Yooka-Laylee Review (PS4/X1) – “Return to a Golden Era of Platformers”

Yooka-Laylee is a three-dimensional platform game developed by Playtonic Games and published by Team 17. It’s essentially the spiritual successor to a popular Nintendo 64 game called Banjo-Kazooie, since it shares many elements from its audio and gameplay. In fact, a few of the original members from Rare who helped design Banjo are reprising their roles to bring Yooka-Laylee to a new generation of gamers. The title of Yooka-Laylee is a word play with the ukulele instrument, in much the same way as Banjo-Kazooie was a play from the musical instruments of a Banjo and Kazoo. If you were a fan of N64 titles such as Banjo, or even Super Mario 64, then you’re going to really enjoy what Yooka-Laylee has to offer. That’s not to say that today’s gamers won’t have plenty to enjoy as well, but Yooka-Laylee is a nostalgic trip down memory lane when open-world collectibles such as this were very popular back in the 90’s.

The story of Yooka-Laylee begins when a businessman known as Capital B, and his first-hand scientist, Dr. Quack, search for a rare magical book that will bring about total destruction and aid them in their global corporate takeover. They unleash a giant device that sucks up all types of literature in order to find the magical book, which so happens to be in the possession of our heroes, Yooka and Laylee. As the magical book begins to get sucked through the air however, pages from the book, called ‘Pagies’, begin to rip free from the book and scatter around the vast area that incorporates Yooka-Laylee’s world. Yooka and Laylee now venture out from their Shipwreck Creek home and enter Hivory Towers to locate the missing golden ‘Pagies’ before they fall into the hands of Capital B.

Gameplay: 4/5

There is much to do in Yooka-Laylee, but you’ll quickly learn that not everything is available to you from the start. Many of the Hivory Tower areas are locked away, and much of your move sets are unavailable at the beginning. As you progress though the campaign however (which took me approximately 20 hours), you’ll find that there is much to explore and unlock during your playtime. There are five separate worlds located within Hivory Towers: Tribalstack Tropics, Glitterglaze Glacier, MoodyMaze Marsh, Capital Cashino, and Galleon Galaxy. Each one focuses on a specific theme, and can be entered by locating a Grand Tome hidden somewhere within Hivory Towers, which is the hub portion of the game.

Once you locate the Grand Tome, you’ll need to unlock it by having a certain number of Pagies.  As you reach newer Tomes (worlds), the amount needed to enter the world increases. What’s interesting in Yooka-Laylee is that there are two modes to each world. For instance, you can unlock the first world with only three Pagies, which opens a small portion of the level. If you spend 7 additional Pagies, you expand the world to its full extent, giving you every option to explore and locate each collectible item. I normally would expand each world from the start, but towards the end only had enough to unlock the basic fifth world. What was nice about this was that it slowly introduced you to the world without it being overwhelming, as the expanded version felt too large at times. These worlds are huge, so having a small portion to peruse actually helped me to understand the level structure a bit more and make it feel more manageable in the long run.

The main goal of each world is to locate and collect Pagies, which range from easy to obtain, to incredibly challenging at times. Still, this gives players a nice balance of how they’d like to achieve their goal, as there are 145 Pagies in all. However, you only need 100 Pagies to reach the final boss. One of the gripes I had with the game, is actually about the boss encounters in each level. Unlike traditional video game bosses, the bosses in Yooka-Laylee can be found at any point during your play time. The five world bosses are all hidden at different locations, and as you search for ways to free the Pagies, you sometimes come across a boss battle. While I didn’t mind the bosses, I didn’t like how all you received from them was another Pagie. After feeling as if the boss of each world was a big deal, I thought that the reward of just getting one Pagie felt ungratifying. After all, you can acquire Pagies in numerous ways throughout your adventure, so getting another one after a boss was kind of a letdown. I would have preferred if the boss gave you something else of importance in return. But this is a minor gripe I had regarding boss battles. There is also a minor boss battle that appears three times in the Hub world of Hivory towers as well, as Dr. Quack makes you play a Quiz game before you can proceed. Very similar to Banjo-Kazooie, you’ll need to answer 10 questions correctly before you can win, so pay extra attention to the levels and characters within the game. If you answer correctly, you actually move up two spaces so you can shorten your Quiz, but you can only have three incorrect answers before being sent back to the beginning of the Quiz. Originally I thought this would be annoying, but it was an enjoyable break in-between levels. I will say though, that the final boss is quite challenging, so make sure to collect as many items and moves as possible before reaching Capital B.

There are many other items in Yooka-Laylee to collect in addition to Pagies. Quills are a basic feathery item that are scattered all around each location. The more you collect, the better the chance you’ll have at acquiring each upgraded move ability, which are needed to progress further throughout the game. The move sets can be purchased by a slithery character known as Trowzer, who can be found in each world. There are 200 Quills in each world. There are also five ghosts known as Ghost Writers in each world as well. Each one has a unique way to capture them, such as feeding them with some of the various projectiles, or using your sonar move to make them visible after hearing their laugh. The Ghost Writers are hidden very well around each world, so you’ll definitely need to keep your eyes and ears open. If you collect all five, you’ll receive a Pagie in return. Another interesting collectable in Yooka-Laylee is the Mollycool. If you locate this item (one in each world), you can then bring it to Dr. Puzz who uses her D.N. Ray to transform you into different vehicles, such as a snowplow, helicopter, or ship. This opens up the gameplay in a diverse way to offer you new ways to explore areas. One other item you can find are Play Coins, which after locating them, are handed to an 8-bit inspired character named Rextro, who then lets you play various arcade style mini-games to earn more Pagies. Finally, there are Play Tonics, which are game modifiers that help you enhance certain stats or abilities, such as giving you an extra Butterfly icon (which is the health item for Yooka and Laylee) or the ability to warn you when you are close to an item. Only one Tonic can be selected at a time, so you need to choose wisely.

As I stated earlier, there is much to do in Yooka-Laylee, and I found myself easily playing for hours without realizing how much time passed by, or wanting to come back to the game when I was away from it. But while I enjoyed the various exploration objectives of the game, there were some problematic areas as well. The camera for instance would fight you for control at times. It’s as if you had free reign of the camera but then if you neared a certain corner or obstacle, the camera would adjust itself to a fixed position. This became frustrating at times as I couldn’t see where I was going, and would get harmed or lose a Pagie challenge unnecessarily. More freedom from the camera would have been nice. I also found myself lost in the large worlds without knowing where to go, or how to reach a certain location I had found earlier. I know that Yooka-Laylee is supposed to be a throwback to earlier 90’s open-world games, but having a map of some sort would have definitely helped. Still, these are minor issues that can hopefully be ironed out if there were ever a sequel, and won’t deter you from enjoying the game itself.

Graphics: 3/5

For a Kickstarter game such as this, I’m actually impressed with the graphics. Each world is well designed, and the lighting effects definitely create the mood that each world calls for. Yooka-Laylee is a colorful and vibrant looking game, and the character designs all look great. There are some areas that affect it from achieving a higher score however. I noticed some areas with draw distance issues, and in today’s gaming world, that’s not something you see much of anymore. From far away, it was difficult to see where I was headed or which items were visible. This made collecting a bit more challenging. The water effects also looked a bit last gen as well, as they didn’t display much movement and seemed flat. At times, I couldn’t tell if something was water, or actual land. Again, this didn’t keep me from enjoying the game, but there were some graphical areas that could have been improved.

Sound: 5/5

The sound design in Yooka-Laylee really excels. It has the same charm as Banjo-Kazooie did, and I found myself humming to some of the melodies in the game even when I wasn’t playing. The soundtrack is catchy and the sound effects are perfect for this type of game. You can easily tell that Grant Kirkhope, the composer of Banjo, tried his best to mimic the same orchestral score that they had achieved with their previous iteration on the N64. The characters themselves don’t speak, but instead have a strange mumbling sound during their conversations. This was popular with Banjo and they continued that sound design option here as well. While some may find it annoying, you can skip most of it by pressing X and just read what the characters are saying instead, which are often humorous. Overall though, I really enjoyed the various music styles of each world. Each level has a fitting musical theme that matches the environment, and sound effects for each item and character are distinguishable from each other.

Replay Value: 5/5

Yooka-Laylee is a game that you’ll think about even when you’re not playing it, and you’ll look forward to visiting the world once more to see if you can find that collectable you were looking for, or realizing you may have found a way to collect that Pagie you couldn’t originally get to. There are so many collectibles to find and areas to explore that you’ll want to come back again and again. The game can sometimes be challenging, but I appreciate the fact that Yooka-Laylee didn’t hold your hand as many games today do. You need to learn how to complete objectives on your own, explore locations by visiting every possible area, and solve puzzles with little help from any on-screen tips. There’s also a hidden character from another indie game that shows up to lend you a hand, but I’ll leave that to you to find (if you haven’t already read about it online, that is).

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5/10

Overall, Yooka-Laylee is a great game, and despite some minor flaws, I really enjoyed playing an original IP that reminded me of games like Banjo-Kazooie or Conker’s Bad Fur Day from the Nintendo 64 days. Games like Yooka Laylee are few and far between, so I’m hopeful that there’ll be a Yooka-Tooie one day in the future!

Pros:

+ Nails the Banjo vibe

+ Outstanding soundtrack

+ Addictive gameplay

Cons:

– Camera takes control at times

– Graphics, while nice, could be more refined

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Yooka-Laylee! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review (Wii/360/3DS): “Ahh…Shell Shock”

TMNT 2013 Wallpaper

Over time, we’ve seen some stellar media franchises progress over the years. One particular franchise that’s had numerous changes has been the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Between it’s dark toned comic, chipper late 80s/early 90s cartoon, to the comic-based 2003 cartoon and now, Nickelodeon’s rendition that started in 2012, there’s no question we’ve seen the turtles in a variety of ways. However, if there’s one thing that fans of the franchise will remain fond of, it’s the video games that released in the early 90s. Whether it be TMNT: Turtles in Time, TMNT II: The Arcade Game, TMNT: Hyperstone Heist, TMNT III: Manhattan Project or even the 2003 TMNT game for the PS2/GC/Xbox, they’ve always been known for their downright fun, beat-em-up gameplay. Well, with a new media rendition comes a new game based on the latest cartoon. Developed by Magic Pockets and published by Activision, is the turtle’s latest return a radical one or should it stay in the sewers?

Story: 2/5

There’s one thing for sure: TMNT games are never really known for their story. However, if you plan on incorporating one, make sure it’s somewhat coherent. Unfortunately, TMNT’s story here mainly falls flat. The turtles are thrown into mischief as there’s a mutagen bomb that Stockman plans on detonating in NYC that will turn all its inhabitants into vile creatures. Fans of the show will instantly recognize characters such as Fishface, Dogpound, the blob known as “Justin”, Krang bots, Foot Ninja, Karai, and naturally, Shredder. The story is told through very brief cutscenes with minimal dialogue just to remind you there’s something to connect the player to the scenario. However, as opposed to the story being somewhat engaging, it’s very shoddily pieced together. It doesn’t help that the presentation of the story is downright poor and incredibly rushed. Even though it’s nice to see familiar faces return, the story is minimal and very subpar.

TMNT 2013 Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 2/5

“Well, that was incredibly mediocre.“ Leonardo states this numerous times throughout the game, and it pretty much sums up the gameplay of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The game is designed as an old-school style brawler where you can choose between all four turtles on the fly, which is nice since you don’t have to wait to lose a life before choosing another character as had been done in previous TMNT games. This option gives you the chance to try out any of the characters during any point in the game. Yet while each turtle has their different variation of moves, they are very limited and the game becomes more of a continuous button masher. Each turtle has a basic attack move, a special attack, and a throw feature (along with jumping). The problem is that the moves and gameplay are incredibly repetitive. Each level is a series of areas where you need to defeat a horde of foot ninjas and Krang bots. Once destroyed, you continue on your path until you do it all over again. This continues until you complete the level.

TMNT 2013 Gameplay 5

There are 5 levels in TMNT and each level contains 3-4 sub-levels. Yet with the exception of the last sub-level on each level, you are basically attacking enemies until you complete the level. There are some minor collectibles that you can locate in order to gain more points, and pickup items such as throwing stars and smoke bombs, but they are pretty much useless in the game as you can just slash your way through everything. At certain moments, you can access your camera device to locate hidden doors. If you locate them, you can find additional mutagen canisters needed to unlock a mini-game (which is essentially the classic arcade game “Defender”, TMNT style) in the Extras area. The last sub-level is a boss battle that pits you against some of the main enemies from the TV show, such as Dogpound, Baxter Stockman and the Shredder. These boss battles deliver a change of pace and strategy, which was refreshing, but not enough to help ease the boredom that the game delivers. The game is also extremely short, taking only about 2-3 hours to complete, and in a way, I’m glad it was short because of how tedious it is. While you can co-op your way through the game on the Wii and 360, the 3DS is mysteriously missing this option, which is strange. I did enjoy the ability to upgrade each turtle by collecting orbs from defeated enemies and then using them to update your characters strength and move set, but most of the upgrades aren’t even needed to complete the story mode.

Once you do finish the game, other options become available to you, such as Time Attack and Survival Mode, but they are more of the same and offer nothing new to the experience. You can tell that the game is geared towards a younger audience based on the easy difficulty, and that Nickelodeon wanted to quickly put out a product that aligned with the popular show.

TMNT 2013 Gameplay 3

Graphics: 2/5

Let me start off by saying, the versions I am reviewing are the Wii and 3DS version, not the Xbox 360 (which is already an odd assortment of consoles they chose to develop for…omitting the PS3, Vita and Wii U). However, even for a Wii game 7 years into the console’s lifecycle, the visuals here are less than average. Washed out textures, incredibly blocky character models, stiff animations and lifeless, mundane environments round TMNT to be one of the most inexcusable visual games for 2013. The TMNT game that released in 2003 for the PS2/GC/Xbox looked next-gen compared to this…and that was 10 years ago! When I look at a 10 year old game and am immediately blown away by the comparison, it’s just plain sad. On the 3DS, it’s a bit more excusable and less ugly due to the condensed resolution. The only benefit visually is that the game runs quite smooth, with only a few rare instances of slowdown.

TMNT 2013 Gameplay 2

Sound: 2/5

Turtles games have relied heavily on energetic soundtracks to really engage the player during the beat-em-up fun, with the pinnacle soundtracks being Turtles in Time and Hyperstone Heist. What we have here is something that matches the tone of the show a bit, which is fine. Although there’s nothing memorable to leave the game humming too, it’s still serviceable background music that neither adds or detracts from the experience. The voice actors from the TV show reprise their roles, but they all fail to deliver any excitement to the game. Some of the line deliveries just don’t match the tone of certain scenarios and just feel stiff. For example, there’s a boss battle where April will keep shouting “keep it up guys, you’ve almost got him!” but I didn’t even hit the boss once yet. The boss battle lasts for about 5 minutes and she repeats it every 20 seconds…so do the math and it’s pretty nonsensical. Worse yet, occasionally some voices will be blown out while others will be much lower. Sound effects are pretty poor overall as well, feeling like stock sound effects for an amateur game development program.

TMNT 2013 Gameplay 4

Overall Score: 8/20 = 4.0 out of 10

When I heard there was a new TMNT game coming out, it was easy for me to get excited. Being a die-hard turtles fan, I’m always eager to play a new game in the series. However, what I was left with was an immensely rushed and pale imitation of the SNES/Genesis beat-em-ups from years past. What the game lacks is soul. It feels lifeless, generic and doesn’t have anything that the older TMNT games didn’t do better…in 1992 or even 2003. While I had the slightest mild enjoyment playing this game for the fact that it was a TMNT game, the game itself is just incredibly dull and unimaginative. The only thing going through my head as I played it was, “Ahh…Shell Shock”.

PROs:

+ Has the show’s intro

+ Turtles can be upgraded

+ 4-player co-op on Wii/360

CONs:

– Ugly visuals

– Awful audio mixing

– Subpar, rushed storytelling

– Unimaginative, bland levels

– Very spotty hit detection

– Too easy

– 3DS version omitted co-op completely

A special thank you to Activision for providing us a review copy for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”! Copy tested on the Wii and 3DS.

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ThunderCats Review (DS)

ThunderCats is a side-scrolling adventure game published by Namco Bandai and developed by Aspect Digital Entertainment. The game is inspired by the ThunderCats animated series from Warner Bros., and was released for the Nintendo DS.

Story: 2/5

ThunderCats is a game based on the new animated series, and as a tie-in, it shares many of the shows story elements. So much so in fact, that the game borrows exact scenes from the show to piece together a story line for the game. In the game, Thundera has fallen into ruin by Mumm-Ra and his evil Lizard Army. The leader of the ThunderCats (Lion-O) must wield the Sword of Omens, and along with his ThunderCats companions, stop at nothing to reclaim Thundera and obtain the Book of Omens. Along the way, the ThunderCats come into contact with other allies that help them on their journey, as they inform them of the dangers that lie ahead on their quest to stop Mumm-Ra. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll have a better understanding of who all these characters are, and why this quest is so important. Yet the game just takes snippets of scenes from the show, and tries to combine them together to give Lion-O a reason for why he is on the next level. It was nice seeing so many cameos and story elements from the show, but had I never heard of ThunderCats, I wouldn’t really know the important details that the game’s story fails to deliver.

Gameplay: 2/5

I’m a big fan of ThunderCats, and was happy to see that a game was finally in the works. Unfortunately, the game isn’t as good as it could have been. While the game does a decent job of incorporating many elements from the ThunderCats animated series, the gameplay itself can be a bit rough. For starters, you can only play as Lion-O, and while the other ThunderCats are in the game, they only act as assists for the player. While it’s a shame that an opportunity to use the other ThunderCats is absent, at least we see them aid Lion-O throughout the game. However, Lion-O needs all the assists he can get, because combat can be a bit difficult for a number of reasons. First off, Lion-O has a very basic skill set: he slashes with his Sword of Omens, can double jump, and slide. Yet Lion-O has no way of actually defending himself. This means that while battling enemies that slash and fire at you, Lion-O will undoubtedly get hit again and again. I’m not sure why a block feature wasn’t implemented, as it would have come in handy to somehow block enemies that are firing at you from a distance. Not only that, but Lion-O seems to get stunned long enough to get hit two to three times before he actually falls backward. This can prove especially daunting during boss fights, and you will need to utilize every assist (you can carry up to three) to help defeat the enemy.

While Panthro, Tygra and Cheetara come in handy with their attacks (which normally eliminate any enemy on-screen or brings damage to a boss), I basically used Wilykit/Wilykat for the majority of the time, as they are the only ones that provide you with health and icons (to call a companion) during some of the more difficult stages and bosses. The game also had an unbalanced checkpoint system. I found myself redoing an entire level if I died, and even if you manage to make it to the boss battle at the end of the level, losing meant restarting the level from the beginning. While I did appreciate seeing many characters from the animated series during the boss battles, I felt that it was difficult to determine if some of my hits were damaging the bosses more than others. Without a life bar, or any visual indicator of my attacks, each hit felt the same. Whether I attacked with my sword, or used a special assist from the other ThunderCats, or even unleashing a powerful Sword of Omens attack (which builds up from enemy attacks and collecting sword icons), there was nothing to let the player know how damaging any of these attacks were. Luckily, the game wasn’t long enough for me to become too frustrated with these issues, as I completed it in about an hour and a half (which is something else to consider when purchasing a game of this length at $29.99). Overall, I feel that ThunderCats could have been more enjoyable if these issues were better handled.

Graphics: 2/5

As a DS game, ThunderCats is not going to be a graphical powerhouse. Lion-O and the other ThunderCats characters are simple sprites that are hard to see because of their size. The backgrounds are uninspired, and the cut scenes are nothing more than stills from the show. I suppose that this is to be expected from the aging system though.

Sound: 2/5

“ThunderCats, Ho!” is a very popular phrase from the ThunderCats, and I loved hearing that when I was a kid when watching the original cartoons, or even from the more recent animated series that the game is inspired by. Yet I got sick of hearing this when it’s the only sound in the whole game. When Lion-O starts a level, when Lion-O unleashes his Eye of Thundera, when you continue after losing a life, when Lion-O requires an assist from a companion; he constantly responds with “ThunderCats, Ho!” It gets old fast. The music is decent though and reminded me of old 8-bit games, but it’s nothing memorable.

Overall Score: 8/20 = 4.0 out of 10

ThunderCats is not a horrible game, but it’s not great by any means either. It was fun to finally play as Lion-O and to experience the world of ThunderCats as a console game. In small bursts, the game is somewhat enjoyable, but that doesn’t hide the fact that the game has its problems, and that many people will tire of it quickly.

PROS:

+ Finally get to play as Lion-O in a video game

CONS:

– No Defense against Attacks

– Repetitive Enemies and Levels

– No Checkpoints

– Annoying Sound Effects

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A special thank you to Namco Bandai Games for providing us a review copy of ThunderCats!

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review (PS3/360)

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a third-person action game developed by High Moon Studios and published through Activision. The game is a direct sequel to the 2010 video game, Transformers: War for Cybertron, and is available for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Story: 4/5

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron takes place shortly after the events of its original, War for Cybertron. The game begins on the infamous Ark, which is the shuttle that the Autobots use to escape Cybertron, but are then attacked by Megatron and his Decepticons. A battle ensues and we eventually see Optimus and Megatron battling aboard the ship. Megatron seems to gain the upper hand and is about to finish Optimus once and for all, until Bumblebee jumps in to take the hit instead. This prologue event sets the course of the game, and then flashes back six days prior to this final confrontation. It’s interesting to note that even though War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron take place right before the original 80’s Transformers cartoon, there are many nods to the 80’s Transformers animated movie (such as the Bumblebee save that was just mentioned). The game contains thirteen chapters (as opposed to the originals ten) and this time around begins with the player controlling the Autobots during the first half of the story, before switching to the Decepticons in the latter half. The final level, however, is a mix of both Autobots and Decepticons, before letting you choose to end the game with either Optimus or Megatron. Fans of the original cartoon series will get an even bigger treat, as there are many cameos and surprise appearances that will please longtime fans. However, even those unfamiliar with the original cartoon series will enjoy the engaging story that the game has to offer. Fall of Cybertron deals with the ongoing conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons as they attempt to escape their dying planet of Cybertron. Yet the game goes into greater detail by showing Autobot characters Jazz and Cliffjumper investigating the disappearance of Grimlock and his Dinobots, as well as Shockwave’s interest in the Insecticons and Starscream’s betrayal of Megatron (another scene that is taken from the 80’s animated movie). The story switches between many different Transformer characters as you progress through the game, and even though it’s no surprise that the game ends right where the cartoon begins, it is quite an experience to witness the events leading up to the original series.

Gameplay: 4/5

Fall of Cybertron plays very similarly to its predecessor (War for Cybertron) yet with a few changes that help to make this better than the original. Once again, the game is a third person shooter, where the objective is to destroy the opposing forces with primary and stronger secondary weapons. Other objectives vary the gameplay a bit, such as destroying outposts, protecting teammates, and collecting items, such as energon cubes and audio logs. You also have the ability to purchase and upgrade your weapons, as well as many different kinds of perks, such as extended shields and health. You will still need energon cubes to refill your health meter, but your shield re-energizes over time and when not in battle. One of the issues of FOC’s predecessor was that ammo was tough to come by at times and the melee was slow to use. These have been changed in FOC for the better, as ammo is more readily available through the thirteen chapters, and the melee has been improved. Each Transformer also has a special ability that can be activated by pressing R2. These specials need to recharge after each use, but come in handy during difficult areas with large amounts of enemies. Special abilities are specific to a particular Autobot or Decepticon and range from grappling beams, shock bursts, and artillery strikes, to name a few. Grimlock and Bruticus are exceptions to this, as these two have different control schemes due to the nature of their transformations.

Transforming is as easy as it was in the previous game, and is accomplished by clicking the L3 button. However, as fun as it is to transform, there is still little use for it. Even though your armor can be a bit stronger in vehicle mode, there are only a couple moments when you need to transform in order to escape quickly or fly to different locations. While the option to transform is the best idea for the player, it would be nice to have some “forced” missions where you need to use the vehicle form for an extended amount of time. Another improvement to the game is the levels themselves, as they are more varied and interesting to play. Levels are not as bland as they were before, and are more “colorful” and detailed than in WFC.

One of the modes that I was sad to see leave was the online co-op campaign and the option to choose a character at the beginning of each level. But it’s understandable why that is no longer available after playing though the game and experiencing the story progression. However, Escalation mode returns for those that prefer a multiplayer component, where the goal is to work with others to defeat waves of enemies. Fall of Cybertron is gripping from beginning to end, and has a good balance of exploration, story development and gunplay. It was tough to improve on the greatness of the original WFC game, but these minor enhancements have helped make this game better than the last.

Graphics: 4/5

War for Cybertron set the bar really high, so it’s nice to see that its sequel can at least maintain the graphical effects of the game. Each Transformer has highly detailed designs, and even showcase areas of rotating gears and functions that consistently move on their outer frames. The transformations themselves also look great, and environments are much more varied and less monochromatic than in WFC. Some set pieces even rival games such as God of War and Ratchet & Clank, as we see interactive backgrounds and gargantuan robots or ships that dwarf our main characters on screen. Lighting effects are also well done, yet there were moments in the game when the environments take a while to fully load as we move from one room to another. This doesn’t happen often, yet is noticeable when it does. Still, the game looks great and the graphics are on par, if not superseding, War for Cybertron.

Sound: 5/5

What’s noticeable about the soundtrack from the moment we see the initial title screen is how it closely resembles the score from the recent Transformers movies (which is a good thing). Even though it’s similar however, it does stand on its own and is easily one of the best soundtracks in a video game. The intensity of the music sets the tone of the game and doesn’t let up until the final credits roll (which fans of the original 80’s movie will remember). Sound effects sound just as they did in WFC, as players transform and blast their way through the games many levels. Also, familiar voices return as Peter Cullen reprises his role as Optimus Prime, and for the first time in twenty-five years, Gregg Berger returns to the voice of Grimlock. Fall of Cybertron is best experienced with the volume cranked up, as the audio effects and tracks really shine.

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5/10

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a worthy addition to the Transformers brand, and an improvement to the already stellar original, War for Cybertron. With its engaging gameplay and abundant fan service, Fall of Cybertron is definitely a must buy for any Transformers fan, and an excellent addition in any gamers library.

PROS:

+ Lots of cameos and surprises for longtime Transformers fans

+ Engaging storyline that bridges the gap between War for Cybertron and the original 80’s cartoon series

+ Fantastic soundtrack and effects

+ Entertaining gameplay and an improvement over its predecessor

CONS:

– Minor graphical glitches

– Need more reason to transform to vehicle mode

– No more co-op feature

Sorcery Review (PS3)

Sorcery utilizes the Playstation Move peripheral and is published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the Playstation 3. The game is intended to become one of the definitive titles to support the Playstation Move hardware.

STORY: 4/5

Player’s assume the role of Finn, a young sorcerer’s apprentice, who must master the arcane arts in order to protect his homeland after being threatened by the Nightmare Queen, an evil sorceress that was freed from captivity. Finn finds out that his magical cat and close friend, Erline, has ties to the Nightmare Queen, and the two must travel through the dark faerie kingdoms in search of the missing King, and put a stop to the Nightmare Queen’s darkness over the world. Along the way, Finn learns how to use his arcane arts for good and acquires different abilities to help him along on his journey. The story is told through a story-book style, with some elements that reminded me of a Disney film (although a bit more dark in tone at times). The characters are interesting; with humorous as well as conflicting moments dealing with a power struggle between Erline, Finn and the Nightmare Queen. Even though the main character, Finn, could sound and act annoying at times, the story was well told and the characters have a good blend of light-hearted interaction and emotional intensity. The game could easily be translated to an entertaining film, and had enough story twists and interesting dialogue that could rival other “magical” tales of this genre.

GAMEPLAY: 4/5

Players must use the Playstation Move navigation and motion controllers to cast magic spells in order to attack enemies and brew elixirs. The Move is a well-crafted device, and works extremely well for this game. The gestures that the player makes in order to interface with your character are mostly fluid and precise. It is probably one of the best examples of how to create a “hardcore” game that doesn’t necessarily need to fit the “party” game genre that motion controls are known for. The navigation controller is used to make Finn move around while the motion controller acts as your wand. Finn is able to fire various blasts of arcane energy at his enemies by just flicking the Move controller at different parts of the screen. The trajectory of your blast depends on how you wave your controller, which range from low/high attacks, to curved attacks. These curved attacks are useful when enemies are hiding behind walls or columns. Another nice Move feature is the ability to acquire or purchase magic potions, and then research these potions by creating different elixirs that act as your upgrades in the game. Once you find a specific combination, you’re rewarded with a certain character upgrade that you then have to “mix” together by using your Move controllers. During gameplay, you then mix the potion and gesture to drink it in order to activate the upgrade (or health item).

The game does a nice job of making you feel like a wizard by easily lifting objects and blocked areas by simply gesturing a swiping move with the controller. Even though you start off with a basic wand attack, Finn will come into contact with other magical abilities that his wand can produce. Abilities that will aid Finn’s progression in the game with different wand attacks, such as: freeze, fire, wind, earth, and lightning. Boss battles were equally interesting, as it wasn’t always a simple mechanic of hitting the enemy until they were defeated. Many bosses needed specific strategies to defeat them, and often required different types of wand attacks. Even though the game manages to produce a certain variety of enemies, I felt that many of them were reused too many times, and fighting the same types of enemies proved tedious.

As great as this game was for the Move controller, there were instances when the motion controls proved annoying. One such moment is when you try to change your wand ability. The player is supposed to swipe their controller in a specific motion for each ability, yet this never seemed to register. It would have been easier to just make this a button configuration for quick access. Also, the game isn’t lengthy, and you’ll find that you can beat it in a short amount of time. Still, I see that as a good thing for this particular game, since waving the Move controller can get tiring after a short while of play. Even though this game is one of the Move’s finest for the peripheral, it is not intended to be played for long amounts of time. If spaced out appropriately, you’ll enjoy the game more and it will last longer for a single playthrough. Still, the game may be short, but it’s fun, which gives it a high replay value.

GRAPHICS: 3/5

Graphics are a mixed bag with this game. There are moments when the game looks very good, with interesting locals and set pieces, yet other moments when the character models almost seem like PS2 quality. The story book sections are simple and the lighting and textures in the game help to convey the look and mood of certain levels, but it’s all pretty average.

SOUND: 3/5

While Sorcery has a great score that matches this type of genre, it can be pretty inconsistent. There would be areas without any music that could have benefitted from having a continual track playing throughout the scene. Yet when the musical score was present, it offered varied melodies that enhanced the feeling of the environments and story line. Sound effects were well done, and each magic blast and item collection effect sounded powerful yet mystical.

Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10

Sorcery has been in the works for a long time, and while it’s not perfect, it is probably one of the best games for the Playstation Move. It offers a single-player experience that many motion control games lack. Sorcery is a lot of fun in short bursts, and feels every bit as magical as intended for the player.

PROS:

+ Interesting Story

+ Fantastic use of the Move controller

CONs:

– Tedious for long periods of play

– Average graphics

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II Review (PSN/XBLA)

Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog have waited patiently for Sonic 4: Episode II, and the wait is finally over! This game does a nice job of connecting past Sonic games in both story and style, as many familiar faces and locales return. The story revolves around Metal Sonic being reborn by Dr. Eggman after his defeat in Sonic CD (originally released on the Sega CD and now also available on PSN/XBLA). During the events of Episode I, Dr. Eggman revived Metal Sonic to locate Sonic while he planned to build a new Death Egg (mk. II). Sonic and Tails race to stop Dr. Eggman and Metal Sonic before the new Death Egg can be completed.

Episode II plays similar to the first episode, yet with some enhancements to the gameplay. This time around, Sonic is no longer solo in Episode II, as Tails returns to aid the blue hedgehog. Tails can either be controlled by the computer in single-player, or in multiplayer in local or online co-op play. With the inclusion of Tails, Sonic can now perform new combo moves, such as the Tail Lift and Power Spin Attack. Tail Lift gives Sonic a temporary chopper lift that he can use to hover in order to reach elevated areas. It also serves as a quick escape from death during certain levels in the game. Meanwhile, the Power Spin Attack combo grants Sonic and Tails a powerful roll (similar to Sonic’s regular spin attack) that can destroy mostly anything in their path. This combo move definitely comes in handy during some of the boss fights.

Special stages also return in Episode II. Similar to how Episode I revived the special stages from the original Sonic, Episode 2 borrows from Sonic 2’s special stages. These special stages are based on a half-pipe race showing a rear view of Sonic and Tails as they try to collect a certain number of rings. If you succeed in acquiring all the rings during a special stage, then Sonic is able to retrieve a Chaos Emerald. Also returning are the Red Star Rings (which were last seen in Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations). One Red Ring is hidden per act, and an achievement/trophy is unlocked after collecting them all.

Also, a nice addition to owning both Episode I and Episode II will unlock you the Episode Metal bonus stages. These stages explore how Metal Sonic survived his battle with Sonic after the events of Sonic CD. During these levels, you take control of Metal Sonic as he races his way through reworked zones from Episode I. Not only are these zones a little different from the first Episode, but there are short segments that show how Metal Sonic received the power he now has in Episode 2, and how he caught up with Sonic and Tails at the beginning of this game.

The old school challenge of Sonic the Hedgehog is still apparent, with creative boss battles and reworked levels from previous Sonic games. It would have been nice to see newer zones rather than older ones retooled for Sonic 4, but the level designs are engaging and fun, and they are reminiscent of past Sonic games. Sonic’s movements are still a little sluggish compared to the originals, but you easily get used to it and the controls don’t detract from the gameplay experience (except for the “flying” stage as Sonic and Tails head for the Sky Fortress in their Tornado plane. This segment was difficult and somewhat boring in its length). The boss battles were well crafted as well, as they gave the player an old school strategy feel. At times, these bosses could prove frustrating, but once you were able to figure out each strategy, the feeling of accomplishment overcame the frustration.

Sonic 4: Episode II is a great DLC game that all Sonic fans (as well as new fans to the series) should play. I’m hopeful that we’ll see an Episode III, but from what’s been said, that would depend on the sales of Episode II. Sonic deserves to remain in 2D form, so I hope to see more DLC episodes down the line.

VERDICT: BUY IT!

Binary Domain Review (PS3/360)

Binary Domain is a third-person, squad-based shooter from the creators of the Yakuza series. Published and developed by SEGA, the game features an optional headset functionality. Binary Domain is available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Story: 5/5

During the early years of the 21st century, the effects of global warming have caused most of the world to lie in ruins, forcing government leaders to build new cities above the devastation. With millions dead, robots were created to be used as the humans main labor force. America became the world superpower when the Bergen company dominated most of the robotic industries. However, the Amada corporation in Japan tried to sue Bergen for stealing their technology, but that case ultimately failed. As the years passed, the government passed a new set of international laws, dubbed the “New Geneva Convention.” One of these laws, clause 21, banned any research dealing with robots that could pass for humans, also known as “Hollow Children.” The IRTA (International Robotics Technology Association) created a task force called the “Rust Crew” to deal with issues relating to clause 21. Many more years passed, and a Hollow Child attacked Bergen Industries, but was wounded in the process. To their surprise, the Hollow Child had no idea that he was a robot himself. With this newfound knowledge, the IRTA sent a Rust Crew to Japan to question Yoji Amada, head of the Amada Corporation, as they believed he was responsible for the Hollow Child.

The story behind Binary Domain is a very interesting concept, and one that will keep you guessing throughout its many engaging cut-scenes. At times, the story made me wonder how the concept of ‘hidden’ robots could eventually become reality, and also made me think twice about certain choices that needed to be made. The story line revolves around the main character (Dan), a member of the Rust Crew, who eventually comes into contact with other agents of different nationalities/ governments. These members then make their way towards the Amada Corporation while tackling a myriad amount of robotic soldiers. Towards the end of the game, the story shifts depending on the character interactions you have with your teammates, leaving many players with different outcomes. Binary Domain sucked me into the game by the story alone, and pushed me through it just to see how it would all end.

Gameplay: 3/5

Binary Domain is basically a squad-based shooter that incorporates a cover system. It’s very similar to many 3rd person action games like Gears of War, Dead Space, and Vanquish, but differentiates itself with a few gimmicks. First off, the game can be played with a headset, giving you the option to issue commands to your teammates. While this is an innovating idea, you realize that some of the commands don’t always register, leaving you to continuously shout commands to your teammates until they copy, or become frustrated by your lack of communication. Plus, you just sound silly issuing simple commands to your television when no other human is around (or even when others are around).  Another addition to the game is the Consequence System. Trust plays a key role in how your teammates view the player (Dan). Their opinion of Dan is determined by how Dan interacts and responds to his teammates, which affects both the story line and game play. As you progress through the game, your teammates could offer assistance or leave you to defend yourself depending on how you treat them. The story line itself can change, and not all of your teammates might survive depending on the choices you make, leaving you “responsible” for their outcome. This was a nice change of pace to the game, as the story was its biggest asset, and made you care for the characters in the game.

However, as entertaining as Binary Domain was, it was a pretty repetitive affair; even though the developer tried hard to change the game play through its six chapters, such as rail shooter moments and vehicle sections. Yet, the biggest issue is that you mainly just destroyed robots with your main assault rifle and firearm, and an optional third weapon scattered throughout the game. It was nice to also have different types of grenades to lash out at the enemy, but it was all standard fare. There were a few moments of stealth and level interaction, but it mostly boiled down to walking into an area filled with robots, destroying the robots, and moving ahead until you need to destroy more robots. The boss battles did enhance the game play, as there were many different types of large-scale bosses, and most of the time, a strategy needed to be implemented with your team in order to survive (there are many one hit kills, so gunning it alone isn’t a good idea).  An upgrade system is also present in the game (this too is similar to Dead Space). “Kiosks” are scattered around the area that give you the ability to upgrade or purchase additional nanomites (health, armor, etc.) or weapon upgrades for you and your team. Destroying robots gives you credits to purchase the items, but you never felt stingy as there was always a surplus of money to be obtained.  Binary Domain had a lot of great moments, whether you were running and gunning, manning turrets, being chased on a transport vehicle, or riding jet-skis, yet the repetition kicked in too frequently throughout the game.

Graphics: 4/5

It’s impressive to see the robots built in layers, and as you shoot them with your weapons, they break apart into pieces revealing more of its interior design. A lot of Binary Domain is like this, with interesting set locations, enemy design, realistic looking characters, and lighting effects that gives the player a futuristic landscape to observe. There are a few moments however when the locales are bland, but for the most part, Binary Domain is a very pretty game to look at.

Sound: 3/5

There were moments in the game that drove me insane, and one particular moment that comes to mind is the repetitive comments from some of the characters. Being a squad-based shooter, teammates are supposed to interact during certain situations, but when you are trying to defend them while they are busy operating a machine, you hear the same comments again and again in a very short time period, which gets really annoying. Plus, when Dan gets wounded, he lowers himself to the ground and the player tries to crawl himself to safety as you wait for aid from one of your teammates. Yet that help sometimes never arrives even though the teammate is saying they’re coming. Still, the voice acting is really well done (although do we really need another game with characters cursing when there is really no need to curse), and the music, while limited in tracks, has a very good soundtrack that gets you into the game.

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Overall, Binary Domain is a very good game, with many inquisitive moments during its storyline, relentless action, and interesting additions to its gameplay. For being a new title that is mostly unheard of, and not just another sequel, Binary Domain surprisingly holds its own, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it in the future.

PROS:

+Engaging story line.

+Innovative features (headset, consequence system)

+Impressive Graphics and cut scenes

CONS:

-Repetitive gameplay

-Annoying character interaction

-Inconsistent headset functionality

Retro Gaming: Bionic Commando (Nintendo Entertainment System – 1988)

Bionic Commando is an action-adventure game that was loosely based on the 1987 arcade game of the same name. The protagonist is known as Radd Spencer, a commando equipped with a bionic arm that enables him to grapple ledges in order to traverse over gaps. This is one of the few instances where a jump button was not included in an 8-bit game.

Radd Spencer is sent in to investigate the disappearance of the Federation’s best soldier, Super Joe, after they find out of the Empire’s plans of constructing a weapon known as the Albatross. This premise sends our hero through 19 areas throughout the game. However, certain areas are locked until you can locate specific weapons to access the area.

The game begins at a stage selection map where you can decide which areas to tackle in any sequence (although it is mostly a linear progression). From there, you can load-out your weapon selection before beginning the level, but some weapons are better than others in certain areas so you need to choose wisely. There are two level types to Bionic Commando. The first is a side-scrolling action-adventure game filled with many objectives: various enemies to eliminate, platforming areas that require your grappling hook to swing across, communications terminals that need to be hacked in order to obtain useful information, and level bosses that incorporate a certain strategy to defeat. The second level type is a top down view, similar to the original Commando game. These levels require you to get from point A to point B as you defeat hordes of enemies and dodge incoming fire to reach your goal.

Bionic Commando was remade just recently for the XBLA and PSN, and while the remake was great, the original is the one to play to fully experience the gamelay, along with its engaging music and cutscenes. What’s interesting is that the Japanese version of the game included a revived Adolf Hitler as one of the main villains, but was renamed “Master-D” in the American release. However, the Hitler graphics were never changed, and a “gory” cutscene of his face exploding was shown. An image that was unheard of during the NES era. I was certainly surprised when I viewed this scene after playing it for the first time during my younger years.

Bionic Commando was a fantastic game during the 8-bit era. It’s a rare gem and true classic of old-school gaming…especially after you get used to not being able to jump.

Do you remember playing Bionic Commando for the NES? If so, comment and share your memories with us about the game!

Retro Gaming: Batman (Nintendo Entertainment System – 1990)

Batman was inspired by the 1989 Tim Burton movie starring Michael Keaton and was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was developed by Sunsoft and was an action platform game with the usual side-scrolling action that was popular during this time.

Batman contained five levels, with each level broken up into 2-3 sections and culminating in a boss battle in order to advance. Even though the game was based off of the 1989 movie, it deviated itself by including new locations to explore and some additional character appearances from the comic books (such as the level one boss, Firefly). The music was very catchy and upbeat for its time, matching the tempo and level surroundings of the game (it made Glacier928’s Top 10 NES Soundtracks list), and the cutscenes, while quick and abrupt, were entertaining to watch.

Not only could Batman use his fists to defeat his foes with a basic punching attack, but he also had his gadgets, and the game provided this by having three projectile weapons: the batarang, batdisk and bat speargun.  Another feature that added to the game play was the ability to wall jump. This option enhanced the platforming elements of the game and introduced an additional challenge.

While the game was extremely fun, it was also very challenging, as you had to restart an entire level if you lost a life. The Joker himself (who was strangely much larger than Batman) was a very difficult last boss that many gamers struggled to defeat (even though there was one trick I found to finally beat him). If you missed Batman for the NES, it is a game worth checking out, especially if you’re a Batman fan.

Do you remember playing Batman for the NES? If so, comment and share your memories with us about the game!

Unpopular Opinion: Why Playstation 3 is Currently the Best Gaming Console

Before reading, please note that this article is not a bashing statement to other gaming consoles, and that the author owns all 3 current-generation gaming systems. Also, the PC is not considered a console, and so has not been included in this article.

All views expressed in the article are strictly of the author’s perspective.

1) Better Exclusives

Let’s face it. Owning a gaming console is useless unless you have great games. While all three major systems (Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii) have fantastic games, only Playstation 3 provides the player with exclusive blockbuster titles that can’t be found anywhere else. Dynamic, original series such as Uncharted, God of War, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, Killzone, Little Big Planet, Infamous, Motorstorm, and Gran Turismo are just a few of the highly rated series-exclusives you can find on the Playstation 3. PS3 is also the home of several one-hit wonders, such as Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavenly Sword, Modnation Racers and Heavy Rain. While the Xbox 360 has high profile games such as Gears of War, Halo, Fable and Forza, their library of exclusive games just doesn’t compare to the Playstation 3. The Wii on the other hand, has an assortment of the most memorable characters in gaming, such as Super Mario, Donkey Kong. Zelda, and Kirby (to name a few), yet as great as these games are, they still don’t match up to the caliber of exclusive games found on the PS3.

2) Online Features 

Easy and accessible, the Playstation 3 has a wide array of PSN (Playstation Network) titles that provide endless hours of entertainment. The PSN Store houses hundreds of demos, gaming titles, and movies and TV shows that you can rent or own. Best of all, online is free! While the Playstation 3 has a membership option called Playstation Plus (where you can receive discounted or free games, as well as an online storage option for all your game data), you can easily bypass this payment option and receive free online play as soon as you create an account. You can also play online with a various assortment of gaming titles with friends from anywhere around the world, and share Trophies and Messages with just a click of a button. All free! Again, Xbox 360 has a great online addition as well (XBL), but it is a paid subscription, and the Wii has a much more convoluted online option, but the Playstation 3 can provide what the others have for free and with ease. You even have access to Playstation Home, a 3D community that offers an interactive and virtual space to meet, chat, plan and launch into games. These are just some of the online features that can be used on the Playstation 3.

3) Additional Accessories

So you have a Playstation 3, but what if you want to expand your gaming options? Well, the PS3 has many peripherals and devices that can easily enhance your gaming experience. If you have a PSP (Playstation Portable) system, not only can you access Playstation games when on the go, but you can also use the Remote Play option to access your Playstation 3 when you’re not home. Want to start downloading a new game while driving home from school or work? The Remote Play option lets you do this with ease. Do you live far away from your relatives or friends? Then the Playstation Eye is the perfect device to communicate with them via video or text messaging. Want some hands-on, motion sensing gaming? Then the Playstation Move can provide endless hours of arcade style fun. While the Wii started this motion sensing craze, and the Xbox 360 jumped on board with the Kinect, it doesn’t negate the fact that the Playstation 3 also has a motion-sensing device for those interested in this style of play. Also, the PS3 supports an addition that no other console has – it also acts as a Blu-Ray Player. Not only do you now have a gaming console, yet you also possess a Blu-Ray player as a bonus, where you can play any Blu-Ray or DVD.

Bottom line, all 3 current generation consoles are fantastic in their own ways, yet if you want a true gaming and entertainment experience that has it all, the Playstation 3 is the system to own above all!