Jan 28, 2016

Life is Strange Impressions


I don't believe in reviewing episodic content for how it stands on its own when it comes to gaming - There's either not enough content to really feel like you've experienced much, or each episode slightly differs from the one before it, generally creating a different foundation for the next. Even if new gameplay mechanics aren't introduced, it's important to see how the story and gameplay mechanics pan-out before reaching a final verdict. With that said, I still think it's possible to give minor impressions, so that's what I'll be doing for Life is Strange: Episode One.

The obvious comparison will be to Telltale's catalogue of recent success. Whether it be The Walking Dead or Tales From the Borderlands, Telltale has nailed it as far as interactive storytelling goes. However, if the first episode of Life is Strange is any indication, they're going to need to start playing catch up real soon.

The first thing of note is just how nice Life is Strange is to look at. It's colorful, and the game world feels like you're on an actual school campus, with corny posters in some corners and graffiti in others. There's different "cliques" that each feel unique, but blend into the setting as they should. The game itself feels polished - something you may not get from other games in the same interactive storytelling genre.

There is a lot here that feels like you've been there before. Playing as Max, a young girl with a passion for photography, you'll interact with various characters and inanimate objects, all while making some "tough" choices along the way that let you know they'll have consequences. Being the first episode, you obviously don't know what these consequences are, and they seem extremely lighthearted when you make them, which is why I don't think a review is entirely possible. I think some of them have potential to loom large - and until those moments arrive, I won't know if Life is Strange succeeded or failed.

The biggest difference between Life is Strange and its counterparts is the rewinding mechanic. After having a weird vision of sorts, Max gains the ability to rewind time. You'll use it to save a life, "accidentally" ruin a popular girl's day, among other things. Most notably, it allows you to alter conversations that you have with people if you make the wrong choices, or say the wrong things. There is no timer here. It gives you flexibility on what you say and don't, and really makes you feel like your choices matter more because of it.

The story doesn't have much of a chance to get rolling here, but it creates a foundation that Blackwell Academy isn't everything it seems, and recreates a friendship with Chloe, one of Max's old friends. You get a small glimpse into school life, and Chloe's life, but not much else. I'm hoping episode two will be story heavy to make me care about the characters and what's to come afterwards. So far, I've enjoyed my time with the game, and I can say that I'll be back for another episode at least.

*From here on out, I'll probably write some small impressions on each episode, and maybe a real review once I've finished the entire game.



Jul 6, 2015

Years Later

It's been a long time since I've sat down and wrote about video games. The primary reason was that I found writing reviews as detrimental to the positive "escape" they offered me. The more I wrote about them, the less I found myself enjoying them as a hobby. It started to feel like work, which led to some serious disconnect emotionally, and I really wanted to get that back.

I wrote for XBLA Fans for a couple years, not actively, but off and on. I wrote reviews on various websites, and have realized - the idea of writing a modern review just doesn't work anymore. With how easy it is to access information, writing ten paragraphs just to get to the point is going to be a thing of the past. I may post a couple on here going forward that highlight the good/bad, and I may not. I would love to use Upload Studio on Xbox One to make short reviews, so that's something I'm hoping to get into soon. Either way, I'll pop on here from time to time to post something. Might as well!

Getting back into writing on a regular basis is something I need to do, and plan to.

Feb 27, 2013

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t need an introduction. Being called the “most anticipated game of the decade” may somehow even be an understatement, and nothing less was expected after the praise and success of Call of Duty 4. As more people played CoD4, the fan base grew, and reached sales numbers that were astronomical in the video game industry. With its excellent presentation, great campaign, and robust multiplayer, fans saw this as the pinnacle of First Person Shooters. The story telling and voice acting were top notch. The graphics and sound blew the competition away… but could Infinity Ward really repeat or top the success of CoD 4 with Modern Warfare 2? They just may have.

Modern Warfare 2 is a little different from other games in the series in that right from the main menu, the game is separated into three different parts - Campaign, Special Ops, and Multiplayer. You can tell this was done deliberately, almost as if they understand that everyone is buying the game for a different reason. However, it makes the game almost feel like three separate products, rather than one with all of these things included. Luckily for us, they are all included, but they do all have different feels and enjoyment levels to them depending on your personal preference. One of the things Call of Duty games always receive acclaim for is the campaign mode. Call of Duty 4’s campaign was about as close to perfect as you can get in an FPS, where it seemed like every little detail was polished and double checked just to make sure it was done right. From the beginning of the opening mission to the ending of the game, it did a great job of drawing you in. The biggest reason for this was the pacing; it seemed like every level flowed fluidly into the next, and the action was spread out to a perfect extent. Combining this with an actual story that had substance (doesn’t happen often in FPS’s!), excellent graphics, sound, and voice acting, there wasn’t much to not love. The length was just right, and the game was either a perfect challenge, or downright brutal on veteran difficulty. There was something for every fan of FPS’s to enjoy and then some. That’s why when it came to Modern Warfare 2, I was actually looking forward to it more to continue the story than I was to play multiplayer.

Infinity Ward wasted no time at the beginning of Modern Warfare 2’s campaign, starting it off action heavy right from the beginning. Much like the first game, you have the timed run through of a refresher course, which is really just a tutorial disguised as pure gameplay. More games need to learn to make the tutorials feel integrated into the game instead of alienating it, so developers, take notes. From here, the story picks up just like you’d expect from CoD4. After the action heavy level, it’s followed by a more stealth level, and this seems to hold true throughout most of the game. This tends to depend on the character you play as, and just like in CoD4, you will be switching between two characters; Roach and Ramirez. Even while juggling between the two characters, different areas, and different countries, the levels are perfectly balanced between take cover and shoot, run and gun, and stealth. While the levels themselves may be paced very well, the overall campaign in total isn’t. There are quite a few boring missions to be had, and one or two levels that I would call the worst out of both Modern Warfare games.

The pacing in Modern Warfare 2 also suffers because of the way it’s presented at the beginning of the game. Being a direct sequel, I can’t really go into plot points without spoiling anything, but there is a specific mission I’m going to talk about here. If you are trying to avoid any and all spoilers, then skip past the rest of this paragraph. This mission is fairly close to the beginning of the game, and it’s called “No Russian”. This was the controversial scene that leaked prior to release and I’m sure many did their best to avoid the spoilers and didn’t read about it. Well, there is a specific reason the game asks you twice upon booting up if you’d be offended by it, or not. “No Russian” has to do with you playing as an undercover American agent working alongside the main terrorist threat, Makarov. I won’t spoil the importance to the story, but the entire mission has to do with Makarov and his men (including you) walking through an airport killing hundreds of innocent civilians. Since you are undercover, you can’t do anything about it aside from having the option to not join in on the shooting. The entire level is essentially in slow motion at walking speed, as you watch innocent people get tortured. Hm. While it does set up the story for Modern Warfare 2 from here on out, I personally think it failed completely at making a point. It seems like Infinity Ward wants to prove that video games can be like movies, and shouldn’t be subject to harsher criticism… but this wasn’t the way to go about it. I wasn’t offended by it in any way; I was more annoyed that they would choose a controversial road, as if a game like this really needed any more publicity. Why not give players the option to blow their own cover? They could find a way to make the mission end while continuing the story in the same way, so why not put it in the player’s hands? I will also go as far as saying that most of the levels following this scene even bring the adrenaline carried from the beginning to a screeching halt. Aside from one or two, the following few missions are extremely boring or generic, and the game really doesn’t pick back up until halfway through Act II.

The story of Modern Warfare 2 is separated into 18 missions, spanning three acts. Act III is where Modern Warfare 2 really shines, as all seven missions are good enough to not put the controller down for. They salvage the slower parts of the campaign and make the whole game feel worth it. There is no game in recent memory that finished strong enough to overlook its shortcomings, but Modern Warfare 2 nailed it. They are on par, if not better than the best missions in CoD4, and that’s saying something. They aren’t “All Ghillied Up” epic, but they come pretty damn close.

Modern Warfare 2 does have some shortcomings that shouldn’t be overlooked, though. First and foremost, you will be lucky if the campaign breaks the 4-5 hour mark on regular difficulty. It took me roughly 8-9 hours to complete the game on Veteran, whereas I feel like some individual levels in CoD4 took me that long. The levels here do feel like bite sized areas compared to what you might remember, so keep that in mind. It doesn’t take away from how great the second half of the game is, but it does takes away from the complete package. Fortunately, that blow is softened by the inclusion of Special Ops mode, which we will get to later. Other issues are just things that should be included in a game like this at this point. The environments still aren’t as destructible as they should be. If I can kill people by shooting through walls, why can’t I also blow them up? I don’t need full destruction, but a little would be nice. Car explosions and window breaking have been around since N64, I think it’s time we move on to bigger and better things. This leads into the other issue, which is how scripted the game is. I understand that it adds to the cinematic and movie-like feel, but they could at least leave players some choices, like my idea for the “No Russian” mission. I 100% prefer games that have some type of linear fashion, but there should be SOMETHING I have control over. I feel like some of the buildings and things can’t be blown up, just because it would ruin the scripting. Either way, most of these complaints, aside from length, are minor in the scope of the whole picture.

Special Ops can be best described as an arcade mode. It takes specific parts from various missions in the campaign and creates a goal, from killing all the enemies on a map, defending a point for a certain amount of waves, breaching, reaching a goal in time, racing, etc. There really is every type of mission you can imagine, and the best part is that you can play them all solo or co-op. There are over 20 missions in total, and you earn stars depending on the difficulty you play on. Some of these are more challenging on Veteran than anything in the campaign, and feel like they add more to the single player itself. While it doesn’t totally make up for the single player length, it does provide a few more hours of gameplay in an original and fun way.

The reason these other modes are short probably has to do with the incredibly polished multiplayer. Infinity Ward has gone all-out to improve upon CoD4’s multiplayer, and from what I’ve played they seem to have done a great job. I wasn’t an active online player on CoD4, but with Modern Warfare 2, I get hooked a bit more than I did before. The overall gameplay really hasn’t changed at all, but the changes to the perk system seem to have ironed out a few of the issues that existed previously. It gives the player complete control over which perks suit them best (essentially a class system) and rewards them with killstreak items that they choose to use. I also love the addition of third-person mode, because it changes things up in those moments where I start to get bored. While boredom still sets in, I think it comes down to my personal preference of what I look for in a multiplayer game. The only major complaint I’ve had with it so far is that the maps aren’t nearly as fun as the CoD4 maps, but this is something that I'll hopefully get over the more I play. 


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is one of the few games that has managed to live up to the hype it created. The game is a complete package, with a few minor complaints that hardly spoil the experience. To those who were only buying for single player - be wary. It is extremely short, but Special Ops mode makes up for quite a bit of what it is lacking. The single player has a few low points, but fades them out with how incredible the high points are. The multiplayer has taken another leap forward to what other FPS’s can only hope to reach, whether you think it’s for the gameplay, or the ranking and unlock system. While Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t do a ton to upgrade itself over CoD4, the overall package is still highly polished and worth a purchase.

Positives
+ Second half of the campaign is excellent
+ Voice acting, Sound, Presentation, Graphics.
+ Special Ops Mode adds to the overall depth of the Call of Duty franchise, and strengthens the shortcomings of the single player campaign.
+ Upgrades to multiplayer to give the player more control.

Negatives
- Campaign length is extremely short. (4-5 hours on regular difficulty)
- No major upgrades over previous versions to make it stand out.
- Could be a bit less scripted.


Grade - A-

Shadow Complex Review

Most game reviews require a long explanation before you conclude how you feel about it. I’m going to skip the formalities to tell you to stop reading this and go buy Shadow Complex. Not only is it one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games to date, but easily one of the top to come out this year. For those who aren’t so easily convinced, I suppose I can give you a proper rundown and review of the game. Just know it’s against my will!

Shadow Complex has been heavily hyped and previewed as the evolution of the Metriod/Castlevania genre. Throw in a little bit of Contra inspiration and that really is exactly what you’ve got here. If you aren’t familiar with the genre, it’s based on exploring the world you are in and upgrading your weapons and abilities to reach new areas in that world. Most doors can only be opened by certain weapons, so the genre does require quite a bit of back tracking to find the items and upgrades you need. A large focus is also placed on the ability to go where you want, when you want. If you can find a way to do it, you can create your own path to the end, with as little or as many of the upgrades and abilities that you want. It’s really all up to you. At the beginning you’ll only be able to jump short distances and have a pistol at your disposal, and by the end you are triple jumping and one-shotting enemies with powerful weapons. The pacing in which you unlock new abilities and weapons is handled well, and adds to the overall depth of Shadow Complex.

You play the game as Jason Fleming, and start outside of some caves you are about to explore with your girlfriend, Claire. She goes on ahead of you and manages to get kidnapped by some strange soldiers. While you proceed to find her, you discover a secret military base, and it’s up to you to figure out where they took her, and what is going on. It’s based on a novel by Orson Scott Card, so the story is comprehensive, but you can tell they want the focus to be gameplay. The game is played in 2.5D, which means while most aspects are on a 2D plane, they have also incorporated the ability to shoot into the background in certain sections. Controls are handled fairly well, but some issues do arise. Most controls are what you’d expect, but aiming in 2D is handled by the right stick. It works for the most part, but when the action requires you to shoot into the background, the game feels awkward. It mostly aims itself, but if the game decides to aim at the person in front of you, it seems like you have no precise way to kill the enemies that are back there. On normal difficulty it wasn’t much of a problem, but as you venture to harder difficulties, you NEED the ability to precisely aim. Shadow Complex doesn’t completely offer that.

The main point to take from the above paragraph is that you likely will try out the harder difficulties. Shadow Complex has an incredible amount of replayability, and as soon as I finished the game, I moved right onto the next difficulty to go through it again… well, after I collected 100% of the items. The game is a blast, and finding every item was as fun as it is to play with the minimum amount of them. While it does only take 5-6 hours to complete the main story, you will add a ton of more time when you go back to collect everything, and on the following playthroughs. If you aren’t the type to replay a game, Shadow Complex even offers challenge rooms that start off really simple, but do get very challenging by the end. Nothing ground breaking, but a nice diversion, nonetheless.

In most areas, Shadow Complex puts other arcade games to shame. It holds its own with most retail games graphically, the voice acting is good, and the gameplay is almost unmatched by a lot of full-priced 3D games. This is another example of video games being fun, and the focus being on replayability. Games tend to focus on adding a bunch of unnecessary content, so that gamers don’t complain about length, but I find that argument to be void most of the time. If you make your game fun and good enough, you won’t hear the complaints. Shadow Complex is one of the games that doesn’t deserve any.

Positives
+ Big, open world to explore, where you really can reach and go wherever you think you should be able to.
+ Some excellent weapons and abilities that I don’t want to spoil here.
+ On par with retail games, and it only comes in at $15. Can’t beat that.
+ Replayability is through the roof.
+ The proper evolution of the Metroid/Castlevania genre.

Negatives
- Controls for shooting could have taken more time to iron out.
- Some graphical glitches, and on rare occasions, game breaking ones. There were two separate times I got stuck and had to restart. Not a huge deal, but it’s there.


Grade – A-

NHL 2010 Quick Review

Up until last year, hockey games hadn’t been revolutionized legitimately since the original releases almost 20 years ago. Fast forward to 2008, and we finally had the first excellent hockey game in years. The EA team decided that instead of classic controls, they would make the right analog stick control your stick in the game, and you’d use it for dekeing out opponents and aiming your shots correctly. It has a harsh learning curve, but gives you so much control that everything feels overwhelmingly rewarding when you pull it off. With the focus being on perfecting the controls in NHL 09, it allowed a few minor annoyances to make it into the final product. With NHL 2010, EA was looking to polish those issues, and push the envelope even further.

The biggest new feature is called “board play”. Now instead of being able to always escape down the sides, you can hold players up against the boards and fight for the puck like you’d see in the NHL. It makes the game feel much more authentic, and allows for better strategizing on both sides of the puck. In NHL 09, there was no real option for dumping the puck. If you threw it into the opponent’s zone and chased it, odds were they were already going to be on the offensive. In NHL 2010, this is now an offensive option. Once the puck is thrown into the opponent’s zone, you can fight for the puck along the boards and potentially take control. Fighting has also received a complete overhaul and is now done in the first-person perspective. Think the controls of the Fight Night franchise… only that it’s completely chaotic, because NHL fights are generally over before they start. Add these two big changes to all of the little tweaks, and the additions to NHL 2010 have added loads of authenticity.

There are still a ton of game modes to be found, with a few new ones. “Battle for the Cup” mode shows off the enhanced crowd animations and interactions, and you can still find all of the modes from NHL 2009. The online has been polished and received a bit of a change in the form of EA Sports Hockey League. You can gather a bunch of friends, and you are placed in monthly leagues and can compete with other people around the world. While the idea is great, it’s a bit annoying. Other teams won’t accept challenges most of the time and you just end up spending time in the lobby instead of ever playing a game. It was a big enough problem that I eventually just decided to stick to versus play, and ignore it altogether.

NHL 2010 isn’t a huge jump over last year’s version, but with a few additions and a good amount of polish, it is better and more than just an “upgrade” like most sports games tend to be. Unfortunately, hockey is an under-appreciated sport, and hopefully it doesn’t mean the wonderful effort found here will be under-appreciated as well. NHL 09 was quite the success for EA. Not only was it well received by fans, but it won several sports game of the year awards. NHL 2010 deserves even more praise, and not only is it the best sports game this year… it’s good enough to be mentioned with the best games of 2010, period.

Buy If:
+ You are a hockey fan. This is a very authentic experience and shouldn't be missed if you like hockey.
+ You are a fan of sports in general. Even if you don't find yourself following hockey, the video games are usually fun. Add this to the rewarding feeling that NHL 2010 gives you and it's sure to make great moments between friends.
+ You like good, polished games with original ideas. Even if neither of the above options apply to you, this game is good enough to maybe be fun anyways.

Don't Buy If:
- You really don't like sports.
- You don't like games with a learning curve. This game has a very harsh learning curve, but man is it rewarding. You can put on classic controls if needed, however.


Grade - A-

Bubble Bobble Neo Review

Like many games on the Xbox Live Arcade, nostalgia plays an important role on whether or not people purchase a game that’s released. Bubble Bobble is no different. Originally released in 1986, Bubble Bobble holds special memories for me. It was the first video game I ever played, and I used to play it with my Nana all the time when I was really young. It was my first adventure into Co-op, and it’s a game I’ve always had in my collection. I’ve honestly played through it more times than I can remember. Naturally, hearing that it was coming out made me really excited, to the point where I stayed up until it was released early Wednesday morning. I probably should have gotten a little extra sleep instead.

For those who have never played Bubble Bobble, the concept is simple. You play as Bub or Bob, depending on which player you are, and the whole purpose is to clear the screen of enemies. To kill the enemies you have to trap them inside of the bubbles that your character can shoot. After you trap them you have to jump on the bubble, or into it to pop them. You also have the ability to shoot bubbles that you can bounce off of to reach other parts of a level. After you kill an enemy they turn into food and other items that you can pick up for points. That’s really all there is to it. Weirdly enough, it’s extremely addicting, like most old school games. Simplicity is sometimes a wonderful thing, and this is a perfect example. The game takes place over 100 levels, with a good difficulty curve and great level design.

With the Xbox Live Arcade version, Taito decided to make the graphics more modern, and changed the look to be a bit more 3D. They aren’t great, and the sprites are much better, but it doesn’t detract from the game in any way. What does take away from Bubble Bobble Neo are the weird gameplay changes. For one, you can no longer blow a bubble in a very small space and use it to bounce out of said space. This is extremely frustrating in some areas, and on one level the space you are in is just big enough to allow it, but it takes perfect timing and lots of patience. They also removed the ability to go from the top of the screen to the bottom by bouncing on the bubbles that are at the top with you. This cancause you to get stuck at the top of some levels, with no way out until you die. It doesn’t make any sense.

Also included with the port of the original is the all new Arrange mode. Arrange mode is 100 brand new levels of Bubble Bobble that can be played with up to four players. The level designs are a bit more complicated, and teamwork is still as essential as it always has been. Being able to play with four people is a blast, and is something that would have been a neat addition to the original game, but it doesn’t suffer without it. What Bubble Bobble Neo does suffer from, however, is the lack of online play. Yes, I know back in the day it wasn’t important, but as an updated release I feel like it should be mandatory for it to be included. It will be a deal breaker for quite a few people, and unless you have someone within your area to play with, it’s just not as fun playing it alone.

Bubble Bobble Neo is still a great retro remake despite some of the confusing choices of things to not include. The core gameplay still holds up today, and is just as fun if you have somebody to play with. The new levels are a great addition for old fans, and are quite the incentive to pick this up. Nostalgia is going to be a deal breaker for some, and the lack of online play will be the deal breaker for others. It’s hard for me to recommend this game to someone who has never played it, but fans of the original should absolutely give it a shot.

Positives
+ Game has held up well over time, and is still a lot of fun.
+ Arrange Mode adds 100 new levels that are playable with four people.
+ Sure to bring back memories for old fans

Negatives
- No way to convert to old graphics, and music has also been updated… not for the better
- Some weird gameplay changes from the original that make some levels more frustrating than necessary.
- No online play


Grade - C

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Re-Shelled Review

The fact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are as old as I am is unbelievable. The fact that the brand is still popular and relevant is even more remarkable. For those that have been around from the beginning, Ubisoft has released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled. It’s a remake to the Arcade/SNES classic, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been waiting for this game since its announcement. However, I feel like this review needs to be written from two different viewpoints, and I’m going to attempt both of them in one review. Now first, I’d like to just let everyone know that this is a port of the Arcade version of Turtles in Time, NOT the Super Nintendo version.

The differences are noticeable, but it’s really just missing a stage and the bosses are a little different. It is weird, but easily overlooked. The biggest overhaul to the game came graphically. It’s been upgraded to a 3D comic-like style, with bright colors and nice animation. The game looks great, but I wish they would have left an option to play it in its old 2D glory. Most Arcade games have that option now, and I feel like it’s something that should have been here. At the same time, I understand why it’s not. The big change gameplay wise is that you can now attack up and down, and not just left and right. Redoing the 2D version to accommodate this would have been an annoying task, and I think the game looks good enough as it is to accept the exclusion.

Turtles in Time is as simple as it gets. A jumps, X is the standard attack, and Y is the special attack. You have to wipe the screen of bad guys and then progress to the next screen where you do the same thing. As basic as it is, it’s still fun due to how smooth and responsive the gameplay is, even online. You may run into some slight lag with four players, but it was never enough to affect the gameplay in any way. This is where the two viewpoints come in, though. For those who have played Turtles in Time before, you will most likely love this update. With how smooth it plays, and the co-op online, it can bring back a lot of memories of playing it with a friend when you were younger. It still has most of the memorable things from the original, as well as the cheesy one-liners that Turtles fans love. They’ve even given each turtle their own unique stats, which freshens it up a little bit. For those who have never played, you will probably only see the negatives: The fact that the gameplay is as elementary as it gets, that it isn’t very long, and that there aren’t any secrets to speak of.

I’ll admit that the game is a bit short, but I played through it multiple times since the purchase and it’s been fun alone, with just one friend, or with a full four person party. The two main issues with the game aren’t huge, but they are notable. For one, you would think by updating the rest of the game, they would update the hit-boxes. That’s not the case, unfortunately. Obstacles will hit you when you aren’t even next to them, and enemies will land attacks that seem to not even graze your turtle. The second problem has to do with the camera. I have no issue with the positioning; it more has to do with the fact that you can be attacked from offscreen. There are multiple times during the final boss fight where he will go completely off the screen, but shoot things your way. It is obnoxious, but it really won’t affect you too much aside from the final boss fight.

After forming my opinion, I decided the best way to write a fair review would be to have someone play who didn’t grow up with this game or genre. My little brother is about the age I was when I first played the game, and didn’t grow up in the era of 2D games. He loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I figured I’d let him give it a shot. His opinion was pretty much as expected. He got mad about enemies killing him when he felt they didn’t hit him, and was surprised that he got to the final boss so fast. Aside from that, he still thought the game was fun and that’s really all that matters.

Even though the game is basic, it still holds a ton of nostalgic value. The update makes it feel new, and it plays as smooth as ever. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for those who love side-scrolling beat ‘em ups this is one of the best updates I’ve seen to the genre in a long time. However, if you are NOT a Turtles fan, or did not grow up playing this game, you might want to check out the demo to see how you like it first.

Positives
+ Excellent art style and update to an old classic.
+ The turtles have been given their own unique stats, and it adds to the gameplay in a subtle way.
+ Nostalgia.


Negatives
- Hit detection is a little iffy and you can get attacked by off screen things at some points.
- A short game, but is fun throughout multiple playthroughs.
- Not for everyone.

Grade – B-

X-Blades Review

Within the first half-hour of playing X-Blades, I threw my controller twice and felt like swearing off the game for good. It leaves one of the worst first impressions you’ll ever come across in a game, and it has a hard time ever redeeming itself. The hit detection is awful, the graphics are bland and boring, the story is laughable, the dialogue/voice acting is even worse, the controls are terrible, and the design is just straight up bad. I think I made my point there, but there was a quality or two about the game that saved me from becoming a danger to myself while playing through it that I feel I should mention.

I figured in a game titled “X-Blades” that my blades would have a primary focus. Well, you can throw that assumption right out the window. You can hack away with your blades, use guns, or use magic. Well, that’s not really true. The only thing that ever does damage is magic, so the whole point becomes hitting the enemies with your swords until your magic bar is filled, and then you constantly use whatever magic will work. Unfortunately, if you have the same problem I had, you’ll probably find yourself wondering what exactly does damage to enemies. This is amplified by the fact that I couldn’t see the enemy’s health bar in the lower right part of the screen. Great! By killing enemies, you receive souls, which are used to buy new magic and abilities. Every fight in the game becomes a guessing game on what magic to use and is a test to how much patience you really have. You will either learn that you have none, or don’t have as much as you thought.

The only redeeming quality about X-Blades is that it correctly does its job as a hack and slash; it becomes addicting after you finally allow yourself to get over all of its shortcomings. Once you have unlocked quite a bit of the magic, it opens up a few options, and the animation for performing them is one of the better aspects of the game. Unfortunately, when the game does start to pick up, there are other annoyances that introduce themselves. For one, you’ll be replaying through almost every level in the game twice. You have no choice, and the only difference between them is that one is day time and the other is evening. X-Blades also becomes unbearably repetitive almost immediately. The only change in action is switching the different types of magic between buttons.


X-Blades is not a finished game. If I am wrong about that, then the developers had a poor direction for the title. Even though it does have addicting qualities and decent playability after some invested time, it’s obvious that this is dependent upon your tolerance to deal with how terrible its mechanics are. With the gameplay being one-dimensional, and every other category lacking, X-Blades isn’t worth a glance, let alone a purchase. This review might have been different if X-Blades addicting nature had carried over to the entire product, but unfortunately, it didn’t.


Positives

+ Addicting once you invest some time into it

+ Wide variety of spells to unlock and use


Negatives

- Almost every aspect of X-Blades lacks polish. Feels unfinished.

- The ending might as well not exist with how awful and short it is.

- Repetitive. Repetitive. Repetitive.


Grade - D+



Review - Retro Game Challenge

When I think about the NES days, I remember some of my favorite gaming moments. If I sit here and try to come up with my favorite titles, over 50 different games pop into my head almost immediately. Back in those days, the games were simple and fun. Everything was focused on gameplay, and nobody ever took the time to worry about the bells and whistles… mostly because there weren’t any. Fast forward a couple decades and now gameplay tends to take a backseat to all the other factors in the game.

That brings us to Retro Game Challenge for the Nintendo DS. Bandai Namco was apparently thinking the same thing that I was, and decided to return to the roots of gaming, while not completely abandoning where we are now. It captures the highs, lows, and amusing quirks of NES games, while (in a way) approaching a staple of gaming from this generation; achievements. The final product is a fantastic effort, but not a perfect execution.

Retro Game Challenge is made specifically for hardcore gamers. You pick either male or female, get turned into a kid, and you are sent back to the 80’s by Game Master Arino. He is sick of losing to his friends at current-gen games, so he goes back to his “home-turf” and has you complete his retro challenges. You end up at Arino’s house when he was a kid, and he observes you while you play the games. He also brings home a fictional game magazine, GameFan, which includes cheats and info on the retro games you’ll be playing over the course of the game. It’s all really well put together, and if you were around in those times, it succeeds in bringing you back.

The game consists of original 8-bit games that pay homage to NES games of the past, and most of the games included are well developed. There are eight games in total; six originals and two sequels. There is a fixed shooter, shoot ‘em up, racing, RPG, platformer, and action-platformer to play through. Some are better than others, but it will all depend on your personal genre preference. On any kind of compilation, six games wouldn’t be acceptable, and I don’t think it is here either. Don’t get me wrong; the games included are fun to play and can stand on their own. However, with how many different types of games they could have come up with, it makes no sense that we are only getting six original titles. To me, it seems like they are holding back for a sequel, which, in fact, does exist. I don’t really think it’s fair, but I suppose that isn’t my choice.

Gameplay works by giving you four challenges per game title, and new games are unlocked by completing the one that came before it. The challenges are simple and usually require a specific level or point goal. For almost every challenge, you are forced to restart from the beginning of the game, and play through until you complete the goal. It’s a really neat take on the achievement idea, but there is a flaw with the execution. I understand that with old games, you always had to restart from the beginning, but here it doesn’t make any sense. Instead of making me restart and constantly do the same things, the challenges should have been implemented in a way that you completed them while playing through the game. Playing through the opening level of a game four times isn’t fun, and it takes away from how good the games in Retro Game Challenge actually are.

Despite how much I find negative, the game is still a joy to play, even if the way you play it isn’t. It almost felt as if I was taking a break from my reviewing process and spending time with some old classics. As far as atmosphere, the game nails it. There is also a free-play mode that is unlocked after completing the retro games, which allows you to play through on your own terms, and it’s the way the games should be played originally. While I don’t agree with the execution of Retro Game Challenge regarding the way you complete challenges, and the amount of original games, it’s still a great pick-up and fun play-through for those who love old school games.

Positives
+ Return to the 8-bit games that hardcore gamers love
+ Atmosphere for the time period is excellent, and also references the present
+ Games are very well developed and could hold their own with classics of the past
Negatives
- Eight games in total (six original and two sequels).
- Have to constantly restart games to complete challenges, rather than playing the games for what they are.
- Arino (kid) will say things while you are playing games. It’s cool at first, but gets annoying later on in the game.

Letter Grade – C+

Review - Mirror's Edge

Original IP’s have become scarce in gaming over the past couple of years, and it isn’t very often that one stands out among the crowd of sequels and look-a-likes. Mirror’s Edge is a first-person platformer/action-adventure that puts you in control of the female lead, Faith, in the game’s metropolitan city. Instead of creating another typical shooter, the first-person view is used to play from Faith’s perspective as she runs, jumps, and climbs her way around the city.

Graphically, the art style is fantastic, and the color palette used is unique and eye catching. The world is mostly white, with vibrant and bright colors used to show off different areas and levels. Red is specifically used to show various paths that you can use while running along the rooftops, which definitely comes in handy when you are looking for ways to get where you need to go next. The blur effects from running and falling are also very well done, and immerse you in the game as if you are really making the jumps and falls yourself. The soundtrack also does a really good job of keeping you immersed whenever key moments of tension arise. Only ambient music is played throughout most of the game, and the ending theme is fantastic.

Let’s get to what Mirror’s Edge is all about, and that’s the gameplay. The whole concept behind the game is that you are being chased and need to escape by running along the rooftops of the city at high speeds. You will jump across rooftops, run along walls, swing from poles, and even wall jump to name a few. It might sound standard, but when doing this all at high speeds in fear of being caught or shot, it definitely gets your heart pumping. This feeling is also amplified by the fact that guns aren’t a primary focus. Sure, you can use them, but it’s all by preference. It instead focuses on hand to hand combat, where disarming your enemies can give you a quicker advantage than shooting them could. It was a great design choice, and I really can’t speak enough about how fluid Mirror’s Edge really is. I can’t even legitimately tell you the last time a game gave me the feeling that Mirror’s Edge did. There’s something exceptional about jumping off a really high building, rolling, wall running up the wall ahead of you, doing a complete 180, and then ending up on the top of another building that you saw across the way. It’s one of the most rewarding games I’ve ever played.

Though short, the main game is a wonderful experience that should be played by everybody, just for the fact that it’s so new and refreshing. One of the biggest draw points to Mirror’s Edge, outside of the main game, is the Time Trials. Essentially they are various parts of the different levels, with checkpoints to run through and a goal to reach. You can either achieve a one, two, or three star rating, and achieving them is a challenging task. Time trial mode will teach you to play smarter, quicker, and better. It's an excellent addition to the game, and really makes the new type of gameplay shine.

Despite all of these positive words, when you take a step in the direction of innovation there are sure to be some short comings. Mirror’s Edge can be incredibly frustrating and difficult. The hit detection can be suspect. Sometimes you will feel like what you wanted to perform in game just won’t work, and you’ll have to try again. In the end, I don’t feel like any of it matters in the slightest. All it did was show me that when a game is focused primarily on making advancements to gameplay, every technical hiccup becomes a second thought. Mirror’s Edge is a video game done right. It has what so many games are missing nowadays. It’s FUN.

Positives
+ A new and refreshing take on the first-person genre. Not just another typical shooter. It’s a first-person platformer/adventure.
+ Intense, heart-pounding gameplay that flows well and is incredibly rewarding.
+ Graphically appealing, great art style.

Negatives
- If you are easily motion sick, renting might be a better option first. The screen will be spinning and jerking around really fast, so be warned.
- Some very frustrating moments of trial and error.

Letter Grade - A