By: Jeff Cater
Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is a standalone continuation of Dynasty Warriors 8. Keeping up with the tactics that Empires fans have grown accustomed to, there are also a few new pieces of flair thrown in. Welcome back to China!
Well, it certainly is a Dynasty Warriors game! Tecmo Koei are big fans of not patching up what doesn’t need fixing, and the shift between playing any previous Warriors title and playing Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is a breeze.
As always, the controls are responsive, familiar and comfortable. On the battlefield, you navigate your selected warrior across the map with the left stick and leave camera orientation to the right. Face buttons still handle your basic and Musou attacks; the latter of which generally being a screen-clearing barrage of hilariously over-the-top carnage. Switch weapons and block (you can BLOCK in these games?!) with the bumpers, though simply giving an unrelenting fury of attacks is generally good enough to persevere through any situation.
Historically, Dynasty Warriors has never really pushed any given console to its technical limitations, and it’s clear they-re not going to start here. While the character models and animations are very well done and fun to look at, the environments are feeling tired and samey — as they have for the last 18 years of Warriors games.
The improvements made in the last game are still intact; better draw distance and more soldier rendering power, but no other graphical leaps can really be observed here. As mentioned above, the animations are really fun to trigger and watch, as Musou moves generally send enemies flying comically in every direction!
Also keeping with franchise history is the great voice acting (in Japanese, at least) and pumping soundtrack. Different songs throughout the countless Warriors games can be unlocked and played during battle, and it serves to enhance the already highly tailored experience with DW8: Empires.
Whereas a typical Dynasty Warriors title has you running amok on the battlefield, the Empires installments have always brought much more depth to the chaos. In Empires, you may choose a pre-existing or custom hero to fight in your conquest. Whether you want to make a kingdom for yourself or aid a favored leader of yours is completely up to you, so you may set up betrayals and bribes to your heart’s content!
After picking your character and deciding your approach, you will perform various actions on the tactical map. This is broken into various territories depending on which campaign you’ve chosen, of which there are four plus a scenario that is somewhat if a free-for-all in China.
You will play the political scene as crass or professional as you desire, but one definite objective is to ensure your population’s loyalty, be it through fear and force or benevolent kindness. Display appropriate power and officers from opposing factions will often defect to your cause.
Edit mode is a great addition as well, as it lets you customize your entire army from uniform to banner, so if you would like to have an entire army of Ronin-looking badasses or tighty-whitey clad nerds, you may.
When it really boils down to it, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is still about carving a path through groups of people by hitting them with swords, axes, and towels (yep) and it does it well. Adding the layer of politics is ideal for any fan of the series that is looking for more than just whooping a whole lotta ass.
Even though the formula hasn’t changed much, it’s good to see that the series remains as fun as ever and that the added depth of Edit mode, and the political system in general, is still full of options. As it stands right now, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is the most highly customizable experience in the series, and any fan will find much to keep them busy.
By: Matthew Striplen
Who doesn’t love some sweet, sweet DLC? No one, that’s who! Zen Studios‘ latest DLC for Zen Pinball 2, entitled the Iron & Steel Pack, comprises of two awesome tables: CastleStorm and Wild West Rampage. They’re pretty different, so let’s start off with CastleStorm.
Having previously reviewed CastleStorm Complete in 2014, I can safely say that this table lives up to all your expectations of what a CastleStorm table should be. The board is stuffed full of things to smash, topple and spin, but the real charm comes in the mini-games. Most Zen Pinball 2 tables have oodles of mini-games, and CastleStorm is no exception. Expect to battle hordes of Vikings, all with their original voices from the main game.
Two games in particular embody what I always imagined pinball games of the future would be like. These games have targets, in this case Vikings, pop up out of the board to be hit by the ball. They even have hit animations and noises! Even though it’s a relatively small touch, it works really well.
For as good as the CastleStorm table is, Wild West Rampage might be even better. First off, the board is significantly larger and even more densely backed than its companion. Again, the mini-games play a major role in the table’s charm. The most impressive part of these mini-games is how well they fit with the western theme, my personal favorites being knocking a stick of dynamite out of the air, or hunting down a fugitive.
Even basic parts of the table catch the eye, the bumpers in particular. These bumpers sport revolver decorations, which doesn’t seem too crazy, until the ball strikes them. Then they fire and spin around, like a cowboy holstering his pistols. Just awesome.
Iron & Steel adds two new, well-polished tables to an already strong library. Both bring tons of fun and excitement, regardless of whether you’re a fan of the parent series or not. This DLC is easily worth the price of admission. Play ball!
While we typically offer codes in our weekly giveaways, we’ve got something special this week. Courtesy of the folks at NIS America, we’ve got our hands on a copy of htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary Limited Edition! How limited is this edition, you may ask? It’s completely sold out, everywhere, so this is your only chance this side of eBay to get one!
Unfortunately, because this is a physical copy, only residents of the United States and Canada are eligible. Thanks for understanding.
HOW TO ENTER
With the Vita recently having its third birthday, we want to know what title(s) have stood out to you. So, to enter, simply tell us your favorite Vita game(s) since the system’s launch in the comments section below. 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.
Tearaway, Mutant Blobs Attack & Persona 4 Golden
THE FINE PRINT
Winners will be selected on Wednesday, March 11th. All entries must be submitted by 4 PM EDT/1 PM PDT on Wednesday. Please note that although anyone can enter you must either be following me on Twitter or submit a working email address to win.
By: Ted Chow
Mix a zombie outbreak with a dash of parody and a first-person perspective and you got yourself Zombeer. While the idea of zombies has been done to death in far too many entertainment mediums, Zombeer tries to offer some laughs with recognizable tropes and alcoholic consumption, but the game ends up tasting a bit flat. With an M rating under the ESRB and various titillating fan-serviceable scenes, the game is geared toward those that have a predilection for mindless zombie killing and occasional sexual implications.
If you’re accustomed to playing various first-person games you’ll likely find the controls to be a mirror mimic to the established norm. While the game doesn’t have any standout control schematics, it is worth noting that movement and combat can feel a bit flat and one-dimensional. Weapons lack variety and oomph, and general movement is rather uninspired and generic.
You will also feel a bit weightless as you kite around zombies, and the game’s hit-box and radius can be deceivingly small as you essentially have to get into the enemy’s face to smack them with your purple dildo.
Zombeer is rather light hearted when it came to its color palette and overall stylized look. That stylization does help maintain the mood and general comedic antics that the game throws your way. The environment itself is rather dreary, as the majority of your play experience is within tight school corridors with occasional large rooms to break up the modular monotony.
The soundtrack is a mix of various themes from rock music to what I would swear is something from the Spice Girls. There are also some sound issues that can go off at random times where things become amplified beyond your sound settings.
You take on the role of K, a college failure and deadbeat that likes to drink Zombeer to stay human and get wasted. Excluding any logical sense as to why the beer prevents you from turning, or the fact that it is so prevalent within the game yet NPCs don’t drink it to stay human, you will monitor your zombification by drinking the green goo.
Drink too much and you will pass out, but if you don’t drink when critical, you’ll turn into a zombie and die. The story is also rather simplistic in that you are out to save your girlfriend from the evil school chancellor and turn everyone back to normal.
Zombeer is a first-person, survival horror comedy shooter — say THAT 10 times fast. And as such, you will kill hordes of teenage zombies with your nail gun and trusty purple dildo. If you’re getting the Saint’s Row vibe with that purple dildo, you’re not alone.
Surprisingly, you’ll be using that dildo for much of the game as weapons are limited in variety and usefulness at times. Guns can help when you want to kite multiple zombies chasing you around, but the middling accuracy and amount of bullets needed to kill the undead can render them rather obsolete.
The animations and particle effects for these guns are also bland and lack the oomph of satisfaction when you kill zombies with them. In all honesty, I’d rather stick with the purple dildo and the obstructive headshot text that pops up.
Much of the gameplay will have you running around the school as K, trying to accomplish small goals in order to open up new areas. There is a lot of back tracking that takes place since there aren’t any good mini-maps to follow or other hand-holding devices to help you move onto your next destination.
Zombie varieties are systematically introduced as you progress, but the same tactics are applied in order to dispose of them. Eventually, the game will start to become stale as combat and exploration continues the same rhythm without enough diversions.
Extending the game’s play life can be hard without any multiplayer or co-op with friends. Achievements and in-game collectables are the only form of replayability, aside from the standard increase in difficulty. Even then the game doesn’t throw enough new mechanics or goals into the mix to warrant additional playthroughs.
Aside from referencing popular franchises such as the Simpsons or other relatable media, Zombeer is your generic mind numbing, zombie-killing affair. The lack of interesting game mechanics and overall brevity of the experience leaves Zombeer to fall by the wayside. While I did get some chuckles here and there from some relatable parodies, the overall core of the game was rather lacking and uninspired.
Originally released last February on the Nintendo 3DS, AeternoBlade from Corecell Technology has made the trek to the PlayStation Vita. It mixes hack n’ slash action with aspects of platforming and puzzle solving sprinkled in; now it’s a matter of how successfully it does it. Let’s find out.
Early on the controls seem both extremely limited and frustrating. Those issues diminish to some extent as you progress when additional moves are unlocked. Most notable among these is an evasive dash feature that allows you to interrupt an otherwise unbreakable chain of attacks. Even with that attacking never feels smooth, however, as it’s still easy to get spun around or be fractionally short of your target, causing a half-dozen sword strikes to miss their mark as you look bewildered.
Probably the game’s most interesting hook is the ability to control time on a limited basis. Initially you can only reverse time when killed — like a poor man’s Prince of Persia – but eventually a short-term rewind and pseudo teleportation functions are added. These are primarily used to solve the game’s puzzles, though rewinding can also be beneficial to target larger foes’ weak points. Time manipulation never feels particularly crisp, unfortunately, and it all adds up to a lackluster experience.
A port of a 3DS game, AeternoBlade absolutely looks the part (not a compliment). Most of the backgrounds are bland and uninteresting, and outside of some cleverly designed bosses the lineup of enemies is underwhelming. The cut scenes are decent enough, but there’s just a sense of been there, seen that at nearly every turn; it’s reminiscent of countless PS2 action RPGs.
There isn’t much going on with the audio. No voice acting, serviceable sound effects and music so generic I had to turn the game back on while I wrote this just to remember a single note. At least there’s nothing actively troublesome.
As Freyja, a survivor from a village that was all but wiped out, you have taken it upon yourself to avenge your tribe’s massacre by hunting down the one responsible, a demon known as Beladim. To do this you will need the guidance of the mysterious Vernia and the time-altering properties of the “AeternoBlade,” which has come to be in your possession.
Narratively it doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table, and when it steps outside the basic revenge angle to introduce other characters or mysticism it falls pretty flat. Dialogue is delivered via text and carries all the emotional weight of a Michael Bay production. Honestly, though, it’s tangential to the action, and you don’t need to invest in it to proceed.
Combat is of the hack n’ slash variety, consisting of simple high/medium/low strikes. Enemies tend to stand there and sponge up damage, unless, of course, you’ve slightly miscalculated the distance between you and them. In that case expect to eat a hit or two before readjusting your range to target. As noted, combos cannot be stopped except via a dash you learn fairly early on, but even that has to recharge itself.
If you’re thinking the better move is to forego the button-mash combo and go a strike at a time, be prepared to spend a ton of time chipping away at your enemies’ health. Given the frequency of orb drops (to replenish health/magic) and checkpoints (which refill both meters) it makes more sense to miss a combo here and there than play it safe. Most of your deaths will likely come during boss fights or getting impaled after missing a jump.
AeternoBlade does have some decent puzzles built around manipulating time. Some are as simple as hitting a switch to start a platform above you, and then rewinding time so you can jump on it before it starts to ascend. Others are decidedly more complex, though more so in how many moves you have to plan ahead than testing your wits. Still, that and the platforming are generally more fun than the combat.
There are RPG and Metroidvania elements at work as well, meaning the game allows you to return to completed stages to reach previously inaccessible areas after acquiring new skills like double jumping or teleportation. You can also head back to harvest yellow orbs that function as in-game currency, allowing you to upgrade your health or magic, learn new moves, combos and more. Relics can be found and equipped as well, boosting your baseline stats.
When it’s clicking, AeternoBlade can be a fairly enjoyable game with large areas to explore and a decent mix of gameplay elements. Unfortunately, the shaky controls and lackluster presentation drag it down a few notches.
By: Jeff Cater
Developer Grip Games has added a few gears to the mix of their original game and rechristened it Unmechanical: Extended Edition. You assume the role of a rotund flying robot that has been separated from his family while on a nice float-by of a valley. You’ve been sucked deep, deep underground, and it’s up to you and physics to reunite your robot with its family.
In truth, Unmechanical is almost certainly a way to describe the game’s control scheme. The entire game can be played with one side of the controller, or both. To activate your ever-important gravity lift, you can press either X or the Right Trigger. You may also fly with the left or right stick, so finding a comfortable way to play is made incredibly easy. Pressing Triangle at any given point will put a thought bubble above your head providing a hint on how to complete the current puzzle.
The labyrinthine tunnels are often coated in dark muted colors, but Unmechanical does make good use of Unreal tech. Objects in both the foreground and background are very well animated and do a wonderful job immersing you in the world. Conversely, your little robot doesn’t exactly feature a wealth of animation — he’s pretty much a ball with a propeller on it.
Other facets of the environment are done extremely well; whether it is a goblin-type creature skittering to a sewer hole or a swooping, speedy camera popping down to record your movements before snapping back into position. The lighting effects are striking, and the various levels will bathe your robot and its surroundings in all different colors and conditions.
The framerate is always consistent, so you’re truly in for a visual treat. The textures also have a nice sharpness to them, while retaining the gritty feel of a steampunk universe.
Things are a touch barren on the audio side, but it truthfully serves to the game’s benefit. There’s no spoken dialogue (or printed, for that matter), but the soundtrack ably paints the mood of your robot according to the environment and ramps up appropriately when posed with a risky puzzle.
Unmechanical is a wonderful example at what direction platformer games are heading. During your time in the various caverns and tunnels, you will be faced with puzzles of all sorts. Puzzles consist of anything from weight distribution on sets of scales to water displacement, and in Extended you’ll have to deal with puzzles such as these plus a variety of puzzles reminiscent of vanilla games but still different enough to warrant a play.
Sometimes the solution to a puzzle isn’t readily apparent, because there are times when a puzzle can span over three screens worth of distance. That is where you will be using the Triangle help button the most, but once you’ve used it a few times you will catch on to what the game is trying to make you do: think outside the box.
Also, in the Extended portion of the game, it isn’t you who is taken, but it is your identical (except for color) robot companion. You follow them down and pursue them through the inner workings of the tunnel systems, seemingly a step behind the whole time. Extended really does ramp up the intensity of the game a bit, because it becomes a tale of rescue as opposed to simply escape.
It isn’t the longest ride in the park, but it certainly is palatable to a breadth of gamers. Unmechanical: Extended Edition is a very chill, rewarding experience that will truly give you a rare sense of achievement. Maybe in a sequel we will get some co-op; solving puzzles with a buddy while using gravity lifts? Yes, please.
By: Matthew Striplen
From the studio that brought you Rambo: The Video Game and the Heavy Fire series, Teyon, along with Mechanic Arms, present the dungeon crawling JRPG, Excave. This game is actually the first installment in a trilogy and the first of which to make its way west from Japan.
Players choose either a male or female hero to control, but this can switched at any time in the menu. Each gender has specific weapons and armor it can use, though the gaming cliché of slow, powerful men, and fast, weak women rears its ugly head.
Certain weapons, such as mid-size swords, are unisex, but the majority are gender specific. The male specializes in heavy melee weaponry, such as great swords and axes, while the female may use a bow or lighter blades.
Since each character possesses very different equipment, they each handle uniquely, which may or may not be a good thing. Depending on the weapon, the male sometimes hits so slowly that enemies recover quickly enough to break a combo. Even if the combo is just a tradition triple strike, doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Both characters can make use of various shields.
The female’s bow is borderline unusable. The aiming mechanism, or lack thereof, reduces aiming to guesswork. The light blades fair far better, however, arguably better than any of the male’s swords. As stated, despite the speed of the strikes, each one inflicts a small amount of damage.
Gameplay is split between the dungeon itself and a menu of sorts. This menu allows players to buy/sell equipment, manage said equipment, and repair or appraise broken items. Each hero can only carry 16 items, so the storage boxes become very important.
This can pose a problem in the dungeon, especially in later levels, where survival depends on bringing large amounts of items into the arena. Additionally, players lack the ability to compare new equipment with existing ones in the dungeon, forcing you drop something in the hopes the new item will be better. Needless to say, luck will not always be on your side.
Both characters have two slots for equipping weapon and other items. Since Excave lacks a pause function, items must be switched out in real time. This poses a big problem, despite the two options for changing the setup. As seen above, items are in view at all times on the touchscreen, which is definitely a plus. Players can drag and drop items with the stylus, or use the d-pad and Y button. Both methods require abandoning either the circle pad or buttons, which makes quick changes in the heat of battle near impossible. The style of Excave requires lightning fast changes, as weapons frequently break without warning.
Leaving the arena requires holding the X button for three seconds, which presents even more problems. If the player is overwhelmed by enemies, the only chance of survival is to stand perfectly still, drop your defenses and hope you don’t die before teleporting out. Uh, yeah, good luck with that…
Speaking of standing still, weapons and items can only be used standing still. Luckily, Excave allows the hero to pivot to face different directions, but lateral movement is prohibited.
Graphically, this game isn’t particularly special, and the enemies actively stand out for their poor design. Nearly every enemy in the first level consists of a different colored blob. Later on, disembodied reptilian heads and bats show themselves, but the interest is quickly lost.
Bosses tend to be larger, more powerful versions of the most common enemy. That being said, battling monsters is more fun if you pretend they’re your exes — and there’s the ex-girlfriend joke from the caption! The dungeon itself is devoid of any decorations. Additionally, the heroes themselves look like generic anime warriors.
Despite the rest of Excave‘s faults, the soundtrack is awesome! The main theme in the dungeon drives hard, plus the loop rate is surprisingly good. Many of the tracks seem to be inspired by the great Game Boy Advance series, Golden Sun. Major props to the composer.
Unfortunately, there are too many flaws in Excave to warrant a high rating. The terrible control scheme and lackluster graphic design ruin the entire experience. At its core, this game feels like a watered down version of previous JRPGs, without bringing anything new to the table. Despite an excellent soundtrack, if you’re looking for a good JRPG, you may want to look elsewhere.