PS3 Review: Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment
Boku wa turn!

Boku wa turn!

By: Ted Chow

Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is a tactical, grid-based RPG that captures the nostalgia of long-past JRPGs of the genre. If you are unaccustomed to the series you can find plenty of previous games as well as an anime adaptation of the original Tears to Tiara if you’d like additional back-story. Taking many references from different real-world mythologies, Tears to Tiara II is heavily driven by its plot and the heroes that encompass the world. If I had to say one thing about this game, it is a true JRPG through and through, shortcomings and all.

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

The controls can be overly daunting at first with what seems like a full screen of things to navigate and take command. While there are tutorials for controlling your character and navigating the UI, you get the feeling that you should have already been accustomed to the layout. It does get easier over time and mostly become second nature. New functions do get introduced at different intervals within the game, however, and it is best to read the help text to fully understand the execution.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.25/5)

The initial impression of the game’s aesthetics can come off as if you’re playing an old PlayStation 2 port. The lack of detail in the textures and the way everything is structured and presented screams the first era of 3D games. Mix that in with chibi anime character models and you can wholeheartedly agree that this is a JRPG. While the 3D art feels dated, it wasn’t too bothersome for the majority of the play experience, and it was even rather nostalgic at times to remember how games once were.

The soundtrack is your typical J-Pop, but there were some tear-jerking scores mixed in for crucial story plots that complemented the overall tone well.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

Tears of Tiara II is a game that relies on telling a compelling story with turn-based grid action comprising most of the key battles. Players should expect a lengthy campaign and even lengthier talking scenes where you take a back seat — a majority of the game will seem like your reading a visual novel with a hands off approach to exploration or decision making.

This can come off as a negative as there are prime spots where you would want to walk around with your main character, but the game’s linearity and progression will obstruct any means to do so. It can get progressively worst in certain areas of the game where the cut scene dialogues — while interesting — can drone on for an absurd amount of time and test a player’s patience. A more equal distribution in the game’s design would have made the game more palatable for those that want to get into the actual gameplay.

In Tears to Tiara II you play as Hamil Barca, who is the heir to the House of Barca, Hispania’s royal family. Misfortune has brought about the end of Hispania’s independence, however, and they’re absorbed into the Divine Empire as Hamil awaits the day he can claim his rightful throne and fight for his people’s freedom. As luck would have it, the goddess Tarte descends to bring about a newfound hope for Hamil and his people. Hamil will set out on a journey to gather friends and fight the fanatically religious and corrupt Divine Empire in the name of all humanity.

The story in Heir of the Overlord starts off rather slow with the player having to listen to almost two hours of an introduction. It was rather frustrating to hear some of the overly dramatic scripts the actors had to read in the beginning as you couldn’t help but feel pity and anger for Hamil to grow a spine.

If you can sit through the introduction and get further into the story, though, things find a nice balance for itself and are actual ripe with intrigue, humanity and character building. Playable characters are introduced at frequent intervals and provide some of the more interesting back stories and lore of the world as a whole. Even if in the end you feel the story didn’t bring anything refreshing in storytelling, the views on societal reforms and idealism of our heroes gives it a solid foundation.

Combat is turn based and structured so that the heroes you deploy are situated on a battleground comprised of grids. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses and plays off the standard roles of tank, mage and rogue. The RPG elements come extensively into play when you open up the party sheet and see a whole range of things to manage, such as items to equip, skills to acquire, leader abilities, crafting and many more.

An RPG junkie will truly love the party building aspect of this game as well as the tactical grid combat and turn rewind feature.  Battles can last upwards of 20 minutes and end with a completion screen of items acquired and a chance to replay the battle again by selecting it through the world map.

With more than 30 hours of story and gameplay to go through, the game can be tiring if you plan to marathon the content. Luckily, you can save practically anytime — even during combat — and resume at a later time.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

If you enjoy lengthy JRPG stories with solid turn-based gameplay, then Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord won’t disappoint in that regard. The game may turn off casual players who aren’t diehard fans of the series, and it does feel like the game is tailored towards a particular niche. However, that doesn’t mean the game isn’t solid in its execution or delivery.

Wii U Review: The Fall

November 18, 2014 Leave a comment
Blinded by the light.

Blinded by the light.

By: Casey Curran

One of the worst feelings I can get when playing a game is to be impressed upon starting it up, only for the feeling to vanish entirely once the game hands me control. The Fall, unfortunately, falls into this category. Despite some interesting ideas, it has a problem standing out.

CONTROLS (2.25/5)

For the most part, The Fall’s controls work well. They are limiting, but mostly in a way that helps add to the game’s atmosphere and central mechanics. Running and jumping both work well while aiming with the right stick has an excellent amount of precision.

However, there is one aspect that really ends up bringing the controls down. In order to interact with the world, you must first highlight an area with the flashlight, hold down the R button, and use the left stick to decide how you want to interact with it. Not only is this one of the most counter-intuitive gameplay decisions I have ever seen, it makes interacting with the world, the core gameplay hook, tedious and annoying.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (5/5)

Upon starting The Fall, one thing becomes instantly clear: the people at developer Over the Moon really love the movie Alien. The game takes place on a deserted planet with a dark, lonely atmosphere. There is a strong feeling of isolation, and the game stays well-grounded in sci-fi, with a neat concept of an AI in a space suit guiding an unconscious pilot’s body to safety before he dies after crash landing on a strange planet.

The game also takes a page from Limbo as most objects in the environment look as though they are shadows in the world. The look suits the game very well, as it only adds to the great atmosphere. Music and sound effects, meanwhile, are hauntingly creepy, always giving a sense of fear despite how little action actually happens in the game. Voice acting feels hokey, yet is completely done by AI characters, which makes it feel more believable.

GAMEPLAY (2.5/5)

Very much like Limbo, The Fall blends a 2D platformer with many trimmings from point-and-click adventures. Where it separates itself, however, is how it also takes a page from the Metroid series as you will gather new items and power ups to access new areas of the world. Though the process is the same as Other M, where most power ups are items your AI grants permission to use functions that are available to it all along. Only when not using one puts the pilot in danger will the AI allow a function.

Unfortunately, this design choice hurts the story as you will see areas where using a function will come in handy, yet the AI still refuses to grant access to it. Considering that the AI is rushing to get the pilot to safety, this gets in the way of enjoying the story and atmosphere, the game’s biggest hook.

The aforementioned control issues also hurt the experience as interacting with the world is the basis for the entire experience. In a sense, while Limbo blended the two genres perfectly, The Fall is held back by taking too much from the point-and-click adventure genre. The result is a 2D platformer with very awkwardly implemented point-and-click trimmings.

The point-and-click adventure ideas holding it back do not end there, either, as using items usually feels too contextual — such as a robot arm which can only grab an item through one, and only one, gate — and too much based on finding objects than puzzle solving. I felt I had less time to enjoy exploring and interacting with the world and more turning every stone until I could finally get what I needed. And when I solved a puzzle, I did not feel much of a sense of accomplishment; instead it was more confusion over how the developers expected me to figure that out.

OVERALL (2.5/5)

If you enjoy great atmosphere in a game and are a big fan of the original Alien, then there may be enough in The Fall for you to enjoy what it has to offer. If, however, you want more in terms of puzzle solving or exploration, then it may not quite offer everything you want.

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XB1/PS4 Review: The Legend of Korra

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment
Korra can hurl earth, wind, fire, water... and poo.

Korra can hurl earth, wind, fire, water… and poo.

By: Jeff Cater

The Legend of Korra is a fill-in between the second and third seasons of the anime of the same name. As you can guess, you assume the role of Korra, the ultimate bender. See, most benders can only bend one of four given elements at a time, or ever. Korra, on the other hand, is some kind of badass that can bend all four at any given time. Did Platinum Games and Activision give us a game worth the namesake? Well…

CONTROLS (2/5)

…the trouble starts right from the get-go. The controls are easy enough to get the grasp of — it feels like any other brawler out there, well, more like the most sensitive and unforgiving brawler that you’ve ever played. Face buttons handle all three attacks and jump. The shoulder buttons let you switch between your different bending styles, and stringing together different styles into your combo is a breeze.

What drags down the fun of the brawl is the fact that on-screen button prompts often appear only for a moment before disappearing (and thusly punishing the player for missing the prompt). In an attempt to grease the wheels of combat, you’re allowed to lock onto an enemy with a press of the right stick, but the clumsy and inaccurate feel of it pretty much makes it a dangerously useless feature altogether.

Platforming elements of the game are nigh impossible to enjoy and serve as one of its hardest obstacles, even in comparison to towering robot enemies who want to do nothing more than smash little Korra. You’ll have to make deceptive jumps and deal with the camera wildly swinging around if you try to get a better angle (that is, if the game decides to let you move the camera at all, which is uncommon during the platforming segments).

GRAPHICS/SOUND (2/5)

Republic City is known to fans as the bustling Metropolis built by Aang after the Hundred Year War. You wouldn’t be able to tell that it is the same town by playing this game, however. It does not hustle, and it definitely does not bustle. The only connection between the game and series in regards to the city is displayed in fully animated sequences. Though the animated scenes do stick to the show’s established quality, actually running around the city in the game is a lonely and bland experience.

The game does open up into less linear and more interesting landscapes, but it never quite gets past the “simple snowscape cliffs” and “arena with rocky walls” generic feel. Character animation goes from great to terrible depending on whether you are fighting (great) to platforming (often laughably inaccurate and infuriating). Do you like landing on something that looks like a platform, only for the screen to go black and you’re suddenly placed at a checkpoint? I’d guess not.

It appears that all of the major voice talent from the show has made it into the game, so the voiceovers are top notch. The musical score is also appropriately tuned depending on the context of the scene.

GAMEPLAY (2/5)

The Legend of Korra can almost be interpreted as a mishmash of three different game genres. First and foremost, there is the brawling portion where you fight against waves of enemies while being restricted by barriers, locking you into a certain section until all enemies are cleared. This is all fine and dandy, but you’ll often find yourself getting mercilessly pummeled into corners and barriers alike.

During combat, button prompts will appear with insanely small windows of time given to execute the commands. Said windows are so small that it is easy to miss seeing them completely. You pretty much have to have psychic powers and nail those commands exactly how and when they appear.

Boss fights tend to use this mechanic a lot, but it is much more manageable during those fights because you’re often fighting one or two enemies, whereas street combat throws upwards of six opponents at you at a time, all demanding QTE mastery.

Bringing it back to the platforming elements, the level design shifts from a third-person view to a more traditional side-scroller perspective. This is all fine and well until you actually have to start platforming, then it’s a mad battle against depth perception and pixel-perfect planning. Korra will often try to grab onto a platform but instead bound over it, sending you to the black screen of death and your most recent checkpoint. On top of the villainous level design, the devs decided to pepper the foreground with enemies that fade in and out of view, never at a good time and seemingly always during a challenging jump.

The third part doesn’t even belong on a console. Anyone familiar with Temple Run? The mobile game? Where you swipe your finger across the screen? Well, in the Legend of Korra there are a few sequences in which you get to ride Naga, Korra’s gigantic Polar Bear Dog. As much fun as riding a Polar Bear Dog sounds, it should be more fun than taking left and right turns, and then jumping and sliding over/under obstacles.

OVERALL (2/5)

Had the brawling elements received a bit more attention, and the unnecessary Naga sequences been nixed in the planning stage, The Legend of Korra could’ve been much more fun to play. Bending and combining elements to devastating results is pretty fun, but the restrictions during combat, such as the barriers and way too fast QTE events, add a layer of difficulty that reflects some shoddy design.

PSN Review: Race The Sun

November 14, 2014 Leave a comment
Faster than the speed of light.

Faster than the speed of light.

By: Ted Chow

Race the Sun is an endless racer originally developed for the PC by Flippfly and now being ported over to the PlayStation. You take command of a solar-powered spaceship as you traverse a multitude of obstacles all while chasing the sun before your batteries run out. As a Kickstarter project, the game has come a long way to what it was at first launch, and that shows the dedication of the developers to continue their support for the game.

CONTROLS (4/5)

The controls are pretty simplistic with the majority of your inputs being left to your left analog stick for movement. Beyond that, you may occasionally press X for activation of specific items that you acquire within the game. Overall, the controls are simple and clean.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Given the pseudo-procedurally generated levels of the game, Race the Sun is rather minimalistic in the aesthetics department and relies mostly on basic shapes to convey the environment. This does give the game a bit of a clean look as its plays well with the negative-positive space. It provides that vibe of a paper spacecraft skimming along an endless plain of printing paper with the sun casting shadows for environmental context. As an art choice, that immersion gave the game a bit more character than what you’d perceive on the surface. The soundtrack doesn’t add too much to the experience and is rather inconsequential.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

As the name implies, Race the Sun is a racer that puts you into the driver seat of a solar-powered space vehicle to chase the sun. You become incapacitated when you either crash into obstacles or the sun sets and you run out of energy to continue. Your goal is to survive as long as possible and gather as many points as you can for your end score. The scores are pinned against other players in a daily leaderboard for those that like competitive play.

To assist you in your journey, you are presented with a variety of power ups and upgrades for your spaceship. Power ups are found within the game and are unlocked once you level up to particular ranks. They provide additional multiplier bonuses for your score, increase the sun’s duration, shields or even the ability to jump.

In order to level up, you need to accomplish certain achievements or milestones within each playthrough such as traveling a certain distance or crashing a specific amount of times. Upgrades to your ship are acquired with level ups as well, except they are in constant effect – for example, increasing the radius from which you draw in power ups.

With the pseudo-procedurally generated levels, you won’t necessarily have the same experience every time. The game changes the world layout every 24 hours and encourages you to come back to find different obstacle courses each time. This is particularly beneficial for the PS Vita version as it is something you can kill some time with outside the house. It also increases the longevity of the game’s fun factor, though it is best played in short bursts.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

Race the Sun plays more like a mobile game than it does a sit down experience. While the game is solid in every aspect, there isn’t much reason to play for extended periods of time, unless you are somehow compelled to reach the global score for the day. Overall, the game is fun in short intervals and gives enough reason to come back every day with global map and leaderboard resets.

PS Vita Review: Don’t Die, Mr. Robot!

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment
Apparently, even robots need their Vitamin C to stay healthy.

Apparently, even robots need their Vitamin C to stay healthy.

By: Uma Smith

Question: What kind of robot consumes fruit? For the answer, feast your eyes on Infinite State Games’ interesting PlayStation Vita title Don’t Die, Mr. Robot! You see, Mr. Robot seems to be hungry for fruit, not because of its nutritional value but rather for its explosive effects. Say what???

CONTROLS (4.5/5)

Players have the option of moving their character with the analog stick, motion controls or rear touch pad. For accuracy and responsiveness, the analog sticks would be the most ideal. And since there aren’t any other commands to be concerned with, the game is very simple to master.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

Graphically speaking, this Vita title isn’t very spectacular nor does it offer any uniqueness. The environments consist of a black backdrop with laser grids and enemies populating the screen. On top of that, the characters are very simplistic and don’t offer a whole lot in terms of leaving a lasting impression.

Thankfully, the music keeps the overall experience somewhat interesting as it speeds up depending on the action on screen. Still, you are not going to be exactly blasted away from the audio effects as they feel pretty standard at best.

GAMEPLAY (3.25/5)

Your objective behind Don’t Die, Mr. Robot! is straightforward: guide Mr. Robot to the fruit without making contact with any enemies. Keep in mind that each type of enemy has their own movement pattern and actually spawn in a randomized fashion. If you make contact, it’s game over.

There’s more to it than it sounds, though, as each time you get a fruit that spot will explode, taking out enemies within range of its blast radius. If you factor in nearby fruits, this can lead to a chain reaction. As a result, the whole idea is to determine the right timing to create this explosive effect in order to achieve a mix of both combos and score multipliers.

With 50 stages on offer, there is plenty to keep you busy. Each stage has its own set of objectives and gameplay conditions. For instance, you may have to perform a large combo chain as well as stay very close to enemies for a specified number of times. Furthermore, there are times when you may have to avoid fruit and even have restricted movements yourself. Depending on how you perform, you will be rewarded with medals from bronze to platinum. This, as well as the online leaderboards, gives Don’t Die, Mr. Robot! its replay value.

While the stages themselves don’t offer much superficial diversity, the varying gameplay conditions coupled with the randomly-generated enemies result in a gameplay that manages to offer a somewhat fresh and interesting impression. There are times when the degree of difficulty can feel unfair to players. Thus, it can be a matter of luck rather than skill in terms of pulling off a high score. However, if it weren’t for this randomly-generated gameplay, the fun factor in Don’t Die, Mr. Robot! would quickly “die” out.

OVERALL (3.25/5)

Don’t Die, Mr.Robot! may be lacking in terms of originality, but its take on gameplay mechanics and challenges are possible sources of addiction to players. As such, there is enough “fruit” in this game to keep its entertainment from “dying” out too quickly.

PS3 Review: Deadfall Adventures: Heart of Atlantis

November 12, 2014 Leave a comment
Never enough zombies to kill.

Never enough zombies to kill.

By: Ted Chow

Deadfall Adventures: Heart of Atlantis is a FPS adventure game that emphasizes puzzle solving and storytelling. The game is set in the universe of the Allan Quatermain series, whose author is H. Rider Haggard, though if you are familiar with the Uncharted series you may get a similar vibe. However, the game suffers without a compelling story or characters that resonate and synergize well with each other.

CONTROLS (3.75/5)

The controls are similar to other FPS console games with the left analog stick to move and the R2 bumper to fire. Triangle is used to switch between weapons, R1 for grenades and square for reloading. L2 and L1 are used for zooming in and focusing your flashlight. Lastly, switching between essential items is left to the d-pad. As far as re-mapping goes, there is no available option in the settings.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

While the graphics are passable in most areas of the game, it is rather apparent that the resolution on most textures is pretty low. Character models and animations seem stiff and the bloom effect on their faces is overbearing at times. Enemy variety is low and often shares the same faces whether they are Nazis or zombies. Lighting is inconsistent and doesn’t always complement the overall tone and setting well.

The soundtrack is reasonably good with the Indiana Jones adventure theme, but the voice acting is sub-par with the main cast excruciatingly bland and uninspired.

GAMEPLAY (2.5/5)

You play as the main character, James Lee Quatermain, who is your stereotypical gunslinger/treasure hunter that lacks any emotion, provides ill placed one-liners and is pretty one dimensional in every sense. You are hired by Jennifer Goodwin, an archeologist of sorts for the US Government, to help find the Heart of Atlantis, an object of supernatural powers. The setting takes place around WWII with much of the technology and events inspired by that era. The main antagonists are the Nazis, who are trying to hunt down sources of all mythical objects, and random zombies that protect the tombs you raid.

Most of the game’s locales are inspired by real world locations, and you will be continent hopping to try and find the Heart. Egyptian pyramids, arctic tundra and Mayan jungles are some of the areas that you will visit. The journey itself seems to be more of a goose chase as you trail the Nazis to secret bases in the most obscure places just to say that the game provides enough superficial gun fights for the player not to be bored. Throw in zombies and their many undead variants — I swear, zombies in a frozen submarine — and you have a game that provides even more senseless killing.

The puzzles that the game emphasizes are lackluster and do not provide much of a challenge. Most are limited to interacting with environmental objects or resorting to using some form of violence to achieve your goal. If you are in need of help then you can either use your clipboard with convenient hints or check an option in the game settings to help flash the solutions. This takes away from the innate challenge of the puzzles, but without them you may just feel stuck because of poor lighting or other design choices.

Combat is generic, and the weapons lack substantial weight and impact. With the given AI, both your allies and the enemies follow a repetitive chain of orders that don’t provide much of a challenge and can be downright stupid at times. Bosses tend to be bullet sponges with a lack of diverse stages in combat and can be extremely cheap with instant locks on your character.

Multiplayer fares slightly better than the story and comes in two flavors with basic team death match and survival mode. Each mode provides seven different maps inspired by the game’s locales. In the lobby you’re allowed to choose from pre-built classes or mix and match your weapons and create your own class.

Survival mode puts you onto a map where zombies come at you in waves. Supply drops and a vault of weapon caches becomes available in between rounds to restock and equip more powerful weapons. The overall goal is to survive as long as you can with your team.

OVERALL (2.75/5)

Deadfall Adventures: Heart of Atlantis is dead on arrival and provides a sub-par experience in most of the game modes. Multiple game bugs, inept AI and forgettable characters don’t bode well for the series and leaves an overall bad impression. Multiplayer does give the game a bit more life, but compared to other FPS games out in the market, it’s only average at best.

PS4 Review: In Space We Brawl

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment
It’s pretty, but do NOT approach the spinning hole of death!

It’s pretty, but do NOT approach the spinning hole of death!

By: Jeff Cater

Developed and published by Italian company Forge Reply, In Space We Brawl is a twin-stick shooter where straightforward shoot ‘em up gameplay is the appetizer, main course and dessert.

In Space We Brawl is all about silly, quick and explosive galactic warfare. Upon selecting your play mode, a Multiplayer Tournament or Championship and a Single-player Challenge, you are allowed to select between a few different ship archetypes with different attributes of speed, durability, etc. After selecting your ship, a bevy of attachable weapons is available to you. Pick one, be it the rail-gun or the spreading, scatter effect gun, and get your ass to space.

It is very bare bones as a single-player experience, as the only mode available is a “Challenge” mode in which you race against the clock to take out asteroids, errant robots and avoid the many dangers outer space has to offer. Although the single player does offer a bit of a distraction to test your skill, the game is really meant to be played with at LEAST two players.

In Tournament mode you will fight against a bracket arranged from your opponents and the player on top will emerge victorious, whereas the Championship mode is more of a straightforward death match experience, but the victor is determined by who has the best K/D ratio.

Your opponent is rarely just going to be your friends on the couch, and AI craft will often float about taking shots when they can. The environment also presents a good modification to the competitive challenge by stacking the level with obstacles such as lightning-fast asteroids or black holes tearing the gravity all around them.

In Space We Brawl isn’t going to win any awards for audio or visual direction, but the game is ultimately pleasing to both the eyes and ears. The backdrops are all deep hues of black and blue, speckled with nebulae and distant galaxies, with minor changes depending on the level you’ve selected.

OVERALL (3/5)

Though the game is terribly thin on any material you could partake alone, In Space We Brawl is really meant to be played with a couple of buddies. Or your kids for that matter, as the presentation is bright, friendly and the mechanics are immediately easy to pick up and play.

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