PSN/XBLA Review: The Walking Dead — A New Frontier: Ties That Bind Part II

Part II opens with the aftermath of the first episode’s violence.

Part II opens with the aftermath of the first episode’s violence.

By: Mike Chen

Please note that since each episode of The Walking Dead — A New Frontier features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the final four episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to our review of Ties That Bind Part I.

The first episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier ended in a combination of tragedy and cliffhanger, and Ties That Bind Part II opens up with the aftermath of your choice. Like everything in any The Walking Dead media, things go wrong, and they go wrong spectacularly, leaving your group in peril.

At the heart of this is the growing bond between Javi and Clementine, along with the fragile community of Prescott and the emerging threat of the antagonist group, who appear to be as in control of the region as the Saviors from the TV show/comic book.

There’s also a significant appearance by a TV/comic fan favorite, voiced by everyone’s favorite Mass Effect BFF Brandon Keener (Garrus). While this adds some high-five moments, it doesn’t deviate Telltale’s new series from falling into the repeated franchise tropes of “People are really, really, really bad” and “Angry dudes with guns can never be reasonable.”

Perhaps that’s the core message of any post-apocalyptic media, but it would be nice to get a refreshing take that’s somewhere between happy and insanely violent.

Ties That Bind Part II ends on two fairly major twists, though, and it at least sets the stage for the third episode to challenge those tropes. We’ll see what happens.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

Ties That Bind Part II continues the series’ tradition of things going from bad to worse quickly. This works in the moment but feels tiring after the fact, making for a mixed experience. A cliffhanger ending sets the stage for the critical third episode.

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Nintendo 3DS Review: Corpse Party

I can NOT un-see that.

I can NOT un-see that.

By: Matthew Striplen

Have you ever thought about what goes bump in the night? Maybe it’s just the house settling, or at worst, an animal skittering across the roof. Now that I’ve been playing Corpse Party, the slightest creak in the house has me convinced that a headless ghost is trying to carve out my eyeballs. *shiver*

CONTROLS (4.75/5)

Corpse‘s controls are super simple and intuitive. The map functions like a grid, with each d-pad input equal to moving one tile. Scrolling through text is easy as well.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.75/5)

The 3DS version of Corpse is essentially a re-master of the PSP edition. While it looks better than previous versions, most notably the sprites, the game’s visuals still aren’t anything to write home about. Certain cut scenes do display highly detailed anime style drawings, though most aren’t what I’d call “beautiful” due to the subject matter. Still, production quality is undoubtedly high.

In contrast to the mediocre graphical performance, audio is fantastic. The musical score consistently lends to the atmosphere of underlying dread. I often found myself roaming the halls with a sense of anxiety and didn’t understand why until I turned off the music. Plus, all lines of dialogue are voiced, albeit only in Japanese.

Even if you don’t speak Japanese, the performances’ fire is sure to come across loud and clear. Best of all are the sound effects, especially during death scenes. Although very little violence, as opposed to gore, is depicted visually, the audio coupled with the written descriptions was more than enough to make my skin crawl.

GAMEPLAY (4.75/5)

Corpse Party‘s history goes back to 1996 when a handful of developers decided to create a horror game for the PC-9801. Since then, their creation has been expanded and remade for many different platforms, the latest of which being 3DS. Even if you’re already familiar with the game, the 3DS edition is absolutely the best way to experience Corpse Party.

The game opens with a high school class throwing a goodbye party for a classmate. Everything seems fine until someone suggests they perform a friendship ritual. Suddenly, an earthquake decimates the school and the class loses consciousness.

One by one, they wake up to discover that they’ve been mysteriously transported to the Heavenly Host Elementary School, which was shut down due to the mass kidnapping, torture and eventual murder of students. It doesn’t take long for the high schoolers to realize that the tortured souls of the dead still roam the halls, preying on whatever crosses their path.

Corpses of prior victims litter the campus, some of which are accompanied by cryptic or disturbing messages. With everyone separated from each other and the violent ghosts on the prowl, the chances of survival look slim. Can you find the courage to escape the Corpse Party?

Each chapter focuses on different protagonists, meaning gamers will play as several different characters over the course of the game. Each personality is well developed, as are the relationships between characters. The writing lends an air of realism to an otherwise unrealistic game. However, the mood is broken a few times with bizarre lines, most notably the infamous “butter up my pooper” conversation.

Non-sequiturs aside, the powerful writing carries Corpse Party more than any other element. The developers did a great job in forging a connection between the player and the characters, which makes their graphic murders that much more disturbing.

Even if you’re a horror game veteran, there are bound to be a few moments that will shock you. Corpse Party relies less on gore and jump scares, and more on grisly noises and truly horrific descriptions. This level of depravity is what sets this game above many others in the genre, but it may also prove too much to handle.

Players find a series of notes scattered through the school titled “Victim’s Memoirs.” In the game, warnings appear not to read the memoirs to their conclusion, lest the character lose their mind. I offer a similar warning to those playing this game. You won’t soon forget what you see here.

Completing a chapter requires players to follow a strict sequence of events. Straying from the path always results in a “Wrong End.” Only the correct sequence of event triggers a True End. For those who can’t get enough of the terrifying gameplay, there’s a bonus for finding all the endings, including the wrong ones. This significantly increases the replay value.

OVERALL (4.75/5)

Corpse Party is an extremely disturbing horror mystery game featuring students tormented by sadistic spirits. The sound design and writing make the game a truly unforgettable and unique experience. If you don’t like horror, this isn’t the game for you, but should you have the stomach for it, Corpse Party delivers a creative master class on terror.

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PS4/XB1 Review: Ginger: Beyond the Crystal

Yeah, it's pretty cute, but it stutters worse than my drunk uncle.

Yeah, it’s pretty cute, but it stutters worse than my drunk uncle.

By: Jeff Cater

Ginger: Beyond the Crystal is a platforming adventure game from BadLands and Drakhar Studios where you assume the role of a cute, blue hero that the game draws its name from.

As Ginger, you must repair your homeland as it was destroyed by a nearly cataclysmic event involving the crystals that keep the land healthy. Now, being a harsh red color, the remaining crystals have mustered their energy to summon their goddess to give a message to Ginger and get her adventure started!

In order to save your village, and essentially the universe, you will collect crystal fragments scattered about the land. These are generally collected by completing platforming puzzles and dispatching enemies. After completing a stage you’ll return to the hub world to check on your fellow villages that will reward you with quests and other cool things as long as you keep them happy!

In order to lift a villager’s spirits, you must rebuild their homes (often from the ground up) and rebuild and upgrade the other facilities of the town. Unfortunately, the system has little depth, and upgrading a building only seems to provide a citizen with more happiness rather than any additional cool bonuses.

Rescuing villagers that are lost while out on your adventure is where the real reward lies, however, as you’ll earn new outfits that allow you to access previously barred areas or perform special actions. I personally liked this mechanic a lot and wished that it was expanded upon a bit more rather than being mostly relegated to back-tracking moments in the main adventure.

When it comes to strict platforming, Ginger works quite well, and when the frame-rate is cooperating, the controls feel nice and responsive. Stage design and puzzles are wonderful fun to contend with, but they’re sadly dragged down by the combat.

Ginger’s basic attack might as well be her just rubbing her nose on an opponent. While you can perform a dash attack that’s much more effective, dashing everywhere during a melee gets pretty stale. While the control scheme is easy enough to figure out it often feels like there’s a bit of unintended latency between inputs. This wouldn’t be too terrible to work around while playing, but the frame-rate also bogs down all… of… the… time…

This, of course, can lead to enemies getting extra hits placed on you or causing you to miss a crucial jump. The graphics aren’t bad, but they certainly aren’t stupendous enough to overshadow how poorly the game can run.

OVERALL (2.75/5)

Ginger: Beyond the Crystal has a lot of heart, but it’s an unfortunate case of poor optimization. I feel as though this game could’ve been a lot better had the graphics engine been tweaked before release. In its current form Ginger is an enjoyable game in a genre that’s received little attention over the last few years, but its technical issues significantly hamper the experience.

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PSN/XBLA Review: The Walking Dead — A New Frontier: Ties That Bind Part I

An older Clem leads the charge in A New Frontier.

An older Clem leads the charge in A New Frontier.

By: Mike Chen

At the end of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead, Clementine and her small band of survivors (potentially very small, depending on how you played it) were stuck in cold wintry weather far north of Atlanta where they’d started out. With A New Frontier, you won’t get any questions answered immediately, but even with a new protagonist, Clementine’s journey from then to now unfolds.

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

A New Frontier doesn’t appear to use any new version of the Telltale engine, and it doesn’t have any significant new gameplay sections that warrant new controls. It’s still mostly point-and-click interaction when it’s not being a conversation simulator.

There are a handful of action sequences, most of which feature Telltale’s less-than-stellar reticule system that feels oversensitive yet with a weird snap/lock to it. The controls won’t trip you up, but it’s a bit disappointing nothing has advanced.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Each Telltale game tends to look like a Telltale game, but with its own slant. A New Frontier continues with the art style established in the first season with Lee at the helm. From a voice acting perspective, there is a focus on a new group of characters, and it’s a solid showing, particularly from Javi (though to be fair  he’s given the most to work with).

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

By now, everyone knows what to expect with Telltale gameplay, and the success or failure of a title comes down to the actual writing, plot and characters. The Walking Dead had a significant legacy to follow with its groundbreaking debut season and successful follow-up which switched the POV to Clementine.

So what’s the trick for A New Frontier? First off, Clementine isn’t the primary character, though she’s a very important secondary character. This was probably a creative choice to show an objective perspective of how Clementine has changed in the three-year time jump since the end of Season 2.

Our new protagonist Javier (Javi as he’s called) is a likable but somewhat generic “good guy with a fatal flaw.” The narrative is split between Javi’s current journey, including an origin story, and Clem’s flashback to how she survived following Season 2’s winter.

One of the strengths of New Frontier is its time jump, as it allows some manner of order to return to the world (there’s a trading settlement with walls). On the other hand, there are standard franchise tropes of “everyone is bad” and “surprise graphic violence when things seem calm.” These moments fit the world, but they feel like unavoidable story beats now rather than anything new or innovative.

That’s the problem with New Frontier. It hits the same issues seen in both the comic book and TV show — namely, how much worse can it get? While it’s fascinating to see an older and hardened Clem (who comes off almost like a tween version of Carol from the AMC show), there feels like there’s little narrative leeway because of the unending apocalypse.

Season 1 was so groundbreaking because of the Lee and Clementine bond, and Season 2 worked because of the experience of playing Clem in a harsh world. Now there’s nowhere to go but trudge forward, and there doesn’t seem to be a bigger picture established, at least not in its debut episode.

OVERALL (4/5)

Clem’s return in Ties That Bind Part I is fascinating yet feels a bit like a retread. Given the post-apocalyptic landscape, the success of A New Frontier really depends on how the bigger picture plays out.

For now, the strength of Clem’s arc is enough for this to be a must-play experience for previous fans, but in order to sustain there has to be more than just tribal squabbles in a zombie landscape.

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PC Review: Slayaway Camp

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

By: Brian Gunn

Slayaway Camp is the first title from Blue Wizard Digital, a studio created by PopCap co-founder Jason Kapalka. Leaving behind one of the biggest names in puzzles to make another puzzle game was a risk. Was it worth it in the end?

CONTROLS (4/5)

Slayaway Camp is a slider puzzle game, and so pretty much only has one action. Click the direction where you want your character to go and they’ll go all the way they can in that direction, whether it’s toward your latest victim or a trap.

Options to easily rewind and restart are thankfully included as some of the later puzzles can get pretty complicated where a single misstep ruins things. I did have a few moments where I’d mis-click and send my avatar in the wrong direction, but it happened rarely enough that it wasn’t a huge issue.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

One way to make your puzzle game stand out from the crowd is a unique visual identity, and Slayaway Camp nails that aspect. The horror movie trappings add a lot of charm, from the varied killers to the gruesome executions.

It’s all presented in a relatively cute way though, so it never becomes too gory or sadistic. Everything’s wrapped up in a campy little bow, and even aspects of the menu or loading screens show a clear love of movies.

Typical bloodcurdling screams and ominous ’80s music are draped liberally over the game. There’s the aping of the famous Friday the 13th murder music every time you’re killing someone and every execution is satisfying. It never feels like it offers much new and favors homage a little heavily, but it’s still pretty impeccably designed.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

Slayaway Camp presents its levels in themed packs around a schlocky horror movie franchise. So for the first 10 or so you’re in the first movie, while in the fourth you might be in the poorly regarded sequel that had nothing to do with the rest of the series and was ignored when audiences rejected it.

The clearest inspiration for all this is the Friday the 13th and its hulking star Jason, though many other horror mainstays make appearances or have themed areas.

Each level has a simple goal of killing all the hapless teenagers and then escaping. This starts off relatively simply but quickly ramps up in complexity. Police officers start popping up, and if you end up in their field of vision, it’s game over.

There are many hazards you can scare campers into, though you can launch yourself into them as well. Finally, the exit itself can be hard to reach; frequently requiring specific patterns to arrive at the end. One misstep and you could clear the level of victims but fail because you don’t have a victim to brace against that could send you into the exit.

This ends up becoming pretty frustrating. It creates a scenario where the greatest challenge is not the traps and officers, but rather planning things out to reach an arbitrary exit. You can freely rewind at least, but it’s still annoying to work out a 12-step plan to find out Step 3 screwed you up,

While each section of the game is a different movie, you can earn coins to unlock new villains to play as, or new executions to unlock. Every completed movie also has “deleted scenes” levels that are often among the most challenging puzzles.

There’s clearly a lot of love and care put into various aspects of the game, like for instance the movies having a back cover where you can read a detailed synopsis. It makes for a lot of goodies and optional stuff to find and unlock.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

Slayaway Camp is an amusing puzzle game with some frustrating design aspects. However, the visual trappings are enough to make it worth a look, especially for fans of horror movies.

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