PS4 Review: Shantae: Risky’s Revenge

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a true 2D platformer throwback.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a true 2D platformer throwback.

By: Mike Chen

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a cult classic 2D platformer originally released in 2010 for the Nintendo DS. Now it’s available on PS4 (and Windows), which may make you wonder why it’s getting a re-release on modern platforms. While far from a technology buster, Risky’s Revenge is a packed adventure platformer with plenty to offer in pixelated form.

CONTROLS (4/5)

While a little more expansive than the 8-bit NES two-button controls, Risky’s Revenge would fit comfortably into the 16-bit world. The two primary buttons, like any game in this genre, are jump and attack (which can be held down to slow Shantae to a walk when more precise movement is required). Shantae’s dance button is the equivalent of in-game magic, though it is often more contextually based.

For platformers, it’s important that controls feel crisp and accurate, which they do here. Most good platformers allow you to get into a rhythm with dense combat after getting a feel for the controls, and Risky’s Revenge is no exception. After a good hour or so with the game, most players will be able to precisely jump, attack and land in one smooth motion, all while avoiding enemy attacks.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Risky’s Revenge doesn’t feature any true upscaling, re-skinning or other graphical improvements. The original pixel-based visuals are still here, for better or worse. The visual options allow you to play in standard 4:3 aspect ratio, zoom in or stretch it out to fill the screen.

Otherwise, you’re working with old-school pixel graphics and chip tunes. What’s here is done with obvious attention to detail and care, though if you’re not nostalgic about these things, it may be off putting. Otherwise, the character design, environments and animations are strong despite the limitations of their inherent technology.

GAMEPLAY (4.5/5)

As old-school platformers go, Risky’s Revenge takes many different elements from 8- and 16-bit classics and mashes them up into its own successful beast. At its core, Shantae jumps and attacks (her hair is akin to the Belmont whip from Castlevania), and this is executed with crisp and precise controls.

Beyond that, there’s also interaction in towns (like Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest), dungeons (like side-scrolling A Link To The Past), side quests and return-and-unlock areas (Metroid). All of this is seamlessly blended into Shantae’s world, where genies and pirates hang out with zombies and golems.

The world map is traversed on foot, though warp points can be unlocked. The game primarily plays as a side-scroller, though “jump pads” allow you to move in different z-axis layers of areas for a pseudo-3D effect. While it can be easy to get lost or stuck, an on-screen map helps (buy it early, you’ll need it).

Power ups, dances (magic) and fetch quest items populate the world, and while it is reasonably linear, there’s still plenty of leeway for exploration at your leisure. Combat and puzzles (in dungeons and overland) can be challenging but hardly ever show-stopping, making for a well-balanced mix of thinking, fighting and exploring. Save points are clearly marked on the map, and while not generously assigned, there are enough of them so that deaths don’t feel disastrous.

Since this is technically a sequel, new gamers will go into the story cold, and there’s not much to catch you up. Fortunately, all you really need to know is that Shantae is a half-genie, Risky is her pirate nemesis, and that’s basically it. The opening segment is packed with dialogue to fill in the blanks, though much of it comes in the form of poorly written humor.

OVERALL (4/5)

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge successfully blends elements from many different throwback classics and creates a world and identity all its own. Perhaps its only problem is that the game doesn’t come with any remastered/updated elements other than a few smoothed-over mechanics. Still, its low price point makes it a worthy investment for any fans of 2D platformers.

PS Vita/PS3 Review: Lost Dimension

Aim. Shoot. Loading. Repeat.

Aim. Shoot. Loading. Repeat.

Although the PlayStation Vita hasn’t been the success story Sony hoped for, it’s hardly the wasteland skeptics portray it as. This is particularly true of JRPGs, and Atlus’ Lost Dimension, which is also available for the PlayStation 3, looks to be another notch in the Vita’s belt.

CONTROLS (4.5/5)

Turn-based combat is the name of the game in Lost Dimension, as you’ll guide a six-person squad into battle against multiple foes. Each of your six members gets an opportunity to act, then it switches over to allow enemy units to respond and so on, until victory conditions are met (usually eliminating all foes, but sometimes a specific unit) or everyone on your side is defeated.

While that’s hardly unusual for an RPG, there’s a tremendous focus on positioning that I can’t recall seeing in another game. That’s because if a unit is within range of an enemy being attacked they will piggyback onto it and assist with an attack of their own, regardless of whether or not they’ve already had their turn. Surround a tough foe and watch your team reduce them to remnants with a six-strike combo. It’s a very interesting formula.

Beyond standard ranged and melee attacks, all 11 characters (six are deployed at a time) have a unique “gift” that can be used to bring down enemies or heal/buff comrades. Gifts are used at the expense of both GP (gift points) and sanity, and that adds another layer of strategy — exhaust your sanity, which also drops when taking damage, and you’ll go berserk, rendering that character uncontrollable. It’s a nice twist, as is the ability to defer a character’s turn and transfer it to another.

Theoretically, characters that don’t trust each other won’t assist with attacks, but in all my hours with the game that covered dozens of battles with all different combinations of team members I never saw anyone refuse to help. That was a little disappointing given you’re constantly working with a traitor in your midst (more on that later). Also, the “deep vision” mini game is dull.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (2.75/5)

Offering a blend of anime-style cut scenes and last-gen graphics, Lost Dimension never really clicks on a visual level. That being said, enemy variety and gift effects are at least respectable with a pleasant mix of colors and animations. Even that comes at a price, however, as there’s no fluidity to combat with load screens literally interrupting every action — you attack, load, your teammate assists, load, the enemy counters, load… Granted, they’re brief, but they shouldn’t exist at all.

Lost Dimension could’ve really elevated the emotional side of its traitor reveals with better character development, starting with the voice acting and dialogue. Unfortunately, neither of those elements is well done, and the soundtrack eventually becomes gratingly repetitive. That the game succeeds as much as it does in the face of such subpar presentation is a testament to its other areas.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

A crazed villain known simply as The End has promised to destroy the world, and the only hope for humanity is an 11-member S.E.A.L.E.D. team that has infiltrated The End’s tower. Now they must ascend to stop The End from making good on his threat. There are two major problems you’ll need to deal with before that confrontation takes place: first, you’ll need to sacrifice one of your own teammates to reach a new floor, and second, there are traitors in your midst.

That’s right, multiple members of your squad have their own agendas, and it’s up to you as Sho Kasugai to utilize your psychic powers to locate them. It’s a very cool concept that suffers somewhat in its execution. The basic setup is that there are three potential traitors per floor, and you identify them by deploying different groupings of agents. After each battle, Sho will read thoughts and let you know if there is a potential traitor among your five current squad mates.

What hurts Lost Dimension is the fact that you can replay old quests as often as you’d like, and once you level up you can clear Floor 1 missions in about a minute. This allows you to identify the candidates quickly, and then using Vision Points (earned by clearing main battles) to positively identify which one is the real traitor. It’s worth noting that the character that turns is random, so you can replay the game for a different experience.

It’s still pretty cool, but more could’ve been done with it. Things like behavior in battle or subtle dialogue variations to help steer you a certain way, making the psychic angle only part of what’s needed to uncover the traitor’s identity. Maybe reduce the number of Vision Points so that you can only examine one per floor. That way, if you’re wrong, you have to use other means to figure out which of the two candidates it is. As it stands, it’s a little too cut and dry.

Each mission is scored on a ranking system, and, as noted, you’re free to replay them as often as you’d like. Floors feature a blend of main (storyline) missions and sub quests, and later on you’ll be able to unlock a number of character-specific quests if you build up enough camaraderie. There’s little deviation in any of them, but I still found reasons to play them all and revisit some to chase “S” ranks.

There are some problems that hold Lost Dimension back — ambivalence toward (and sometimes legitimate dislike of) your teammates, slow moving Enemy Turn segments, the aforementioned load times, etc. — but there’s nothing here that dissuaded me as the hours piled up.

OVERALL (3.75/5)

As much as I enjoyed Lost Dimension, I’m left to ponder what could’ve been with better character development, improved presentation and a more diverse traitor identification system. Still, what’s there is well worth your time if you hold any affection for tactical RPGs.

PS4 Review: Skullgirls: 2nd Encore

Whether it's a literally killer hair-do or a demonic entity, Skullgirls has it in spades.

Whether it’s a killer hair-do or a demonic entity, Skullgirls has it in spades.

By: Jeff Cater

Skullgirls: 2nd Encore is the third game in its series, stepping into the ring with a pocket full of style and a pack of rabid fans from which they drew crowd-sourced help to bring this game to the PS4 and Vita. In a market so saturated with great fighting games, does Skullgirls: 2nd Encore have enough to make it stand out from the pack?

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

Thankfully, Skullgirls handles pretty much like most fighters out there. Attacks of different strengths are set to the face buttons, and they leave it to you to figure out whether the d-pad or thumb stick is the right choice. Unfortunately for Skullgirls, the menu in which you figure out all your combos and special moves feels like you’re trying to decipher hieroglyphics.

This will lead serious players to YouTube to get a better idea on how their chosen character can be utilized. It’ll also push people away who have troubles with abbreviations and higher resolution sets; sometimes seeing which input is needed for movement during any given move is a cruel, squinting experiment.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.5/5)

Skullgirls: 2nd Encore is packed with visual variety. The game looks like a good mix between American Saturday morning cartoons crossed with that of more traditional Japanese anime titles. With all of the freaks abound, it also feels a bit reminiscent (visually) to that old PlayStation fighting game, Darkstalkers.

Each of the fighters is packed in with fluid animation fitting of their character, and it’s just plain old fun even watching a fight. The character “Big Band” is one of the most interesting (IMHO), as he dawns a figure-hiding trench coat that is protruding with several brass instruments. Hell, the man can even break into a trumpet solo mid-fight (like a boss).

Voice work fits surprisingly well for each character as well and doesn’t feel forced in the least. Most notably the soundtrack is fun to listen to, as it feels ripped straight out of the 1940’s, but with an edge and attitude tweaked by the devs. Few things are cooler than playing as a shape-shifting “Double” or the vile “Peacock,” whose design pays homage to cartoons of the 1920’s. Altogether, it’s a damn neat visual and aural package.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

FAIR WARNING! DO NOT PLAY THIS GAME BY YOURSELF! The AI will absolutely discourage you from really giving the game a chance, so get a friend over to your place or link up with some people online (Custom Tournament Style!) and go from there. Otherwise, the AI will brutalize you and make you question aspects of your life.

As mentioned above, trying to figure out your character’s moves is a very difficult thing to do given the bleak design of the moves list. If you can get past that and maybe even become proficient in pulling off some of the combos or specials, you’ll have dug deep enough to find a truly technical and rewarding fighter.

The character roster is 90 percent female, so take that as you will. Most have heaving, swaying breasts, (Editor’s note: Jeff, why are your cheeks red? And why are you sweating profusely?) but they aren’t defined by that as much as they are by their voices and move lists. That said, literally every character is cool and great fun to play as and be beaten by.

Interestingly, there’s also a mode akin to Marvel vs. Capcom, which lets you pick from 1-3 fighters for your bout. If you pick three of them, expect each to hit a little bit softer than usual. If you limit yourself to just one character, they’ll be hitting pretty hard and have an impressive amount of health to chunk down, too.

OVERALL (4/5)

Skullgirls: 2nd Encore is a pure result of combining people that love designing a fighting game and those that just want to play a unique fighter. In the ocean of fighters, Skullgirls: 2nd Encore is the Good Ship Lollipop, singing and dancing amongst the usual seas of blood and combo breakers.

Throwback Thursday: Go to (Bullet) HELL Edition!

July 23, 2015 84 comments

Bullet HellFor those that don’t know, I’m an old-school wrestling fan. So, in honor of the return of The Undertaker, it’s time to send everyone straight to hell… BULLET HELL that is. And this week we’ve got codes for not one, but two games up for grabs: Astebreed and Jamestown Plus, both for the PlayStation 4. Sharpen those reflexes and let’s win some games!

HOW TO ENTER

Since we’re giving away two games we’re giving everyone two entries! So, just post the name of the game you want to win — you can do one for Jamestown Plus and one for Astebreed, or you can double down and put both of your entries on a single game.

If you’re on Twitter, please include your @handle as well. If not, just make sure the email address you use when entering is valid.

THE FINE PRINT

Winners will be selected on Thursday, July 30th. All entries must be submitted by 4 PM EDT/1 PM PDT on Thursday. Please note that although anyone can enter you must either be following me on Twitter or submit a working email address to win.

Good luck!

PC Review: Battle Fantasia: Revised Edition

Cat girls and magical rabbits... need I say more?

Cat girls and magical rabbits… need I say more?

By: Ted Chow

With the fighting game scene resurging in popularity with titles such as Mortal Kombat X and Street Fighter V, here come a new challenger in the form of Battle Fantasia: Revised Edition. With Arc System Works localizing the game, I was genuinely excited for another fighting title to add to my ever increasing library. While it feels like more of a basic representation of the fighting genre compared to some of the company’s other work, Battle Fantasia is an old title that is a testament to how far fighting games have come.

CONTROLS (3.25/5)

As with most fighting titles, the controls and fluidity of the movement and responsiveness is what make or break a game. Battle Fantasia is well played on the keyboard, though a lack of key binding does limit the game’s overall package. There is also no built-in support for a fighting stick as this port leaves you with only the default settings. While key binding is crucial in a competitive fighting scene, the casual nature and simplicity of Battle Fantasia is a nice primer to fighting etiquette.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Brimming with a colorful painted anime-style aesthetic, the graphic art and cut scenes felt inspired by our eastern neighbors. The lighthearted nature of the characters as well as the in-game environments brings back many nostalgic memories of playing games such as Elsword. As a matter of fact, the graphics can best be described in that similar art style.

While the character models felt rough around the edges and sometimes jarring from the nicely painted cut scene animations, it was great for its time. The soundtrack also follows a similar suit in providing that lighthearted and warm cartoony music that melds well with the general representation of the game’s intent.

GAMEPLAY (3.25/5)

Battle Fantasia feels and plays like a casual fighter for those that don’t play a ton of fighting games. The minimalistic features and lack of intricacies in combos and fighting norms makes for an uninspired fighting game by today’s standards.

Basic attack commands are covered, as well as a super gauge that gives you more power as represented by an aura that pulsates out from your character. However, the fighting mechanics can fall prey to just abusing certain small combinations or cheap tactics to make it through the round. While a largely complex set of rules aren’t needed to make a game stand out, it feels like the game could have had offered more in the creativity department.

The game comes with a few modes for players to embrace and explore.  Arcade mode is the most reminiscent of the old Battle Fantasia from in its arcade days and offers the classic setup of clearing multiple stages. Story mode is the game’s attempt at offering that JRPG adventure feel with lengthy cut scenes to establish a bit of lore and back story to our 12 playable characters.

As with any fighting game story, however, don’t come to expect anything revolutionary, but it is a nice lighthearted complement to the game. Additional modes such as survival, time attack and network multiplayer are also available if you want to invest a bit more into the game.

As far as achievements and completion goes for the Steam edition of Battle Fantasia, unlockable achievements are available, and there is also a gallery that provides you with some cool art from the developers during the game’s creation.

Different character colors can also be obtained as indicated by the achievement list to add a bit of customization to your statically defined characters. If you enjoy some competitive play, online ranking can also be viewed on a weekly, monthly and overall format if you wish to show off your fighting skills or just test your highest run.

OVERALL (3.25/5)

Battle Fantasia: Revised Edition is a casual fighter first and foremost and will not likely be seen on the grand fighting stages. However, if you ever pondered what fighting games were like or what the hype was all about when it comes to things such as the Capcom Pro Tour or EVO, it is a nice primer into a tight knit fighting community.

Nintendo 3DS Review: Samurai Warriors: Chronicles 3

I AM smiling.

I AM smiling.

By: Matthew Striplen

Of all the times and places to have been born, I’m glad I missed 16th century Japan. The Sengoku, or Warring States period, soaked the land in blood from endless battles. Samurai Warriors: Chronicles 3 places you alongside famous warlords from the era, including Nobunaga Oda. Cut your foes to pieces and witness the daimyo struggle for ultimate power.

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

Most of Chronicles’ controls bear a striking similarity to other games in the Warriors series. Attacks and other moves all feel tight and responsive. Each character handles differently, so it takes time to learn how each one responds to commands. My only pet peeves are with horseback riding and the camera.

When riding horses, the camera often has trouble shifting fast enough to keep up with sharp turns, which makes seeing where you’re going or who you’re attacking difficult. If you use the L button to swing the camera behind you, this forces the horse to rear up and stop before you can continue — Chronicles 3 does support the new 3DS’ additional analog stick, which may fix the noted camera issues.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

Most of Chronicles 3 looks similar to its predecessors. Since the game uses distinct graphical styles for combat and cut scenes, let’s cover the combat first.

Environments suffer from blandness and low-quality textures. The biggest issue, however, lies with enemy spawning. Hack n’ slash games famously require huge amounts of enemies onscreen at all times. Unfortunately, the 3DS doesn’t have the horsepower to consistently make that happen, which can result in frame rate drops.

Most commonly, enemies will simply pop into existence right next to you. Powerful enemies behave the same way, which means they can suddenly appear next to you, or disappear conveniently when you unleash a super move.

Cut scenes take a different path, instead opting for realism over expansiveness. Each character sports wild, eccentric costumes and hairstyles, all of which look spectacularly over the top. The only issue comes in how they’re animated.

Despite only supporting Japanese voices, the lip flaps are barely visible and often lose synchronization. Each character only has a few gestures, which means each one gets recycled often, even across different characters. Unfortunately, the animation comes across as stilted, especially compared the fiery performances of the actors. When paired with the fact that the character models can’t change their expression, it makes for a strange series of interactions.

GAMEPLAY (3.75/5)

This may be the only time I get to say this: Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 might be the first instance I’ve seen of an edutainment game disguised as a hack n’ slash. As the latest entry in the long running Warriors franchise the action sequences are expected, but be prepared to learn a ton about Sengoku Japan.

The game begins with a hefty character creation section, in which the player designs an original character to observe the historical events and participate in battles. Gamers can tweak just about any physical attribute imaginable, plus other qualities like personality or gender (which results in wielding different weapons). After a while, they can be further tweaked to your heart’s content.

Each battle recreates an actual battle in Japanese history and accurately depicts the results, as well as significant events. The rest of the history unfolds as part of the extensive cut scenes. Anywhere from two to six distinct scenes take place before actual gameplay, which can last up to half an hour. Additionally, once you click on the battle icon, players are shown even more cut scenes.

History buffs should enjoy the lengthy reenactments, but people unfamiliar with the time period may feel lost in a sea of characters and locations. Plus, scenes cannot be skipped until they’ve been watched once, so get comfortable.

After getting through the cut scenes, the gameplay stands in line with other Warriors games. Hacking and slashing is the name of the game, but there’s more depth than that. Various objectives pop up throughout the battle, requiring the player to defeat specific officers, escort allies or perform actions within a time limit. Although there are plenty of objectives to keep the player busy, the game still ends up getting repetitive over its 40-hour run time.

One of the game’s best parts is the ease with which players can switch characters. Tons of officers take part in each battle, many of which are also playable. No more than four can be swapped at any time, but depending on the scenario, other officers may replace existing ones. The most useful aspect of this is it enables players to get closer to their target much faster. This becomes especially important when the objective has a time limit.

Chronicles 3 also has a variety of other functions, most notably the Challenge Mode. This places a team of characters in a typical battlefield, but here the objective is to earn as many points as possible. Another change is that time is limited, meaning one character has to reach a designated area before time expires. Failure to do so ends the battle. Points can then be exchanged for various useful items.

The Encyclopedia ended up being a surprisingly useful function. Since so many officers come and go through the course of the game, keeping them all straight is difficult. This provides a brief overview of all major and minor officers, including information on the battlefields themselves.

Online capabilities ended up being a disappointment, however, since they only deal with DLC, Spotpass and Streetpass. Although many other installments in the Warriors series offer multiplayer, Chronicles 3 does not.

After battling for a while, the Castle Town becomes unlocked. This features an item shop, a blacksmith and a tea house, all of which become very important. New weapons can be purchased with gold at the shop, as opposed to points in the Challenge Mode, and weapons can be modified at the blacksmith.

The tea house allows players to increase their favor with other officers, which can activate some hidden cut scenes. All facilities can also be upgraded to decrease the price or increase the capabilities of each business.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

Samurai Warriors: Chronicles 3 brings a traditional hack n’ slash experience to the 3DS. Ultimately, there’s not much to separate this from other recent entries in the series, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll definitely enjoy it, more so if you’re a history buff. Although the graphics may underwhelm and the controls can feel wonky, Samurai Warriors: Chronicles 3 is the same frantic Warriors action game we know and love.

XB1 Review: No Time To Explain

Soon to be a motion picture on SyFy starring Gabrielle Carteris.

Soon to be a motion picture on SyFy starring Gabrielle Carteris.

By: Quinn Potter

Like many indie games, No Time to Explain has gone through a long incubation and development process. Recently, tinyBuild wrote about the initial Kickstarter funding, the support (and withdrawal of support) from a game publisher, the original release on STEAM, and, now, four years later, the release of a new and improved version of the game. This game has fought hard to come into existence, so let’s take a fresh look at this humorous platformer.

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

There are basically three simple controls, which makes them easy to master. Unfortunately, the layout is odd: jump with LT, shoot with the right stick. Controls cannot be re-mapped, which is a disappointment.

As fun as it is to have an immediately playable game, the simplicity of the controls has its drawbacks. The controls are a bit chunky. It’s hard to a handle the fine details of steering your laser gun/jetpack, for example. When you get to boss fights, the imprecision of the controls may lead to frustration.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.25/5)

Animated graphics bring the game to life. The best feature would be the well-drawn characters that bounce around with big, humorous heads. Explosions of giant crabs, sharks and blocks look good. Background scenery with spaceships and oceans are sweet, too.

On the downside, there’s a lack of detail in some of the smaller items likes grass, trees and pipes. A few whimsical elements on these small details would have extended the insider humor and enjoyment of the graphics.

Sound is definitely a highlight. The beat-boppy keyboard-heavy soundtrack has a nice vibe. It overlays retro video game soundtrack cues with change-ups in pace and rhythm. It’s a good complement to the humor found in the rest of the game. The vocal talent is spot-on and gives the witty one-liners a nice punch. Sound effects for falling, shooting and killing are all well done and fit the game, too.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

So, the premise of the game is that you are dancing, the wall of your house is broken down, and your future self is taken by a giant crab. There’s no tutorial, but you’ll learn the basic controls as you chase this crab. Once you catch the crab, you’ll have an enjoyable boss fight.

After destroying the robot crab and its spaceship, your future self will tell you to “save the future” and die, which is just the start of a long, time-travelling adventure.

No Time To Explain is an action-packed side scroller. You’ll use a jetpack-like laser gun, a futuristic shotgun or a slingshot to propel your character in any given direction. (The tools you have available will vary by level of play, as does the background.) Of course, there will be obstacles, such as spikes, jumps and flaming torches that impede your progress.

What makes it so darn funny? Is it the cartoonish characters, the humorous commentary, or watching yourself being propelled by an intriguing arsenal of futuristic weapons? Or maybe it’s the jazzy keyboard music and awesome sound effects that make you want to propel yourself over a gap to an underwhelming “thump” time and time again?

“How long have I been bleeding for?! This doesn’t make any sense!”

Hmm… those words might sum up the whole game. It’s basically impossible to break down the individual parts that make you laugh because it’s the package, as a whole, that made me repeatedly jetpack through underwater caves and slam myself again a wall of spikes. The bleeding shark popping up on the side yelling “Tell my family it was a quick death” added to the fun.

OVERALL (4/5)

Underwater caves, burning wood, spinning orbs with time portals, spaceships, giant crabs, snarky sharks – let’s face it, there just aren’t enough ways to capture the action-packed, time-traveling hilarity in No Time to Explain. Bugs and glitches from the earlier version seem to have been worked out. Now it’s a challenging sidescroller that brings joy to those who play. ‘Nuff said – time to get back to my jetpack.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers