PS4 Review: Ether One

Lush and vibrant, just how they remember it...

Lush and vibrant, just how they remember it…

By: Jeff Cater

Ether One is a rather strange title, in both premise and execution. Developed by White Paper Games, Ether One casts the player as an employee of the Ether Institute of Telepathic Medicine. Your current mission entails the restoration of a mind seized by dementia. In order to make the correct reparations of the mind, the player must recreate sights, sounds and rid the brain of impurities using only their own wits.

CONTROLS (3/5)

Exploring the mind of your patient should be easy for most people, using the left stick to navigate and the right to look around. Unfortunately, there was no toggle in the options menu to invert camera movement, so my personal mental battle also bled into the game a bit. After a little adjustment it became comfortable, but it definitely helped that there are no enemies shooting at you or hungry monsters to contend with.

Interacting with the environment is done with “X,” and crouching is done with Circle. You may also raise or lower your lamp with L1 and L2. The speed at which you move and how slow the camera pans can get pretty irritating as it gives the game a much more sluggish representation than I believe it intended. Pressing triangle will transport you back to your headquarters instantly so you can go explore other places or store items that might be of use later.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Ether One doesn’t feature a world chock full of polys and 4k textures, but what makes it a great game to look at is the art direction and how well it represents the subject matter. You’re inside the mind of someone. Think back to a favored memory of yours and you can tell where your mind fills in the blanks, with fog or a haze layered over the top and that is pretty much how Ether One looks.

The world is very still and quiet which creates a foreboding sense of tension not usually present in games of this genre. I’m also very sure that the folks over at White Paper Games utilized every single color under the sun and probably even invented a few new ones.

As mentioned above the world is very still; you’re its only inhabitant at the moment. Sometimes you might find a radio or record player that will play a clip of music, but since the game takes place in a deteriorating mind they are usually very short and sometimes distorted.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

Without really needing to be said, piecing together a fragmented mind is somewhat tricky. As you explore the various locations of memory pockets, you’ll be tempted to pick up, transport back to base, and store just about every item that you come across.

A weathered gamer might pick up a gas mask and stow it, thinking that they might need the item to progress. It is usually something much simpler but also much less apparent that’s needed, however; something that is more practical for the environment rather than the player themselves.

In one early sequence of the game, I literally spent about an hour walking around trying to figure out what object I needed to place correctly, all while being unable to leave the area or even transport back to headquarters (glitch?). Finally, I happened to press “X” while highlighting an object I’d positively seen several of leading up to the puzzle, but this one just happened to be interactive.

The solution to some of the puzzles and progression elements will have you palm-to-forehead more than once — sometimes mind games aren’t as cerebral as you think! Throughout the journey you’ll find yourself flipping switches to a particular pattern, smashing bottles, examining objects in search of information and lighting up areas all in the name of giving the mind a little bit of a jolt to achieve some normalcy.

If you’re ever truly stuck, give your surroundings a bit closer of a look, as notebooks and papers lay in wait with hints and instructions on how to progress.

OVERALL (4/5)

Ether One is surely a head scratcher for the majority of the ride, backed by a fresh concept of story and gameplay elements. You know when something is on the tip of your tongue, but the harder you think about it the further away it gets… and then suddenly just snaps back into place? That’s exactly how playing Ether One feels.

DLC Review: Star Wars Rebels (Star Wars Pinball)

The Rebels pinball table is bright and features many familiar faces.

The Rebels pinball table is bright and features many familiar faces.

By: Mike Chen

Zen Studios has themed pinball tables down to a science. Start with a solid table design, add in multimedia from a licensed property, integrate pinball-related mini-games and animations, and more often than not you’ve got a winner. Star Wars Rebels, the pre-Episode 7 property currently airing on Disney XD, is next up following Zen’s various tables from a galaxy far, far away.

The table itself is themed to look like the show’s cartoon aesthetics, with the main board surrounded by a docking hanger. Characters from the show take their marks near the back of the table, with some swapping in and out (notably, Chopper — the show’s lovably snarky astromech – who zooms in and out based on in-game events) and ships fly by to add to the atmosphere.

Sound samples, from dialogue to your standard Star Wars sound effects, are lifted directly from the show, though some choices are odd and tend to cycle through several times per game.

The table’s layout is chock full of stuff to do, including triggering one of several character-based mini-games for bonus points. These range from firing the ball at the Inquisitor (Season 1’s Sith-influenced villain) to a pinball/Arkanoid mash-up featuring Chopper. The mini-games are all entertaining, though they do have a blink-and-you-miss-it quality because the goals can be quick to pick up the first few times.

In fact, the only real issue with the table is that the combination of the color palette and the dense far end of the board make it difficult sometimes to track what’s going on. Veteran Zen players will probably be fine, but for those jumping in based on the franchise name may face a bit of a learning curve.

OVERALL

One of Zen’s better designs, the Star Wars Rebels pinball table is fast-paced with a strong layout and many hallmarks of both the show and franchise. Other than some minor design quibbles, the Force is strong with this table, and it’s enjoyable for both pinball newbies and veterans alike.

PC Preview: Rogue Galaxy

Come on Chewie, hit the hyperdrive!

Come on Chewie, hit the hyperdrive!

By: Casey Curran

Not being experienced with flight sim games, I was not sure what exactly to expect with Rebel Galaxy. So after investing some time with the game, I was surprised to find most of my familiarity derived from the sailing aspects in the Assassin’s Creed series. The game strangely does not employ the Z axis into its piloting, having you steer only as though you were on a solid surface.

The preview build offered a series of different objectives while piloting. These consisted mostly of fetch quests, but they did also include some combat and mining portions as well. Though in all fairness, the mechanics are complex enough that simply moving from point A to point B is enjoyable.

Traveling is based around getting clear to travel to warp speed, which is vital if you want to cover any real ground. Warp speed can be interrupted by asteroid belts, planets and enemy ambushes, which throw monkey wrenches into simply moving around in a fun way, though I am unsure whether this would get annoying when playing the game over long stretches of time.

While combat does have some enemies who die out pretty easily, most of the ones I encountered took quite the number of hits. This combined with your weapons having distinct strengths and weaknesses means that you will need to constantly alternate between them to get the upper hand on your opponent.

Your ship’s position is by far the most important part of combat, however, as it decides what weapon is effective and how it is effective, as well as whether your opponent can hit you. However, the game is vague with showing your health details, which makes combat feel more confusing than it should.

Meanwhile, the universe provided both looks and feels very similar to those in the Starcraft games, offering slightly cartoony character models and voices, which helps make them pop out. The few characters’ I encountered had personalities with glimpses of being fun, but as is they were not too memorable.

Speaking of glimpses of depth, while I did not experience much ship customization during my time, the menus indicated this would be a key element of the game later on, as well as that it would provide plenty of options in the full game.

Overall, Rebel Galaxy has fun core gameplay mechanics, which could possibly wear out their welcome rather quickly, an okay world with signs of improving over time and a lot of potential in its customization options. The preview made me cautiously optimistic on the final product.

PSN Review: Krinkle Krusher

Who's feeling Krinkletastic today?

Who’s feeling Krinkletastic today?

By: Matthew Striplen

Were you one of those kids who found some sick pleasure in snuffing the life out of tens of thousands of ants? Just me? Well, Krinkle Krusher places gamers in the shoes of a powerful wizard and his trusty sidekick, a talking glove who bears a striking resemblance to the Hamburger Helper, as you defend your castle from countless attacking Krinkles.

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

Although both the wizard and glove act as the protagonists, the player controls the glove, which consequently casts the spells. The glove only casts spells directly downwards, and movement is controlled by the left analog stick.

Spells are cast by pressing their corresponding buttons, most of which are assigned to the symbol buttons, but two are moved to L1/R1. While the symbol spells feel tight and responsive, these other spells sometimes have a hefty lag, or don’t respond at all.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.75/5)

Krinkle Krusher is a pretty game, with color vibrant enough to be compared to Nintendo titles. The cartoonish look fits well with the over-the-top action. Aiming spells precisely can sometimes be challenging — there’s something about how depth is displayed onscreen makes things a little tricky.

The soundtrack pumps along with catchy and upbeat tunes, all using decent quality synthesizers. No tracks stand out, but the general quality remains good. Unfortunately, the voice acting doesn’t fair quite as well.

Not all dialogue receives acting, and the glove’s voice can be a little grating. Every time the player gets a combo, which is hopefully often, he shouts out a punny compliment using “Krinkle.” Since there is only one exclamation per combo number, they get a little repetitive.

GAMEPLAY (3/5)

As a casual game, Krinkle Krusher keeps things simple. The premise of each level stays constant from the beginning to end: kill the Krinkles before they destroy your castle. Keeping in line with other casual games, Krinkle Krusher features a star system to grade your performance on each level.

Points are awarded for each Krinkle killed, and more points can be earned by forming combos and, by extension, multipliers. Seemingly the most important criteria for getting three stars, however, is your health. Getting three stars without having a perfect run is near impossible. Although getting perfect runs can be difficult, it is incentivized by the fact that gems are awarded for each three-star set. These gems can then be used to upgrade spells or increase health.

On the subject of difficulty, Krinkle Krusher has a rather odd curve. Nearly all the initial levels prove to be quite grueling, which seems out of place in a game obviously aimed at younger kids. However, if you revisit previous levels after acquiring more spells and power, these early levels become extremely easy. Waiting until you have gained more spells is the easiest way to earn triple stars and gems.

The Krinkles themselves come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Your average Krinkle doesn’t pose much of a threat on its own, but beware when swarms appear. Elemental Krinkles correspond to one of your spells, absorbing the power instead of taking damage. Killing these charged Krinkles with other elements results in massive explosions. Learning to use these explosions to your advantage proves very useful, especially on more difficult stages.

Krinkle Krusher‘s story doesn’t have much to offer, being a pretty generic “collect the magic crystals” type quest. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue tries a little too hard to be funny, packing half-hearted pop culture references into nearly every interaction.

Most of these references will be lost of the intended audience of children, as they tend to reference more adult-oriented media, such as Game of Thrones. Also, there are a handful of surprisingly dirty jokes, which clash with the otherwise kid-friendly appearance.

Since the game is inherently repetitive, replay value isn’t too high. Although the star and gem system will grab the interest of completionists, most players will complete the game to nearly 100 percent out of necessity.

OVERALL (3/5)

Krinkle Krusher is a game that struggles to find its audience. On the outside, it looks family-friendly, cutesy and Nintendo-esque, but in reality it has rougher edges. The high degree of difficulty is sure to turn off little ones, and the vast majority of jokes will go straight over most kid’s heads. With the video game market becoming increasingly saturated with casual games, Krinkle Krusher doesn’t quite have enough to outshine the competition.

PC Review: Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown

For an online experience, it sure can feel empty...

For an online experience, it sure can feel empty…

By: Ted Chow

If you came here thinking Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown would be a more definitive successor to the original Shadowrun reboot, you may come out feeling a bit disappointed. While the mythos continues to bring gun slinging elves and troll bouncers into the fray, the rudimentary and barebones nature of Chronicles may more than turn off even the genre’s heartiest veterans. For the Shadowrun faithful there are inklings of bright spots, though you may have to search for concrete reasons as to why to stick with the game.

CONTROLS (3/5)

As a turn-based game akin to XCOM, the control scheme is pretty similar to XCOM and the previous Shadowrun games. Many of the missions you go on will give you action points in which you conduct the placement of your characters. During this phase you’re also allowed to attack, cover and use special abilities. Everything is simply registered with the click of your mouse, with the inclusion of freeform camera panning to check out the mission map and plan your strategy.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (2.75/5)

If there is one credit in the graphics department, it’s that the game is pretty well optimized for an online experience. Aside from that, you may feel like you are playing Shadowrun Returns, with stylized art that can feel flat at times. Budget constraints could also be the culprit for a lack of polish to certain areas.

It may also feel like the game was intended for numerous players with a high emphasis placed on lowering polygon count to account for an MMO experience, though it may be for naught as player levels can fluctuate heavily. The soundtrack felt like it was an afterthought with much of it seemingly ripped from other Shadowrun titles.

GAMEPLAY (2.5/5)

The main focus of Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown is on the missions and less on the story and the degree of branching choices. Missions are handed out by the same quest giver in your main city hub where all commerce and player interaction occurs. These missions can be handled solo or co-op with friends or strangers, though playing with computer AI for henchmen will give you the best sense of control.

Co-op can be fun, but the time spent waiting for other players to finish their turns rather than playing the mission may be a deal breaker for many. After a mission is completed you will travel back to your city hub and rinse/repeat this rudimentary principle.

The missions themselves can vary in difficulty and best method of approach, but fundamentally, they’ll involve you killing gangsters and other scumbags in a rather ambiguous world where classification of said scumbags may be tenuous at best.

What cheapens the mood is the lack of urgency, seriousness or care for these characters. Unlike XCOM, these characters felt flat and generic. And with no real underlying story, you’re left wondering why you’re just playing a barebones tactical turn-based game.

If you find missions to be a chore that does little more than check boxes off a list, then much of the remaining game experience may also feel uninspired and lazy. The central hub, for one, is static throughout your play experience amidst all the changes you hope to instill.

Vendors are spread apart to garner a sense of artificial longevity in travel time and offer little to no variety in weapons or other equipments. Side missions are time exclusive and often follow the same formula as regular ones.

The player base, while generally tame as of this writing, provides a hollow sense of community to a title that could be perceived as single player. It was probably wise to rename the game to Chronicles instead of online as players could’ve definitely misinterpreted the game’s offerings and intent.

While most of the gameplay experience is a rinse and repeat cycle, Boston Lockdown does have some decent customization and ability trees. Players can outfit their characters with an assortment of vanity items that are mainly there for aesthetic reasons and less for statistical benefits. So, if you wanted to roll as a troll with a Mohawk and pink polka dot short shorts, that would be your prerogative.

The ability tree offers some interest choices in different areas of proficiency from hacking to magic. Some will offer some needed utility, while others are great for statistical bonuses or additional features like summoning spirit bears to take aggression. Overall, the customization had some thought put in for players to mess around with.

OVERALL (2.5/5)

Like its predecessors, Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown follows a similar formula that, when compared to XCOM, is mediocre and rudimentary. There is also room for concern as to how long people will continue to play the game as there isn’t enough substance for people to invest their time and effort into.

XB1 Review: Goat Simulator

Looks like things ended baaaaaaaaadly for the man in orange...

Looks like things ended baaaaaaaaadly for the man in orange…

By: Quinn Potter

As you probably know, Goat Simulator is a game that lets you try your hand at being a goat. It’s awesome and it’s finally on Xbox One.  And yes, being a goat is every bit as weird, wacky and wonderful as you secretly hoped it would be.

CONTROLS (5/5)

Simple and easy. There’s nothing wrong with the controls. Easy to go forwards and backwards, jump, head butt, lick and use your special ability. Nicely done.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.5/5)

Graphics are clean and are a marked improvement from the fuzzy presentation of Goat Simulator on Steam last year. Things can get a little glitchy in tight corners, but, you know, in real life, goats get glitchy in tight corners, too.  (Ok, for realz, this is from the product description and it’s pretty spot-on, “MILLIONS OF BUGS! We’re only eliminating the crash-bugs, everything else is hilarious and we’re keeping it • In-game physics that bug out all the time • Seriously look at that goat’s neck”.)

Sound is pretty good. There’s a contemporary, upbeat, light jazz rift smoothly bouncing along in the background, but it can get a little repetitive. Your goat makes cool sounds, so that’s a bonus. You can bah, lick, trot, paw the ground or emit a fairly award-winning human-sounding scream.

GAMEPLAY (5/5)

So, yeah, let’s say you wake up one day as a goat. First, you’ve got to figure out where you want to roam – Goat City Bay or Goatville. Each setting has a number of secrets and epic discoveries, so there’s really no “better” choice here. Just try them both out and start messing around. Goat Simulator is basically an open-ended game of exploration that rewards you for wreaking havoc and causing damage. (YESSSS!)

Second, be a goat. The more you explore, the more destruction you cause, the more points you get, the more you unlock. Soon, you’ll get to choose what kind of mutation you want — tall, ripped, Italian Dinosaur, repulsive, angel, goatborn (versus dragonborn, get it?), deadgoa7 (any Deadmau5  fans out there?), or queen. Your choice depends on your playing style.

Angel Goat is one of the easiest to move around because you can float. This means you don’t have to worry when you fall off the side of a tall building or rocky cliff. Ripped Goat will heatbutt things a lot farther than usual, while goatborn yells at things and sends them flying. Goat Queen will call in peasants (of course), and Repulsive makes things fly away from you when you touch them.

It’s super easy to change your goat’s characteristics, so don’t worry about making too much of a commitment. The key is to get out and start exploring. In Goat City Bay, you can check out the Amusement park (complete with rollercoaster, Ferris Wheel, the Rotator, bouncy house, mechanical bull and petting zoo).

You can also check out buildings (go investigate the Deadmau5 party zone on top of the tallest building to play with fireworks), go for a swim in the bay, ride skateboards at the skatepark, run wild with goaty abandon in the streets, chillax on a beach, or catch some nature on the rocky trails.

Goatville has a construction site, a low-gravity testing facility, a goat-fighting arena, houses, Coffee Stain studio headquarters, hills with paths, a demonic goat-pentagram place (yes, really)… and so much more. Run up walls, do front and back flips off the trampoline, get abducted by aliens (TOTALLY FREAKING COOL) – it’s all here.

Collect goat statues to unlock features such as classy goat or feather goat. (No, I’m not describing them. They are just too funny. ) Oh yeah, and make sure you climb the tower and go in the top room to explore. Goats will literally be throwing themselves at your feet to worship you. AHHH, FEEL THE POWER!

OVERALL (5/5)

So cray cray it’s over-the-top hysterical… and kind of addictive. The developers of Goat Simulator practically beg you to spend your money on almost anything else, but don’t. I have real goats and they are equal parts cute, annoying, and weird, but they’re not nearly this much fun. This game will really get your goat. Go on, you know you want to try it.

PS4 Review: Omega Quintet

Keep your eyes on the brea.. beasts! Keep your eyes on the beasts!

Keep your eyes on the brea… er, BEASTS! Keep your eyes on the beasts!

By: Jeff Cater

Omega Quintet is the first traditional JRPG to hit the PlayStation 4, and hopefully not the last. In Omega Quintet, you march the wastes of a world torn apart by an evil, draining force known as The Blare. To combat this menacing presence, you must utilize both weapons and voice to bring hope to a land scorn. As a Verse Maiden, an elite group of ladies with unique powers and weaponry, you are the only chance against sure desolation.

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

The controls are somewhat split between two modes: exploration and combat. In exploration mode, you move with the left stick and examine surroundings with the right. Pressing “X” lets you interact with various items and objects in the environment, and circle sends you bounding over some obstacles.

Interestingly, and confusing to work out, is the fact that the options button brings up a map of the area, but pressing triangle brings up a more traditional “Pause” type menu. If you happen to encounter an enemy while exploring, try to get on its blind side and press square to initiate an ambush attack.

In combat, the left stick or d-pad highlights your numerous options and choices. Choose an attack or skill with “X” and watch the show start, as combat is automated after choices are made. Depending on whether or not you have the character Takt currently attached to any of your characters, you can also press “X” directly after an attack to have Takt make a follow-up attack immediately thereafter. On defense, Takt can also protect the chosen Maiden.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Omega Quintet does feature some unique and beautiful character art, but the environments look no better than a PlayStation 2 era JPRG. This shouldn’t really surprise anyone, but it’d have been nice to have a bit of flair to the environments rather than flat, muddy textures adorning every surface.

The combat animations and skill effects are rather nice, though, and it’s fun unlocking new powers just to see how ridiculous and pretty they are. The cut scenes are also well done, and even the mid-game chat boxes (which you will run into a lot) feature animated and expressive characters. Also, breasts.

The game has absolutely top-notch voice acting, with actors and actresses giving fun and over-the-top performances as the story calls for. If you like J-Pop, you’ll be pretty happy with the overall soundscape that the game provides, but there’s a lot of butt rock and tingle techno thrown in there to mix it up a bit so you don’t get J-Pop fatigue. Did I mention breasts?

GAMEPLAY (2/5)

Honestly, if future JRPG games start out as slowly as Omega Quintet, don’t expect to see too many more reach Western shores. It takes about six hours to really start the game, and about 75 percent of that time is spent in cut scene chats that are just dreadfully cheery.

In between bouts of seemingly endless dialogue you might get to fight enemies and explore for about 20 minutes before you complete your set of quests, which are taken in your headquarters. Your HQ is where you can level up your characters, upgrade their outfits and equipment, and craft new items. In my time with Omega Quintet, I found that you will find just enough good equipment to ultimately render the crafting portion of the game time consuming and useless.

Also, in keeping up with the ancient Japanese tradition, the members of your party also lose clothing if they take too much damage, so be sure to keep your clothing repaired. Or not. I don’t know, man.

There are also options that make use of the PlayStation Camera, but I was unable to test these features. According to various message boards, the feature doesn’t truly enhance the gameplay, but then again that is just an opinion of the hivemind.

OVERALL (2.5/5)

With a starving JRPG community eager to dig into a game, Omega Quintet isn’t really the one they have been waiting for. There’s far too much useless dialogue, needless crafting mechanics shoehorned in, underwhelming graphics and an extremely slow start.

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