Viewing entries in
Previews

PAX East Day 2: Previews

Comment

PAX East Day 2: Previews


In the ever-frozen land south of here, but north of other places, there is a town called Boston. And in this town, once at the beginning of the growing season, they sacrifice a fresh-born video game to the eldest god, in order to ensure a quick end to the winter season, and a bountiful harvest.

But before that sacrifice can be made, the city of Boston comes together at the Penny Arcade Expo East in order to determine which is the best video game that can be offered to Grayth'rll , emperor of kings. Here are just a few of the games at this year's culling, and our thoughts on their standings in the running.

Enter the Gungeon:

We are getting to a point where I am sick and tired of roguelikes, and I swear if you told me five years ago that I'd be saying that, I would have laughed in your face. Somehow, over the last couple of years, every indie game switched from a side-scrolling puzzle platformer (the Braid-like, if you will) to a top-down rougelike. Enter the Gungeon circa-2010 would have been a pretty standard twin-stick shooter. Now, it's some sort of crazy hybrid between Borderlands, the Legend of Zelda, and, of course, Rogue. 

Gungeon isn't shy about its influences either. Levels are composed of "handcrafted" rooms, stitched together at relative random by an algorithim, much like Binding of Isaac. Combat is twin stick shooting with dodge rolls and crazy weapon drops, much like in Borderlands, and plenty of enemies are ripped straight out of the D&D monster manual and given a coat of paint that'd make the NRA proud. For example, one of the game's booses is the Beholster, a traditional Beholder, but with guns on each tentacle instead of eyes. 

The game isn't much deeper than that. Shoot or be shot, manage your resources, and hope for good gun drops. It's neat, but low-impact, though there are some interesting design decisions in there. Guns drop far more often than ammo, meaning you'll have to carefully conserve shots while dodging the bullet-hell-esque patterns the game throws at you. Gungeon also has an interesting story concept, centred on a gun that can shoot time, with the player characters slowly revealing the past they want erased over the course of multiplay playthroughs. Overall, Gungeon seems well-crafted, I just wish it tried to diverge from the road most travelled a little more.

Titan Souls:

On the complete OTHER end of the spectrum from Gungeon, there's Titan Souls, a game that wears its influences on a very similar place on its sleeve, but draws from them very differently. 

Titan Souls is a cross between Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus. It's a game of only bosses, fast deaths, and one hit-KOs. It's tense, it's sharp, and most of all, it's very deliberately crafted. Each boss is very different from the others, with their own unique trick and weakness, making each fight as much about your own skills and controlling your character as it is about quick thinking and high-speed puzzle solving. It's designed to feel like the last minutes of a boss fight, when everything can end with one hit from either side, and the tension is deafening. 

What's interesting is that there aren't a lot of games inspired directly by Dark Souls' play rythym, fewer are inspired by Shadow of the Colossus's actual mechanics. Usually it gows the other way around. Games love to ape Shadow's atmosphere, while others take the harsh penalties and high difficult from Dark Souls. For a game that owes its existence (and it's name) to two other games, it's crazy how refreshing Titan Souls feels. It's a game all its own, and that's a really cool thing these days.

Va11-Hall-A:

I wish I could tell you what Va11halla is. It's a bartending simulator, yeah. It's also a visual novel, with heavy inspiration from the PC-88 and Phoenix Wright. It's set in some sort of crazy cyborg post-apocalypse, and according to the game's PR, there are racist corgis hanging around. 

Also according to the game's PR, the developers intend it to be about the current political situation in Venezuela, and that's where they lose me. It's not that the game can't be about that, it's just that it's hard to get it from just the first of 20 in-game days. What I can see about the game right now, is that it replaces genre-standard conversation options with prompts to mix drinks, and depending on how you fulfill orders (right drink, wrong drink, right drink made poorly, etcetera), characters react to you differently. It doesn't necessarily actually offer any more choice than usual, but it creates a powerful illusion of agency over this world. Hopefully, the game finds some interesting ways to incorporate that as it explains what the heck it is, because right now, it doesn't look like much beyond a great concept, and a cool narrative trick.

Ladykiller in a Bind:

It's a weird day for games coming in twos, but Ladykiller in a Bind (or: My brother forced me to crossdress as him and now I have to deal with a geeky stalker and a domme beauty who want me in a bind) is another visual novel we played today, and also happens to be doing interesting things with the way narrative options are presented in that genre's framework.

Ladykiller's dialogue sections allow you to interject with conversation options as the conversation continues. As you advance the dialogue, options disappear, and sometimes new ones take their place. Effectively, you're being given a more active role in conversations. Each dialogue option also carries the risk of arousing suspicion that you aren't actually the person you're pretending to be, but sometimes, not talking at all during a conversation could rack up the suspicion just as much. Plus, not talking at all means you'll never get to date-slash-sleep with the dozens of animes wandering this cruise ship you're all stuck on, and why would you ever choose to ignore that option. 

Ladykiller is confident. It's sexy, it's clever, and most of all, it's one of the few non-passive visual novels I've ever played, which is probably fitting, considering its kink-heavy demo. It's really great to see a game take big steps forward in a genre that has been so stagnant for so long, and I really can't wait to see where else Ladykiller goes.


Loud on Planet X:

Loud on Planet X isn't a super crazy concept. It's a tower defense rythym game. Aleins attack your band and you have to tap them to the beat of the song in order to drive them back. It's a pretty simple combination of very popular genres, but the mechanics of the game aren't what's so great about it.

Planet X features bands like Fucked Up and Teegan and Sara, indie stuff that never really made its way to Rock Band DLC. The game has you play as the actual band when you play their song, and enemies appear according to the beat, making the whole thing feel lke this careful, hand-made experience. It's curated and carefully designed, much like the Long Winter event series in Toronto it came out of. It's a simple, fun game, with a ton of heart and some great design, and it might be one of the most fun games I played at PAX.

Lovely Planet:

I can't figure out how to explain Lovely Planet. I'm pretty sure it's a shooter,  but aesthetically, it's about the farthest thing from an FPS you could possibly be. It's heavily inspired by Japanese minimalism and surrealism, with specific influences from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a Japanese pop singer, and Katamari Damacy, a game about pleasing your god-dad by rolling humans into a ball. Meanwhile, Lovely Planet features a flower gun that shoots menacing red blocks while a chipper pop theme song loops in the background forever.

It's weird.

Lovely Planet is part of a trend I've been calling the "Super-Meat-Boy-ification" of games. Dying instantly sends you back to the start of a level, without any other penalty. Thus, levels are designed to be short, hard, and full of gotcha moments that come off as funny because you can get back into the level so quickly. It's a fun design concept, and almost works better for an FPS than it did for a platformer. The only issue is that in Meat Boy, every death was your own fault because the controls were tight and perfectly crafted. Meanwhile, Lovely Planet's controls are pretty loose and floaty.  It's a little more frustrating than it needs to be, though I have to wonder if better controls would make the game easier. It's hard to say, but for now, it's a twitch shooter with great aesthetics, though maybe not the best feel.

Comment

PAX East Day 1: Previews

Comment

PAX East Day 1: Previews

In the ever-frozen land south of here, but north of other places, there is a town called Boston. And in this town, once at the beginning of the growing season, they sacrifice a fresh-born video game to the eldest god, in order to ensure a quick end to the winter season, and a bountiful harvest.

But before that sacrifice can be made, the city of Boston comes together at the Penny Arcade Expo East in order to determine which is the best video game that can be offered to Grayth'rll , emperor of kings. Here are just a few of the games at this year's culling, and our thoughts on their standings in the running.

Severed:

Severed is Punch out meets early iOS games, which is approximately ten times less annyong that it sounds. You play as a girl missing an arm who's been gifted a iving sword by a mysteryious looking cloaked fella. You use this sword to freeze time and chop all the limbs of the monsters that presumably severed your own arm. 

Playing it, it comes off a lot like Infinity Blade of Punch Out, in that you're mostly watching enemies for tells, countering their attacks, and striking back with your own. There's a bit of a progression system, in that you can trade the disembodied parts of monsters for upgrades to your health, damage, or time freezing ability.  What's interesting though is that it often throws enemies with not only specific defenses against your blows (one enemy can only be struck on the crack in its armor before being opened up, one enemy switches what angle you can slash at) but also mutliple enemies at once. Each enemy appears at a different angle, meaning you have to turn away from the others to fight them, and are forced to remember their timing and patterns so you can turn around and counter them before they kill you.

It's a small, but pretty signficant leap on that Punch Out/Infinity Blade combat style, and though I'm not really sure where else it has left to evolve, i'm interested to see where Drinkbox wants to take it.

12 Minutes:

I'm really not sure if 12 Minutes is a game that'll ever be playable by the public, but it really really should be. You play as a man who sits down to have a nice dinner with his wife when all of a sudden, a "cop" busts down the door, accuses your wife of murder, arrests both of you, and kicks your head in. Then you wake up back before dinner.

It's sort of like Groundhog Day, or Majora's Mask. You're stuck in a loop, until you find a way to break free of it. Or maybe you don't, we didn't actually finish it, we mostly tried to do things like call 911 and say it was a wrong number, or hide in the closet and try to go to sleep instead of opening the door for the cop. It feels a lot like classic adventure games, in that you're presented with a lot of options, and beacuse the space available to you is so limited, they all have small impacts on the story. You'll need the butter knife to cut through the zip tie the cop handcuffs you with, but that'll just make him punch you in the stomach as you try to run. You can call 911, but only after you've stolen your wife's phone and are told she might be a murderer.  You can hide in the closet, and while it doesn't seem to be terribly effective, it makes for some hilarious reactions from your wife. 12 Minutes is short, sweet, and a really clever adventure puzzle game in the vein of the escape the room games that are so popular these days, and I'd love to see more of it.

We Happy Few:

We Happy Few is early. Like, I-got-trapped-jumping-infinitely-on-a-corner-of-a-bed early. The new game from Montreal-based Compulsion Games is a self-described mix of Don't Starve and Day-Z, though it honestly feels a lot more like a cross between Shiren the Wanderer and the movie Brazil. The randomly-generated world is full of people who are addicted to a drug called Joy, which makes them very happy, and also very psychotic, enough to make them want to force anyone not on the drug to get some in their system ASAP. Taking Joy makes you less suspicious to NPCs, letting you go around your business freely, but after it wears off, you go through withdrawal, and your hunger and thirst levels bottom out, slowly draning your health until you get some food in you. 

Survival games aren't really my thing, but the mechanic of managing your Joy levels to be able to explore the world more freely, so long as you have the resources on hand to make sure the high doesn't kill you, is a really interesting mechanic, though the randomly generated world worries me a bit. The game has a strong narrative concept, and the world has a lot of character, including an omnipresent live-action British man who sings creepy songs on TVs all around the city, but the fact that everything is randomly generated make it feel like I'm not really uncovering anything about the world story-wise, unless I manage to keep a little progress every time I reset. 

Obviously, the game is till very early, so it's hard to be super critical of design choices that might not be around in a week, but I feel like randomly-generated worlds may not be the best option for the kind of game We Happy Few wants to be. That live action guy is goddamn terrifying though, so good job on that.

Mahou Shojo:

Taking a break from video games, Mahou Shoujou is a card game where you and your opponent play as two teams of magical girils vying for sugoi supremacy. The kawaii kombat starts with playing regular girl cards called alter-egos, who can transform into magical girls cards during a transofmration phase of your turn, so long as you have a magical girl in your hand. Attacks drain a girl's magic points, which don't recharge, and when a girl's magic is drained, the tansformation ends and the magical girl is discraded. 

If you manage to send your opponent's girl to the shadow realm before they run out of magic, you gain their soul gem, and three gems wins you the game. There are also animal familliar cards and spells you can cast for extra magic, but the real star of the show is each character's flavour text. Every magical girl has a chatchphrase you HAVE to yell before being allowed to attack. It's wonderful, and really sells the concept much better than the gameplay does. The game needs a little more complexity in terms of card choice, maybe some way of stocking up on energy so it isn't as hard to kill characters before they run out of magic, or a weapon to force a little bit more agression with higher damage. We also played with pre-contrcuted theme decks, and I'm not sure if you'll be allowed to mix-and-match character cards in the final version, but there are already some interesting combinations I can see if I take some cards from the two decks were presented and put them together. 

You can find Mahou Shoujou on kickstarter. It's got great art, great personality, but maybe needs just a little bit more game to it.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

Let's keep this short: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is the Xenoblade you probably didn't play on Wii, but on a handheld.

Seriously, it's basically the exact same game. The new features that the Nintendo rep on the show floor touted to me were a character model gallery, and a music selection mode. Other htan, the only difference is the control scheme, which suffers a bit from being moved to a smaller console. In-battle, abilities can now be selected using the d-pad, which would be more conventient if the d-pad weren't right below the movement stick on the 3DS, thus making it so you can't position yourself properly for an attack while also selecting that attack. It's not the worst thing inthe world, but it'll slow down your reactions in battles singficiantly, and I'm not sure if the game has been rebalanced for that.

Otherwise, it's Xenoblade. It's great. It's not $100.

Ronin:

I don't like calling games rip offs. It implies a level of laziness that I hate ascribing to games, because making them is a process that's really hard to describe as "lazy". Ronin is a game that's probably best known right now for looking exactly like Gunpoint, and sharing much of its mechanics. It's not a Gunpoint rip-off though. It adds a core mechanic completely unlike anything in the game that inspired it, and tries to progress the 2d stealth-jump genre.

It's too bad that mechanic is kind of lame though.

Ronin has promise. It's a side-scrolling stealth jump-em-up, much like Gunpoint, but while that game has you maniuplating circuitry to get the jump on your enemies and sneak by them unnoticed, Ronin wants you to get right up in their faces and kill them as stylishly as possible. To do this, it stops time in combat enoucnters, and seperates each action into a seperate turn. It's not a bad idea, and it paints a picture of approaching combat with a strategy in mind and executing it effectively. Unfortunately,  it effectively renders combat meaningless. It's not easy to take out every enemy perfectly, but since you can see exactly what moves they make, you can just dodge them forever until you see an opening. It's not a strategy so much as it is taking advantaghe of the fact that you have so much more mobility than they do. Gunpoint balanced that by having everything react in real time, and part of the fun of that game was the chaos it could inspire. Ronin feels sterile in comparison. It's stylish, and the concept is super interesting on paper, it just doesn't work out as well as I wanted it to.

Comment

Preview: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U- Tell Me if You've Heard This One Before...

Comment

Preview: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U- Tell Me if You've Heard This One Before...

As a series, Smash Bros. was founded on the principle that fighting games could do with being a little less complex. To that end, director Masahiro Sakurai added two extra players and simplified inputs. If you want to take mechanics and design as symbolism (and I always do) it's a pretty clear statement that Smash Bros. is a game designed for anyone and everyone to play. No one should be sitting on the sidelines, because anyone can pick it up.

Comment

Preview: The Xbox One Holiday Lineup

Comment

Preview: The Xbox One Holiday Lineup

Alien: Isolation:

There's our girl.

There's our girl.

The first thing I asked the Sgea rep demoing Alien: Isolation was when the demo content took place in the game proper. He told me it’s more of a vertical slice, indicative of the game’s overall feel, but not necessarily any one part.

People who remember 2013’s license nightmare Aliens: Colonial Marines know why this was deeply concerning to me. Colonial Marines was nothing but vertical slices, and when it came time for the game to be released, the final product was so different, it sparked lawsuits. So even though the next paragraph is going to begin with what’ll sound like a bit of hyperbole, know that I’m still very, very apprehensive about this game.

This spooky guy didn't show up during my demo, but one can only assume he's gonna be Xenomorph chow my the end of the game.

This spooky guy didn't show up during my demo, but one can only assume he's gonna be Xenomorph chow my the end of the game.

Alien: Isolation is probably the best Alien game ever made. It might even be up there as one of the best survival horror games ever made. The demo threw me into a limited zone, and presented a few tools up front. I had some flares, some scrap metal, and a flamethrower, which me handler was careful to call a “tool”, not a weapon. Unlke more classic survival horror experiences, Isolation doesn’t really hand you much in the way of weaponary, and why would it? Guns are pretty much useless against the Xenomorph. In fact, everything feels useless agaisnt the Xenomorph. It’s massive, towering over my character, and walks with a lumbering thump-thump. It’s genuinely horrifying, and with only one enemy throughout the entire game, it more than makes up for the pretty much guaranteed lack of jump scares.

Even the motion tracker itself looks gloriously crappy.

Even the motion tracker itself looks gloriously crappy.

It took me four tries to get anywhere in the demo. I had to be cautious and stealthy, checking my motion tracker whenever I found a safe hiding spot, and then finding out the alien was right behind me. The sound of it approaching was enough to get my knees shaking, and the subtle cutaway when it catches you is probably a thousand times spookier than any gore-shot could have been. The Xenomorph runs around unscripted too, doing whatever its AI feels like, so there’s no way to rely on rote memorization. It’s all about your skill at tracking, avoiding, and using the incredibly limited toolset availble to you. The game also looks incredibly faithful to the movie, replicating that 70s low-fi si-fi look with pretty stellar results. At the beginning of my demo, I got a tutorial video on how to use the motion tracker, which looked like the worn-out VHS tapes I saw in elementary school. Apparently, the dev team rendered the video in game, recorded it to a VHS tape, scratched it up, then put it back into the game. That’s dedication.

But, no matter how great Isolation is in, well, isolation, it remains to be seen how the full game will turn out. After the Colonial Marines disaster, it never hurts to be trepidatious, especially when dealing with a seven-and-a-half foot tall two-mouthed monstrosity.


Assassin’s Creed: Unity-

Bros before Templars, or something.

Bros before Templars, or something.

I am a cantankerous fart when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed series. I’ve tried them again and again, but they’re never what I want out of a game that promises the experience of being an assassin. At best, they’re sort of bland trips through beautifully realized historical locales. At worst, they’re Assassin’s Creed 3. My problem always sort of comes down to the games increasing focus on open-world action. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is sort of the platonic ideal of that kind of game in a lot of ways. The focus is on fast paced, fluid action, and sailing the high seas looking for more people to shoot and stab. While that works for most people, evidently, I’ve always wanted a more stealthy experience from the Assassin’s Creed games. They always promise sneaky alternatives to action, but remaining hidden is usually so difficult and frustrating that it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Assassinate people through windows! In a church! At the barbeque! After school! After lunch! Any where is good for assassination!

Assassinate people through windows! In a church! At the barbeque! After school! After lunch! Any where is good for assassination!

In my hands-off demo of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Arno was spotted exactly once, and was able to silently get away regardless. It was impressive, but it was basically all due to one little improvement, the crouch button. The assassin’s guild has finally learned the art of getting low to the ground and wearing darker clothes, making it actually feasible to sneak by guards! Arno can also take cover, peek around cover, and even do third-person-shooter style cover-to-cover transitions. It’s something of a late revelation for the Assassin’s Creed series, considering Metal Gear was doing it more than a decade ago, but it’s by no means unwelcome. Adding stealth options that actually seem to work is a big, big deal for the Assassin’s Creed games, which have been catering to the action-focused players since Assassin’s Creed 2.

Next-gen consoles can render those crowds of thousands, but they're only there so you can kill 'em dead.

Next-gen consoles can render those crowds of thousands, but they're only there so you can kill 'em dead.

The game is also kind of insultingly pretty. It seems a bit cartoonier in style than previous entries, specifically when it comes to the blood. The Ubisoft rep who was demoing the game says the gore wasn’t specifically turned up, but the “improved” blood splatters and gore are definitely noticeable, and made me a little uncomfortable. At one point, Arno ducks into a confessional, and the camera zooms in as he stabs his wrist-blades into his targets eyes. It’s brutal, and just a little gross. Otherwise, the environments are beautifully realized, the crowds are enormous and give the world a much better sense of scope, and NPCs react accordingly. At one point, a man on patrol in Notre Dame cathedral was distracted by a cat long enough for Arno to kill him, and dump him into a nearby hay bale. But, this was all hands off. It remains to be seen exactly how well all this will work when it isn’t being demoed by a member of the dev team. For now though, Assassin’s Creed Unity looks like a stealth game I genuinely want to play, which is shocking.


Fable Legends:

That "four heroes walking into the middle distance" motif is real strong on this holiday's marketing materials.

That "four heroes walking into the middle distance" motif is real strong on this holiday's marketing materials.

At E3 Fable Legends looked both kind of generic, and far too good to be true. One one hand, it seemed like a weird offshoot of the Fable games, without any of their sense of scope and grandeur. On the other, the super seamless five player multiplayer, with one player serving as the villain and four working together as a band of heroes looked almost impossible. After going a few rounds with it, Fable Legends showed its true colours- it's actually two genuinely cool, interesting games.

No pictures of my trusty pal Inga, so have Glory wrecking stuff with fireballs.

No pictures of my trusty pal Inga, so have Glory wrecking stuff with fireballs.

The first game is the heroes side. They play an action RPG where each of them has a primary weapon, three health potions, four special powers, and a recharging mana bar that they draw from. I played as Inga, a tank class character, who had a slow sword swing, a big shield, and various abilities that improved her teammates survivability. Along for the ride were Shroud, a sniper, Leech, the necromancer, and Glory, the mage. The developers mentioned that so far, there are eight characters, with more in development, and the plan is that any team of heroes can be viable. The character picking feels a little bit like a MOBA, as each has a very specific role to play on any team they take part in. Otherwise though, characters level up and keep those levels, getting stronger over time and holding on to different weapons and items that players find in the single player campaign.

You know, they call 'em archers but you never see them arch.

You know, they call 'em archers but you never see them arch.

The villain player though is playing a totally different game., sort of a cross between an RTS and a board game. In each arena (distinct areas of each level) the villain can place enemies from a palette of four monsters per arena, activate traps, and direct monster attacks. At one point, the villain player used a monster to lure me past a gate, then sealed it behind me, leaving my slow tank to deal with a swarm of monsters, and the rest of my party without a reliable damage sponge. Before every arena, the villain has about a minute of prep time, but most of their action goes on as the heroes advance through the areas, reacting in realtime to the weaknesses and strengths of the other players.

It’s unbelievably fluid, and part of that may have had to do with the fact that it was running on five networked machines, but god damn if it wasn’t impressive. The game doesn’t currently have a five player local option, which could be a problem moving forward, but apparently Lionhead is looking into smartglass support for the villain player. Otherwise though, so long as the game actually runs this smoothly in its final form (which is a while away, a beta is happening in October), Fable Legends is shaping up to be one of the more interesting multiplayer experiences on next-gen consoles.


Mortal Kombat X:

Yeah, that's Mortal Kombat alright.

Yeah, that's Mortal Kombat alright.

X14, the media event wher I got a chance to play these games, was set up on two floors. More mature titles, like Assassin’s Creed and the Evil Within were on the basement floor, while family friendlier titles like Minecraft and Forza were on the first floor. I told you that because Cassie Cage, one of the new characters, has an attack where she punches her opponents in the nuts so hard their gentials explode.

Mortal Kombat was on the first floor.

Kotal Kahn is a new Mortal Kombat Kharacter, who Kicks and Kracks with the best of the top Kombatants.

Kotal Kahn is a new Mortal Kombat Kharacter, who Kicks and Kracks with the best of the top Kombatants.

Gameplay-wise, the big change is the introduction of a character variation system, which gives each character a choice between three different specializations. For example new character D’vorah, an insect-woman, had variations that added venom to her attacks, or gave her extra control over her bee swarm. Each variation changes the physical appearance of the character, letting competitive players know what they’re up against without any surprises. The other gameplay twist is taken from the MK team’s previous game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, which allowed fighters to interact with various objects and people in the environment. For example, on the market stage, the Warner Bros. PR rep playing the game with me picked up an old lady in the middle of her shopping and tossed her right into my face.

Mortal Kombats tone is a beautiful thing. It’s completely unserious, completely goofy. Where Assassin’s Creed’s cartoonish goriness was mildly upsetting, Mortal Kombat’s was almost jovial. This is a game where the aforementioned Cassie Cage (daughter of series mainstays Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage, by the way) can kneecap her opponents, shoot them through the head, pull out some gum, chew it, stick it over the bullet hole, and watch as a blood soaked bubble pops out. The goofy goriness refreshingly unserious, which is strange to say in an industry where increased gore is meant to be a mark of maturity.


Ori and the Blind Forest:

Dang, that's pretty.

Dang, that's pretty.

Do you remember the action/platformer indie game trend of 2008ish? Moon studios does. In fact, their debut game, Ori and the Blind forest feels like it could have been ripped right out of that post-Braid period of indie game design. It’s actually kind of refreshing, considering so many indie games are following the current rougelike trend. In terms of platform mechanics, there’s a little bit of lag to Ori’s movement, a little bit of floatiness to his jumps, giving it a very similar feel to Rayman: Origins. Ori also shares that game’s focus on gorgeous 2D art. Like Rayman, it’s only meant to look hand drawn, but in motion, moves a lot more fluidly with less frames. It’s not janky looking by any means, but it’s likely what contributes to the floatiness of the gameplay.

Ori also borrows liberally from Metroidvania-style games, with areas that are only accessible by levelling up Ori’s various attacking, jumping and running abilities. The whole game takes place on one interconnected map screen, and the plan is for loading to be seamless, with all progress impediments being completely organic, rather than Metroid’s trademark locked doors. It’s a big promise, but as far as the demo goes, it seems feasible. Unfortunately, there isn’t very much that distinguishes Ori mechanically. It mostly seems like a method of conveyance for this gorgeous art, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s probably not the indie game that’ll put the Xbox One on the map.

Sunset Overdrive:

I really hope that gun actually fire bullets shaped like the word "Blamm!"

I really hope that gun actually fire bullets shaped like the word "Blamm!"

Sunset Overdrive is Sonic the Hedgehog but with guns.

But also it’s nothing like that one game that already did that.

See? Grinding! Just like everyone's favourite the Hedgehog.

See? Grinding! Just like everyone's favourite the Hedgehog.

Insomniac Games is coming hot off the heels of last year’s tepidly reviewed Fuse, their first multiplatform title. Sunset Overdrive meanwhile, is their first Xbox exclusive game, and the attitude is an interesting cross between the classic Insomniac cartooniness and Microsoft’s focus on “mature” content. The game opens with your personally designed character (mine was a buff red haired girl with a fantastic goatee) cursing up a storm as they flee from mutant energy drink addicts and learn how to grind on rails and building ledges. That’s where the sonic comparisons come in. on the ground, your character is a sitting duck. You’re not very quick, but the mutants are fast and come at you in droves. While grinding though, you get both the high and speed advantage, along with a better look at the lay of the land. Your advantage is the mobility that the rails offer you, and it makes for a faster, more visually dynamic shooter.

Explosions! Orange! Blue! Soda! Tongues! Firmly in cheeks! But not in a ditry way!

Explosions! Orange! Blue! Soda! Tongues! Firmly in cheeks! But not in a ditry way!

The problem mostly comes in when your weapon variety starts to show up. I had a flaming  gential-themed shotgun, a disc gun that fired vinyl records, and a massive hand cannon called the Dirty Harry. None of these guns really favoured the high speed, far away combat style that the grind-rails encouraged. The shotgun worked great for enemies nearby, and the hand cannon was perfect when I slowed myself down and focused on enemies, but otherwise, the disc gun’s bouncing records was the only weapon that worked at the high speeds the game wanted me to move at. Presumably as the game opens up, you’ll get more weapons that suit how you want to fight, but the game pushes you very hard in a particular direction. The other problem I see is the game’s open world, which sort of renders that high-speed mobile combat moot. Specific challenges designed around your mobility in certain areas can be really interesting, but a big, open world might just allow the developers to create more generalized challenges that can be dropped in anywhere on the map. For now, Sunset Overdrive’s overall goofiness, and highly mobile combat style has me a lot more interested in it than I’d initially thought, but that open world is particularly worrying, and very much not in Insomniac’s wheelhouse.


The Evil Within:

That lanterns is almost certainly going to burn through his pants. Give him some toasty buns.

That lanterns is almost certainly going to burn through his pants. Give him some toasty buns.

Hoods are so last year for "spooky apparition", don't you know that?

Hoods are so last year for "spooky apparition", don't you know that?

Did you play Resident Evil 4? If you didn’t, it’s something of a classic. Shinji Mikami reimagined of the survival horror genre when it desperately needed some fresh air, and created one of the first modern third person shooters to boot, RE4 is pretty rightfully considered to be one of the best games of its time, and it holds up surprisingly well. The Evil Within is Shinji Mikami’s return to the genre he revolutionized twice, and it’s sort of lacking in the revolution department. Without Mikami, Resident Evil has become a far more action- oriented franchise than ever before, and indie games have taken the survival horror genre in a more atmospheric, less actiony direction.The Evil Within is a very anti-climactic return to that Resident Evil 4 middle ground. The protagonist even has Leon Kennedy’s trademark constipated shuffle.

Ammo’s in tight supply, the “haunted” can come back from the dead if you don’t burn their corpses with a match, and the demo took place in a spooky mansion. The potential for jump scares and death traps is pretty much infinite. At one point, I walked down a hallway, and triggered a rope that dragged me into a closet full of spinning blades. I tried shooting at the blades to jam them, but of course, the game didn’t exactly highlight the tiny blinking light I was meant to shoot at until after I died. And then I lost about 20 minutes of progress. Retracing my steps was an exercise in memorization. Turn around, shoot that zombie. Stop, kick open door, defuse bomb, grab safe dial, go down hall, activate trap, shoot trap. The sheer scriptedness of everything renders the horror moot. The terrifying atmosphere of modern survival horror has left Mikami’s take on the genre feeling more like a particularly goofy haunted house.

In a more positive take, having to burn enemy corpses is an interesting mechanic. Your character only has so many matches available to him (one has to wonder why he doesn’t just carry a lighter) and any enemy whose head you don’t completely blow off has a chance of coming back. I could see that becoming a real great way of building dread, but then again, after dying once or twice, it wouldn’t be too hard for a player to figure out which bodies to burn and which to leave. Especially when compared to Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within seems like a survival horror throwback, and not necessarily in a good way.


Comment

Nintendo's E3 Lineup Previews

Comment

Nintendo's E3 Lineup Previews

Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker:

Zooming out Captain Toad levels is a lot like playing Where's Waldo, if Waldo had the voice of a shrill, screaming grandmother.

Zooming out Captain Toad levels is a lot like playing Where's Waldo, if Waldo had the voice of a shrill, screaming grandmother.

The Captain Toad levels are the best part of Super Mario 3D World. Full stop.

If you don’t believe me, you either haven’t played 3D World, or that grating Toad voice Nintendo has been putting in games since 2001 made your head explode a lot faster than mine. For the former, the Captain Toad levels saw the titular explorer (first introduced as Mario’s weird schlemiel tagalong in Mario Galaxy) move around a 3D puzzle box level, hunting down green stars. The captain can’t jump use powerups, or even run very fast, but he can manipulate the camera a full 360 degrees, allowing levels to be trickier than they seem at first glance.

This is BASICALLY Gears of War. That cover would be waist high on anyone else.

This is BASICALLY Gears of War. That cover would be waist high on anyone else.

They were short, but generally really clever little puzzles. and the only complaint I ever had with them was that there weren’t more. Now that I have that though, I can’t help but be a little concerned. Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles are still tricky, and require some careful thought, as well as quick reflexes, but I have to wonder how much Captain Toad can justify an entire game. The demo I played had four levels, all pretty different from one another, including one where our intrepid explorer had to move from cover to cover to avoid a dragon spitting fire, while also moving forward to avoid the slowly rising lava lake. It’s not a terribly original level design, even for Nintendo, since it's pretty much exactly the Helmaroc King fight from Wind Waker, but Captain Toad’s specific limitations and goals gave it an interesting spin on a classic puzzle platformer challenge. If Nintendo can keep that kind of variety up across a few dozen levels, Captain Toad might finally escape his eternal sidekick role.

 

Mario Maker:

That hand isn't for show. It's in the game every time you edit a level and it's mildly unsettling.

That hand isn't for show. It's in the game every time you edit a level and it's mildly unsettling.

The first thing you have to know about Mario Maker though is that it really isn’t a game. It’s more of a toy, sort of in the vein of Mario Paint. However, unlike Mario Paint, fans have been making Mario level editors for years on the interest, at different, mostly questionable levels of legality, so what’s the deal here?

See? Maybe that's Miyamoto's hand? It would only make sense.

See? Maybe that's Miyamoto's hand? It would only make sense.

Assuming Mario Maker is a smaller, eShop title, and not a full retail release, the basis of Mario Maker is sound. Making your own Mario levels is a fun enough concept that dozens of half-baked fangames have been made to service the idea. The problem is how Nintendo plans to make Mario Maker worth a price tag. As it stands, Mario Maker feels pretty early on, it’s fairly light on features, and I’m assuming plenty more will be added as the game gets closer to release. For example, while the toolset let me put wings on any damn enemy I pleased, the red Koopas pictured in the official art weren't in the demo, leaving me dropping hundreds of winged green turtles to their doom.

Actually, it could be Reggie's hand. It is very well manicured.

Actually, it could be Reggie's hand. It is very well manicured.

The most intriguing feature the demo had was the ability to swap between Super Mario Bros. 1 graphics to New Super Mario Bros. U graphics on the fly. Nintendo has mentioned that they’re looking into adding more graphic overlays, and I think that’s where this game has a chance of really standing out. If tools from every 2d Mario platformer are available, with abilities from every game, we’d have a much deeper level editor than fans have ever made. Imagine switching to Mario 2 graphics and being able to plop down turnips for throwing around and setting up magic potions and portal doors, then erasing that level, and building one of those nightmare Kaizo Mario World death traps that require constant spin jumps over hungry piranha plants. Or assets themed around more obscure games like Donkey Kong ‘94, or even a Paper Mario visual filter. Mario Maker could be a really deep, fun toy that takes a look back at Mario’s platforming history by giving players the reigns. Emphasis on could. It could also be made obsolete by fan games before it’s even released. Here's hoping for a Hotel Mario skin at the very least.

 

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse:

Every single piece of art for this game is so cute it may actually kill me. LOOK AT HIS CUTE GLASSY EYES. LOOK UPON THEM AND DESPAIR.

Every single piece of art for this game is so cute it may actually kill me. LOOK AT HIS CUTE GLASSY EYES. LOOK UPON THEM AND DESPAIR.

Kirby’s Canvas Curse is the actual best Kirby game, but probably also one of the most overlooked. It came out at a weird transitionary period in the DS’s life. It was long enough after launch that every DS game wasn’t an exciting new tech demo, but before the system hit its popularity stride with stuff like Brain Age and Nintendogs. Not to mention that it was a touch based game about two months after touch was no longer a special feature. But, it was a really clever platformer that used the DS hardware better than pretty much any game before it, and was fun to boot.

I wish every screenshot of this game was a ,gif, it's sort of the only thing that would do it justice.

I wish every screenshot of this game was a ,gif, it's sort of the only thing that would do it justice.

Almost a decade later, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse becomes a long-awaited sequel by default, but there’s something off about it. It’s still fun, and the paint-line mechanic hasn’t been revisited since the original, but I just can’t understand why the game is on WiiU. Yes, it’s gorgeous. Screenshots don’t quite do it justice actually. The world is rendered in clay, giving the game a faux-stop motion feel.  It’s constantly moving but in tiny, imperfect ways. Kirby is never a perfect sphere, but invisible hands are constantly trying to remold him into one, like a child with a ball of plasticine. It’s some of the best, most creative use of HD I’ve ever seen, but it’s not necessary to the game. The aesthetic tries to justify its existence on WiiU, when it’s otherwise a much better fit for 3DS. It is the sequel to a DS game after all. One has to wonder if this game and Kirby’s Triple Deluxe, a more traditional platformer that would probably get more attention on a console, didn’t get swapped around or something at birth.

Yeah. If that doesn't win you over you're dead inside.

Yeah. If that doesn't win you over you're dead inside.

It's Yoshi! But yarn! It's cute!

It's Yoshi! But yarn! It's cute!

Yoshi’s Wooly World:

Yoshi is another WiiU game that tries to justify its existence through an aesthetic. Unlike Kirby though, its harder to fault it for that. I’m sure it’s coincidental, but considering the general “meh” Yoshi’s New Island received from players at large, stepping as far away as possible from the traditional Yoshi art style is probably a good idea.

No one man should have all that yarn.

No one man should have all that yarn.

Otherwise though, Woolly World is Yoshi as you know it. Considering it’s already the third direct Yoshi’s Island sequel in eight years, the ground before it is pretty well trodden. You eat enemies, turn them into eggs (yarn balls technically), bop more enemies with them to collect treasures. In a cross with Good Feel’s previous craft-based game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi doesn’t have a life bar, instead losing a chunk of collected treasure upon death. In multiplayer mode, dying also respawns you as a floating egg for your partner to pop, sort of like respawning in New Super Mario Bros.. It’s totally solid, but I’m still iffy on using Epic Yarn’s death system. While it does get rid of Baby Mario’s incessant whining, Yoshi’s Island’s difficulty was in collecting well hidden secrets like the red coins and flowers. Putting the emphasis instead on amassing as much treasure as possible feels like it’s missing the point, much like Yoshi’s New Island and Yoshi’s Island DS. Maybe we’ll just have to wait a little longer for a true Yoshi’s Island sequel after all.

 

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright:

Luke's the only one not getting in on the Objection action. That's because no one likes Luke. Sorry guy.

Luke's the only one not getting in on the Objection action. That's because no one likes Luke. Sorry guy.

Earlier this year, I got really existential about there being no more Professor Layton games. Of course, I knew then that Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney would be coming out in North America eventually, I just also knew that due to its long release delay it was going to feel like a pretty significant step back.

When the 3DS was announced, this was the game that made me perk up and get interested in the system. Two of my favourite DS adventure games come together to form a weird, violin accompanied Voltron? Where do I sign up? Playing it now though, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. The game doesn’t demo well, but in the half hour or so I played it, I watched Professor Layton explain what a puzzle was, using a non-interactive cutscene that lasted three or four eternities, and Phoenix and Maya bicker about how they’re bakers, not lawyers. I swear, they think they’re bakers until the first contradiction, and it lets them justify every first case cliche the series can throw at you. Explaining how to press witnesses? Check. Explaining what contradictions are? Check. Explaining how testimony works? Arghhhhh

Spoilers: Maya isn't in AA5, so seeing her again is a real treat for long time Ace Attorney fans.

Spoilers: Maya isn't in AA5, so seeing her again is a real treat for long time Ace Attorney fans.

I’m sure those things will pass, but I can’t help but feel the game is designed for newcomers to the Layton franchise from the Ace Attorney side, as well as newcomers to the Ace Attorney franchise from the Layton side. It’s tutorial city. Again, the demo I played was only an hour and a half or so into the game, and I’m sure it’ll pass, it just didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth. Also, since the game came out before Ace Attorney 5 in Japan, it lacks the option to skip text at any point, forcing you to sit through s l o w ,  s c r o l l i n g  d i a l o g. It’s a minor complaint, I know, but I’m a fast reader, and having that option in AA5 was a real blessing. Playing without it may get really frustrating for Ace Attorney veterans in the same camp as myself.

 

 

Hyrule Warriors:

Fans have determined that this Link is the "pretty Link", and I can only assume it's the scarf. Gotta be the scarf.

Fans have determined that this Link is the "pretty Link", and I can only assume it's the scarf. Gotta be the scarf.

The problem with writing about Hyrule Warriors is that it’s exactly what I expected of it. Not that that’s a terrible thing. Hyrule Warriors is a Zelda-inspired take on the Dynasty Warriors franchise, which at this point has teeth so long they qualify as tusks. If you’ve played any of those, you know what to expect here- giant hordes of enemies, punctuated with a few bigger, tougher foes, scattered across a map with various bases and control points. Kill scores of them and complete missions (mostly oriented around running to another point on the map and killing scores of them) and beat the level.

Some days, we just need to sit back and appreciate how great the Skyward Sword Lizalfos design is. It has a giant rock gauntlet Let that sink in.

Some days, we just need to sit back and appreciate how great the Skyward Sword Lizalfos design is. It has a giant rock gauntlet Let that sink in.

There are a few differences, sure. Subweapons like bombs can be found on the map and equipped instead of the standard healing potions, and having individual hearts instead of an ambiguous health bar makes it a lot easier to know how much health you need to pick up to keep on trucking, but overall, this is Dynasty Warriors wearing a Zelda skin.

Original character White Sorceress Lana is here to fulfil your daily recommended dose of moe character design.

Original character White Sorceress Lana is here to fulfil your daily recommended dose of moe character design.

It’s a pretty skin though. Hyrule Warriors is among the prettier WiiU games, and the Skyward Sword-inspired battlefield the demo took place in looks like a massive step up even from the game’s initial trailers. And, speaking as a far-too-enthusiastic Zelda fan, the little touches thrown in are adorable. Midna’s “twilight wolves” have the same chunky dreadlocked mane that Wolf Link was rocking back in Twilight Princess, and one of Zelda’s alternate weapons is the Wind Waker, complete with requisite sound effects. There are a few spots where the shout outs go a little too far, like when Navi’s ever-grating “Hey, Listen!” plays over tutorial tooltips. It’s as if the developers knew that her catchphrase became memetic, but totally missed the part where it was the world’s most annoying sound.

It’s hard to write about this game without it just sounding a back-of-the-box feature list. Kill monsters! Zelda things! Dynasty Warriors was smart to move into more and more licensed titles, like their recent Fist of the North Star and One Piece-themed games, and Hyrule Warriors is no different from either. It’s classic, tried-and-tired Dynasty Warriors gameplay with a candy-coloured Zelda coating. That was totally enough to get me to buy One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 last year, and depending on how much more content this game has we haven’t seen yet, it might manage to do it again.

Twilight Princess's Midna brings down Majora's Mask's moon as part of one of her supers, and that sentence is definitely a dream come true for someone. (That someone is me.)

Twilight Princess's Midna brings down Majora's Mask's moon as part of one of her supers, and that sentence is definitely a dream come true for someone. (That someone is me.)

Remember, for more previews of games like Bayonetta 2 and Project Giant Robot, check out our audio from Nintendo's preview event, coming soon!


Comment

Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS Preview: Lookin' Good

Comment

Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS Preview: Lookin' Good

Smash Bros. is a weird beast. On one hand, it’s an outsider game, part of Nintendo’s initiative to take genres they aren’t comfortable with and Nintendo-ize them. Smash Bros. is an action-platform-brawler, sure, but it’s also Nintendo’s more intuitive, easy to understand take on the fighting game genre (see also: Splatoon for shooters, Fire Emblem for RPGs, Luigi’s Mansion for point-and-click adventure games). On the other hand though, it’s the insider game, combining pretty much every Nintendo franchise that matters (and some that really, really don’t) into one fan-pandering package.

It's like Rock-Paper-Scissors. Mega Man beats Mario who bears Sonic who beats Mega Man until both are irrelevant.

It's like Rock-Paper-Scissors. Mega Man beats Mario who bears Sonic who beats Mega Man until both are irrelevant.

That fighting game part of the equation is really relevant these days, with the sudden surge of popularity Super Smash Bros Melee, the 2001 Gamecube incarnation of the series, has been seeing in the fighting game community. Nintendo, in response, made sure that Gamecube controllers, the Smash Bros. standard would be compatible with the WiiU game through some sort of Frankenstein's monster of a switching box. It takes up two USB ports, and I’m not really sure how. Then, they held a tournament, inviting the world’s top Smash Bros. players to show off the game in a livestreamed event in the Nokia Theatre. Nintendo is pinning all its WiiU hopes and dreams on Smash, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s consistently a multi-million seller, but unlike Mario Kart, its more popular older brother, it draws in a fairly stable crowd of Nintendo, and specifically, Smash Bros. diehards.

So, getting Super Smash Bros. for WiiU and 3DS (seriously, that's the full name) right is a Big Deal for Nintendo. Such a big deal that they’ve dedicated multiple Nintendo Directs to it, post daily updates on the games development to Miiverse, and commission original, usually super clever art every time a new character is revealed. Smash Bros. is an event game. It’s a once a generation game. But enough context, let’s talk video games.

Rush....Do you think love can bloom? Even on a battlefield?

Rush....Do you think love can bloom? Even on a battlefield?

To prepare for the demo, I played enough of Melee and Brawl to get a feel for the differences between the two games, and to remind myself exactly how they felt to move around in. I found that Melee was a lot slipperier than I remembered, while also being a very stiff game overall. Brawl, meanwhile, had a lot more traction on the ground, and moved more smoothly, but had a lot of floatiness and looseness in the air. Smash Bros. for WiiU feels tighter, in a good way though. Melee’s stiffness made hit and run tactics the order of the day giving defensive players really big opportunities, while Brawl’s floatiness made matches one long air battle, eventually culminating in a single strong ground hit for a kill. Overall, characters feel like they have less airtime now, as well as more responsive hits on the ground. The overall feel is snappier, tighter. Characters have real weight to them again, but not so much that they feel cumbersome to combo with.

K! O!

K! O!

For example, I got my hands on Punch Out’s Little Mac, one of the game’s newcomers. Mac is a boxer, not exactly skilled at air fighting. His jumps are low and heavy, and his off-screen recovery options either move straight up, or straight to the side, no precise recovery here. But, his ground game is unmatched. He’s lightning quick, hits like a tank, and most of his specials and smash attacks combo out of his jab attack. Mac also builds up a power meter as he takes and deals damage. Once it fills up, you get a single use, instant-KO uppercut. It comes out slow, but hitting it stops the action and zooms in on you crushing your opponents jaw with the might of a thousand elephants. It’s crazy satisfying. The rebalancing of the air and ground game still makes Mac a less viable character overall, Smash Bros. is an action-platformer after all, and what good is a platforming character who jumps like a turtle? But, more of the action takes place on the ground, and playing to your strengths (and the center of the stage) makes Mac a really solid, entertaining character to use.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Rosalina. The Mario Galaxy princess is light, and floats around pretty much like she’s right out of Brawl. Her shtick is that she has a Luma following her around, sort of like the Ice Climbers tandem system from previous games. Unlike Nana though, Rosalina is in full control of her Luma, and can use it to create devastating (and really cool looking) set ups and combos. In the time I used her, she seemed really tricky to get a hold of, but definitely showed potential for serious damage. Between the Luma and Little Mac’s power meter, it’s easy to see that Smash Bros. new direction isn’t so much about refining the engine and core feel of the game, as it has been before, but about refining the characters, and making each feel more unique.

Don't worry, Diddy always has it coming.

Don't worry, Diddy always has it coming.

Take a look at Mega Man. He doesn’t have his own special subsystem, but the way he operates is entirely different from the rest of the cast. His jab combo fires three pellets (and only three, just like NES sprite restrictions demand), and each of his moves are individual, distinct hits, often with charge up time, poor recovery, or slow start-up. Mega Man doesn’t combo. At all. But, just like he does in his games, he has a ton of options available to him. The (ironically sort of useless) Metal Blade can go off in any direction, the Leaf Shield lets you run right through projectiles, Hard Knuckle demolishes any enemy beneath you, Air Shooter lets you chase enemies right off top of the screen in an aerial battle. Mega Man has an option for any situation, and they hit hard. Mega Man requires you to understand the game and predict your opponents, not react, then pick the right tool for any job. No other character plays like that.

Yeah, but where's all the sports tape?

Yeah, but where's all the sports tape?

Even older characters have gotten tweaks. Pikachu’s thunder attack is no longer nearly as useful, and his “breakdancing” down-smash has a bit of a vortex applied to it, letting him suck enemies into his whirling death tail. Overall, it forces Pikachu players to play more aggressively, having to rely far less on well placed thunders to carry enemies off screen for them. Meanwhile, perennial bottom-tier bench sitter Link has a stronger downwards stab in the air, as well as far batter range on his boomerang. Maybe it’s not enough to take him out of the D-List, but he certainly feels more viable.

I could look at 100 screenshots of Sonic eating it and never get bored.

I could look at 100 screenshots of Sonic eating it and never get bored.

It all makes Smash Bros. feel much more like what I think it was intended to be. A collection of Nintendo's unique characters, each recognizable because they play just like they’re supposed to in their original games. They’re more different than they ever were before. It diversifies the gameplay in a way that Smash Bros. hasn’t tried since the very first game. Greninja plays hit and run like a melee character, Wii Fit Trainer is floatier, but hits hard and plays a strong fundamentals game. The Villager is unpredictable, much like Mr. Game and Watch, but with a heavier focus on set ups and traps. It’s the first Smash Bros. game where I feel like I really need to sit down and learn some of the characters, and that’s a really good thing. It’s making me very excited to clean up with Little Mac in Super Smash Bros for WiiU and 3DS.

Boy, it really needs a better name.


Sidebar: Smash Bros for 3DS Update-

It does actually look this nice up close. Zoomed out? Not so much.

It does actually look this nice up close. Zoomed out? Not so much.

Did you hear? Smash Bros. is also on 3DS this time around!Presumably because the WiiU isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, and a 3DS version is a pretty sure sales bet for a good few million copies. But handheld fighters are never the best idea. Sure, they can function, but it often comes at a serious cost. Either the engine suffers, or the controls aren’t right, or frames get dropped. 3DS Smash Bros. is a pretty unique case in that it is literally the exact same game as it’s console big brother. Sure, it has a different set of stages and a few special modes, but it uses the same characters, the same assets (scaled down significantly for the smaller screen) and the same engine. It plays identically, smooth as silk. I’ll take the thick black outlines over dropped frames any day of the week.

The game’s big draw right now is the Smash Run mode, which lets up to four players run around a floating island dungeon for five minutes, killing various Nintendo enemies for power ups. These power ups then get applied for a set of multiplayer matches once the time limit is up. The mode is entertaining, but playing against CPUs really only hammered across the fact that Smash Bros. is built on local multiplayer. The controls work (the timing for smash attacks feels a little more lenient on the handheld), and the screen size isn’t really an issue. Online multiplayer is solid enough on 3DS, but it’ll never replace the local, punch-your-friend-in-the-shoulder-for-using-a-cheap-move multiplayer that made the series so popular. This game needs tons and tons of single player content, but I have to imagine all of that will find its way to the WiiU version anyway, considering it comes out a few months later. No matter what Smash 3DS does, it’s always going to be the inferior version, and that’s not a great place to start from.

Not the 3DS version, but do appreciate the RESOLUTION on those hula hoops. You won't find hula hoops like that on any other console. Those are proprietary hoops. First party hoops.

Not the 3DS version, but do appreciate the RESOLUTION on those hula hoops. You won't find hula hoops like that on any other console. Those are proprietary hoops. First party hoops.

Comment

Xbox One Launch Line Up Preview- Quick Hits

Comment

Xbox One Launch Line Up Preview- Quick Hits

Microsoft has opened up an Xbox One pop-up shop in Toronto ahead of the system’s launch. On Tuesday, Microsoft allowed members of the press to run around the shop and check out demos of upcoming Xbox One games. Here are some short previews on a few of the games available to demo at the pop-up shop, which opens to the public on Thursday, November 7. It'll stay open until December 27, with all the games previewed here, along with a few more.

Crimson Dragon:

Like Panzer Dragoon, but with even  more  dragons.

Like Panzer Dragoon, but with even more dragons.

The formerly Kinect exclusive, Xbox 360 successor to Panzer Dragoon has been freed of its motion control shackles. Or maybe it’s been shackled to a controller? Either way, the game plays pretty much like Panzer Dragoon, or, if you weren’t one of the five people who owned a Sega Saturn, like Star Fox.

It’s an on-rails shooter, where you ride on the back of a dragon, shooting lasers, fireballs and windblasts at other dragons and alien fauna. The game has a weird sci-fi fantasy thing going for it, with the dragons as the aliens that rule planet Draco, which humans want to colonize. They’re being infected by a disease that makes them go crazy, everybody wears standard space-marine armor, but occasionally there will be another soldier with an anime haircut instead of a helmet. It’s an odd balance, but it works, making for a cool visual style that hides the fact that the game started its life on 360, and it sometimes shows.

2c45498a_CrimsonDragon_06.jpeg

Some bosses take you into a free-flight mode, which functions pretty much like all-range mode in Star Fox. You fly around a giant boss, looking for weak points to shoot at as your wingmen help out. Wingmen can also be the AI profiles of people on your friends list you’ve summoned to help out, so no more blaming Slippy for messing up your run.

Crimson Dragon is a digital-only launch title for Xbox One, from Microsoft Studios.

It will forever drive me mad that the "Multiplizer" is not called the "Multiprizer" IT MAKES MORE SENSE.

It will forever drive me mad that the "Multiplizer" is not called the "Multiprizer" IT MAKES MORE SENSE.

Peggle 2:

Peggle is Peggle and will always be Peggle. You fire a ball at some pegs, watch it bounce around, get points, and become hopelessly addicted. Peggle 2 delivers on all those counts, and actually manages to add some freshness to the mix. The wider screen allows for more space for your Peggle Master (a helper character that gives you magic powers) to hang out in the corner, and get some extra animations. The new Yeti master, Berg, shakes his butt when you do really well, complete with pixelated censoring.

Another new addition are bumpers which line some boards, bouncing your ball around. It’s small, but it adds a little dynamism to the few stages I saw them in. The additions, which also include 5 new masters, sound small, mostly because they actually are. But Peggle was already great, and I can’t wait to become addicted all over again.

Forza 5:

Forza or Fortza? The eternal question...

Forza or Fortza? The eternal question...

I have to be honest, I’m not a car game guy. My primary racing game experience is with Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed and various Mario Karts. The last “real” racing game I played was Gran Turismo 2 on PlayStation. Nevertheless, I braved Forza 5 and found that...it’s a racing game.

It’s a really pretty racing game, absolutely gorgeous in fact, but as usual, I didn’t quite feel the appeal. The demo featured a rewind function that pulled me back to an earlier point in the race, which helped the one time I crashed, spun out, and went from second place to eighth, but I imagine that it isn’t a commonly used ability in regular gameplay.

What I took away from Forza 5 was its use of the Xbox One’s impulse triggers. When I pressed the brakes while driving, the triggers would rumble more and more the harder I pressed and there was always some slight rumble to the triggers as I held down the gas. It felt visceral, in a non-violent way, though I can’t imagine any other context in which rumbling triggers would make any sense.

Killer Instinct:

Werewolves can be stopped by two things: A silver bullet, and a swift kick to the jaw.

Werewolves can be stopped by two things: A silver bullet, and a swift kick to the jaw.

Fighting games are notoriously hard to demo. A fighting game is usually judged on how tough it is to figer out, how complicated it is to master, what the balance is like, and how deep the bonus modes go, and a short, 5 minute session isn’t really going to tell you any of that.

Killer Instinct was no different, but my 5 minutes were at the very least better than I expected. KI is an update of Rare’s SNES “classic”, which is mostly considered to be just another poor Mortal Kombat clone these days. The new Killer Instinct takes some pages out of the new Mortal Kombat’s book as well, with long juggle combos and a very “X-Treme” attitude. Specifically, an announcer who never shuts up and always sounds like he just smoked a pack of cigarettes in hell.

The game itself is hard to judge for now. Combos seemed fairly easy to do, but so did the combo breakers, which essentially just rewarded random button mashing during the match. But of course, that can really only be proven with more extensive play. The fact that the base version of the game is free, with all the characters running $20, and a deluxe version for $40 is a great business model, and one I hope more fighting games adopt, I just wish it wasn’t in a game I have so many apprehensions about.

Kinect Sports Rivals:

Kinect-Sports-Rivals-3-1280x720.jpg

Kinect Sports Rivals is easily the Xbox One’s prettiest launch game.

The Kinect sensor works a bit better, and you can play while sitting so you don’t look like a madman, twisting your arms and stomping your feet in front of the TV, but I still found that it didn’t quite work without making more exaggerated movements than I thought I’d need to make. That didn’t really matter though, because I was wowed, genuinely wowed, by how much prettier the game was than pretty much any next-gen title I’ve seen.

The difference from the rest of the next-gen line up is colour. Next-gen lighting effects (the real graphical jump that the Xbox One and PS4 will provide) take some of the edge off of the oversaturated primaries the game was using and leaves everything with a semi-realistic palette that still looks distinctly cartoony. The water was a vibrant blue, with amazing transparency, and I realize I sound like the world’s most cliched graphics evangelist, ranting about water effects, but they really are something great.

How much better the Kinect sensor remains to be seen, but if you’re picking up an Xbox One at launch, download the demo for this one, just so you can see that next-gen looks better when it isn’t brown and grey.

Dead Rising 3:

Nick, and his co-op partner Dick. No seriously, that's his name, and he just hangs around silently in cutscenes. It's great.

Nick, and his co-op partner Dick. No seriously, that's his name, and he just hangs around silently in cutscenes. It's great.

Going in, I was worried that Dead Rising 3 would lack the humour and general upbeat spirit that endeared me to the series in the first place. Going out, I was more worried about the game’s world than anything else. The demo had me, as zombie-outbreak-survivor Nick, hunting for some Zombrex (the famed zombie antidote) after an inopportune bite. So off I went into town, gleefully rampaging through zombies with a steamroller-motorcycle hybrid I built on the spot. Not having to search for crafting benches both makes and breaks the series’ trademark crafting. On one hand, crafting any two items I find on the ground is fantastic. On the other, it sort of inspired me to try and combine everything, which mostly had me standing around with a cinder block in one hand, longingly staring at a shotgun wishing I could combine the two.

dead-rising-3-crotch.png

The other worrying thing I noted was that the game’s open world made traversing by foot a bit of a chore, which left me using mostly vehicles to get around, and missing out on the various melee weapon combinations. It isn’t helped by the fact that the absolutely massive zombie hordes are a nightmare to plow through without a car.

On the bright side, one of the melee combinations I used was a fire spitting dragon head with umbrella wings and katana gloves, and the guy next to me was fighting off the zombie hordes in a full suit of knight’s armor while using an axe tied to a car engine. So you know, the comedy is still there.

Ryse: Son of Rome:

Why does the guy on the right get a helmet and the other one doesn't? Seems unfair.

Why does the guy on the right get a helmet and the other one doesn't? Seems unfair.

Look, neither of us want to do this. Launch lineups are pretty much always subpar, and, just a guess here, the PS4 and Xbox One don’t seem to be exceptions. But Ryse...well, Ryse is special. First announced as a first-person action game for the Kinect, Ryse was meant to show people that the peripheral could be used for hardcore games. But Kinect was repositioned as the Wii 2.0, and the game never came out.

Until now.

Ryse has been repositioned as a hack-and-slash, God of War style action game set in ancient Rome. Of course, just like God of War, the game tends to skew towards the old ultra-violence. At one point in the demo, after slashing at my enemy maybe five or six times, then bashing his head in with my shield, he ran at me again and I was given an execution prompt. When enemies are low enough on health, you can hit RT to exectue a canned animation and, well, execute them.

Ryse_023.bmp.jpg

My soldier chopped his left arm off when the game told me to hit X, then it asked me to press Y. I decided I was done murdering this man. But without any orders from me, my soldier spun behind him, knocked him to the floor, sliced off his right leg and then curb stomped him back to the ground. I was pretty much done with the demo at that point, but pressed on. Eventually I found myself in a turret section, with confusing auto-lock-on that someone made it both terribly confusing and insultingly easy, and later a boss fight, which was solved by pressing X with the occasional hit of Y to stun the boss.

The game looks pretty good, better than most of the other launch titles, which are ports of current-gen games, and some scenes in the cutscenes could have passed for photos. I just wish the game could pass for more than a gratuitously violent slash-fest that plays itself. 

 

Comment

Preview: Nintendo's E3 Lineup

Comment

Preview: Nintendo's E3 Lineup

For those of us unable to head down to Los Angeles for E3, Nintendo provided a (significantly less smoggy) venue in Toronto to play the Wii U and 3DS demos from the E3 show floor. The games were mostly titles coming out between now and the end of the fall, but there were some notable absences in the lineup. Nintendo's roaming Best Buy demos included Mario Kart 8, which was notably absent from Nintendo's previews, but we soldiered on nonetheless. Here are Nintendo's upcoming Summer and Fall Wii U and 3DS games.

 

Super Mario 3D World:

Platform: Wii U                                                                                                      Release date: December 2013

Platform: Wii U                                                                                                    

Release date: December 2013

The thing that strikes me most about Super Mario 3D World isn’t so much its lack of innovation as how good it is at hiding clever design. The Mario team has always liked to play it coy with level design, never doing anything too huge, instead preferring to let levels speak for themselves, without any major set pieces. As such, the new items and mechanics in Mario 3D World do end up feeling a little underwhelming, but that might not be the worst thing in the world.

The cat suit, which lets Mario and company don a fursuit (and will certainly inspire some frightening cosplay) gives them the ability to climb up walls and do pouncing attacks. The pouncing didn’t come into pay too much in the levels that were on demo, but the wall climbing definitely let players who weren’t quite up to platforming cheat their way up certain walls. Wall climbing is a little tricky, but the ability to bubble up and wait for someone to finish the area for you, like in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, should appease some less skilled players.

mario3.jpg

The other new mechanic the demo showed off was the Mario series’ iconic green pipes repainted to be transparent. It feels a little disingenuous to call this a mechanic, considering it mostly seems like an aesthetic change, but it does allow for some neat little pipe mazes that will probably be explored much further in post-game worlds.

But the real nugget of great design in Mario 3D World doesn’t come from these new things, it comes from what they took from Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Having four players on screen at once in a 3D level should be overwhelming and claustrophobic, and making them all different should make it feel unbalanced, but somehow, it all clicks together perfectly.

mario2.jpg

Levels are designed with just enough space to the four players can check out different paths better suited to their abilities, and working together often led to greater rewards. It feels like a natural step from the “everyone plays the same” mentality that held back New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s multiplayer, and allows for much more dynamic interesting levels.

While 3D World hasn’t bowled me over like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 64 did, I know it’s a fun game with clever concepts tucked away in it, but every Mario game is. 3D World comes off as underwhelming, and doesn’t talk a big game, but you have to wonder where the Mario game that does is hiding. 

 

Pikmin 3: 

Platform: Wii U  Release Date: August 4,2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: August 4,2013

Pikmin has been suspiciously absent from Nintendo’s releases since 2004, and this decade in the making sequel has quite a lot to prove, especially considering it’s been delayed so much. For the most part though, Pikmin 3 is an unassuming game that doesn’t seem like it recognizes that burden, it just wants to be fun.

pikmin3.jpg

Compared to playing the game with a wiimote and nunchuck, the control scheme on the gamepad is cumbersome and unbelievably inaccurate, which sort of betrays the fact that the game was originally designed for Wii. I found the best way to play the game was with the wiimote for aiming, and the gamepad in front of me to use as a map when I got lost. It’s kind of clunky and doesn’t really sell you on the idea of the gamepad working so well in conjunction with other devices, but the map is unnecessary, and the game is so rock solid that it doesn’t matter.

You play an astronaut sent to drain the resources of a faraway planet to bring back to his troubled home planet. In order to do this, you pluck Pikmin, tiny little flower-like creatures with different powers from the ground to do your bidding. Red Pikmin withstand fire, blue Pikmin can swim, the new rock Pikmin do more damage when thrown, etcetera. The whole thing is Nintendo’s take on the real time strategy genre, and offers a relaxing stroll through a dangerous planet littered with horrible death monsters just waiting to send your little Pikmin’s souls up to Pikmin heaven.

pikmin2.jpg

The mode that really got me was the new competitive Bingo Battle mode. Pikmin 2 had some co-op functionality, but it was nowhere near as fun as this. Each player receives a bingo card of items they need to pick up, and the first to fill a row wins. Naturally, this means you both race for items, but players start messing with each other by stealing items from out of their Pikmin’s hands, or sniping an item they don’t need because they see their opponent needed it to win. Pikmin 2’s competitive multiplayer boiled down to a pretty basic and kind of boring capture the flag mode, but Bingo Battle’s balance of scavenger hunting and screwing with opponents made it one of the more interesting multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a while.

 

The Legend of Zelda:  The Wind Waker HD:

 

Platform: Wii U  Release Date: October 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: October 2013

ww1.jpg

Wind Waker HD is exactly what it says on the tin, an HD remake of the first Gamecube entry in the Zelda series. It’s very pretty, with a new, slightly more shaded art style that brings to mind studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, but is still rooted in the original game’s highly controversial cel-shaded style. It’s the same cartoony game, and from what Nintendo has been showing, it’s literally that. The mostly unused Tingle Tuner Game Boy Advance minigame has been replaced with a message in a bottle system that connects the game to Miiverse, the Wii U’s social network, and Nintendo has gone on record saying that the two dungeons cut from Wind Waker will not be restored for the HD remake. It’s a classic, and one of my favourite Zelda games ever, but Wind Waker HD isn’t really blowing my mind yet, and it might not need to, but itdefinitely won't be doing it anytime soon.

 

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze:

Platform: Wii U  Release Date: November 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: November 2013

Retro’s sequel to their 2010 Donkey Kong Country revival is, not shockingly, an almost identical game. I was never a huge DKC fan, but one of the reasons I dropped out of that franchise pretty quick was the almost indistinguishable sequels. The flat, point-A to point-B level design was fixed for the 2010 reboot, but seeing a game that’s almost identical to its predecessor, three years after it came out, is a bit disheartening.

The game is solid, built on the same engine with sharp controls and great graphics, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve been here before, gathered these same bananas, beat up these same barrels. Maybe by distaste for the Country series in general is colouring my enjoyment of the game, but I did have a bit of fun while playing it, it just felt hollow. With this game coming out so close to the 3DS port of the original game, I can only hope Retro and Nintendo start showing off some unique stuff, because even the promise of Dixie Kong and her Tails-like helicopter ponytail isn’t really giving me much hope for this reboot’s chances of not falling into the trap that pushed DKC 2 and 3 into irrelevance.

 

Wii Party U: 

Platform: Wii U  Release Date: October, 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: October, 2013

Wii Party U holds an interesting place in the Wii U’s line up. It’s the third first party minigame collection for  the console in less than a year, and one really has to wonder if that means Nintendo doesn’t have any ideas for full games that use the gamepad in interesting ways, but can think of all kind of neat, 5-15 minute applications for the device.

party3.jpg

The game’s regular multiplayer mode plays a lot like Mario Party, with four players rolling virtual dice to move spaces on a board, playing minigames between turns. The minigames themselves though are a little different from the standard Mario Party fare. The minigames Nintendo was showing off in this demo were slightly more akin to parlour games; icebreaker type stuff. I got to play a take on the iOS hit Draw Something, where every player was given 15 seconds to draw, with one player given a slightly different prompt from the rest. The drawings went up on the TV and players had to vote on which they thought was the different prompt.

party4.jpg

Another game I saw being played involved one player getting a prompt from the gamepad to make a specific face. For example, “Make a face as if you just told a really funny joke.” The player makes the face, the gamepad takes a picture, and the other players vote between four options as to what the face was. With more than 80 games in the collection, there are probably more than a few traditional, Mario Party-style minigames, but the focus on these games that could be played without a gamepad but are slightly enhanced by the technology is telling.

The games were fun, and I can see them being a hit at parties, but maybe only once or twice. Like most icebreaker games, once everyone’s comfortable around each other, they really don’t serve much of a purpose beyond giving everyone something to do, which might be achieved better by a game like Nintendo Land, which everyone with a Wii U already has.

 

The Wonderful 101: 

Platform: Wii U  Release Date: September 15, 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: September 15, 2013

The Wonderful 101 is far and away the most interesting Nintendo has up their sleeve for Wii U. The new Platinum Games title takes cues from Pikmin, Viewtiful Joe, classic superhero serials and Japanese super sentai aesthetics and mixes them all into one frenetic, frantic action game mess.

wonderful2.jpg

You play as a group of superheroes (the titular 101, natch), with the ability to combine together and morph into various forms. The demo started off with the ability to change into a giant fist, a sword, a whip, a pistol, and a hand glider. To change forms, you draw the shape of your transformation on the gamepad’s touch screen, or with the right analog stick. For example, to change into a sword, you draw a straight line. Depending on how long the line you draw is, the longer your sword gets, but there are only so many heroes you can use to make the weapon. It creates a really interesting risk/reward balance between looking down to draw on the touch screen and looking up at the TV screen to avoid attacks from enemies. Drawing with the right stick negates a bit of the danger of looking down to draw, but is less accurate than drawing with the touch screen, and you’re more likely to mess up what you meant to draw.  There’s no perfect way to play, and it keeps the pace of the game frantic and exciting, which is part of what makes the game impossible to understand from trailers.

wonderful4.jpg

What really struck me about the game were the small details. As you run through a level you collect new heroes, and some have special cutaways that give you some data on their secret identity. The TV screen shows their name, secret identity, place of origin, super power, and some other details, while the gamepad screen shows their superhero ID along with their personal logo. It’s a cute little touch that really adds to the charming, pulpy atmosphere of The Wonderful 101, and I really can’t wait to see more of stuff like that.

 

Also, one of the heroes I collected had a toilet bowl for a head, which basically makes it the best game I’ve ever played.

 

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: 

Platform: 3DS  Release Date: November 2013

Platform: 3DS

Release Date: November 2013

A common complaint against Nintendo recently has been that they rely too strongly on their old franchises and don’t innovate on those original concepts. I bring this up because Link Between World’s overworld (at least the tiny fraction of it that Nintendo allowed me to explore during the demo) is an almost pixel-perfect recreation of the overworld from 1991’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

The fact that the demo only let me explore a few screens of the map before hitting a wall of unbreakable rocks bodes well for the rest of the world being significantly different, and the whole “between worlds” thing in the subtitle all but confirms that there will be some other worlds Link will be exploring. But even with the brand new dungeon the demo let me explore, I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen and done all of this before.

lbw2.jpg

The dungeon was focused on Link to the Past’s standard coloured block puzzles, where hitting a switch would raise one colour of blocks and lower another. The new magic bar subweapon system makes it impossible to get yourself stuck on these puzzles like you could in the original game. All subweapons draw from a purple bar in the corner of the screen. Charging an arrow or hammer strike will use more magic, but create a more powerful attack, and the bar slowly recharges over time. It’s an elegant system, and makes the game fast and fluid. But even with the added speed and surprisingly intuitive and fun merge mechanic -where Link flattens himself onto a wall and walks along as a 2D structure- I can’t help but feel like I’ve been to this Hyrule before. Hopefully we’ll see some more interesting, unique environments from this game soon.

 

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team: 

Platform: 3DS  Release Date: August 11, 2013

Platform: 3DS

Release Date: August 11, 2013

What you might not glean from Mario and Luigi Dream Team’s trailers is that the characters are drawn in 2D. What you probably will glean is that this game is very, very weird, even by the standards of the off-the-wall wackiness of the Mario and Luigi series.

When in the “real” world, Mario and Luigi explore Pi’illo island just like they did the Mushroom Kingdom in previous games. The overworld is top-down, with each brother being controlled with either the A or B buttons, with various abilities remapped to the buttons when the R button is pressed. In battle, the game is a turn-based RPG with actions commands, similar to the Paper Mario games. For example, hitting A after a jump allows Mario and Luigi to jump in the air again and bop the opponent one more time. The game also maintains the series traditional Bros. moves, special attacks that have the brothers Mario working in tandem to kick shells, toss fireballs, and surf on each other to deliver powerful finishing blows.

luigi3.jpg

However, in a feature new to Dream Team, Mario can step into the dreams of his long-suffering younger brother, and experience some of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen in a Nintendo game. The dream world is a side scrolling environment, similar to Mario and Luigi’s levels in the previous game in the series, Bowser’s Inside Story. When in Luigi’s dreams, players use the touch screen to mess with Luigi, causing him to do….things in his dreams. For example, pulling on Luigi’s moustache causes him to possess vines in the dream world, which Mario can then use to swing across chasms. Like I said: weird.

luigi4.jpg

In dream world battles, Luigi merges into Mario, and gives him access to thousands of Luigi clones that copy his moves. Jumping on enemies with Mario causes dozens of Luigis to fall down on them as well. The bros. moves are in turn replaced by Luiginary attacks, where Mario does things like crowd surf on hundreds of Luigis as he tries to stack them up in a perfect pile by ordering them to jump at once onto another army of Luigis before ordering them to all fall down on the opponent in a torrent of green. Additionally, when dodging attacks in dream battles, Mario can move up and down and turn left or right, adding some appreciated depth to combat.

In another substitution from Bowser’s Inside Story, the Luigi clones can also merge together in a Godzilla-sized Luigi to giant boss battles that play very similarly to the giant Bowser fights from the previous game.

All this, combined with the dreamy, muted colour palette and the strange cross between 2D characters and 3D environments, this is almost certainly the most surreal thing Nintendo has put out in America. The year of Luigi is turning out to be a strange one indeed.

 

Comment