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  • Ballistic Tanks (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ballistic Tanks
    Developed By: Kirk Lucas
    Published By: KL Studios
    Released: September 20, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Mac and Linux
    Genre: Arcade, Action
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1-4 offline
    Price: $4.99 (Steam)

    Do you remember the ‘80s and ‘90s video game arcades?  As a child, I only got to experience them at the amusements on holiday.  The retro graphics with bright shimmering colours, blazing out sounds as if they compete against the other arcade cabinets.  Ballistic Tanks brings back that feeling as an arcade shoot ‘em up.  When you load up the game the main menu has a mini demo of AI tanks battling each other as loud music pumps out the beats.  It’s already enticing you to play and you don’t need any quarters.

    You can play single-player, 2 player co-op or multiplayer with up to 4 players.  The premise is simple: Destroy enemy tanks and be the last tank remaining.  There is no network support, it’s couch co-op.

    In single-player and co-op you earn coins, which are dropped randomly by destroyed tanks. Pick them up before they disappear from the arena and you get to spend the coins on upgrading your tank on the next play through.

    There are also other random drops that upgrade your tank in lieu of purchasing them and include special abilities otherwise unavailable, e.g. a bubble shield that effectively gives an extra life and a laser that shoots through walls.

    Ballistic Tanks
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Bright and colourful graphics; fast paced action; multiplayer with co-op
    Weak Points: Some game breaking bugs; limited solo replayability
    Moral Warnings: Destroying other tanks that disappear in an explosion.

    Multiplayer is a 4 player affair and will automatically assign bots for any absent players.  It includes several modes to keep you interested.  Powershift is the most interesting, adding a gameplay modifier to each round that adds to the fun, e.g. small tanks, hostile environments, and modified weapons.  Juggernaut has a central capture location which will turn the capturer into a juggernaut tank.  In all modes, the winner in each round earns a gold star.  The first player to win 5 gold stars wins the match.

    There is enough gameplay and content to keep you entertained in solo player mode for the first few hours.  The novelty really lies in it becoming something you'd pick up and play for short bursts.   Multiplayer will add to its longevity if you have friends or family around to play.

    Firing at and destroying other tanks provides satisfaction to the ears, and the eyes are equally pleased with simple 2D presentation enhanced by bright colours and graphical effects.   The music and sound effects complement the ongoing action.

    Your tank can be controlled via mouse and keyboard or gamepad. For multiple players additional gamepads will be required.  I found using the mouse and keyboard to be easier as the mouse pointer can be used to gauge your shots better than with a thumbstick.

    Ballistic Tanks
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Levels are given variety through destructible walls and conveyor belts.  There are also entryways allowing you to quickly traverse through to the opposite side of the arena.

    The AI is pretty basic, relying on numbers to increase the difficulty. The AI doesn't know how to work the entryways I mentioned earlier, which can be used to the player's advantage.  They can also get stuck behind walls and other tanks as they struggle to find the best route to the player.

    There is nothing morally concerning outside of destroying other tanks.  When playing multiplayer you will be shooting each other.  The game does not state if the tanks are occupied or if they are radio controlled and there is no indication there are people inside of the tanks.

    Ballistic Tanks is a fun game with appeal for those wanting to scratch their retro gaming itch or who like a quick shoot ‘em up.  It’s a fast-paced action game requiring twitch-like reflexes while keeping one eye on your tank and the other on all others.  There is fun for the solo player and even more fun when friends are involved.

     

  • Beyond Dimensions (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Beyond Dimensions
    Developed by: Cool Frogs Studios
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Released: March 11, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux
    Genre: Action, Roguelike
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    The world is in trouble. The universe is running dangerously low of magical energy. In order to replenish our precious stores, a brave hero needs to be sent to another dimension in order to retrieve it. And the hero they chose is... YOU!

    Or that guy. Or maybe him. Or that lady in the corner over there.

    Beyond Dimensions, the debut game from Cool Frogs Studios, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the whole end-of-the-universe scenario. You play a mage sent via technology into other dimensions in order to retrieve purple crystals that contain magical energy. Along the way, you'll encounter skeletons, machine gun turrets, and monocled dinosaurs who attack you for simply being there. Although your character is rendered in an 8-bit style – apparently, that's how people look in your universe – the scenes you travel through vary, including a blocky, Minecraft-style world. All the action takes place in an over-the-top, isometric style viewpoint, even if the graphics themselves vary. It's possible to unlock a first-person perspective as well.

    Beyond Dimensions
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay; whimsical approach; dinosaurs with monocles throw spells at you
    Weak Points: Randomization sometimes makes things too easy, or frustratingly difficult; bland music
    Moral Warnings: Violence; magic use

    One of the neat things about the game is the amount of customization that you can put into your game. In addition to changing the difficulty and the perspective, you also can change any of the color options of your character. Models include male and female mages, as well as a robot. You also can change the class, as well as the spells you can use in your foray into the randomly-generated dungeons. Steam Workshop integration allows you to use avatars created by other players as well. Take note that, in order to actively choose some of the class or spell options, you must complete different objectives first. These include killing a set number of creatures with certain spells, or gathering a certain number of crystals. If the options are locked, then you'll be given a random spell instead.

    Traveling through the dungeons is easily done with the keyboard and mouse, but controllers also can be used. However, a three-button mouse is highly recommended. It is possible to complete the game using just a two-button trackpad (I'm speaking from experience here), but you lose access to your second spell in the process. Weirdly enough, neither my Logitech controller nor my Xbox controller would work in the game. Although I could move through options from the menu, I could only use my melee attack with the Logitech, and no buttons responded on the Xbox. Although the store page indicated that the game had "full controller support," the failure of both came as a surprise to me.

    The randomness can also lead to the game becoming surprisingly easy. The first time I successfully completed the game, I was randomly given a lightning spell and a healing spell. The lightning spell allowed me to strike creatures anywhere on the screen... even if they were behind a wall. I managed to defeat two of the different area's main bosses simply by standing outside the room and blasting them from an adjacent corridor. The third one turned into a simple game of "keep away" while running around a single L-shaped bush. Even though some of the enemies in the other areas posed a threat, the bosses were a surprising pushover. 

    Beyond Dimensions
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The difficulty seems to lie in the earliest levels of the game. Once you are capable of obtaining a few power-ups – either through opening chests or purchasing them from the rare stores that appear on a few of the levels – the game becomes a lot easier, sometimes ridiculously so. As a result, gameplay tends to be relatively short. Either you'll die within the first 10 minutes of the game, or you'll sweep through everything in approximately half an hour. However, this isn't always the case – I had a good run going in one game and could have won easily... but as soon as I spawned in a new area, I was ambushed by the third world's mid-boss and two other spell-casting dinosaurs, with nowhere to run. A great game came to a screeching halt purely due to bad luck.

    As a result, I have had mixed feelings about this game. On one hand, I really like it, due to its fun gameplay and whimsical approach. On the other, the game comes off as frustratingly difficult that often changes to laughably easy before too long. There is a nice variety of customization to the game, but controller support is nearly nonexistent.

    There are various graphic glitches as well. At times, the screen will flicker oddly, as if trying to bring up images from my computer desktop. Some characters will continue to twitch and bounce around like they are made out of rubber upon death – and in the second world, the soldiers occasionally have their limbs stretched out for no apparent reason when they die. This makes Beyond Dimensions feel like it's not completely finished, and it could use a bit more polish.

    Although there were no language issues that I encountered, violence is a given in this game. Creatures die when you blast them with your spells, or they run over traps. There isn't any blood or gore when they die, though. There are some skeletons that appear in the first world, and occasionally bones litter the dungeon floor. Magic is used by both the player and the inhabitants of the third world. 

    Beyond Dimensions certainly doesn't break any boundaries, but it's a fun variation of the familiar roguelike. Although occasionally frustrating, it can provide a measure of fun as well. At only $4.99, it's well worth the price of admission. 

  • BladeShield (PC/HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    BladeShield
    Developed By: Rank17, Silicon Storm
    Publisher: Rank17
    Release Date: November 28, 2016
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive required)
    Genre: Action
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $2.99

    Thank you Rank17 for sending us this game to review!

    Since the beginning of time (well, the late 1970s), it has always been a fantasy of any warm-blooded human to wield a lightsaber and smack down foes.  BladeShield is an unlicensed (no Star Wars license from Lucasfilm/Disney) Virtual Reality (VR) game that has models that look like lightsabers, but are not.  They are BladeShields.  These weapons have two modes – one that happens to look a whole lot like a lightsaber, and a shield mode.  But they do sound awfully similar.

    You hold two BladeShields, one in each hand.  The weapons can change from blade to shield mode with the press of the touchpad.  This change can be done at any time, and as often as you like.  Both the shield and blades can deflect projectile attacks, though the shield is much better at it.  If you do manage to deflect shots with your blade, you charge it up.  Once fully powered up, you can stab the blade into the ground and activate the power with the trigger to release an EMP blast that clears the screen in a moment.  It works great when you need it, though it is easy to forget that it's there.

    At its core, BladeShield is what is commonly called a 'wave shooter'.  These games are common enough in VR that they have become a genre all their own, more or less. You have various waves of enemies that, once defeated, bring on the next wave.  You rank your success both on your score, and on what wave you reached.  It's a classic system that heralds back to the earliest days of gaming (Space Invaders, anyone?) and has resurged since we are in the early days of VR.

    BladeShield
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very nice graphics; nice variety with the blades + shields; good intense fun; fantastic value for the price
    Weak Points: I had technical glitches, but it was resolved with a driver update
    Moral Warnings: Exploding robots

    What makes it different is simply that it's mostly melee based rather than via firing a gun.  Each round, a set number of enemies come at you in waves.  There are some that you have to kill by reflecting shots back at them, and with others you typically will slash at them with your blade.  It is easier to aim the shots with your shield rather than the blade, but you can use both to deflect.  It's also fun in that you can use a shot from one enemy to kill another, if you are skilled enough to do that.

    The most common enemies are the floating monocled robots that fly around you and shoot blasts your way.  They are easy to deflect and kill, and don't move too fast. Then there are ground based two legged walking types that leap at you, and the fun and fast round flying bots with a blade spinning around them.  They can be very dangerous, especially if you let them get behind you, so watch out!  There are also large turrets that shoot massive energy blasts at you that can only be defeated via shot reflection.  While it's technically possible with a blade, I hope you don't mind bringing out the shield while they are in play….

    BladeShield
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Each wave of enemies significantly changes this up, and I did not find it to get boring very quickly.  It's fun, exciting, and shooting for a high score is always a blast.  What impressed me is how polished this game is for such a low price.  I feel like they really did a great job striking the proper balance between the scale of a project, and the polishing of said project.  Any time you have a small development team, and especially a low price, you have to properly balance objectives.  Often, you have to choose between something with lots of content and variety, or a simple, highly polished experience.  This team chose the latter, and chose correctly.  Other games have made the wrong choice, and suffered for it, with a recent example being Bank Limit.

    I'm sure this is not the only game like this.  After all, there are hundreds of glorified tech demos on Steam for VR these days.  But it does a good job at it, and it's fairly polished as well.  The only problem I had is that my NVIDIA driver would regularly crash on startup, which thankfully went away with a newer driver.  I have been in contact with the developer, and they have been very responsive and helpful in dealing with this issue.  

    At the fantastic price of $2.99, BladeShield is really a no brainer.  If you have a VR kit, you should get this game at such a wonderful price.  There are almost certainly more advanced wave shooters out there, or ones with more content, but if you are looking for the simple thrill of slicing and bouncing shots back at enemy robots, with wave after wave of increasing difficulty, then this is a great place to get your fix.  And at that price, I highly recommend it.

     

  • Clustertruck (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Clustertruck
    Developed by: Landfall Games
    Published by: tinyBuild
    Released: September 27, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, SteamOS
    Genre: Action, Platformer
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, tinyBuild, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    Clustertruck is the name of a food delivery company located in Indianapolis. It also is the name of a video game from Landfall Games and tinyBuild. Somehow, I suspect this is not coincidence. 

    In the game, your job is to jump from truck to truck until you finally reach the goal. But what are the trucks carrying? Why is their driving so bad? And why are you racing along the tops, sides and bottoms of these vehicles in order to reach the goal? Maybe you're delivering food....

    But whatever the reason, this bizarre take on the sport of parkour is entertaining... for the first few levels. Then the game takes a severe difficulty spike, and becomes more frustrating than fun. 

    Clustertruck
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Difficult, challenging platformer; amusing concept; short levels
    Weak Points: Steep difficulty curve; lots of luck required in order to win
    Moral Warnings: Trucks run into each other; some Hell-themed levels

    The game is presented from a first-person perspective and consists of running along loaded semi trucks. You can jump from truck to truck as well, and in some instances off portions of the scenery. But if you touch the ground, or some areas that are considered to be taboo, you fail the level and have to start over from the beginning. Fortunately, each level is pretty short and can be completed in around a minute or less. That is, if you're lucky.

    Although the levels are the same, and the trucks always start in the same locations, this isn't a game of simple pattern memorization. The trucks will drive into each other and jockey for some sort of position or pecking order, and this changes at random every time you start the level. Just because a certain dash or jump worked one time doesn't mean it will the next. As a result, the game requires a lot of quick thinking, and quicker reflexes.

    Unfortunately, due to its nature, it also requires a significant amount of luck. There were many, many times I ended up failing a level simply because a truck I expected to be under me suddenly veered a different way. Or just wasn't there at all. Sometimes – especially after a particularly high jump – you just need to hope that there will be a truck between you and the ground when you land. Most of the time there won't be, and after hitting the ground inches from the goal line 20 times, you'll probably grow tired of the repetition. 

    Clustertruck
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game can be controlled by the keyboard or a game controller. However, I found that I got more precision from using the keyboard. For some odd reason, the controller gave my unseen character a bizarre, floaty quality that ended up making the game even more difficult. This wasn't particularly enjoyable, and the frustration made me want to quit the game more that persevere through to the end. 

    The sound effects consist mainly of trucks honking and crashing into each other. Some other effects can be heard, depending on the theme of the level. The soundtrack consists of a bland rock theme that was quickly forgettable. The graphics were mediocre as well, with everything consisting of polygonal graphics, and not terribly impressive. It's simple enough to tell what's going on, but not terribly eye-catching.

    To its credit, there aren't too many things to worry about on the moral front. There are collisions between trucks, and apparently a Hell-themed region (which I didn't advance far enough into the game to discover). Sometimes trucks explode as well, but I just saw that from the trailers for the game. I didn't venture far enough to see that happen. I had enough of bouncing along trucks. Wait, scratch that – I had enough of falling off trucks and hitting the ground before I got to that point.

    So in a nutshell, I didn't really enjoy my time with Clustertruck. Some might enjoy it, but I didn't. I'd rather try to enjoy the food from Clustertruck in Indianapolis. Their menu is huge! If anyone reading this has ordered from them, you'll have to tell me what they think.

     

  • CMYW (PC)

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    Game Info:

    CMYW
    Developed by: Shane Berezowski 
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: October 16, 2015
    Available on: Windows 
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of Players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: not rated
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    The original Asteroids game was released in 1979 by Atari and it was available on the 2600 as well as a standalone arcade game.  CMYW has a similar look and feel with a simple spaceship in the shape of a triangle.  With the lack of detail, it’s hard to distinguish which side of the ship is forward until you fire at the incoming asteroids.  

    There are two different game modes and both of them involve destroying asteroids heading your way.  In the cooperative mode you have to protect your own ship and the base.   If your ship gets destroyed, you have a limited amount of time before your astronaut runs out of oxygen to make it back to the base to get a replacement ship.  Up to four players can work together in blowing away asteroids, but only one can get a replacement ship at a time.  Since there’s a slight delay in getting a new ship the chances of surviving while waiting are slim.  

    Sometimes asteroids leave behind minerals or power-ups after being obliterated.  Your ship has a limited number of inventory slots so it can only carry five mineral ores at a time.  Be sure to return the ores to the base to free up more space.  The power-ups include enhanced shields, multi-shot bullets, an axe attack, and homing missiles (my favorite!).  

    CMYW
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adding multiplayer breathes new life into a classic game!
    Weak Points:  The triangle shaped ship makes it hard to distinguish which way it’s facing; no online multiplayer
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence

    The longer the game lasts, the harder it gets.  The asteroids vary in size and speed, and there are other projectiles to worry about as well.  In order to keep your base safe, you cannot stray too far from it.  The concept is simple, but this game is quite challenging.  After you die you’ll see your score and vow to do better next time.

    The controls are easy, but take a little getting used to.  To accelerate your ship simply press the A button and you can use the joystick or Dpad to adjust the direction.  Firing is done by pressing the X button.  My son and I grasped the old school controls just fine, but my daughter got frustrated with them.    

    CMYW
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    While CMYW is fun to play by yourself, it’s more fun with more people (provided they’re not whining about the control scheme).   In the co-operative mode the final score is broken down by contributed most to it.  The competitive mode requires more than one player (logically) to enjoy.

    If you’d rather shoot your friends out of the sky, the competitive game mode is what you’re looking for.  In this mode all of the ships are deployed in the center of the screen with an asteroid strapped to them.  Whoever survives the longest wins.  Death can be caused by having your asteroid destroyed or by running into another object or player.  

    Even though you can die and kill others in this game, it’s still pretty family friendly and safe for people of all ages to enjoy.  I look forward to enjoying more gaming sessions with my son.  The price is a reasonable $3.99 and is worth picking up if you have friends nearby who appreciate nostalgic games.  

     

  • Dangerous Road (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dangerous Road
    Published By: Starsign
    Developed By: Starsign, SIMS Co.
    Released: November 10, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Action, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you Rainy Frog for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    Frogger is a classic game that many have used as inspiration for their games. Dangerous Road from Starsign appears to be a modern take on the old title.

    There are 50 levels total to be played in Dangerous Road, split between two modes. The first mode is Goal Run and it is made up of 30 levels. The goal is to guide one of four animals to multiple checkpoints before reaching a flag that marks the end of the stage. Each animal has a unique ability that they can use a certain amount of times per stage. Rabby the rabbit has the ability to walk over water, Spring Chicken can leap vertically into the air to avoid vehicles, Pascal the Tanuki can slow down time for a few seconds, and lastly Kumagoro the bear can run extremely fast. These abilities aren't always necessary but are fun to play around with.

    Dangerous Road
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun action-puzzle game for kids; Cute graphics; A nice take on a retro classic.
    Weak Points: Can become stale; More skilled gamers may not see the appeal here; Needs more music; Grammar errors.
    Moral Warnings: Like Frogger before it, animals are shown being struck by vehicles.

    Gameplay feels like an expanded version of Frogger in that you move in a direction one tile at a time as everything around you tries to end your progress. You have 300 seconds to avoid traffic moving at a moderate speed, jump across logs drifting along rivers, and dodge speeding trains. There's always a chance to fail by being careless, but with the generous amount of time given, it's easy to plan out each step the first time you play a level. The environment generally stays the same throughout each of the 50 stages just with different obstacles thrown around. There is also a star that can be collected that will grant invincibility for a short while. Those looking for more of a challenge can attempt to beat each of the levels as fast and in as few steps as possible.

    The second mode that can be played is Survival Run. The goal is to survive in a road with multiple lanes for 60 seconds without being hit by traffic or trains. You simply move around until time runs out. This mode is fairly self-explanatory and is made up of 20 levels, though the gameplay of this mode doesn't really change much. At 30 seconds "Rush Hour" will activate and more vehicles will fill the screen making things tougher. This mode isn't as deep as Goal Run, but it does add some replayability to the overall game.

    Dangerous Road
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics have a style that's reminiscent of early 3D polygonal games. It's charming and does manage to stand out from other 3DS games, though they do still come off as low budget. The music is catchy but you'll hear the same track looped infinitely when playing. The minimalistic approach is almost to be expected from a game at this price, but it definitely could have used more tracks to listen to.

    At the end of the day this is an incredibly sub-par game that is worth the price if you enjoy casual games or just want something to take your mind off of more complicated games. Nothing here will blow you away but what it does, it does well. Survival Mode did manage to make me come back a few times which was enjoyable. This one would be great for kids that already enjoy smartphone games.

    -Kyuremu

  • Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (PC)

     

    System Requirements
    OS: Windows 95/98/ME varied results under Windows 2000 and XP CPU: Pentium 90Mhz RAM: 16MB VIDEO: PCI or better SOUND: 16 bit Direct X 5 compatible Age: Teen

    Introduction

    This is one game that way back in 1997 I was highly anticipating. Having played the previous title in the series, Dark Forces, and having enjoyed it immensely, I couldn\'t wait for the promise of a multiplayer Star Wars first person shooter. This seemed to be basically a multiplayer update for Dark Forces, which disappointingly did not have any type of multiplayer, along with a new engine to power it. Boy was I wrong. It was so much more.

    Graphics

    You may wonder why I\'m starting with the graphics aspect of the game. Many people have said that graphics don\'t make a game and that it\'s the game play. I wholeheartedly agree with them on this one. The reason is because the graphics in Jedi Knight are actually not one of its stronger points. The graphics work, nothing extremely spectacular. When compared with Quake II, which was released the same year, Quake II clearly wins the graphics arena hands down with its OpenGL accelerated graphics engine. If you are a graphics freak, then you probably won\'t be impressed with the engine used for Jedi Knight, which was designed in-house by Lucasarts. It definitely won?t stand up to today\'s engines like Quake 3 Arena or the Unreal engine. But if you?re looking for game play, read on. That said, let\'s move on the next area.

    Single-Player

    This is where the game really shines. The single-player adventure is one of the most exciting I have yet to play, right up there with Half-Life. The story line is pretty much the same old Star Wars storyline, you know the old: evil-guy-who-wants-ultimate-power-so-he-can-rule-the-universe scenario. But what sets this game apart is the execution of it. The story is executed with such style that one cannot help but gape in awe. One word comes to mind when playing the single player missions: huge. The levels are immense and take quite a while to get through. Even after playing a mission through once, it took me an average of 30-45 minutes to complete each mission. Compare this to the simplistic levels of Quake II and see the rift that divides the two single player scenarios. Another thing to note the rich and varied locations of the single player adventure: Nar Shadaa, Valley of the Jedi, starships, and even Katarn\'s home planet. Another important aspect of the single player game are the amazingly well done FMV cut scenes. Lucasarts has included some of the best quality FMV\'s I have ever seen in a game. The quality is not all, the cut scenes cleverly push the story along with rich characters which creates more depth and emotion that the poorly executed game-rendered cut scenes of Jedi Knight II. Rather than detract from the intensity as the cut scenes in Jedi Knight II do, the cut scenes of Jedi Knight push the story along well, keeping the missions from become routine and repetitive. Couple this with the use of a lightsaber which you get in one of the early missions and force powers which you gain along the way, and you simply got an incredible and engaging single player adventure. Another feature that I like is the ability to choose which path you will go down as you play the game. If you kill civilians and harmless druids, you will begin to go towards the Dark side of the force. If you protect them and do not harm them, then you will lean towards the Light side. There is a different ending depending on which side you choose, so be sure to play it through both ways. The nine other weapons that Katarn will collect along the way are nothing to ignore. This powerful arsenal contains such weapons as the Rail Gun, Concussion Rifle, Imperial Repeater, and more. Now, on to the multiplayer.

    Multiplayer

    Jedi Knight shines in multiplayer just like it did in single player. Though the multiplayer modes bring nothing new the genre, the ability to use a lightsaber and force powers makes it a completely different faire that your typical Quake death match. The most fun mode is the sabers only mode. In this mode only sabers can be used and whatever level of force power can be used as set by the host. The creates a game where skill is relied upon more than speed and quick reflexes. Learning to master force powers and the use of the saber is essential to being able to win a saber only match. The multiplayer levels are fun enough, the most famous level for sabers being Battleground Jedi, which is one of the standard saber proving grounds. However, the multiplayer modes lack innovation and more levels would have been appreciated. This is a minor gripe as multitudes of levels can be downloaded from The Massassi Temple (http://www.massassi.net/). The fun factor of playing Jedi Knight online kept me playing it right up until Jedi Knight II was released.

    Sound/Music

    Music is the standard John Williams soundtrack, which perfectly accents any Star Wars game because it is the essential Star War music. The sound is adequate, nothing spectacular, but doesn?t detract from game play either.

    Stability

    This game was designed to run on the Windows 9x line of operating systems. It is best that you run it on one of the three 9x OS?s; 95,98, or ME. I have had varied results on Windows 2000. On one computer it worked perfectly but on another, which had run it perfectly in Windows 98, I could not get 3D acceleration to work and it was quite choppy in software mode. So the results may vary depending on your configuration.

    Conclusion

    Overall, Jedi Knight is a solid title, though slightly lacking in the area of its graphics engine - which is definitely showing its age, the amount of multiplayer levels included in the game, and the non-innovative multiplayer modes, it shines as one of the best first person shooter of 1997 and beyond. This game will be a classic in its own right. I suggest you go and get your copy at Amazon.com for only $9.99 USD or find a used copy on Ebay.com for even less. You will not be disappointed unless you?re a graphics freak. Oh, I almost forgot, offensive content. This game has no blood, language, or sexual material included. It does have shooting of other characters though from a first person point of view, but none of the deaths are violent or explicit. It is rated T for Teen.

    Final Ratings

    Game Play: A Graphics: B- Sound: B Interface: A Stability: B Offensive Content: B
    Overall: A
  • Diluvion (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Diluvion
    Developer: Arachnid Games
    Published by: Gambitious Digital Entertainment
    Release Date: Feb 2, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action, Open World Adventure.
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Arachnid Games for sending us a review code.

    It is always interesting to think about how the world will end. How will humans survive? Sadly some think it's going to be by zombies and we are all going to turn on each other. What if, through our own ingenuity, we survive an Ice Age instead? With Diluvion we get to go on an under the sea adventure for a great treasure at the bottom of the ocean. We have no land to get back to for the world's new Ice Age has frozen the entire world. Humanity has thrived with renewed culture, faith, and hope. However, whether it be greed, curiosity, or desire we dive deep into the dark depths of the ocean.

    In Diluvion you play as a captain you can name, and your one and only goal is to find the greatest secret of humanity buried at the bottom of the ocean. You choose from one of three submarines to begin your game with and a short tutorial will start your journey. As you progress you purchase crew to increase the power of your weapons, sonar capabilities, torpedoes and engine. Keeping crewmates in the hanger will slowly repair your ship over time; it will be faster if you keep repair kits handy. Managing resources is key as you need air tanks to keep your crew breathing and food to keep their bellies full. Scrap metal will serve as your main source of ammunition for guns. When you visit one of the sea's many sub nautical locations such as the cities and research capsules you will automatically refill on air tanks. 

    Diluvion
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A game with a great sense of adventure and exploration. Lovable crew and a lovable story. 
    Weak Points: The navigation will be a test of your patience. Keyboard controls are not equal to controller controls.
    Moral Warnings: Violent ship battles and immoral characters to be found here. People will put money over their own lives.

    Merchants will have scrap metal and other essential materials for sale if you have enough currency to trade. Less populated locations usually have various materials from fish bones to old above world items. It seems memories of life on earth have a monetary value. The ocean has plenty of foes to prevent passage from undersea monsters to enemy submarines. When you defeat enemy submarines you can choose to dock with them for great loot. Occasionally some crew members of sinking subs will offer to join your crew for the right price. Engineers can upgrade your submarine or sell you new ones as long as you have the material and the cash. In order to dive deeper you will need to move your ship past level one so don't expect to do level 1 runs with Diluvion. If you explore well you can even find a place to build your own personal base to upgrade. As you upgrade this place it will be filled with merchants and crew members to help you along. 

    The best part of the gameplay for me was the combat. Each battle felt tense and exciting and I had to make quick choices to run away or to turn and fight, charging into glorious combat. I didn't necessarily care why they were fighting me and that's a good thing. Whether they were pirates or grumpy travelers, the only reason I needed to fire back was to keep myself out of Davy Jones' Locker. Lots of survival combat games don't give me that sense of dread of when I lose because I know I'll come back one way or another. Diluvion doesn't even have a perma death system of any kind and I still fought tooth and nail to survive. I ended up caring about my crew. The lore you get is from finding story entries in different landmarks and NPCs swapping tales. It is a simple way to tell a story and nothing presented to me was complex or deeply thought provoking. Yet something about the simplicity of the characters made me all the more interested in them. Whether it was my gunner's love of explosions, my shy sonar man's personality or my older and wiser engine captain, I came to fall in love with my crew and I swore I would keep them alive. 

    Diluvion
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    The cons will manifest in your patience with the game. This game has no direct navigation system you may be used to in other games. As mentioned before you find landmarks in the game that will be marked on your map once you find a map treasure for it. Yet a compass and the discovered landmarks are all you have to guide you. By holding down your sonar button you can bounce sonar waves to find walls as well as mark enemies and places. The NPCs will not point you in any particular direction and only tell you where you need to go. To explore you're going to have to remember directions you've explored from particular landmarks. For example, to find a SOCOM base first I chose a landmark to use as my base of operations then explored each and every direction to find tunnels and locations. Golden fish trails will point you in the general direction of where you might need to go. However this won't give you the exact location of the next story events. This game can require extreme patience, and it can begin to get aggravating. That sense of exploration was lost to a burning desire to find where the next part of the story was.

    The ship turns on a dime with a controller, but keyboard controls feel awkward and stiff. The keyboard controls are not bad, but they won't give you the precise movement and control that a controller offers. Not only is constant docking with defeated enemy ships immersion breaking, it's messed up that people charge you before they join you on sinking ships. Would you charge someone to rescue you from a watery grave?

    This is a winner take all world. While you don't necessarily see any form of gore or violence in the combat. This is a world where morals have no place and the world is focused solely on survival. The characters can be very cut throat and in the world of Diluvion everyone seems to be focused on what's at the bottom of the world rather then trying to return to the top. Don't expect anyone in this world to have strong moral fibers. I'd recommend this game for anyone above the age of 14 due to way this game's story can push you to focus on survival over moral character. I said earlier that if you find a survivor on a ship you dock they will still ask for money before they join your crew. How immoral do you have to be to put money over your own life? 

    How deep will you dive with Diluvion? This game definitely is worth putting your captain’s hat on for; give it a try!

  • Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga
    Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
    Developer: Larian Studios
    Released: November 5, 2010
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood; Suggestive Themes; Violence
    Available on: Xbox 360; PC (version reviewed)
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    MSRP: $40 (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you to Larian Studios for sending us a copy to review!

    Sequel to the cult hit, Divine Divinity – Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga steps away from its isometric predecessor to offer a different kind of game. Now with the focus on third-person action, Larian Studios set out to correct some of the mistakes with Divinity 2\'s original release, Ego Draconis. With an updated engine, retooled gameplay, and inclusion of the Flames of Vengeance expansion, Divinity 2 sets the bar high. Let\'s see if this RPG is worth the gold.

    Divinity 2\'s yarn revolves around the exploits of a Dragon Knight, a new recruit into an order of like-minded folks who have glowing eyes and special combat training. Not only are you a superstar to lowly villagers, but you\'re also targeted early on by the main villain, Damien. Damien, who threatens to kill you at every chance that he gets, fills the archetypical role of the bad guy, both by spouting bits of monologue and looking grumpy.  The story itself takes around 30 hours to finish, depending on how many side-objectives you feel like accomplishing. Divinity 2’s story wrapped up in an abrupt fashion, which felt both disappointing and undercooked; the expansion – Flames of Vengeance – alleviates this to some extent, by continuing where the main game left off. Or, you can play the expansion straight from the menu with a new higher-level character. Either way, the extra few hours are worth it.

    Along your journey in Rivellon, you\'ll accept quests from townsfolks, bandits, ghosts, and even inanimate objects. Quests range from fetching an item such as a journal, to clearing out an enemy camp, or even sneaking a group of pigs back to their rightful owner. The quests found here have several outcomes depending on which path you choose. Should you slay some guards so the pigs can escape, or leave the pigs where they are to the dismay of their owner? The actions you choose may not evolve on the level of say, the Mass Effect series, but they do have a wide amount of effects that you can see relatively quickly.

    Quests are not all cut and dry, however, with many leading you into dungeons packed with enemies. The large number of dungeons, caves, and tombs you visit also have the occasional hidden passage or concealed switch. Finding these may lead to chests full of bounty, or in more than one situation, lock you in with enemies. With so many enemies standing in your way, you\'ll need something to fight them off with.

     

    When considering how to go about combat, you\'ll have a few options to choose from. One way is with melee combat by utilizing axes, hammers, and swords. Dual-wielding, two-handed weapons, and shields are available as well. For the spell caster classes, you can go barehanded or choose to rely on your backup sword when the mana runs dry. There\'s bows for the ranger class, though I found this to be the least thrilling. Every swing of the sword or arrow shot requires a simple click of the mouse. While this is fine for the warriors, it makes being a ranger pretty underwhelming due to the lack of mobility. Being forced to stand in one spot to fire off arrows doesn\'t work as well as I hoped when it comes to this combat system. Assigning items and skills to your number keys without needing to fumble around in the inventory screen for a potion is here as well.

    By completing quests and slaying enemies, you\'ll be rewarded with experience points. After a set amount of points, you\'ll level up. Each level grants you stat points, which go towards increasing the character\'s focus. There are several different stats and passive percentages that alter how a character will perform, so pumping strength for your warrior, or intelligence and spirit for your mage would be the right course of action. Skill points will also be awarded after each level up. These range from passive abilities such as damage increase with certain weapons and mana efficiency when casting spells, to active roles like heals, summons, and fireballs. While I would\'ve liked to see a more diverse array of skills, the ones here, while rather simplistic, get the job done.

    About a third way into the main game\'s story, the option of having your own headquarters is made available. This headquarters, or “Battle Tower” as it\'s called in-game, houses multiple NPCs who make the journey less stressful, and add a bit of depth to what would be a rather standard RPG. A necromancer handles mixing and matching of your pet, a summon who can be called into battle to fight along side you. Limbs you find during the game as loot or from quests alter the pet\'s stats and abilities depending on what parts you choose. An enchanter allows you to customize gear by removing bonuses from weaker pieces and slotting them into your better armor and weapons.

    An alchemist allows for the crafting of potions, and the skill trainer offers skill redistribution for a price. Some of these processes require ingredients. In a smart move by the developers, you\'ll have three runners: NPCs who automatically fetch these items after a set duration. By paying for better weapons and armor from the NPCs mentioned above, the runners will have higher rates of success in finding that special item you require. The whole Battle Tower concept is pretty neat, not only because it makes tedious tasks easier, but because it adds a sense of accomplishment and of influence that a great hero would normally have.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points:Solid dialogue and plenty of written lore; exceptional voice acting; graphic engine runs smooth and offers pleasant environments; subtle humor throughout

    Weak
    Points: Uneven difficulty; crude and dated menus; not very newbie friendly; uses SecuROM

    Moral Warnings:
    Sword and sorcery abound in combat; blood is seen in environments and with melee attacks; occult themes like mind-reading, communication with ghosts, and necromancy are present, as are pentagrams; innuendo in some dialogue

    Not long after the Battle Tower, the ability to transform into a dragon will open up. This is one of the better aspects of Divinity 2 alone. Though it is simplistic to an extent, there\'s plenty of cool factor because, well, you\'re a dragon. While the dragon can be customized to some degree, it\'s largely hands-off, except for the occasional dragon armor piece here or there. The arcade action as the dragon gets tiresome as the game progresses, however.

    As neat as all of this sounds, one huge drawback when playing Divinity 2 was the difficulty level. I played on normal difficulty for a large portion of my experience, but I eventually had to bump down to casual from the sheer frustration that the game can throw at a player. Early on as a warrior, enemies could take me down in only a handful of hits, and with poor weapons, I had to trick the AI by hiding behind obstacles so I can slowly regenerate my health. Only a few hours later, with my character around level 12, the game\'s challenge seemed to nose-dive, offering up weak enemies that were dispatched in one to two hits. It\'s a weird aspect of the game that comes off as bipolar. One moment you\'re chugging all the potions you have just to stay alive and the next you\'re enjoying a cakewalk through a dungeon.

    The fantastical nature of the world crafted by Larian brings with it the content that readers may find inappropriate. Generic bandits, goblins, and skeletons show up throughout the gameplay experience. Along with them are various demons, summoned beasts, dragons, ghosts, and the undead.

    Spells can and will be used by the player, whether for combat or during scripted sequences. The priest class can summon allies to aid in battle, and mages employ different types of explosive spells; enemies, too, can use the same skills and tools in battle. Combat is largely tame, even though violence is shown through the use of bows, bladed weapons, or fire magic. Blood is seen in combat, but nothing over the top.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay 16/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 9/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls/Interface 4/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence 3.5/10
    Language 6/10
    Sexual Content/Nudity 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    Dark and decrepit environments like crypts, tombs, dungeons and caves make up the majority of where you\'ll be fighting. One dungeon had an experimentation room with bloodied corpses on tables and sharp tools nearby; another had corpses that were hanged. Some rooms are littered with the bodies of dead adventurers or with skeletal remains. A villain is pieced together with various body parts for the main purpose of serving a powerful necromancer. The pentagram symbol is visible for some spells and in books that require interaction to progress through the story. Spell invocation, mind reading, communication with ghosts for quests, and using a blood altar are present, too.

    One quest ends with an adulterous relationship between two characters, and some minor dialogue with townspeople is laden with subtle innuendo. Cleavage is present with many female characters, and some are fairly buxom or wear tight-fitting armor. I haven\'t seen anything in the way of nudity or sexual contact compared to other western RPGs on the market. Swearing is low-key: a few “b-stards” and “d-mns” are sprinkled in the dialogue, but again, nothing out of hand.

    With all that said, the fantasy elements that envelop the story are fairly dark through and through; the majority of these cannot be avoided. Please be aware of that if the themes above are not something you want to experience when purchasing a game of this type.

    Sound is one of the best aspects of Divinity 2. Character dialogue is mostly well-acted with varying degrees of accents, emotion, and a good amount of humor. I\'ve yet to run into a character that wasn\'t voiced. Even your own character\'s actions have narration, which helps to guide you in the right direction. It was quite refreshing to come from the handheld text-based RPGs I recently played to a game where everything is voiced; it sure added a lot more character to an already interesting array of characters. Several of the musical pieces that accompany new locations are crafted nicely and fit the area\'s theme, but they can be hit or miss. I did hear a few lackluster ones that either sounded out of place or were a tad convoluted to the point of muting the music until I reached a new location.

    Divinity 2 is built on the Gamebryo engine, which you may of seen in Oblivion or Fallout 3. Here though, the faces aren\'t smudged or, well, downright ugly. Much of the game is easy on the eyes and ears. Excluding enemies, character models are detailed and are different enough so villages aren\'t filled with clones. The graphics of the game can be quite lush, and offer plenty of open vistas to take in; one can easily find panoramic moments, whether it\'s standing on a waterfall, overlooking a cave filled with lava, or when traveling in forests. The third-person camera may have some issues in tight corridors or in flight, but it\'s largely fine.

    Dungeons are jam-packed with detail and appear like others have visited the location before. Aged, ruined, or forgotten, these environments feel alive despite housing all matters of beast. There\'s plenty of nice touches along the journey in environments you visit, whether it\'s a cave\'s natural blue crystal giving off a faint glow or a jail cell holding shackles, a journal, and skeletal remains.

    One big issue I had with the game\'s graphics was that they were locked at 30 frames per second (FPS). While fine on a console, this made the entire game an eyesore to play, due the choppy nature of rendering and how clunky the combat seemed. I saw that a recent hot fix allowed the game to go higher than 30 FPS. After applying the right settings, it improved the gaming experience greatly by allowing a much more fluid feel, in both combat and exploration. The video I posted with this review has the game configuration at a steady 60 FPS, so if you pick up the PC version, be sure to unlock the game from 30 FPS before starting the story.

    When it comes down to it, Divinity 2 is a well-crafted game that doesn\'t exactly transcend the genre. Plenty of heart went into the game and it\'s easy to see that. From the well-written dialogue to the large amount of quests to the nice dose of humor, there\'s plenty to enjoy. The game was, frankly, grating the first three hours or so I played. As time went on, though, I eventually warmed up to it. The world becomes less confined the longer you play, and it feels more expansive by the time you hit places like Sentinel Island and Orobas Fjords, around the eight to ten hour mark.

    For hardcore RPG fans yearning for some adventure, this game has it in spades. You\'ll easily sink dozens of hours into this game if you choose to work at it. At $40, it\'s a reasonable deal, especially with the improvements to the core game and the included expansion.

    More casual gamers, however, may want to look at other options instead. The slower story progression, difficulty of the game, and lack of hand-holding make this a hard sell to those not used to such staples of the genre.

    -- Jonathan "Keero" Harling

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition (Xbox One)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Developed by: BioWare
    Published by: Electronic Arts
    Release Date: November 18, 2014
    Available on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
    Genre: Action role-playing
    Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Mature
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third entry into BioWare's highly regarded original fantasy role-playing world and it was met with high expectations.  The anticipation speaks to the pedigree of the series, for BioWare has few peers in the genre, much of it was fueled by curiosity as to whether Dragon Age would recover from the disappointment many felt with Dragon Age 2.  In many ways it is a rousing success, but I can't help but feel there was a cost.

    BioWare admitted it felt it needed to respond to Bethesda's smashing success The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I have to wonder why.  And why now?  Skyrim didn't do anything substantially different than Morrowind or Oblivion and when those games were getting press BioWare was getting press at the same time doing its own thing.  They seemed, to me, content to let Bethesda play in the open world sandbox while they focused on admittedly smaller worlds with richer experiences.

    “Emotionally engaging” was the phrase BioWare used often and it wasn't something Bethesda could really respond to.  No matter how much fun Skyrim was, no one was calling it an emotionally engaging experience. It was not the kind of game that made you care at all about the NPCs you interacted with or the greater conflicts that gave context to your actions.  This was BioWare's bread and butter; if they couldn't make you care, they failed.

    For the most part I just didn't care about what was happening to Thedas or the threat the surprisingly one-dimensional baddie posed to the realm.

    Before I dive further into what I felt BioWare sacrificed to compete in a race it never needed to, let me talk about what I did enjoy.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful environments, engaging companions, challenging combat
    Weak Points: Incompetent party AI, minor bugs and occasional crashes, flat villain and story
    Moral Warnings: Strong language, violence, nudity, occult references, alternative relationships

    The game is spread across the two neighboring countries of Orlais and Ferelden.  The latter is the setting of Dragon Age: Origins, and is recovering from the ravages of the Fifth Blight.  Orlais is a France-inspired land of decadence and intrigue.  We've never seen it before and those familiar with the lore will know it occupied Ferelden in the not too distant past.

    Rather than go open world and allow you to traverse the two lands unimpeded. BioWare sprinkled large open zones across them.  According to them, the first zone you enter, the Hinterlands, is larger than the whole of the first game and that's believable.  The variety of zones you can explore as the game unfolds is a welcomed change to the reused brown bleakness of Dragon Age 2.  Verdant forests, desert plateaus, rain-drenched bogs, open plains, it's all here to explore and it's quite addictive to do so.  When you first enter a zone, your quest map only shows a sea of black pinned with quest markers.  As you trek, the map opens up and you discover a wealth of time-sucking opportunities.

    I don't use the phrase flippantly.  Much of what you can do in these zones, any zone, is designed to be a time sink.  When adopting the open world style, BioWare found itself with the task of filling that space with things you could do, most of it having little impact on your main quest.

    There's herbs to collect, ore to mine, fetch quests to fill, and Fade rifts to close.

    So many Fade rifts to close.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 30%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    For those of you who do not know, the Fade is the realm of dreams and spirits.  Also, according to Chantry doctrine (see: what might happen if the Christian church was established by Joan of Arc) it was host to the Maker's Golden City.  In short, heaven.  A long time ago, however, the city was entered by human mages using blood magic, turning it black.

    The villain of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Corypheus, is one of these mages, freed from imprisonment during the course of Dragon Age 2's DLC Legacy.  According to him, the city was already black when they arrived.  Believing there is no Maker, he now seeks to make himself a living god for humanity and enter into the Fade bodily once more.

    His actions have caused the veil between the world and the Fade to weaken, thus plaguing the lands with many, many Fade rifts that demons are using to enter Thedas.

    Remember in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion when Oblivion Gates started opening everywhere in Tamriel?  Yeah, basically the same thing only slightly less annoying to deal with because you don't have to invest nearly as much time in closing them.  So, thematically, they serve a purpose, but their larger purpose is to pad gameplay with busy work.

    Filler aside the environments are varied and beautiful.  Seriously.  They're a real treat and a promising look at what this console generation will deliver.

    Next, we move on to what you'll be spending most of your time doing other than filler quests: combat.  Intended to be more strategic than previous incarnations, Dragon Age: Inquisition finally allows console players a tactical view of the combat area that was only available to PC players.  On the fly, you can pause the combat, take an aerial view, and assign paths and actions to your party.  On casual and normal difficulties, you can forgo this mechanic for a more action-driven experience, in hard mode, it becomes a must, in part because of the sometimes flaky AI.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    I didn't spend too much time with the tactical view, but the number of times party members fell because of stupid AI decisions (rarely using a shield to block, never stepping out of the way of sustained breath weapon attacks from dragons...) made me long to master its intricacies.

    Gone are healing spells for mages, which took me a minute to deal with... emotionally.  However, I found that I rarely needed them in combat since my health, and my party's, was often regenerating in combat due to arcane wizardry on the part of my AI-controlled mage.  When emergencies arise, the party can share a pool of up to 12 healing potions and you can equip other potions to each companion manually.  Only healing potions are refilled automatically without a cost in camp, so you must choose wisely who gets any of the other potions, tonics, or grenades.

    As with previous games in the series, abilities are mapped to three face buttons and pressing the right shoulder button gives you access to three additional face button slots, making a total of six abilities at your disposal quickly.  I was playing a warrior and spread my accumulated points across four ability trees and found myself mining for passive abilities once the six slots were filled with go-to actions I didn't want to mess with.

    Were combat kept to a single protagonist, and not a party, I'd have little to grouse about but it's not and it all comes down to AI; it's frustratingly stupid sometimes.  Those 12 healing potions the party shares aren't for me.  Aside from when the environment occasionally conspired against me (it's swell when you're mopping up a hard fight only to have a few bears wander in), I didn't find myself having to use them nearly as often as the rest of the party.  Warrior abilities and magey stuff kept my health high most of the time.  Many was the time, though, when I'd see a party member's health take a dive and find them engaging in activities they'd no business entertaining.

    One might argue that the tactical view alleviates this problem, and they'd be right, but it misses the point as the action-driven playstyle is just as legitimate.

    Lastly there's the companions themselves.  By and large they're all pretty great with unique voices, viewpoints, and depth.  Perhaps the most one-note of the bunch was Varric, a carry-over from Dragon Age 2, but I can admit it may be my own bias.  I never cared much for him in that game and that sentiment didn't change here.  I took no small amount of glee during a particularly heated scene between Cassandra, my paramour, and him and siding with her as much as I could rationalize.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    I more or less ignored Vivienne, a loyalist Circle mage from Orlais because, pretty much, she was the last to join my party and I was already invested in Solas and Dorian, the other two mage companions. As the game went on, the colorful Dorian overtook dour Solas as my favored mage. As my time with the two of them progressed, Dorian proved more accessible and his relationship with his father is one I think Christians could learn a few things from.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is more of a sequel to Dragon Age 2 than Dragon Age 2 is a sequel of Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age: Inquisition picks up a year after the beginning of the Mage-Templar War got kicked off in Dragon Age 2 and is heavily influenced by it. The game dramatically opens up with a peace conference between the two factions literally exploding. As part of the main quest in the game, you're forced to choose one of the two factions to back. Given that I thought mages needed to be watched, backing the Templars was a no-brainer. Like Marvel's X-Men, the game tries to treat being a mage like it's a civil rights issue, but the argument falls apart on close examination.

    Are there good mages who don't want to enthrall a village to their will, or invite demonic possession for quick power? Sure. There are also gun owners who don't want to rob a bank or shoot random strangers.

    One of these groups still has to get a background check.

    It's for these reasons I didn't find the mage angle convincing, though obvious Templar excesses are inexcusable, and why I was tired of mages by the time Vivienne hitched her wagon to the Inquisition's train.

    Since the game centers around mages and Templars so much, of course the Chantry and its teachings and politics takes front stage. In fact, as you progress the Inquisition may even throw its influence behind a new Divine, a heavy decision indeed. What's most noteworthy about all of this is the discussion BioWare tries to elicit about faith.  What could have been interesting came off to me, a man of faith, as very patronizing. It's hard to explain further without delving into real spoilers, but suffice to say the message I got was, "You're free to believe whatever you want, despite the evidence, so long as it make no demands upon those around you."

    The Gospel of Jesus the Chant of Light is not.

    Like all BioWare games, romancing a companion is an option and I've already mentioned who I chose. To BioWare's credit, they eschewed making most everyone bisexual (something I've complained about in the past), keeping it limited to only two: one companion and one adviser. Some characters aren't even interested in a romance, which is a nice change.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    BioWare took this game as an opportunity to really lay out their politics on the matters of sexuality and sexual relations.  To anyone familiar with the company and their left-leaning attitudes, it's no surprise.  Same-sex relationships in Thedas are common and barely worth batting an eye about.  In fact, there's even a codex treatise on the topic should you wish further reading.  Additionally, this is the first game from them that I'm aware of that features a transgendered NPC.  She's a member of Iron Bull's (one of your companions) retinue and while it seems the setting does take notice at that, Iron Bull does not because she's a good soldier.

    Which is something BioWare also chooses to plant their flag on: women serve equally side-by-side by men in battle.  While this is a topic of debate today, and only possible given technological and medical advancements made within the past 100 years or so, it's absurd to cast it as feasible so far into the past, even a fantastical past.  It's clearly there to make a political point while ignoring socioeconomic realities of the medieval age it purports to take place in, and the stark biological differences between the sexes.

    This is the worst sort of storytelling and it's all the more noteworthy because BioWare is better at its craft than this.  That said, however, they've embraced one of the key techniques of normalizing otherwise objectionable content in media: don't draw attention to it.  Don't draw attention to it, treat it as innocuous, and it will be absorbed a piece at a time organically.

    This is a lesson Christian media has yet to embrace, preferring to obtusely beat non-believers about the neck and face with a message.

    Finding Cassandra's warm center – BioWare has described her like being a “crusty baguette” - was a real joy. Her embarrassment when you uncover her more 'girly' predilections is delightful.  The height of the dance between the Inquisitor and her (and the only time nudity came up), however, was unceremoniously marred by a glitch that froze the cutscene for a minute or so.  The drama, the poignancy, was gone and I was reminded that I was playing a video game.

    This particular glitch reared its head a numbers of time during my play through, tossing a damp rag on what would have been story highlights.  There's nothing quite like thinking, for a moment, a scene paused for effect when in reality it was taking a smoke break.  Thankfully the bug got squashed with a 300MB patch that came out when I was about three-quarters of the way through my game.

    But it seemed to then introduce total game crashes, an issue I never experienced before the patch.  I suppose I should thank BioWare for the new feature.  After losing several hours worth of progress, I really took stock of what I was doing and realized that I'd gotten caught up in beautiful chores.  Nothing I'd done during that time progressed the plot, mattered to anyone I cared about, or would even open up an interesting bit of side-story.

    I wrapped up my time with Skyrim when I noticed I was approaching 100 hours of playtime and it felt like a good place to deal with Alduin because he'd been so patient about my shenanigans to this point.

    I wrapped up my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition when I realized nothing I did for the majority of the game mattered.  Astute readers may see a contradiction but the thing is I didn't expect to matter in Skyrim.

    I do in a BioWare game.

    And that's what I think BioWare sacrificed in trying to compete with Bethesda.  But I have to admit that my voice may be alone.  Already the game has garnered several Game of the Year awards from various publications.  I think that if this game were The Elder Scrolls VI I'd have to agree.  Bethesda would have done an admirable job at pushing a story and characters that matter, that we might care about, to the fore.  It would have represented a step forward for them.

    While Dragon Age: Inquisition is an improvement from Dragon Age 2, and not quite a step backwards, it feels like an unnecessary sidestep.  It picked up a gauntlet I'm not sure was ever thrown.

    I enjoyed my time with the game. I really did.  I cared about most of my companions, what they thought and felt. The combat, while sometimes frustrating because of deficient AI, is a lot of fun, and seeing Skyhold grow and change as the Inquisition becomes a force to reckon with is a nice reminder of what you mean to a world that really lacks such a reflection for most of what you're doing in the game.

    My time in Thedas is now over.  I don't think I'll be revisiting this incarnation of it anytime soon.  Dragon Age: Origins, my favorite BioWare game, calls to me again.  I might take it up.

    Of course now that Green Ronin Publishing finally got Set 3 of the Dragon Age paper-and-pencil RPG out I could always get a group together for that.  Let it never be said I am not a fanboy for the setting!

     

  • Dragon's Crown (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon's Crown
    Developed by: Vanillaware
    Published by: Atlus
    Release Date: August 6th, 2013
    Available on: PS3, Vita (reviewed)
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of Players: single-player, four player multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, alcohol and tobacco use, partial nudity and suggestive themes
    Price: $50 for PS3 version, $40 for Vita
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review! 

    The Kingdom of Hydeland is in turmoil as the king has gone missing. To make matters worse, magic users have been seeking out a legendary artifact called the dragon's crown to awaken the ancient dragon.  With monster attacks on the rise, the adventurer's guild and royal family have plenty of tasks for you to complete.   Are you up to the challenge?

    When you first start the game you will have to choose your character class. Since some are easier to play than others, the game recommends starting off with a brawny class like the amazon, warrior or dwarf.  You can also choose the sorceress, mage, or ranger.  Each class has unique abilities, fighting styles and equipment.  As you fight and gain experience you will also earn skill points that can be assigned to common or class specific abilities.  

    Some of the abilities include new attack moves, more health, or inventory space.  Dragon's Crown combines the action of 2D side scrolling brawlers with the allure of finding hidden treasures deep within dungeons and towers.  While there are only ten areas, there are multiple paths with a boss waiting at the end of each of them.  I like the humor of this game as one of the boss' is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun combination of brawler and dungeon crawler gameplay.  
    Weak Points: Multiplayer is not available until the initial single player quests are completed.
    Moral Warnings: Like many RPGs there is violence and magic use. The female characters in this game suffer from abnormally large breasts, thighs, and buttocks.  They are also dressed so provocatively that a sneeze could cause a wardrobe malfunction.  The males of course are adequately covered and are without delusional enhancements.

    As you accept quests and explore new areas you encounter many enemies including orcs, vampires, lizard men, skeletons, evil mages and of course dragons.  They often drop coins after their demise.  There are also treasure chests and bones of fallen adventurers to be looted.  You can either revive the bones to get a NPC party member or you can bury them for a random treasure.  

    The first few quests are solo as you learn the game mechanics and prove your worth to the adventurer's guild and royal family.  Once you're at the point of collecting the nine talisman to battle the ancient dragon, you can play alongside NPCs, local friends, or random people online.  The boss' hit points go up the bigger the party is.  Some of the bosses I fought solo to make it easier on myself.  Some of the adventurer's guild quests require you to fight on your own as well. To do that you must disable joining.  If you have join enabled and are on the network, online players may hop into your party at any time.  It should come as no surprise that in order to play online, your system has to have the current firmware.  

    I never had any trouble finding anyone online to play with.  There is no chat and the only way to interact is you use your hand pointer.  When there are multiple dungeon paths, the majority vote wins.   Joining a random game is always fun and if the other players are higher level you may get even better loot.  I once picked up the bones of a level 99 adventurer; I didn't have the 999,999 gold to revive them though.  

    Gold comes and goes in this game pretty fast.  After you raid a dungeon you can either appraise (for a price) or just sell an item outright.  You cannot use an item until it has been appraised though.  Fortunately each item is assigned a rank form E (worst) to S (best) so anything C or lower I typically sold without bothering to appraise it.  As your character takes damage their equipment deteriorates or breaks altogether.  If you're carrying multiple bags of items you can switch equipment at the dungeon crossroads.   Anything damaged or broken can be repaired in town for a price.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Magic runes play a big part of this game no matter what class you play as.  There are rune markings on many of the dungeon walls and if you combine those with the runes your purchase, you can conjure up temporary weapons, buffs, hidden treasure, healing circles or an extra life.   You start off with three lives with the option to pay and pray for an extra one at the temple.  When those lives are exhausted, you can pay again and again until you can no longer afford the increasing revival rates.  When you're out of money and lives you're taken back into town and revived by a friend.

    Violence and magic use is a given in role playing games.  What surprised me with these titles was the blatant sexualizing of females.  The Amazon warrior I played was incredibly buffed with thunder thighs and a thong suit.  I mean who would seriously fight an ancient dragon wearing a thong bikini?  The sorceress was even worse with her double J bust size and a lace dress that was extremely low cut.  It gets even worse.  In the dungeons I encountered a mermaid with a human buttocks, a wounded female monk warrior spread eagle with her chastity belt holes exposed, and lastly, a bound attractive female spirit wearing a thin semi transparent outfit.  This artwork was extremely one sided; granted the warrior and dwarf classes were muscular like the Amazon warrior, but their groin area was realistic and not jiggling as they walked. 

    It's a real shame since the 2D artwork in this game is incredibly detailed and well done.  Unfortunately, they put too much detail into the females.  I would not recommend this game to anybody who is struggling with pornography or lust.  The sound and voice acting is top notch as well.  The gameplay is solid and had it not been for the sexual fantasy art, I would recommend this game to any RPG or brawler gamer out there.  

     

     

  • Dustoff Heli Rescue (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Dustoff Heli Rescue
    Developed by: Invictus Games Ltd.
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: March 6, 2015
    Available on: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Action
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    When I was growing up I owned an Atari 2600 and one of my favorite games on it was Choplifter.  In Choplifter you had to fly a helicopter and rescue stranded soldiers in a desert battlefield.  Dustoff Heli Rescue has a similar premise but with better 3D Minecraft style graphics and a jungle backdrop.

    In total there are twenty-five missions and they range from rescuing soldiers to picking up cargo.  The soldiers are usually easy to find with their red flare smoke, but sometimes they are in cages you'll have to break beforehand.  In other missions the hostages are in an enemy convoy that you’ll have to shoot down first.  The convoy rarely travels alone so you’ll have to take out its escorts as well.

    By default, the helicopter auto-fires, but you can set it to manual if you really want a challenge.  In total there are three different helicopters and guns that you can unlock throughout the game.  Each helicopter has different attributes when it comes to capacity and maneuverability.  Carrying more soldiers is helpful, but are you willing to deal with a harder to control helicopter?

    Dustoff Heli Rescue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute Choplifter remake with Minecraft style visuals
    Weak Points: Significant difficulty spike when the severe weather levels unlock and make the helicopters frustratingly difficult to control
    Moral Warnings: Vehicular explosions, enemy soldiers run away and don’t appear to get shot

    Whenever you land on the helipad your helicopter’s health and ammunition will refill.  Try not to let either get too low as it takes time to recharge.  Depending on your completion time, you’ll earn a gold, silver, or a bronze medal for the completing the level.  

    The levels have plenty of variety.  Some of them take place in sunny weather with plenty of open space to fly through.  Others have you steering through caverns which takes a lot of precision.  There are no checkpoints so if you crash you’ll have to restart from the beginning.  More challenging levels take place in severe weather conditions that cripple the simple control scheme.  When you’re close to half-way through the game, the difficulty ramps up significantly and can be very frustrating.

    By default, the game uses only the left and right arrow keys.  You can bind them to the shoulder buttons of a gamepad if you desire.  To lift off you simply press both buttons and then use the arrow or shoulder button for the direction you wish to go.  Sometimes you’ll have to press the opposite button to stabilize your helicopter.  Delicate landings are a must and you’ll have to tap both buttons to slow down your descent.  If you choose to manually fire your gun, you'll have to click on your mouse to do so.

    Dustoff Heli Rescue
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I’ve learned the hard way that tipping over your helicopter or landing in water will cause your helicopter to explode.  Other than accidentally killing your passengers, this game is pretty tame when it comes to violence.  Enemy vehicles still explode, but you don’t see any blood or gore.  In fact, the enemy soldiers are seen running away when your helicopter approaches their encampments.

    The soldiers in this game are blocky in nature and look very similar to the characters in Minecraft.  The graphics are decent and don’t require high end systems to run smoothly.  The audio is well done and the static laden radio chatter is a nice touch.

    Overall this is a cute game that gets a little frustrating when you’re half-way though completing it.  There is plenty of replay-ability with the option of besting your previous score and trying to find the five hidden dog tags in each of the levels.  The price is a reasonable $3.99 and is worth picking up if it goes on sale.

  • Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition
    Developer: Omega Force
    Publisher: Koei Tecmo
    Released: November 28, 2013 (JP); March 25, 2014 (NA)
    Available On: Playstation 4, PS Vita, PC
    Number of Players: Up to 2
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence)
    Price: $32.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Centuries after his death, Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms is as popular now as it has ever been. Thanks to the medium of video games, more and more people have become familiar with this historical novel set in the Three Kingdoms era following the fall of the Han Dynasty in China. Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition is the seventh ‘hack and slash’ game in this series, offering a more complete package on the Playstation 4. Are updated graphics and additional gameplay content enough to justify its purchase?

    Having spent hours playing the original release on the Playstation 3, I was pleasantly surprised at how much has been improved. In the era of rushed HD remakes, it was nice to see a game that was thoroughly upgraded. In terms of graphics, this game feels like a next generation Warriors title game. Animations are cleaner, graphics are clearer, and battlefields have proper lighting. Gameplay benefits from the next generation update as there are more enemies on the field at any time, there are fewer slowdowns in combat compared to the original release and the frame rate only dips slightly during the most chaotic sequences. Frequent slowdowns have been a problem for the series since the first ‘hack and slash’ game, Dynasty Warriors 2. It is amazing to see how well the Playstation 4 version plays, especially considering how many additional soldiers are now on screen. 

    Although the number of improvements to Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition are many, the game itself is fundamentally unchanged. As stated previously, the story for Dynasty Warriors 8 is based on Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel, chronicling the fall of the Han Empire and the rise of the Three Kingdoms, Wei, Wu and Shu, from 169 AD to 280 AD. Each kingdom has its own heroes with their own stated goals, be it the unification of China, the protection of family lands, or the continuation of Han traditions. Much is written about Luo Guanzhong’s portrayal of the Three Kingdoms and his bias towards the Shu, who feel like the quintessential good guys in this story. Even then, players don’t feel like villains when playing on behalf of the other kingdoms. Though cruel, Cao Cao makes it clear that only through strength can peace be brought to the land. The suffering of the people is always on his mind, even when he is inflicting suffering himself. Even Lu Bu, a villain of the era, is presented as more than a ruthless warlord. His motivations are split between proving his strength and fulfilling the dreams of the woman he loves, Diaochan. The criticism here is that aside from Dong Zhuo, there are no real villains to fight.  Factions are opposed to each other because of their methods more than their ultimate goal, even if they differ in what their vision of what China should be. Writers could have spent more time discussing the differences between the factions to give players more motivation to take up their weapons and go to war.

    Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The complete Dynasty Warriors 8 experience, including 99% of the DLC for the last generation version, with enhanced graphics. One of the best 'hack and slash' games available on any platform, filled with hours of single player content.
    Weak Points: Aside from a new campaign, there is little to offer in terms of game content for those who already own Dynasty Warriors 8 on the PS3 or Xbox 360.
    Moral Warnings: Some alcohol use, animated violence and a few female characters wear provocative attire.

     Despite this being a game set during the Three Kingdoms era, players shouldn’t expect to listen to classical Chinese music. Dynasty Warriors 8’s music consists mainly of electric guitars and drums.  Although this may seem out of place, it complements the intense action on screen. It also fits with the game’s overall design, which forgoes historical accuracy in character and weapon design in favor of anime-inspired style. According to Chin Soon Sun, a Koei Tecmo community manager and former Koei Warriors webmaster, characters were designed to appeal to Japanese audiences, not Western ones, as the game is a triple ‘A’ title in Japan.  One wonders how a more historically accurate Warriors title would sell, especially in the West. If players aren’t fussy about Dynasty Warriors 8’s costumes, they have the ability to change them to costumes from older games, as well as special costumes from a set available as downloadable content. Players also have the ability to change music before a battle, choosing from a large selection of music, including tracks from previous Dynasty Warriors games. Finally, there is also the option to change the spoken language from English to Japanese. There are more than enough customization options for even the pickiest players.

    Gameplay is almost the same as the previous title, Dynasty Warriors 7, which was a big improvement from simple button pressing, the series was originally known for. As stated previous, this is a ‘hack and slash’ game, a third person action-adventure game which is heavily focused on combat. Players control a character that fights his or her way across a large battlefield through hundreds of enemies. As with the previous title, each character is able to use two weapons in battle which can be switched at any time. Switching is made even more important with the addition of the ‘Heaven, Earth, Man’ elemental system. This “rock, paper, scissors” dynamic adds an additional layer of depth to the game’s simplistic battle system. Though not revolutionary by any means, it does make combat more interesting. Each battle is broken down into a series of objectives to be completed, from taking bases to protecting generals. Unlike previous Warriors games, don’t expect to mount your horse (or elephant) and charge the enemy encampment. Routes are blocked off until certain objectives are met, forcing players to stick to the script. This doesn’t, however, mean you’ll be spending half-an-hour or more playing through one battle. Despite what you may have heard from other reviewers, battles rarely last more than twenty minutes, even if players are taking their time.

    As with the original game, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition offers a variety of gameplay modes, which can be played with one or two players, from the standard campaigns for each faction in Story Mode, to the ability to replay stages in Free Mode, and the Ambition Mode which allows players to chose a hero to fight across China. Xtreme Legends Complete Edition adds an additional faction campaign which follows Lu Bu’s rise and fall, Challenge Mode, a mode found in previous Xtreme Legends titles, and an additional Ambition Mode mission, tasking players to recruit heroes and again conquer China. Though campaigns are shorter and not as faithful to Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel as they were in Dynasty Warriors 7, they do have ‘what if’ scenarios, allowing players to change the course of history by completing certain objectives. Players are also not limited to a single character per stage like the previous title, but given a choice of three warriors to take into battle. All this adds to the replayability of each campaign. Regardless of whatever mode is picked, playing with a character levels them up. Defeating generals also rewards players with weapons to equip themselves. With a cast of eighty-three playable characters, completionists can expect to spend hundreds of hours playing the game.

    Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Although this game is filled with hours of content, it can become repetitive. Though each character has their own unique style and EX moves, there is not that much difference in play style. Certain weapons do behave differently, but the combos remain the same. The plus side to this is that players will not have to spend much time learning how to use other weapons. Each character has a specific weapon they specialize in, granting them an EX attack with it. These EX attacks vary from additional combo hits to buffs like increased armor or damage. Characters can also switch between weapons mid-combo to increase combo length. Characters also have two unique Musou Attacks, helping to further alleviate the repetitiveness. There are also additional weapons and remade stages from previous games available as downloadable content. There is no shortage of content in Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition, but how much mileage players get out of it will vary.

    Given that Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition is based on Chinese history, there are no references to Christ or Christianity. Spirituality is replaced by superstition, but references to these beliefs are few and far between. The only reference to spirituality that comes to mind is Zhuge Liang’s prayer ceremony to call the winds at Chibi (Red Cliff). Despite the virtual absence of any spiritual references, the game has a family friendly feel to it. Alcohol is consumed only at celebrations (with some characters partaking more than others), battlefield kills are counted as “KOs” (knock outs), there aren’t any graphic depictions of blood, and when characters do die, it either happens off screen or players are given a Disney-like death scene, where the character spouts meaningful dialogue and slowly slips away. As for the sexual content in the game, aside from attire of a few of the female characters (which can be changed), it is nonexistent. This isn’t a game parents should worry about their teenage children playing, especially considering its educational value. While there are numerous inaccuracies, players learn a lot about historical figures and battles while waging war across China. There is also a strong emphasis placed on loyalty, be it loyalty to one’s principles, family or friends. This is further reinforced by the vilification of characters that are disloyal and act out of self-interest. It is hard to find moral fault with a game which goes to such lengths to promote values such as loyalty. 

    As a long-time fan of the series, I thoroughly enjoyed Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition. It is hard not to recommend this game to fans of the ‘hack and slash’ genre, as well as those who love Japanese developed games. There is a lot of content to enjoy already on disc, and there is a lot of additional downloadable content for those who can’t put the game down. It isn’t perfect, but it is by far the best game in the series to date. Unless players or parents find any depiction of violence, even the toned down animated violence in this game, unacceptable, there should not be any reason to avoid this game, especially now that it’s available at half its initial release price.

    -Christopher Lancop

     

  • Eagle Flight (VR)

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    Game Info:

    Eagle Flight
    Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: October 18, 2016
    Available on: Oculus Rift,
    PlayStation VR, HTC Vive
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Up to six players online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for mild violence
    Price: $39.99

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    Many people have dreamed of flying like a bird and now it’s possible on the virtual reality platform of your choice.  The life of an eagle is not carefree as there are many dangers including vultures, bats, and ravens that will attack your mate and nest.  Besides dodging their traps and attacks you’ll have to narrowly fly through many caverns, abandoned tunnels and buildings to beat the scores of people around the world.  

    Though there is a three on three multiplayer mode, I wasn’t able to find anyone to play against.  Thankfully, there is still a free flight and story mode to enjoy.  The free flight mode is great for showing off your VR headset to family and friends.  The controls are relatively simple with tilting your heard to turn and using the right trigger on the controller to speed up and the left one to slow down.  

    The controls get slightly more complicated in the story mode, but not by much.  At first the story introduces you to the basics of flying, collecting feathers for your nest, and catching fish.  Once you meet your mate you’ll have to escort and protect her from vultures, bats, and ravens.  You’ll be able to attack them with your screech which needs a couple of seconds to recharge before you can use it again.  Later in the game you'll unlock a temporary shield.  When you complete the single-player campaign you’ll unlock the ability to look around without changing your flight trajectory.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful scenery and smooth flying experience without motion sickness 
    Weak Points: Nobody  online to play against; crashed upon launching and exiting the game; Uplay login required
    Moral Warnings: You can fly into things and attack other birds

    The head controls are very responsive and easy to grasp, but breaking the habit of tilting my head instead of turning it took some getting used to.  The game will remind you to tilt instead of turning your head if it detects too much movement from the VR headset.  Heed the warnings because ignoring them will result in a stiff neck!

    There’s a decent amount of variety in the levels.  Some of the them have you flying through rings while others require fending off enemies while escorting your partner to safety.  Last but not least are the tunnel racing levels where you have to narrowly avoid spinning fans and soar through thin openings.  Depending on how quickly you reach the end, you’ll be awarded between one and three stars.  The next level will unlock with one star, but other side quests will require a certain number of stars before becoming available.  In total there are one hundred and twenty-nine stars to earn.  I completed the game with forty-eight so there’s plenty of replay value for me if I want to improve my scores and unlock more content.  

    The story campaign has five chapters that unfold as you claim territory and build nests in Notre-Dame, Louvre, Basilica, the Pantheon, and the Eiffel tower.   With each claimed territory you’ll get to do a victory fly-through around your new stomping grounds.  The levels increase in difficulty as the story progresses: they begin at easy and end at the expert difficulty.  After fending off swarms of enemies it feels good to fly around and enjoy the new scenery.

    Eagle Flight takes place in an abandoned France with no traces of humans other than the architecture they left behind.  The buildings are covered with foliage and many of them have trees growing though them.  All sorts of wildlife including elephants, giraffes, zebras, and wolves are inhabiting the vacant landscape.  Some of the levels take place on sunny days while others are rainy or in the evening. 

    Eagle Flight
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 1/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    The audio is just as well polished as the graphics.  The levels are nicely narrated and the bird screeches are spot on.  The other sound effects, especially the crashing noise are well done.  The background music is pleasant and takes a back seat to the other sound effects until enemies approach.    Then it sets the grim mood nicely.

    Although there is violence in this game it’s not very bloody at all.  When you hit a bird with your screech they simply disappear.  When you collide with an object there is just a thud noise and no blood stains or any mess to worry about.  

    Other than the lack of people online to play against, my biggest complaint with this title is its stability.  Half of the time this game failed to launch or exit properly.  After seeing the loading bar fill up, I would be greeted with a blank black screen that I would have to end task to make it close and try again.  Updating my AMD drivers to the latest version did not fix this issue either.  Sometimes I could get in on the second try, other times it took me four tries before it launched properly.   It rarely worked on the first try.    

    As frustrating as the launch process was, the negative feelings went away quickly as I took to the skies and raced around as an eagle.  I hope that the bugs are fixed quickly and that more people play this game online to enjoy this game as it’s intended.  If you have a VR headset, be sure to keep an eye on this one if it goes on sale.  

     

  • Exile's End (PS Vita/PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Exile's End
    Developed By: Magnetic Realms
    Published By: XSEED Games/Marvelous
    Release Date: October 25, 2016 (PS platforms), August 31, 2015 (Steam)
    Available On: PS4, PS Vita (PS TV Compatible), Wii U, Windows, macOS, Linux/SteamOS
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood
    Genre: Action Adventure
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $9.99

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us both the PS4 and PS Vita games for review!

    Exile's End was programmed entirely by one man, Matt Fielding, with some art and music assistance by Japanese veterans, including creators from games like Ninja Gaiden NES, Secret of Mana, and other early greats.  It was his intention to make this game as an homage to early 1990s classics like Flashback and Another World.  When launching this game for the first time, it is immediately obvious that it could have easily lived among games from that era.

    This classic look and feel begins right from the title screen.  From the pixel art logo to the fonts used, it screams '90s.  Only the "Online" menu, which contains the cloud save feature (PlayStation versions only) and the online leaderboards give it away.  There is otherwise only one save slot, so "Continue", "New Game", "Survival", and "Settings" are also available.

    For most players, the bulk of your time will be spent in the normal game mode represented by "New Game" and/or "Continue".  Despite some rather odd marketing to the contrary, this mode strongly represents the Metroidvania genre fairly well. For those not initiated, 'Metriodvania' is a term of endearment used by fans of the classic 2D Metroid series, and later Castlevania games, which used similar mechanics.  The main features are non-linear maps that encourage exploring, and often include platforming, and various hidden permanent powerups found throughout the map.  These allow the player to access new passages that were formerly locked to them, often via the skills or attributes of their new items.  Backtracking is usually also involved, as those locked areas can often be found earlier in the game than the weapons that unlock them.  This describes Exile's End very accurately.

    Exile's End
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Dark, lonely environment; successful throwback to classic 1990s games; second half of the game is really good; definitely a Metroidvania despite trying to convince to the contrary
    Weak Points: Starts off slowly, and somewhat of a chore at first; music is disappointing; pixel art is blurry on Vita or PS TV without old TV filters applied; not sure it excels past its peers in any way; cross save bugs
    Moral Warnings: Both aliens and enemy humans die, and sometimes shows blood; lore speaks of a messiah-like figure, with various statues and such; curse words 'd*mn', 'hell', and 'b*tch' used

    Exile's End is a 2D side scrolling entrance into the genre, as most of them are. You start off finding yourself exiled (see what I did there?) on a planet, after being sent on a search and rescue mission to find the son of Ravenwood corporation's president.  Once you arrive, your ship suddenly crashes, as well as those of the rest of your team.  Unlike them, you survive, and set out to not only complete the mission, but to get both of you off of the mysterious mining planet you find yourself on.

    The plot seemed rather far from surprising, with the game following several common tropes.  There's the alien planet, the aliens on the planet, the ancient religion, and the mysterious powers and such being sought by your enemies.  I would mark that last part as a spoiler, except it's so predictable that you probably would have figured out it was coming as soon as you saw your first hooded statue.

    While certainly derivative, it's not a bad game by any means.  It's just not unique in any way.  If you have played a 2D Metroid game, then you more or less know what to expect – minus the morph ball.  Not that this is a bad thing – the Metroid series is one of my favorite of all time.  Just don't expect anything radically different.

    The first part of the game is pretty difficult, with the only weapon or tool available to you being a rock.  Yes, a rock.  That is actually pretty unique, in that in most games you have a means of attack even right away.  Rocks can be used to defeat simple enemies like snakes, distract some enemies, or set off land mines. All in all, more useful than expected.  Once you get your handgun, the game really opens up and it becomes a lot more manageable.  But a few too many mistakes can really take a long time to recover from, which is unfortunate, since it ends up encouraging majorly cheesing the save system.

    You see, the game automatically saves after entering or exiting each and every room.  There are no save slots either – there's one save and that's it.  Since you have no means of backing out of a choice except for immediately reloading, that's what you end up doing.  If you get hit?  Press start, choose exit, and then continue.  With a five second delay, you have now just re-entered the room, with whatever bad hit you took before having never happened.  It's so easy to abuse, it's… laughable.  While I found a few boss fights difficult, it took an otherwise challenging game and made it almost too easy for much of it.  At least you do have to learn your enemies' patterns, otherwise the reload-continue process wouldn't work too well.

    Exile's End
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The cross save feature worked perfectly between the PS Vita and my PS TV, but would crash my game when bringing the save over to the PS4 version.  The developer has been made aware of this issue and it will hopefully be addressed in a patch.

    Survival mode is a bit different, and unique.  There are many previously generated levels, along with various goals you have to complete in each one.  There is also a time attack element to it, as you have a rather limited time on the clock, and in order to extend it, you have to kill enemies on the screen.  There are online leaderboards to complete with other players worldwide.  It's an interesting mode that seems disconnected from the meat of the main game.  However, if you are looking for a way to be competitive in a game like this, it's a great opportunity for that.

    The graphics are almost directly out of the 1990s.  Not that this is bad, but I believe you could seriously convince someone who played games from that era that this game was made back then.  The sound effects do their job, but the music is unfortunately forgettable.  Not terrible, nor great.  As I have heard some of the works of the Japanese artists mentioned, all I have to say is that they have done better work in other games.

    On the flipside, the controls are basically perfect.  I have played classic games with intentionally limited jump or weapon mechanics, and that can often be a large source of frustration.  Exile's End has perfect jump and shoot physics.  The character behaves exactly as you expect him to, and when you kneel to shoot lower creatures, you can still execute careful jump dodges as you desire right after getting in that perfect jump shot.  This is definitely an area where the game excels, and it's very important to get that right.  I'm glad it did.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, it's fairly typical of a game of that era, with a bit more language used than a typical SNES title.  There is the 'd*mn' word used, along with 'hell' and 'b*tch'.  They are used very rarely.  Since I only completed about 45% of the game, I may have missed other things, but that is what I saw in my playthrough of under seven hours.  There is blood and violence; you shoot enemies who would otherwise kill you.  Both aliens and humans die from your shots or other weapons.  Some enemies splatter a bit of blood, but not all.  There are aliens, and some characters have a bit of an existential crisis in the story.

    Exile's End is fun, if a bit uninspired.  If you stick with it, it does eventually get a good hook that encourages you to complete it, but you could easily give up early on and not get far enough to start to enjoy it.  So if you do get this game, commit to sticking with it to get the most out of it.  There are probably better Metroidvania games out there, but there are also much worse ones. It's not a bad game once you get far enough in.  It's just a shame that there had to be at least one lava room escape.  That's one classic game mechanic that I definitely could have done without.

  • Furi (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Furi
    Developed by: The Game Bakers
    Published by: The Game Bakers
    Released: June 5, 2016
    Available on: PS4 (PSN), Windows
    Genre: Action
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for violence and strong language
    Price: $24.99 (Steam, PS4)

    Furi is, I believe, the first non-IOS game made by the company The Game Bakers, and I would say they did a very good job. Without spoiling too much, the main character is a prisoner with the goal of breaking out, and he is assisted by a man in purple with an oversized rabbit hat covering the top half of his head. At the start of the game the player is in the dark as to why the main character is imprisoned and you really don’t find out his name (or what amounts to one) until the very last boss.  Over the course of the game, though, you do find out why he was imprisoned. Now, to break out of the prison, the main character is killing his jailers and a few other prisoners. Some of them are amoral, some are mentally damaged, and others sincerely believe that letting the main character out will doom the world. The main character is not a remorseless killing machine as, in cutscenes, he does show remorse for killing the more moral enemies.

    Now to the meat of the game: the bosses. They really are the focus of the game, and they are very challenging. While fundamentally the same, each boss has its own set of unique mechanics and toolsets that sets them apart from each other. In short they feel completely different from each other. To emphasize this each boss also has its own personality and backstory that further cements their differences. Going back to the gameplay component of boss fights, every boss has multiple phases that you, the player, have to go through in order to kill them. In each new phase, a boss will either add new abilities or, in a few cases, completely change up the fight. To add to this, for multiple bosses, each phase is composed of 2 sub-phases: a “free-form” phase (which is top down) and a “melee” phase (which traps both characters in a circle and the perspective shifts to the side). The last phase for each boss is almost always the same. It starts out as a free-form phase, the boss becomes invincible and the boss goes into bullet-heck mode, and the melee phase after it is slightly easier than the prior melee phases. Again though there are exceptions.

    Furi
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: This game is very challenging; The bosses are diverse in movesets and personality: Story is pretty good; Catchy music; The ability to fight bosses from the main menu in any order
    Weak Points: This game is very challenging; Too short if played on easy mode; Somewhat short regardless of mode
    Moral Warnings: Cursing is used; Violence; You cut down moral characters

    In regards to stability, I never had a crash or, more importantly for this kind of game, framerate drops. All of this is on the PS4. The music is very catchy and fits the atmosphere. You can tell that for each boss a lot of effort was put into their respective soundtrack. Each sounds like they are a level of quality one would expect from the last or penultimate boss. The music between the bosses is gentler and more relaxing. I think some of the lyrics had cursing in it. I am not sure though. When it comes to graphics, they complement the art style and the atmosphere quite nicely. The game is very enjoyable to look at and there is a clear anime inspiration. I have heard some compare the style to the anime ‘Afro Samurai’. The general feel of the game also seems to have taken cues from that anime as well.

    When it comes to the moral elements of this game, there are some faults. You are a prisoner hacking his way through jailers and other prisoners. While some are easily under the realm of self-defense, a decent number are not. There are also three endings in this game. Without going into too much detail, all three are based on the rare morality decisions. Naturally, this can lead to pretty negative consequences. That said the game flat-out tells what will happen before you make a decision. As stated earlier, there is swearing. There is a lot of hacking and shooting in the game, but no blood. There is no nudity, and most bosses are fully clothed. There is one male boss that is wearing nothing but a loincloth, and one female that is wearing a suit that emphasizes some of her female characteristics. 

    Furi
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Can I recommend the game to gamers? To an extent, yes. I heard a rumor that the creators of this game enjoyed games like Dark Souls and bullet heck games, and that they wanted to incorporate those elements into this game along with the challenge. If that rumor is true they succeeded. Due to this, though, I can only recommend this game to gamers that enjoy or moderately enjoy very difficult but fair games. Gamers like me. If you are like me in that regard I do highly recommend it. You will have a fun time. If you are not, I can’t recommend it. There is an easy mode, but that in of itself is not worth the price given just how easy that mode actually is. In short, if you love challenging but fair games, you may want to consider this.

    Now can I recommend this game as a Christian? I could recommend it to a decent portion. As can be expected there is violence in this game, but no blood. I don’t even think there was any amount of gore. The cursing is there, but aside from one instance of using the F-word there was not many to my recollection. I am still uncertain if one music track had cursing in it as it was hard to make out. The sparse amount of clothing that could be considered “sexual” do not seem to be designed for that purpose. Naturally, though, you are a prisoner that is breaking out, and and few of the jailers that you kill have a high level of morality. Again, I feel I could recommend this to other Christians with a reasonable level of comfort. 

     

  • Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure
    eveloped By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: Mastiff
    Release Date: October 13, 2016 (3DS), March 30, 2015 (PC), February 13, 2007 (PSP)
    Available On: 3DS, PC, PSP
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Tobacco Reference
    MRSP: $14.99 (3DS), $9.99 (PC)

    Thank you Mastiff for sending us these games to review!

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was originally a PC game, only available in Japan back in 2004.  It was later ported to PSP, and Mastiff brought it to the US in 2007.  In 2015, Mastiff has updated the PC release with modern controls, graphics settings and widescreen support, and reused the PSP translation and voice overs to bring the definitive Gurumin experience to computers.  In 2016, Mastiff showed us how much they love Gurumin by funding and porting this game over to 3DS themselves as Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure.

    Gurumin falls somewhat outside of Falcom's typical fare; both Ys and Trails in the Sky follow the more typical teenager/young adult who saves the world (or their slice in it).  Here, Parin is a sassy twelve year old girl who, being the daughter of adventurers, comes to live with her grandpa in an old mining town.  She quickly finds herself rather alone – there are no other children in town for her to play with.  After exploring a bit, she quickly discovers a little girl who needs rescue from a barking dog.  After using her Super Pretty Missile Kick to keep the dog away, she quickly discovers that she's not a girl, but a monster!  Nearby, there is a connection to Monster Village, and only kids can see monsters.  Parin quickly finds that her life isn't so boring anymore, as playing with her monster friends makes the days go by much more quickly.  Not long after, the phantoms appear and soon bring harm to the monsters.  It is up to Parin to save them with the Legendary Drill.

    Rather than the more typical sword, a drill allows for some interesting game mechanics.  This is a 3D third person action RPG, not unlike a 3D Zelda game.  While she can attack enemies with various combinations of stabs and slashes, she can also charge up her drill and affect the environment.  She can destroy rocks, trees, and various weak walls, which gives each level an exploration component, further enhanced by deftly placed secrets spread throughout.  The game rates you based on how well you did, so if you managed to leave a jar unbroken or monster unbusted, that S rank (rather than a more pedestrian A-C rank) will likely elude you.  As you bust up enemies, they poof away, and leave behind Pockles (money) and sometimes junk.  Pockles are needed to buy new headgear, and junk can upgrade them to make them much more useful.  Depending on that rank, you also earn medals.  While silver or bronze just translate to Pockles, gold ones can be traded in for rare and more powerful headgear.

    Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adorable characters and art style; awesome Falcom music; great voice acting; very fun 3D action platforming; good replay value; So Cute!
    Weak Points: Minor technical glitches and text bugs
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; one brief tobacco reference; one monster cross-dresses and is clearly attracted to the same sex; some of Parin's outfits aren't suggestive graphically, but play into stereotypes (and voice overs reinforce this)

    Headgear turns out to be one of the main elements of strategy, since it's the only practical piece of equipment you get, other than some elemental attacks you also get later.  Each of them has some special ability, like protecting you from water or gas, and gets much more powerful when leveled up with junk.  Collecting headgear and other items is half of the fun of this game; there is always something to yearn for if you are completionist.

    In many ways, this game plays like a classic 3D platformer, and that's a good thing.  It has a certain feel to it that is just right.  I have undoubtedly missed jumps, but the controls themselves always felt right – it was my fault that I messed up.  Beating up the phantoms is enjoyable, and rhythmic – indeed, there is a metronome on the top of the screen (PC version only), and if your hits land along with the beat, they strike as criticals.  Also, you can combo jumps, dashes, and attacks in satisfying ways.  Dashes can also be handy in avoiding attacks or other obstacles.

    It has to be said and with emphasis on one important fact: this game is cute. Really, really cute.  Everything from the cell shaded graphics, to the anime-like expressions (with huge eyes and all of that), to the character and monster proportions – it oozes cuteness.  It is further accentuated by the game itself, rather intentionally, by Parin's outfits and headgear.  Outfits are rather rare and difficult to unlock; for example, the first one most people will get is a reward for beating the game, or another can be purchased for 99,999 Pockles (the maximum money you can get in this game) in a rather obscure shop.  But headgear is much more common.  Even the first one you get, goggles, makes her look even more cute than she does already.  

    Some of the outfit combinations, while quite cute, are a bit of a humorous nudge to any adult gamers playing.  While I have not unlocked them all, I did go through the substantial effort required to unlock both the maid outfit and the maid hat.  With only one of them equipped, she may look cute, but nothing else.  With them both, Parin's voice transforms into a more alluring one, saying maid-like things.  Things like 'Let's clean this place up!' and 'Time to take out the trash!' are said in a rather 900 number-ish way.  (I wouldn't know this from experience!)  I have to admit the first time I heard it I laughed out loud.  It's likely to go over most kid's heads... nevertheless, it's clearly worth pointing out.  From what I understand, some of her other outfits reflect other similar stereotypes, but none of them are sexual in nature graphically, with the worst one showing off a belly button (and requires a serious time commitment to unlock).

    Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While the game as a whole is definitely safe for most, one of the enemy phantoms is clearly a male character who cross-dresses and is attracted to a certain other male phantom.  He speaks with a lisp, and competes with a female for this monster's attention.  He never seems to give either of them the time of day, and there is no sign of reciprocation whatsoever.  In an otherwise mostly clean game, it kind of sticks out as odd.  I noticed no language issues, one small mention of tobacco (it lit a fire that had negative consequences in the story), and otherwise typical cartoon violence.  No humans (other than Parin) are hit at all in the game.  

    Like many Falcom games, the music is really great.  Now, it's not your typical Ys fare – while a few songs have a more hard rock presentation, most are happy-go-lucky, as you might expect in a game aimed at children.  Nevertheless, the quality is top notch, and some of the songs, especially near the end, are truly great.  I am always pleased by any Falcom soundtrack, and this is no exception.  The voice acting is also really well done.  The only bummer is not audio related, but I saw some minor glitches.  For example, on PC, the screen resolution doesn't go above 1080p, and on the very top and far left of the screen, there are some graphical artifacts.  After being leveled up a few times, some of the item descriptions are cut off or scroll in strange ways.  I also saw a few typos; not common, but enough to notice for a detail freak like me.  (Or maybe that's monster?)

    Gurumin 3D, the 3DS version, has its own unique quirks.  Perhaps the most obvious is that it has fully stereoscopic 3D utilizing the 3DS' screen.  This does look very good, though there are resolution trade-offs compared to the PC platform.  Also, some 2D interface elements, like targeting reticules and exclamation points, can sometimes be on the wrong 3D layer and be somewhat disorienting.  Despite this, I did get used to it.  Between level or cut scene transitions, the music can stick or stutter.  But probably the worst glitch, though not game breaking, is that sometimes the cut scenes and enemy animations during a level seems to run at a very low frame rate.  It's not the whole game, as Parin animates perfectly fine; it is just the affected opponents.  Despite this, I was still able to enjoy the game and don't consider it a deal breaker in any way.  There are no other add-ons of any kind in Gurumin 3D that are not present in the PC release.

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (and Gurumin 3D) is a very enjoyable and memorable game for me.  My children, daughters especially, have quickly taken to it and love it to death.  My ten year old, who rarely plays platformers, has played this far more than I ever expected.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Gurumin, and highly recommend it to anyone who loves these kinds of games.  I consider the PC version the definitive version, though the 3DS one is no slouch, and both are more than worth their bargain price (and PC is cheaper!).  A single playthrough can easily take anywhere between 15-30 hours depending on how thorough you are.  My only caution is that if you let your kids play it, you may have to have a good explanation for that weird guy that Parin calls a lady (and gets scolded for it).

     

  • Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: Mastiff
    Release Date: March 30, 2015 (PC), February 13, 2007 (PSP)
    Available On: PC, PSP
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Tobacco Reference
    MRSP: $7.50 on LeapTrade

    Thank you Mastiff for sending us this game to review!

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was originally a PC game, only available in Japan back in 2004.  It was later ported to PSP, and Mastiff brought it to the US in 2007.  Now, Mastiff has updated the PC release with modern controls, graphics settings and widescreen support, and reused the PSP translation and voice overs to bring the definitive Gurumin experience to PC.  

    Gurumin falls somewhat outside of Falcom's typical fare; both Ys and Trails in the Sky follow the more typical teenager/young adult who saves the world (or their slice in it).  Here, Parin is a sassy twelve year old girl who, being the daughter of adventurers, comes to live with her grandpa in an old mining town.  She quickly finds herself rather alone – there are no other children in town for her to play with.  After exploring a bit, she quickly discovers a little girl who needs rescue from a barking dog.  After using her Super Pretty Missile Kick to keep the dog away, she quickly discovers that she's not a girl, but a monster!  Nearby, there is a connection to Monster Village, and only kids can see monsters.  Parin quickly finds that her life isn't so boring anymore, as playing with her monster friends makes the days go by much more quickly.  Soon after, the phantoms appear and soon bring harm to the monsters.  It is up to Parin to save them with the Legendary Drill.

    Rather than the more typical sword, a drill allows for some interesting game mechanics.  This is a 3D third person action RPG, not unlike a 3D Zelda game.  While she can attack enemies with various combinations of stabs and slashes, she can also charge up her drill and affect the environment.  She can destroy rocks, trees, and various weak walls, which gives each level an exploration component, further enhanced by deftly placed secrets spread throughout.  The game rates you based on how well you did, so if you managed to leave a jar unbroken or monster unbusted, that S rank (rather than a more pedestrian A-C rank) will likely elude you.  As you bust up enemies, they poof away, and leave behind Pockles (money) and sometimes junk.  Pockles are needed to buy new headgear, and junk can upgrade them to make them much more useful.  Depending on that rank, you also earn medals.  While silver or bronze just translate to Pockles, gold ones can be traded in for rare and more powerful headgear.

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Adorable characters and art style; awesome Falcom music; great voice acting; very fun 3D action platforming; good replay value; So Cute!
    Weak Points: Minor technical glitches and text bugs; limited resolution support
    Moral Warnings:  Cartoon violence; one brief tobacco reference; one monster cross-dresses and is clearly attracted to the same sex; some of Parin's outfits aren't suggestive graphically, but play into stereotypes (and voice overs reinforce this)

    Headgear turns out to be one of the main elements of strategy, since it's the only practical piece of equipment you get, other than some elemental attacks you also get later.  Each of them has some special ability, like protecting you from water or gas, and gets much more powerful when leveled up with junk.  Collecting headgear and other items is half of the fun of this game; there is always something to yearn for if you are completionist.

    In many ways, this game plays like a classic 3D platformer, and that's a good thing.  It has a certain feel to it that is just right.  I have undoubtedly missed jumps, but the controls themselves always felt right – it was my fault that I messed up.  Beating up the phantoms is enjoyable, and rhythmic – indeed, there is a metronome on the top of the screen, and if your hits land along with the beat, they strike as criticals.  Also, you can combo jumps, dashes, and attacks in satisfying ways.  Dashes can also be handy in avoiding attacks or other obstacles.

    It has to be said and with emphasis on one important fact: this game is cute. Really, really cute.  Everything from the cell shaded graphics, to the anime-like expressions (with huge eyes and all of that), to the character and monster proportions – it oozes cuteness.  It is further accentuated by the game itself, rather intentionally, by Parin's outfits and headgear.  Outfits are rather rare and difficult to unlock; for example, the first one most people will get is a reward for beating the game, or another can be purchased for 99,999 Pockles (the maximum money you can get in this game) in a rather obscure shop.  But headgear is much more common.  Even the first one you get, goggles, makes her look even more cute than she does already.  

    Some of the outfit combinations, while quite cute, are a bit of a humorous nudge to any adult gamers playing.  While I have not unlocked them all, I did go through the substantial effort required to unlock both the maid outfit and the maid hat.  With only one of them equipped, she may look cute, but nothing else.  With them both, Parin's voice transforms into a more alluring one, saying maid-like things.  Things like 'Let's clean this place up!' and 'Time to take out the trash!' are said in a rather 900 number-ish way.  (I wouldn't know this from experience!)  I have to admit the first time I heard it I laughed out loud.  It's likely to go over most kid's heads... nevertheless, it's clearly worth pointing out.  From what I understand, some of her other outfits reflect other similar stereotypes, but none of them are sexual in nature graphically, with the worst one showing off a belly button (and requires a serious time commitment to unlock).

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While the game as a whole is definitely safe for most, one of the enemy phantoms is clearly a male character who cross-dresses and is attracted to a certain other male phantom.  He speaks with a lisp, and competes with a female for this monster's attention.  He never seems to give either of them the time of day, and there is no sign of reciprocation whatsoever.  In an otherwise mostly clean game, it kind of sticks out as odd.  I noticed no language issues, one small mention of tobacco (it lit a fire that had negative consequences in the story), and otherwise typical cartoon violence.  No humans (other than Parin) are hit at all in the game.  

    Like many Falcom games, the music is really great.  Now, it's not your typical Ys fare – while a few songs have a more hard rock presentation, most are happy-go-lucky, as you might expect in a game aimed at children.  Nevertheless, the quality is top notch, and some of the songs, especially near the end, are truly great.  I am always pleased by any Falcom soundtrack, and this is no exception.  The voice acting is also really well done.  The only bummer is not audio related, but I saw some minor glitches.  For example, the screen resolution doesn't go above 1080p, and on the very top and far left of the screen, there are some graphical artifacts.  After being leveled up a few times, some of the item descriptions are cut off or scroll in strange ways.  I also saw a few typos; not common, but enough to notice for a detail freak like me.  (Or maybe that's monster?)

    Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is a very enjoyable and memorable game for me.  My children, daughters especially, have quickly taken to it and love it to death.  My ten year old, who rarely plays platformers, has played this far more than I ever expected.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Gurumin, and highly recommend it to anyone who loves these kinds of games.  Especially for the bargain price.  A single playthrough can easily take anywhere between 15-30 hours depending on how thorough you are.  My only caution is that if you let your kids play it, you may have to have a good explanation for that weird guy that Parin calls a lady (and gets scolded for it).

     

  • Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
    Developed By: Next Level Games; Nintendo Software Planning and Development
    Published By: Nintendo
    Released: March 24, 2013
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Action-Adventure
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone; Crude Humor and Mild Cartoon Violence
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, Four in Multiplayer
    Price: $19.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Everyone knows that when paranormal baddies want to spoil the living's fun, you call the Ghostbusters, but when they're unavailable who do you get? Well, according to Nintendo, you call Mario's younger brother Luigi. Back in 2001, Nintendo released a unique gaming experience on the Gamecube called Luigi's Mansion. Though it is often erroneously considered the first time Luigi starred in his own adventure (that title goes to Mario is Missing), Luigi's Mansion was the first time the player-two character really set himself apart from his legendary brother. Despite its initial release proving lackluster,  the game became an underground hit over the years. Now, about ten years later, when Nintendo announced 2013 as 'The Year of Luigi', they released a sequel to the Italian plumber's first substantial outing, and the fans couldn't have been more thrilled. In comes Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS, but the question is, should we be playing a game that deals with floating spirits?

    The game opens in a dark corner of the Mushroom Kingdom called Evershade Valley. Despite what its name suggests, it's actually quite a peaceful place. A beautiful moon of pure amethyst shines overhead, and the ghosts around here are Casper's kind of crowd: friendly, happy, generally having a good time. Professor E. Gadd, the paranormal expert from the first game, works in his laboratory at Gloomy Manor with his ghostly assistants. That is until a vengeful King Boo uses his crown's magic gem to shatter the shimmering moon to pieces. The shards fall all over the valley, and purple fog sets in. Without the moon, Evershade's residents go berserk, and E. Gadd is forced to flee. Where's Luigi in all this? He's home, snoozing in his easy chair. His nap gets interrupted when E. Gadd uses his Pixelator to teleport Luigi straight into his safety bunker. After all, he figures if Luigi could stop the ghosts once, he can do it again. So now it's up to the green scaredy-cat to find and repair the dark moon and restore peace to Evershade.

    The game divides itself into distinct missions. Each mission has you perform tasks such as catching a specific ghost, getting a key, saving a Toad, or chasing a pesky polterpup that enjoys stealing your stuff. At the end of each level, the game ranks you based on how much time you spent, how many ghosts you caught, how much damage you took, and how much stuff you collected. Professor E. Gadd will guide you along by using the Dual Scream, which turns out to be a DS turned into a cellphone. It did annoy me a little how often E. Gadd would call in, but that only lasted for the first few missions. Now this style of gameplay has an equal share of pros and cons. The positive side is that there's always something new to discover and do and you can re-experience plot points as often as you want. The bad side is that when it's this scripted, it limits where you can go, and whenever you're trying to find that one specific collectible you're missing, it's frustrating when it depends so much on which mission you choose.

    Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very unique gameplay; excellent puzzles; diverse locations brimming with personality; wonderfully comedic charm
    Weak Points: Can be too scripted; multiplayer needs better explaining
    Moral Warnings: Magical objects are present; you are wrangling ghosts; a few spots might frighten little kids

    When it comes to gameplay, Dark Moon takes a lot after its predecessor. E. Gadd upgrades your run-of-the-mill flashlight into a strobe light, but your real best friend is the new and improved Poltergust 5000, which actually is a maxed out vacuum cleaner. To catch the floating troublemakers, you charge your strobe light by holding 'A' then release to pulse a flash strong enough to stun the ghosts in place. Holding down 'R' will then start the Poltergust, but these ghosts won't give up easy. Each ghost has a number counter that shows how much strength they've got. To wear them down, you have to point your circle pad in the opposite direction they're fleeing until that number hits zero. This will also fill the Poltergust's power meter. If it fills up, you can push 'A' to get a surge of power that takes out a decent chunk from the ghost's strength. You will get dragged around, and sometimes it's essential to dodge other paranormal baddies by hitting 'B'. I love the way these controls were designed because it really feels like you're in Luigi's shoes. You can almost feel the strain of reeling those happy haunts in, and it is incredibly satisfying to see those meanie-greenies finally spiral down your nozzle. 

    There are troublesome spiders, mice, bats, etc. to keep an eye on, but the ghosts are the real attraction. For a video game, these phantoms aren't that expansive a cast. You have your basic Greenies, Slammers, Sneakers, and a few other types but not much else. However, for what they lack in diversity, they more than make up for in cleverness. Sure, you may be facing the same low-level minions a lot, but they adapt to their surroundings such as using a kitchen pot lid to shield themselves from your blinky bulb and swinging around a rolling pin. It is a lot of fun to see these ghosts in new situations, and this forces you to come up with new ways to trick your enemies, keeping the game mechanics from getting stale. Some of the bosses, the first one in particular, requires you to outsmart them too, and for me this truly makes them both inventive and memorable. Less is truly more here.

    But catching ghosts is only half the fun on this adventure. The game centers itself on puzzle solving if nothing else, and Gloomy Manor is a secret passage wonderland, chock full of money and other collectible goodies.You can peek through windows and use the built-in gyroscope to spy around, and that same gyroscope is used to help balance Luigi whenever he has to cross crevices on narrow walkways. Just be certain you're not playing while riding a vehicle. The flashlight is helpful in opening vaults, activating gizmos, and (after an upgrade) revealing invisible objects. Plus, the Poltergust's ability to suck things in or blow things out is useful in so many ways that I can't list them all. In short, being clever with what you have and what's nearby are essential to progressing through the mansion. 

    Oh wait. Did I say mansion? I should say mansions. Or haunted locales more precisely. That's right. In a creative departure from the first game, Dark Moon offers five of these tricky funhouses. You heard me. There are five settings to sink your curious teeth into, and with so many environments to scratch your investigative itch, it's a good thing they look so excellent on the 3DS. Each location has a theme and flair all to its own and its share of surprises to discover. The developers really took advantage of this game's setup. You'll search an abandoned factory, ancient ruins, a snow covered cabin, and everything else that has been used in popular thriller flicks. While these places don't have the most detailed surfaces I've seen, the simplistic approach keeps things clean and doesn't clutter up the sheer amount of character on display. Snow, rain, and the lens flare from Luigi's flashlight further bring these places to life and work very well with the 3D effect too, but there were a couple of brief moments when the lighting wasn't working right. Still, it was nothing worth crying about.

    The musical score also played a part in making each mansion unique. By switching out various instruments and how they're arranged, the music is brilliantly tailored to fit each environment. Several of the tunes are just as catchy as the series' main theme. Even Luigi hums along while he's tiptoeing around each corner. My only complaint is that I would have liked to hear entirely new soundtracks for each mansion rather than rebooted versions of the same tune, but that didn't ruin anything for me. As for voice work, Professor E. Gadd speaks in a very strange gibberish. I can see some people getting annoyed with it, but I found it oddly amusing. Luigi, however, stole the show in this department. What few words he does say are delivered so well in that shaky voice of his it's impossible not to smile.

    Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As for bonuses, the hidden prizes I mentioned earlier include precious gems and special ghosts called boos. Catching all the boos and finding all the gems rewards you with unlockables, but they are not easy to find. Even after playing Dark Moon for a year, I still couldn't find all the gems. Adding to your cash stash also serves a purpose by upgrading your equipment, but I was disappointed that there were only three or four upgrades to get, all of which I acquired pretty early in the game. As a result, the only reason I kept collecting more moola was out of compulsion. (What can I say? I'm a greedy little completionist.)

    There is a multiplayer mode called the Scarescraper that lets you and three friends hunt ghosts cooperatively, race against a clock, or chase after elusive polterpups. Each success sees you and your friends travel higher up the building which could have from five to twenty-five floors. My little sister and I had plenty of fun playing together. However, the game doesn't explain your stats very well. Between each run, they compare your scores and use little picture symbols to label the numbers, but without anything to tell us exactly what these symbols mean, we were left guessing who did better or worse at what. The only thing truly clear was who ended up first and who landed second.

    Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a fun filled Scooby-Doo style romp rather than a chilling thrill ride. Not to say there aren't any thrills; it just has a much stronger lean towards the lighthearted. There are plenty of clowns in this haunted circus from quirky ghosts to E. Gadd's commentary, but Luigi himself is no doubt the main source of this charm. The way he overreacts to the strange stuff he comes across keeps you chuckling all the way. Admittedly, part of that hilarity does come from the slapstick our hero ends up in, but it's nothing zanier than Looney Tunes. He's also a great role model for bravery, showcasing that you can be scared stiff yet still do what's right.

    However, Dark Moon does have its *ahem* darker moments. An assortment of ghosts jumpscare you now and then, and some smaller kids may find a few parts pretty intimidating. King Boo's redesign with the sunken, purple eyes offset by black shading makes him look far more sinister, and his sudden appearances don't help either. (He even made me jump on two occasions.) I also should mention that the first boss you face may not go over well with arachnophobes. Sure it's cartoony and colorful looking, but it still has eight legs, an abdomen, and bunches of its little "mini-mes." Moaning mummies, who turn out to be disguised ghosts, burst out of coffins, and at one point you do walk through an overgrown cemetery. Like I said: though it's cartoonish, little ones may get scared at certain points.

    Now, some may be taken aback by the mere idea of wrangling ghosts to begin with, but in the phantoms' defense, they kind of remind me of the Minions from Despicable Me. They uphold a child friendly presence even while making mischief. There is also no mention of how they may have died nor does this game make any concrete statements about life after death. They're sort of like your basic koopa troopas. They are simply here to exist. No ouija boards. No seances. No backstories. They're just here. Regardless, there is no denying that a magic blasting crown and moon are present even if it is more fantasy flavored than occult, and you are in fact chasing ghosts.

    I guess Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon carries the same qualm Halloween does for Christians. There is no easy answer. Personally, because of this game's humorous approach, I find it hard to take any of the ghostly stuff seriously. It's just a silly game I enjoy whenever the holiday comes around or when I need a laugh. (Plus, I think the ending is really heartwarming and cute.) However, if any of this encroaches your conscience about playing, then don't. It's not worth stressing over and defeats the game's purpose, but if you want a mostly family friendly Halloween themed game without all the guts galore, you can't find a better game than this. Unique, funny, and bursting with character, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has lots of brainy tricks and plenty of treats.

     

  • Machine Gun Train Run (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Machine Gun Train Run
    Developed By: Party Robot Studio
    Published By: Party Robot Studio
    Released: February 26, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action, Indie, Shooter
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1-2, (Multiplayer offline only)
    This game was reviewed after the 1.0.8 update
    Price: $. 99 on Steam

    Thank you Party Robot Studio for sending us your game!

    Machine Gun Train Run's story is akin to your basic, run of the mill Chuck Norris movie. Gun toting Bad guys are wreaking havoc, so it's up to you and your two Arnold Schwarzenegger'd he-men to pump 'em full of lead. It's a simple but serviceable goal for Party Robots Studio's line 'em up, shoot 'em up game. Released in 2016, this one seeks a rip-roaring good time. Guys, I think this one's a'-call'n your name.

    Machine Gun Train Run's structure consists chiefly of four levels centered around killing anything you see while riding a speeding train. If you know what guns do and that getting shot hurts, then congrats. You've already got a leg up on how to win. Earn points by landing your hits and don't get hit yourself. You've got three hearts in your life counter, but thankfully, you have unlimited lives and will respawn at your last checkpoint if you die. Unfortunately, you score drops back to zero whenever you do. You'll come across mini bosses on occasion, but you'll earn those checkpoints for beating them. Reach the locomotive's end, and the big bad boss will make the last effort to snuff you out. Obviously, this setup isn't unique in the slightest, but it provides what's needed for this game, which is fine by me.

    Though basic in concept, the developers did put effort in keeping the gameplay fun. They offer two buff avatars to choose from, and each can get different upgrades. These limited power-ups can range from scatter shots to plasma bombs to even a flamethrower. Sure, they don't stack up to the zany awesomeness that is Ratchet and Clank's arsenal, but they're still satisfyingly effective. Over time, you may find you prefer one character's upgrades over the other's. Certain beef ups work well in differing situations, and that subtle strategic value was a good idea on the creator's part. Skill-wise, gameplay is pretty well balanced. On the easy end, your enemies are pathetically predictable. Their AI is nothing short of robotic. I figured out the final boss's shtick and hilariously beaned him because he refused to turn around as I shot his back into Swiss Cheese. However, as ineffectual as these twerps are as individuals, they can be a pain in teams. Trust me. It's best to annihilate threats as you go. If you rush ahead, you're gonna get crowded. I'm glad for that, because it saved the game from getting boring. The easy parts and hard parts do give it some sense of balance. This game could have been a lot better given more polishing, but it could have gone a lot worse.

    Machine Gun Train Run
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Rapid-fire fun, Macho-man hilarity
    Weak Points: Extremely basic designs, Avatar can be too sluggish
    Moral Warnings: Cartoony blood spatters, Some crude language, Mentions of alcohol

    For me, the controls were hit and miss. I had no controller, so I played using my keyboard. You move around and aim your gun by using the arrow keys, but you can only shoot your trusty 'Tommy' so long as you're holding 'X'. However, if you want to aim without moving around you must remember to hold 'C'. This tidbit about the control scheme often threw me for a loop. I died multiple times because I mixed up the buttons, but it's really nothing some time and practice couldn't fix. Unfortunately, my biggest gripe is that while your gun wielding is fast and responsive, you yourself are not. Should you encounter rapid fire or a shockwave stomping mech, your best hope is to jump with 'Z', but even then your lethargic hero is laughably slow. Unless you can predict certain attacks way ahead of time, you're likely not escaping without a scratch. Now, this issue didn't break the game for me. It just hampered it a little, but I would have really appreciated better mobility. (Perhaps a duck button, thank you very much?)

    If I had to pick out the weakest thing in Machine Gun Train Run, it's the visuals. It's not bad, certainly not an abomination of art, but it's generic. You've got your faceless minions, your train, your backgrounds, but there's nothing special about them. I suppose some of the machinery was a little imaginative, but that's it. It doesn't help that the developers didn't work up a lot of variances either. Sure, the scenery changes between levels as do the train designs, but other than that, diversity comes solely through color swaps - a smart answer for '80s limited tech but cheap looking by modern standards. On the positive side, the designs are crisp, and though they obstructed my vision a few times, the explosions are well animated. I can't say much for the music either, because the designers used stock music that wasn't custom composed for the game. Save for the main menu's repetitious two measures of electric guitar, the tunes were quite catchy, but ultimately, the creative team only gets credit for having good taste. However, what does work in the presentation's favor is the atmosphere. Machine Gun Train Run knows it looks like a product of macho man tropes and wears its label with steroid pride. From its own premise, to the over the top gruff voice that announces handshakes, victories, and pausing (I laughed hard on that one), this game doesn't care if it's corny. It's so unapologetic about it; it's hilarious. I guess in retrospect, the unimpressive bits at least make up a good whole. (As for glitches, if you have the bare minimum requirements, you may encounter jumpiness at the least or complete crashes at the worst. Otherwise, you'll be fine.)

    Machine Gun Train Run
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    This game also includes two extra modes: Endurance and Speedrun. The first of these sees you shoot at shapes while surviving as long as you can. The difficulty you choose determines how fast the targets float in, and I consider this a nice feature. Speedrun, which you unlock by beating the main campaign, is also straightforward. Try to beat all levels as fast as possible with as few deaths as possible. The kicker about this though, if you remember what I said earlier, is that rushing ahead will allow the enemies to gang up on you. So yeah. Doing great at Speedrun is hard, but hey, offering a true challenge to whoever wants it is a great way to keep a game alive after the initial play through. I'd also like to mention that Machine Gun Train Run includes a bonus section to display the developer's concept art. It's always fun peeking behind the scenes. [There is a multiplayer mode, but I couldn't try it due to my lack of controllers.]

    Okay. Time for the nitty gritty. If you're still reading this after all my talk about bullet pumping dudes, there are a few more ethical no-no's you should know. Firstly, the violence in this Bad guy hunting season leans upon the lighter variety for the most part. However, there are some enemies that will go out in a cartoony blood spray. It's nothing huge. The red doesn't stain or linger, but it does happen here. Secondly, one mission has you rescuing tankards full of beer, and lastly, you might have noticed I hadn't yet called the antagonists by name. That's because they're un-callable. The terrorist fodder you're mowing down refer to themselves as A.*.*.H.A.T.. Thus, it's no surprise that you're gonna be reading that little number several times. To add further language insult to injury, S****y Jim is your arch nemesis. Yeah, real classy right? I know some joke names fall flat, but those gags shouldn't even be running.

    If it wasn't clear already, Machine Gun Train Run is exactly what it says on the tin. There's a train with missile launching brutes, and you get to be the dude with the bigger paddle: have fun. So parents, what you read is what you get. To the game's credit, I did indeed have fun with it. It's he-man silliness had me grinning, and its gameplay had the fundamentals to keep me entertained for short sessions. Now, it's clear that Party Robot Studio didn't reinvent the wheel in this shooter. It sure didn't have any 'wow' factor to it, but you know what? It was still enjoyable, and that's how a game should be. I definitely know lots of guys would be eating this thing up. However, I'm not enjoying myself too much to be ignorant of its moral issues. To be frank, I don't think kids should be trying it. If you're older, hungry to pop some cartridges, and possess the fortitude to shrug off inappropriate names, this arcade style, Rambo romp may be for you. Just be sure to handle it like any other gun - with care.

     

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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