By: Uma Smith
The Pirate Monkey Zombies are attacking your PlayStation Vita, and all you have to defend yourself is your finger. To clarify (and to get your mind out of the gutter), Mass Creation’s PlayStation Vita title, Draw Slasher, will have you “drawing” your way out of this zombie disaster. With such an interesting concept, how will this particular game turn out?
Draw Slasher is essentially about slashing your way through incoming zombies. That being said, your movements and attacks are all executed via the touch screen. Generally, the controls are responsive. However, at times when precision is vital, issues start to arise.
When drawing a line to slash a zombie, it may turn out that the line is shorter than what you wanted. As a result, you may end up drawing a number of lines repeatedly to ensure that your task is fully executed. But other than that, it’s really easy to move your character around by simply pressing on the location of the screen that you want him to be while the slashing becomes an entertaining affair.
At first glance, the game appears to be quite excellent with vivid, solid colors populating the screen. The animation of the blood splashing out of your enemies’ bodies is a source of guilty pleasure. However, you’ll notice that there is a minimalist approach taken toward the environmental design. The backgrounds appear to be recycled as you progress further in the game.
Looking at the other aspect of the game’s presentation, the music works well with the atmosphere while the sounds of the attacks keep things exciting. But in time, the audio’s impression seems to diminish on account of its repetitiveness.
Draw Slasher will have you moving your ninja, named Hanzo, as he slashes away at the incoming Pirate Monkey Zombies, all while in the 2D perspective. When you enter into the story mode, the cut scenes add quite a bit of humor to the gaming experience. It may be corny at times, but it helps to lighten the situation. As you progress, you’ll have the opportunity to gain access up to five different special attacks, which are wind, lightning, earth, fire and fury. By killing off your enemies, you’ll be able to replenish your energy gauge that you can use to execute such an attack.
As you advance further, you’ll run across a huge variety of enemies. You’ll definitely notice when a new foe has entered the game when you come across a level that introduces you to and teaches you how to dispose of them. Whatever the enemy, you’ll need to keep track of their weak points, thereby forcing you to come up with your strategies in addressing the onslaught of zombies coming at you.
The real eye opener in Draw Slasher is the bosses that you face. Every one of them offers a unique and extraordinary gameplay for you to engage in. For example, you’ll have one level where you’ll be avoiding barrels rolling downhill. Thus, you’ll need to time your slashes accordingly in order to reach the boss. But whatever battle you end up in the game, the bosses offer a hefty challenge that puts your drawing skills, as well as your reflexes, to the test.
Although the main story mode takes approximately two hours to complete, you do have other modes available. When you enter in arcade, you can choose to engage in survival, which needs no further explanation, or Gatekeeper, which plays out similarly to a tower defense type of game. Additionally, there are at least 20 challenges for you to complete in Challenge Mode. Finally, you do have the online leaderboards that showcases the top players, thus enticing you to try a little harder to get yourself in the rankings.
Draw Slasher is one game that definitely takes advantage of the PlayStation Vita’s touch screen capabilities. For $5.99, it may seem a bit steep for a game with such a simple premise. Nonetheless, Draw Slasher does provide entertainment for casual players.
By: Casey Curran
Shooters and the PSP have always been a very strange mix. They never really worked on the system despite developers trying every single way imaginable to make them work. In a sense, Black Rock Shooter tries one last stab to get this formula to work by mixing it with the conventions of a Japanese RPG. While I cannot fault them for doing something different in combining both a shooter and an RPG, I can fault them for, well, everything else.
Black Rock Shooter’s combat is very simple. The analog stick is used for aiming (complete with a lock on), square shoots, X is for blocking and circle is for dodging. Aiming feels a little too imprecise, and were it not for the lock-on to save it I feel I would have been incredibly frustrated with the game. The lock-on is not perfect, either, as there were several instances where enemies would be grouped too closely together and it would take too long to lock onto the one I wanted.
The shooting meanwhile is set up where square is used to fire a set of shots rather than holding for bullets like in Call of Duty or Halo. The problem really arises in how the dodge button will still register during this barrage but not interrupt it; instead it waits until the bullets finish. This made me often press dodge and think the button would not register, making me press it again, which would just make my character go back and forth, waste energy, and still take damage. Even in later sections I would forget, which led to great frustration.
For a PSP game, the character models look very nice from a technical standpoint. It is still easy to tell it is a PSP game, especially when playing on the Vita, but they look good with one artistic exception. The eyes of title character Black Rock Shooter (BRS for short) are really creepy. They are the kind of thing I would expect in a horror game to let you know that these people lost their soul or something like that, not from the main hero who is supposed to save the world.
Backgrounds look very drab and boring. This game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and the developers only did the bare minimum with this design. Colors look washed out and there are very few little details to keep the world interesting. The sound effects and music are both forgettable, but they get the job done.
The game Black Rock Shooter reminds me most of is Final Fantasy XIII. This is not a good thing as the boring, linear, repetitive and overly simplistic combat is the main thing these two have in common. There is little exploration to the game and when it offers an alternate route, it usually only provides extra enemies or a save point. There were no other compelling reasons for me to want to explore the areas as even the breakable boxes provided nothing, just empty space.
A special mention also goes out button prompts to make BRS jump to another level similarly to FFXIII. In these, the game is overly specific on where you have to jump from and in many areas I would be circling around like an idiot while mashing the prompt button just so I could jump to the next area.
Combat, meanwhile, has very little depth. It consists of nothing more than locking onto a target, shooting at it until its dead and dodging/blocking at the right instances. Having your energy drained by shooting and dodging adds a little to this, but not too much. Dodging only lets you move to one other area and back, and it’s your only way of moving.
Every single one of my deaths were only because I would predict a new enemy’s move patterns incorrectly, dodge at the wrong time and have him dish out absurd amounts of damage. Once I figured just to block the first time with new enemies, this went away almost entirely and the game became way too easy.
I hope the PSP gets a game that sends it off in a better way than Black Rock Shooter, because this is a terrible swan song for the system. It tries to combine two of the most popular genres on the system and creates a game that will satisfy neither. I cannot comment on whether this is a game that will satisfy fans of the anime from a story standpoint as I am unfamiliar with the series, but I can be certain that it won’t satisfy from a gameplay perspective.
By: Jeff Cater
Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge is a light-hearted RTS designed with consoles in mind. In ZT2, you control a man named Tycoon, who has started taking over the world with his brainwashed zombie horde. Not all is as easy as it seems, though, as Dr. Brainhov has returned to exact revenge upon Tycoon with his own twisted breed of the undead menace.
Being an RTS on a console is a scary bridge to cross, but thankfully Frima Studios has translated mouse movements to a control pad pretty successfully. To move the camera, you use the right stick, and the left stick controls your selection cursor. Units under your control are bound to the face buttons for easy access and command, and special powers of certain units utilize the directional buttons.
While the controls feel a little sloppy at first, getting used to them does not take a lot of time; and after an hour or so they feel mostly natural. You can also zoom in and out a fair amount, but it’s never close enough to admire the fine details or far enough to get a tactical feel for your engagement.
ZT2 is full of lively animation and a great use of the chosen color palette. The shambling zombie hordes under your control are animated very well, with plenty of small touches like swaying, broken jaw bones, and oversized eyes filled with pure, brain-eating emotion. The special effects are also very well done, and there’s little-to-no noticeable slowdown when things get really chaotic. The types of zombies you run across are all varied as well, such as samurai and plumber zombies!
Although there is no spoken dialogue in the game, any guttural noise done by Tycoon, Brainhov, or any of the other zombies gets the message across just fine. The soundtrack of the game is pretty enjoyable as well, and it doesn’t seem to get repetitive even after a few hours of hardcore playing. The trouble is that every other sound effect tends to grate on the nerves after a while. Without dialogue and an army of zombies, get used to hearing faint moans and repetitive combat noises. Luckily you can turn the sound effects down and just enjoy the music.
Many of the missions in Brainhov’s Revenge involve miniature puzzle solving or just plain old-fashioned blitzkrieg action. Maps are laid out like a small city, and neighborhoods are your most frequent battleground. Several houses and other buildings (like hardware stores) are scattered throughout the map, just waiting to be liberated from the blue evil of the zombified Dr. Brainhov.
During most of the missions you must send your zombies to take over buildings (by punching them relentlessly) and converting them to your color. Once they have been converted, they will start producing wandering zombies that can all be summoned simultaneously in case your main squads run into trouble.
There are different classes of zombies to use as well: the run-of-the-mill zombie, an engineer zombie, and even a giant green beast with wheels grafted to him that just rolls around consuming anything unlucky enough to get caught in his path. The enemies have their own special units as well, such as a giant werewolf with various weapons lodged into his back, and pygmy-looking zombies that run humorously full force with their arms forward.
There’s more than just combat in ZT2, though, such as tedious missions where you actually take control of Dr. Brainhov and have to guide him through a human settlement without any of the rednecks noticing! The stealth missions really don’t serve a purpose other than to carry along the storyline, but they feel so out of place in comparison to the rest of the game that they come off as more of a chore than anything.
Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge is a solid title with very few setbacks aside from the stealth missions, which really only serve as an unneeded break in pace. If anyone is looking for a light-hearted, kid-friendly game with a decent sense of humor, Zombie Tycoon 2 is a title you should definitely check out.
By: Uma Smith
Indie games are coming in to mainstream gaming consoles to get the developers’ names known. One in particular, Mike Bithell, initially released his creation, Thomas Was Alone, in October 2010 as a Flash-based browser game. Well, thanks to Curve Studio that game is no longer “alone” with the expansion of its exposure to the PC and MAC OS in July 2012 as well as the recent appearance in both the PlayStation 3 and Vita. Let’s see how this ambitious little Indie title turns out.
Getting around in Thomas Was Alone is effortless considering how the control scheme is effectively laid out and simplified. While navigating through the platforming environments feels pretty tight, there does seem to be a slight delay in responsiveness. Sometimes, pressing the jump button when you’re on the edge of a platform could very well have you end up falling off instead. But other than timing your jumps accordingly, your ability to get acquainted with the controls should be seamless.
At first glance, Thomas Was Alone may be misjudged as lacking in graphical capabilities. The visual presentation is set at a minimum, with just shapes and the platforms being shown on screen, and there’s no elaborate background or special effects that will add as eye candy. Nonetheless, this is the intended approach by the developer as the overall look is meant to reflect the mundane world that the main character is trying to escape from. The appearance is unique, but it could be at risk of being quickly dismissed by players accustomed to high-end graphics.
As for the audio, there is a blend of the gentle sounds of the piano and guitar along with electronic sounds that come about. Furthermore, the effects are very retro and it works. Finally, the narration is quite neat with a hint of humor that occasionally grabs your attention.
Thomas Was Alone is about an artificial intelligence named Thomas, who becomes self-aware and develops his own thoughts. Eventually, he decides to escape from the computer mainframe world that he feels trapped in. To Thomas’ disadvantage, the programmers are made aware of this glitch and are working to ensure that he never leaves by implementing more complex puzzles for him to overcome.
The game is all about getting Thomas, represented by a shape, through various obstacles in a 2D platforming fashion. Basically, there is an outline for your character to end up in, thereby ending the level and moving on to the next. Along the way, you’ll come across other artificial intelligences as indicated by other colors and shapes, who share his same goal of escaping the mainframe.
When you come across these points in the game, you’ll be able to take control of Thomas and his companions. This becomes pretty complex but also very interesting as you’ll have to be familiar with each of their unique abilities. For instance, one is able to jump higher while another can float. As a result, you’ll need to take advantage of their abilities so that they can work together and help each other out. Of course, when these companions are involved it means you’ll need to have them reach their destination at the same time.
While the puzzles initially are extremely easy, the difficulty does increase with added elements appearing during your progression. In other words, as you get to the further levels, the puzzles get even trickier. You’ll definitely notice the challenge when there is a time limit thrown in or gravity being altered.
The real contributor to Thomas Was Alone’s success is its story. Despite its simplistic presentation, the plot and metaphors behind the characters effectively engages the players, thus making them interested in finding out more on what’s happening next. However, the sad thing is that the game doesn’t take very long to complete. Nevertheless, it does have its charm that allows players to not only get a better understanding of the characters’ motives, but also appreciate the challenges they face.
Despite its short length and simplicity, Thomas Was Alone is a good buy considering that for $9.99 you get versions for both the home console and Vita. Therefore, you shouldn’t have Thomas wait “alone” any longer; instead, invite him into your homes.
By: Casey Curran
Stealth games are infrequent in the downloadable market, but now with Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine joining Mark of the Ninja, there is no shortage of quality in the genre. While MotN made stealth based on using extraordinary abilities and different tools to find the best way to get past guards in with sleek beautiful 2D graphics, Monaco is a very different beast. It gives you control of characters with very limited abilities and weapons, and instead tasks them with analyzing their surroundings to figure out how to avoid traps and guards altogether in big blocky retro graphics. While Monaco falls just short of MotN’s greatness, this does not take away its status as an excellent game that any stealth fan should play.
Aside from the buttons that toggle the HUD and right stick aiming, I could easily see Monaco working on an NES controller. There is a button used to slow your character down while another is for items; these can range from health packs to weapons and all kinds of gadgets in between. The controls are very polished, and the simplicity works in its favor as there were no instances where I felt I was fighting against, or too limited by, the controls.
Monaco’s character models look like a high-definition game from the 1980s. Everyone is made out of very large blocks, which require more imagination than any human being possesses to see as real people (with the possible exception of Suda 51). Strangely, however, the game made an excellent art style out of this as the character models combine fantastically with the backgrounds.
An important factor in that success is the field of vision mechanic, which limits the players’ view. Any objects that are in the way will produce a grey area behind them, and as this is always shifting and changing to accommodate the player’s movement, it creates a very visually dynamic game. The music, meanwhile, takes inspiration from early 1900s era French music (think Sly Cooper). These blend in very well with the theme of robbing places, which gives the game great atmosphere.
The best comparison to Monaco would be the old-school Metal Gear games from the ‘80s. It has a top down view like them where sneaking past guards is a matter of just not being seen and triggering traps. Yet, it is able to be much more engaging than those titles thanks to a diverse selection of enemies, such as dogs who can sniff you out, a variety of traps, each requiring their own solution, and some great level design. The field of vision also keeps things very interesting as you always have an idea where you can escape to in case of an emergency, but not always what you would need to escape from.
Another area where Monaco excels and so many stealth games fail is in keeping the gameplay engaging when caught. These would turn into chase scenes involving desperately searching for some kind of hiding spot or staircase to move to the next floor away from them. The AI complements this in their simplicity and act in a manner only suited for a video game. A smartly placed smoke bomb will allow the guard to lose sight and forget about you completely and hiding does not involve them exhausting every possible area you could be in. This is not something that is suited for every stealth game, but in Monaco this simplicity works wonderfully in its favor.
Co-op is unique in that the game is designed to be played both solo and with a group of friends, yet creates its own unique set of challenges based on which style you go to. The game offers a variety of different characters to choose from, each with their own skill such as picking locks quicker or being able to knock guards unconscious. This means that with the right squad there is little to no compensation for what your character can or cannot do.
The tradeoff is that more people now need to sneak past the guards. The objective of each level is never on the same floor you start out on, and to advance to the next floor every player must reach the stairs. So if a room is full of lasers, playing solo would only require the player to figure out how to get through. In co-op, however, after the first player proceeds they will then have to find ways to get everyone else through if the first method is no longer possible. This tradeoff made me want to play every level in both single player and co-op as they were different and fun enough to be interesting a second time around.
Unfortunately, there were some serious issues with lag during nearly every co-op session I played. These only made the game unplayable in one instance and were mostly easy to ignore, but it is less forgivable in a game where multiplayer is this central to it.
Whether you are a fan of stealth games or just want a different kind of co-op, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is a great choice. Those who enjoy local co-op games may also want to keep an eye out for its upcoming XBLA release as the game does offer this feature as well as online. It is for this reason that I would recommend that release over the Steam version for those who care, but either way Monaco is a game worth checking out.
By: Jeff Cater
Poker Night 2 is a poker simulator featuring familiar characters from various franchises throughout pop culture; primarily gaming. Telltale Games developed and published the title, and it seems like a great concept, but is it worth going “all in” on?
As a poker sim, the controls are pretty much standard fare, with face buttons mapped to the fold, check and raise options. Unfortunately, the graphical hitches frequently cause the controls to slip up and feel unresponsive, and it quickly became a chore “confirming” my choice by re-pressing the buttons. Other than that, the controls are effective and uniform to what has been come to be expected from the genre. Maybe the right stick could have let us look around and examine the environment, but most of the visual flair is front and center, negating the need.
Poker Night 2 does a wonderful job of painting a picture for us. In a shady warehouse of innumerable doors, somewhere there’s a poker room where an unlikely meeting of geek-culture celebrities try to screw one another out of their money. Characters like Brock Sampson and Sam, who are natively of a traditional animation style, are successfully transported to the semi-realistic environment via cel shading. In other cases, however, character textures seem a touch uneven: Claptrap looks accurate, but Ash from Evil Dead seems to have a pretty bland skin texture with blurry details.
Textures aside, characters are lively and always conversing with one another, bringing a very cool, immersive feeling to the game. Even the poker table itself seems to be alive, as it is actually being controlled by GLaDOS!
The soundtrack is also pretty easy on the ears. It’s not incredible, but it’s non-obtrusive and very fitting. The banter between all of the characters is very fun to listen to and extremely well delivered by most of the original voice actors (sadly, Bruce Campbell is not among the cast). Poker Night 2 also appears to have a decently rich audio bank, as lines of dialogue didn’t seem to repeat all too often.
Most of the time you’ll probably think Claptrap is trying to cheat, or that Ash might pick a fight with Brock, but really the point of the game is to provide an experience of a night out with this odd collection of fellows. In many ways it succeeds, and in many ways it fails. As a poker game it’s definitely fun, with bounties and unlockables, system-specific rewards (Avatar items, themes, etc.) and other gaming cameos (Mad Moxxi is the bartender!).
However, the gameplay is riddled with glitches. At seemingly random intervals, the game will freeze up. Sometimes for five seconds, sometimes for about 15! While the game is having its little freezing fit, most of the dialogue and music will keep playing right through, leaving a very noticeable chunk of time for you to enjoy watching the last 14 seconds of dialogue be mouthed to you after you’ve just heard it, wondering if you should reset your system or dashboard out.
Every now and then while the graphics are catching up, characters will clip through one another, or pop up a couple feet away from where they were probably supposed to appear from. It’s not as if there is a predictable pattern to the freezing, either. Just sloppy coding or something just got out of hand during the porting from PC.
As of the time of this writing, Poker Night 2 has only a few hitches; but they’re severe, enjoyment hampering hitches to be sure.
In its current buggy state, Poker Night 2 is a hard title to recommend. It is a very awesome concept, but one that’s been marred by a forced release date or maybe just not enough QA before going gold. Poker Night 2 could be damn awesome. It’s just going to have to wait for serious patches for anyone to really dig in and enjoy the atmosphere. If you’ve got the faith in the developer to do the right thing, you can pick it up now and wait patiently for the patch, or you can just wait and skim the message boards and see how it’s shaping up. As it stands, it’s a sorry fall from what could have been.
Please note the PlayStation 3 version was played for this review.
By: Uma Smith
Feel the wrath of the gods as we see nuns taking part in some not-so-peaceful-and-forgiving situations. Bear witness to this battle of unholy proportions as Firma Studios introduces an ambitious title called Nun Attack to the PlayStation Vita. By the sound of it, it may turn out to be one righteous game.
Nun Attack exclusively uses the Vita’s touch screen for its entire control scheme, and it works well for the most part. The idea is that when an enemy appears, you simply tap on your nun and drag a line on the screen toward the enemy. You can also collect gold by tapping on the item. The main issues lies when you have nuns quite close to each other, in which case moving them around can be a little delayed. Other than that, you’ll be doing a lot of tapping and swiping on the Vita screen during battles.
The style of Nun Attack is done in a cartoonish manner. Everything from the characters, enemies and environments are presented in highly-detailed fashion filled with solid colors. While the audio effects serve its action-packed, gun-toting purpose, the music is where players may get a little agitated. With only a song designated for battles and another for the boss, the game can sound repetitive. Regardless, the overall presentation behind Nun Attack leaves a somewhat satisfying impression.
The game starts off with a nun named Mortanna, who has brought her evil minions into the world. To fight back, we have Eva, Rosy, Olga and Mandy embarking on a divine mission to stop her unholy intentions. The game is divided into four maps, each consisting of 10 missions. Along the way, you’ll come across chests that hold miracles, which can be used by touching on the Bible icon during battles or making a certain shape on the screen (Editor’s note: It’s a cross, right? It’s gotta be a cross.).
You begin controlling the first nun (Eva), but eventually you’ll be able to gain access to all four at once. Each has their own unique abilities and can possess up to five special guns. As you engage in your missions, you’ll be facing off against an assortment of monstrous enemies including werewolves, skeletons and vampires. As you progress further in the game, their difficulty level increases, and Nun Attack manages to keep itself from feeling repetitive by changing up these monsters frequently.
At the end of each mission, you’ll be evaluated based on a three-bullet scale. In addition, your nuns receive upgrades similar to what one would expect from an RPG title. While these features attempt to extend the replay value of Nun Attack, it feels that they do little to compel gamers to revisit previously completed levels.
One worthy mention for this Vita game is the battles against the bosses. Every one of them turns out to be fantastic and epic in its entirety. During this portion of the game, the difficulty does ramp up significantly, which requires you to figure out their attack patterns and react accordingly.
In terms of length, Nun Attack can be completed in a matter of six hours. While it may feel quite short during the first run from the way it sounds, playing in casual sessions is really how this game is meant to be enjoyed.
If you’re looking for a type of game that takes full advantage of the PlayStation Vita’s touch screen, then you’re in luck. Nun Attack will “attack” you with its own brand of holy justice and excitement for a bargain price of $2.99.