By: Jeff Cater
Back in 2009, a simple photoshop contest led to the creation a terrifying creature known only as Slender Man. Since then, real life sightings have been reported, violence has taken place in his name and more than a few awful video game adaptations have been made. With Slender: The Arrival, you’re pretty much tasked with the same objectives as every other Slender title: gather notes and survive in a dark forest.
The lookspring of the right stick is extremely sensitive and makes it really difficult to point your flashlight at anything you really want to. Pulling the right trigger focuses the beam of your flashlight into the size of a pin-prick. To guide Lauren (the main character) about the twisted paths of the woods you’ll use the left stick, and that is pretty much it. Things don’t get very complicated here.
Upon first starting Slender: The Arrival you’re immediately treated to a beautiful mountain backdrop with the sun bleeding its last few shards of light throughout the treeline. It’s actually pretty damn good looking, but seeing as how the rest of the game is played in the black of night, you’re rarely (if ever) treated to additional visuals that come close to wowing you.
The soundscape is also incredibly barren — the click of the flashlight, footsteps and some Silent Hill-esque radio buzzing is about all you’ll hear. A little further into the game you encounter a few different enemy types, but they’re mostly silent or excrete comical sounds similar to the Houndeyes from Half-Life. There. I just put Slender: The Arrival and Half-Life in the same sentence, boom!
While the game does create a bit of tension since you’re constantly being stalked by ol’ Slendy, the tension wears off pretty quickly when you realize that you’re just walking through the woods, trying to find bits of paper with poorly written “spooky” phrases entailing the history of Slender Man and his antics. But mostly just walking.
If Slender Man gets too close, it’s time to restart from an automatic checkpoint that could set you back much further than you’d like. You’re also not given any form of map or objective indicator, which wouldn’t have been a problem in the mid-90s, but it’s a big issue here because every damn tree looks the same and your flashlight is garbage.
If you happen to encounter an enemy that isn’t Slender Man, you’re supposed to “hit” them with your flashlight. And by hit, I mean pull the right trigger to focus your beam onto them (similar to Alan Wake) in order to blind them momentarily. Like, really momentarily. I’ve focused the beam onto one for a good 15 seconds only to have them seemingly forget that they hate light, so running away blindly into the forest is really the only option most of the time.
There’s not much in Slender: The Arrival to justify playing it on your fancy new console, especially since more than a few iPhone and Android apps are essentially the exact same thing. Maybe we just need a new twist on Slender Man? Like, give us a gun. Give him a gun. In its current form, you might as well… return to “Slender”? Har Har.
By: Matthew Striplen
If you’re reading this review, we probably have a few things in common. First of all, we’re both probably nerds, and second, we both probably have lots of nerdy, ridiculous friends. Now, imagine you and three of your closest geeky buddies being thrust into an alternate dimension to go on a RPG style adventure. If that sounds good, then you’ll probably enjoy Doom & Destiny.
D&D has a very intuitive control scheme. Since there are few real-time action sequences, snappy controls are not required. Easily the best aspect to the controls is the inclusion of the turbo button. Most RPGs can get a little tedious with level grinding and constant, repetitive battling, but D&D remedies this by speeding up the fights and auto-targeting enemies.
As for the rest of the control scheme, it’s mostly just scrolling through lists and selecting stuff, which is pretty standard. The only quirk is that the game doesn’t immediately lay out all the controls, which left me scrambling for the first few minutes.
This game is obviously inspired by the 8- and 16-bit era Final Fantasy games both in presentation and gameplay. The environments are full of detail, as are the character sprites. Even enemy units have a little variety. Most RPGs have each individual from a unit type appear identical, but this is not the case in D&D. As you can see in the screenshot, individuals often wear different costumes. Little touches like this keep the game from getting stale.
The soundtrack takes a major departure from retro tech and fully embraces modern synthesizers. While most compositions catch the ear, the quality of sound is inconsistent. The opening theme sounds terrific, but sometimes the music appears to run on a less advanced sound processor. Also, certain events can cause an audio glitch that makes the soundtrack disappear until a battle or other event is triggered.
All good RPGs need two qualities: an engaging story and a good combat system. I’m happy to say D&D delivers well on both fronts. Let’s tackle story first.
As mentioned, Doom & Destiny places you in control of four friends (who act suspiciously like my own friends) with the goal being a pretty traditional rescue mission. The writing that goes along with it, however, is comedic gold. D&D is brimming with references to other games, as well as real life references, the first of which being the title.
Without spoiling too much, you’ll find a museum at the beginning filled with thinly veiled exhibits to the Final Fantasy franchise. Also, there’s an old man in a cave declaring how dangerous it is to go alone. If you don’t get that, come back after playing some Legend of Zelda.
Some real life references include an extremely expensive mountain town, famous for skiing, food and being expensive. This particular reference tickled my funny bone because it’s making fun of a certain European country, and as a current resident of said country, I can attest to the high quality of its skiing and food, as well as its extreme expensiveness. Also, you get a party member named Judas. I bet you can’t guess what he does later in the story.
The combat system is laid out just like the classic RPGs of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Attack types are split into physical strikes and spells, which consume mana. There are also options to use items or guard, which is all standard stuff.
Turn order is determined by the character’s stats and also what move was previously executed — more powerful moves set the character further back in the timeline shown atop the screen. Guarding is unique because the player directly controls where the character moves in the timeline.
D&D comes with all the other bells and whistles of modern and classic RPGs, like a leveling system and weapon/armor management. The leveling system provides players with an extra layer of customization by allowing you to decide where the stat boosts go. So, if you have a character with a powerful spell but have crappy magic skills, you can train them up to use it properly.
The overall stats of the party can be further customized by changing the party’s leader and order. Since each “superfriend” has unique strengths and weaknesses, their influence on the party can be altered by their placement.
Like any good Final Fantasy homage, D&D has plenty of hidden bosses and secrets to discover. Secrets usually take the form of treasure or gear, but the bosses pose a tremendous challenge, often greater than the main bosses. If you’re not armed to the teeth and at max health, be prepared to die oh so quickly.
I’ve played many a RPG in my day, both new and old, and I can safely say that Doom & Destiny is one of my favorites in recent memory. It takes a tried and true formula, fixes common problems and is just a well-polished product. Plus, the engaging and hilarious story will keep you coming back for more. While an old school RPG at heart, D&D provides enough humor, challenge and polish to create a truly memorable experience.
By: Uma Smith
La-Mulana EX originally made its appearance in Japan back in 2005 for the Windows PC. It was known for its side-scrolling action adventure coupled with some great challenges. With that in mind, La-Mulana EX must have made such an impression back then that it got remade in 2012 and was even released for the Nintendo Wii. Fast forward to the present and we see that very same game making its way to the PlayStation Vita. It appears that La-Mulana EX is here to make some more “mula.”
Control-wise, La-Mulana EX plays out very similarly to 2D platforming titles like Castlevania. You have your whip as the primary weapon, which can be upgraded, along with other sub-weapons that can be used in conjunction with your main attack.
One notable mention is the jump function. When jumping across, you won’t be able to turn around while in the air; however when jumping straight up, you have more autonomy in terms of mobility, which is a big plus. As such, moving about and attacking is top-notch with the Vita, with no setbacks whatsoever.
Visually, La-Mulana EX looks quite amazing with the old-school approach. You are not going to get state-of-the-art graphics with astounding detail, but the retro look gives the game its charm.
Audio effects are acceptable as they do the job pretty well. Meanwhile, the musical score composed by Michiru Yamane gives a nice vibe that is both satisfying and impressive. Because of the upbeat soundtrack, you will feel motivated to play on throughout the game.
In La-Mulana EX you control your character as you explore various ruins in order to collect the treasures within. You will need to fend off a variety of monsters and bosses as well as solve puzzles. Specifically, there are a number of screens to go through where you fight enemies and collect objects along the way.
Your character can actually take a significant amount of damage, but your skills are still going to be put to the test. The enemies are both fast and tricky, thereby requiring some quick reactions on your part. Furthermore, the save points are relatively scarce, so you will want to make wise use of these opportunities before embarking further in your adventure. Along those lines, battles with the bosses can get very frustrating. But once you successfully defeat them, the satisfaction arrives with a vengeance.
As you progress, the challenges expand as you take on certain objectives, which you need to complete as quickly as possible. Since there are a lot of in-game characters to speak to and different ways to approach things, the fun factor can be very limited depending on the type of player you are.
If you’re looking for straight action, then this can be trying on your patience. However, if you take on the completionist approach, this can be a long-lasting experience.
While La-Mulana EX is a fun little title for the PlayStation Vita, the difficulty can be quite punishing to players. Still, the big maps to explore coupled with the vast amount of puzzles to solve makes this an enjoyable game for those who are looking to put their skills to the test.
La-Mulana EX is a quality title that reminds players of the good old days when it wasn’t just about graphics but hard-as-hell gameplay as well. While this may be a bit harsh to some players, the rest can definitely find appreciation and fun when they get their hands on it.
By: Ted Chow
Gurrann Lagannn!! If you’ve watched that particular Anime you may get a similar vibe while playing Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure, mostly because you use a drill for a weapon. Coming into Gurumin I wasn’t expecting much in the visual or story department as the game didn’t take itself too seriously.
Much of the game felt like a parody of other games and/or entertainment media and should be played with that in mind. If you’re looking for a wacky yet fun game that your children could play, Gurumin is a nice 3D platformer that is made with younger audiences in mind.
Upon booting up Gurumin for the first time you’re met with a configurations screen to setup your keyboard or controller inputs. Much of it felt pretty standard, though there are limitations to what buttons can be key-bound to certain actions. This doesn’t make sense as why would you not have full control over your key-binds if it’s an option in the first place?
Aside from that, the game’s controls felt standard, but the camera angle and manual panning is a bit of an inconvenience on the keyboard — in fact, the game is more naturally suited for a controller than a keyboard.
While I can understand Gurumin’s nostalgic N64/PS2 era look, the game still feels lacking in the graphics department. No visual updates or inclinations were bothered with when they decided to port this over from the PlayStation Portable to the PC. Compared to proper ports like Valkyria Chronicles, the game feels poorly adapted, especially having to play with a controller to get the better experience. The art style, while palatable, did not read well on an artistic level, but then again, the targeted audience may feel differently.
The sound overall was appropriate for the platforming genre, though I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint what category the music encompasses.
In Gurumin, you’ll play as a female protagonist whose name is up to you as you find yourself living amongst friendly monsters. As the game developer gods have willed it, only you and fellow children can see these monsters that co-exist with the human world. Malevolent phantoms are here to rain on your parade, however, and it is up to you to find your captured monster buddies and return things back to normal. The story isn’t original by any means, but it works for this genre, especially for the kids.
Gurumin plays similarly to any puzzle platformer such as Mario where you interact with the environment to finish off different stages. The only exception is that you have a drill weapon that can be used to combat the phantoms as well as other dynamic situations such as drilling walls. Doing this will spawn money and upgrade components to be used back in town.
Each stage offers a rank based on your performance during your run, though much of it is for Steam achievements rather than anything substantial. Your main goal is to finish the level and unlock the final stage containing your topical boss fight to move the story along.
While in town, you can purchase useable items and upgrades for your drill. Consumables include health restoration items and various head pieces that offer some statistical benefits or abilities for the player to exploit. All other items that you find throughout the game are miscellaneous stuff you can turn in for upgrades or head pieces. Upgrades are handled in another shop and can pertain to either your head piece or unlockable move sets for your drill attack animations.
During a stage, you’ll want to keep your health points at full, not only to complete the stage, but also to keep your drill’s potential at its maximum. Every time you perform an action with your drill it will level up and unlock other abilities such as shooting a wave of energy.
These combat moves don’t require any complex inputs, as much of the combat and abilities are executed by spamming the attack button in various rhythmic succession. Your drill attacks can also be charged up in order to unleash a more powerful strike, though I’m unsure why the charge-up bar looks like a musical note sheet that pulsates to the soundtrack.
It is also worth noting that you aren’t stuck with your main character. Other playable characters become available throughout the game, each of whom offer some new combat opportunities best left for players to explore. It’s a nice added bonus that helps to break up the monotony of just playing one character.
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is a throwback to some nostalgic puzzle platforming that follows the standardized formula without deviating much from the crowd. As a port, the controls and camera can be a bit of a drawback to your experience, but it doesn’t take away from Gurumin’s charm.
By: Jeff Cater
Cabela’s African Adventures is the latest attempt by Fun Labs and Activision to attract the hunting crowd to their home consoles. Will hunting hyenas and elephants on the African plains breathe new life into Cabela’s line of hunting titles? Let’s step into the gruff boots of a man named Mason, who is charged with marching around Africa in order to dispatch a wide breadth of animals, to find out.
Holy crap, this game is absolutely uncomfortable to play. It seems like the design team took all of the features from a refined third-person shooter and said “Let’s just screw everything up, k?” First, the aiming is incredibly sloppy, and movement is sluggish and frustratingly inaccurate. Reloading, done with a face button, can be performed in the middle of an evasive roll, but that seems to be the only real favor the devs did for us.
Driving across the plains is frighteningly bad. A slight press of the gas pedal sends you rocketing forward (or backward), and don’t even think about turning the vehicle unless you don’t really want to get to your destination — Mason’s jeep has a bad, bad case of over and under steering.
Mason walks stiffly across the terrain and through bushes and brush that doesn’t react to his presence whatsoever. There’s an ample amount of pop-in as well, to the point where animals, once visible in the distance, become shrouded by bushes in an instant. The animals aren’t even well animated, which is surprising since the Cabela’s franchise usually gets that part right.
The framerate of African Adventures is more schizophrenic than the game design itself; turning to aim at an escaping animal can cause inexplicable chugs in performance. Driving your truck also just completely destroys the framerate for some reason, so you’re much better off walking if you can tolerate it.
Masons gruff voice is alright to listen to, and it fits his over-the-top persona because he looks and sounds like he’s an extra from Over the Top. The plains of Africa are also a pretty barren aural experience; anything beyond some chirping birds or faint roars in the distance would have helped out immensely here.
Cabela’s has usually done a decent job of producing titles that try to actually convey the experience of hunting, but with African Adventures it’s a completely different story. Now, rather than meandering through the woods looking for signs of your target like footprints, tree rubbings or droppings, you simply walk up to a glowing blue marker and begin to unload on waves and waves of animals.
Once you’re finished, there’s no skinning or trophy taking, you just move on to the next marker. There aren’t even any animals just roaming around in the wild, you must activate a hunt area to trigger their apperance. That’s bullshit.
It seems that Activision tried to push the series a bit closer to the more action-oriented games in their repertoire (see Call of Duty), but it’s simply the wrong move. People play Cabela’s titles for the hunting simulation experience, not to blast away waves and waves of hyenas with nothing to show for it.
Sure, you can level up different powers like being able to fire off three shots in a row (WOW!), but the incentive to do so just isn’t there.
Well, someone indeed figured out how to do everything wrong in a game. I can only hope we never see a game like Cabela’s African Adventures ever again — at least not with the “adventure” moniker attached given there is zero adventure to be had.
By: Matthew Striplen
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a Japanese teenager with pink hair? Wait, no, it’s actually a jet. Anyway, Iron Combat: War in the Air puts you in the shoes of a living weapon, designed for absolute air superiority. Strap in and blast your foes!
Iron Combat‘s controls present an unusual challenge, as the character’s two forms, which I will discuss at greater length below, handle very differently. In humanoid form, movement is restricted to the X and Y axes, although the craft slowly descends. More importantly, the humanoid form auto-targets enemies, but rarely the closest one. This means that the player is locked into facing the target at all times. Also, there’s no way to change the targeted enemy, other than destroying it, which proved to be quite frustrating.
Tapping the L button morphs the player into the fighter jet seen in the screenshot. This craft constantly moves forward, and is much faster than the humanoid. This also reduces the influence of the auto-targeting system, which allows players to face in any direction, instead of the fixed angle of the humanoid. Unfortunately, the jet’s controls are rather slippery, which makes aiming the guns very difficult.
As you can see from the screenshot, the world of Iron Combat is not particularly detailed. The sky changes color over the course of the game, but it’s not anything to get excited about. Environments just feel empty. That being said, the jet’s design looks pretty sweet, with its brilliant blue engines blazing. Enemy ships are difficult to see clearly, given the nature of air combat, and they lack detail up close.
Almost every level has the same soundtrack, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does get old after the 10th time you hear it. Iron Combat also features a substantial amount of Japanese-only voice acting, the translations of which need to be tweaked a little. At least the acting provides lots of energy to the game.
Iron Combat starts with a long text crawl, detailing the story of the disintegration of the institution of governments and accompanying conflicts. Sound interesting? It definitely piqued my interest, but the story doesn’t offer much development from that point on, instead focusing on the gameplay with addition storyline delivered via pre-mission briefing text or the narrator.
The goal of Iron Combat is simple: destroy everything. As mentioned, two forms are available for use, each with their pros and cons. The humanoid’s possesses the unique ability to slash at enemies using a devastating beam sword, but it also has a smaller missile lock range. The biggest problem with the humanoid for is the lack of flexibility with the targeting. Sometimes the auto-target system even takes the player into the line of fire, especially when the next target appears beneath you.
Switching into jet mode remedies a few of these issues but also creates some new ones. This form gives the player a powerful chargeable laser, but hitting anything with it is pretty difficult. The fact that the only speeds for the jet are fast and faster doesn’t help matters.
The touchscreen features radar, but it unfortunately doesn’t offer much help. Since the auto-target system is always engaged, finding enemies is never an issue. Although it also displays missile location, I was usually too wrapped up in combat on the upper screen to pay attention down below and often forgot about the function altogether.
Most levels follow a familiar format: hordes of enemies attack, which is then followed by a boss battle. Each level is a grueling undertaking, usually taking the better part of 10-15 minutes to complete, and with a sharp learning curve. If you die, you have to start at the beginning of the stage, old school style. Unfortunately, the narrator’s monologue, which begins each mission, cannot be skipped. Be prepared to die many, many times, as there are no power-ups or health pick-ups in combat.
Once combat begins, a handful of enemy types appear, though most of them function in the same way. All enemies, save for some bosses, drift lazily through the sky, as if in no particular hurry to defend themselves. Bosses provide welcome variety to the otherwise monotonous, though challenging, standard fighters.
Iron Combat features a wide variety of upgrades to purchase. These upgrades can drastically affect gameplay, but buying them costs a pretty penny. The amount of money earned in the average mission pales in comparison to even the cheapest option so be prepared to repeat levels many times to farm cash, which brings me to my next point.
Two main gameplay modes are available: Story and Free Mode. Story allows players to continue on the with next mission and Free permits players to repeat past adventures. The split between the modes doesn’t seem necessary since everything earned in one mode is carried over to the other. Repeating missions is an absolute must if gamers want a chance at getting decent equipment.
Although Iron Combat: War in the Air offers some exciting ideas, the execution is not polished enough to create a lasting experience. Whenever I think of futuristic airborne warfare, I think about lightning quick action. Instead, we have planes leisurely scooting through the sky. When mixed with the awkward controls and overall lackluster graphical performance, Iron Combat doesn’t deliver the fun I’d hoped for.