By: Ted Chow
With holiday cheers and festivals near, Syberia is one of those games that sold me on the festive mood. Clearly, the premise of a toy maker, magical automatons and snow brings up a certain someone that lives up in the North Pole. The game is an adventure through and through, and the more you invest within its world, the more fascinating the characters and the plot becomes. If you enjoy a story encompassing mystery and plenty of gregarious characters, then Syberia may warm that cold heart of yours this holiday season.
If you wanted to know the main villain of this game, it would most noticeably be the controls as they can be horrendous. Character movements felt rough and animations aren’t up to snuff with limbs jerking and other odd anomalies. The fixed camera and invisible barriers made the game difficult and frustrating to navigate, and they took a bit away from the immersion as you couldn’t pan to see some of the gorgeous sceneries within the game. The camera staying locked while your character travels far onto the map tunnel visions your experience rather than expand.
With that being said, the controls require a bit of patience, otherwise it is all too easy to scream at your character being hindered by invisible impasses.
Looking at when the game was originally released, the graphics still do hold their own from 2002. Especially the matte landscapes and vista shots. It is true, however, without a shadow of a doubt, that the in-game textures have seen better days. Textures seem a little muddled with other environmental pieces and character models feeling rather plain and singular in color palettes.
The soundtrack invokes numbness with the same track on rewind and suffers from sound skips as well. Despite the rough patches, the game does seem to hold up well enough not to bar any player wanting to experience the story.
You will follow the journey of the main protagonist Kate Walker, a business lawyer, out to close a deal between a multinational toy company and a family operated toy factory. Nothing is always as easy as it seems as Kate discovers the death of the owner and must find the apparent heir Hans Voralberg, the genius toy maker. The adventure will take Kate along a journey of self discovery and internal reflection from a lavish, stable life to an unexpected future.
Syberia is a down-to-earth adventure game and, as such, you will most likely be interacting with the environment and reading journals rather than shooting guns and tight-roping intense acrobatics. The narrative is given between the interactions with NPCs as well as your cell phone with characters close to Kate. Your cell phone will continue to remind you of the life that you have left compared to the persistent world in which you have entered.
And the persistent world requires a suspension of disbelief as you will interact with automatons that have humanlike qualities to them amongst other abnormal situations. I mean, in all seriousness, can you imagine having cell phone reception in Siberia? The game will blur the distinction of what is real and what is not with a level of tension that sways Kate in unprecedented ways, enough to compel you to chug along through your journey — pun intended.
The characters you meet and the plot discovery have a level of charm that can’t readily be transcribed into words. But if I had to try, it would be an irking sense of self awareness and perseverance in the midst of a time ready to be forgotten. The journey Kate traverses is like trying to chase after a modern day Santa Claus that brought joy with his automatons.
Even the train used to travel from location to location is very reminiscent of the Polar Express heading towards Santa’s workshop. It would seem that some of the personalities and cultural references that these characters and machines embody do indeed invoke a sense of mystery and curiosity; very much so that they will leave a lasting impression even after the game ends.
With the game being single player and lasting around 10 hours or so, the journey may come to an abrupt halt. But that doesn’t cheapen the lasting impression that the game sets out to convey or the story it wishes to tell. It will leave you wanting more, and that is where the other sequels come into play.
Syberia really did try my patience with the controls, but the story was intriguing enough for me to continue. The metamorphosis of Kate from corporate lackey to independent woman is also a good sight to see. And with the holidays in full bloom and tales of a certain toy maker ready to make his rounds, the story is one that hits home to many individuals and children alike. If only Santa enjoyed mammoth’s milk? May everyone stay frosty this holiday season!
By: Uma Smith
What can one expect to find in space? Planets, stars, comets, deadly mechanical insects? That seems to be the case in the recent PlayStation Network title Final Horizon, available for both Vita and PS4. If you’re looking for some strategic space madness, then prepare yourself as the swarm is coming to get you!
Being granted the option of using either the classic controls (i.e. analog sticks and face buttons) or the touch screen (on the Vita) is godsend here. So, if you’re playing Final Horizon on the go, the latter would be ideal. Either way, the responses are quick while the act of changing views is both smooth and seamless.
Right off the bat, Final Horizon looks strikingly superb, especially with the numerous graphic effects from explosions and such. With all the space battles and chaos, the scenery never looked so clean.
Complementing well with such a vast amount of gorgeous detail is the heart-pumping audio effects and soundtrack that fit appropriately with the overall atmosphere. The music really helps players feel engaged in the moment of battle.
Final Horizon takes place across three solar systems where you’ll be encountering over 50 levels throughout various planets. The objective is to protect the human race from the robotic insects that are coming in as swarms of deadly mayhem. Although it’s a simple premise, the gameplay is still engaging.
Specifically, you are preventing these creepy crawlies from reaching a certain point in the map as they will end up eventually destroying your station. Therefore, you’ll need to place and build ground towers to blast away the alien attackers.
Since this is a strategy type of game, this could also include repairing and upgrading the towers you’ve already placed. Considering that these insects can be coming from different directions, the locations of your tower placements is critical — as it is with any good tower-defense games.
Of course, these towers and upgrades aren’t free. Rather, they cost energy points that you need to acquire if you want to keep on building. Hence, you can’t just blindly place a bunch of towers. Ideally, you’ll want to build power generators to replenish your resource of energy points. As such, Final Horizon makes the players think before acting, which makes the game both cerebrally stimulating and exciting at the same time.
It is a downer then, that the campaign and story come to an end quite quickly — there is some replay value, though, if you are considering taking a completionist approach and aiming for the platinum trophy. Further to that, there are also the leaderboards that will have you revisiting completed levels in hopes of getting a better score. Finally, the score challenge mode allows you to adjust your enemy’s stats if you’re looking for a different way to play the game. While it’s not exactly content heavy, the offered experience is one to remember.
Final Horizon really delivers in terms of offering fast-paced strategic gameplay and tremendous presentation. If you’re longing for a tower-defense title, particularly for your Vita, with an intergalactic setting, then you’ll want to set your “horizons” on this little baby.
By: Mike Chen
When I first saw the screenshots for Speakeasy, my gut reaction was, “Sweet, an indie Street Fighter set in the 1920s.” What I got, though, was unlike any game I’ve ever played before sans perhaps a mini-game in some RPG somewhere. While Speakeasy sets two combatants against each other, the means of combat aren’t inspired by Hadoukens and Flash Kicks; instead, you’ll find that Speakeasy relates much more to the schoolyard game of rock-paper-scissors.
Speakeasy’s controls are all about timing rather than button functionality. Your player can attack, block or fake out. An additional button tags out to your teammate if you’re playing in a tag-team environment. Because attacks are nearly instantaneous with almost no animation, your timing on blocks has to be ultra precise, and that can be frustrating at times. A little more forgiveness in the time frame for blocking attacks would make the game more accessible and, thus, more fun.
Speakeasy features cartoonish graphics that blend a Street Fighter-style setup with 1920’s infused illustrations. Each character is based on a historical figure and looks like he/she came out of a children’s book. Similarly, music comes with an appropriate style based on the game’s time period.
If you’re looking for much beyond that, though, you’re out of luck. Since the game comes with a limited move set akin to rock-paper-scissors, animation takes place in just a few frames and moves quickly. Thus, there’s not much to see except for the strange design decision of severed heads upon a knockout (which wind up accumulating on the ground).
At its most basic, Speakeasy is best explained as rock-paper-scissors meets rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots. Two players match up against each other with attack, block and fake out buttons. Each button can be used once, so if player 2 falls for a block on player 1’s fake out, player 1 is basically in the clear to attack. Matches are best-of series set to player specifications.
So, that’s basically it. There are variations, such as including tag teams and elimination tournaments, but at its essence, this is a video game representation of a schoolyard favorite. Because of that, what you get out of it pretty much depends on the context of when and how you’re playing.
If you’re with a group of competitive friends, Speakeasy sessions can last hours. As a single-player experience, it’s basically non-existent, and the lack of deeper gameplay can turn others off pretty quickly.
Speakeasy is one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. The concept of bringing rock-paper-scissors into a fighting game is one of those crazy ideas that sounds good while drinking, but it really limits the scope of execution. If you’re with a group of friends, you may have a good time, but this one-trick pony is asking an awful lot with its $9.99 price.
By: Robert Snow
Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom is a single-player action adventure game. It stars Finn and Jake from the very popular TV series, Adventure Time, who find themselves in a Kingdom without a Name.
The controls in this game are typical of any adventure-like game. You can equip different items to buttons in order to use them. You, of course, have an attack button, which allows you to swing Finn’s mighty grass sword. As far as controlling Finn in combat, it is tough to do so. As such it is hard for you to dodge attacks when all you can do is move about awkwardly.
The graphics are very much like that of a Gameboy. They are simple, yhere is no screen tearing and the frame rate is fine. I would have liked to see more detail in this game’s graphics, but they are still good considering that the creators were trying to create a retro game feel.
The voice acting and music are both create a great atmosphere, which reminds you of the TV series — something fans will surely appreciate.
The story is that Finn and Jake must save the three princesses of the Nameless Kingdom by defeating multiple dungeons. It is not terribly difficult, and ultimately, it ends up making the experience kinda boring.
Each dungeon is simply a trial and error type of gameplay in which you die and then try again by going a different way or trying a different tactic.
The only challenge that is presented is trying to figure out how to get to the dungeons because you must find certain items in order to advance. There are also minor puzzles to get by that aren’t very challenging. It seems like a cheap Legend of Zelda game that is not terribly entertaining.
It is nice to see some of the characters from the TV series making an appearance, but their side quests are not really interesting or captivating. Also, the upgrade system lacks depth and does not provide enough incentive to keep at it.
I would have liked to see some more involvement of the characters from the show because they were slightly entertaining. All the new characters that appeared for the game were not as good as the original cast. Also, the new place made exclusively for this game looks too much like Hyrule from Legend of Zelda. There is almost nothing from the original cartoon except for the characters I mentioned earlier.
The dialogue in the game is weak and doesn’t pay adequate homage to Adventure Time. The game does not seem have any original ideas in it, either, as they’re seemingly all taken from the Legend of Zelda.
The boss battles are decent and are tailored to whatever tool you find in the dungeon that the boss is in. Unfortunately, said dungeons are incredibly confusing to explore, and there aren’t enough clues in the environment to adequately explain what to do next.
Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom doesn’t provide much of challenge, though it has its moments for those who dig the voices and characters from the show.
By: Ted Chow
With the holiday season in full swing and the gaming industry winding down, racing games seem to take the market by storm — seriously, this is the third racing game I’ve reviewed in the span of a month. Perhaps it’s that time of the year when racing games are popular? In any case, Toybox Turbos is a fun little game from the makers of F1 2014. If you are looking for a casual racing title that doesn’t take itself seriously, then look no further!
If you enjoyed racing remote controlled cars as a kid, then you’ll most likely find the experience to be similar. The cars are weighted appropriately on quick turns and junctures depending on the car’s specification. This allows for players to choose from various cars and play styles that fit their preference. The camera can be a bit of nuisance, however, as it doesn’t register as well in certain angles and can feel rather locked, be it intentional or otherwise.
Toybox Turbos decided to go with a more lighthearted, cartoony look instead of the ultra realistic graphics the developers are known for. And it is a nice change of pace as the game is not a carbon copy of past iterations, but an entirely new intellectual property. When the cars race along fields of school desks and makeshift racetracks from everyday items, it really sells the feeling of toys coming alive.
The soundtrack, an amalgamation of various lighthearted scores, helps to maintain the stylish atmosphere within the lobby and on the racetrack.
As a side project, Toybox Turbos is limited to only single-player mode and online play. Single player is broken into different stages with a number of challenges within those stages. You have to complete the challenges and acquire stars based on your performance to unlock additional stages.
Challenges include your classic race around the track, time trials and boss encounter matches against a specific car. Car coins are collected through completion of challenges and are used to buy more toy cars to play with. Beyond collecting cars, there isn’t much else to do in single-player mode.
Multiplayer gives you the option to play online with strangers or through local play. Both modes allow you to set up the racing rules and cars allowed. Additional options for item pickups and map selections are available as well. The matches play out very similar to the single-player experience in every respect.
Aside from collecting additional cars, there are achievements that you can strive for if you fancy. There is also a leaderboard that showcase player’s scores for specific challenges in single player that you can try to match and overcome. And that’s about the entirety of things you can accomplish in Toybox Turbos.
As a side project with no real stress of bigger franchises breathing down their necks, Codemasters did a splendid job in creating a quirky yet thoughtful game with Toybox Turbos. While rather limited in features to entice playing on a continual basis, it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. If ever you wish to enjoy a casual racing experience without all the technical jargon of racing etiquettes, then Toybox Turbos will be that PG game for the family this holiday season.
By: Jeff Cater
Nano Assault Neo-X is a visually boosted port of the Wii U hit of the same name, minus the hyphen and the X. You are the pilot of a microscopic ship, scaling the various terrain given by cellular organisms and bringing destruction to the harmful bacterial and viral life! Developer Shin’En has provided the cure: Us.
Nano Assault Neo-X is easy for anybody to get into because of the simple and extremely snappy controls. Being a twin-stick shooter, you can expect to guide your ship with the left stick while dispatching hot laser justice with the right. Hitting the touch pad will let you arrange your offensive satellites into any position you like, which offers great tactical decision making on the fly. R1 will use your secondary weapon, and having that bound to the shoulder is great because you never have to lift your thumbs off of the sticks while in the heat of combat.
All 16 of the available stages look fantastic. The cellular surface is fibrous and bulbous, with a nice sheen of some clear slime that glistens with the ambient light of the level. In the background, vast pillars of nerve clusters (or what appear to be, anyway!) and small explosions of light decorate nicely and only serves to bring better immersion to the cell cluster you are currently on.
The various forms of hostile life you encounter are varied and fit the environment very well, but they can sometimes have a little spout of hiccups during certain sets of animation. That minor flaw goes largely unnoticed because things are mostly just blowing up everywhere.
To compliment the visuals, the weapon impacts and explosions are nice and plump, and the soundtrack nails the pace of the game perfectly. There’s no spoken dialogue other than simple one-word phrases every now and then, so don’t expect to sit down for story time here.
Nano Assault Neo-X is definitely a game I would have lost many a quarter to, mostly because it’s simply a lot of fun. You’ve got a ship, you’ve got weapons and you’ve got creatures trying to kill you. Add those three features up, toss in (unfortunately mediocre) boss fights, plus couch co-op and what you are left with is a game full of fun that can immediately be shared with anyone.
Nano Assault doesn’t rely too heavily on mobbing the player with enemies, but instead decides to mob the player with bullets. This provides a nice mix of traditional twin-stick shooter action with that of bullet-hell titles like Ikaruga.
Also fresh is the setup of the levels themselves; instead of having a flat plane to fly and shoot across, levels are wrapped around oblong cells. Initially this can be a bit disorienting due to the camera, but after picking up on the nuance of the camera you won’t have any trouble tracking and dispatching your enemies.
As mentioned above, you can position your satellites to your liking. This is probably my favorite feature, as it allowed me to make a devastating wall of fire or have them all set in a “4-Corners” kind of way. Never underestimate your satellites!
Also scattered through the stages are “B-O-N-U-S” letters that, when collected, transport you to a different part of the stage where the camera is positioned behind the ship. Now the ship starts to pick up speed as you see how far you can get while avoiding pillars and other obstacles. Honestly, I wish there was a game mode that was just that.
Although it’s really short, Nano Assault Neo-X is one of those games where you get the feeling you can get a better score next time around. Combine that with couch co-op, slick graphics and pumping tunes, and it’s hard to believe it’s so cheap. If you’re looking for trippy visuals and something you can come back to in order to improve on, look no further.
By: Uma Smith
Playing games on the mobile phone can be a hassle when you consider only using the touch screen for controls. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to have the feedback so that I know what buttons I’m pressing as well as realize at what point I’ll end up changing directions on the d-pad. That being said, Pocket RPG is one of those mobile games that has thankfully made its way onto the PlayStation Vita. Besides the sigh of relief, here comes a surge of excitement coming to this portable device… in “pocket” form.
It certainly is a blessing to be able to control Pocket RPG with both analog sticks rather than be confined solely to the touch screen. Depending on the characters you use, the attacks are executed with either the right stick or the X button. This can be confusing, though, as other character may use the same X button for support abilities. As such, this may dissuade players from changing characters, which is not the best idea.
Outside of this little setback, Pocket RPG plays out with a great control arrangement. It uses the touch screen mainly for menus, though you can also resort to the left stick or d-pad for this purpose.
Pocket RPG may leave a mixed bag impression when it comes to presentation, but on the whole it’s looking pretty good. Graphically speaking, the environments are rendered in 3D effectively with plenty of colorful details showing nicely on the Vita screen. On the other hand, the character models are pretty rough around the edges, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that this is basically a port from its smartphone roots.
As for the audio, this is where Pocket RPG shines. Hearing the symphonic soundtrack gives an epic and sensational impression coupled with some decent sound effects.
Monsters are wrecking havoc to your kingdom courtesy of the evil lord, who you will encounter toward the end of the story. To combat this invasion, a hero is called upon to counter these rampages and rescue the villagers. You can choose from three characters, each with their own set of abilities and attributes. With the dark ranger, you will be able to take on enemies with your bow and arrow while with the battle mage, you’ll be using mana and spells instead to do the job. Finally, there’s the blade master if you’re looking for some hack n’ slash goodness.
Whoever you choose will have some unique effects when it comes to the overall gaming experience as well as the resulting control schemes. Regardless, your exploration into the dungeons will also include fighting off waves of incoming enemies as well as destroying various objects. Occasionally, defeated enemies will leave behind items that can help with your battles, including extra health and damages. Adding a layer of fun are certain enemies that can give birth to even more enemies.
What makes this an addictive game is how your experience points increases, which affords you the opportunity to level up and increase your stats accordingly as expected from an RPG title like this. The formula does get a little tired at times, but at least with this character level-up feature, it’ll give a boost in terms of involvement and engagement.
Within Pocket RPG are six quests for you to take part in. Within each are a number of stages to go through as well, which can take around 10 minutes to complete. So each quest may not have the same degree of predictability as one would expect. The real fun and challenge is the final boss encounter. Considering that the story conceals his identity up until this point, the experience can feel uplifting with the build up to this revelation. However, it may take you some time and practice to successfully beat him, so perseverance is essential.
Although Pocket RPG isn’t exactly a long game, it has enough to entice players to revisit the game. Once you have defeated the final boss, you can pay a visit to all stages and quests that you’ve gone through. However, this time, you’ll notice that there are different enemies as well as changes in the environments. It’s definitely a source of replay value, especially when you get to continue to level up your characters.
Pocket RPG may not be a long enough game for some since it can take just a couple hours to complete. However, it is appropriate for its bite-sized fun. If you’re looking for an adequate yet satisfying experience on the go, then make sure you have this Vita title in your “pocket.”