The Night of the Rabbit

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The Night of the Rabbit

The point-and-click adventure game is not extinct, but it has been largely in hiding over the last several years. It is not a surprise, video games have evolved a great deal over the years, with a lot of AAA titles sporting amazing, fully animated visuals and high-priced voice and musical talent. Still, I have a soft spot for the genre. They are not generally the first games I go out to play when I see one released, but every now and then a storyline, or some gorgeous artwork will catch my eye and I settle in for a good old fashioned bit of video game nostalgia.

The Night of the Rabbit - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

I think perhaps my most recently point-and-click adventure was also courtesy of Daedalic Entertainment, back when I reviewed The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav – which I liked quite a bit. I happily scored it an 8 overall and it was definitely time well-spent.

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to play The Night of the Rabbit, and it has a lot of the same hallmarks found that title as well – a likeable main character, a distinctive art style and good audio that helps present a story that is probably the biggest Daedalic has released to date and definitely worth your time if you are a fan of this genre of video game. It is still somewhat short of a play compared to some titles, but for an adventure like this, it holds up nicely.

Graphics – 9:

These are not a technical achievement by any means, but sometimes visuals simply resonate with you.

The Night of the Rabbit - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The art style here is bright, colorful and shows incredible style and detail. The animations are quite good, especially for the lead character Jerry Hazelnut, a twelve year boy reaching the end of his summer. It is not going to tax out anyone’s video cards, and that is a good thing in this instance as I was able to just settle in on my laptop and run it very smoothly from my bedroom.

Sound & Music – 8:

The sound effects are usually minimalistic in nature, but are woven into the game’s events skillfully.

The Night of the Rabbit - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The music was also quite good, never grating on my nerves and offering up enough variety to keep it from ever really getting repetitive. Best of all, there is a ton of well-voiced dialog to be had here. You can skip it if you want, but you lose some of the vibrance of the world all around if you do.

Gameplay – 7:

This is a click-and-point adventure, so from an interface standpoint you should know exactly what you are getting here.

The Night of the Rabbit - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

I never had any detection issues, it all ran smoothly enough. The puzzles generally work well, but there are a few that can strain your patience. I admit that sometimes I wish the games would point you in the right directly a bit more than this one did, but maybe that is my own personal preference.

Intangibles – 8:

I thoroughly enjoyed the story in general, and Jerry in particular as our protagonist.

The Night of the Rabbit - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

I touched on the length above, and I would guess I spent about fourteen or fifteen hours with the game. I suspect a big factor is how often you get ‘stuck’ on puzzles – which can certainly happen. There is some bonus content in the game as well, most notably a fairly basic card game called quartets – all of which is welcome because once you have beaten the story and seen it through to the end, there is not much reason to give it another go.

Overall – 8:

I actually liked The Night of the Rabbit a bit more than The Dark Eye.

The Night of the Rabbit - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Both games have a distinctive style about them, both are point and click games, but they do some things differently as well. The spells you can learn on your quest in The Night of the Rabbit are actually quite fun to attain. As soon as I got one, I found myself pondering how it might be used in an upcoming puzzle of some sort. Point-and-click adventures are not for everyone, but if you are a fan of the genre, The Night of the Rabbit is very easy to recommend.

Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones

Ever since first hearing about an RPG set as a parallel story (and not just a retelling of known events from the television show and books) in George R.R. Martin’s amazing fantasy world, I was holding out hope that it would lead to an excellent game with a compelling story.  My basic thoughts on the matter?  Well, we got halfway there.

Game of Thrones - PC

Game of Thrones is a third person action-RPG that follows the exploits of two characters, Alestyr and Mors, though their own stories that eventually wind up intersecting in later chapters.  Much like the books (but on a much more limited scale since it is just these two characters), you go from one point of view to the next, getting pieces of the story delivered to you along the way.  While the narrative execution is excellent, the game itself was sorely lacking.

Graphics – 3:

Game of Thrones - PC
The graphics are just terrible and I do not really have anything to sugarcoat that opinion with.  The textures lack detail and tend to be very bland.  The colors are dark and limited.  Character animate stiffly and little graphical oddities and artifacting popped up regularly as I played.  Considering how pretty Skyrim was on this same PC with settings set to half, it is amazing how bad Game of Thrones looks by comparison.

Sound & Music – 6:

Game of Thrones - PC
Some of the musical scores, including the television introduction (which I am very fond of) sound pretty good.  The sound effects by and large do their job – they are unremarkable and not terribly varied but they never got on my nerves either.  The voice acting was a mixed bag of mediocrity.  Almost none of the voice actors stood out as particularly impressive, though there were a handful that were painfully bad in their delivery.  Honestly most of them just muddled around average at best,which is a shame since the game is so heavily voiced and relies on these voice overs to tell the story.

Gameplay – 5:

Game of Thrones - PC
I really disliked the controls using a keyboard and mouse, but I could never get the game to recognize my PC controller.  I am not certain if a control would have made it any better, but I have serious doubts it could have been any worse.  Even adjusting all kinds of settings like sensitivity, I found the control of your character’s movement and the camera in particular to be awkward at best and frustrating the majority of the time.  A few gameplay items were implemented like a slowdown system during combat that does not freeze the action as you make tactical choices, but dramatically slows it down help.  The character customization of class and skills was fairly detailed as well.  Still, when basic movement is such a chore, it does drain a lot of the life out of the game.

Intangibles – 9:

The story is excellent.  Fans of the series will not be disappointed on that front.  Both of your main characters are well-written and very different protagonists who have very distinct roles in this twisting story.  At first their paths are completely disparate, but by the time you reach the last portions of the game, they are interwoven very nicely.  There is also a good deal of freedom of choice and some of these decisions do nothing more than change conversation branches, but most seem to have some tangible impact on things like whether or not a character will be around to talk to later in the game.  Beyond that there are multiple endings that branch off events in the final chapter, so there is some replay value to be had here as well.

Overall – 5.75:

You would think that with a score like this and the remarks above that I completely regretted my time with Game of Thrones.  While I regretted the technical shortcomings and some of the painfully awkward movement and combat, I enjoyed the story a great deal.  For me that was enough to at least enjoy the journey for the most part, though I will probably not replay this title again any time soon.  Unfortunately I suspect a lot of people, even those who are fans of the books, may not want to put their time into this game because of those shortcomings.  That is a shame too, because it is an excellent story with some good gameplay ideas that never really reached their full potential.

Frozen Synapse

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Frozen Synapse

When Frozen Synapse first came out, I really did not pay much attention to it.  The visuals were really bad, and it was something that had almost no pre-release buzz.  Then I picked it up cheap as part of a bundle and finally decided to see what all of the fuss was about.

I went into this title blind.  I will admit that I saw the blocky, basic visuals and thought it might be a puzzle game of some sort – wow was I off-track on that one.  What you have is a turn-based strategy game that actually feels fresh.  Now, I cannot give the graphics a pass – they are pretty rough in my opinion.  The map and characters would feel right at home on a PC from two decades ago, though there are some decently rendered sequences between missions that show peoples’ faces and locales.

Frozen Synapse - PC

The reason this game works though, is because the strategy is actually interesting.  You really do get back what you put into it.  At first the learning curve was a bit high – there was a lot of information to take in right away.  That said, the layout was clean, the menus are helpful and easy to navigate and those elements helped ease the transition.

Frozen Synapse - PC

Essentially you are in command of a number of soldiers, who have different weapon types.  You move them to specific locations, set them up with options like hiding behind shorter barriers, guarding windows or trying to control intersections by positioning and aiming them.  You make these choices without knowing what your opponent has planned.  Then both sides ‘go’ and move through their commands, and the sides engage in firefights if they call into each others’ cones of vision.

Frozen Synapse - PC

If this all sounds a bit strange, that’s because it sort of is at first.  But there is a very long single player mode, and a fairly interesting multiplayer mode that handles rankings and matchmaking.  I enjoyed the multiplayer, and had a frustration with it at the same time.  The game plays out just like it does in single player mode, in that both sides plot out their turns and then flag themselves as ready to proceed.  Once both sides are ready, the computer handles how the scenario plays out, and you are informed that you have a new turn available.

Frozen Synapse - PC

You can then access that game again and watch your turn play out.  This was neat because I could react very quickly and have a handful of rounds roll out one after another if my opponent was still online at the time, or I could check back the next day and see if I was up yet.  I really enjoyed that sort of measured play.

Frozen Synapse - PC

 

The downside is it is way too easy for players to abandon games they have no hope of winning.  I had several matches I was almost certainly going to win, having my opinion down to their last soldier or two, but then they just never finished the map.  This can create a very false win/loss record.

Frozen Synapse - PC

The music is decent – certainly better than the graphics, but the meat and potatoes here is in the gameplay itself.  Adding further value to it, these maps are randomized.  So even if you lose on a map, you start the level over and you will likely have an entirely new situation.  I liked that because it forced me to actually get better at the game and not just memorize maps and movement patterns.

Frozen Synapse - PC

All in all, this game was a fun little surprise for me.  It’s not perfect, but it was a title I did enjoy playing all the same and would score a 7.5 out of 10.

War of the Roses

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War of the Roses 

War of the Roses is an interesting title, because it takes a few chances that generally pay off, makes use of perhaps one of the most popular gaming modes on the market right now, and feels like a game with some as of yet untapped potential.  So what is War of the Roses?  It is an online experience that feels to me like a Battlefield or Call of Duty game, but with swords and bows instead of rifles and machine guns.

War of the Roses-PC

Graphics – 6:

The visuals are not particularly striking.  They do the job, and there are some nice pieces of flair here and there, like seeing your coat of arms show up on your shield for example.  One of my complaints is that the video controls lack granularity in the settings.  My PC ran the game fine, but my laptop was much more of a struggle at more moderate settings, so I had to move the game’s video settings to the most basic. There were areas I would have liked to have tweaked upward, trying to find that sweet spot between appearance and performance, but those controls were not there.  One very positive note however, is that the game ran smoothly for me, even when crowds of fifteen to twenty people were onscreen together in the same general vicinity.

Sound & Music – 6:

Again, nothing here that particularly impressed me but at least the audio did nothing to offend me either.  A few of the songs in the sound track were pleasant enough to bump this up from a five to a six and make this a very slightly above average offering, but none of the tunes really struck me as memorable either. Weapons clank off of shields with a satisfying thud and cries of pain are a constant on the field of war.

Gameplay – 8:

I am among that minority that prefers to play my shooters with a controller over a keyboard and mouse.  In truth the only games I prefer keyboard and mouse on are strategy or sim/builder titles.  This game unfortunately does not have controller support, so what you get is an interesting if sometimes inelegant control scheme using the mouse and keyboard combination.  Movement by keys is what you would expect, but combat is handled in interesting fashion.

War of the Roses-PC
For those using a bow and arrow as their weapon of choice, you click one mouse button to draw back the bowstring and you have to manage a few things at once.  You have to aim your shot – while taking into consideration that the arrow will lose height as it travels any considerable distance.  You have to pull back the string, and hope to release by clicking the other mouse button while trying to time it for a ‘sweet spot’ release where the weapon will do maximum damage.  Hold the string back too long, and you will tire and lower your weapon.

War of the Roses-PC

Crossbow is similar in that it is a ranged weapon, but where longbow is rapid aim and release, the crossbow takes time to load each bolt.  When you first spawn using this weapon, I always load a bolt right away and then go looking for trouble.  It definitely packs a bigger punch, but if you have any melee opponents nearby, you will probably have to switch off to your secondary short sword because you will not have time to safely load another bolt.

War of the Roses-PC

Melee combat also makes use of both mouse buttons as one activates block and one swings a weapon.  Melee comes in a couple of different flavors as you can use larger, two-handed weapons that can be used to block, but have a narrow window for being successful.  On the other hand, that heavier weapon can make for some longer reached and more impactful blows when they connect.  Sword and board gives you better defensive options as you have a shield you can raise – particularly useful if you are trying to close in on an archer – but a lighter, quicker weapon in your main hand.

War of the Roses-PC

Swinging a weapon though, can be a slightly awkward affair.  You press the mouse button to swing and then swipe your mouse to swing your weapon in that direction.  It works well enough when you get used to it, and these combat mechanics are touched on in the tutorial.  That said, I think that this could have been handled in interesting fashion with say, a second analog stick on a game controller as well.

Armor is certainly a factor.  Better, heavier armor generally means you stay alive longer in the scrums.  Some helmets have a visor you can drop down over your face, limiting your field of vision but better protecting you as well.  A nice touch, really.

Intangibles – 8:

So here is where I get back to my initial paragraph a bit.  This game is really only an online multiplayer game with two modes: deathmatch and take the checkpoint.  Some people joke about how Battlefield or Call of Duty should not even bother with a single player mode since they are usually short and the majority of the fans spend the bulk of their time in the multiplayer modes.  Well, Paradox took that to heart in their design here because the only offline mode is a training mode that I found more frustrating than helpful.  There is very little hand-holding going on either in training mode or in the actual game.  Players who have played War of the Roses longer have more levels and more money and therefore better toys than newcomers.  That being said, Death does not discriminate much here – everyone dies quite a bit, though there are certain classes and configurations that do seem more successful than others (horseback and heavy armor are very nice).

War of the Roses-PC

The maps are well made, and with as many as 32 players possible on either team, you can find yourself participating in some very interesting skirmishes.  You have opportunities to aid fallen comrades or to execute wounded enemies.  Both are boons in that you gain experience and the executions can be particularly visceral – from either side of the equation.  These do present some risk versus reward propositions though as you leave yourself vulnerable to an enemy sword or arrow as well.

War of the Roses-PC

So with only one component: online – and only two modes, why give the intangibles such a high score?  A couple of reasons.  One, I simply enjoyed the game.  I had some rough initial impressions.  The tutorial annoyed me, I could not really configure my video the way and wanted and the bells and whistles failed to impress.  I found myself greatly enjoying the game as I waded into combat, fighting side-by-side with my teammates.  Even better was the post-match content, however.

War of the Roses-PC

As you gain experience, and levels – you unlock new classes.  The first four are built in advance, but the next few are fully customizable.  As you dive into those customization options, you can unlock various perks, weapons and pieces of armor for the coins you earned playing the game.  Want to use a polearm as your primary weapon?  Go for it – you will have several to choose from.  Want to play an archer?  Unlock the class, pick your type of bow and then feel free to purchase the perk that lets you hold the string longer.  This part of the game is surprisingly deep and enjoyable.

Overall 7:

I mentioned potential in my introduction, and it is here.  There has been talk that the developers will be adding new contact in the near future, and promise that it will be significant.  I have not yet seen what that will entail – more maps?  more online and potentially objective-based modes?  Perhaps more unlockable items or crest customizations?  That part is unclear at this point.  This game probably will not be for everyone with its essentially lacking storyline and limited number of modes, but for those who enjoy some multiplayer carnage, you can do a lot worse than a title like this that focuses only on that aspect of the gameplay while adding a medieval flavor to the proceedings.

Dungeons

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Dungeons was a game I was really looking forward to, only to be very disappointed by the end product. ~Nick Herber

Dungeons

Sadly, Dungeons is in fact the exact opposite of one of those stories.  The premise is one that caught my attention from the very beginning.  You are the evil overlord who creates, adds to and manages dungeons that foolish, intrepid explorers will visit in hopes of satisfying some deep need or quest.
Dungeons - PC

Your job is three-fold.  Lure them in, sate their interest by giving them what they want, and then finish them off when they try to escape your dungeon.  I have long heard that Dungeon Keeper was a classic PC title (I never did play it) that Dungeons tries very hard to emulate.  I get the feeling though, that Dungeons missed the mark on several points.  Dungeons was a game I was really looking forward to, only to be very disappointed by the end product.

Graphics – 6:

The details and animation are all pretty average.  This is not a game that will tax your video card by any means.  That said, I actually liked the color schemes and ambient lighting used throughout.

Dungeons - PC

The lack of detail and often minimal animations do little to help matters, but at least the visuals do not seem to cause slowdown and do not tear through environments.

Sound & Music – 7:

I really would have liked more music.  What they have here is actually pretty good, but there is not a ton of variety to be had.

Dungeons - PC
The voice acting is pretty decent as well, which is a big perk since the dialog is pretty well-written for the most part.  The sound effects are nothing special though.
Gameplay – 5:

Where to begin… overall the game’s core mechanics are adequate if shallow.  The idea of luring people in to more or less ‘fatten them up for the kill’ is okay on paper, but quite often I found it frustrating how you had to pander to a hero’s needs.  The lack of direct command over minions only made the missions that much more repetitive as well.

Dungeons - PC
The commands are a bit clunky to access and use as well, though the tutorial does a good enough job of at least getting you pointed in the right direction.

Intangibles – 5:

So, generally I want a long game, but in this case Dungeons just plods on for a bit too long.  The missions really are so similar to one another that I was ready for the game to end well before the last level.  I also had some stability issues with the game.  It would freeze or crash on occasion, but for reasons I could never properly identify.

Dungeons - PC
It was not using a ton of memory and my computer is well above the specs for this title, but somehow I kept getting it into bad states.  That problem did seem to diminish once I got a few levels in, but it got me off on the wrong foot initially.
Overall – 5.75:

What happens when you make a game with a great idea but poor execution?  You wind up with something like Dungeons.  I went into the game with an open mind, despite some negative reviews about it early on.  Usually I can find a couple of high-points for a game to discuss – even if I do not particularly like it.

Dungeons - PC
While there was some witty dialog that was reasonably well-executed, I could not help but feel disappointed in how average the rest of the title was.

Dark Scavenger

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This is flash-driven game that stores its save data in your browser cache.  The game does warn you of this during start up, which is nice – but an odd design choice in my opinion. ~Nick Herber

Dark Scavenger

I will admit that this was a game I had heard nothing about, despite getting mentioned on Destructoid and winning an honorable mention at an indie games convention.  When our friends at Digitally Downloaded asked me if I wanted to review it, I said sure!  Dark Scavenger is a mesh of genres, with a sort of over-the-top sci-fi story presented in a hybrid point-and-click adventure game with a somewhat more traditional RPG combat system.

Dark Scavenger

Psydra games pulls together a mostly static, but bright and colorful art style as you move around maps and click on items that then generate events.  Sometimes you simply find a resource, sometimes you initiate a fight with something or someone, and other times you wind up with branching dialog.  Some of these dialog pieces present puzzle-like elements as well, where you can leverage items you have in your inventory.

Now, speaking of inventory, this is really where the game does most of its heavy-lifting.  Your goal as you move around from one map to another is to pick up and find resources for the rest of your motley, Dark Scavenger crew.  When you move on to a new map screen, you are given a chance to turn your resources into one of your three crew members.  That resource is then turned into a weapon, an item or an ally.
These new inventory items degrade with use – so your tRUSTY sword may run out in 7 uses, whether that be as a puzzle use or in combat.  Combat takes place with a sort of traditional enemy-facing-you approach with some limited combat animations occurring.  You can combine items and weapons in some instances, which is a big help.  My favorite was the ‘big red button’ – which then allowed your single-hit weapon to strike every enemy on screen (particularly helpful during a tougher-than-average fight with a three-headed brute late in the second chapter, for example).

Dark Scavenger

You get the usual number-crunching that takes place in this kind of combat behind the scenes.  For example, the wolf-like creature you are fighting may be vulnerable to your static gun’s electricity damage, but resistant to another type.  Or maybe your weapon and item combination can stun the creature, forcing him to forfeit an attack that round.  You do have a health bar, which can be replenished with items as well, and can be diminished by not only combat, but as a result of how you interact with certain environmental puzzles as well.
Dark Scavenger
Working through the environment itself is a pretty straightforward affair.  If you can interact with an element, your mouse will cause that element to glow with a red outline if you hover over it.  You can then left-click on it to interact.  Pretty basic, but it does the job.
This is a largely text-driven game.  There is very little in the way of animation to discuss here, and I will be honest – by the end of the game the menu-driven combat and heaps of dialog were starting to blur together.  What started relatively fresh and interesting had lost its sparkle during the last leg of my 5-ish hour session (it may not have helped that I sat there and literally played it straight through over the course of an afternoon only getting up to use the restroom or grab a soda).
Dark Scavenger
So, what did I think of the game?  It was alright.  I always have a tough time with indie games, because they are generally lower in production value (usually by a significant margin) than more polished games, and because their distribution tends to be a bit more limited (Psydra did say that Gamersgate plans to carry this title as well), they might not feel like as good of a bargain for what you get.  Dark Scavenger rings in at $10.  Given the very unique nature of this game, I would strongly suggest giving the demo (which gives you a limited taste of the first chapter) a try if you are considering purchasing, and their site can be found here.
Dark Scavenger
Scoring this game?  I’d probably say a 7/10 – it’s a decent indie effort, and I don’t feel like my time was ill-spent, but it’s not a game that’s going to overtake the Mass Effects or Final Fantasy titles I play either.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII - PSP

I am an unabashed fan of Final Fantasy. I haven’t played all of them – but I’ve played and beaten quite a few of them over the years – starting with Final Fantasy on the old NES. I was one of the many who had a first day of release copy of Final Fantasy VII and like many thought it was the best game I had ever played at the time. Years later, it’s story and game mechanics are among my most fond gaming memories. So when I heard that a prequel was coming out, I was really excited. That excitement was a bit tempered however when I saw my traditional RPG turn-based systems turned into a more live action game during trailers. I’m happy to say those particular fears proved to be unfounded.

Graphics: 9

Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII - PSP

The in-game engine is good, you don’t suffer any breakup and the full motion video scenes that the Final Fantasy series have become well-known for hold up beautifully on the small screen. Don’t let the fact that this is a PSP game fool you – it holds up very nicely in both artistic direction and execution.

Sound and Music: 8.5

Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII - PSP

The voice acting was good, though many of the sounds were a bit repetitive after awhile. Final Fantasy games are known for their quality music and this one while not among the best from the series, is still pretty good. I found the combat theme to be surprisingly catchy.

Gameplay: 7

Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII - PSP

Sometimes deaths feel cheap. The actual action-oriented combat works well; certainly better than I expected. My biggest complaint from this department though was the camera. Sometimes I just could not get it into a good position, especially in narrow spaces. Also, the combat was a bit predictable in terms of how it was triggered. In earlier games, most combat occurred at random while walking. In later Final Fantasy games you are on an active field with enemies you can engage or try to avoid. Here? It’s things like intersecting hallways that trigger the usually-random group of monsters you fight. You find yourself hugging the walls awkwardly, battling the camera angles if you’re in an area where you don’t want to fight. It’s not all bad though. The action comes in perfectly sized smaller chunks that fit with the handheld platform. I had played this game for nearly a year on and off. I’d just pick it up some days when I had fifteen minutes to kill and do a few missions. The PSP is not one of my primary systems, so its games tend to get neglected, but this one’s content felt just right for on-the-go gaming.

Intangibles: 9.5

Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII - PSP

There is a ton to do. The main storyline itself is not terribly long, but there are a bunch of side options to chew up your time. There’s missions that unlock over time or when certain criteria are met. There’s a fusion system in place that lets you upgrade items and materia (think of them as magic, skills and stat boosts). You get emails throughout the game from characters as well. There’s a handful of mini-games tucked in there as well throughout the storyline. To top it all off? There’s a New Game+ mode as well – always a favorite discovery of mine.

Overall: 8.5

To date this was probably my favorite PSP game. The characters and world were sentimental favorites of mine. The overall production values were high. All of this was expected. The unexpected? That the action-based combat would work so well. That using one character throughout the game instead of a party would feel so involving. That you don’t collect experience and level up in traditional fashion, but that levels, boosts and special attacks are all managed through a perpetually running slot-machine like system that augments the action itself. Last but not least? The ending is fantastic. After I beat the game, I was just really taken with the ending and did some searching on the topic online. I was not alone in my sentiments there. A lot of people out there list it as their favorite ending ever. Mine? Maybe not, but probably top 10 to date, and getting there was a blast.

Dragon Power

Dragon Power

So recently, I wrote up a nice big review on Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection for the Sony PlayStation 3. Seeing as this game was a remake, it was only natural that I would have some nostalgia toward Dragon Ball Z games. This is especially true when you consider that Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 was my favorite Dragon Ball Z game of all-time, and remains so today despite its years.

Funny thing is, this got me looking back even further than the PlayStation 2. My first encounter with the Dragon Ball franchise actually took place way back in 1988 before I knew anything at all about Dragon Ball. This happy accident came in the form of Dragon Power, which released on the NES in North America back in March of that year. This game, along with Joust and Elevator Action was among my very first titles.
Dragon Power NES

It sure doesn’t look like Goku…

Obviously this was back well before Dragon Ball Z got popular along with a handful of other anime programs, so the rather curious decision was made to change many of the actual references to Dragon Ball. Even the titular objectives – Dragon Balls – was changed to ‘Crystal Balls’. There are a lot of things I did not remember from this game, only that there was a very loose connection between this game and Dragon Ball Z, starting with the main character named Goku.

Probably the most curious item was that while the cover art makes this look like an average martial artist, the game character was made to look more like a monkey than how Goku looked in the Japanese version of the game.
Dragon Power NES

US Version…

Dragon Power NES

Japanese version…

At least the your main character’s name remains Goku, but basically every other name gets changed around for the US release. Even the famously overused Kamehameha move is replaced with Wind Wave. As you can see in the above pictures however, most of the characters (in this instance ‘Nora’ in the US version and ‘Bulma’ in the Japanese one) look the same. The exception to this appears to be Master Roshi, who got a complete overhaul.
Dragon Power NES

US version, with ‘sandwiches’

Dragon Power NES

Japanese version with ‘panties’

If you notice the captions, the character art was not the only difference, but some of the more Japanese themes (such as Master Roshi being a pervert) were taken out to set better with US audiences

The game itself? Not very good. At an age where the word ‘dragon’ usually meant something awesome to a kid (Double Dragon anyone?), this game suffered from poor controls and collision detection and tough difficulty. The story itself made very little sense, but given that the localization was not only changing the language, but also in may places the content, I guess that is not a huge surprise.
Dragon Power NES
The majority of the game played out in a 3/4 overhead view like The Legend of Zelda or Deadly Towers, though boss fights switched over to a side view. These boss fights were tough too, because your attack types were so limited while they just kept plowing into you head-on with their weapons/moves.
Dragon Power NES

Oh this looks promising…

Matters are further made worse by the fact your health is constantly depleting even when you are not getting hit by enemies, a sort of timer that makes the game inherently more difficult with every passing second.
Even though this game really is not very good, it was one of the first NES titles I got to play as a kid. It was still leagues ahead of what I had experienced to date and showed me that there was a world of more complex games waiting to be discovered (let’s face it – Elevator Action and Joust were cool enough arcade games at the time, and they translated well enough to the NES, but they were endless loop games originally built to take your quarters. This was probably, along with Super Mario Bros, my first video game that had a true set of objectives or ‘end game’ to strive for). For that I will likely hold a soft spot for Dragon Power in my memory, despite its shortcomings.

That it turned out to be my first brush with the Dragon Ball Z universe was an amusing realization years later.

X-Men Mutant Apocalypse

X-Men Mutant Apocalypse

X-Men Mutant Apocalypse

Okay, the trilogy of X-Men (technically, Marvel) articles on the weekend. I doled out Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for the Playstation 3, then Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for Xbox Live – now I’m headed back to the Super Nintendo.

X-Men Mutant Apocalypse

I couldn’t think of any throwback Marvel vs. Capcom games I had floating around the house (though I recall similar beat ’em ups in the arcade once upon a time) – so I decided to look around for an X-Men or Marvel title, and found X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse for my Super Nintendo and figured I’d toss it in for a bit. Now, while the other two games I talked about this weekend were fighter games, this one is a beat ’em up/platformer. It lacks the depth of field you find in Final Fight, Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, but you have to time your jumps and memorize attack patterns a bit more along the way.

X-Men Mutant Apocalypse

Early on levels are designed around whichever mutant you are going to play (Psylocke, Wolverine, Cyclops, Beast and Gambit). It’s an interesting idea, since most games of this sort let you pick from a pool to get through a level – and that happens later in the game, but early on each X-Man is assigned a task in a different location, forcing you to use them all. This is a good and bad thing since you may prefer one character over the others, but it does add a bit more variety to the gameplay as well when you have someone like Wolverine who just tears through people using his claws while moving left to right, as opposed to someone like Beast who can cling to ceilings and attack enemies from above as well.

X-Men Mutant Apocalypse

The story’s a bit of a mess, which is often the case in these older comic games, but the sounds get the job done and the graphics actually look pretty good. I didn’t spend a ton of time playing this one again – I honestly don’t have the patience for memorizing platforming like I did years ago, but I got a grin out of my time running around beating people up along the way.

Demon’s Souls

Demon Souls

Demon’s Souls has been out for awhile now in the US, but only recently has gotten released in some other locations. I put off picking this up because while it looked and sounded good, I tend to wait until games are a bit cheaper to acquire them. Additionally, the game is always being touted as insanely hard, and in my ‘old age’ I’ve grown to enjoy slightly less taxing games. Sure, as a kid I walloped on Ghosts & Goblins, the Ninja Gaiden games, Contra without the 30 lives code and plenty of others. However, I’ve gotten to a point where getting my butt handed to me by lines of code does sometimes get frustrating and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take this particular plunge.

Demon Souls

However, I can say after giving this game a good long play, it was a lot of fun – despite some frustrating moments along the way. That said, I feel like the game can be had at an incredible value, if you are someone who can enjoy a challenging game without getting too frustrated with it.

Graphics – 8.5:

Demon Souls
The animations sometimes feel just a shade off, but the magic and fire effects are nice, and the world is imaginatively presented. I’ve also seen some slowdown at odd times; and a world of lag and slowdown when one of my matches got invaded. That might fall under something other than graphics, but it was graphics that seemed the most affected (I was blocking but taking huge damage from a guy who also appeared to be blocking. Things were just not lining up at all). That said, the rest of the game looked really good, with some very impressive scenes – some of which really stood out (like the dragon sweeping the bridge to burn everyone on it).

Music and sound – 9.0:

Demon Souls
All in all, it sounds good. Narration is solid, sound effects are somewhat varied with voice acting at most interactions. The voice acting is not always great, and I wish I could just skip through the repetitive people sitting in the Nexus. I have surround sound however, and it should be noted that it has been a lifesaver for me at times in this game; on par with the zings of Modern Warfare’s bullets. The music is also very impressive. It fits the theme of the game wonderfully.

Gameplay – 8.5:
Demon Souls
This is a tough one for me. The game responds pretty well most of the time, though the lock-on mechanism can get you in trouble early on until you master it. As I’ve mentioned, the game can be hard. Now, I don’t think it’s quite as hard as some people make it out to be, but there are some cheap deaths in there (a pit you see that it looks like you should be able to descend but actually leads to death, any time something knocks you back when you’re on stairs/a ledge, or a ridiculously hard enemy you have no business fighting but might not have any idea of).

Intangibles – 9.5:

Demon Souls

New game plus is cool, if brutal. Tons of customization. A deep game that makes you feel like you’re genuinely learning as you play. I mentioned above that there were cheap deaths, but most of the time it’s just your own fault for not handling the situation properly. Also, the online aspects really deserve to be mentioned. There’s a unique, almost beautiful in my mind, system of online play where you can see bloodstains on the ground and see the final moments of a player’s life. There’s been several times I touched it and watched someone barrel ahead only to get dropped from an attack they never saw coming – but I did thanks to that experience. Also you can leave messages that you can rate as useful as well. There was one part with a bridge and a dragon swooping down where the advice saved my arse. The PVP aspects I’m kind of down on. It’s creatively handled when you can invade someone else’s realm, or they can invade yours, but almost every time it’s happened my game stuttered and broke up pretty badly. I’ve seen others complain about the same thing and the general response from others is: play offline. In my opinion, you’re doing yourself an overall disservice if you do so. It adds a tremendous sense of ‘life’ to your world when you see ghosted images of other players, bloodstains and messages on the ground.

Overall – 8.75:

Demon Souls

Demon’s Souls is hard. It’s meant to be hard. There is no easy mode. It doesn’t hold your hand or give you easy replays like Final Fantasy 13 does. It does however create a challenging, atmospheric adventure that if you can play without getting too frustrated, will provide you with a good deal of accomplishment as you conquer new tasks. The online features are pretty unique and for the most part they’re enjoyable, if not perfect. Adding to the game’s value in my mind is how much cheaper it has gotten of late. Gamestop had new copies for $40 and used for $26. Not bad for a game that many people thought of as Game of the Year for the PS3. I’m not sure I’d give it that particular title this year or last, but it is a solid action-RPG game that gives you a lot to do on your adventures.

Warsong

Warsong

Okay, there is a chance you played it – but I would guess it’s unlikely.  This gem of a game came out for the Sega Genesis (and was called Langrisser overseas).  I am not sure what inspired me to pick it up at the time.  I had heard nothing about this game in any of the magazines I read, none of my friends had played it, but something about it caught my eye when I was mulling what game to purchase next.

Warsong-Sega-Genesis

But something about the back of that box must have sparked my interest, because I took the game home, put it and and began to play.  The define what Warsong is, I would say it was a fantasy strategy/RPG hybrid – maybe the first I had ever played quite like it.

I immediately loved the game’s art style.  The graphics had a colorful, anime feel to them when showing character portraits.  The actual battles that took place were actually pretty active as soldiers kill each other off.  The backdrops and map designs were actually pretty well detailed also.

Warsong-Sega-Genesis

The sound and music get the job done.  There was nothing terribly memorable about it, but this was a game that was more about the tactics.  It would have been nice to have a bit more variety in the music, but I don’t recall it ever particularly bothering me either.

So how did the game play?  Well, there were two aspects to it.  There are the leader characters, and they are the most important.  Hints of Fire Emblem here, as when a leader dies, he or she is gone for good.  I recall saving often to prevent that from happening.  Shades of Dragonforce follow, as each of these main characters had soldiers units they could control.  Each character has a range or aura of influence and if their soldier units fight within that range, they got bonuses to their stats.  Each leader can hire different kinds of soldiers at the start of each level, and there is a sort of rock/paper/scissors mechanic to which soldier units perform best against one another.

Warsong-Sega-Genesis

There are other factors as well, such as terrain and if your leader characters have any gear equipped (at the start of each level, a scenario is given to you and you have a chance to spend your hard earned gold on different kinds and quantities of soldiers, and that is also when you can choose to put a piece of equipment on a leader character).  I recall getting so good at the game that I could go through the first couple of levels or so without buying any soldier units, to conserve money for when I would need it more in subsequent levels.

Warsong-Sega-Genesis

When a leader character dies (the enemy units are made up of these as well), their support soldiers will perish as well.  Some levels also have assorted neutral characters who will go after anyone who gets to o close.  Some missions are designed for certain types of soldiers as well – for example one of your heroes can hire mermen and they are almost essential for water combat – but useless in levels without water to cross.

The game is made up of twenty levels, which may not sound like much, but each stage can take quite some time to get through.  The menu and controls are very simple to navigate and while it is easy to learn – there is are so many different tactics and unit strategies to apply that there is perfectly valid reason to come back and play again once you beat the game.

Warsong-Sega-Genesis
The story itself is nothing new – good guys are put on the run for attacking bad guys.  Good guys regroup after getting smacked around a bit in the first level, and rally a force to defeat not only the known bad guys, but the evil controlling them behind the scenes.  It is all really well presented though, with story pieces between levels and dialog scenes from characters on maps.  While you have no options to change the storyline itself, it was actually one that I found fairly interesting.

The RPG elements come in the form of gold, equipment, experience and levels.  In fact, this game was the inspiration to a leveling system I implimented on my MUD over a decade ago that I called a Tier system.  Your characters start off a specific class, level up to a point, and then choose one of two.  Level up some more, and you can again choose one more new class from a new set of branching options.  Some characters were so similar that their later tiers became the same thing, like Magic Knight, but there were unique ones too.  For example your lead character Garrett can become a King class, and no one else can.  Each tier brings new skills and powerful stat boosts and adds a good deal of replay value to the mix.

Warsong-Sega-Genesis

And replay I did – I can recall beating this game at least three times – maybe more.  And it was a hit among my friends who initially asked: Warsong?  What’s that?

But these were the same friends I had gotten hooked on strategy games on the NES years before too (Nobunaga’s Ambition, Bandit Kings of Ancient China and Romance of the Three Kingdoms to name a few) – so they gave it a shot and not a single one disliked it.  Most of them borrowed it long enough to beat the game once if not twice (and one other friend borrowed my copy for a day and a half.  I was a bit surprised when he handed it back to me and said I could have it back.  I asked if he had not liked it – turned out he simply went out and bought his own copy afterward).

Warsong-Sega-Genesis

To this day, this ranks as one of my favorite all-time video games, and influenced my opinion on what a strategy game could be.  It also had clear effects on my own game design years later for my MUD, Kingdoms of the Lost.  I played it again recently and feel that it holds up pretty well today still.  If I bring it up in conversation with most gamers though, none seem to have ever heard of, let alone played this under-appreciated classic.

[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDcZlC3oZWc[/youtube]

If you are interested in how it plays?  Here is a quick video down below that really shows off a lot of the game as you start off in a scenario where you and your troops are under heavy attack right off of the bat.

Streets of Rage 2

[youtube id=”F4S2z5mV17I” width=”633″ height=”356″]

I actually played Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3 back then – but 2 for some reason was always my favorite of the trilogy. ~Nick Herber

Streets of Rage 2

This could fall under a Retro Reflection or a PlayStation Network Review, but I really did not want to break this down into a series of score points.  One of the titles I got to play while using PlayStation Plus was Streets of Rage 2 on the PSN.

streets-of-rage-2

This was a classic beat ’em up game from Sega that I played over and over again on my Sega Genesis.  I actually played Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3 back then – but 2 for some reason was always my favorite of the trilogy.  By today’s standards, it can be a bit slow and sometimes the fighting is a bit ‘cheap’ – but it is still a good throwback to the older days of gaming for those of us who recall Final Fight, Golden Axe, Double Dragon and Streets of Rage so fondly.
  streets-of-rage-2
The premise is pretty simple – you walk from one side of the screen to the other, causing it to scroll in your direction as you take on wave after wave of street thugs.  Each level culminates in some sort of a boss battle that is equal parts amusing and frustratingly cheap.  Along the way you will pick up a variety of items like food, money and weapons stored in random barrels, benches and more from the environment around you.
streets-of-rage-2
You can play the game with a friend, which I recall doing repeatedly when I was younger and it is still fun today.  There is an online versus mode as well that does not hold up nearly as well, for a variety of reasons.  One, the fighting mechanics are really shallow – Street Fighter IV this is not.  Additionally, it seemed like the connections were flaky at best a lot of times.  If I can run around environments like Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 and suffer no lag, then it seems baffling to me that a game like this would consistently have trouble keeping up during a single isolated fight.
Beyond that, it seemed like every time I was about to win, my opponent would disconnect with no fear of tangible penalty that I could detect.  Anyway, not a big deal as the majority of my time spent playing was just trucking through the actual story mode on my own.  I beat it two or three times over the span of a few days, and it definitely provided me with a nice dose of nostalgia along the way.