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3DS Review – Pokémon Sun and Moon

pokemon moonRelease Date: November 23rd 2016

For the whole of 2016, the most hyped game for people who really care about games has been Pokémon Sun and Moon, more so than Pokémon X and Y, and the hype is very much justified. In honour of the twentieth anniversary of the franchise, the new Pokémon games bring the biggest shake-up in Pokémon history, and in this critic’s opinion it’s about time.

Before I continue, I would first like to apologize for being so incredibly late to the party. I planned to have this done by December 19th, but due to massive amounts of university work, and several unforeseen events, I haven’t been able to do any game reviews, and I’ve had to delay this one for several months until I finally managed to get it done here in May. I promise I’ll try and make up for it somehow. Until then, here’s the full review.

The first thing I think they improved was the story. In past Pokémon games, you go across the region to earn all eight gym badges, and foil the scheme of a single shady syndicate. Here, the basic plot formula is restructured. First of all, the games are now set in the Alola region, which is a region made up of four islands, each with its own unique character, and their own regional Pokédex. Instead of defeating eight gym leaders, you’re now completing island challenges, which don’t always see you battling specialised Pokémon trainers, but they do see you battling strong Pokémon, and completing specific challenges. Along the way, you meet Team Skull, a gang of hoodlums who go around trying to steal Pokémon, and a seemingly benign organisation called the Aether Foundation, which works to protect them. You also encounter entities called “Ultra Beasts” (in reality legendary Pokémon) that come from another world entirely.

These particular games surpass the previous games in terms of writing, and the main way they seem to do this is through Lillie, a character who, when first revealed in one of the trailers, didn’t seem like she had much of a role. However, I think she shines as a supporting character. Come to think of it, the developers seemed to actually care about writing the characters this time. This isn’t new however. I think this sort of story-oriented trend started in Generation V, but here I think is where the writing got really good, and the character development has definitely come a long way since the early days of the series.

The graphics also improved to a significant degree. In Pokémon X and Y, the 3D character models looked rather stubby, but here they’re taller and more well-done. The game world also looks more fleshed out compared to flatter planes of the previous games. True to the tropical spirit of Alola, the whole game looks vibrant and colourful, giving off the impression of an idyllic paradise, and the music is definitely in tune with the game’s ethos. I did a look at the game on a New 3DS screen, and the graphics on it are a bit clearer than on a regular 3DS. I do wish that we could make the leap to HD graphics in a normal Pokémon game. Perhaps someday we’ll see that in action.

Now on to the gameplay, and anyone with the illusion that Pokémon Sun and Moon is the same exact experience as the other Pokémon games will be in for a wake-up slap. As I mentioned earlier there no gyms, and usually instead of fighting a gym leader, you’re made to fight a “Totem Pokémon”, a version of a Pokémon which is larger in size than can normally be found, and will have certain stats boosted. It can also summon regular Pokémon to fight alongside it. They are fought as part of the island challenges, and on each island, after you complete all its trials, you fight a Kahuna in what is called a grand trial. Finishing each one allows you to go to the next island until eventually you can defeat the Elite Four.

In battle you’ll notice a few aesthetic changes. You can now see how much a Pokémon’s stats have been lowered or increased in battle, which generally makes it easier to keep an eye on your Pokémon’s strength, and act accordingly. For players who are new to the series, the game tells you which move is effective or not effective when you’re selecting it. It’s not much of a change for veterans, but I find it to be a welcome addition for those who aren’t familiar with anything.

The good news is that HM’s are officially a thing of the past! Instead of having to teach your Pokémon ancillary HM’s just to advance the story, the game gives you Poké Rides, a feature that allows you to call on certain Pokémon to access areas that you can’t access on your own, and you can use this feature to fly across the region. With this feature, the dreaded HM’s are effectively dead, and it’s about time too. I’ve waited impatiently for the moment where I no longer had to use HM’s, and now that they’re gone, you have more freedom to decide which skills your Pokémon should use without having to have a mandatory skill clogging the list (each Pokémon can only use four skills, and HM’s can’t be forgotten without talking to the Move Deleter).

The game also adds two new modes of battle. One is the SOS battle, which is triggered in a normal wild Pokémon battle when the wild Pokémon calls for help. If it’s successful, another Pokémon will appear alongside it to either help it, or attack it. This only occurs in the wild, and it’s sometimes the only way to catch certain Pokémon, which is important if you want to fill up the Alola Pokédex. The other mode of battle is the Battle Royal, in which four players enter a free-for-all showdown in which any player can attack or aid any Pokémon on the field. It ends when one of the combatants loses all of his/her Pokémon, with the winner being determined by which combatant achieved the highest number of combined knockouts, and has the most remaining Pokémon. You only have to experience this once, but it’s available in multiplayer if you want to compete against three other friends.

Most noticeably, the game introduces Z-Moves – ultra-powerful attack moves that could potentially turn the tide of the battle, but they can only be used once per battle, so use them wisely. You use them by equipping one of your Pokémon with a Z-Stone, an item that is activated in a similar fashion to how Mega Stones are in Generation VI and beyond. You tap the Z-Stone icon when you’re about to select a move, and you’re given a list of skills that correspond with the equipped Z-Stone. Usually it’s a very strong attack, but sometimes it’s an upgraded version of a status move that comes with side effects after using them. Some Z-stones can only be used by specific Pokémon, and correspond only to specific moves.

These gameplay changes and more make Pokémon Sun and Moon one of the most engaging Pokémon games I’ve played in a while. I’ve played the Pokémon games for over a decade and a half, and I can say that this is the most radical change in the series since Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire came out in 2003. I’m mainly disappointed by the lack of new Pokémon that were introduced (only 82 were added). Instead of introducing a full Pokédex of new Pokémon, they instead decided to introduce new forms of older Pokémon from Kanto, and called them Alola forms. That’s fine, but it just seems to me like a daft excuse to avoiding introducing new original Pokémon, signalling that the developers are running fast out of ideas. If they asked me to come up with new ones, I’d do it. I’d give them more new Pokémon, than they know what to do with. Any fan can, but apparently the developers had other ideas.

Another criticism I have with the game is the delayed roll-out of the update for Pokémon Bank. The way you transfer old Pokémon from the last generation to the current one is to deposit them from Pokémon X/Y/OR/AS in Pokémon Bank, and then withdraw them in Pokémon Sun/Moon (once you do this, they can’t go back). You can also transfer Pokémon from the Virtual Console releases of Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow into Pokémon Bank using the Poké Transporter that was released when Pokémon Bank initially launched in 2013/14. That’s fine, but why did Nintendo have to wait two months after the game’s release in order to be able to do this?

All the flaws aside though, this is still one of the best games you can find of the 3DS, and perhaps one of the best Pokémon games there is. I’m certain that Game Freak has some great plans for what’s next, and with the rumoured Pokémon Stars continuing to generate speculation, I’m sure that this is the start of something big.

  • Score: 86%
  • Grade: A
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3DS Review – Azure Striker Gunvolt 2

azure striker gunvolt 2Release Date: September 29th 2016

In May 2015, I wrote a review of a game I highly anticipated called Azure Striker Gunvolt. When I heard they were making a sequel, I eagerly awaited the prospect, and although I concede that the end result is not as compelling as its predecessor, it’s a good sequel. It made meaningful additions to the kind of experience the first game brought, and in such a well-designed sequel, I could see a potential franchise.

Set some time after the ending of the first game, Gunvolt (yes, for those who haven’t played either game before, that’s the name of the protagonist), has had some time to recover from the previous quest, but not for very long. This game sees the rise of “Eden”, a new supergroup of powerful adepts from around the world. Led by Zonda, their goal is to create a new world ruled by adpets, where humans live as their slaves, and apparently they need Joule to help them do that.

I’ll admit that the writing isn’t as good here as it was in the first game, but there’s a bit more personality shown by the main characters. You can see this in the in-game conversations, some of which now occur as you’re playing the game (you can disable them if you want though). One thing I find odd is that, once again, the English release has not been dubbed. It’s as if they thought they could save time and money by not bothering to cross the language barrier. There’s actually more voice acting in the game’s cutscenes then there were in the first game, so if you’re not a fan of the voice acting, you probably won’t like the plot or the characters that much.

One of the main features of this game is that you can choose between two playable characters – Gunvolt and Copen. For the first two stages you’re forced to play as one of them, but after the prologue, you can choose between the two characters all you want. The best thing about it is that you don’t even have to make a new save file to do it. Every time you quit the game and load the save file, the game lets you pick the character you want to play. My main problem, however, is that while these two characters certainly play in different but ultimately similar ways (which I’ll explain in more depth later), there’s not a great deal of difference between Gunvolt and Copen’s story. Once again there’s a default ending and a true ending for each story, but this time you have to finish the last stage as both characters at least once to get the actual final boss (the other character). Also, I swear the game is even shorter than its predecessor. To finish the story up to the true endings for both Gunvolt and Copen only took me 9 hours. It also doesn’t help that, eventually, both paths share the same bosses, which is fine but rather repetitive. I hope the Azure Striker series doesn’t run into that problem too much.

The looks and sounds very much like its predecessor, complete with the same art style, one of the things I liked the most about the previous game. The highly polished anime visuals are one of the things I like about this game, and once again the graphics demonstrate that 2D is better than 3D. That said, I might have liked to see some variance in the style, but it works. The level design is very much reminiscent of the Mega Man X games, which I’d expect from a series that’s pretty much designed to take after it. The music follows the same sort of style as the last game, and even though it’s not as good as the last game, I think it certainly befits the game, and I certainly liked it.

Following the example set by the previous game, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is pretty much a fast-paced side-scroller in the style of Mega Man Zero, but even though the gameplay is largely the same, that doesn’t make it the same experience with the latests bells and whistles. Before you play a stage you can actually adjust the way in which the game handles Kudos – the points you rack up if you keep attacking enemies without taking a hit. There are three settings or “styles” you can play with. The default setting is “Cautious”, in which you lose your accumulated Kudos after taking three hits. This could be seen as the normal difficulty setting. The other two are “Gutless”, in which Kudos are not lost, but the score multiplier is reduced, and “Fearless”, in which you lose Kudos after a single hit just like in the first game, but the score multiplier is increased. I mainly just stick to the default setting, but it is a pretty interesting way to spice up the game if you’re feeling the itch for a challenge or a better rank. Both Gunvolt and Copen can do this.

Speaking of that, Gunvolt’s gameplay hasn’t necessarily changed much, though I don’t think they needed to change it much. I very much like Gunvolt’s versatile combat mechanic. That said, let’s instead talk about the real big attraction – Copen’s gameplay. Copen can’t dash, but instead he can dash pretty far into the air, and dashing into enemies is his method of tagging enemies, and once locked on, his pistol becomes a homing shot that can make short work of enemies. The dash move consumes a “Bullit” point (and Copen only has three) unless Copen tags an enemy, so you can keep dashing into enemies and not get tired. Copen can also use his air dash to bounce off of walls and ceilings, and is often required to.

Another major difference between Copen and Gunvolt is that, unlike Gunvolt, Copen can use EX Weapons derived from the main bosses, as if the game wasn’t already similar enough to the Mega Man games. That said, these EX weapons are rarely necessary (the dash attack is just fine), and they aren’t as useful is Copen’s two major skills (usable via the touch screen) – an all-encompassing attack skill, and a skill that fully heals him (conveniently enough, you have to pause the stage in order to use it). Copen’s story is generally easier to play through than Gunvolt’s primarily because of his combat system, but damn is it fun to play as him. I just wish the game itself wasn’t so short.

All in all, it doesn’t do much in the way of innovation, but it does solidify a potential franchise in the making. For what it’s worth, I found it to be a rather enjoyable sequel, and I wish all the best for Inti Creates if they’re planning on making a franchise out of this, so long as they don’t fuck it up the way Capcom did with Mega Man.

  • Score: 77%
  • Grade: B

PS3 Review – Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

sonic the hedgehogRelease Date: March 23rd 2007

In the spirit of Sonic’s 25th anniversary, I thought it was time to examine the game that many consider to be the black sheep of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. The game was almost universally hated, shunned by the gaming press and most of the Sonic fanbase. However, I wanted to give this one a fair chance, and when I actually played it, I was surprised at how it wasn’t entirely as bad as people claimed.

It comes as a shock. I had wanted to at least try the game since I was 12, because I didn’t have a PS3, and wouldn’t have for another five years, but only now did I pick up the game, despite all the negative press. Although the game suffered from more than a few gameplay problems (including the numerous loading screens), my experience wasn’t as frustrating as I thought the game would be, and at some point I had to consider that maybe the critics were wrong, or at least just exaggerating.

Make no mistake though, the story is still incredibly clumsy, poorly-written, and needlessly convoluted. The game’s plot follows the stories of Sonic, Shadow, and a new character named Silver the Hedgehog, all intertwined in their respective episodes. Sonic’s story follows his quest to save Princess Elise from Dr. Eggman, who seeks the “Flames of Disaster” from her. Shadow’s story sees him chasing Mephiles the Dark, a creature that takes on his image, and discovering his role behind a disaster that occurs several years in the future. Silver’s story sees him travelling from the future in order to stop the disaster, unaware that he is being used by Mephiles.

The first problem, as I see it, is that they tried writing a massive story, but it made absolutely no sense, and the story itself seems out of place for a Sonic game. I wouldn’t have minded if Silver was the star of his own game, but that’s not the case here. That being said, I actually found the script and cut-scenes to be worse. The voice acting pretty cheesy, though I pretty much expect this from the modern Sonic games, but this game suffers from some pretty ham-fisted acting. Silver’s voice-over is a particularly hammy actor. I’ve heard that the character is supposed to be 14 years old, and the voice doesn’t come across as very convincing.

If anything, the minor characters were far worse, and by minor characters, I of course mean the townspeople. Like in Sonic Adventure, you also get to walk around a hub area (in this case the city of Soleanna), and as you might expect, the majority of the townspeople are useless, save for giving you hints. These minor characters also have worse voice acting, reduced to awkward-sounding grunts. It doesn’t help that on Sonic’s part of the story, you’re required to complete at least a few of the sidequests, which means dealing with those annoying minor characters.

If I have one more thing to say about the story, it’s that they should have tried for a Sonic Battle-style plot, which would have been more sensible and would still have allowed the developers to make a game like Sonic Adventure. In fact, I think the game itself should have been called “Sonic Trinity” (referring to the three main characters). That would have worked far better than shoehorning the name of the original game just to sell it as an edgy reboot. Any Sonic fan could have written something better than the story Sega went with. Hell, I could probably have written a better story for the game at age 12. Of course, the worst part about the story is the cutscenes. The game’s story ultimately suffers the same problem as all of the new Sonic games do – there are way too many cutscenes and all of them feel ridiculous.

Now, I should talk about the game’s presentation, as that’s the first positive thing I have to say. The graphics were actually quite good for the time, especially the full-motion cut-scenes (which, in my copy of the game, suffered from a stuttering audio problem that made them almost unwatchable). It seems like Sega did well in the graphics department, and the playable characters are rendered quite nicely. However, I can’t say the same for the townspeople, who were given some of the worst character models I’ve ever seen. As for the character designs, a lot of people objected to the new design Dr. Eggman got in this game, and I must admit that it was off-putting when I was 12 and the game was revealed, but I don’t mind it now. They certainly did a better job at redesigning Eggman’s robot minions, which seem to show a step up in enemy design that, sadly, has gone ignored in later Sonic games.

Another high point for the game was the music, mainly the stage music. The Sonic games have almost always had great music, and this game is no exception. I was exposed to the game’s stage music well before I actually picked up the game. I found it by accident, and it quickly grew on me, and it’s one of the reasons why the game didn’t exactly push me over the edge. However, I think the music is probably best on its own, since it sometimes doesn’t fit the gameplay of some of the slower characters.

Now it’s time to address the gameplay, perhaps the most contentious part of the game. We all know the story – Sega forced Sonic Team to rush the game for a Christmas release, so they ended up releasing a game that apparently wasn’t completely debugged and not quite finished yet, and so we’re left with a cautionary tale for aspiring game developers. Strangely enough, my copy of the game didn’t seem entirely broken. Now, given that nearly everyone who’s played and reviewed the game will tell you that it’s broken, beyond unplayable, and that’s essentially what I expected to play, so I’m kind of stunned to find that it wasn’t as broken or as unplayable as the commentariat of the online gaming press had implied.

First, let’s talk about the characters and their playing style. In each of the episodes, you get to play as a number of characters (three per episode), but instead of giving you the option to play as any character, the game switches to another character at a certain part of a stage. Sonic’s gameplay is pretty self-explanatory. In fact, it’s mostly in line with the kind of speedy platforming that was great in Sonic Adventure 2, except you have to buy upgraded abilities for him in the town stage (you do this for Silver and Shadow as well). There’s also the mach speed sections of the game, where he runs so fast that you can’t really control him (more on that a little later), and if you don’t steer the control stick carefully enough, or jump at the right time, you lose a life. Tails’ gameplay is alright, but his movement in the ground is quite slow, which is odd considering how fast he can run in Sonic Adventure. He can fly very high, and much faster than he moves on the ground, but sometimes you can’t see where he’s going to land, and so you have to fly carefully. Another thing that’s odd about Tails’ gameplay is that his sole attack is throwing fake rings. What happened to the tail swipe attack? Even the Sonic Advance games had that, and those were on a handheld console. Knuckles’ gameplay is alright, but it’s a far cry from the fun treasure hunting gameplay of the Sonic Adventure games. Here, Knuckles is just around to solve puzzles, and once again, his movement is pretty slow. The climbing and gliding felt weird here, and the combat doesn’t have the same effect that it does in other Sonic games, and I guess this is one of many areas in which Sonic ’06 was simply inferior.

Moving onto Shadow’s episode, and Shadow’s gameplay is actually pretty cool. Much like with Sonic, Shadow’s gameplay is focused on speed, but Shadow is basically a more action-oriented character. If you press X repeatedly after a homing attack, he perform a spate of martial arts strikes, where are particularly handy against bigger and bulkier foes. Shadow also comes with his trusty Chaos Spear, which you finally get to use in normal combat. It doesn’t really do any damage, but it stuns enemies, leaving them open to an easy combo. Another move that doesn’t come into play that often is the Chaos Boost, which is triggered if you press R1 when his energy bar is full. It makes his attacks more powerful, but it rarely needed. I’m inclined to think that Shadow’s gameplay is actually better than Sonic’s, but the main problem I have with it is the vehicles, which handle poorly and make the stages they appear in take longer to finish. The exception to the rule would be the gliders, since they only take up a short part of a stage, and handle rather decently. Rogue suffers much the same problems that Knuckles does, she’s slower than she was in Sonic Adventure 2, and her fighting style is similar to Tails, except she throws bombs. Omega is unsurprisingly quite slow, but his combat isn’t exactly intuitive (he fires shots at enemies, but I’m not always sure they even hit the enemies).

In terms of gameplay, Silver is a very interesting character. He’s slower than the other hedgehogs, but that’s okay, because his gameplay revolves around use of his telekinetic abilities. While using his psychic abilities, you have to keep an eye on his energy gauge, which quickly refills if you don’t use his abilities for a brief moment. Naturally, his stages are slower in pace and generally take longer to finish, and that’s because you spend them moving objects, solving puzzles and defeating enemies. I honestly felt that Silver’s gameplay had a lot of potential, and it’s certainly fun grabbing an enemy’s missiles with your psychic power and firing them back. However, the level design in Silver’s episode tends to be rather off-putting, and his version of the game’s desert stage is home to an absolutely infuriating ball puzzle that requires you to push a ball with you psychic power (and you can’t lift it either). The music was the only thing keeping me from throwing the controller against the wall. The other two characters are a mixed bag. Blaze isn’t too bad, and she’s much faster than Silver. Her attacks are similar to her moveset in Sonic Rush, but her attacks, save for her homing attack, aren’t very reliable, and they’re more likely to get her hurt than do any real damage, so if you’re playing as her, you’re more likely to speed through the stage than attack enemies. The last character, Amy, is the worst character in the game. She’s slower than anyone else in the game, her attack is slow, she doesn’t get a mid-air attack, and she’s only playable in one stage, and again in the last episode.

Now that I’m done talking about the characters, I think I should address the most common gripes people had with the game, and I’ll start with the most immediate complaints. The game is perhaps infamous for its jarring load times, but to be honest, the load screens aren’t even terribly long (usually they’re around 20 seconds each), but the problem is that there are so many of them, and for me, it’s the most annoying when its in the town stage when you’re doing side-quests. I’d say the bigger problem, which isn’t really raised that often, was the lack of an autosave. If you just started the game, and died in the first level, you would be forced to relive everything all over again. It’s not something you can’t get used to, but it’s still jarring when you consider that both the Sonic Adventure games, Sonic Heroes, and Shadow the Hedgehog all had autosave, and were all superior games.

Next up is the controls, and honestly, I think the complaints towards the controls were only half-true. The control scheme is actually not bad, but some parts of the game feel awkward, like the vehicles in Shadow’s episode. The thing I hated most about the controls was that sometimes the camera would pan under the floor on its own, but that has only happened during boss battles. As I mentioned before, the mach speed sections in Sonic’s episode are pretty awkward. Once the mach speed section starts, you have to keep your hands off the control stick until the camera pans behind Sonic, or else he steers off course and dies. Also, whenever you take a hit, Sonic does this weird break dance, and he does this after losing a life, and still moving. That being said, I managed to play the game normally, and the first mach speed section, which many gamers found to be glitchy and awkward, I managed to get through it without dying once. In fact, it turns out that on a mach speed section, you’re actually supposed to hold forward on the control stick in order to make Sonic run faster, and it also gives you better control of Sonic’s movement. Either I’m particularly good, played the game patiently, or that part of the game clearly isn’t as broken as I feared it would be. I think a lot of the problems came from trying to play the game too fast, or straight up playing the game improperly, and unfortunately, most of the levels aren’t exactly built around speed. I admit that might be part of the problem, but just because you can’t go super fast without causing a lot of problems doesn’t make the game broken.

What about the infamous fight against Silver? Supposedly that’s one of the most broken parts of the game because if Silver gets close to you, you can get caught in a loop where he can constantly pin you against a building, whether you live or die. That’s another case that can easily be explained. The thing is, you aren’t supposed to go close to Silver at all. You’re not even supposed to use the homing attack on him, because that’s the easiest way he can catch you. In fact, this fight is the precise reason why the developers gave Sonic and Shadow the kick attack. Everyone who complains about Silver being the hardest boss just because you can’t constantly using the homing attack on him is doing it wrong. You’re supposed to keep your distance from Silver until he lifts a few objects. When he glows screen and shouts “how about this”, that’s your cue to go up to him and kick him while your running, making sure you keep a safe distance from him after you either hit or miss him. I figured this out pretty quickly after dying the first time, and it seemed to me that the fight against Silver wasn’t actually broken. In fact, if the kick was introduced specifically for this fight, then I think even if the game was completely finished, you still wouldn’t really be able to use the homing attack on Silver, and if he catches you and you can’t break free of him because you keep rings as he’s trapping you, there’s always the restart option on the pause menu. If you’re playing as Silver and fighting against Sonic or Shadow, the strategy would be to keep your distance and keep throwing objects at them. Once you figure this out, the character fights are actually insultingly easy.

That’s the thing about this game, it’s actually far easier than people make it out to be. If anything, parts of the game are too easy, and some are easy but simply long-winded. As for the glitches, I didn’t encounter as many glitches as people claimed, and most of the glitches I did encounter where found while playing as Rouge. I found one glitch in the Kingdom Valley stage where she would jump and be propelled to the stratosphere for a brief moment. Her climbing is really buggy, and I say this because often you can try to jump off a wall and not get off until you repeatedly jump or fidget around a bit. That was the most broken part of the actual gameplay. Most of the “difficult” parts of the game were simply tedious. Yes, there are legitimate game design issues that could have been fixed, but to say that it’s completely fucked is just an exaggerated claim, one that you can only prove or disprove by playing the game. I’ve played the game, and I’m not entirely convinced that it was broken, and that’s tough for me to explain because you have to play it in order to truly understand. All I can say is either I got a copy that was somehow not screwed up, or people were simply exaggerating. In fact, while writing this review, I found out that there are videos out there on YouTube that can show you how to get around some of the game’s problems, and I suggest you look them up because they might be able to do a better job at explaining it in more depth.

Through all of this, I hope I’ve made a good case for why Sonic ’06 isn’t as bad as the gaming press will have you believe. In fact, I swear some people only dislike the game because of the negative press it got. I was like that until I finally played the game, and now I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not unplayable, only partly broken, and decidedly much easier than people claimed. Is it a far cry from what it could have been? Undeniably, and that’s mainly because of the horrible production constraints Sonic Team had to put up with. Is it the worst Sonic game of all time? Hardly. I’ve been a dedicated Sonic fan for over a decade and a half, and I can tell you there are worse Sonic games out there. Sonic Unleashed was much worse, and that was because it has you go around the world hunting for medals just to advance the plot. Sonic Rush Adventure was a derivative DS game with a tepid seafaring mode. Sonic the Fighters was basically a bad fighting game from the era of choppy polygonal brawlers, and I don’t even want to talk about the disaster that was Sonic R, a game that was actually more of a broken-down mess than everyone makes Sonic ’06 out to be.

In closing, I’d like to advise you not to take the word of mainstream game review outlets too seriously (besides, sites like IGN, Kotaku and Polygon are all corrupt anyway), and don’t give any credence to anyone who tells you that a game is bad “because it’s just garbage” and doesn’t give any cogent reasons why. Yes, I can come up with a number of ways the developers could have improved on the game, but all in all it’s not too bad. As for Sonic himself, I’m surprised the franchise still survived if the game was as legendarily awful as people claimed. As long as fans like myself continue supporting the series, then the blue blur will always have another shot at redemption, and maybe we’ll get to see the kind of Sonic game we actually wanted. Besides, we all did things we weren’t proud of when we were 15.

  • Score: 62%
  • Grade: C
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PC Review – Depression Quest

depression questRelease Date: August 11th 2014

Some people develop games with very different intentions, and hoping to take games in a different direction. Some games manage to do this well, but in the case of Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest, this was an entirely misguided attempt, mainly because Quinn and her team seemed intent on removing the one thing about a game that actually matters – the experience of fun.

In the “game” (and I use the term loosely), you play as man (I’m sure its a man) suffering from depression, and the story takes you through the protagonist’s daily life and his encounters with people at work, parents, and his girlfriend. At regular intervals, you get to make a choice on what you can do next. There are five endings to the game, probably depending on how depressed you are by the end of it.

Now, I don’t think it’s a terrible just because of it being an interactive adventure game, but it’s the kind of “game” that has virtually no gameplay, save for clicking on links. It’s presented as an authentic portrayal of depression from the point of view of someone who has depression, but the problem is exactly this fundamental premise. I’ve been depressed before, and I can safely say that depression isn’t fun, so in order to create this authentic representation of depression, the developers could only have made the most boring game that could possible be made, and apparently that’s Depression Quest in a nutshell. Not only is it boring but it’s ridiculously easy, to the point that you can literally complete it in 40 minutes. In theory you could play the game for longer in order to explore all the endings, but there’s no point in reliving the same boring experience over and over again.

Of course, that’s not the biggest problem with the game’s painfully forced and unengaging narrative. Many interactive adventure games give you a palette of choices from which you can pick, and the story is affected by that. In this game, the choices you make do affect the story, and your mental condition as noted at the bottom of the screen, but in this game, your choice is an illusion. The game crosses out certain choices based on arbitrary conditions. The developers and people who defend the game justify this by saying it’s because you wouldn’t be able to make those choices because of your mental state, but that’s an extremely poor justification, and just tells me that the game’s narrative purposely disempowers the player, which contradicts the entire reason why people play games. On another note, what it is the point of giving you multiple choices if you can’t select all of them? At point, I swear there’s a scenario that only gives you one option. What even is the point of giving the player options if you’re going to cross them out?

This is less of an interactive adventure game and more like an online personality quiz, and worse still, it doesn’t represent depression very well. Namely, it doesn’t take into account the many number of reasons why people are depressed (it isn’t made particularly clear why the character is depressed), it presents the narrative that people with depression aren’t in control of their own lives, which I strongly object to. For a bit of context, I have been depressed before, and I have felt weighed down by that, but never in the entire time have I ever felt like I was no longer in control of my own circumstances. To me, it is clear that Zoe Quinn had no idea how to write an authentic experience of depression, and it seems like she was basically constructing a victim narrative around the main character, and there is something I find inherently ugly about that.

The presentation is just as horrendous as the gameplay. The interface looks like a bad browser game from over a decade ago, and yet its been passed off as an “art game”, and its pretty terrible at that. Also, there is a single music track is looped for as long as the game is being played, and it is very repetitive. Imagine listening to a 40-minute album where the only track is the tune from Depression Quest on loop for the whole thing, and you might get the picture.

If they wanted to simulate depression, then mission accomplished, because this game was absolutely boring, and it’s barely even close to a game. Seriously, who looked at this and thought it was okay? This is the kind of thing a college student would submit as a multimedia project, not a finished game that gets put onto a commercial platform. I suppose the only good thing about this game is that you can get it for free, but then it brings to mind the old axiom “you get what you pay for”, which definitely rings true in gaming. If you pay nothing for anything that even professes itself to be video game, you might as well get nothing back, and that’s what Depression Quest was – nothing. It wasn’t fun or engaging in any way, and the developers outright stated that it wasn’t meant to be fun.

Even if it isn’t broken, I still think that it’s unsettling when games like this attempt to blur the line between what can be considered a video game and what can’t, and the fact that the developers focused on that rather than making a well-designed, enjoyable video game is what irks me the most. Depression Quet is a joke of a product that represents the extent to which how low a game can sink when its developer works based solely on an agenda, let alone one that can only hamper good game design.

  • Score: 0%
  • Grade: U
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PS3 Redux – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

lords of shadowRelease Date: October 8th 2010

Three years ago, a wrote a review for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, but for a long time now, I have remained unsatisfied with the review. When I was 18 I basically rage quit the game, and I admit that the game got an unfair grade from me as a result. Frustration and rage got the better of me that time, but I’ve calmed down considerably since then, and I’ve also refined my writing skills to a considerable degree. So with that in mind, I decided to give the game a fair chance in the first redux I’ve ever posted.

Let’s start with the story, which I feel was one of the things that infuriated Castlevania fans like myself the most when it was new. Lords of Shadow is essentially a reboot of Castlevania, which essentially means that they discarded the continuity of the original series in order to recreate the characters and story from the beginning. Indeed, most of the original characters are found nowhere here, but some familiar character were recreated, and introduced alongside new ones. In this game, which is set in the year 1047, you play as Gabriel Belmont, a man who embarks on a quest to find the pieces of the God Mask, which, if whole, could be used to resurrect his beloved Marie. To do so, however, he must fight his way through vampires, lycans, and other creatures of the night, and defeat the Lords of Shadow, who hold the three pieces. You could call it Castlevania reborn as a dark fantasy action game.

Believe it or not, I actually like the story. In the past, I thought the story was an atrocious betrayal of the Castlevania franchise, but I didn’t consider that the Castlevania franchise was already broken. The last game that came before it, Castlevania Judgment, was a terribly made fighting game that wallowed in its own excesses. Every handheld Castlevania game essentially copied the formula of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and in the same year as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, we got Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, a game that was so identical to the portable games that it was downright boring.

Besides, the story was epic in terms of scope, and I like the atmospheric dark fantasy treatment they gave it, though I am rather disappointed with the ending, and still refuse to buy the ancillary and expensive DLC. Even if I liked the story, I still think it was a grave crime to just call it a Castlevania game. Personally, I feel that this should have been its own independent IP, and I think it would have been very interesting to see a new IP to take after Castlevania (now of course, we have Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night coming up). Alas, Konami felt the need to reboot the franchise and alienate the series’ hardcore fans. Without the Castlevania name, there might not have been a chance that a lot of people would buy it. Konami knew that fans would have a difficult time accepting the transition, so they put in a number of references that serve as shout-outs to the original series, but they did it in such a ham-fisted way that I think that might have made things worse.

The game has a number of characters that only appear once, but one thing I like about the game is the voice acting. They took this project very seriously, and got a number of good actors on board for the project, and I certainly get some good vibes from hearing Captain Picard narrate the story. Better still, he’s a major character here and in the game’s sequel. The acting isn’t always good though, and there are two minor characters who I despise partly because of the bad voice acting – the Chupacabra (who occasionally steals your powers for shits and giggles) and Baba Yaga (ugh, my hatred for that character never disappeared) – and they sound like a milder version of nails scraping a chalkboard.

If the game definitely has one strong point – its stunning presentation. One of the first things I noticed about the game was its atmospheric gothic style. The game’s menu screen is a well-decorated tome with detailed illustrations, and I’m rarely impressed by the menus. The in-game graphics were very good for the time. The game was made and released in the middle of the PS3 era, and it might have been a good showcase for what the PS3 could do. The stages look fantastic, and the art style was great. I used to be irked by the game’s somewhat generic orchestral soundtrack, but now I find it quite pleasant for the most part. I guess you can say I’ve developed a matured sense of taste, though I still dislike the choice of jingles they used for the stage clear and game over sequences.

If anything triggered me and the Castlevania fanbase a few years ago, it was the gameplay. The game was often called “Lords of Plagiarism” because it copied elements from other popular action games. The basic combat is derived from the God of War and Devil May Cry games, which are very much superior, and the boss battle at the end of Chapter 1 is literally a tasteless rip off of Shadow of the Colossus. However, the exploration element, with its heavy integration of climbing and grappling, was implemented rather well.

The combat is pretty good, and is actually quite satisfying for the most part. In addition to basic combat, you get a number of special relics that give you new abilities, such as the ability to double jump, a gauntlet that lets you punch heavy objects, and light and shadow magic. Light magic restores your health whenever you land a hit, while shadow magic increases the power of your attacks. These are often extremely useful, and they liven up the gameplay by a considerable degree. You’re also given a wide range of combos and skills that you can obtain if you have enough experience points, but honestly, I think you get way too many skills. Many of them aren’t completely useful, and you’re more likely to get caught in an enemy’s combo attack than you are to execute some of those fancy skills.

Along with all that, you also have to dodge enemies in order to fill up a “focus bar”, which, if full, causes enemies to bleed energy orbs whenever you attack them. This can be very useful if you’re running low on energy with which you can use light and shadow magic, but in order to take proper advantage of it, you often have to use a touch and go strategy a lot of the time. Therefore, the combat sees you dodging attacks a lot of the time, which can get rather annoying sometimes. One problem I’ve had is that the controls sometimes acted up, as I would often have light/shadow magic activate without me pressing the right button. I don’t know if that’s the game’s fault or my controller acting up, but it’s generally annoying whenever that happens.

There are two aspects of the gameplay that are generally annoying. One is the fact that you can’t control the camera, which is irritating because any other game would let you control the camera, and in this game, the camera often pans from behind Gabriel to the front of him in some parts of a stage. The second most annoying thing is the puzzles. I don’t mind the heavy emphasis on exploration, but the amount of puzzles was quite irritating. Some of the puzzles are simple enough to figure out, but others are extremely patience-trying. You can unlock the solution, but it prevents you from gaining experience points as a reward, which makes it harder to get more costly skills. My most hated puzzle and stage of all, beyond any shadow of a doubt is the Music Box stage, which, because of its insufferable level design, still angers me to this day.

Overall, while the game is painfully derivative and frustrating in a number of areas, I think I was completely irrational in savaging the game as brutally as I did in my original review. Yes, it can be patience-trying, but it’s not terrible. I’ve matured considerably as a gamer and a critic, and so now, I at least appreciate Konami for trying to do something new. My point is that, after four years, I no longer feel any anger towards the game, nor the design direction, but I do think that the developers made more than a few mistakes, most of which were improved in successive games of the Lords of Shadow trilogy.

  • Score: 69%
  • Grade: C

PS3 Review – Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series

gameofthronesRelease Date: December 10th 2014

Let me go on record by saying that I have never been a fan of interactive movie games, and certainly not Telltale, and this game illustrates why. While most other video games would let you directly control a character and explore the game world, Telltale-style games give you minimal input over the character’s actions, and you can’t do much other than press a button when prompted, with the occasional moment where you can actually move.

For those who might not be aware, Telltale Games is the company famous for making interactive adventure games based on licensed properties. They did this before with The Walking Dead and Back to the Future, and they also did this with Game of Thrones, for which they’ve created a side story wedged between the end of Season 3 and the middle of Season 4. As with other Telltale games, the plot is split into six episodes (with the last episode as DLC), and the choices you make in each episode is supposed to have an impact on the story as a whole.

The story of this game revolves around House Forrester (which I’ll assume is non-canon because they’re mentioned nowhere in the show), whose members attempt to save their house, family, and themselves after they find themselves on the losing side of the War of the Five Kings (being loyal allies of House Stark). Just like in the show, each episode covers multiple story arcs that take you through various parts of Westeros and Essos, only here you play as members of the dying House Forrester.

Most of the characters are original characters, but six familiar Game of Thrones characters can be found (Tyrion Lannister, Danaerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, Ramsey Snow, and Jon Snow are all incorporated into the plot, with the original actors voicing them). The acting, as always, is highly commendable, but the game kills off the characters that the writers know you’ll like the most. On the TV show, this is nothing new, but in a video game, you tend to get more invested in a character you play as throughout the story, and so when you realise that pretty much every character you play as is doomed in the end, it’s not a very satisfying feeling. Then again, I don’t exactly know Telltale for making very satisfying games.

Before I talk more about the story and gameplay (which I will do quite often considering the game is more story than gameplay), I think I should talk about the presentation, which is a very important part of an interactive movie because, in theory, interactive movies are designed to emphasise immersion into a game world. To be fair, the graphics are actually quite nice on the PS3, and some of the backgrounds look like they were made as paintings before being used in the final game. That’s quite impressive, but I notice that there are quite a number of graphical glitches, and a major problem I have with the game is that the animated scenes often stutter for a brief intervals, so while the music is still playing, the animation is paused briefly, making you think that the game has frozen. The music is okay, but it’s the kind of repetitive orchestral music that’s common in games that pretend to be movies in the insulting way that Hollywood-style games do.

Back to the main substance of the game, the whole point of the game is that you’re making your own choices, and in theory, the decisions you make can save House Forrester from ruin. However, if you think your choices can lead to anything remotely resembling a good ending, don’t bother, because that would contradict the pessimistic narrative that the game’s writers would prefer. I tried my absolute best to make sure that House Forrester doesn’t collapse, but failed miserably. In fact, depending on how you play the game, all but three members of the Forrester clan are killed.

At first, I thought I had gotten on the bad endings, but I actually looked through all the possible choices, and it turns out that the effect your choices have on the ending is virtually negligible. No matter what choice you make, Ironrath is annihilated. The only difference you’ve made is how the existing characters narrate the endings, and the words associated with how you play (e.g. “you and 34% of players fought with Instinct and Nobility”), so if anyone tells you that your choices in the game actually matter in the game, they’re telling you bullshit.

I don’t have a problem with games that have multiple choice questions that affect the story, but here, your choices are virtually meaningless, and Telltale isn’t exactly honest about that either. They have a preferred narrative for the game, and they don’t give a damn about your choices. Of course, the way the story was written works fine on TV, but in a video game, you would want to play as a character who could overcome the enemies of the game world. In a normal video game, this is supposed to be an empowering experience as video games offer a visceral escape from our reality to one where you are totally in control.

This game, meanwhile, robs you of that freedom not just in terms of narrative, but in terms of gameplay as well. As I mentioned in paragraph prefacing this review, most of the time you can’t do much other than press a button when prompted. In certain parts of the game, you can move around and interact with people and objects, but that’s the only freedom of movement that you have. I get that this is an interactive movie game, but I think that a real, normal, traditional video game would allow you to interact with the game world with more freedom to move around the game world. This game does not let you do that, and you can only act in accordance to the game’s instructions, meanwhile the game just handholds you the entire way through. It certainly doesn’t help that the game counter-intuitively uses the R-stick to control the cursor.

Overall, I can say that this game is a disservice to gamers who want a proper Game of Thrones experience. The kind of GoT game I would want would be an action or action-adventure game (or alternatively an RPG, or a combo of the two) where you play as a custom character and you could potentially change the events of the series, including saving Ned Stark from execution. That would be the ultimate Game of Thrones experience, not a wishy-washy interactive movie made by a company that seems to have an obvious hatred for the idea of you being able to control a character in the traditional sense. This game in particular is a very bad example of what happens when you put story over gameplay, and for something like Game of Thrones, that’s simply unacceptable.

  • Score: 54%
  • Grade: D
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PS3 Review – Mighty No. 9

mighty no. 9Release Date: June 24th 2016

In 2013, Keiji Inafune announced that he was making a very special game, a game for all the Mega Man fans who were tired of Capcom’s negligent handling of the long-standing franchise. Within very short order, it became a Kickstarter success story due for release in 2015. However, the project was marred by several delays until finally, after nearly three years of waiting, we finally got the game, and it was a catastrophic disappointment.

The game is essentially a spiritual successor to the Mega Man series, and it has all the trappings. You play as Beck, an android capable of absorbing the abilities of other combat androids. He’s the ninth in a series of combat droids known as “Mighty Numbers”, and when robots all over America (at least they’ve got a specific setting now) go on a rampage after being infected with a computer virus, it’s up to Beck to stop the rampage and cure his fellow Mighty Numbers.

Unlike in many Mega Man games, this game tries for a slightly more fleshed out plot, complete with a range of additional characters. In lieu of Mega Man’s sister Roll, we have another character named Call, who exists as a support character, but in one of the levels you’re forced to play as her. You also get other non-playable support characters – the calm yet somewhat guilt-ridden Dr. White (who sometimes sounds like Scott Bakula), and the goofy and annoyingly dim-witted Dr. Sanda. These characters don’t necessarily add to the game, and nor do the game’s villains. They’re simply decorations that create the impression that there’s more to the game than there really is.

I admire the atiltempt to create a Mega Man game that actually tries for a full-fledged story, but it’s not that successful in terms of how it was executed, mainly because the game’s numerous cutscenes do nothing other than disrupt the flow of the game. On top of that, the voice acting is very bad, and sounds more like the voice cast of a children’s TV show, which I find ironic considering that in the UK the game gets slapped with the “age 12 or over” rating from PEGI. Even if the acting isn’t terrible, most of the time the characters sound goofy, sometimes to unbearable levels.

The game does sport a pretty neat art style, and I remember the concept art giving me a very good impression of what the final game might look like. Unfortunately, the game looks quite dated. It looks like it might have looked spectacular in the 2000’s, and keep in mind that I’m playing the PS3 version. The game probably looks better on the PS4 and Xbox One, but I don’t think of it as a next-gen game. It’s a bit too simple, and it looks like a game that could have come out on the PS2 in 2005. In fact, it looks a bit like Mega Man X8, I game that I simply loved playing more than this. Mega Man games in general are known for having great music, but in this game, not only is the music quite average, but apparently it’s played at such a soft volume that you can only really hear it if you’re not shooting anyone, even at the game’s highest BGM volume setting.

In terms of gameplay, it plays pretty much like a classic Mega Man. You run across a side-scrolling stage where you often jump from platform to platform, shooting enemies as you go. It’s a genre that’s as classic as a good old vinyl record. However, I can’t but think that Mighty No. 9 sticks very religiously to those traditions, and thus there isn’t a great deal of new ideas. One of the first things I noticed is that Beck, unlike Mega Man or X, is incapable of charging his basic weapon, which if anything is a downgrade from the original games. Even Mega Man 4 let you charge the damn peashooter, and that was made 25 years ago. Am I to believe that they put in everything from the classic Mega Man games except for the ability to charge your default weapon?

One of the most important skills that Beck can do is a forward dash. This was introduced in the Mega Man X series, but here in Mighty No. 9 it’s central to combat. Beck’s primary method of combat is shooting enemy robots until they glow a certain colour. At this point, Beck can dash through them and absorb Xel, a substance that grants Beck temporary power-ups, such as increased speed. You can also fill up an energy tank by collecting Xel, which is helpful in a lot of situations. You’re also able to perform a crouch dash, which I guess is an adequate replacement for the slide kick. Given how heavily dashing is integrated into combat, you will be using this a lot, and it’s actually quite fun to use. However, what I don’t like is how the mechanic comes into play during boss battles. When fighting a boss, you have to deal enough damage to it in order to dash through it. You have to repeat this process a certain number times, but if the boss glows and you fail to react fast enough, the boss heals itself, forcing you to repeat the attack pattern all over again, and that gets particularly annoying if you’re running low on health.

Playing as Call is an even worse experience. She’s actually slower than Beck, and she fires bullets at a slower rate than Beck, which hinder her ability to deal serious damage to enemies. She can’t absorb Xel, and is thus incapable of using the abilities of the other Mighty Numbers, but she does have an energy shield, which is nice. She can also dash using a jet pack and hover over the ground, but as a fighter, she can’t really pull her own weight, and it’s generally a bad experience as playing Call. You only play as her for a single level, and it’s a very badly designed one. The boss battle after it felt incredibly stiff, and as if it didn’t need to be in the game at all.

On the whole, the game felt terribly retrograde, and it shows in a number of ways. For instance, the game still uses lives, despite the fact that they were made redundant years ago with the advent of saving. Modern side-scrollers such as Super Meat Boy and Rayman Origins let you continue every time you die (I call it infinite lives), and it doesn’t impact on the difficulty whatsoever. The fact that Mighty No. 9 still has a limited number of lives is very telling of how Keiji Inafune seems to be stuck in the past. The game is meant to appeal to classic Mega Man fans, but in prioritising the classic feel, the developers didn’t care to address the faults of the old formula, and haven’t really evolved the genre.

Another sign of the game’s regressive design philosophy is the level design. Often, the levels will be difficult purely the sake of it, and because of the game’s wildly liberal use of electric spikes and bottomless pits. Seriously, who uses those anymore? Whenever a game utilises spikes and bottomless pits, it’s a sure sign of lazy game design from the days when game developers would churn out high-stress side-scrollers on a regular basis. Combined with the limited amount of lives, this can make for a very frustrating experience.

I had incredibly high hopes for this game, and after it kept getting delayed, I worried about how the final game might turn out, and it turns out that Mighty No. 9 is a master of the art of disappointment. If I ever made a game like this (which I have pondered), I would write something vastly better. This game should have been classic, but instead it’s an underdone, overhyped rehash of the old Mega Man games. At any rate, this kind of game shouldn’t have taken nearly three years to finish.

  • Score: 58%
  • Grade: D