Infinite Minigolf Review (PS4/X1/Switch) – “Minigolf Times Infinity”

Zen Studios has certainly acquired quite the reputation with their excellent Zen Pinball titles, which are available on almost every platform to date. Since then though, the team has only worked on a few titles outside of their big pinball hit, such as Punisher: No Mercy and Planet Minigolf (both of which were PS3 exclusive titles). After some time, they’ve decided to take a break from their pinball roots and return to a familiar field, minigolf. Infinite Minigolf has now released for PC, PS4, X1, and Switch, and is a sequel to Planet Minigolf. Is this minigolf game worth the putt or is it a complete bogey?

Minigolf has always been about varied, fun locales brimming with imaginative set pieces and scenery. With Infinite Minigolf, the wacky locales are here, but as are some unique twists. This isn’t your typical minigolf game, but rather a more fast-paced, over-the-top game of putt-putt. You will enter tournaments across three different locales: Giant Home, Nightmare Mansion, and Santa’s Workshop. Giant Home is kind of like Andy’s Room from Toy Story, with plenty of toys and games that fill up the environment. Nightmare Mansion is your Halloween-themed environment full of bats, spiders, swinging spike pendulums and tombstones. Lastly, Santa’s Workshop is your snow-filled, Christmas-themed environment filled with elves, candy canes, presents and plenty of ice. Each locale feels very unique and provides their own identity (and challenges) to each course.

Infinite Minigolf is not about getting the ball sunk into the hole with the least amount of hits. Well, it is, but the game revolves around who can get the highest amount of points within nine holes. Throughout each of the courses, there are blue orbs littered around to collect, as well as a purple diamond. Getting these will bump up your score quite a bit, especially the purple diamond. Additionally, the real curve ball mechanic are the power-ups that are attainable at each hole. These power-ups range from rocketing a ball forward, getting full control of where the ball rolls (within the momentum the ball has from the hit), stopping a ball in place, blasting items away from your ball, magnetizing the ball into the hole, etc. These really change the dynamic of the game and really help push the fast-paced flow of gameplay. Controls also help with the game’s flow, and are quite simple for anyone to grasp. You can turn the character with the left analog stick, and then control the power of the hit by pulling back on the right analog stick. You can control the power meter by slowly maneuvering the right analog stick from its centered position and all-the-way back, and vice versa. Any other buttons to use are highlighted on the game’s HUD. It’s simple and intuitive, making it accessible for anyone to play.

The game’s core mode is the Tournament mode. You go up against three AI opponents and compete to have the highest score by the end of the nine holes. There are four tournaments in each of the three locales, with three difficulties to work your way up through. However, the game’s highlight is by far its Course Editor mode. The Course Editor mode gives you an unprecedented amount of freedom creating the course that hits all the right notes. You can choose which of the locales you want to build a course on, then cycle through an abundant amount of pieces to put everything together. Straightaways, curves, spiral loops, upside-down loops, speed boosts, interactive pieces, power-ups, orbs, diamonds…the options are tremendous. You can choose the height of the course and even place objects on and off the course to further add life to the course. Now, it should be noted that there is no tutorial in place to learn the Course Editor. However, there’s nothing here that can’t be figured out by spending 10-20 minutes playing around with the tools provided. You can test out your course, and then go back to editing seamlessly, tweaking each element to your liking. Once done, you will have to test the course and finish it to validate that it’s ready for uploading. When all is said and done, you will then name your course and once uploaded, it will be available for all Infinite Minigolf players. So if you make a course on the Switch version, PS4, X1 and PC players will be able to play your course as well. This universal connection for user-created content is outstanding and removes any restrictions of trying courses that all Infinite Minigolf players create.

Infinite Minigolf gives you a range of characters to play as, each with their own personality. Each character reacts differently to how they sink the ball in the hole with unique winning poses and one-liners. However, you can also create your own character. As you win tournaments and also level up throughout the game, you will earn cards pertaining to each set of clothing and gear. You will use these cards to unlock the clothing and gear you’d like equipped for your custom character. Hairstyles, shirts, pants, belts, shoes, clubs and golf balls are all customizable. This method of unlocking content is a bit of a grind though since you get randomized cards for tournament wins. There are even challenges you can complete that will earn your gold coins, which can be used to buy a pack of cards. It’s almost like having currency, to buy currency, to then buy items. Thankfully, there are no micro-transactions for this, otherwise there would be some serious currency-ception.

When not playing solo, Infinite Minigolf features both local and online multiplayer with support for up to eight players. You can take turns passing the controller around or have multiple controllers connected (as much as the console supports). What is really neat is that there are a variety of modifiers to tweak for a match. You can choose to play with Classic minigolf rules, unlimited ball jumping, the number of strokes allowed for per course, etc. You can even make things really wild by changing the ball type as an egg, pyramid, puck, cube, and more! This really makes things interesting, and downright hysterical. When playing online, the game has lobby support. Simply open your friends list, send an invite and they’ll jump right into your lobby. Like local play, you can fully customize your matches (should you play a Private Match) or jump into a public match with others. What’s interesting is that unlike local’s turn-based play style, everyone here putts at the same time. Once sinking the ball in, you can watch the remaining players finish the course. If it’s a custom course, you can even rate the course while waiting. The simultaneous play makes things frenetic, but you can make it more so by turning on the ball collision modifier. The overall online experience was quite smooth, especially on Switch.

There are a few issues to be found in Infinite Minigolf. First off is the grind mentioned above when unlocking gear. Second, when controlling the power meter with the right analog stick, there seems to occasionally be a delay in the meter correlating with the control stick sensitivity. You can adjust the sensitivity in the game’s options, but it seemed to still have a split-second delay somewhat. It’s not game-breaking by any means, but could be just a tad smoother. Third (and this is entirely dependent on user-created courses), there are times when people will place speed boosts next to a ramp. However, if the ball doesn’t go up the ramp fully and rolls back down into the speed boost, it’ll never be enough power to get it up the ramp. This leads to the ball being stuck in limbo and leaving you at the mercy of the game, praying that the ball will move enough to eventually stop and let you putt again. There’s an option to skip the hole, and that seems to be the best solution, but you’re penalized with getting zero points for the course. Now this is more of an issue if it’s an online match, whereas a local match you could easily restart the hole. Fourth, on the Switch, there is no voice chat support at the moment. Here’s hoping Zen Studios provides voice chat support through the Nintendo Online app (despite its choppy start).

Visually, Infinite Minigolf is a very vibrant looking game, with clean texture work. Characters have smooth animations, as do the objects on course and the ball itself. As mentioned earlier, the environments themselves are very well done and are great to look at. The game runs at a locked 30 fps and never dips below that, which is nice. In terms of audio, there is a variety of sound effects. Whether you are using a power-up, simply hitting the ball, collision with the various objects…it’s all fitting for sure. The music also does a great job of capturing the environments you will be putting in, as does the main menu track. The odd thing though is that when creating courses, the music will play once, and then never repeat…just sound effects play at that point. This also seems to occur when playing online and waiting for the player(s) to finish, the song will not loop until you’re back in-game for the next course. It seems to be a glitch that could use some patching. Outside of that though, the audio is very catchy.

Infinite Minigolf is a great minigolf game that should not be overlooked. It’s highly accessible mechanics really make the game an easy to pick up-and-play game of putt-putt. There’s more than enough in-game content here to keep players busy for sure, but the in-depth Course Editor is the main highlight without question. Couple that with the ability to play and share courses that are accessible on all platforms and you really have “infinite minigolf”. Despite some gripes, Infinite Minigolf cannot be recommended enough (especially Switch owners since it’s perfect for on-the-go gaming). It was very difficult to put the game down. Even when taking a break, I wanted to keep returning to play a few more rounds and create more courses.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Infinite Minigolf! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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NBA Playgrounds Review (Switch/PS4/X1): “Frazzle Dazzle”

NBA Playgrounds is an homage to the basketball games of yesteryear. In a time where games were not aiming to be ultra-realistic simulations, we had awesome arcade-style basketball games like NBA Jam, NBA Hang Time, and NBA Street (the second game being this reviewer’s favorite). Saber Interactive has now decided to revitalize this lost take on the genre with their latest title, NBA Playgrounds. Is this title a “razzle dazzle”?

NBA Playgrounds is a 2v2 style basketball game that aims for the pickup-and-play zaniness of NBA Jam, but with its own modern twists. You start off the game opening up card packs. Each card pack contains five basketball players to add to your accessible roster. You get a few packs to start with and can earn more by playing through the game’s Tournament mode. You get to mix and match your players to form the dynamic duo team of your liking, and can mix this up any time before a matchup begins. The tournament will take you to varied locales like New York City, Paris, Shanghai and Hong Kong to name a few. Each of the outdoor courts do a very good job of capturing the locale you’re playing at. There are six locations around the world where you will partake in tournaments, each with four matches. Each match even has a bonus objective to tackle to help net you more XP for your active players (more on that later).

The game’s mechanics are fairly easy to pickup-and-play, much like that of NBA Jam. You’ve got your simple pass, shoot, steal, block, and turbo buttons in place. Even each of the players have stats that resemble the style of NBA Jam, whether it be the 3-point, Dunk, Block, Steal, and Rebound skills to name a few. When holding the turbo button, you can move the right analog stick to pull off tricks. The more tricks you pull off while connecting it with a dunk, the more your special meter will fill up. This system is interesting, as it runs a lottery pick for a power up that could help change the odds of a match. For example, you may be able to get double points for dunks for a short time, get a single 100% accurate shot no matter where on the court you are, unlimited turbo, etc. Each time you complete a locale in the Tournament mode, you also earn a new lottery pick powerup.

At the end of each match, you will get XP for both your player profile and the players on your team. You will earn new card packs to unlock more players each time you level up, and your players will level up from bronze, to silver, to then gold status the more you use them. It’s also very commendable that the developers didn’t fall into the microtransaction route with unlocking more players or “buying” card packs. You will get duplicates in the packs occasionally, but this converts into XP for that particular player should you have them already. Also, you can earn Epic and Legend cards, which consist of classic basketball players.

Sounds promising so far, right? However, this is unfortunately where things get a bit dicey. Unlike NBA Jam or NBA Street, the mechanics here never feel fluid, and a lot of that has to do with the useless teammate AI. So let’s get this out of the way, if you’re planning on playing this solo, you are going to have a frustrating time due to your teammate AI. Unfortunately, there’s no way to play the Tournament mode with a friend, which is the main method of unlocking content. Your teammate will literally do nothing but run around following an opposing teammate, but that’s it. He will not try to block shots. He will not try to steal the ball. He will not go for rebounds. He will not even listen to your command to set up an alley-oop when you press the button for it. Additionally, taking shots at the basket also feels very inconsistent. You have to time your button press and let go of the shot button at a certain animation frame to better your accuracy. The problem is that the animation is in such a precise window that is almost impossible to master, or even pull off on a regular basis. Even the dunks require letting go of the shot button…and good luck even figuring out what animation frame point to let go on this one. There is apparently an update in the works to provide a shot meter which should help dramatically, but in the meantime, this is what we have.

Lastly, the game does have its Exhibition and Online modes. Exhibition allows you to fully customize the rules, as well as even change the ball being used for the match. This is definitely where the game will shine, in particular when playing with a friend here. However, the Online mode is interesting. The developers stated that the Switch version would have online running shortly after launch and it’s been roughly three weeks since launch…still nothing. So unfortunately, there’s not much to report on this end and frankly, this could’ve helped the overall score considering the dumb AI in Tournament mode makes for a frustrating single-player experience.

Visually, NBA Playgrounds has a neat art style that nails the over-the-top nature of the game, giving an arcade-like feel to it. Dunk animations look great, and characters animate fairly smooth. The environments have character to them and it’s great seeing outdoor locations that take place around the world. On the flipside, the big problem that rear its ugly head quick is when you see the game running on the Switch docked, and then you undock it. While the game looks solid on the TV, the undocked mode has the game running well below the 720p capabilities, giving the players a very blurry and practically standard-definition appearance. Hopefully this gets patched as well. It makes playing it on-the-go fairly ugly. The game does run at 60 fps most of the time, but the start of each match has the framerate running erratically for about five seconds or so. It’s not game-breaking, but it is jarring and happens regardless if it’s docked or undocked. In terms of audio, the announcers are entertaining to listen to. While nowhere near the classic nature of NBA Jam’s announcer, they do provide some chuckle worthy commentary. The soundtrack is comprised of hip-hop beats, and it fits the game pretty well. Sound effects also do a good job capturing the powerful dunks, dribbling and squeaks of the sneakers on the street courts.

NBA Playgrounds is game that screams pickup-and-play. The problems here though lie within its poor teammate AI, sub-HD undocked visuals, inconsistent shot mechanics, and lack of functional online mode (despite the option being in the main menu, sitting there locked). Even despite all these gripes, I did find myself coming back more and more for a round here and there. What is here is still playable and somewhat enjoyable playing solo. However, there’s no denying the game needs some updating, as it needed a bit more time for a “boomshaklaka”.

Overall Score: 6.0 out of 10 = Wait for a Price Drop (or Patch Update)

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for NBA Playgrounds! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Has-Been Heroes Review (Switch/PS4/X1/PC): “Still-Are Heroes”

Has-Been Heroes is the latest title from developer Frozenbyte, known for their Trine series. This new title is a unique strategy RPG in the market with rogue-like elements. Are these heroes worth joining?

Gameplay: 3/5

Has-Been Heroes is unlike any other game in the genre. You start off the game with a bit of exposition, laying out the ground work of who these heroes are, and what has become of them. These old, tired heroes are tasked with one last quest: to escort the king’s daughters to school…and man, what a treacherous path it is to this school! That’s as much exposition as you’ll get, and that’s honestly fine since it’s enough to get the game going.

Has-Been Heroes is not your typical RPG, and thankfully provides you with a proper tutorial to have you understand the intricate mechanics. When starting an area, you will use the right analog stick to choose a location to go to from the map. Highlighting the area next to you will show if it contains a battle, has a merchant to buy things from, has treasure chests, or may be empty so you can just safely pass by.

Battle mechanics are very engaging. When in battle, your characters are always moving, as are the enemies. You will have to press the button that corresponds with the character you’d like to attack with (X, Y, or B), and once chosen, you will attack with the A button. Each character will have to wait before attacking again, and they each vary with cooldown timers. More integral to survival is understanding the stamina mechanics. Enemies not only have health (indicated by the red bar next to them), but stamina boxes as well (indicated as green boxes next to their health). Stamina basically works as a shield before you can chip away at their health bar. If you chip away their stamina enough to stun them, and then give them a quick attack afterwards, you will knock down their stamina capacity, making it easier to stun them the next time you attack them. Stamina does build back for enemies after attacking them, so knocking down their stamina gauge is absolutely pivotal to victory.

The same applies for your characters as well. They each have a specific amount of stamina and health that you’ll need to keep an eye on. Naturally, the knight is like a tank and can withstand the most damage. The elder monk is fairly weak, but is utilized more as a knockback character. The young rogue character has speed in her attacks and can dish out more hits in a combo. On top of this, each character has a spell that can be summoned. Spells all vary on whether they’re elemental or not, passive or aggressive, and ultimately can change the course of battle if utilized right. Combat can (and will) get very overwhelming and thankfully you can pause the time so you can carefully plot your attacks across the three lanes of battle.

So here is the thing about Has-Been Heroes: It’s difficult…insanely difficult actually. Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh…you’ve heard of those games by now for their high difficulty (all of which I’ve beaten for the record). Has-Been Heroes’ difficulty is a whole new breed though. This is where gameplay experiences will vary among players. If you like your games to be easy and a walk-in-the-park, well this may not be your cup of tea. If you welcome a challenge, then Has-Been Heroes will certainly do so. All it takes is for you to get frazzled and overwhelmed in combat to quickly fall to your demise. If a single hero dies, it’s game over. No continues, no checkpoints. After all, this is a rogue-like game.

Now, Has-Been Heroes has some issues that hurt the gameplay a bit. First off, the game has a feature where the camera zooms in with certain attacks. This is nice and all, but the problem I had was that the game would glitch and the zoomed-in camera would be stuck, leaving me with no view of the battle. This happened twice during boss battles and resorted to my characters dying. Thankfully, this camera feature can be shut off in the options menu, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed. Secondly, the game’s difficulty, while more than welcome for this reviewer, feels unbalanced at times. There were times where I was able to blast through both regular battles and boss battles, and there were other times where I would falter at the first regular battle due to an absurd amount of enemies randomly generated. Boss battles are also an exercise in frustration, as some of them throw far too many enemies into the mix, making it inevitable for your characters to meet their doom. Also, it would’ve been a great feature to be able to choose a spell loadout based on the spells acquired in each playthrough. Instead, you will have to randomly come across spells at each merchant and hope for the best. Ultimately, it just feels like there are numerous times where the game relies on luck, regardless of how skilled you are at it.

Issues aside though, there’s no denying the amount of enjoyment I had playing this game. The gameplay was addictive, and no matter how many times I died, I always found myself coming back for more.

Graphics: 4/5

Visually, Has-Been Heroes is a more simplistic approach from the developer’s previous Trine series. At first glance it may appear like a mobile title, but don’t let that dismiss you. What we are treated with here are nicely drawn environments and characters, each with their own unique animations. The game does run at a solid 60 fps and the overall aesthetic is very crisp. The main gripe is the text font when playing on the TV. While on the Switch screen it’s easy to read, it’s pretty tiny on the TV. Despite that though, the overall game is easy on the eyes and quite vibrant (which is expected from the team that made the visually stunning Trine games).

Sound: 4/5

The audio design is incredibly well done in Has-Been Heroes. Outside of the narrator, characters have minimal voice acting, but what is here is completely fine. Sound effects are strong and capture the intensity of battles. When entering a level, the narrator actually sounds almost reminiscent of that from the Gauntlet games. The majestic score is great here as well. Whether advancing through the land, in combat, at merchants, or the spell gambler, the tunes all fit the setting superbly. I found myself really getting into the soundtrack and humming it outside of playing the game.

Replay Value: 5/5

For the $20 price tag, there is an insane amount of content and unlockables to be found here. Has-Been Heroes contains 10 different endings, a ton of additional characters to unlock and play as, and countless spells and enemies to discover. As mentioned in the gameplay segment, this is a game that was very addictive no matter how difficult it was. The Switch version in particular really shines in this department, as it is a perfectly suited game to have on-the-go. There’s a lot of bang for your buck here and it will keep you coming back for a long time.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Has-Been Heroes may seem like a simple, mobile style game from first glance, but what’s here is an incredibly difficult, yet very rewarding game. The engaging combat system, crisp visual art style, strong audio and plethora of content makes Has-Been Heroes a great package for the asking price. Again, this game may not be for everyone. Even with its unbalanced difficulty curves, it never discouraged me from trying again repeatedly. For those who do appreciate the challenge and invest the time into it, there’s a very deep game overall that will have you coming back for quite some time.

Second Opinion
Written By Karl Upman

From the developers of the Trine series comes a very different, very new experience. Has-Been Heroes tells the tale of old, retired heroes who really shouldn’t be put in charge of guarding anything but their own front lawns. But nonetheless here we are, guiding our time-worn travelers through treacherous terrains. Accompanied by a third member of the group, an aspiring heroine, the unlikely lot set out to deliver the king’s two daughters to…school. If that doesn’t set the precedent for the game, I don’t know what will. Has-Been Heroes is set up to be funny, and in many cases it succeeds! However, the amount of laughter quickly died out for me because I kept…well…dying.

Has-Been Heroes is a rouge-like, strategy, dark souls-esque game where you have a starting and end point, and in between are procedurally generated pathways and “rooms”. I tend to like this set up; give me a dungeon with areas to explore and I’ll be content for hours. But this is a different formula and the key to enjoying it comes down to one thing – luck. In my first two hours of the game, I couldn’t beat a single enemy encounter. It was only after playing for a bit longer and really understanding the mechanics that I realized I had been totally getting screwed over! I was getting loads of enemies thrown at me when I had no clue what was going on and I was expected to just learn. After a few frustrating attempts at making progress, I finally faced a relatively easy mob, only two handfuls of enemies compared to the waves upon waves I had faced before. This allowed me to finally learn the mechanics and progress… until of course I was overwhelmed time-after-time again.

I don’t mind the mechanics of battling in Has-Been Heroes, it’s unique, clever and requires a lot of planning – which the developers clearly recognized since you can pause the game to think of your next move at almost any time. What it comes down to is the consistent “enjoy-ability” of it. From the start, you’re incredibly overwhelmed with just the system alone, but you’re treated as though you’ve been playing it for weeks right when you jump in! It also would have been nice to get some recognition for making any progress at all, but the unlocks you get are seemingly useless other than to learn what you may or may not pick up in a future adventure. This was partially beneficial however, because the text is incredibly small and smooshed together, I could barely read anything during a playthrough. I did manage to defeat the first world boss once, and naturally was thrown into an impossibly difficult first battle in the next playthrough – so back to square one! Personally, I don’t get much out of games where your only goal is to see how well you can make it through an ever-changing labyrinth of suffering and frustration, only to walk it out with some new text to read.

That being said, I did take a few things away from Has-Been Heroes. The art style was playful and stimulating, and the music was a great balance of intense and out-of-the-way, allowing you to really focus on what was going on. When I could read the dialogue (playing in handheld mode on the Switch), I found the humor quite enjoyable. Although after dying so many times, it did tend to get repetitive.

I think some people will find satisfaction in Has-Been Heroes, but it’s definitely not just a game you can jump into and expect to enjoy – you’ll need to work at it and appreciate it for what it is: a rouge-like dungeon crawler that hands out dull consolation prizes and wants you to die…a lot.

Second Opinion Final Score: 6.5/10

 

 

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Has-Been Heroes! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Aragami Review (PS4/X1): “Embrace the Shadows”


Lince Works takes us back a step in the stealth genre with Aragami. With many so-called stealth games to dilute the pool (Dishonored, Thief, Styx), it would have appeared as though the formula was set in place. Luckily for us, that’s where Aragami comes in and shakes things up a bit. By forcing the player to use their wits and plan accordingly, Aragami takes a well-needed step back. So does it succeed? Or does Aragami sulk in the shadows? 

Story: 4/5

You play as Aragami, a vengeful spirit summoned by a sorceress, Yamiko, who is being held captive by the pillaging “Warriors of Light”, Kaiho, who have been at war with the “Shadow Warriors”. Beyond what you are, Aragami starts off as a mystery that slowly unfolds as you meticulously make your way through the game’s 8 chapters, for a total completion time of around 12-15 hours. You are told that in order to free the sorceress and allow her clan to take vengeance upon Kaiho, you need to collect 6 talismans, each of which are heavily guarded. As you reclaim the talismans, you are reunited with lost memories; some of which belong to the sorceress, while some belong to the person you were before your death, and consequently your resurrection. Uncovering these memories is key to the story of Aragami, but so is paying careful attention throughout each chapter. Enemies talk amongst one another and provide valuable information that can sway your perspective as to what is going on with the mysterious sorceress and where you come in as the deadly assassin (or ghostly shadow depending on your preference). 

After paying attention to enemy NPC’s conversations, I was sure I had the story figured out way before I thought I was supposed to. And then Aragami did something… mischievous. It kept me guessing. Not enough to definitively change my mind, but just enough to ensure I wasn’t sure. This was achieved by playing with the child-parent-like bond between Yamiko and Aragami in the main cutscenes. Aragami, really not sure of anything, knows he can only trust one person – Yamiko, who gave him life. However, as Aragami discovered more memories of both himself and Yamiko, he begins to become troubled and confused. Nonetheless, his faith in his creator and the knowledge of his only living purpose, revenge, keeps him moving forward. While Aragami did end how I anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed the character development and the slight toying with my emotions throughout the story. Through the main cutscenes and small gems riddled in the gameplay through AI conversations, you are able to see all sides of this feud and you come to an understanding of how everyone got to where they are. It was almost poetic how at the last scene unfolds. And just when you think you know how it all will end, the developers throw one line – two words – to make you sit back and truly understand the struggles of these warring factions.

Gameplay: 5/5

Aragami is not like the stealth games we’ve come to know. In fact, after playing Aragami it is difficult to consider most other games as actual “stealth games”. Aragami himself has actually no combat capabilities, meaning once you are discovered you must run and hide, or carefully remove your opponents with finesse. This sort of limitation is not seen in many stealth games, as many of them offer you a chance to fight back and then flee if necessary. You are however given a small set of skills that are carefully designed for different scenarios.

You start out with the basics: shadow teleportation. It’s a simple concept to start, you can only move quickly between shadows, using up a small amount of shadow power that is displayed on your cape. This shadow power is the basis for all of your abilities. It restores in shadows and gets quickly removed when standing in light sources. You soon gain the ability to create shadows to teleport into, albeit at the hefty cost of shadow power. After this however, you are on your own to develop Aragami as you see fit. You discover cleverly (and frustratingly) placed scrolls which offer skill points that can be spent on different shadow powers. There are six of these powers in total, three are deemed as defensive, while the other three are offensive. It is an interesting classification as I personally would not consider many of them offensive (save for the kunai, which when thrown instantly kills a single opponent). A better nomenclature for all of the skills would simply be “strategic”, and that is definitely the theme of the game and I believe what the developers were trying to drive home. Almost any of the abilities can be used in a number of different ways, something that was truly a pleasure to explore and trial! My personal favorite was a shadow vortex trap, that when placed could be triggered from any location and instantly (and silently) move any number of nearby enemies into another realm. I found that in order to progress through certain situations, some skills were more useful than others. By the last chapter, I discovered uses for all skills that I hadn’t thought of before and was using each of them frequently! Some might consider these abilities overpowered but luckily there is a limitation to them. You are allowed only two uses per ability. However, shrines that restore all abilities are located throughout each level, and a particularly badass stealth kill skill can restore one use to the equipped ability. 

Like most stealth games, you are provided the option of killing everyone, no one, or somewhere in the morally unsound grey area. Unlike most stealth games, you are given natural tools to aid you in your endeavors as well. The first two talismans you acquire offer you a marking ability, which upon upgrading can track enemies through walls, and something I feel every true stealth game should have: a noise maker. Previous games we’ve seen whistling or banging your sword on objects to distract nearby guards, in this game it is a simple bangle. This small tool is revolutionary in stealth games and has a huge impact on gameplay, so I was thrilled to see it included. 

Aragami gets something else right that honestly was completely unanticipated: boss fights. Besides a rather fast-paced technical section, there were in fact three distinct boss fights and each of them were expertly handled and impressively varied. Considering the limited nature of most stealth games, it is often difficult to incorporate mechanics outside of the normal gameplay. However, Aragami’s clever abilities payed off well here. By thinking outside of the box, I was able to use my abilities in ways I didn’t even think of before in order to overcome a more challenging threat. This was truly a unique experience as many previous games that attempt this often result in an awkward encounter for the player.

Boss fights aren’t the only thing Aragami does different than its “not-so-stealthy-anymore” predecessors; it also does co-op. You can play through the entire campaign with a friend on a separate console and vanquish your enemies (or not) in all-new and exciting ways! Tag teaming using different abilities in conjunction actually works very well, and having two sets of eyes on the playing field can result in a much smoother run – so long as you’re both on the same page!

Completion of the main story allows your character’s progression to persist so there is plenty of replay value in Aragami. Whether it’s going back to collect all of the scrolls; completing missions with different objectives; or simply going through it cooperatively, this is by far not a single playthrough game.

Graphics: 3/5

Aragami’s simple nature of shadow-versus-light is an easy contrast to play with, and the developers at Lince Works executed it very well. Aragami himself takes on a very satisfying form, changing from tones of black, grey and vibrant red when in the light, to a terrifying all-black when in shadows to let you know when you’re in better hiding. Environments are well decorated but sometimes can feel un-blended depending on the level. There were frequent instances when upon moving the camera, the point of view would jump out of bounds and then suddenly back in; and quite frequently the framerate would drop massively. This led to experiences of stuttering or input lag that in more than one instance resulted in death. Unfortunately, all the careful timing and planning in the world cannot hold up to random spikes and dips in framerate, and in a game where timing can be everything, this can be quite an issue. Luckily the game didn’t seem to suffer any additional consquences of playing online and most deaths are easily recoverable. The animations of various abilities were well thoughtout, smooth and satisfying. I could watch Aragami’s shadow snake coil an enemy and bring him to the shadow realm over and over again and never tire! There was only a handful of clipping cases and overall I felt it was a smooth experience playing through each of the levels, save for a few light intensive ones.

Sound: 4/5

Not only do you have to watch your surroundings and enemies’ movements, you also need to listen to them and the environment. Something that can be overlooked at times in stealth games is carefully handled in Aragami and that is the ambience of the game. The soft and delicate soundtrack plays lightly in the background of each mission. If you didn’t focus on it, you wouldn’t know it was there – and that is exactly how it needs to be to allow your complete, undivided attention to the matter at hand. Only when you are discovered does the music quickly escalate to the heart-pumping chase track that will ensure you’re filled with panic as you realize your mistakes. Footsteps from all sources project well; small light fire sources glisten in your ear and conversations from enemies are clearly heard. Interestingly, the main characters are not completely voiced, relying on text to comprehend any dialogue, but the emotion is there. Regardless, Aragami succeeds in the delicate addition of important sound balancing.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Aragami is a unique and enjoyable stealth game that succeeds in the minimalistic inclusion of its core elements. Its story was somewhat predictable, but it did a decent job of keeping me interested through a carefully crafted relationship, along with addicting skill and planning-based gameplay. While some graphical issues would occasionally remove me from the full experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of actual boss fights and a well-functioning co-operative mode. With great replay value for those who enjoy proving themselves, it is well worth at least a single playthrough for those who enjoy taking their time in a game.

Pros:

+ Simplistic stealth mechanics that create a true stealth game
+ Creative abilities to aid in problem solving
+ Clever and original boss fights
+ Functioning co-operative mode

Cons:

– Some graphical issues
– Story shows its hand very soon

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Aragami! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Bladestorm: Nightmare Review (PS4/X1/PS3/360) – “A Nightmare Worth Conquering”

Bladestorm Nightmare Wallpaper

In 2007, Tecmo Koei and developer Omega Force brought a new IP to the PS3 and Xbox 360, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War. With the current generation currently running amok with remasters and definitive editions of game, Tecmo Koei and Omega Force decided to actually revitalize their IP in more of an expansion than a port called Bladestorm: Nightmare. Is this game worth the revitalization or is it a nightmare to steer clear away from?

Story: 4/5

Bladestorm: Nightmare contains two full-fledged story modes to experience. The first is Hundred Years’ War mode, which tells a fairly accurate historical rendition of, you guessed it, the Hundred Years’ War. Here you will create a mercenary that will take on contracts that work with either the English or French. You will aid famous characters such as Joan of Arc and Edward the Black Prince. You will see events unfold through the battlefield, as well as through diaries and conversations with soldiers in the main pub.

In the second and brand new mode, Nightmare, the developers decided to provide an alternate history with fantasy elements in place. Instead of a war between England and France, demons and mythological creatures are running rampant across the lands. The twist is that Joan of Arc, whom is known to be quite the heroine, is now the villainess commanding these demonic armies. Controlling the mercenary you created, you and Magnus (another mercenary) are both imbued with a sword that can take control of hordes of the demonic army. With this, you and Magnus are what actually stands a chance against the ever-growing army. You will be tasked with getting key characters to join your cause. Throughout Nightmare mode, you will see the events unfold in a familiar storytelling method that’s akin to Warriors Orochi 3 (Ultimate).

The stories in both modes are intriguing and promises something for those looking for a historical aspect or those looking for a fun, fantasy take on the history. In all honestly, it’s quite easy to get hooked into the game’s story and it’s cool seeing these characters care about the events unfolding.

 

Joan of Arc went through a bit of a change...

Joan of Arc went through a bit of a change…

Gameplay: 3/5

Bladestorm: Nightmare is an interesting game to describe genre-wise. It takes elements from various games where it’s part RPG, part strategy, and part action hack-and-slash. Seeing as how there are two games included with Bladestorm: Nightmare (Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare), each plays mostly similar with a few notable differences that will be mentioned. Let’s start with Hundred Years’ War.

You’ll start off by creating your own mercenary. Creating a character is fairly in-depth, allowing you to customize practically every single feature from body weight, facial structure, voice tone and pitch, skin color, etc. From there, you will enter the story and begin learning some basics to battle, such as how to command your squads, how the battle system works, and a few other elements to ensure you are off to a good start. Before actually partaking in battles, you will select your contract to accept at the local pub. This area provides to be the main area where you’ll take a break from battle to upgrade your character, buy and sell items, talk to other NPCs with information about the events unfolding on the battlefield, read diaries, and save your game. Upon taking a contract, you will begin your mission. Whichever side you choose to aide will not have any dramatic changes in the storyline, but how you play may change how missions will pan out.

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When out on the battlefield, you will have a squad follow you and listen to you on command. The type of squad varies, whether it is sword, bow, axe, etc. There’s an insane amount to choose from. Each can level up their stats so that more units follow your squad, and that their traits can improve as well. In terms of combat, if you are expecting to be a one-man army and just decimate your foes single-handedly, good luck because that most certainly isn’t happening. Combat is primarily handled by holding down the R1 button. Doing so will have you command your units to attack while your character will do the same to the nearest enemy automatically upon holding the button down. Depending on what you unit you have, they will either have an upper hand or lower hand to the opposing unit. This means that essentially certain units can deal more damage to the opposing specified unit. The game actually has a chart in-game to highlight which units go up against others best. When you form an army of squads, you can even unleash a “mass attack” to obliterate enemies with dramatic results.

Depending on the unit you control, the game’s dynamics will vary a bit. For example, if you’re part of a spear unit, you’ll most likely have a horse to ride on, which will make traversal a little faster than foot but will make you more prone to missing attacks. If you utilize the bow unit, you’ll be able to manually aim your well-placed arrows but shouldn’t take a chance leading a unit into close-quarter combat. The strategy plays a deep element into the overall gameplay in a satisfying way. Now in Hundred Years’ War, the more bases you take over on the battlefield, the more of advantage you will have overall. This will actually affect the next contract you take because the bases you took over will actually carry over. The battlefields are massive, with each feeling almost the size of an open-world in a separate game. Although, as cool and grand in scale as these battlefields look, traversing them takes forever…almost painfully so. Unfortunately, with these battlefields being massive, you’ll find yourself traversing more so than not with no enemies or NPCs in the area, leading to dull traversal.

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In Nightmare, the gameplay is essentially the same concept but is handled differently. Instead of being at a local pub to tackle contracts as a mercenary, you will progress in a straightforward chapter system. Throughout the game’s nine-chapter story (which can take between 6-12 hours depending on the difficulty you choose), you will work alongside Magnus and other key characters to form a united army to take down the demonic forces. Unlike Hundred Years’ War though, no matter how many bases you conquer on the battlefield, it will not stay that way should you return in a later chapter.

In terms of combat, it remains exactly the same but now with one key difference, you can control an army of monsters. Whether it is goblins, griffins, Cyclops, or even dragons, the dynamic switches up a bit with this. For example, you can actually ride a griffin, cyclops and dragon, which makes the scale of the battles even more grand. Actually leading a squad of these is just plain cool. It must be said that out of the two modes (Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare), Nightmare had me hooked a bit more since the progression was paced better.

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A cool feature is that both Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare are transferable amongst each other. Upon completing Nightmare mode, you can summon monster armies in areas that allow you to in Hundred Years’ War. Also, your character progression is seamlessly integrated between both games/modes. The entire game can be played in co-op, both local and online. However, if you’re playing the PS4 version, the infamously awesome Share Play feature is shockingly blocked.

As enjoyable as Bladestorm: Nightmare is, there were a decent amount of issues that hurt the experience a bit. First off, there are some bugs in the game. There have been several instances where my characters would run at a fraction of their speed and then revert to normal for absolutely no reason. I would be in the middle of an empty battlefield and this would occur, so I knew it wasn’t from some sort of enemy attack. While I understand that in reality they wouldn’t be moving that fast out on the battlefield, in a game, it can be daunting. Second, some missions have you protecting a key character who must traverse from point A to point B. The movement speed for this character is ludicrously slow that it becomes a real chore to complete these missions. Third, the final boss fight in Nightmare completely stopped at a halt during the final phase, where animations were frozen and AI wasn’t responding properly. I even accidentally broke apart my formed army and the controls wouldn’t respond at all to reform them; it wasn’t even showing the sub-menu to do so. Navigating menus can also be a bit convoluted to go through. Another issue was invisible walls. There were several times on the battlefield where my squad and I couldn’t advance at a certain point in town for no explicable reason. Despite the gripes that held back the experience a bit, I still found myself enjoying Bladestorm: Nightmare to return to it and keep taking over the battlefields.

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Graphics: 3/5

Visually, Bladestorm: Nightmare isn’t the flashiest looking game. After all, it is a revamp of a 2007 game but without a lot of effort focused on the graphics. Yes, the game is now in 1080p and depending on whether you play on the PS4 or X1, the framerate will vary. While the developers stated the PS4 version runs at 30 fps, I found several instances more so where it dropped below that. However, that’s not to say Bladestorm is a poor looking game. The lighting and environmental designs are done quite well, breathing some life into the battlefields. Trees sway in the background and grass blades lend to that extra terrain effect. Characters look fairly detailed with flashy pieces of armor. The game showcases hundreds of characters on-screen at once which lends to that “battlefield” feel. Omega Force games are notorious for displaying a ton of enemies on-screen but with tons of pop-up within the environments. Thankfully with the power of these consoles, draw distance has been dramatically improved and can continue to do so with future installments released specifically for this generation. Animations are also fairly smooth considering the amount of characters on-screen, without any animation frames dropped for characters out in a further distance. It’s not exactly a game that will showcase the PS4/X1’s prowess, but it’s not a poor looking game either. It hovers that line of solid, but not overly impressive.

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Sound: 4/5

Bladestorm’s best element may very well be its audio department. The sound of the armies advancing, the swords clashing, and enemies cries while they meet their doom all meet together to form a great audio experience. All the characters have English and Japanese voice acting that’s pretty serviceable and never quite reached “cringe worthy”. However, the real star here is the soundtrack. The orchestrated soundtrack that accompanies Bladestorm perfectly captures the game’s essence and setting. Whether you’re at the main menu, preparing for battle, or storming the battlefield, the music will go along superbly with the action at hand. It’s so memorable that I found myself thinking of the music whenever I’d leave the game and go about my daily life. The main gripe with the audio were the drop-out bugs. There were times where the sound effects completely dropped when entering a base and then would cue back in after taking it over. It wasn’t very often, but happened on a few instances where it was noticeable. Other than that, crank up the audio because this has one superb soundtrack.

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Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10

Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game that truly surprised me. While it has some issues that hurt the experience, it’s still a good game that people who like strategy infused with RPG and hack-and-slash mechanics should certainly give a go. While there is a learning curve, I found myself easily captivated to keep returning once grasped. There’s something about commanding your own squads to form an army, then work together to decimate anything that stands in your way that is immensely satisfying. Couple the fact that there are two games packaged in one, with progression seamlessly carried between the two, and you have a pretty solid package. It may not be for everyone, and it may not have garnered a big audience in 2007, but Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game that should be experienced by any strategy and/or RPG enthusiast.

 

Pros:

+ The original 2007 Bladestorm is included
+ Seamless progression between both games packaged
+ Enticing gameplay
+ Fun storyline
+ Outstanding soundtrack

 

Cons:

– Several gameplay bugs
– Slow environment traversal
– Average visuals
– Overwhelming menu navigation

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Bladestorm: Nightmare! Copy reviewed on PS4.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Cloudberry Kingdom Review (PS3/360/Wii U): “The Most Sadistically Awesome Platformer”

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Over the course of gaming history, 2D platformers have really become a staple genre that gamers of all kinds can enjoy. Ever since the days of Super Mario Bros. gracing the NES and Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis, we’ve seen a plethora of platformers impact the industry. Within the last half-decade, we’ve seen some stellar 2D platformers made by indie developers, such as Braid, Limbo and Outland. Pwnee Studios, an indie developer created by childhood friends Jordan Fisher and TJ Lutz, have worked together to bring about a 2D platformer that’s for the masochist called Cloudberry Kingdom. Is this a kingdom worth venturing?

When you start off the game’s story, you’ll be treated to a cutscene of the hero, Bob, trying to rescue the princess (where have we heard this before). However, instead of the cheery tone we’re accustomed to in Super Mario, we’re seeing that Bob is a tired, frustrated hero and that the Princess could care less that she’s being rescued from the evil king. Naturally, things aren’t so simple for Bob, as he’s thrown off a cliff by the evil king and forced to continue his tireless journey of rescuing the princess. From here, the game’s story mode begins. Cloudberry Kingdom plays precisely like you would expect a 2D platformer, with a few twists. You’ll have to traverse your way through deadly obstacles to reach the next level, with each ramping up in difficulty obstacle-wise, and each level takes only 15-40 seconds to complete. Controls are standard fare and nothing complicated by any means, with the A button used for jumping and Y button to use the exit door at the end of a level. Sounds pretty simple and straightforward enough, right? Well, here’s the thing. Bob dies in a single hit and has no weaponry to defend himself. If any obstacle or enemy hits Bob, he’s dead and it’s either back to the beginning or checkpoint. Levels are all cleverly designed to have a specific line that you can do that avoids death entirely, but I’ll touch more on that in a bit.

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Over the game’s eight chapters, there will be 40 levels of hardcore platforming action in each chapter (320 levels total). The obstacles all range from spinning fireballs, swinging spike balls, spikes that pop from the ground, lasers, etc. You’ll start off simple, just acclimating to the controls and feel of the game. However, things will quickly spin out of control when you play as various phases of Bob that change the mechanics and physics entirely. Every set of 10 levels, you’ll play as a new phase of Bob, such as Wheelie, Double Jump, Jetpack, Phase Bob, Tiny Bob, Fat Bob, Gravity Bob or even a Spaceship! For example, playing as Wheelie has Bob strapped to a stone wheel and will have the physics of a heavy wheel. Tiny Bob will make Bob gain more height, while Fat Bob makes him get less height than normal and is more prone to getting hit by an obstacle. Phase Bob will actually have Bob constantly morphing from Fat to Tiny, making traversing through levels a true challenge of timing. Playing as a Spaceship is really cool too, bringing back that feeling of playing something like R-Type or Gradius (granted you can’t shoot anything, but maneuvering it is fun).

As you traverse each level, you’ll notice there are blue crystals that can be collected. If you collect all of them in a level, you’ll get a “Perfect” status and earn an additional 10 crystals on top of what you collected. So what are the purpose of crystals you ask? Well, by pressing the X button, you’ll open up a Powerup Menu, which allows you to purchase a specific item to help you out with completing a level. The first item, which looks like “Terminator” Bob has you watch a video of the level to see the perfect path and timing you need to complete the level. The second item (which costs the most amount of crystals) will actually show you the exact path you need to take, as well as a dark object that goes along it to show you the exact timing of the path you should take. This item proved to be immensely helpful, especially with the precision required in later levels. The last item is a time clock that enables slow-motion, making everything except Bob move at a crawl. These items definitely help in their own respects and I never felt the need to be stingy with cashing in crystals for them since you keep collecting them.

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Aside from the game’s Story Mode, you will have access to Arcade and Free Play modes as well. In Arcade, you can choose between four different modes: Escalation, Time Crisis, Hero Rush, and Hybrid Rush. Escalation is essentially endurance, where you’re given 15 lives to start with and must get through as many levels as possible. You can get extra lives by collecting set amounts of crystals during the run. Time Crisis starts you off with 15 seconds to last before Bob explodes. As you race to the exit of each level (which are much shorter than usual), you must collect crystals to add precious time to the clock. Hero Rush and Hybrid Rush are much like Time Crisis mode, but both with distinct ways to play. Hero Rush has Bob changing his phase type in every level, while Hybrid Rush has Bob shifting into a combination of phases per level (such as being Wheelie and Phase Bob at the same time).

Free Play has a more customizable aspect to it. You’ll be able to choose a location, game type, hero style, difficulty, length of the level and how many checkpoints you’d like. The difficulty can not only be adjusted for players of any level, but can be completely customized to your liking. Want an incredibly simple level that has not a single obstacle? You can do it. Want a level that has more objects on screen that seems like there’s almost no room to move through? You can most certainly have that as well. The game’s AI has been designed to randomly generate a level that’s 100% beatable, which is incredibly impressive. Another customizable feature that’s really fun to play around with is Hero Factory. Here, you will actually customize the base, jump type and shape of Bob, while also tweaking every attribute to a tee, such as the acceleration, max speed, size, gravity, falling speed, jump length, number of jumps, etc. You can even fine tune your settings by testing it before going into the actual level. The options are simply endless.

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Cloudberry Kingdom is a vicious game in terms of difficulty, but why play it alone? You can have up to 4 people playing at once, all racing their way to the exit of these challenging stages. Each player can even customize Bob the way they want him to look. Whether they change the color of his suit, what kind of beard he has, his cape color (or no cape at all), and even the lining of his cape, there’s a solid amount to customize. I came across someone’s screenshot on the Miiverse where they practically replicated the look of Dr. Robotnik (sorry, his name is not Dr. Eggman in my book) from Sonic the Hedgehog. Playing in multiplayer makes this already chaotic game even more chaotic, but is an absolute blast. There’s even a co-op mode in Free Play where all the players are tethered together and must coordinate with each other to reach the end of the level. This alone will provide plenty of good laughs amongst friends.

Visually, Cloudberry Kingdom has a “flash” look to it, with very clean and vivid colors, as well as fluid animations. Environments and characters are nicely designed and the game itself runs incredibly smooth, never dropping the frame rate at all. The only odd animation that seems unpolished was Bob’s double jump, which had zero animation to it and was simply a “standing” animation while moving up. Cutscenes have a different visual style, representing a paper mache look. It’s actually pretty cool and works quite well for the visual aesthetic. Audio wise, this game has a bumpin’ soundtrack that’ll definitely engage the player further into the game. The soundtrack was composed by Blind Digital and Peacemaker…and damn is it a sweet soundtrack. They provide techno tunes that really get you pumped for wanting to complete a level. As I type this review, I’m listening to “Evidence” by Blind Digital (my favorite track in the game)…it’s that’s good. Although, I wish there was a way to change the song with a simple button press. On the flipside, the sound effects are pretty generic, but nothing bad by any means. Oh, and voice acting wise, Kevin Sorbo plays Bob…yes, the dude from the live-action Hercules TV show back from the 90s.

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Cloudberry Kingdom is an excellent 2D platformer that’s so sadistic, it makes the hacked Mario games look easy at points. However, the game’s stages are all designed to be 100% beatable thanks to the AI designed for the game. It’s an endless platformer alright, and one that you’ll be endlessly returning to, whether by yourself or with friends. The clean visuals, bumpin’ soundtrack and just downright addictive gameplay make Cloudberry Kingdom a must-own for any platformer fan.

Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Copy purchased by author for review purposes. Game tested on the Wii U.

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Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 Review (PS3/Wii U/360): “Strictly For Fans Only”

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Wallpaper

In 1983, a Japanese manga called “Fist of the North Star” (also known as “Hokuto no Ken”) was created. The series took off and became a huge hit in Japan, which then received an English localization a few years later. Since then, the series has received a TV series, film and video games to reach out to other audiences. In 2010, the popular manga series got its first game for the current gen consoles known as “Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage”. While it wasn’t exactly a big success, fans of the series found it to still be an enjoyable experience. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is now out for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U, published by Tecmo Koei and developed by Koei/Omega Force. However, is this a sequel that improves upon its predecessor or is this game already dead?

This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.

Story: 4/5

Let’s get this out of the way: The extent of my knowledge to “Fist of the North Star” was that it was a popular anime series that started in the 80s. However, upon receiving this review copy, I researched a bit more on the series to get a better understanding on the universe of this much beloved Manga. As I got into the storyline, I started to also watch the anime and compare how the story is told there compared to here in the game…and can say they’ve done a very good job.

Fist of the North Star has a pretty intricate storyline, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world in the year 199X. The story revolves around Kenshiro, a warrior who’s the successor to the assassination arts style “Hokuto Shinken”. Venturing through the barren wastelands, Kenshiro stumbles upon groups that seem to be terrorizing civilians in villages. As a civil warrior, Kenshiro does anything he can to help those in need, whether it be a friend or stranger. As the story progresses, you begin to learn more about Kenshiro’s past and what his motivation is exactly.

The story relies entirely on the manga series, replicating the scenes as authentic as possible. It’s told quite well, using cinematic cutscenes and comic-style panels. The characters are pretty engaging and you’ll feel for the fate of many of them. Honestly, the story is the best thing to be found in Ken’s Rage 2.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 3/5

Like I stated in the story section, I didn’t really follow the series before this game. I knew of it, I just never got around to actually watching the anime. With this being said, I also never played the first Ken’s Rage aside from its demo. For this sequel, the developers decided to tweak a bit of the gameplay style of Ken’s Rage. This time around, the game feels a bit more like a Dynasty Warriors/Warriors Orochi type of hack-and-slash, or in this case, beat-em-up. There are two main modes to tackle: Legend Mode and Dream Mode. Legend Mode will let you experience the entire manga of Fist of the North Star throughout the game’s 36 episodes. Dream Mode lets players explore the storyline of various characters from the series. However, each mode does play a bit differently.

Legend Mode will let players assume control of the main protagonist, Kenshiro. The format of Legend Mode will have you fighting waves of enemies scattered throughout the environments. Combat is handled with light and strong attacks, formulating combos that will pulverize enemies into a bloody pulp. As you give your enemies the beat down, you will build up your Aura Meter. When filled up, you can unleash an Aura attack that will unleash a devastating move to clear out a group of enemies or severely damage stronger opponents. As you move through the level, there will be moments where the game will transition to a cutscene to help flesh out the story a bit more and tie in the reason why you’re going to the next location. There are also moments where the game will try to change up the pacing a bit by having you play as other characters involved in Kenshiro’s quest. Depending on the scenario, you can even choose which character you’d like to play as for the mission. Platforming has been completely removed from Ken’s Rage, replaced now with a dash button. You’ll rely on this during boss battles in particular as it’ll help you dodge and counter their attacks. Boss battles provide to be more entertaining as they are much more challenging than the foes you’ll normally face. You’ll usually end off a boss by initiating a quick-time event. QTEs will occasionally pop-up mid-fight that will let you counter the boss’s attack and dish out some major damage. Watching Kenshiro finish off bosses is pretty sweet, especially with the quips he’ll say when finishing off his opponent. Legend Mode starts off a bit slow at first, but as you keep playing, you’ll find yourself getting more into it. While the combat may get monotonous at times, I still found myself coming back to keeping playing through this mode.

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Dream Mode changes up the game a bit. Instead of simply fighting enemies to advance the storyline, you’ll approach this with a bit more “Dynasty Warriors” style. You’ll have bases that you need to capture before you can face off against the level’s boss. I found myself enjoying this mode a bit more than Legend Mode, mainly because I felt more at home with the “Warriors” gameplay premise. Also, this mode allows for two-player co-op, both local and online. While the online servers were barren, local co-op was quite enjoyable, especially on the Wii U version thanks to GamePad/TV split-screen. There are a ton of quests and missions you can experience in Dream Mode, which feels like a separate game in itself that will take many hours to complete.

Ken’s Rage 2 features an upgrading system, but is not intuitive or fun to fiddle with at all. You’ll collect scrolls that have three slots on them. A specific ability will be placed in a certain spot on the scroll. The further in the game you get, the more abilities that will be placed on a single scroll. However, when you’re equipping these, you have five lines you can choose to place a scroll in. You need to try and match scrolls with ability icons to really have them increase your effects dramatically. There are five parameters: Life, Damage, Aura, Defense and Technique. Sometimes the scrolls may also have a special perk that allows you to link combos faster together or increase your attack speed when successfully countering. You can also permanently level up the character’s parameter by collecting blue experience orbs from enemies during combat.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 2

There are some issues that plague the game though. I already mentioned the “scroll” system feels a bit too complex and simply not fun to deal with. While the Legend Mode contains an engrossing story, the way it’s incorporated into the levels bogs down the gameplay. I mentioned earlier that cutscenes will initiate mid-mission, but it actually ruins the flow of combat. You’ll go from fighting hundreds of enemies within 1-2 minutes, to then watching a 7-10 minute cutscene. Then you’ll finally jump back in, fight enemies for about less than five minutes and watch another somewhat lengthy cutscene. This can drag on missions to take upwards to 30 minutes to complete, sometimes longer. It’s almost like driving at 100 mph, then unexpectedly slamming the brakes and pulling the e-brake immediately to come to a complete stop…then repeat. Also in Legend Mode, missions may have Caryatids that you can activate. When activated, you can access your scrolls, as well as do an “interim save”. While an interim save is nice to have for those lengthier missions, the odd thing is the place for some of these Caryatids. Sometimes, you’ll enter an area littered with enemies that contains a Caryatid but the game forbids you from saving when you’re “in battle”. So you would think, “ok, I can save right after I take these enemies out”, to only then watch a lengthy cutscene immediately after and end up in a totally different area with no Caryatid. While you can still access your scrolls, it’s bizarre to see the option to save and meanwhile, you actually can’t. Meanwhile, in Dream Mode, you can do an interim save at anytime by simply pausing the game and accessing it from there…and that mode doesn’t necessarily “need” it as those are faster missions. Another issue lies within the camera, you’ll find yourself adjusting the camera pretty often to face in the direction of the action. While this isn’t too detracting, the moments where it’s becomes the worst is during boss battles. The lock-on boss camera never follows the action fast enough, so if you kick the enemy all the way across the area, it’ll take some time to pan the camera in the right direction.

Issues aside, Ken’s Rage 2 is still an enjoyable game. Playing as different characters changes things up with different move sets pertaining to their styles. For example, if you play as Mamiya, she’ll be able to utilize an automatic crossbow instead of grabbing an enemy like Kenshiro would do. Also, it’s always fun to experiment with Aura attacks for each character as numerous become unlocked as you progress through the game. There’s an indicator near the Aura attack of your choice that shows the radius and direction the attack goes so that you know if the best used for large groups of enemies or strong, yet smaller groups of enemies. Overall, the amount of time you’ll get out of the game is staggering. The Legend Mode alone will take 15-20 hours, and the Dream Mode adds even more to that.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 3

Graphics: 2/5

Fist of the North Star’s visuals are quite subpar for today’s standards, but are passable. Character models are nicely detailed, with some decent animations. Enemies explode into pulps of blood as you beat the crap out of them, and you’ll also see their bodies deform prior to that (just like you’d see in the anime). The deformed animation looks a bit weak, and at times jarring. Environmental texture work is pretty solid, but still comes off as bland. While the game may be a bit drab to see in action, it is replicating the style of the manga series. However, the framerate seems to be really inconsistent. The less enemies on screen, the smoother the game will run, at times reaching 60 fps. However, once waves of enemies come in, the game’s framerate can dip well below 30 fps…at times even 20 fps. It’s a bit inexcusable for a game that’s not exactly showcasing anything overly impressive. The game doesn’t look awful, but it’s certainly not an attractive game either.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 6

Sound: 3/5

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2’s audio direction is serviceable, but nothing more than that. The voice acting is solely done in Japanese, but is very effective. Sound effects are appropriate and gets the job done, making the game sound like it’s straight out of the anime. The soundtrack consists of metal rock tunes that appropriately convey the setting, if a bit generic. Some tracks are catchy, others not so much. While there are good amount of tracks in the game, they do tend to repeat a lot. The overall audio is good, just not great.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 4

Overall Score: 12/20 = 6.0 out of 10

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is a game for a very specific audience and certainly not for everyone. While it’s faster paced than the first installment, the question of spending $60 on this game is something that’s hard to recommend to the average gamer. For fans of the series, anime, or “Warriors” games, then you may find a pretty enjoyable game here. If none of those apply to you, it’s impossible for me to recommend the game. It’s nothing great, but it’s a solid title that I found myself enjoying more than I expected. While the game carries a full retail value price tag for a digital only title, the game’s content and length can back it up. It’s not a very good game, but it’s certainly a guilty pleasure of a title that you’ll enjoy despite its issues.

PROs:

+ Faithfully recreates the series’ story

+ Dream Mode is fun, especially in co-op

+ Character models are nicely detailed

+ Some catchy tunes

CONs:

– Visuals are a bit bland; Framerate dips

– Scroll/Upgrade system is not intuitive

– Legend Mode’s mid-mission cutscene bog down action

– Strictly for fans of the series

– More of an update than a sequel to the original…and it’s retailing for $60

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Warlords Review (PSN / XBLA)

Warlords is the remake of Atari’s 1980 Breakout / Quadrapong arcade classic, available for download from the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Reboots of older, more dated franchises is becoming quite the trend these days, and in the wake of the Warlords 3D re-make for Xbox Live Arcade released in 2008, one may wonder if the game is worth bringing back again. Is this a re-imagining worth delving into?

The original Warlords has a simple gameplay concept: combine the best elements of Pong and Breakout to create an exciting new experience. Each player (up to 4) controls a shield to deflect fireballs away from their castle’s walls while trying to destroy their opponents’. While Warlords may not score points for originality (even though Atari copied themselves), it was a successful, fresh take on Atari’s previous two tried-and-true games.

Fast-forward to the modern day. A good game re-make needs to take the core elements of a classic and rejuvenate them with fresh concepts to meet the needs of the modern gamer. There’s two main concepts a good remake needs to meet to excel: solid gameplay and engaging audio-visual design. Let’s tackle these concepts one-at-a-time and see how Warlords stacks up.

The beautiful thing about Warlord’s gameplay is that it stands up to today’s strict standards on its own. A standard match of Warlords follows as such: Opponents take their places on the opposite sides (or in a four-player game, the corners) while a dragon flies by, dropping a fireball on the field. The fireball propels itself around the board, with each player controlling their shields (paddles) to deflect the fireball towards their opponents’ walls. Each wall is made of several pieces and layers that must be broken through before an opponent can be eliminated by shooting a fireball into the castle’s interior, and these pieces change color as they are damaged until they are destroyed.

That’s the simplicity behind the core gameplay, but thankfully, Atari didn’t stop there. A lot of depth was added to make the game engaging to today’s more discerning gamer. For one, the dragon will continue to drop additional fireballs onto the field, up to a total of five, until a player is knocked out, after which it will reset back to 1. It serves as a sort of “sudden death” mechanic, and also adds a difficulty curve to the gameplay that players will have to adjust to over and over again. It’s a nice way to keep the gameplay from getting too easy without being cheap.

Further, the modern Warlords take includes a Real-Time Strategy element in the form of Snoots, tiny minions you can issue orders to. Your right analog stick controls your Rally Snoot, and wherever he goes, your Snoot army will follow. They’re produced at a constant rate from your castle, and can attack other players’ walls, repair your own walls, and capture power-ups (which I’ll go into further detail about soon). Whenever your Snoots run into those of your opponent(s), they’ll fight, eliminating each other in a one-for-one ratio, so the larger army will always win. Controlling a small army while trying to deflect multiple fireballs can be very demanding, so the game includes simple commands you can issue with the D-Pad that will automatically tell your Snoots to do a certain task so you can focus on the action. A more skilled player can always manually control his snoots for finer control, but similar to the increase in fireballs, it creates an accessible difficulty curve.

There’s a few final pieces of the gameplay puzzle; one of them is the previously-mentioned power-up system. During gameplay, three panels will illuminate with a power-up’s symbol. Moving your Snoots onto these panels will fill up the panel’s border. Once it fills, a power-up will activate immediately, with a wide variety of effects, from the nigh-invulnerability granted by Iron Walls to the ever-frustrating Reverse Shields, which swaps your enemies’ controls for a period of time. Then there’s the bigger x-factor in the match, the Black Knight. At regular intervals, he’ll drop in and begin wrecking Snoots and castle walls alike. The only way to banish him is to capture all three power-up panels, leading to a slight cooperative element in an otherwise competitive game, but a White Knight Emblem will drop at this time as well, which will render a player’s Snoots immune to the Black Knight’s attacks if they pick it up.

All in all, Warlords’ gameplay is incredibly deep and complex, but works out being a type of controlled chaos, not mass confusion, and is sure to draw you in game after game. Warlords can be played in several modes: an excellent tutorial mode, an 8-level campaign mode, single-player against CPU opponents, or in local and online multiplayer with other human players. The campaign really just serves to slap some semblance of a narrative to the gameplay, but honestly, Atari could have left it out and it would have taken nothing away from the overall package. The real draw is the game’s online multiplayer – once you get used to facing CPU opponents, humans will provide the next level of challenge. Glacier928 and I can attest to it – once you start playing, you’ll find it hard to put down. It has that “just one more game” quality that satisfies and rarely gets old.

The other side of the equation is Warlords’ awesome audio and visual style. The art direction is whimsical, exaggerated, and flashy, and the game sports a hilarious sense of humor. Every round is dominated by a deep, resonating narrator who keeps everyone updated on the action. The game sports a heavy metal soundtrack that fits surprisingly well with the game’s medieval theme, and will have you head-banging along to the action. However, the game falls down in the technical areas – namely, the game’s frame rate drops very low on the main menu, and texture loading is noticeable. Frame rates aren’t consistent either – during some scenes you may be treated to a fluid 60 FPS, while the gameplay itself runs at around 20-25 FPS – still playable, but not as responsive as I’d like. Finally, the game’s tip system, as it’s currently implemented, is nearly useless. The game shows you tools and explains game concepts like power-ups during loading screens, but these screens only last for a second or two at a time. A simple “press x to continue” would have been an easy and very helpful addition.

All in all, Warlords proves to be a successful revival of a classic hit. More than a shiny coat of paint, the game builds on its predecessor’s gameplay while adding new elements to keep you coming back for more. The online multiplayer is a huge hook and will give you more than your money’s worth. The game’s technical flaws and unnecessary campaign are really all that keep it from gaming perfection. Warlords is available now on the PlayStation Network for $9.99 and Xbox Live Arcade for 800 MS Points on November 14th.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Double Dragon: Neon Review (PSN/XBLA): “An Old-School Revival Done Right”

The 80s, one of the greatest decades that comes to mind. Great music, awesome cartoons and the start of certain game franchises that, to this day, still stand tall. Double Dragon was one of those franchises born in 1987 via Arcade and then made its way to the NES. For years, the series had continued to grow, but by the mid-90s, it slowly faded away. Fast forward to 2012 and the series returns to the PSN/XBLA as Double Dragon: Neon, courtesy of WayForward Technologies, for its 25th anniversary. Is this 80s revival the proper homage to series/brawler fans or are you better off dusting your NES carts?

Upon booting up the game, you’ll be treated to the Double Dragon remixed theme song and if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll definitely be cracking a smile at the pure sense of nostalgia. As you initiate a new game, you’ll find a similar intro to the original Double Dragon. Marian, your girlfriend and damsel in distress, gets nailed right in the chest by a thug and then kidnaps her. Ironically, Billy and Jimmy will actually say, “Oh man…not this again!” when she’s taken away, somewhat breaking the fourth wall. From here, let the beat downs commence.

WayForward Technologies definitely studied the history of the franchise as it shows in the game’s mechanics. The characters control very similar to their 8 and 16-bit days, stiff movement and all. Normally something like that sounds more negative than positive in today’s standards but let me assure you, it’s not. It gives the game that same “feel” to the originals that fans will truly appreciate while newcomers will still be able to grasp after a few minutes. Combat is handled with your light and strong attacks, as well as grabs and special attacks. Light attacks mainly resort to your fists while strong attacks will focus on your kicks. Every time you critically damage an opponent into a stun state, the screen will freeze for a split second, giving you a sense of the damage you’re dealing. It’s a nice little touch but one that’s gratifying and effective. You’ll be able to pick up weapons such as baseball bats, 2x4s, switchblades, explosive canisters, and of course the most badass weapon in the game, the hair pick. You can switch up the button presses to mix up your combos, but to further add some complexity, there’s a duck/dodge mechanic that can change up your moves as well. Ducking and dodging is one mechanic that you better get used to…a lot. The game reeks of old-school mechanics and the only way to complete that “feel” is to make the game tough-as-hell. While nowhere near as difficult as Double Dragon III on the NES (you know, the one where you only get a single life to get through the entire game), this game will definitely test your skills. You’ll get three lives at the start of every level but once you run out of those, it’s back to the very beginning of the stage, no checkpoints here. To be honest, the only time you’ll ever get a checkpoint is at the final boss…and thank goodness for that because the final level is lengthy and the final boss poses a steep challenge.

While the game is a brawler at heart, you’ll have to do a slight bit of platforming. While it’s not the smoothest platforming, Double Dragon always felt stiff when jumping over chasms, and the case remains the same here. Again, purely a design decision to make the game feel as close to the originals as possible. At the end of certain levels, there’ll be a boss battle awaiting you and these are cleverly designed. Every boss will have a specific strategy for you to learn so that you can find the right moment to rush in, attack and dodge. Oh, and Mega Man fans, there’s a boss that pays an homage to that franchise as well and you’ll chuckle when you witness it.

As you progress through the levels, you’ll earn cash which can be used at the shop you’ll find in a few levels. The shop allows you to buy extra Cassette Tapes (which I’ll explain their use soon), health and energy, and extra lives. Strangely, if you buy a ton of lives, none of them will carry over into the next level so just keep that in mind when spending the dough on that. There’s also a “Tapesmith” that allows you to upgrade your Cassette Tape capacity, which will enable your abilities to keep increasing in the particular stats that it pertains to. Cash won’t be your currency for these upgrades however. Instead, you’ll need to trade in Mythril that you earn after boss fights. You won’t upgrade much on your first playthrough but it definitely gives the game some replay value to go back and keep upgrading.

Now I mentioned about Cassette Tapes, which really helps change up the game’s mechanics and strategic approach. Cassette Tapes will be broken up into two categories, one particularly for Sosetsitsu (specials), the other for Stances (stat enhancements). Sosetsitsus will range from shooting fireballs and lightning, to the infamous Spin Kick that was a staple in the series. Stance cassettes will vary from increased offense but decreased defense, recover health from every hit but have a smaller health bar, or even an all-around stat setup so that everything is balanced. The Cassette Tapes add a good amount of depth to the game’s mechanics that can make all the difference in succeeding in a level. By simply pressing Select/Back, you’ll access the menu and will be able to switch up your tapes at any time. Tapes are easily obtainable from enemies as they’ll be dropping them often.

When it comes to brawlers, co-op (or “Bro-Op” as they call it) is always essential and naturally, Double Dragon is synonymous for it. That feature is fully intact here, with a drop-in/drop-out feature incorporated. WayForward went the extra mile and added an option to shut off “Friendly Fire”  so that you and your buddy aren’t getting in the way of each other. However, if you’re hardcore, you can always stick to the old fashion style of dealing damage to each other. Unfortunately, the one odd omission is the lack of online co-op. While I understand WayForward may have chosen this direction to truly retain the game’s old-school style, it’s still a bummer to not have the feature here.

When it comes to visuals, WayForward really has an amazing art style and their talent still stands here. Combining their astonishing 2D artwork with solid 3D models, all full of colorful detail, Double Dragon Neon is just a nice looking game. The game runs at a silky smooth 60fps the whole time, never stuttering at any moment no matter how intense the action gets. Jake Kaufman (known for his BloodRayne: Betrayal composition) returns once again to give Double Dragon a proper soundtrack and fires on all cylinders. Double Dragon has an energetic, pumping soundtrack filled with remixes of classic tunes from the original installments. Interestingly, the names of the Cassette Tapes are actual songs from the 80s that will play when highlighting them in the menu. Sound effects are exactly what you’d expect from a brawler and gets the job done. The voice acting on the other hand is incredibly laughable, intentionally so, making it reach that “so bad it’s good” quality. It’s incredibly cheesy dialogue but completely fits the nature of the game.

WayForward Technologies has continued to provide something that very few developers have achieved; a nostalgic experience that brings me back to why I got into gaming in the first place. The game isn’t perfect, but it’s a great game that must be played by any Double Dragon fan, as well as anyone who digs a solid brawler. If you never dug the Double Dragon series before, there may not be too much here to convince you. This game is clearly a love letter to fans of the originals and it clearly shows. Double Dragon Neon is a great example of an old-school revival done right.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD Review (PSN/XBLA): A Return to Former Glory?

Back in 1999, the gaming community was pleasantly surprised by a certain title that set a standard for the extreme sports genre, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. With the success of the first installment, we’ve seen numerous sequels released over time but the series’ started to lose its appeal. While they went as far as trying to change-up the once successful formula by making two installments that required an actual board to stand on, it didn’t exactly win over the original fans or many of the newcomers. Robomodo looked back at what made the franchise successful and decided to rebuild portions of the original two Tony Hawk titles with a brand new engine, while keeping the “feel” of those intact. Released on the XBLA back in July and now also on the PSN (coming later this year for PC), Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD aims to provide that nostalgic feel that won over the fans in the first place. Is this that proper form to glory…or is it just an antiquated franchise that needs to rest?

First off, upon booting up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, music from the game’s soundtrack will start playing and you’ll most likely be treated to one of the classic songs from THPS 1 or 2. Being a massive fan of the earlier installments, it really brought back a sense of nostalgia as the first two THPS titles had excellent soundtracks. Once you actually get into the game, you’ll choose from fan favorites like Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds, Rodney Mullen and of course, Tony Hawk; while introducing some newer skaters like Chris Cole and Riley Hawk (Tony Hawk’s son). The game’s career mode takes place over the span of seven classic levels from both THPS and THPS2: Warehouse, School II, Hangar, Mall, Venice Beach, Downhill Jam and Marseille. Each level will contain 10 objectives to complete (like in the originals) that span from getting High/Pro/Sick Score, collect S-K-A-T-E letters, trick off a certain line/gap, etc. You’ll earn cash for every objective you complete, which can then be spent on upgrading your skater’s stats, as well as buying new Specials and boards. Fans of the originals will reminisce on the nostalgia of the game.

For newcomers, if you’ve never played an old-school Tony Hawk game, let me briefly explain how it works. You’ve got a 2-minute run to complete as many of the 10 objectives in a level as possible. Once the objective is complete, you don’t have to complete it again on another run. Tricks are handled simply with the face buttons on the controller consisting of ollie, grind, flip and grab tricks. Depending on the input or direction you press on the analog stick/d-pad results in more varied tricks. Grinds are pulled off with the press of a button and from there, you’ll balance your meter by pressing left or right on the analog stick to avoid it reaching the entire end. To further extend your combos, utilizing the Manual feature is absolutely key so that you can reach your next closest spot to keep tricking while holding your combo. After successfully pulling off a few tricks without bailing, you’ll have your Special meter filled up and with the correct input, you’ll pull off much more flashier tricks. Robomodo added a “Quick Retry” feature so that instead of pausing the game to restart your run, you can simply hit Select/Back button to retry your run. Thankfully, you’re prompted about starting over when you press the button so should you accidentally press it while you’re having a killer run, you won’t lose your progress. Also, they added a “map” in the pause menu that shows off where all the objectives are, as well as where all the gaps are. It’s a nice addition for those having a hard time accomplishing goals or have no idea where a certain gap tied into an objective is.

Aside from the Career mode, you can still take on Single Session and Free Skate but Robomodo has added a few modes of their own to switch it up: Hawkman, Big Head Survival and Projectives. Hawkman is basically a slight jab at Pac-Man, where you’ll have to collect all the “pellets” in the area as fast as possible. Pellets are specifically colored so that you know if you need to grind, ollie or manual your way into them to collect them. It’s an interesting new mode that can certainly test the most skilled THPS players, in particular if you’re trying to get all the pellets in a single combo (which is a trophy/achievement in the Hangar level). Big Head Survival is all about avoiding your skater’s head from exploding. Your skater’s head begins to inflate the moment you start and the only way to deflate it is by tricking as much as possible. The bigger your trick combos, the more your head will deflate. The longer you stay alive though, the faster your head will start to inflate and once your head explodes, it’s game over. It’s an incredibly addictive mode, especially when played against friends online, as it makes matches very tense and exciting. The last new mode is Projectives, which is essentially a harder Career mode. Once you complete the career, you’ll unlock this mode and you’ll have a single minute to complete five specific objectives. Again, not all the objectives have to be completed within that single minute. This mode will definitely demand for greater skill, which hardcore fans will appreciate.

Visually, THPS HD looks pretty good. There’s nothing here that looks mind-blowing but it’s entirely serviceable. Characters animate pretty well when pulling off tricks and the environments are very nicely replicated. The sound effects are exactly what you would expect from a Tony Hawk title and that’s a good thing. All those iconic sound effects from the original two games are found here and help flesh out that “old-school” vibe. However, one of the best parts about the game…it’s soundtrack. Robomodo has actually secured the licensing rights for some of the original tracks from THPS 1 and 2, including “Bring the Noise”, “When Worlds Collide”, “Superman”, “Heavy Metal Winner”, “No Cigar” and “May 16”. There’s also some new tracks to be found that definitely match the experience but there’s one or two that really didn’t suit me personally.

However, there are a few issues I had with THPS HD. First off, while the game doesn’t run at 60 fps (like THPS3, THPS4, THUG, THUG2, THAW), but rather 30 fps, there are some screen-tearing and frame-rate issues. With a game like this, where every trick counts for your combo and is sensitive to even the slightest mistake, a frame-rate issue can result in a lack of button input. There were a few times where I tried to manual but the frame-rate skipped and didn’t register my input, resulting in me losing my combo. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it’s noticeable. Secondly, as awesome as the soundtrack is, there’s no “Skip Track” or “Playlist” feature and you’re forced to listen to the current song. Granted, you can utilize custom soundtracks if you want (yes, the PS3 version has that feature via XMB) but sometimes there’s a certain song you need to listen to that gets you going. Another gripe I had was the game’s lack of the classic multiplayer mode, HORSE. While it’s much more effective as a local multiplayer experience, it still would’ve been great to see it brought back. Now, my biggest questionable omission that I still can’t wrap my head around is the lack of a Split-Screen Multiplayer mode. THPS is one of those titles that when you have buddies over, you’d all gather up around the couch and go head-to-head with each other. That’s completely gone in this version. While I like the fact that the game is online, it’s just odd that there’s no local multiplayer to be found here.

Gripes aside, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a great title that brings “The Birdman” back to his glory days. Even after earning the Platinum Trophy in the game, it’s a game that easily demands more of your time and with the inclusion of online play, you can certainly get some mileage out of it. For $14.99/1200 MS Points, any Tony Hawk fan should definitely give it a go. It plays safe-ground by returning to its roots but still feels great over a decade later. While Robomodo’s first two Tony Hawk installments (Ride and Shred) weren’t very well received, the developer is certainly on the right track after this, and I have confidence that they can continue to maintain the franchise in this direction.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

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