Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix Review (PS3): “A Remix Worth Checking Out”

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix Logo

Kingdom Hearts, being one of the first Action-RPG games I’ve ever played, holds a very dear place in my heart and holds many memories of yesteryear that invoke nothing but feelings of fun and nostalgia. The concept of taking Square Enix characters and Disney characters, and mixing them together seems proactively obscure, but works all too well. And to see this game, as well as a few of its spinoffs, get the HD treatment is actually quite exciting for someone like me. But how does the game do in the quality department? In the same manner as Nintendo’s Wind Waker HD remake on Wii U, Square Enix has opted to remake Kingdom Hearts and two of its spinoff followups in HD to help prep fans for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3. But the important question is this; should you buy it?

Story: 4/5

Portions of the Kingdom Hearts story have aged well and others have not. The first game provides likable characters and an interesting narrative that guides the player from point A to point B with a clear goal and an easy to understand plot that drives all the characters forward. Unfortunately, as you head into Chain of Memories, the story becomes somewhat convoluted and by 358/2 Days, it becomes almost incomprehensible, not unlike the treatment of writing that was dished out in Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts II (neither of which is included in this particular collection). The main character Sora grows up somewhat in the first game, but it becomes clear that by Chain of Memories his development has become stagnant; he knows his right from wrong and doesn’t have much growing up to do. Characters like Riku on the other hand are a whole other case and are a little more interesting to follow. Being able to do so in both Kingdom Hearts and Re:Chain of Memories is an interesting treat.

The Disney plotlines are abridged from their movie counterparts with subtle changes made to fit into the Kingdom Hearts universe (such as Disney villains interacting with Disney characters not from their respective movie or interacting with the Kingdom Hearts exclusive Heartless enemies). After the first Kingdom Hearts, there is a lack of focus on this as Re:Chain of Memories only offers retreads of the same worlds from the first game and 358/2 Days does not concern Disney characters much, if at all. Overall though, if you are interested in experiencing the full story without buying a Gameboy Advance and a DS to do it, this would be a great way to get that done. Unfortunately though, you will have to wait until HD 2.5 Remix to have Birth By Sleep and play them in canonical order.

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Gameplay: 4/5

The Kingdom Hearts gameplay, “simple and clean” as it were, remains fun but new and improved in the HD iteration. Camera control now belongs to the right thumb stick and some commands can now be utilized with the triangle button (similarly to the new gameplay design in Kingdom Hearts II). A welcome addition to Kingdom Hearts HD is the previously unreleased Final Mix content, which contains new cutscenes, items and even an exclusive super boss fight. Kingdom Hearts has occasionally offered its own form of platforming and unfortunately it works about as well as it used to; not well at all. Furthermore, many battles can be handled with a simple mashing of the X button and require little strategy. The bosses on the other hand will require much skill and strategy. The same applies in Re:Chain of Memories. Bosses force you to think on your feet and react as best as you can to certain situations, completely changing how you play the game. This can be both fun and frustrating depending on what your play style is and which boss you fight. The game allows you to customize your play style in both Kingdom Hearts and Re:Chain of Memories. In the former, you can adjust Keyblades, equipment, items, and other such tools to give yourself an edge. You can even adjust how you level up and what to prioritize in battle at the beginning of the game. In Re:Chain of Memories, it’s more luck based, as you have to obtain high level cards as you play the game, which is easier said than done. Even with these high level cards, victory is not assured due to the player being required to approach boss battles very differently from the more common Heartless battles.

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Kingdom Hearts allows you to play in real-time combat alongside Disney companions for the better portion of the game. Having Donald, Goofy and the likes of Aladdin or Jack Skellington by your side makes for an uncannily fun and strategic experience, especially if you are a Disney fan. Fans who are more Final Fantasy inclined will be very pleased to see the likes of Cloud, Sephiroth, Squall and other such characters from that universe more intertwined with the main story. For the most part, the Square characters will fight against you rather than alongside you. The game balances this well for the most part and doesn’t force you to do much grinding. The optional super bosses on the other hand are a different story. Another welcome addition is the ability to skip any cutscene at any time with a simple press of the start button and selecting the option.

Re:Chain of Memories handles this differently. While grinding can be done by simply encountering and battling every Heartless you find, this can become incredibly tedious and lead to little reward. This is made all the more frustrating by fairly stiff controls and a wonky battle system. As someone who played the Gameboy Advance original version, I can say that even with the more advanced controls thanks to the PS3 DualShock controller, Re:Chain of Memories is actually not quite as good as the GBA game. The gameplay was made overly complex and even confusing; for example, when you wanted to “stock” three cards together for a combo, you did so in the GBA game by pressing the shoulder buttons together (the shoulder buttons are individually used to cycle through your deck). In Re:Chain of Memories, this is mapped to the triangle button and the shoulder buttons seem to be reversed by default (hitting R1 cycles left and hitting R2 cycles right) and there is no way to switch the order. The most frustrating thing is that you lose the ability to move when you need to recharge your deck, which is obviously not the case in Chain of Memories for the GBA. All in all, minus these gripes of mine, Re:Chain of Memories is still fun, just not as much as the first game which makes up for its shortcomings.

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Why have I not mentioned 358/2 Days? Because if you do not yet know, there is no game there. It is basically a several hour movie that sums up everything that happens in 358/2 Days, splicing cutscenes with small text screens that abridge the parts that used to have gameplay. While it is a shame that you cannot play 358/2 Days, having played the original on DS, I can say it was not a very fun experience and I would prefer not to go through its tedious design again, even with improved controls (which may not have even happened if Re:Chain of Memories was anything to go by).

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Graphics: 5/5

The visuals in every game in this collection are absolutely gorgeous. The developers, originally only using PS2 tech, were very much ahead of their time. Bloom and particle effects are fairly abundant and the art style is cute in a Disney way, but also stylish in a Final Fantasy way. While the anti-aliasing could have been better in the collection, the games look stunning in HD. A minor gripe I have is that during some cutscenes, even during the 358/2 Days cinematics, some characters are given a “paper” like face with a flat expressionless texture that just flaps its lips out of sync with the dialogue. This feels distracting, especially whenever there is meant to be emotion between the characters conveyed to the player. It most certainly does not take away from the look of the experience, but if anyone expected the cutscenes to be remade to look better, you may be disappointed.

Re:Chain of Memories is very on-off in this manner. There are brand new fully voice-acted cutscenes whenever the characters are in Castle Oblivion. But once you enter a Disney world or using a World Card, all bets are off and the dialogue is told strictly with the “paper face” models and talk bubbles. It feels strung together and I would have preferred cutscenes for any moment in the game where I am not meant to play, but to watch.

358/2 Days, while also somewhat guilty of this, handles it better than either of the first two. All the cutscenes are very well animated and acted, with few noticeable instances of “paper face” and the gameplay being summarized with text walls akin to Metal Gear Solid 2’s extra Snake missions, but less tedious read. Visually, the story holds up excellently and the design has not lost any of its charm.

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Sound: 5/5

The music and voice acting in Kingdom Hearts, Re:Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days is absolutely brilliant. From Utada Hikaru’s magnificent voice handling the songs “Simple and Clean” and “My Sanctuary,” to Haley Joel Osment’s innocent voice work as the hero Sora, there is not a sound in this collection that isn’t wonderful. The soundtracks, while apparently completely redone, sound beautifully mixed in with the gameplay. The sound effects, particularly in the first Kingdom Hearts, are imaginative and fluent, immersing the player into this colorful world. If there was any gripe to be made here, it’s whenever there is a cutscene without music. Watching the characters can be fun, but it helps the mood to also have a subtle score help keep the player engaged, especially if he or she is expected to sit through a lengthy cutscene.

This carries over into both Re:Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days as both their sound effects and music sound brilliant (though this is a given in the former’s case as much of its assets are recycled from the first Kingdom Hearts). Re:Chain of Memories does have some new assets of course, but most of the in combat audio is recycled from the first game. Is this bad? Absolutely not. 358/2 Days on the other hand (and yes, I AM getting sick of typing out that ludicrous title) is mostly new assets and only uses the main theme from Kingdom Hearts II, Utada Hikaru’s brilliant “My Sanctuary.”

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Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is not necessarily perfect, but for a Kingdom Hearts fan, it is a fantastic way to get a brand new look at the series and revisit older stories and prep up for the upcoming third (well, more like eighth) installment to the series. And if you are not a fan? This is great for you too! This is an excellent time for fans to jump in, get two full games and a movie version of the one installment that is often deemed to not be fun to play, and experience the story in time to get the next biggest installment next year. If you own a PS3, I cannot recommend this enough in spite of its minor flaws. Go out and get it.

PROS:

+ Improved gameplay in first game

+ Looks fantastic in HD

+ Music and voice acting are superb

+ Great way to experience the story

+ Two games and a movie for $40

CONS:

– Re:Chain of Memories controls are flawed

– “Paper face” cutscenes

Copy purchased by reviewer and tested on the PS3.

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Pikmin 3 Review (Wii U): “Returned and refined, the Pikmin are back!”

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Pikmin 3 is a sequel to Pikmin 2, a GameCube release from nearly a decade ago. Developed in house at Nintendo and directed by Shigeru Miyamoto himself, the long awaited sequel (originally meant for Wii) has made its way to Nintendo’s latest console and not a moment too soon. The first of Nintendo’s monthly game releases has finally hit shelves and it is a damn good one.

Story: 4/5

You would not expect it, but Pikmin 3’s storyline is actually a little bit deeper and more involved than previous iterations. Mixing the dire sense of urgency from the original Pikmin and the silly interactions from Pikmin 2, the third installment creates a colorful band of characters who find their way to the Pikmin home planet in search of more food (in this case, earthly fruits like apples, oranges and grapes) for their species on their home planet of Koppai. They, as Olimar did before them in the original Pikmin, stumble upon the Pikmin types one-by-one and create a mutual partnership with the cute creatures in order to survive and succeed. The three main characters: the Captain, Brittany and Alph, all have distinctive personalities and are all quite likable in their own right. Without giving away too much of the plot, the characters interact with charm and it is fun to see them discover the Pikmin in their own way and form their own conclusions on the earth-like planet, creatures and fruits that they obtain. The only real problem with the story is it is very much a retelling of the entire Pikmin tale with only a few twists here and there until the bottom half of the game. It should be noted that the story mode is also pretty short. The replayability comes mostly from being able to go back and retrieve fruits you may have missed and the offline multiplayer modes.

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Gameplay: 5/5

Pikmin 3’s strengths lay in the perfection of the original Pikmin formula, expanding upon it and making it better than ever before. The original three Pikmin: red, yellow and blue, all return in this game using the same perks as before and they have all developed a few new ones as well. Red Pikmin retain their usual abilities, such as being flame retardant and strong fighters. Yellow Pikmin can now dig faster than other Pikmin, and can resist and even conduct electricity without taking damage. Blue Pikmin can not only survive underwater, they can now swim and quite quickly. The new Pink, or Winged, Pikmin can fly over water and safely carry objects back to base but are weak fighters. Also new to this game are the Rock Pikmin, though these guys are essentially a replacement for the Purple Pikmin from Pikmin 2. They deal more damage when thrown at enemies and are required to break ice and glass objects.

Each map has a variety of areas that absolutely require each Pikmin faction, with enemies that require just as much strategic ingenuity. Furthermore, this leaves the player with a great deal of planning and multitasking under a very brief amount of time. Some areas will require you to bring Yellow Pikmin to bring down an electric wall, but there may be fire-based enemies near that area, so it would be necessary to bring both Red and Yellow Pikmin. But then there is an easy to reach fruit on the other side of the map past a breakable wall. In this instance, you can actually switch between the three characters and set a place for them on the map and direct them to automatically move to a hand-picked spot. Despite rare enemy interjection, this is an extremely effective tool when multitasking in a day. In this sense, the game starts to feel a little more like a true real-time strategy game, but more simplified and much cuter.

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The AI is fairly good, but largely the same as in previous iterations. Pikmin are very codependent and really need you to direct them. Dormant Pikmin will instinctively run to any nearby objects or enemies and work their magic on them. Unfortunately, they are not smart enough to outright avoid enemies when carrying objects or to make their way to home base if they are dormant. The best way to counter-act this is to send one of the space members to where any stray Pikmin may be. Keeping someone nearby any Pikmin is the best way to keep your army safe and your day productive.

The controls are fairly intuitive no matter what controller you use. It’s highly recommended that if you are used to the GameCube controls, you should stick to the Wii U GamePad. The touch screen makes it more intuitive than the Pro controller (however using the latter is not a bad option in any sense). If you prefer a more fresh approach, it is recommended you use the Wii remote and nunchuk combo, specifically a Wii remote plus for less frustration. With the Wii remote, you can more accurately and effectively aim your cursor and freely move about and aim your Pikmin at enemies. This gives the player a much needed advantage when battling large enemies like bosses. It should be noted that a standard Wii remote will work fine enough, but there are times where the cursor will disappear after having moved the Wii remote too far away from the sensor bar and it takes some effort to bring it back. Wii remote plus eliminates this problem almost completely. Classic style controllers such as the Wii U GamePad or the Pro controller do not allow this as the cursor and movement are both mapped to the left stick (though there is a Zelda-like lock-on feature that works semi-well), but they both give you free 360 degree control over the camera.

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Pikmin 3’s multiplayer modes are a mix of comprehensive and simplicity, and depending on which mode, makes the best use of the game’s design. Bingo Battle is a frenetically competitive and almost Smash Bros.-like two-player game where both players are on a symmetrical map and must bring objects back to their onion for a game of “Bingo.” Rather than having the game call out objects, on the bottom of your screen you have a board of assorted objects by 4×4. Your job is to lineup any four objects on your board and prevent your opponent from doing the same. The game is fun, but it lacks anymore depth or customization and felt added in very rapidly toward the end of development.

Mission Mode is multiplayer’s true strength. While multiplayer for this mode is actually optional, it is emphatically suggested you play with a well-rounded friend. Missions set you in a map about half the size of any of the maps in the story mode. You would think this makes things simpler, but in fact, the designers cleverly found a way to make your job of collecting fruits, enemy carcasses and Pikmin very challenging. Depending on the level, sometimes you are given some start off Pikmin (or none at all) and not only calls for fast thinking, but fast planning as well. The friend whom I played with was issuing all of his actions to me and I issued my actions to him so we could perfectly synchronize our tasks. If I was busy carrying fruit back to base and he needed red Pikmin to take out some enemies, I could quickly grab some of my red Pikmin and throw them his way for whichever task he needed them. Other mission modes include the specific destruction of enemies and a boss fighting mode (though the ladder is a tad more finicky as my friend and I encountered some strange camera weaving during this mode despite the split-screen we were using). The element of co-operation has never been more fluent or fun in a strategy game like this, and the only real shame in the end is that it cannot be played online.

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Graphics: 5/5

Pikmin 3 is nothing short of gorgeous. With a combination of high resolution textures and focus blur, the game holds a very detailed art style. It is daunting to imagine that this was at one point intended for the Wii console. To put this into perspective, when you find fruit in the game, your ship’s computer analyzes the fruit and lets you examine each one. Each fruit looks unbelievably detailed and lifelike. Corny as it may sound, it may make you want to eat a fruit salad. The main characters, the Pikmin and the monsters seem to be the only things in the game that do not retain this realistic appearance and feature far more cartoony and simplistic designs. It creates an interesting blend of realistic and unrealistic that provides an odd sense of immersion that all of this really could be happening in someone’s backyard or garden.

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Sound: 5/5

Pikmin’s soundtrack is as well rounded as the visuals. The music is subtle and serene, and mingles well with the game’s overall aesthetic. New to the Pikmin series is Banjo-Kazooie-like mumbling that accompanies the character dialogue. Each voice is Japanese-derived gibberish and each voice is quite fitting to the characters. Monsters all make sounds that sound menacing and vicious (depending on what they are) and of course, there are the Pikmin. Pikmin give a variety of sounds depending on the situation. If they are drowning or on fire, they will panic and squeal in pain. If they are trying to carry something back to base and there are not enough Pikmin to carry it, they will strain as they try to lift. And of course, the cries of their deaths are unbelievably tragic and emotional.

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Overall Score: 19/20 = 9.5 out of 10

Pikmin 3 is an absolute delight for any Wii U owner, regardless of whether or not they have played the previous games in the series. This new iteration largely redefines what was accomplished in the first game and completely expands upon several ideas from the second. While the story is short and the lack of online multiplayer is a bit of a downside, it does not change how well made and fun this game has turned out in the long run. The amount of control options and detailed design have led to an otherwise near perfect experience which fits all too well on Wii U. The HD visuals and tight gameplay are something to behold.

PROS:
+ Great visuals
+ Stellar soundtrack, fun voice clips
+ Expansive control options
+ Expands on old and new ideas
+ Revitalized Pikmin gameplay

CONS:
– Short story mode
– No online play in multiplayer

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf Review (3DS): “A New Leaf That’s Also A New Blast To Play”

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the latest iteration of the cute life simulator Nintendo franchise. Developed by Nintendo and Monolith, this is the most fleshed out and full Animal Crossing to date.

Gameplay: 5/5

Animal Crossing has always had simplistic but engaging life simulation gameplay since its culmination on the west on the Gamecube (Nintendo 64 in Japan). The games had you cutting trees, bug catching, fishing and other such fun little activities to raise money, pay off your debts to Tom Nook and make friends in the town. While the core mechanics remain fairly similar here, Animal Crossing New Leaf’s twisted the entire concept by making the player the mayor of the town, giving them town-wide responsibilities such as maintaining citizen approval, keeping the town clean and sprucing up your own place as best as you can (while paying off Nook’s stinking debts).

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As per the norm, the ‘story’ begins with your avatar, a random villager, moving to a new town. Another character interviews you and the questions you answer set the stage for the game. You can choose a randomly generated map to be your town, a variety of attributes such as gender, names and other things. All of this becomes a part of your identification as mayor and also how the entire game will play out as long as you maintain your save file.

When you play the game, you will start out with practically nothing but a shabby tent until your house is set up. Nook charges you plenty for your down payment and much more overall. This gives you a lot of time to do other things (as Nook gives you as much time as possible to pay off the loan), such as picking trees of your town’s common fruit, talk to your neighbors and engage in other activities. Picking weeds and doing other friendly deeds will improve your approval rating and bring you closer to your goal of being a good mayor and shaping a fun and thriving town.

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Be prepared to play the game in short bursts across several days at least. There are many instances where characters will reward you for your efforts, but often those rewards will have to wait until “tomorrow.” For example, after I paid off my down payment to Nook, I was told to wait a few days for the house to be built and he was not kidding. Animal Crossing’s sense of time is real time, so when it is morning for you in real life, it will be morning in the game (provided you set your timezone’s hour as the game’s).

Online Multiplayer works quite well. Like in the previous game on Wii, players can visit their friends’ towns and engage in a variety of fun activities. You can give each other presents, help each other accomplish tasks and play multiplayer games. Players can open their gates to allow friends or StreetPassers to visit their towns through local wireless connections as well as online. The multiplayer is virtually lagless and even offers an immersive way to merge the interactions of your towns. For example, a kitten character in my friends’ town (whom I visited early on) actually became a resident in my own town and asked me to take her to other towns. It was very interesting to see these interactions occur so randomly. It was almost like an MMO.

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Graphics: 4/5

New Leaf doesn’t seem like a particularly taxing game and its art style is ultimately identical to earlier iterations. Character models are cutesy and stubby in nature, and textures are just as simplistic. Your villager avatar can show a variety of different emotions and wear a vast array of accessories and clothes, but all-in-all the style remains. In the end, it all matches the game’s cutesy aesthetic and the graphics work well enough for what they are doing. If you have played a previous Animal Crossing game, the graphics in this iteration will not really surprise you. That’s not to say they are inherently bad, or even all that flawed mind you. They do precisely what they should.

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Sound: 5/5

The soundtrack in this game is nothing short of brilliant. Cute little towns help make for a relaxing world, and KK Slider’s DJ and guitar music are bouncy and fun. The compositions involved are extremely creative with DJ’d mixes of Slider’s songs from earlier games, as well as songs performed exclusively on the groovy pup’s acoustic on Saturday nights. Fun and familiar sound effects are used on recognizable items such as the Mario coin and Master sword from the Mario and Zelda games respectively. Character dialogue is adorable high pitched mumbling, occasionally actually enunciating the words being spoken. If there is one thing you will not like about this game, it probably won’t have anything to do with the soundtrack.

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Replay Value: 5/5

This game has replay value. A LOT of replay value. With the amount of activities to do, characters to interact with and friends to share stories and experiences with, you will find this game has a great deal of longevity. Paying off your loans will not happen over night and it won’t be a boring chore to get there.

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Overall Score: 19/20 = 9.5 out of 10

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a must have game for any 3DS owner looking for a social experience with a little more depth than the latest Facebook game or microtransaction ridden free-to-play game. Animal Crossing is fun to play, fun to listen to and just plain fun. There’s very little I don’t like about this game. If you have friends who play this game, there’s no better time to jump in.

PROS:

+Fun, replayable gameplay

+Cute and quarky soundtrack

+Solid multiplayer aspects

+Very full and interactive experience

CONS:

-Graphics are familiarly basic

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

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Project X Zone Review (3DS): “The (Somewhat) Ultimate Crossover Game”

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Failing to truly capture an audience in Japan, the mega crossover game on Nintendo 3DS has actually been released westside and is trying try to find its audience in other territories. Developed by Namco Bandai and including characters from the franchises of Namco, Sega and Capcom, this game opts to be the ultimate fan-service game and succeeds (somewhat).

Story: 3/5

The story is nothing short of paper thin, and is about as engaging as the story-driven (and I use that term loosely) Subspace Emissary mode in Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. Each of the early chapters present themselves very repetitively, going from “Hello character A, let’s search around this area and figure out what’s going on,” to “Look character B! There are some characters from another game series we may or may not know!” Then the characters mingle with a villain or two, then you actually start the gameplay. It feels as if there are simply too many characters and the writers were just desperately seeking a way to bring them together in a variety of ways.

The story presents itself in text dialogue coupled with some well drawn anime-style stills. Reading the dialogue is somewhat engaging, but mostly when it’s a character you know of, as well as their personality traits. For example, I am very unfamiliar with many of the more Japanese-centric characters, but I was able to get (and even laugh out loud) a lot of the dialogue and references for Frank West. It is in this sense that the story does redeem itself; fans will love the little references that come with the dialogue and will most likely smile at what they read as the game progresses on. Anyone who does not know any better will not have any idea what any of these characters are talking about.

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Gameplay: 4/5

Gameplay is stylized to feel like a strategy game, but in this sense, it’s very bare bones in nature. Your characters move about on a grid-like map, allowing you to pick and choose your positions, as well as who to attack. The combat mode is somewhat different from the grid map. Hitting the A button and holding down a direction on the D-pad will initiate different combo attacks, and that’s basically the entire combat system. If characters are near each other, you can create assist “Cross” attacks and deal even more damage against the opponent. There are no blocks, no options, just three combos and possibly the solo and team assists depending on which characters are in your party or next to you on the grid map.

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Fortunately, what the game lacks in substance it makes up for with flare. The actual combos you initiate are incredibly cool and fun to watch, and because you switch from character to character so often, it’s difficult to get used to the amazing well done sprite animations. Furthermore, when initiating basic combos without any Cross attacks, you are required to actually time when you start the next combo so as to make sure all hits land on the opponent (they bounce around during combos in a similar style to a Capcom/Namco fighting game).

In between turns, you can use items and skills to keep yourself alive during chapters and you will definitely need them. There are chapters where the game leaves your team members spaced apart and heavily outnumbered by small, large and boss enemies. So while there is little strategy involved, what little there is in question is crucial. Positioning your characters together will give you an edge with Cross attacks and this will allow you to boost your XP, an attribute you gain during combat, which can be used to revive fallen team members, counter, defend, and even initiate devastating and beautifully animated ultimate moves. These ultimate moves utilize special attacks from each characters’ respective franchise, combines it with a nifty anime animation and deals colossal damage on the poor sap who is receiving the brunt. This makes for a fun and unique experience for fans, if just a somewhat disengaging one.

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Graphics: 3/5

The visuals in Project X Zone leave something to be desired. The environments have very limited draw distance, sometimes explicitly allowing the player to see the edge of the world. Said environments are also quite bland and feel somewhat soulless. Even familiar landmarks will feel desolate and uninspired. The grid map chibi sprites also don’t seem particularly engaging, looking about as impressive as an NES Final Fantasy sprite.

All of these complaints are rendered moot in all other areas however. During character dialogue, characters are represented by much more appealing anime artwork with a variety of stills to convey that character’s current emotion. In combat, the sprites, while still somewhat chibi-style, are much more engaging than their grid map counterparts. The attacks are drawn and animated beautifully, as are the aforementioned ultimate attacks. Each character looks and behaves as they should, using a variety of moves from their own games and sticking true to their actual style.

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Sound: 4/5

The soundtrack is actually quite superb. While it does simply remix older themes and has some bland in-between tracks, it is a viable and enjoyable soundtrack with a sense of personality. Attacks sound devastating and the all Japanese voice work is actually quite good. Some side characters do sound strange and some of the generic monster enemies sound incredibly annoying. Overall, not much to mention but much to complain about either.

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Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10

This crossover game will definitely enthuse fans, as it most likely was meant to do. But those looking for a full and fluent gameplay experience, or perhaps an engaging crossover story with their favorite characters may walk away feeling disappointed. I would recommend playing the demo on the eShop before making the plunge; this game is most certainly not for everyone, but for 3DS owners, it is definitely something worth at least giving a try.

PROS:
+ Flashy, fun character animations
+ Fun character references in story
+ Solid soundtrack and voice work
+ Has some decent strategy elements

CONS:
– Not all characters are recognizable for everyone
– Gameplay is disengaging and repetitive
– Visuals on grid map are bland
– Story is not particularly deep

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

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Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon Review (3DS): “Luigi’s Ghostbusting Return”

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Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon is the long awaited 3DS sequel to Nintendo’s cult classic Gamecube title, Luigi’s Mansion. Over a decade after its predecessor, Next Level Games (of Mario Strikers Charged fame) aimed to make Luigi a more expressive and likeable character through brilliant design and animation. Unfortunately, it’s just shy of being a perfect package.

Story: 4/5

Luigi’s Mansion did not have a very complex story and its follow-up is no exception to this rule. Luigi is once again tossed into paranormal shenanigans when Professor E. Gadd‘s friendly ghosts suddenly go crazy and start running amok, creating all sorts of havoc. The cause is due to the lack of a Dark Moon, which has been split into pieces across several different mansions in the area. So of course while E. Gadd sits lazily where it’s safe, Luigi is forced to jump into the fray with a new Poltergust vacuum and a trusty flashlight in order to put down the paranormal mischief and bring order back to E. Gadd’s research environment. It’s a charming little story with enough twists and turns to ‘wow’ younger audiences as well as entertain older ones. The character animations are nothing short of adorable, not unlike a CGI cartoon.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon Gameplay 6

Gameplay: 4/5

Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon’s gameplay is a remastering and reimagining of the first game’s ghost catching gameplay, made less repetitive and far more intuitive. Ghost catching is much simpler and much more fun than it was previously. Like in the first game, Luigi’s ghost capturing mechanics are based on stunning a ghost, then sucking them into the Poltergust with some exploration and fetch questing in between. A problem in the previous game is that ghosts would occasionally glitch and disappear after being hit with the flashlight. This problem is completely nonexistent in the followup as the flashlight will only ever stun ghosts when you ‘flash’ them with the A button. The flashlight can now be charged to unleash a huge flash that can stun more ghosts within a greater distance, making the act of starting a ghost capture somewhat skill based. The ghost will remain stunned for a few seconds and you can use the Poltergust without fail. There is also a brand new mechanic where after pulling on a ghost’s tail for long enough, you can “zap” them with the A button and reduce their health even further, bringing their counter closer to zero and increasing the financial reward when captured.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon Gameplay 1

Luigi now has a “run” button, which can be used when strafing with the flashlight and the Poltergust’s vacuum mechanic, which largely comes in handy. To those concerned about the lack of a second stick, Next Level Games has effectively found a way to keep the controls smooth with a single nub. Luigi will turn a little toward the direction he is moving, making strafing much less of a chore than one would expect and rendering the dual stick control in the first game practically obsolete. Remember grabbing objects with the Poltergust in the first game and how finicky it was to shoot them? There is now an automatic targeting system, so you will never miss. Assuming you’re not inexperienced of course.

The minimap on the bottom screen is pretty effective for navigation, providing insight on rooms, floors, locked doors and other things you will discover. Among capturing ghosts and completing missions, you can also seek out invisible objects, Boos, money, gems and other such goodies to increase your final score. Levels can be replayed at one’s leisure, adding to the game’s immense replay value.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon Gameplay 3

Speaking of which, to my surprise, Next Level Games provided an oddly good multiplayer component in the game. You and three other multicolored Luigis will work in a cooperative, and equally competitive, Ghostbuster-style to capture ghosts in Hunter mode, find an exit in Rush or seek out mischievous Polterpups. You can compete in a variety of modes and difficulties for first place and therefore, more reward which goes towards your overall money count in the single player mode and bring you closer to your next upgrade. The developers were kind enough to add some voice commands as well as an “Over here!” command for when you tap a room on the minimap to add some communication between players. Sadly, it’s insufficient and playing locally or using Skype when playing online is highly recommended. Online playability is surprisingly fantastic and I have experienced very few drops when playing with friends, even when using a poor online connection.

Sadly, here is where we have the only real flaw I see with this game, the glitches. There are game breaking ones, primarily in the multiplayer mode. My friends and I have experienced glitches of several different types that were sometimes funny, but often times frustrating. For example, we found a glitch that actually made a ghost get stuck in one of our Poltergust nozzles and rendered him unable to enter/exit doors. This was during a Rush mode where all four players are required to be in a specific room. We tried everything to help him get unstuck, but to no avail. This is only one of such glitches that will prevent you from ending the game properly. This is an issue that Nintendo would do well to update, akin to the online update they provided to Mario Kart 7’s unfair Maka Wuhu shortcut. Overall though, the experience is very fun and adds a ton of replay value, but requires some polish.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon Gameplay 4

Graphics: 4/5

The graphics in Luigi look pretty similar to the graphics in Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Tennis Open, minus the bloom lighting. It’s actually pretty similar stylistically to the predecessor at times. The atmospheres are dark, but the game is overall more colorful than the first game, making for a more interesting visual experience. The ghosts are colorful and charming, if simplistic. The cutscenes are also appropriately cinematic and the animations are very cute. It’s no graphical marvel, but Dark Moon’s graphics are hardly anything to ignore.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon Gameplay 2

Sound: 5/5

With funny little sound bites and a cute and charming soundtrack, Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon is quite fun to listen to. Not only are moody, ambience-like background tracks used, but now there is a situational score that moves with Luigi as he gets scared in cutscenes. The music will swell as a ghost sneaks up on him and burst when Luigi jumps up in fright. A minor nitpick is that the mission complete track is not nearly as interesting as the one used in the first game, however the ringtone used when E. Gadd calls you is one of the catchiest tunes I’ve ever heard in a Nintendo game.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon Gameplay 5

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

Luigi’s Mansion is not a perfect game by any means. There is some polish needed here for sure, mainly with the multiplayer, but don’t let that deter you. Play this game. Borrow it, rent it, get your hands on it if you have a 3DS. This is a brilliant game only hampered by minor issues that, while not ignorable, do not harm the overall appeal of this game. It’s a great game for Mario fans and a must own for anyone with a 3DS. And for Luigi’s Mansion fans, this is the proper sequel we’ve waited over 11 years for.

PROs:

+ Fun and addictive gameplay

+ Adorable character animation

+ Well made online/local multiplayer

+ Solid soundtrack

+ Lots of replay value

CONs:

– Game breaking glitches in multiplayer

– While the graphics are great, they aren’t as strong as its predecessor on Gamecube.

Copy of the game was purchased by the staff member for review purposes.

Dishonored Review (PS3/360): “A Flawed but Solid Blend of Stealth and Action”

Dishonored is a first-person stealth/action game published by Bethesda and developed by Arkane Studios. This was a game I chose to approach with little or no expectations. When I initially saw it, I felt it was basically a first person Assassin’s Creed. To some extent, I feel I was right, but the game does take a sense of initiative to be a much more unique experience. It incorporates supernatural elements that set it apart from Ubisoft’s triple-A title.

Story: 3/5

The story falls a little short in Dishonored. It starts off with you being framed for the murder of the Empress and her daughter kidnapped. From there, you follow the orders of some ‘freedom fighters’ who tell you that they wish to see order return to the nation. Early on, you retrieve the girl and she plays a slightly bigger part in the story. There’s a plot twist in the middle that was unbelievably easy for me to predict and the rest of the game is just as much while just providing more victims to your sword (or liberation).

The game is not largely unique in its plot devices. What I enjoyed most from the story was almost directly snatched from Bioshock 2, where a character essentially learns from your actions until the end of the game. The game has two different playable endings depending on how chaotically you play it, one more dynamic than the other but both provide satisfying finales overall. The epilogue you receive will sum up the fruits of your labor and close the story without leaving many loose ends either way (unless of course you receive the worst ending). Overall though, the story is forgettable.

Gameplay: 4/5

Dishonored is a first person stealth/action game from beginning to end. It’s a game that almost clearly runs on a Bethesda engine. The animations, the way the camera shifts when you speak to an NPC, etc., this game sweats Bethesda’s usual engine quips. Being that I was playing the PS3 version, I was told through word of mouth of friends that the PS3 version would probably be very buggy in line with Bethesda’s work on the PS3 version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. My expectations were little or none in this regard, but I can happily report that the PS3 version of Dishonored is a perfectly playable (and enjoyable) experience. If only suffering from some minor technical issues.

You play as Corvo Attano throughout the entire game, a faceless and mute protagonist. You are thrown into the action of the story very quickly. Your friend, the Empress, is killed and her daughter is kidnapped. And to top it off, you’re framed for it all. This means the entire government is out for your head and will kill you on the spot.

Corvo can approach each scenario in a variety of ways as advertised. There is a great deal of emphasis on player choice, particularly on whether you want to approach each chapter with a violent or nonviolent approach. Incidentally, this will ultimately dictate the way the game’s story ends thematically. Generally the game is paced well and it allows you to play it rather loosely. Are you the type of gamer to kill everyone stealthily or chaotically? You can even sneak through and avoid violence altogether if you so chose and there are several ways to do it.

Corvo has two primary weapons; a pistol and a blade that doubles as a short blade and a sword. He also can use a crossbow with various arrow types and several magic-like abilities such as teleportation, time manipulation and some as unusual summoning of an army of man-eating rats. This makes the less violent challenges more difficult as the game’s features seem to make the player want to kill NPCs as oppose to letting them live. The most useful tool for this is probably the sleep arrows, but ammo is rather finite. Worse yet is enemy placement. It probably has to do with my limited stealth game experience, but I was not particularly good at keeping myself from being seen by the enemy. This is a game that caters to stealth fans, for sure. Though I feel I should stress that fans of games like Assassin’s Creed and Bioshock definitely can find enjoyment from this experience as well.

Graphics: 4/5

The graphics are mildly impressive, if unspectacular. Where this game excels visually is in its design. The characters are rendered in a stylized manner, somewhat like something out of a mature Pixar or Dreamworks film. Characters look unique, outfits are stylish and the building architectures are colorful and imaginative. The world is a ruined but new one and it is one worth exploring.

Unfortunately, not all of the architecture can be possibly explored. There were several occasions where I found myself unable to reach rooftops that I wanted to use to travel the world without being spotted. The game is sometimes unclear about where you are supposed to go for certain objectives (keyword being sometimes). Otherwise, it is a vibrant and well designed world that I would most certainly like to visit bigger and better in a sequel.

Sound: 5/5

Bethesda struggled to find decent voice work for all but the primary cast in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and led to some humorous results with random NPCs. This is not the case in Dishonored. This game has some really quality voice work. Every character, even the one child character in the game, sounds authentic and part of the world they are in.

The score is also quite good. The music matches the situations in the game and they are dynamic and well conducted. Overall, zero complaints on what a player will hear in this game.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Dishonored is a good game. It is just a slightly flawed one that suffers from a forgettable and somewhat derivative story. Its gameplay ideas are more unique and are certainly worth exploring in a potential sequel. It’s also worth noting is that the PS3 version is a perfectly playable version of the game that suffers by easily ignorable technical issues. This is a game that a person plays mostly for its gameplay as oppose to anything else and it succeeds in providing a fun stealth/action experience. At worst, players should at least try the game for themselves. This is a game the should be played by core gamers and should be experienced despite the response. If you see it, try it; I reckon you will not regret it.

PROS:

+ Fun and solid gameplay

+ Stylized and well designed world

+ Solid soundtrack and excellent voice work

CONs:

– Forgettable and derivative story

– Unclear paths for the player

Nintendo Land Review (Wii U): “Classic Nintendo Gaming Goodness”

Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U, has finally been released after over a year since its reveal at E3 2011. Its launch has been met with mixed reception due to a sparse selection of ports and casual titles. Among the gems however is the one title that Nintendo opted to pack into the box containing the sleek deluxe model of the new console. Nintendo Land is honestly the most fun any gamer can have with what is deceptively disguised as a mini-game compilation.

Gameplay: 5/5

Nintendo Land is fun. Plain and simple. Its different attractions utilize the Wii U GamePad in a variety of ways, all of which I found to be very fun. Single player attractions provide the least longevity for the obvious reason that you can do the same thing only so much. Multiplayer on the other hand (despite painstakingly lacking online playability) is unbelievable fun.

To put my experience into perspective, one of my favorite games back in the day was Pac-Man Vs. It was an asymmetrical multiplayer experience where three players with Gamecube controllers played as the ghosts with a limited viewpoint on the TV, while a fourth player with a Gameboy Advance had an overhead view that looked like a classic game of Pac-man. It was ridiculously fun, especially with a full party. Why do I bring up this experience? Two words: Mario Chase. This game follows the same basic formula as Pac-Man Vs. and had me very excited for Nintendo Land ever since. It’s no surprise that I loved the simplicity of playing virtual tag in a Mario universe. But the other games are just as intuitive and fun.

Single player games include titles like Yoshi’s Fruit Cart and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, among a few others. Yoshi’s Fruit Cart has you look up at the TV to see where all of the fruit in the level are and then you draw a path on the controller (where the fruit is hidden) for the cart to follow and hopefully get all the fruit and then to the exit. Takamaru’s Ninja Castle is a game that centers on swiping your hand across the screen while pointing it sideways at your TV. It requires no sensor bar to function and it works just as well, if not better, than the Wii’s MotionPlus upgrade.

The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest and Metroid Blast in particular can actually be played in single or multiplayer and either way works perfectly fine. However, multiplayer is most certainly recommended. Zelda Battle Quest acts as a miniature Zelda title within Nintendo Land; you don’t just wildly swing your sword. There are elements of strategy involved that harken back to Skyward Sword where you must swing your sword in certain ways or at particular moments to defeat enemies. The user with the GamePad works with the sword wielders by hanging back and shooting arrows at pots, birds and enemies that the sword wielders cannot reach. This fun game comes complete with quite a few levels that span over different familiar Zelda landscapes with appearances from enemies within the universe as well.

Metroid Blast only spans a few different levels but makes up for it with a plethora of competitive and cooperative modes. For example, one mode features several on-ground players with Wii remotes and nunchuks trying to shoot down the user with the GamePad who flies Samus’s airship. Another mode has all of the players teaming up against AI controlled enemies that attack in waves. We found this mode was the most fun if only for the fact that the Miis on the ground can use the grapple beam to latch onto the ship’s under side and fire at enemies from above.

Balloon Trip Breeze is one of the less exciting experiences, opting for a relaxing tone and all touch screen gameplay to move your character from one platform to another while avoiding obstacles. The game works well, but it gets old pretty quickly. Captain Falcon’s Twister Race is a single player racing game that offers two perspectives of the same game, an overhead view on the GamePad and a standard third person view on the TV. You steer by tilting the GamePad and it works incredibly well. It’s just a shame that this game in particular had no multiplayer, let alone an online multiplayer mode. Donkey Kong’s Crash Course is by far the most frustratingly fun game in Nintendo Land. I found it to be pretty challenging because just like in older NES games, your mistakes can mean the end of the game pretty quickly. Taking care is of the utmost importance because you cannot tilt the controller recklessly and expect to make it to the end. Though even when taking care while playing, I still was not able to reach the end on my first run through. Definitely a keeper for anyone looking for a challenge. Octopus Dance is extremely obscure but a nice idea. It’s a dancing mini-game that mostly uses some tilting mechanics with the gyroscope and the two control sticks. For anyone who’s ever played Ape Escape on the first Playstation, it plays similarly to the dancing minigame in that title. A little confusing due to the need to use both screens, but overall cute and enjoyable.

Animal Crossing: Sweet Day is a very interesting concept; the player using the GamePad plays as two guards (controlled with one of each control stick and their respective trigger) who chase around the players with Wii remotes as they attempt to gather as much candy as possible. An exceptionally fun experience with a full party. Luigi’s Ghost Mansion is largely a slower version of Mario Chase, but the hunters can become the hunted. The GamePad user plays as a ghost who is only visible when charging, has grabbed an opponent or has moved into an area that has been lit up. The other players have to use flashlights to bring the ghost’s health to zero. This game is especially tense and also provides a great deal of enjoyment as a party game. Pikmin Adventure is by and large Pikmin, but with human players controlling some of the titular creatures. The GamePad user plays as Olimar who has a small degree of control on the human controlled Pikmin and total control over his own standard Pikmin. A very fun cooperative and competitive experience.

Nintendo Land’s multiplayer attractions provide the same unbridled experience. There is nothing like sitting down with four friends and playing a quick game of Mario Chase. Then playing it again. The variety in the attractions is as impressive as the fun gameplay within them. It needs to be played to really believe it, but the games are genuinely very fun.

Graphics: 4/5

Nintendo Land has a very simplistic style as far its visual look. Lighting and shadows are quite impressive and the overall design is actually quite cute and appealing. The thing is, I feel that more could have been done with this. The game gives me a very “Little Big Planet-esque” vibe. For example, the enemies in the Legend of Zelda themed attraction are all styled to look like they’ve been stitched together and made to look like stuffed toys with buttons and string. Again, very cute, but more could have been done with it. The game does run at an extremely smooth 60 frames per second and it certainly has me excited for what Nintendo has in store as far as first party content goes.

Sound: 4/5 

The sound falls basically in the same line as the graphics; it’s quite good but they could have gone farther with it. Cute remixes of classic Nintendo games like Mario, F-Zero and Pikmin are all present in this game. There’s even a jukebox you can unlock that can allow you to play some of those songs in the main Nintendo Land plaza. Some themes you will hum to and others you won’t really notice. Sound effects and even dialogue from Monita (a robot who helps you learn about Nintendo Land and its attractions) all sound crisp and clear on both the TV and the GamePad.

Replay Value: 4/5

Nintendo Land is a game that some will revisit the same way a person revisits games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band; mostly when you have friends around. That isn’t to say you won’t want to play more of the single player games. Each attraction actually has quite a few levels (something that Wii Sports completely lacked) and completionists will actually find some of the later stages to be somewhat challenging, especially for multiplayer attractions. Unfortunately, there is no online play and no leaderboards. However, a direct link to Miiverse makes up for this and makes sharing fun moments in the game quite easy to do (though this is only relevant to those who actually choose to make use of Miiverse).

Throughout the game, there are presents to unlock via coins and a fun little retro styled coin drop game. These serve as primary unlockables and wind up littered throughout the plaza. They’re mostly useless little statues but it’s fun to collect them, if only for a little while.

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

I’ll be honest; I really wanted to give Nintendo Land a higher score simply because it was just that much fun to play both alone and with friends. Sadly, there are some hindrances that prevent this from being a near perfect experience. However this is not a bad thing; Nintendo Land’s primary goal is to show you what the Wii U’s capabilities are in terms of gameplay and it does exactly that. There is not one attraction in this game that does not work the way it should and the variety provides everyone something they will enjoy. The exceptions of attractions based on Star Fox, Kirby and Pokémon is a little odd, but I say let’s leave all of that for Smash Bros.

PROs:

+Incredibly fun gameplay

+Cute and detailed visual style

+Fun soundtrack

+Direct link to Miiverse

+Greater longevity than Wii Sports

CONs:

– No online playability

– Could have taken the overall experience further

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Code of Princess Review (3DS): “Unbridled JRPG Goodness at the Mercy of your Hands”

Code of Princess is a real-time action JRPG developed by Agatsuma Entertainment and Bones and was published by Atlus.

Story: 4/5

The story is pretty straightforward. You start out as Princess Solange who humbly wears the least humble princess outfit I’ve ever seen (the game pokes fun at this at times). She is forced to flee her kingdom when it is attacked and taken under siege by an evil queen and Solange finds help in an Aladdin-inspired character named Ali Baba, a Necromancer named Zozo and an annoying sage in training named Allegro, who fights and expresses himself with an electric heavy guitar. As previously mentioned, the story is really silly and is often, enough to drive the player forward. It’s not unimaginably new or creative, but it’s enough to not especially harm the game’s value. The silly voice work makes it especially difficult to take seriously, but then the humor in this game seems intentional. You’ll either enjoy it or be able to ignore it in the end.

Gameplay: 5/5

The gameplay in Code of Princess reminded me very much of the combat engine in the “Tales of” series. It is played on a 2D plane and your character is given a set of combos and and other special abilities to use to fight off enemies. You an also play as different characters with different combos and abilities from the primary protagonist AND to top it off, there is local and online co-operative gameplay. The only thing missing is exploration.

The combat is the primary focus and is therefore, fluid and fun. Attacks that deal heavy damage often make you feel the impact by shaking the camera or providing a satisfying sound effect for the impact. The combat simply feels great. Some may find it repetitive, but in my experience with the game, it simply has not stopped being fun each time I take out an enemy, weak or strong. Adding to the combat is a guard button which can also double as your dodge ability, a magic burst that helps deal extra damage at the expense of all of your magic. Speaking of which, your characters also typically come with a very useful magic attack or two that, while not as damage effective as your burst ability, are far less taxing on your magic meter.

Each character plays differently and therefore possesses a different battle strategy. This adds replay value as you can tackle either the main story or bonus quests to boost all of your character’s level. Playing with friends is recommended but not essential.

The game has a lot of replay value in my opinion. While there are times where level grinding feels necessary, the game makes it worth your while and makes it easy for when you’re on the go. You gain experience from later challenges and chapters very easily. Because there is no exploring and the game only consists of combat, you can skip past any cutscenes in your way and get right into the action. Most challenges are only a few minutes long and can be beaten very quickly depending on your character’s level and what strategies you choose to apply. The Bonus Quests also add an additional level of challenge, expands the combat somewhat and gives you more to do. Basically, you will not be able to finish this game in a matter of days or even a week. This is a lengthy and lovable game. It may seem strange for me to list off imperfections in the gameplay and give it a perfect score, but it’s just that much fun for me. It’s as if those imperfections don’t matter because the gameplay was just that addicting.

Graphics: 4/5

The graphical look of Code of Princess is pretty standard for many JRPGs. It has a cute anime style with colorful character designs and comes out looking pretty nice in 2D or 3D. The cutscenes are told with anime stills with some movements generated in the game engine which is rendered in a cel-shaded style that looks very much like an anime on the screen. The only major downside is that the frame rate is not always smooth and occasionally dips, sometimes in large increments. This is mostly during heavy duty battles with many on-screen enemes. Otherwise, if you dig well animated anime intros, this will tickle your fancy.

Sound: 4/5

The sound effects on this game are amazing. Each impact is loud and forceful. Combine this with a killer soundtrack (which comes with the game in a disc for anyone who buys it brand new) and you have for an amazing soundtrack. Unfortunately, the english voice acting is all over the place. A lot of the time though it’s intentional and self-aware as the game itself is very silly and does not take itself very seriously. However, a lot of the side characters sound a little too ridiculous and voice clips get reused often in combat. This is a minor issue though, as this has been a staple in JRPGs for years. If you can ignore (or even enjoy) the voice work, there’s next to nothing that will harm your experience with this game.

Overall Score: 18/20 = 8.5 out of 10

To any 3DS owner who is seeking a good JRPG experience, pick this game up. It hits many chords on just the right notes. It’s not necessarily perfect, but it’s a very fun experience that any owner of a 3DS (or an Atlus or “Tales of” fan) should pick up. You most certainly won’t regret it.

PROS:

+ Ridiculously fun combat system

+ Strong soundtrack

+ Lots of replay value

+ Local/Online co-op with up to four players

+ Colorful graphical style

CONS:

– Wonky voice acting

– Frame rate significantly dips occasionally

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Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review (3DS)

Being an avid fan of the Kingdom Hearts series, I was largely excited to get my hands on this new installment for a number of reasons. I had been largely disappointed with most (if not all) of the portable Kingdom Hearts games up to this point and I was interested in trying a brand new game in the series that did not derail the gameplay and the story. Kingdom Hearts 3D does everything it can to stay true to the first two installments, and in almost every way, it achieves just that.

Story: 3/5

It’s within the story that that this game takes any real hits to the experience. The story’s alternating “on-and-off” manner is a little off-putting and can leave players feeling confused or disengaged. It’s certainly not a bad story; in fact I would hold it leaps and bounds over the likes of 358/2 Days and Birth By Sleep. But it does not quite match up to the second game and especially not the first from a narrative standpoint. The game also does not do much to keep players who have missed previous installments up to speed with the plot (outside of a beautifully rendered CGI intro set to Utada Hikaru’s “My Sanctuary”).

The plot begins with Yen Sid, the sorcerer from Fantasia’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” sending Sora and Riku on a quest to test their abilities as Keyblade masters. Something about “sleeping worlds” and “dreams and nightmares” or something convoluted of that nature. All in all, fans will dig it but newcomers will be incredibly confused.

Gameplay: 4/5

Kingdom Hearts 3D is very much an upgrade of the games before it. Most fights can be handled by a simple mash of the attack button. You can cycle through secondary options for the X button (such as magic and items) as an alternative to your strategy. Two brand new features are the Dream Eaters and Flowmotion.

Dream Eaters are very much like a Kingdom Hearts version of Pokemon. They take up the partner slots once used by the likes of Donald, Goofy, Riku and the various Disney characters you encountered in the first two games. For the most part, I felt as though I was able to handle each battle without them. They do help you find certain objects and devices that progress the game forward. Their assistance in combat is most needed during boss battles where the extra hits and attacks wind up being crucial. What the player will find most useful about them though is Link Attacks. Link attacks are somewhat like the character summons from the first game; you touch your Dream Eater partner’s icon when its Link gauge is full and this initiates a special attack or mode that strengthens both of you into a far more lethal fighter. This is especially effective in dealing with large groups of enemies.

While the Dream Eaters are certainly a welcome help, I still missed having Disney, Square Enix and original character companions in this game. Hopefully they will take the time to blend the two in future installments.

As for Flowmotion, it definitely serves to make the combat more acrobatic and frenetic like the bulk of the trailers. It is controlled primarily with the Y button and can be confusing to work with at first. After some use and practice it becomes second nature though, making fighting smaller enemies much less tedious and far less of a chore. There is some amount of platforming that may or may not use Flowmotion, but these segments are not always as fun.

It’s worth mentioning that the player is expected to switch between Sora and Riku during gameplay, creating a parallel story for the plot. The worlds are apparently split in two (despite looking exactly the same) and Sora and Riku are stuck on either side. The two play very much the same way but engage with different locations and characters. The issue here is that the game gives you a time limit to play as one character in the form of a “Drop Gauge.” If this runs out, you enter “Bonus Time” and when that ends, you are forcibly moved into the other keyblade master. Thankfully this time limit is incredibly slow and will not really effect your game if you’re interested in some exploring. You can also willingly “Drop” at anytime.

It’s not perfect, but the gameplay will hold any Kingdom Hearts fan over despite its complexity. Each world is about thirty minutes to an hour depending on how you play the game. With that in mind, the adventure is fairly lengthy and extended further from the local multiplayer games involving the Dream Eaters.

Graphics: 5/5

The graphics in this game are an absolute marvel for a portable game. The style itches to be exactly like its Playstation 2 brethren and succeeds with flying colors. The effects and colors are breathtakingly beautiful and the characters are animated fluently and rendered out quite nicely, if not even better than the first two games. As with any 3DS game, there is a noticeable lack of antialiasing, though it’s not nearly as significant in this game as it is in some others.

As far as design and looks go, from a technical standpoint Kingdom Hearts 3D sets out to visually present itself like a true followup to Kingdom Hearts II and there’s very little reason to say that it does not reach that goal. Oh, and the 3D looks really, really good. But really, did we expect anything less?

Sound: 5/5

As with the graphics, the soundtrack is very reminiscent of the earlier games with brilliantly mastered music and some very solid voice acting. The sound effects are crisp and clear and the Dream Eaters sound ironically cute. There is not a whole lot to say here; anyone familiar with this franchise will truly appreciate what they hear. Use headphones for the best experience.

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

While I totally acknowledge that this game is not for everyone, I’m hard pressed to find anyone who would suggest that any of the games since the second installment are for everyone. This is a solid game for the 3DS. It may not be perfect, but it delivers a decent experience for users, especially fans of the series. If you were ever once interested in this series and own a 3DS, pick it up. You will not regret it at all. For everyone else, give it a swing. It might just flash your interest for the series.

PROS:

+Gameplay is fluid and fast paced. The circle pad pro helps improve the experience

+Fantastic 3D effect and visuals

+Solid voice acting and fantastic soundtrack

+Dream Eaters are a fun addition to the game

CONS:

-Disney/Square characters no longer help you in combat

-Story is a little ridiculous and hard to follow, especially for newcomers

-Platforming elements are stiff

Mario Tennis Open Review (3DS)

Mario Tennis Open is a Mario sports title for the Nintendo 3DS. It was developed by Camelot and published by Nintendo.

Gameplay: 4/5

Mario Tennis is a game with a special place in my childhood. Honestly, I must have spent days playing the hell out of Mario Tennis 64 with friends and family members. It goes without saying that the idea of a Mario Tennis game on the 3DS was nothing short of appealing. Camelot’s developed the gameplay quite well. It’s a sweet blend of skill and strategy that leaves the luck factor that is present in many of Nintendo’s other spin-off multiplayer titles out of the equation.

Mario Tennis Open plays much more similarly to Mario Tennis 64 than Power Tennis. This is a large improvement given the exclusion of the Power moves from the latter game. Instead, there are now “Trick” shots that you can use with the pressing of the X button when you stand on a symbol that sometimes appears after your opponent hits the ball. This will, depending on the color, change the ball into a curve shot, a high shot, a low shot and others. This keeps the action fast paced and the strategy flowing. Do I want to lob the ball over my opponents’ heads or do I want to spike it past them?

There are also some fun challenges you can try out such as the classic “Rings” minigame from previous versions and the newer “Super Mario Tennis” minigame where you play some of the original NES classic but in tennis form. Accomplishing any of these will earn you unlockables that you can buy from an in-game store for your Mii. These power-ups will actually provide you stats that can eventually make you more well-rounded than any of the primary Mario cast, all of whom are not customizable. Some may see this as an issue because Mario Kart offered customizability, but I personally like that their stats are fixed and that only the Mii is customizable. Trying to give Bowser upgrades to increase his speed when he’s primarily meant for power seems like overkill to me.

There’s something that Mario Tennis Open certainly achieves and it is balance. Every player has a chance to beat their opponent, no matter who it is. The upgrades will provide small boosts but only so much. It’s limited to say the least, but it works.

As far as control options go, Camelot has added itself to a list of developers I praise for taking advantage of the 3DS’ multitude of control options. You can either use the practical face buttons or you can use the “touch screen” buttons. Each one is color coded and sized very well so that getting used to said method is a breeze. The only control method I would not recommend is the “gyro control” method. It’s a cute idea, but trying to play the game by moving the entire system when there’s no way to keep the 3DS’ screen stationary is downright annoying. It’s largely the the only problem I had with the controls.

Graphics: 5/5

I was surprised to see the graphics in this game look as good as they do, even with 3D being used. The models in this game are very high in quality. Much of the game’s overall design seems to come from Mario Galaxy’s engine. Any longstanding Mario fan will be pleased to see that the cast still all have their fingers (refer to Mario Kart Wii if you don’t know what I mean). Every court in the game is inspired by a place in the Mushroom Kingdom. Everything is bright and colorful and looks very nice. I don’t know what’s more impressive; the fact that the graphics are much finer than most of the Wii’s software lineup or that they were able to achieve it with 3D in mind.

Sound: 4/5

Outside of the main theme, the soundtrack is mostly just happy orchestral and energetic rock tunes. Nothing bad at all, but nothing particularly special either. There’s nothing here that you’ll be humming to next week, but it fits the world and helps you stay in the mood when playing.

The sound effects are standard. Chimes for characters when they taunt, the rackets hitting the ball make the appropriate noise and all of the characters have their cute voices. One thing I’d like to note is (and this is not a flaw by any means) but if you thought the Miis sounded strange in Mario Kart 7, you’re going to raise an eyebrow at their voices in this game. It’s awkward and amusing to go from cute Yoshi-like squeaky voices to regular human voices. Overall, the character voices may annoy older gamers, but Mario fans will be pleased.

Replayability: 3/5

Sadly, the modes are short-lived overall and there is not a great deal of them to begin with. Outside of the addition of online multiplayer, there really isn’t much here to keep the player hooked for very long. The online multiplayer is still a major upgrade for the Mario Tennis franchise however. I am pleased to say that I have had next to no issues connecting with others (aside from rage quitters). Like with Mario Kart 7, Mario Tennis Open gives you a set number which will rise and fall with your wins and victories. This number serves as your rank. This alone will probably keep pros hooked. Anyone else will probably enjoy this with friends for a while, then move on to something else.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Mario Tennis Open is limited for sure. However, this does not stop it from being an addicting and overall very fun multiplayer game with some tiny single player features. Whether you’re a Mario fan or simply looking for some online multiplayer action, then you have no reason to miss this game.

PROS:

+Fun and addicting gameplay

+Mii customizability

+Online multiplayer works well

+Pretty to look at

CONS:

-Lacking in single player modes

-Soundtrack is nothing special

-Gyro controls are awful