expanding field of pixels and time spent in front of them that any MMO chair jockey knows so well. New content.

It’s the one thing that makes all those hours of jumping around the auction house and grinding dailies seem worthwhile. Suddenly it’s like adventure exists again rather than the slow wear of normal digital life. Your Cheetos seem oranger, the Mt. Dew just that much sweeter.

As I sat in the cab from the airport, low Ethiopian music coming from an expensive stereo and an enthusiastic cabby talking over it, I wasn’t really watching the surprisingly green hills roll by, I was wondering how it would feel when my Juggernaut set his boots on Makeb. Would it be like that first time I walked out onto the dusty rocks of Korriban? I wouldn’t find out that night, but I would find the best gas station BBQ imaginable and ice cream with vodka in it, so it wasn’t a completely wasted evening.

The next morning, I’m collected with a bedraggled, and generally bearded and bespectacled, lot and lead to. . . a building. Somewhat nondescript it looks like all the other one-story office space spread around; corporate normal and forgettable. Not what you’d expect from a company that takes you to a galaxy far, far away, but then dreams usually come in plain packages too (unless they have a good marketing department).

Once inside, I had to get past security, which was intimidating but turned out to be mostly for show. After that. . . pictures were discouraged, at least of all the interesting things. I could have snapped shots of all the murals of concept art for Old Republic, or the old TSR books that lined a shelf in the break area, or the internal leaderboard posted, but they would have seemed tame. Not the intrusion of reality that we were, but merely recorded things from the world we know so well. The most interesting picture I can’t tell you about though is. . . well I can’t tell you about it. Not because I’ve been sworn to secrecy, but because it was a painting much like the others, only wrapped closely in white paper like a neatly stored steak in butcher paper.

The setting we were finally led to was just a conference room. Sure there were stations set up for all of us with grinning helmets or scowling faces (the Sith are not a happy people), but those were windows which we wouldn’t get to pass through until first facing the Information.

The Information was disbursed through some obviously passionate presentations by Jeff Hickman and Bruce Maclean (who shall from here on out be referred to as Darth Angral, mostly because it’s on his office door). What you want to know? April 14th is the launch date, but those who pre-ordered early enough get access on the 9th. It’s being sold for $9.99 if you’re a subscriber, or $19.99 if you’re free to play. Makeb, the new planet, will have it’s own unique plot for both the Empire and the Republic, and level cap will be raised to 55. The expansion will also introduce Seeker Droids and Macro Binoculars, new daily quests, new crafting quests, and new gear sets. In addition to the launch of Rise of the Hutt Cartel, patch 2.0 will also be released on April 14th. The “Scum and Villiany” update will have new operation content, as well as a Legacy Achievement system and armor set bonuses will be tied to mods rather than the actual piece of armor.

After all of that wrapped up in the neat bow of skillfully planned and executed marketing speeches, a video that you all have probably seen by now, and I was finally getting out into the Galaxy again. Fortunately I was fortified with a level 50 character with insane gear and had a tag team partner in the form of another journalist riding Operative to my Marauder.

We logged in and after a little briefing drop down to Makeb. It was. . . well it was a new planet. What stood out wasn’t the visuals, because honestly Bioware has done a very good job unifying it’s look, so Makeb doesn’t really look “new”. It looks like a planet in the Galaxy, not like Taris or Hoth or Corellia, but like the same civilizations that touch those other planets also inhabits this one. What’s more interesting is how close Makeb is compared to all the other planets. Pathways tend to be hemmed in by towering spires of rock or steep drops. It’s a vertical planet whereas the rest of the Old Republic tends to exist on vast plains and wide valleys punctuated by the occasional spike of a mountain. This tightness is carried through everything I played. The side quests were fewer and more focused. There weren’t any distracting jaunts to level appropriate Flashpoints. It was just a straight run through, facilitated by two people stomping on single player content.

Despite the speed with which we cleared content (I made 51 in under three hours and while we didn’t quite clear a four-man heroic, there were teams who did), I could see how single player this expansion would amount to the advertised 35 hours of content. Especially when you include the Macro Binocular and Seeker Droid quests. Areas are much more restricted so avoiding fights becomes a more creative activity, but despite this it doesn’t feel like you’re being herded anywhere. Bioware has also gotten sneakier with mob placement and difficulty. While you can still clear groups of enemies and feel like the heroic character that is typical of Star Wars, the enemies have gotten stronger. . . and sneakier.

I would go into the plot, but really, it’s a bit forgettable. At least from the Empire side. Blah, blah, secret element that will give ultimate power, blah blah, Hutts, etc. etc. What makes Rise stand out is it’s continued use of excellent characterization through dialogue, superb voice acting and an inclusive return to form in “flirting”. Since launch, Old Republic has done what no other MMO is capable of doing, which is create a visceral connection with your character through interaction in the world. Not only this, NPCs create their own character through voice, word choice and responses to your dialogue.

Rise of the Hutt Cartel delivers on this just as well as the original, giving you snappy choices and equally witty retorts. What stood out most though was something missing from the original release. Any veteran of Bioware games will know that other titles included the possibility of same sex relationships with companion characters (most notoriously Mass Effect, or possibly Dragon Age 2), but not so in Old Republic. While they haven’t gone back to revisit companion characters, in Rise you do have the ability to chose “flirt” conversation options, regardless of the sex of characters.

Aside from Makeb, Rise adds two galaxy spanning quest lines. One using the Seeker Droid and the other using Macro Binoculars. Both amount to variations on the idea of a scavenger hunt. The Seeker Droid allows you to search for “seeds” that have been spread across specific planets. The droid will search where you click, and if you don’t find anything will give you a color and direction indicator to show you how close you are to the “seed”. It’s basically a poke around in the dirt until you find something among a bunch of nasty critters. More interesting is the Macro Binocular quest line. It involves tracking a shadowy super-spy by finding his listening posts scattered across the galaxy. Aside from not involving hours of hunting and pecking like a chicken in the dirt, the Macro Binocular quests also add more traditional platform game content (there is a laser grid jumping puzzle, be glad they are fixing it).

All this content does come with a bit of a downside. There are no class specific quests in Rise of the Hutt Cartel, and the word from the Darth Angral is that there really aren’t any plans to create more class quest lines. From here on, it’s faction only. The good news about this is that even though there is less individualized class content, Bioware has shifted to a schedule of more frequent, smaller updates to content rather than waiting for a large “sequel” equivalent expansion. So rather than looking at another $60 every year or so, the expansions for Old Republic will be $20 and honestly provide quite equivalent content.

Ultimately, Rise of the Hutt Cartel isn’t groundbreaking, but it does provide an expanded universe to play in, with higher levels, respecced talent trees and all the accoutrement expected from an MMO expansion. It’s worth every penny considering other game content prices and the time most people sink into these games.

Oh, and before I go a couple words from the sit-down I had with the aforementioned Dark Lord. One, he didn’t say when, but the Cathar are coming. Two? He doesn’t know where the cookies are either.   Fortunately there are plenty of places in Austin to get some.


Rift – Harmony of the Planes Official Soundtrack Review

A videogame, in any form, is only as good as its parts. One of my favorite key parts in gaming is the score. RPGs have some of the best music on the planet and usually MMO’s rank high on my list of favorites. I’ve played Rift on and off since its release and I’ve listened to the score amidst the action. Now fans and players of Rift can listen to their favorite musical pieces with the release of the Rift- Harmony of the Planes Official Soundtrack.

This 17 track score composed by industry veteran, Inon Zur (Crysis, Dragon Age) is actually pretty decent with several pieces that stand out once you get to hear them outside of their confines. Inon Zur has been on my radar for a while now, as he has created the scores for some of my favorite games over the years and this time is no different. The soundtrack is actually broken into four parts. Rift’s title theme starts out the album with its energetic tones that make you want to play that fades into haunting vocals performed by Aubrey Ashburn who has worked with Inon Zur before. Her work on this score alone is one of the reasons I like it so much.

The other remaining tracks in this soundtrack are broken down into sets much like the game. You have four tracks devoted to the Guardians and their controlled zones like the majestic “Guardians Theme” heard while in Sanctum. As I’m a big fan of all things eerie I can’ miss the opportunity to mention the awesome dreary undertones of the “Gloamwood” track. On the opposite side of the faction line you have tracks that are more war themed in natured such as the “Defiant Theme” in Meridian. There is also the track for “Freemarch” that combined with drums with woodwinds to create a fierce melody with a small moment of calm at the end. The final set contains the scores for the contested areas of Telara including “Scarlet Gorge” which features upbeat tones mixed with woodwinds and chants and “Stillmoor” which makes me feel like in walking through a sea of calm before a big storm.

One of several things that I enjoy about the Rift- Harmony of the Planes Official Soundtrack is that each track features a variety of emotions within. You get to hear each one with their calmer parts as well as the conflicted moments clearly without any of the clutter of sound effects. As an album, the Rift- Harmony of the Planes Official Soundtrack definitely succeeds in giving the player or fans a better appreciation of the music that they may not have paid attention to in-game. The entire track list was hit or miss with me, but there were a few gems within that will remain in my daily playlists for a while to come.

You can check out the Rift- Harmony of the Planes Official Soundtrack on iTunes, Amazon, or visit your favorite online or brick and mortar store to pick up a copy of this album today.

Runner2 Review – Xbox 360

I’ll start off by admitting I never played the original Bit.Trip Runner. That’s not to say I was uninterested in the game when it came out, but I was content with simply admiring its pixelated art style and interesting rhythm based platforming from afar. With the release of Runner2, or Bit.Trip Presents: Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien if you want to call it by its proper name, I decided it was time to jump in and see what made this game unique, and why many of the Bit.Trip games have been successful and so well received.

At first, I was a little disappointed to find out Runner2 abandons the simplistic art style that has been a prominent part of the Bit.Trip games, but as it turns out the new polygonal models and backgrounds make the game look equally as fantastic as the previous game. However, it doesn’t completely forget where its artistic roots lie. There are twenty five bonus stages in the game that lead the player to alternate stages made to look less like the Atari era evoked in the original Bit.Trip Runner, and more like a version of many 16-bit games from the Super Nintendo and Genesis days. These levels provide a nice variation on the new art style, while being few enough to stay fresh after seeing couple dozen of them. But enough about the superficial parts of Runner2 that many who won’t play the game may notice, and onto the core of what actually makes the game.

In a world where the runner genre has become extremely popular in the smartphone games market, Runner2 does a great job of separating itself from the pack by proving that even simple games can have more depth and variety when on a proper console. It’s not that the smartphone games don’t have their place, but the controller in hand allows Runner2 to be a difficult, yet soothingly rhythmic game with a multitude of mechanics other than jumping and sliding. But before I get into that, let me explain what Runner2, and the runner genre in general, is to those who don’t know.

It is essentially a 2D platformer with one key difference from many others which is the lack of directional and speed control. The screen is constantly scrolling while Commander Video, the main character of the Runner2, runs at constant speed along with the scrolling. The only gameplay is to jump over, slide under, kick through, and block any obstacles that stand in the way of Commander Video and the end of the level. This may sound very simple and easy to play, but believe me, later levels are no easy task to complete.

They key to Runner2’s platforming and difficulty is the strict, fast paced timing to get through many obstacles in a row, especially if one is trying to acquire all the possible collectables within each level. At first, the only action available to the player jumping over obstacles, but the game quickly and effectively introduces its mechanics over the subsequent levels. With games like this which require precise timing while getting increasingly difficult in the later stages, I usually expect to hit a difficulty roadblock that frustrates me to the point of giving up, or at least stopping my pursuit of getting every collectable in a level. Games like Super Meat Boy or Trials are great examples of this. Eventually, those games get difficult to such a point where achieving the highest rank in every level is simply a goal I will give up on. Often times this happens sooner rather than later. Surprisingly, such a roadblock never came about in Runner2. In fact, I ended up getting perfects in all the levels I played by collecting all items in those levels. I consider this to be both bad and good.

Instead of ramping up the difficulty over time to a point where many people would have a tough time completing the game, Runner2 has easy, normal, and hard difficulties that can be changed at any time. This allows a player like myself to see all the content in the game without encountering much of a challenge, whereas other games simply bake the difficulty into the progression rather than making it a menu option. Now, this is obviously a design decision, and the point of this review is not to debate which design decision is superior, but I will say there are positives and negatives to either option.

One of these consequences is that the game does not force the player to become better at the game in order to complete it, rather it makes the player replay content on a harder difficulty to find a challenge. This makes the game seem much shorter than it otherwise could be due to each level actually having three different designs, two of which a player may never see while still being able to complete the game. Runner2 isn’t an inexplicably short game, but I did find the difficulty implementation combined with the length of the game leaving me wondering what could have been had they chosen to ramp up the difficulty with more levels rather than alternate versions of the ones already there.

However, my complaints about the difficulty curve of Runner2 may actually be a outstanding accomplishment due in part to one of its most significant differentiators from other games in the genre, which is the integration of music into the gameplay. The constant speed at which the screen and the character move allows the music to be an integral part of the experience which ultimately helps lessen the difficulty of the later stages due to rhythmic nature of the levels. There is always a musical cue upon each avoidance of an obstacle that coexists with the background music already playing. This means a series of tightly timed button presses aren’t a random string of events nonchalantly thrown into the game, instead they are purposefully placed within the music to help the player subconsciously predict the precise moment a button should be pressed. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Runner2 is not really a platformer at all. It’s just a rhythm game that translates rhythmic button presses into a series of visually interesting events. Mute the game and one can still play it, but arguably the most important part of the experience has disappeared. I would consider muting Runner2 as comparable to muting a game like Guitar Hero. Even though both are playable without sound, the experience and enjoyment is lessened while the difficulty is significantly increased.

Runner2 is a delightful game visually, musically, and mechanically. Even though it may seem fast paced and intense at times, it’s actually surprisingly relaxing to play due to its emphasis on using music to direct its soothingly rhythmic gameplay. I found Runner2 to be a positive and enjoyable experience. There was never a moment of awe or epiphany, but I never found myself bored or frustrated while playing. There’s something to be said for an experience that requires one’s full, uninterrupted attention while not simultaneously inducing a large amount of stress on the body or mind. There’s no doubt Runner2 is worth a look, especially considering the modest price of $15.

Reviewed by Dean Engle


Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Review – PlayStation 3

I have to admit, I am a little torn on my feelings about the latest Naruto gaming title, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. The gaming franchise based on the popular Naruto manga series has always seemed to place a greater emphasis more on story and presentation than it has on gameplay – which, given the subject matter, has not necessarily been a bad strategy. But .hack// developer CyberConnect2 along with Namco Bandai games have hit new levels of storytelling with ULTIMATE NINJA STORM 3 resulting in a release that is so overloaded with cutscenes and chatter segments, that it ends up playing more like a film than it does a game. And in this particular case – it gets to be a bit too much.

Few would argue that the Naruto story is not incredibly convoluted and often confusing – following the story of the jinchuriki, reluctant warrior humans who have had the blessing/curse of having been used as vessels to seal tailed beasts within them. While these jinchuriki share elements of strength and power of the sealed beasts contained within them, they also share the same hatred and fear the sealed beasts experience, leading to prejudice from the kinfolk they are protecting.

Through all of the seemingly nonsensical chitchat and the endless hours of cutscenes, ULTIMATE NINJA STORM 3 tells the storyline from the five kage summit and onto the fourth great ninja war. And when I say hours of cutscenes, I mean hours. It is the kind of stuff that Metal Gear fans have become accustomed to over the last decade, but even they would admit that when individual cutscenes stretch on for 10 to 15 minutes, or worse when cutscenes have to break for a 60 second load only to kick off another cutscene, it is going a little overboard. Thankfully the cutscenes can be skipped, but given that they constitute 60 to 80 percent of the total gameplay time, the gamer would be cheating themselves.

Thankfully, the action scenes are fantastic – at least when there is some action going on in the game. Seriously, so much of the play time is spent watching characters bob back and forth as text bubble upon text bubble appears onscreen, it is easy to forget that ULTIMATE NINJA STORM 3 is a fighting game at heart.

But in those moments where combat is suddenly the focus – ULTIMATE NINJA STORM 3 proves itself a surprisingly accessible and exhilarating fighting game. The hand-to-hand segments play out like a basic 3D arena fighter, with each character sporting a half of a dozen special attacks. But seasoned Naruto vets will attest that the special moves are truly special, with characters shape-shifting into their beast forms, or morphing about at blinding speeds.

Due to the relative ease of pulling off the combos, timing becomes paramount as each special move unleashes a slick (albeit lengthy) attack animation that is all but indefensible. Skilled players will quickly learn to mash out high damage attacks to get an immediate upper hand on the competition. This goes not only for the single player game, but also for the local and online multiplayer. No doubt, fighting game purists are sure to complain about the lack of necessary skill, but the ease in accessibility is sure to appeal to the tween- and teenage gamers that Naruto is aiming to please.

Visually, the game ranges from the breathtaking cinema-quality cutscenes, to the rather stark and unimpressive gameplay segments. Regardless of the disparate presentation quality within the game, the visual package as a whole fits in perfectly with the look and feel of the Naruto anime with familiar backgrounds, character designs, and animations.

The audio is taken straight from the anime, with all of the series voice actors lending a hand. Series vets like Crispin Freeman and Paul St. Peter deliver cinematic-quality lines during the cutscenes. Sadly, much of the in-game chatter is silent, making the lengthy scenes seem even more tedious.

Naruto ULTIMATE NINJA STORM 3 is an accessible and enjoyable fighting game that is only held back by the overly lengthy cutscenes. Fans of the series are sure to find hours of enjoyment in playing as their favorite characters and watching the complex storyline unravel – but those who are not familiar with the Naruto story will most likely find themselves utterly lost and longing for a battle to break the monotony.


Brütal Legend Review – PC

Tim Schafer is responsible for some of my favorite games in my 30 years of gaming including Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and the 1995 Full Throttle biker adventure – a game not all that dissimilar from the heavy metal masterpiece, Brutal Legend that released more than three years ago on console and has finally made its way to the PC. With a fresh coat of paint (enhanced graphics) and some cool new bonus content (free multiplayer maps) it’s time to check out this awesome hybrid game once again and see if it can stand the test of time…or at least three years.

While Brutal Legends slips into the Steam store with an almost stealth-like approach, back in 2009 the Internets were all atwitter with nonstop media hype for the game thanks to the participation of Jack Black and a handful of legendary rockers. The end result was something that could only be described as “the adventure game of the year”. And when you combine these vocal talents with a soundtrack that simply “kicks ass” you have a game that is as much fun to listen to as it is to play. Since then we have seen games like Borderlands that have borrowed on the large scale maps, open world design and mission structure, and stylized comic book graphics, but nothing can beat the signature charm and humor of Tim Schafer…especially when he’s writing for Jack Black.

While it’s not required that you have a fondness for heavy metal music or Jack Black, it’s certainly going to help if you do. After all, the title character, Eddie Riggs, looks, talks, and acts like Jack, and the two decades of metal is enough to melt PC’s sound system. The story starts off quite simple. Eddie is a roadie working for a lame band that is trying to blend tween tunes and metal without much success. Eddie dreams of a better time…the early 70’s, but fate has other plans in mind.
After a freak accident Eddie finds himself transported into a mystical heavy metal world – an afterlife fit for a roadie. Armed with only a giant axe and his guitar, he must fight the forces of evil and save this land from an ancient and dark power. Along the way he will make some friends, form a rebel alliance, build a hotrod roadster with machine guns and rocket launchers, and unlock the secrets of this ancient land born of metal.

Brutal Legend works on multiple levels and includes several genres of gameplay. You have a hack-n-slash combat game not unlike God of War or Devil May Cry. You can run around attacking with your axe using various combos or you can play your guitar to shock or burn your enemies from afar – this attack requires frequent cool downs but combos nicely with the axe.

Then you have a driving experience where you get to drive around shooting enemies with various mounted guns on the front, flame shooters on the side and a rear-mounted mine dropper. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car exploring this massive world comprised of three large maps. Exploration is key because there is a lot of stuff to find including 120 serpents statues, 32 Vista Landmarks, 11 Motor Forges, 13 Legend statues that reveal the important backstory, 107 songs, 24 lightning plug jumps, 12 solos that can be added to your guitar library, 47 upgrades, and 83 pieces of concept art.

The Motor Forges are important, as they serve as your drive-thru base of operations where you can purchase upgrades for your Deuce’s primary and secondary weapons, new paint jobs, or purchase new abilities for your axe or new strings for your guitar that bestow more powerful elemental attacks. You can even purchase special attacks and rock carvings so you can change the face of Mt. Rockmore. No matter which Motor Forge you enter, you always end up at the center of the molten world hosted by none other than Ozzy Osbourne himself.

So the game works a clever mix of driving, running, fighting, and even some side missions like turret defense, hunting, ambushes, and even some one-on-one racing with a toad-like demon. What might surprise some is that Brutal Legend also contains a bit of RTS thrown in – not much, only a few battles that make up only about 10% of the entire game experience. I’m not a huge fan of RTS games but Brutal Legend really makes these six or so levels really work.

First off, these RTS stages are all infused with a heavy dose of music culture. Fans are your resource, and you mine them by building merch booths over green geysers to direct the flow of fans into the stage. You then use these fans to build various combat units like head bangers, chicks with razor rifles, bass-playing bikers, and in later levels some seriously kick ass units. None of these levels are impossible, and they actually get quite fun trying to figure out some basic strategy balancing the number and type of units you can have on the field at any given time and maintaining a hold on your merch booths. In all but the first of these levels Eddie will sprout demon wings, allowing him to fly around out of the range of attack, where he can summon units and direct them with point and click commands.

If you enjoy this aspect of the game then you will likely be entertained with the multiplayer modes that allow for up to eight players to engage in heavy metal warfare on several unique maps using three nicely balanced factions, each with their own units. While I enjoyed the RTS gameplay within the confines of the game’s story, I really wasn’t compelled to play it standalone. It works and is amusing, but there are better RTS games out there if that is your thing. It’s still fun to mess around with but I seriously can’t see anyone spending more than 3-4 hours with this.

Perhaps my favorite element of the game are the visuals. While not technically mind-blowing, the artistic style rocked my world. I’m a big fan of the Heavy Metal movie and this was like seeing that world come to life in a video game where massive stone and metal monuments dot the landscape, towering temples serve as gateways to new lands, and sickly green swamps seamlessly morph into eerie blue bone yards or lush green forests. I’ve never seen so many creative ways to integrate skulls into the landscape, as rocks, parts of trees, or even the full moon.

A day and night cycle keeps the sky in constant flux with sunsets, raging storms with fiery comets or clear starry nights with streaking shooting stars. There is rain and snow and all sorts of terrain, and it blends together so seamlessly you almost don’t notice you have entered a new land. Also integrated into the landscapes are the hidden pick-ups like the dragon statues, legend statues, and dozens of buried metal that you can raise to unlock new songs for the soundtrack. And I loved the giant wall of speakers that sent out routine shockwaves of sound.

There are some amazing characters with excellent designs and textures and the assortment of monsters and creatures is by far some of the most metal-inspired creations of our time. You’ll get to encounter all of these creatures up close and personal if you choose to participate in the numerous hunting challenges. Gore is extreme with dismemberment and plenty of spraying blood, or you can turn off the gore if it gets too extreme.

The only thing better than the graphics is the audio, both in content and quality. I have to give awesome kudos to the stereo in the Druid Plow. It sounds great while you’re driving but when you hop out of the car you can still hear it just like you would hear a car stereo playing. You can even use this sound as a directional finder to locate your car as the sound pans around the 3D environment. It’s a great effect.

The voice acting is superb; especially considering most of these people are rockers first and actors second…or last. Jack Black is right in his element with this character and delivers his lines with deft perfection. Ozzy had me rolling on the floor with each and every line, and while there is a bit of profanity, you can choose to bleep it from the very first instance, which is often funnier than hearing the naughty words.

But we all know we came here to play Brutal Legend and rock out to the greatest game soundtrack in the history of games. The soundtrack plays out when you are in the Deuce, and you have full selection of available tracks. We’re talking over 100 songs from 75 legendary artists like Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Motorhead, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Scorpions, Slayer, and Whitesnake just to name a few. You can even go in and modify the playlist to disable songs you don’t like. As you uncover more metal throughout the game the track list grows and you use the D-pad to move forward and back through the library while you drive. RTS battle sequences will have their own music and should you choose to explore the land on foot, there is a mystical and quite compelling orchestral score that accompanies your adventure.

Brutal Legend is about a 10-12 hour game that will take you another 3-4 hours to fully finish if you are a completionist. I finished the story and the credits rolled around 80% leaving me with just a few dragon statues and some buried metal. While it is quite possible to rush this game and finish it in 5-7 hours you would have to bypass the side missions and that is not recommended since they provide Fire Tributes (currency) used for upgrades, as well as power-ups for your guitar and axe.
There is a nice selection of humorously named Achievements that reward you for finishing the various chapters as well as the entire game and for locating all the music, dragons, legends, and other collectibles and purchasing all the upgrades. I typically don’t like hours of fetch questing but the soundtrack in Brutal Legend makes it quite enjoyable, like a road trip with kick ass tunes. There are also a handful of multiplayer achievements for winning online matches.

I can’t think of too many negative things to say about Brutal Legend. Sometimes I got annoyed that Eddie couldn’t jump but if I needed to go somewhere the landscape would slope so I could get there. I got stuck a few times in the landscape but summoning the Deuce popped me out of the hillside and into my car. I found it was often too easy to drive blindly over a cliff but if you hit Y fast enough you jump back to land and only your car falls into the ocean.

Brutal Legend was an amazing game in 2009 and it was just a fun and refreshing to play again in 2013. If you love heavy metal, Jack Black, Tim Schafer or any combination of these elements then this is a must-own adventure game infused with a thoughtful balance of action, combat, and real-time strategy. The story is epic, the landscapes are magical, and the humor is consistently present throughout the entire game from start to finish. This is heavy metal heaven! Buy it today and rock on…


Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Model 1512 Review

Last year we reviewed a few video capture devices including the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition and the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro. Both devices had their pros and cons and ultimately delivered on their core promise – to capture gameplay in 1080p HD – but there is always room for improvement, which leads us to today’s review for the new Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Model 1512. At first glance there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of difference between this new PVR and the Gaming Edition we tested last year aside from some new packaging and a light blue recording stripe instead of the “Xbox green” glow from before. I would have to look deeper to find the true differences.

While the new Model 1512 supports and records video from all your favorite gaming devices, it now adds features targeted for home media users who want to use this device (and a connected PC) as a DVR to record broadcast TV. Obviously, for those with built-in DVR capabilities in their current cable or satellite boxes, this is a superfluous feature, so if game capture is all you care about then the Gaming Edition is still your best choice. The HD PVR 2 includes an IR blaster to connect the device to your set-top box and also includes WinTV 7.2, which is fully compatible with Windows 7 and 8 Media Center.

In our reviews last year the Roxio had one thing going for it that Hauppauge couldn’t match, but that has been resolved with the inclusion of StreamEez; new software that allows you to easily live stream your video game play directly to Twitch or Ustream. Provided you have the upstream bandwidth to support it, you can now share your best gaming sessions live with a worldwide audience. This, combined with the TV support is more than worth the $10 increase in price.

Unboxing the HD PVR 2 reveals a plethora of cables, the small black-box recorder, and the installation disc along with some fold-out instructions. Before installing the software you first need to connect the PVR 2 to your PC as well as insert it into the video feed between your source device and your TV. With the exception of the PlayStation 3, this is an easy and fast process that involves unplugging the HDMI cable from the back of your PC, Xbox, or Wii U and plugging it into the Video Out on the PVR 2. Use one of the included HDMI cables that came in the box to connect the source device to the Video In, plug in the power supply, and you are ready to rock and roll. Those who wish to record from the PS3 will need to use the provided component cables, which may require some additional tweaking in your PS3 configuration if you were already using HDMI. You’ll need to go into your video settings inside the PS3 menu bar and switch to component video output. It’s an annoying extra step, but it’s also the only way around Sony’s HDCP protection so you cannot record Blu-ray movies.

Software installation is just as easy. Insert the disc and run the setup program to install the drivers and the various apps. Once completed. You can also save yourself some time by skipping the CD installation step and going straight to the Hauppauge website where you will almost certainly find newer drivers and updated programs in an updated download pack. With the latest software installed and the device hooked into your system you are ready to record.

The first thing I tried was the WinTV software even though I have yet to use more than 20% of my DirecTV’s 2tb storage space. I admit, I didn’t mess with the IR blaster cable but rather just inserted the PVR 2 into the HDMI path between my box and my TV. Once connected, I was able to easily record anything on my TV using the intuitive software or the even more accessible record button on the top corner of the PVR 2. You can control the format and bitrate of the recordings to balance quality versus size – obviously 1080p will take a lot more space than 720p. You can also pick the encoding type; anything from MP4 and TS formats to H.264, the same format used for Blu-ray discs. This is especially useful if you have a Blu-ray burner since the ArcSoft ShowBiz app easily lets you compile and burn your recordings to DVD or Blu-ray.

Now it was time to game. I removed the PVR 2 from my DirecTV video path and connected it into my Xbox 360 then fired up ShowBiz and went into capture mode. As I noticed in the Gaming Edition, there was a slight delay in what I was seeing and hearing on the PC versus the actual console, so you’ll want to mute the PC sound to avoid a delay feedback while gaming. Again, you’ll want to find the perfect balance of quality versus size while trying to avoid any ghosting effects at lower settings. You’ll find some useful tips in the forums on the Hauppauge website. Another nice touch is the Personal Logo Insert that allows you to brand your videos and live streams. This is especially nice if you are starting you own regular content channel and want to stamp your ID directly onto your work.

System requirements for using the PVR 2 are surprisingly modest, and my $600 Asus laptop was perfect for the job. You only need a 3.0 GHz single-core or a 2.0 GHz multi-core processor running Windows 8, 7, Vista, or XP (SP3) with 512MB RAM. Honestly, you’ll want at least twice that much RAM and a nice fast hard drive or even better, an SSD drive, if you want to do any serious editing or post-production work on your videos. Mac users can also use the HD PVR 2 but they will have to download third-party apps like HDPVRCapture or Capture4ME.

I captured video for four recently released games using the new HD PVR 2, which you can view here.

The ShowBiz software is easy to use, allowing you to trim segments, combine multiple clips, and insert various effects, before rendering out your final video. My biggest complaint (which was also an issue on the Gaming Edition) is that ShowBiz limits your YouTube uploads to 15 minutes even if you have an account that supports longer videos. This annoying inconvenience can be easily overcome by simply uploading your videos directly to YouTube outside the software. Videos, especially 1080p videos, can get quite large and take considerable time to upload and process. The four videos I captured for this review took over 1100 minutes combined to get them posted to YouTube.

The Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Model 1512 builds upon the core functionality of the Gaming Edition PVR while adding some potentially useful TV capture features for those with small (or no) DVR’s, and even allows you to create your own DVD or Blu-ray library from those recordings. For those looking to become the next great gaming celebrity, you can now live stream your gameplay sessions and seek fame and fortune on Twitch or Ustream. Personally, I found the HD recording process, functionality of the included software, and resulting video quality unrivaled by any other similar product out of the box, and I look forward to featuring much more HD video content here at Game Chronicles, both as part of our reviews and in our Live Gameplay Video channel.

Stay tuned…


Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review – PlayStation Vita

If you’re the proud owner of a PS3 then you’ve probably already become familiar with the inFamous franchise by developer Sucker Punch. What you may not know is that Sucker Punch first created one of Sony’s lesser known but certainly not forgotten mascots, Sly Cooper. The “infamous” raccoon master thief was my personal favorite during the PS2 generation and I’ve been dying to play a next-gen version for some time now. Developer Sanzaru Games has taken up the mantle where Sucker Punch left off giving us at least one more grand heist with the Ringtail, with the release of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the PlayStation Vita.

Now I’m no stranger to Sanzaru’s work as I’ve already burned countless hours into their HD treatment of the Sly Cooper franchise in “The Sly Collection” so I was very interested to see their take on my favorite masked thief, with or without his really bad Italian accent. In this new tale, Sly has “given” up his criminal ways to spend time with his series long love interest, Inspector Carmelita Montoya Fox. Accomplishing this by feigning amnesia, the “former’ master thief still itches to pull off another heist while romancing the Interpol agent he so loves. But once a thief always a thief and Sly comes from a long line of the best thieves history has ever seen.

Only Sly is dragged into a mess that involves his ancestors as pages of the Thievius Raccoonus start to lose their knowledge. Sly and his long time friends, Bentley the genius turtle in the wheelchair and Murray, the big pink hippo that can put away food like he does his enemies, by the fistful. The Sly franchise has always had some very interesting locales across the world, but this time the Cooper Gang has to go back in time to find and fix what’s causing the disappearing knowledge from Sly’s family book. The first stop via their time traveling Del…um van is Feudal Japan where they encounter Rioichi, Sushi master and master ninja in prison.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time takes a lot of cues from Sly 2 in both game design and level progression. Once you get past the tutorial in Paris, you enter a new hub world where you start out gaining recon info and completing missions utilizing each member of the Cooper Gang. The difference this time around is that in each world, be it the Wild West or Medieval England, contains one of Sly’s ancestors. This time you actually get to play as one of the fabled Coopers, instead of just hearing about them. The unique thing about each Cooper is that they are not just another carbon copy clone of Sly. For instance Rioichi can Ninja Spire jump great distances while the Arabian Salim Al-Kupar can do the Climbing Cobra which allows him to quickly ascend poles after making a few Snake related jokes along the way.

Sly’s family tree isn’t the only ones that get unique abilities in Thieves in Time. Sly gains some unique abilities himself by gaining costumes in each time period via missions to not only blend in but help Sly through future and past time periods. Each costume has a very precise purpose in their given period but they have other uses. For instance the Archer costume gained late in the game can be used back in other time periods, Feudal Japan for instance, to gain access to some of the trickier collectibles hidden far outside of Sly’s natural capabilities and reach. There are even doors that will only open if you have the matching costume. The costumes could have easily become a cheap gimmick but Sanzaru really thought things through to a remarkable effect.

There is one drawback that I have to mention on the Vita version though. Switching back and forth from costumes is done by hitting a designated icon on the front touchscreen and sometimes I found that it doesn’t always trigger correctly if you’re even the slightest bit off. That coupled with some of the costumes’ delays, particularly the Samurai suit, could send Sly into an early grave quite easily. The suit’s horrible delay makes it almost but not impossible to not take damage from El Jefe in the first boss fight of the game. That’s a trophy by the way. That aside most of the others are quite effective when needed especially in the boss fights of their respected eras.

There are two other problems that have always plagued the Sly franchise over the years and sadly Thieves in Time is no exception. Those pachyderms in the room are none other than the camera angles and controls. For the most part Thieves in Time features fairly accurate and responsive controls but there are some mini games like the archery contest in England that does not function too well with the short nubs. I beat it after several attempts but it was frustrating to say the least. I also ran into a few bad camera angles that spelled Sly’s demise more than once much to my displeasure while on poles or in elevated positions. Compared to the PS3 version, Thieves in Time also suffers from really long load times even with the digital download version on the Vita.

The only explanation for the long load times that I can come up with is the complexity of each of the hub worlds. While at first glance these worlds might appear simple in nature that notion will hastily be dashed forthwith when you’re attempting to find your way back to the hideout under a time limit with a nicked treasure on your persons. It’s not easy at first until you learn the fastest routes as many of the treasures are within range of several strategic paths. There is a lot to take in when navigating these beautifully created worlds both in and out of the missions. You’ll see everything from waterfalls and desert canyons to a Big Top to end all Big Tops. Each is filled with their own traps and hidden secrets for the ever vigilant to avoid and seek out.

The Vita version does lack some of the polish of the PS3 version, as seen in some of the in-game cut scenes where the character models suffer some clipping issues. The locales featured in Thieves in Time however are no less stunning in the cel-shaded art style chosen for this release. The Sly series always did have a comic style presentation to it and Sanzaru did an amazing job capturing the visual essence of Sly and the Gang and the world they inhabit. The main cast also received a much needed visual upgrade. None is more noticeable than the fur textures on Sly, Carmelita and Sly’s ancestors. Gone is the sleek fur and smooth clothing, now replaced by multilayered fur and clothing that actually looks lived in.

The areas that never fail to entertain are the vocal and music departments of the Sly franchise. Returning to deliver an amazing score is Peter McConnell, composer for both Sly 2 and 3, who has once again created a soundtrack that I could listen to all day long. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time features the use of a wide variety of musical instruments and themes. You’ll hear everything from guitars and drums to trumpets and piano pieces as well as the faintest use of xylophones and harps. Sly’s character has always given off an air of sophistication, ala James Bond, which can be heard during the more spy/stealth moments in the Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. The soundtrack for Thieves in Time covers a wide range of time periods and for this it has an almost timeless quality that will survive long after players have finished the game.

A Sly Cooper game wouldn’t be complete without its stellar voice cast and comical conversations. Kevin Miller, Matt Olson and Chris Murphy return in this fourth adventure to reprise their respected roles as Sly, Bentley and Murray. While other recurring characters have had different voice actors over the years these three gentlemen have been the backbone of the Sly Cooper legacy since the beginning. They definitely brought their A-game once again to seal this game as probably my favorite Sly to date with plenty of humor and pop culture references.

As I briefly mentioned above there are treasures to collect to fatten Sly and the Gang’s pockets with coin but that’s not even the half of it. Besides being a cash source to spend on character abilities, like the very useful ability to sprint without enemies hearing you, some of the treasures actually provide you with permanent bonuses. Among these is the ability to not take damage when falling in water which really helps as it stops treasures from being reset in the middle of a mad dash back to base after a misstep. The elusive clue bottles make a return after being absent from Sly 3, as well as the vault safes that often contain more treasures like a certain piece that reveals the location of every bottle the hub map. In each chapter there are 30 of these things to find but that’s not near as bad as the added Sly Masks hidden both out in the hub worlds and inside missions. There are 60 of these that reward the player with cool unlocks at set intervals including a super special weapon that long time PlayStation owners will be sure to recognize if they make it that far.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time may suffer from a few problems on the Vita but this version does have a few tricks up its sleeves to make the purchase worthwhile. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time does make use of the motion sensor to complete several mini games to great effect unless you’re terrible at that sort of thing. They even incorporate it into firing arrows by allowing you to steer a fired arrow to mounted targets which was cool. One of the best things about Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is that it is part of Sony’s Cross-Buy program. While I’ve cared little for this in the past Sly is the first game to utilize the Cross-Buy feature to great benefit.

If you picked up a copy of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for PS3, digital or retail, you instantly get the Vita version for the low price of…FREE. Sadly it doesn’t work the other way around. The reason I think Thieves in Time makes the best use of this program is due to the Cross-Save feature and the AR Treasures mode. If you don’t own both versions then this will be a bust for you but for those that do, you’re in for a treat. Players can start their game on the Vita and at anytime while under their local Wi-Fi network upload their current save file to cloud storage and pick up where they left off on their PS3 console after a quick download of the save file. This works both ways, however there are some noticeable tweaks in gameplay that I’ve ran into between the two versions, like in the archery event.

Another nice touch is that all Trophies earned in either version are instantly unlocked if you use the Cross-Save feature. The AR Treasures Mode actually aids players while playing the PS3 version with a little setup required. By activating this mode and aiming your Vita at your TV screen you can see the approximate location of any treasures, mask or bottles that you’re having a hard time locating as long as you’re looking in the right direction with the press of a button.

As a long time and huge fan of the Sly Cooper franchise I couldn’t wait to get a next-gen version of Sly. After spending countless hours with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the Vita, I have to say that I’m glad the wait was actually worth it. The story is enjoyable, the switch of locales and characters keeps the game fresh and despite the long load times this game is 100% Cooper. The Vita has desperately needed another good release to its somewhat slim library and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time couldn’t have come at a better time. If you like Sly Cooper and own a Vita then you owe it to yourself to pickup Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time today.