Exile’s End Review (PS4/Vita): “Average Jameson”

There’s no question that while gaming technology advances, there’s still a soft-spot for old-school style games. Enter Exile’s End: a 16-bit, 2D Metroidvania game where players take controls of Jameson. Add in the fact that Keiji Yamagishi (the famous composer known for his work on the Ninja Gaiden and Tecmo Bowl soundtracks during the NES era) is on board to compose this game’s soundtrack and we’ve got a sure fire bet, right? Well, let’s see how this indie fares.

As mentioned, players assume the control of Jameson, an older, yet much more experienced worker of a mining crew. Contact was lost with a crew set out at a planet and a new crew is sent in to discover their whereabouts. However, things go wrong really quickly, leaving Jameson trying to find any survivors from his crew, as well as the ones already missing. Upon landing, Jameson’s equipment is damaged and will need to find comparable equipment to go about his search. As you explore, you start to uncover a conspiracy that was occurring at the installation on the planet, and things tend to develop more. It’s a standard fare storyline that’s ultimately forgettable, but still passable.

Now, Metroidvania style gameplay is a great start to the idea of the game. But here is where things are not as great as it sounds. Exile’s End does its best to replicate games of its stature, whether it be Metroid, Flashback, Another World, etc. The problem is the game’s slow-pacing. Upon starting the game, Jameson has no weapon other than rocks. Unfortunately, just throwing these to take out worms on the planet is a chore. You have to guestimate the distance Jameson throws the rock, and seems to have a much more overarching throw than expected. Later on, you finally acquire a handgun. However, the gun controls feel really stiff. As a matter of fact, the combat in general is just plain dull and uninspired.

The game is a bit punishing on difficulty as well, and for the wrong reason. The game constantly saves your progress every time you enter a room or area. So should you enter an area with the slightest sliver of health and then die, you will continue the game from the beginning of that room, with that exact health amount. Even ammo or any items all remain exactly as is. While I’m all for a good challenge, this issue could’ve been rectified by just having save rooms so that you’re not forced to stick with your current status in case you screwed up. Also, enemy placements will leave you firing off the screen constantly to ensure they don’t fire at you first.

Throughout the game’s 3-5 hour story, you will explore a variety of environments. Exile’s End does a great job utilizing its old-school presentation and conveying a really great atmospheric feel. Backdrops and foregrounds look really good, where some nice attention is indicated from planet life showcasing in the backgrounds. Whether you’re in the jungle, a research facility or caves, they each have very moody tones to them. Animations are a little on the stiff-end, but completely serviceable. Cutscene art looks quite good though, having a bit of a Ninja Gaiden look to them.

The game does really push atmosphere, and composer Keiji Yamagishi does a superb job lending to a dark soundtrack. No matter the location, the soundtrack really nails each area. It’s great to see such an iconic composer return and still produce some amazing stuff. It’s honestly the strongest aspect the game has going for it. Even if the tunes get a little repetitive due the game’s pacing, they’re still very memorable. Sound effects are also well done. Firearms, creatures’ audio cues, and ambiance, are all appropriate and sounds like a 16-bit era game.

Exile’s End is a solid effort at tackling the Metroidvania concept. The thing is that it’s not all that engaging to keep sticking with. Outside of the great art style and soundtrack, the gameplay itself is just serviceable at best. Die-hard Metroidvania fans may be interested in giving it a go, and fans of Yamagishi-san’s soundtrack will want to experience his work, but players will have to endure the slow-pacing and odd design choices.

Overall Score: 6.0 out of 10

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Exile’s End! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Deception IV: Blood Ties Review (PS3/Vita): “The reason we have the ESRB”

Deception IV Cover

Have you ever gone through a game and thought to yourself: “Man, the bad guys are always overpowered. Where’s my amazing abilities and cheap combos?” Well wonder no more. Deception IV places you on the other side of the story, as in, the ‘oh so good to be bad’ side! Utilizing an incredible arsenal of various traps used to surprise, torment, combo, torture and ultimately finish off your enemies, you may have to adjust to the feeling of being… evil. Do you have the stomach for it?

Story: 2/5

You play as Laegrinna, a seemingly innocent looking, adorable and calm mannered girl… who is also the daughter of the devil. Together with your three daemon “witches”, you have set out to claim 12 magical verses inscribed on slabs that bind your father (the devil) in the afterlife, keeping him from reigning over the world. By recovering all of the verses, held by descendants of the virtuous and holy who bound the devil, Laegrinna will be able to undo the imprisonment and give the earth back to the most powerful and “deserving”.

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Deception IV never really goes into detail about why Laegrinna is trying to bring back her father. Other than being evil, and taking over the world is what evil people do, you primarily have to just go with it. Some repetitive dialogue cutscenes detail the game’s 12 chapters as you progress from one location to the next, collecting verses off of fallen bosses. Again, while there is really no explanation given (or needed), the owners of the verses seem to be attracted to the other verses, allowing you to basically sit and wait for the next hot shot to come in seeking glory for slaying the “witch”.

Deception IV never really builds a decent climax, or shrinks down to a low, it’s a pretty steady paced game without a real enticing plot line. In fact, the one recurring sequence of mystery potentially holding an exciting twist or story development is completely forgotten and never given any substance, making the completion of the story seem merely inconsequential. To be honest, if this is what it’s like to progress as the bad guy, I’d rather be a henchman without a name tag, but at least a life outside of taking over the world.

Nonetheless, I have to give credit for taking everything we have come to know as a “noble quest” and completely flipping it on its side. Being evil throughout the story actually did make me feel less empathetic towards my enemies and more focused on the end goal, by any means necessary. While I definitely can’t say I was engrossed in the story, I will admit that the progression pace and dialogue from time to time did enhance the gameplay slightly.

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Gameplay: 5/5

​What’s interesting about Deception IV is that you don’t play as some all-powerful character able to cruise their way through to the end based on self-growth alone; you need the demonic help of three “witches” – or daemons. Caelea, the daemon of elaborate death, Veruza, the daemon of sadistic torment, and Lilia, the daemon of humiliating demise, aid in your retrieval of the verses as well as most of the dialogue in the game. In fact, you have almost no powers, other than to call on the powers of your daemons. Laegrinna is actually very weak and she cannot fight. Instead, she uses carefully placed traps to ensnare victims and rob them of their lives. Each location is set up like a grid, with each square being a spot you can place certain traps. There are three types of traps: wall, ceiling and floor – being that each type of trap will appear from one of those locations. Your three daemons dictate what each trap may be themed after. Elaborate traps have a specific inclination to link other traps together, creating large combos by which you can hurl enemies around, inflicting more and more damage as more traps are used. Sadistic traps are used predominately to inflict damage. They work very well to get past defenses as well as catch an enemy off guard. Humiliation traps however are merely meant to amuse. While they are sort of in between the other two types, they really have a knack for bringing the funny out in death (picture a giant yo-yo crushing someone).

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​You start off with only a handful of traps to use. However, as you progress, earning more elaborate, sadistic or humiliation points, you can buy new traps with a never explained currency called “warl”. The different traps appear to be never ending, constantly adding new possibilities to torture and kill enemies. While some appear to be similar, they often hold different qualities which can affect enemies in different ways. There are a handful of different categories of traps as well. While wall, ceiling and floor dictate how the trap will appear and can be placed, there are subcategories that give reason as to how the trap functions and affects enemies. For example, there are fire traps which burns enemies, enrage traps that cause the enemy to forgo their inclination to avoid harm’s way, as well as crushing, freeze, electric, piercing (etc) traps. Utilizing different types of traps is the key to defeating different enemies.

The enemies in Deception IV are all given personalities. Some are knights, assassins, brawlers and even regular townspeople, and each are given a backstory which may help in determining their weaknesses, as well as how they will perform on the battlefield. For example, many townspeople will run when they get hurt, while knights will chase you down even if they are an inch within death. Also, some enemies wear armor or hold particular abilities which may disable the use of different types of traps against them. Some enemies can jump over obstacles, sense traps or even heal themselves and others. All enemies learn where traps have been placed as well as try their very best to kill you, so when you’re pitted against up to three enemies, you need to be wise about who to attack first.

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​As stated before, pairing different types of traps against enemies in a combo is the key to success (and by success, I mean mercilessly killing them without a second’s thought). Some enemies will be resistant or invulnerable to different types of traps. Resistant to a trap means that type of trap (electric/crushing/blinding) will not affect them if used first in a combo. However, link it after the enemy has been taken by a different trap and you can use it against them. Invulnerable however means that no matter how much you try, you cannot use that type of trap against them – so stock up on traps wisely! Enemies wearing armor will also take less damage from traps, so breaking it is essential. You can do this by carefully performing a trap combo, including the enemy’s weakness in the chain, then launching them into the air. The trick is that you never really know the enemy’s weakness. Many can be determined from the character’s brief backstory, but most of the time you’re left to a trial-and-error scenario.

​Overall, the pure strategy needed to defeat even the most menial enemies is extremely satisfying, but when a boss is thrown into the mix, you really need to plan out your attacks carefully. The surprising thing about Deception IV is that even though the strategy is fundamentally the same for each enemy, and you may utilize the same trap sequence over and over again, I never got tired of it. Location is an important element in the game, as traps are placed in a grid lock formation and enemies obviously do not move square-by-square, so getting a large trap combo to successfully land is extremely rewarding. Timing as well as knowledge of how your enemy will progress are both very important; and therefore you truly feel as though you are meticulously planning each individual’s demise, giving off the feeling of being a higher entity than those who oppose you. Nonetheless, boss fights and multiple enemies coming for your head provide an excruciating challenge and should not be taken lightly. Proper preparation and careful planning are wildly rewarded.

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​As you progress through the story, you will encounter different challenges provided by your daemons, rewarding you with appropriate point boosts to each particular theme (elaborate/sadistic/humiliation). These often include utilizing arena specific traps. Traps that are placed within the arena offer type boosts as well as continued combo potential. There are also larger traps in arenas dubbed “trap-mobiles”. These mobile traps require high levels of strategy to engage but reward you with large point and damage boosts, as well as a special quicktime event if you kill an enemy with them! Completing these challenges in story missions give you large boosts in character progression, which is beneficial toward unlocking new traps. However, if you would like another opportunity to earn new traps, there are other game modes. Missions give specific qualifications that need to be met for completion, and free battle allows you to set the goals. While only missions give the currency (warl) to buy new traps, free battle gives the opportunity to create, share, and download other’s challenges. As a whole, there is plenty of game to experience, especially as the strategy incorporated into the game makes the story chapters and missions take much longer than anticipated, without any loss to enjoyment. There is just something about brutally torturing a righteous soul beyond that of forgiveness that makes you candidly understand what it is like to be evil.

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Graphics: 3/5

​Most of the locations in Deception IV are dark and dismal arenas of death (as fitting to the nature of the game), therefore there really isn’t any room for a “wow factor”. Light effects are near non-existent, even when flickering torches light a hallway and character repetition, as well as pixilation, can be faintly distracting at the start of the game. While textures do add depth and feel to the game, the real quality is in the traps. Each trap is beautifully rendered when in comparison to the rest of the game, and since this is what you’re mostly focusing on during gameplay, you will hardly have time to notice the under-equipped details in the environments. A thrilling zoom follow feature allows you to lock-on to enemies to get a close-up angle to the action, letting you follow their horrendously painful demise. You can also use this feature to plan the start of a combo, or anticipate attacks from afar. On the PS3 version of Deception IV, you can also record and upload to YouTube the combo sequences from this perspective!

The primary drawback in Deception IV are that cutscenes are merely dialogue events, showcasing protagonists and antagonists as cutout characters with text underneath. This never gives the game an opportunity to go beyond the quality found in the gameplay. However, as stated, the trap effects and textures supersede the rest of the game and allow to you forget the weaker portions of the graphical quality.

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Sound: 4/5

​The eeriness of a deserted castle or the playful terror of an old amusement park are captured wonderfully by the soundtrack in Deception IV; and more importantly do not interfere with the intense calculations needed to strategically plan an attack on an unsuspecting enemy. The reactions to the torment of said attack are a different story however. The screams of agony from enemies as they’re ripped to shreds by a descending saw blade tend to get slightly annoying. That’s not just the removal of all empathy the game has installed in me taking over, the enemy’s voices can be really annoying. Most of the voices from enemies are reused and therefore get old pretty quickly, but then again how many different types of screams do you want? Luckily, you can turn down voice sound effects if you find the repetitive sounds of anguish too much to endure. While main character’s voices are clearly different and seemingly fitting to their composure, you will have to deal with everything being in Japanese.

Again, the traps take the glory here as each sound effect adds real weight and life to the effects of the torture inflicted upon your enemy. The real benefit to these sound effects is the ability to utilize them in completing combos. More often than not, I found myself overwhelmed with enemies, therefore not able to zoom and lock-on to an enemy to correctly time a combo. By listening to the trap effects, I was able to tell when one had finished and when to start another, thus prolonging my combo and allowing me to finish off an enemy easier. The enemy’s screams were also a very distinct indication of when a trap had successfully struck, giving more success to the strategy and careful attention to detail necessary to finish off an enemy. After some getting used to the game, I found the sound effects were mostly well balanced, but you can tweak them generally to fit your preferences.

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Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10
Coming in completely blind to the series, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. While playing as the bad guy (erm… girl) set me off guard for a minute, I quickly found it an enjoyable change of pace. Gameplay is extremely addictive and unlocking new traps is exceedingly enticing, only to be overshadowed by the pure ecstasy of landing a devastating trap combo. While the graphical quality isn’t distracting, I felt it could have been improved, especially considering the lack of resources necessary for the cutscenes. The sound effects were substantial for traps, but tended to get repetitive for characters, even if it helped to understand where they were at in my cycle of death. Quickly into the game, I became enthralled with tormenting my adversaries, and that feeling never seemed to subside. If you don’t mind being a part of the statistic that shows why we clearly need the ESRB, I would highly recommend picking this game up.

Pros:
+ Wonderful strategy element
+ A plethora of traps to choose from
+ Zoom and lock on feature clever and useful
+ Challenge level provoking and rewarding
+ Being evil is fun!

Cons:
– ‘Cutscenes’ were merely dialogue
– Weak story element
– Screams got annoying
– Environment quality inconsistent with the features of the game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Deception IV: Blood Ties! Copy reviewed on both PS3 & PS Vita.

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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Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Review (PS3/Vita): “Not the Improvement You’re Looking For”

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Wallpaper

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is an expansion off of the already released Ragnarok Odyssey, a high flying, cartoon-ish hunting game. It takes the original gameplay and story, adds a few new tricks and improvements, as well as some rather menacing looking monsters and throws it back in your hands for another chance to save the kingdom. Does ACE fill the gaps that the last one left behind? Or do its changes add a new layer of complexity too confusing to stand on its own?

Story: 2/5

Ace’s story is the same as the past title, Ragnarok Odyssey. Basically, you’re a new knight recruit who’s stationed at the rear defense of a kingdom – a very important location. Your sole job is to make sure the front lines don’t need to worry about their backs. How do you do this? Kill everything. When it’s that simple, there really isn’t a huge need for a story, but Ragnarok Odyssey tries one anyway. You’ll find yourself being presented with a quasi-mystery as to why certain monsters are attacking, where they’re coming from, and how to stop them. A bombardment of caddy jokes, humungous text and a plethora of seemingly unnecessary dialogue help fill the downtime between quests; but to be completely honest, none of it serves any further purpose than a time filler. All you need to know are the basics: something is attacking, we need to kill it. Sadly, that’s about as in-depth as the game even reasons with the events that take place. While I did appreciate some of the categorizing of the enemies the story did, which made it seem like we really were fighting a war against an organized army of monsters, as well as the locations which tied nicely into how the story progressed, there wasn’t much for me to really grab a hold of. In the end, I wanted nothing more than to skip all the dialogue and just get back to killing things.

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Gameplay: 3/5

Thankfully for the story’s sake, the gameplay is where the true enjoyment of the game lies. ACE progresses with a nicely paced tutorial that gives you freedom to figure things out on your own, but holds enough of the new expansion content to deliver out in doses. If you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll be instantly familiar with how the game works. You have 6 classes to choose from, each with a specific weapon and abilities. Attacks are initiated in a 2-button combo manner, one button initiates a normal attack pattern and another will deviate that pattern to an alternate path to execute a special attack. Ragnarok Odyssey takes it a step further and adds vertical plane attacks to the mix, allowing you to jump into the air to carry out a full combo however you choose. However, if you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll also notice a few attacks are missing from each class. That’s because certain abilities or attacks got removed to accommodate the new ACE skills. These are essentially MMO-like abilities mapped to a button combination or touch screen location. While progressing through the story, you will unlock different skills for each class that you can purchase, equip (up to 4) and use at the cost of some stamina. It’s a small disappointment that certain abilities had to be cut out from the normal attack patterns to make room for the skills, but the extra unlockable skills are definitely strong and fun enough to make the process worth it. This also creates a larger presence of the class system, forcing you to really pay attention to what role you want to play when going out on a hunt… if only there were more than 2 roles. Unless you play as a cleric, you’re going to be strictly on the offensive. While the skills for each class appear to create more of a specialized teamwork effect, they’re really just creating more ways to deal damage, something that is great but could really use some attention in a game focused on 4 player co-op. You’ll also need to be careful about these ACE skills as they consume a lot of stamina – something very valuable in the ever moving play style of Ragnarok Odyssey. Accidentally hit a button combination for an ACE skill and you’ll be stuck initiating an unrecoverable attack while draining your stamina. While there are a few button layout presets, none of them removed the combinations to activate ACE skills, even if the touch screen function works twice as well. In fact, the button layout that once was smooth with Ragnarok Odyssey has since been overloaded in ACE, requiring multiple “claw” configurations, as well as an inefficient and poorly executed lock-on feature. Word to the wise: using lock-on will mess with your camera angles and it should be avoided all together.

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Although performing a few actions can feel a little “chunky” or out-of-place, the gameplay is enjoyable for the most part. While strategy gets lost almost completely as minions and boss enemies can juggle you like a circus act gone wrong, there is a handy berserk mode that allows you to dish out all the suffering that’s resulted from your frustration of the enemy’s clear advantage over your slow recoveries and easily flinch-able demeanor. This is mostly rectified by playing online, allowing the monsters to focus on someone else while you frantically try to recover, but for single player, this constant focus can be quite the challenge. Luckily in ACE, there’s a solution! For a nominal fee, you can hire AI controlled sand bags to act as allies in your hunts offline! They never really do anything other than die repeatedly (which doesn’t count against you), but they make great distractions.

Hunting games are all about the monsters. Defeating a monster, taking its parts to build something amazing to destroy the next, and repeating the process until you have a whole room of armor and weapons strung on the walls like trophies…unless you’ve taken a hunting game and turned it into a roulette easter egg hunt. One of the main things that bothered me about Ragnarok Odyssey was that you never really needed to farm a monster for its parts. Armor and weapon creation were easily done and really unnecessary as the weapons paled in comparison to what you could find off of enemies and armor simply did nothing for you. Most of that hasn’t changed in ACE, as armor merely adds slots for cards (I’ll get to that in a minute) and weapons you can craft always seem to be a chapter behind. It’s almost like the developers knew this as they attempted to implement a new weapon system into the game. “Halomonas” weapons are a new system that basically render every other weapon pointless. You can build up and evolve them by completing certain tasks, resulting in the weapon acquiring a new skill. Perform enough tasks and the weapon will evolve to a new weapon along its tree. Sadly, skills learned from completed tasks delete the old skill, but at least they’re insanely strong. You get your first Halomonas weapon for free towards the beginning of the story, and in all honesty, you can use that weapon and your first armor to complete the game no problem – that’s what I did.

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Let’s get back to those cards for a minute though. While armors do nothing more than provide a cool look (seriously, some are awesome looking!), they do have one important role: holding cards. You can socket armors with different cards you acquire randomly by defeating monsters. These cards have a plethora of different skills that they contain, from stat boosts to skill-altering capabilities. This is where the true planning comes into play, as cards can make or break a battle. Many cards have a “give and take” effect where there may be consequences for the boost you gain. This really adds a highly appreciated level of strategy to how you prepare for a battle as you need to weigh the pros and cons of your loadout. Then again you could just farm a monster for a better card that doesn’t have any negatives.

In the end I found that monster farming was nearly pointless once I had a decent loadout. Without needing drops for weapons or armor, the game quickly lost its replayability. The sheer lack of variety in monsters also made me feel like I was just doing the exact same quests over and over again. Re-skins and extremely similar attack patterns across different monsters creates a very repetitive experience for the player, even with the new monster(s) loaded into the expansion. Thankfully though, there are plenty of quests to embark on if you’re a “completionist”, including both offline and online quests (with cross-platform online play with the PS3 version)! Teaming up with a group of four is definitely the way to play the game and immediately increases the amount you’ll enjoy the game. It’s a shame that the skills weren’t more expanded to accommodate better teamwork as it seemed to at the start of the game.

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Graphics: 4/5

While many games try to create a darker image when living the life of a mercenary, Ragnarok Odyssey creates a vivid, near cartoonish experience. Colors pop and draw you into small details, while attack effects glow and shine rapidly to create a feeling of pure mysticism and fantasy. Armors and weapons are beautifully rendered and detailed, even in the middle of battle. The variation in locations ensures you won’t tire of seeing the same scenery, which is a definite must-have for large questing games. However, enter a room online with a full party and you’ll find all of those effects and details create a major issue with the frame rate. Even offline playing solo, certain boss attacks would quickly deplete the game’s power resulting in a choppy experience and usually my character being attacked (then juggled and killed).

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Sound: 4/5

Like most fantasy games, the music is uplifting and enticing, creating a positive atmosphere for a productive day of slaughtering monsters. Weapon attacks have a real weight to them when backed by such impactful sound effects, really adding to the fights. Ragnarok Odyssey also does a very bold move and allows you to choose your own background music. Purchasable at the item shop in the town, you can select from a large number of tracks to play in the background as you hunt. Even online, the host is allowed to select the music for everyone to hear, which can really create some powerful and unique experiences! While some effects are reused across completely different monsters, the rest of the game is a pure delight to play with a pair of nice headphones, really giving homage to the vast array of music at your disposal.

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Overall Score: 13/20 = 6.5 out of 10

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE takes a hunting game previously set in its ways and attempts to uproot it to be something else. The entire time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this should be made into an MMO. The new skills and Halomonas weapon system gave insight to something that really holds potential and even though different armors proved are mostly pointless, they are awesome looking! A few small, but drastic improvements such as item recycling and the ability to change loadouts, upgrade weapons and armors all within the online hall were welcomed with open arms; but in the end, the game still has the same issues it has had in the previous installment: too few different monsters and a system almost entirely based on random luck for improvement (weapon and card drops). The drops almost seemed more infrequent than the past entry and the inability to improve your character how you see fit (with the partial exception to Halomonas weapons) is a major replay killer. With strategy severely lacking, there isn’t much holding this game together from a gameplay perspective, but if you can tough it out, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals to treat that fantasy addiction.

Pros:

+ Nice visual details

+ Selecting your own background music creates the right mood

+ Card system has plenty of options for character improvement

Cons:

– Lack of different monsters, weapons and armors

– New skill & weapon system were a major disappointment (but has great potential)

– Any size enemy can juggle you

– Small strategy involved in a co-op themed game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Ragnarok Odyssey ACE! Copy reviewed on PS Vita.

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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Toukiden: The Age of Demons Review (PS Vita): “An attempt to slay the demons that plague the Vita”

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Toukiden is not your typical hack-and-slash Japanese demon-killing learning experience and innuendo ridden game – but then again what is? Toukiden takes a multitude of different games we have come to love and mixes them together to create a melting pot of action. Does this melting pot give a delectable flavor complete with a sultry aftertaste you’ll keep coming back to? Or will it result in a lackluster essence giving a residual bitter sting?

Story: 4/5

Toukiden takes place in what can only be assumed as middle-aged Japan, however the overall time frame of the game takes place over a few hundred years. This is because Toukiden uses real-life characters with small bits of information about their lives to attempt to teach us something about history. Much like the Dynasty Warriors series, this is a unique and interesting concept, but ultimately falls short delivering only small pieces of intriguing information which then gets altered to fit within the contents of the game. Never fret however, as Toukiden isn’t based around any of these stories; it actually has a fairly curious path of its own.

Eight years ago, the mysterious land of Japan was overrun by a mysterious horde of demons, called Oni. These Oni appeared almost out of nowhere, consuming people’s souls and wreaking havoc across the land. A few individuals were able to hold their own against the demons, calling themselves Slayers and attempting to take back their beloved homeland. You play as a Slayer, a unique one at that, capable of bonding to multiple spirits that have been consumed by the Oni, only to be released by defeating them. These spirits are called Mitama and are the same characters based off of real people. You use these Mitama in your quest to eradicate the Oni from Japan, slaying them one by one.

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Don’t worry however; you’re not alone as you have a whole crew of different allies to choose from to aid in your quests. Each ally has their own story, which you will discover as you progress throughout the campaign. Most are attempted tear-jerkers riddled with small innuendos and some pretty awkward comedy. Even so, I found myself trying even harder to destroy a boss when I knew it had taken everything from my friend.

In the end, the story doesn’t exactly stand out as incredible, but it does deliver more than most games of this nature. The logic in the game actually makes sense and characters really have some feeling to them if you open yourself to enjoying the small take-aways between missions. I will admit that just as the story was starting to get repetitive, it shook things up on me in a pleasant surprise to fuel me further into the battles. But really, you’re not playing this game for the story. Like any hack and slash rpg – you’re playing to kill sh—hhhhtuff.

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Gameplay: 4/5

Where Toukiden really shines is the focus on teamwork incorporated into its gameplay. There are four slots for slayers in each quest and working together is absolutely essential. Thankfully, the game supports a completely integrated online mode complete with separate quests from the main game (you can also choose to tackle these solo if you wish). Each slayer can equip themselves with three main components: a weapon, armor and mitama.

The weapons in Toukiden took some getting used to, but after using each one consistently, I found that they were extremely well designed. You can choose from a sword, capable of inflicting major damage fast; knives, delivering focused damage quickly at any range, height or area; spear which is an extremely precise and powerful weapon; gauntlets which are nothing short of overpowered hammerfists capable of weakening a demon for others; a chain and sickle which keeps consistent damage at a safe range until you want to get up close and personal; and a bow which delivers deadly area attacks from afar.

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Armor plays a pivotal role in keeping you alive. Each is equipped with resistances (sky, earth, fire, water, wind) and for the first time in a while, I felt that the resistances actually made a difference. Certain armor combinations will also give you minor boosts such as defense, attack or precision strikes; but since you have no way of figuring out which combinations give boosts (other than full matching sets) you’ll be stuck guessing.

The real boosts come from equipped mitama. Each weapon will allow you to socket 1 to 3 Japanese figures, each holding locked powers waiting to be discovered. Mitama offer a wide variety of boosts which unlock as you level them up but their primary use is for their skills. There are multiple types of mitama: attack, defense, luck, speed, deceit, healing, spirit and special. Each has four limited skills you can choose to use which vary from attack boosts to invisibility areas, to recovering ally’s health and stamina. Using these wisely in a group is extremely essential to completing a mission. As there are no items you can bring into battle with you, you’re limited by what skills you can use. Choose a deceit mitama and you’re out of luck for healing (except that each mitama has one healing skill no matter what). Choose a defense mitama and you may never get that attack boost you need at vital moments.

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Using these three types of equipment conscious of what you are fighting is vital to success and should not be taken lightly – a form of strategy often lost in action games on this level of detail. So once you’re geared up and you have your reliable buddies with you, it’s time to take it to the battlefield. Missions usually consist of you tracking down a large boss Oni across a sectioned map. Once you’ve found that Oni, it’s not as simple as merely attacking it to kill it. Each large Oni has a defensive spirit gauge which you will need to whittle down before you can actually damage them. You can go about doing this sporadically, by attacking it wherever you feel, or you can use your mind’s eye to locate breakable points on the Oni. Attack these areas (usually limbs or horns) and they will break off, largely reducing the spirit gauge and bringing you closer to inflicting real damage. Also, this leaves that destroyed part vulnerable, with the ability to inflict more damage for the rest of the battle. As an added bonus, most breakable parts will fall off and lay on the ground, allowing you to purify them and collect a reward which you can use to build armor or weapons. You’ll have to be quick however, as the Oni will attempt to reclaim its lost part before you do!

Due to the spirit gauge, battles can last a very long time as constant damage needs to be dealt in order to keep the gauge at bay. A highly coordinated team however would have no problem focusing on a part, destroying it and wreaking havoc only to repeat the process and have the monster defeated in no time (all the while collecting parts for everyone – what one person gets, we all get!). This means that playing by yourself can be a long and tedious process, especially when farming specific monsters – which you will do. A lot. This is in part because some items needed for weapons or armor are very rare, but primarily because there are only a handful of large Oni to face. The game slowly introduces you to different Oni, but by the time you’ve reached the end of the story, you’ll realize you’re just seeing re-skins of previously fought foes. Re-skins are not necessarily a bad thing, they allow the developers to increase the difficulty with a known enemy so you have some sort of base to go off of – it’s a way of increasing the player’s skill. However, a larger repertoire of monsters should be had before re-skins are introduced, and sadly Toukiden falls suspect to this majorly. Not only does this create a very repetitive game, fighting the same monsters over and over due to the lack of options, but it also limits the amount of equipment you can create, ultimately reducing the game’s replay value.

Nonetheless, the gameplay is satisfying and even more gratifying when playing with others which should help reduce the monotony. There’s nothing quite like heading out with three friends to completely dismember a giant demon.

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Graphics: 5/5

The Playstation Vita is a powerful machine, and we really have yet to see many games that take advantage of that. Luckily, Toukiden is just on that line of awesome. The visuals do their best to “pop” as much as possible, though it is set in a real-world appearance, setting some limits to the extremes we’ve seen in other games. However, this doesn’t take away from the experience. The more lifelike visuals make the details of the monsters, characters, armor and weapons all more riveting. Even small bands, shapes and specifics in equipment will show and remind you that you are playing on a superior device. While I wanted more from the element effects on weapons, I can’t deny that I was able to pick up on them and many other visual effects mid-battle, while all the madness was still going on. There are many “mood changes” throughout playing and you can easily experience that just by noticing the slight offsets created by the environments.

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Sound: 3/5

The soothing music in the town and battle music are wonderful at creating different emotions throughout the gameplay. However, weapon effects, monster screams and other miscellaneous sounds tend to fall short of what I desired from the game after seeing the visuals. There’s nothing quite like hearing the same repetitive *shink* noise coming from every weapon as you use it; or listening to the same monster’s roar over and over to really remind you that you’re just playing a game. More variety is definitely welcomed, but at least what is there is quality. Keep in mind that the characters all speak Japanese – but even though I don’t know what they’re saying, I could tell what they were thinking. I really don’t recommend a high quality headset to accompany your Vita for this game, but stick to the standard speakers on the Vita and you should be fine.

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Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Overall, Toukiden is a quickly addictive but potentially limited experience. The ability to team up with other real players is an absolute must, as cooperative gameplay is strongly suggested. Just don’t plan on collecting too much in the way of armor and weapons, or at least plan on spending a lot of time farming the same monsters.

Pros:

-Cooperative gameplay
-Well thought out weapons and skills
-Strategy required to really succeed

Cons:

-Little variety. In everything.
-Quests can take a very long time

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Toukiden: The Age of Demons! Copy reviewed on PS Vita.

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Ys: Memories of Celceta Review (PS Vita) – “Fond Memories”

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I first caught a glimpse of Ys: Memories of Celceta at New York Comic Con 2013, the upcoming game’s vibrant intro cinematic playing on loop on a giant screen overhead. While it didn’t give much indication of the gameplay to be experienced, it certainly showed off the artistic talent Namco-Bandai had brought on board for Ys. Given the Ys series’ long-running success in the Action RPG genre, it stood to reason that Ys: Memories of Celceta was a highly-anticipated title. Nearly a year after my first encounter with Ys: MoC, it’s made its way to the Vita. So after spending some time with it, the question to answer is: is it a memorable adventure, or better left forgotten?

Story: 3/5

Ys: Memory of Celceta is actually a modernized re-imagining of Ys IV. The central elelement to its story is a core JPG trope: Adol Christin, the series’ central protagonist, is suffering from Amnesia and finds himself wandering the city streets while the game uses nearby NPCs to fill the player in on some general background information about the city, its nearby mine, and the escalating disparity between the government and its citizens. A chance encounter with an old acquaintance helps to begin jogging Adol’s memory, and when trouble begins to rear its head, Adol feels compelled to act. A couple of heroic exploits later, Adol finds recognition with the city’s lordship and is granted the task of charting the mysterious forest regions around the city, where explorers are said to enter but never return.

This forms the core of Ys’s story, leading Adol and his companions to new locations and challenges to overcome. This fits in well with Adol’s personality in earlier installments of the Ys series: a young man with a thirst for adventure and exploration, and he begins to come into his own as the game progresses. A colorful cast of characters waits to be met throughout the story, with some of them willing to join your party. This leads a large part of Ys: MoC’s experience to dialogs between Adol and other characters; from a story-telling standpoint, it’s a thorough method to keep the player up to date with the game’s story, though has a slightly adverse effect on the gameplay experience; see below for more. When it comes down to it, Ys: MoC’s story supports the gameplay, not the other way around; its characters are where the game’s colorful writing shines through, but otherwise the story elements of the game aren’t anything special. Players also have the opportunity to choose dialog options at times, but these don’t really do much to offer branching story paths or shaping character decisions, they just spice up the dialog a bit.

Overall Ys: Memories of Celceta’s story isn’t anything memorable, but it’ll provide the contrast needed between the game’s exciting action sequences.

Gameplay: 4/5

Speaking of action, this has always been the story’s hallmark, and it’s certainly the focal point of Memories of Celceta. The game’s combat is open a free-flow, not instanced or turn-based. Enemies simply present themselves in the game’s environment, just waiting to be battled. In order to carry out said combat, Adol and his party have a couple of means of attack. The central combat mechanic is a sort of push-and-pull between using special attacks to exhaust your special meter, then chaining together basic strikes to fill it back up. Indeed, only one of the Vita’s four face buttons are dedicated to single strikes; the other three can be allocated to a character’s special moves. There’s a large variety to choose from, and you’ll be able to expand your list of specials as your characters gain experience. You can also dodge enemy attacks to keep your health high.

Each of Adol’s party members have their own strengths and tactics that they lean on in combat; while Adol is skilled with a blade and has many special attacks to make use of it, your earliest companion prefers to jump in and pummel enemies with his fists. You only control one character at a time, but can switch between party members at any time. While you’re controlling one character, the game’s AI does a fairly decent job of managing the rest of your party – they’ll attack enemies while you focus is elsewhere, but one area where this AI falls short is in dodging attacks. At the game’s first major boss fight, my companion seemed to content to face-tank the boss’s hardest-hitting special moves while I dodged out of the way. At times like this, it’s good to have healing items on hand to recover your party’s strength.

Overall, the combat system is simplistic and accessible to new players, but rewards practice and is extremely satisfying. The wide range of party members available means you’ll be able to build a party to your specifications, and even choose a character whose fighting style you enjoy using yourself. Don’t be afraid to delegate Adol to the AI if swords aren’t your thing. You’ll be itching to find enemies to fight, unlike turn-based RPGs where random encounters can be tedious and avoided whenever possible.

The high-octane action of the game’s combat sequences is intensely juxtaposed against the much slower, duller pace set by the game’s dialog sequences, however. It can be a bit jarring to come off of a set of intense combat, only to be exposition-dumped by an NPC for minutes on end, followed by even more intense combat right after. This is understandable, as frequent dialog is a central hallmark of JRPGs in general, but it doesn’t work in Ys: Memories of Celceta’s favor. You might find yourself trudging through dialog sequences, anxiously mashing on the X button to get past it and move on to the game’s next fight sequence.

Ys: MoC doesn’t just offer up a linear story – bounty boards present around the game world allow you to undertake sidequests for extra rewards, or just to blow off some steam between story segments. While it’s a nice feature in theory, the quests are often insultingly simple, or offer dull fetch quests that really take a back-seat to the idea of going to a new location and fighting new baddies. Still, much like the story, the sidequest system of Ys: MoC is a vehicle for the game’s excellent combat and exploration opportunities.

Adol and Duren’s expressions sum up the side-quests pretty well.

Graphics: 4/5

Graphics are yet another mixed bag with Ys; as previously-mentioned concerning the game’s intro movie, the hand-drawn art, including the menu and character sprites, are absolutely gorgeous, boasting incredible levels of detail. Given that the Ys series has had several animated movies created for it, it’d be a fair comparison to say that the in-game sprites are on the level of an animated motion picture. However, when making the shift to 3D, Ys: MoC stumbles quite a bit. While character and creature models boast a decent amount of polygons, textures on models and the environment are quite blurry for a Vita game. Special effects during combat are competent, but nothing special. Character animations during dialog tend to be somewhat limited as well, with Adol visualizing his dialog responses with stiff head nods and other simplistic actions. If the game’s 3D graphics had been bumped up to the same standard as the hand-drawn art in the game, Ys: MoC would have easily gotten a perfect score. The game’s downright last-gen graphics keep it just shy of perfection, however.

Even up-close, the 3D graphics lack polish, especially when juxtaposed against the game’s beautiful 2D images.

Sound: 4/5

Ys: Memories of Celceta boasts an aboslutely astounding soundtrack, with engaging tunes that play at just the right time during gameplay. I consistently found myself re-playing some songs in the game in my head, and that’s a hallmark of an excellent game soundtrack. Combat audio effects are decent, and are certainly functional for keeping you aware of when you land hits or take your lumps yourself. The area in the audio department where Ys: MoC falls flat, however, is the voice acting. While the talent is there, and all characters are voiced competently for a JRPG, you simply don’t hear enough of it. Most character speech in dialog consist of grunts or one-word responses, and you’ll find that not much chatter goes down in combat either. For a game with such a vibrant cast of characters, it really takes away from their personality to have them speak so infrequently. Not unlike the game’s graphics, the audio is of an excellent grade, but is flawed in some small but significant way to keep it just shy of perfection.

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Ys: Memories of Celceta stands as an excellent example of beautifully-crafted gameplay. The game’s combat systems are simple and accessible, yet fun and challenging to explore and master. The multitude of characters you’ll meet and join forces with in the story are vibrant and colorful, and each of them brings their own unique twist to battle, ensuring there’s a character for just about every playstyle. The hand-drawn art and soundtrack are absolutely gorgeous too. While a couple of caveats keep the game’s overall quality from reaching stellar heights, Ys: MoC is a great addition to the Vita’s game library and a good buy for any owner looking for an action RPG on the go.

PROs

+ Combat is tight and fun

+ Gorgeous hand-drawn artwork

+ Memorable soundtrack

CONs

– Story merely drives the gameplay

– Side-quest system is tedious

– 3D graphics look last-gen

– Voice acting is light

A special thank you to XSEED Games for providing us with a review copy of “Ys: Memories of Celceta”!

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OlliOlli Review (PS Vita): “A New Standard for Skateboarding”

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Decades ago, the sport of Skateboarding took storm across the United States. Over time, we’ve seen the sport make it’s way around the world. It’s popularity didn’t soar until roughly the time when legendary Tony Hawk wowed people from all over pulling off the first ever “900 Spin”. In the 80s, there was a retro skateboarding game called “720” that was quite the hit back in the arcades. During the 90s, the NES had a specific series called “Skate or Die”, which had two installments: the first being strictly about skateboarding events, while the sequel was an outlandish adventure. In 1999, we saw one of the most rewarding and groundbreaking skateboarding titles release, Tony Hawk Pro Skater. The game was a critical and public success that skateboarding itself really gaining a significant amount of attention. Since then, we’ve seen other game developers bring about their renditions of skateboarding titles, with the next biggest success residing with EA’s SKATE series. Now, UK-indie developer Roll7 has decided to rekindle the skateboarding genre with their title, OlliOlli on the PlayStation Vita. Does the developer pull off the “impossible”, or do they completely bail?

Junkyard Kickflip

OlliOlli is a 2D skateboarding platformer that meshed together the arcade style feel of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, while providing a complex and rewarding trick system that the SKATE series achieved. Remarkably, the game takes those two styles and perfects the mechanics in a way where it sets its own bar. OlliOlli brings you immediately into the gameplay, offering a tutorial that brings you up to speed in minutes. You’ll learn that OlliOlli is one of those games that’s simple to pickup-and-play, yet incredibly complex to master. Controls and tricks are mostly handled with the left analog stick (or D-Pad if you prefer), while kicking off for speed handled with the X button. Pulling off an ollie is simply done by pushing the analog stick down and letting go, while tricks are done by pushing the analog stick in a direction or rotation. Pressing the L/R buttons will result in you pulling off spins to your tricks, as well as nollies. To grind, you’ll simply press down on the analog stick, without any worries of balancing. Although you will have to be concerned on the amount of speed you can lose while grinding, which if you come to a halt, you’ll fall off your board and bail. Pretty straightforward so far, right? Well, now comes the intricate mechanics.

Base Helicopter Grind

Pulling off tricks and linking them together, between grinding and proper flip tricks, is quite intuitive and engaging to grasp. However, if you want all those hard-earned points to count, you’re going to have to land perfectly. That’s right, landing is actually a whole additional mechanic that can make or break your run…literally. To land a trick, you’ll have to press the X button, but at the proper timing. The time you press the X button will determine the rating you’ll receive, which also factors the amount of points you’ll earn. The rankings are as follows: Sloppy, Sketchy, Ok, Sick, and Perfect. Sloppy will net you only a few points, while Perfect will earn you thousands of points. Pulling off a Perfect landing is immensely rewarding and once you nail the timing, it’ll become second nature to achieve. Even when grinding, you’ll have to press down on the analog stick at the right time to earn a “perfect” grind. Doing so will actually affect the speed you maintain to grind. Maintaining a solid line and earning a perfect combo is what it’s all about if you want to rack up a ton of points.

The Career Mode will have you tackling 10 levels within five environments: Urban, Junkyard, Base, Port and Neon City. Five of the levels are handled on Amateur difficulty, while the other five are for Pro. Each level contains five objectives to complete, whether it be earning a high score, earning a high combo, completing a specific gap or line, collecting items, etc. To advance to the next level, you need to only reach the end of the run, even if you don’t complete any objectives. However, achieving all the objectives in a level will unlock the Pro level of that run. The levels will ramp up in difficulty and intensity nicely, without making the player feel degraded from what they’ve learned. Should you bail, it’s back to the beginning of a run. Luckily each run lasts for about 30-90 seconds. You’ll have to watch out for various obstacles, including grass, snow, stairs, spikes, barricades, etc. Now should you completely every objective in every level (both Amateur and Pro), you’ll unlock RAD Mode. RAD Mode will test out the most skilled players by success only being achieved solely through Perfect Grinds and Perfect Lands. Anything else will result in a seriously painful, run-ending bail.

Neon Five-O

Aside from the Career Mode, there are also 50 spots to take on. Every level you complete in the Career can be tackled in Spot Mode afterwards. Spot Mode has you doing a specific run in the level where it’s all about pulling off the highest score you can, all within a single combo. Your score will then be posted on the leaderboards, so you’ll be able to see where you rank amongst your friends and other players around the world. Additionally, Roll7 incorporated a Daily Grind Spot, where everyday you can partake in a single event against all players. You’ll be able to practice the run before posting for a score, and the reason you’ll want to do this is because you only get one shot at the run. Whatever score you get, even if you bail, is all that counts…no do-overs. Upon completing the run, you’ll see what rank you achieved worldwide throughout the 24 hour time period of the Daily Spot. It’s a terrific mode that has you coming back constantly. No matter which mode you’re playing in OlliOlli, you will certainly find yourself coming back for more, time and time again. Even after taking breaks from the game, I was always eager to jump immediately back in and try to perfect more runs.

Visually, OlliOlli is a nicely hand-drawn, retro-style game that harkens back to the classic days of gaming. Animations are fluid and detailed, while retaining the old-school vibe. The skater himself moves quite smoothly, even when bailing. The more he bails, the more of a beating you’ll notice on him where clothes will rip and blood will run down him. It’s nothing “too” bloody, but it’s a noticeable detail for added effect. Environments are nicely detailed as well, with numerous objects pertaining to specific areas. The Base area will have tanks and airplanes to grind on, while Neon City will have a bullet train speeding by in the background with neon signs and purple Godzillas to grind on. OlliOlli’s soundtrack is very suitable, accompanying the gameplay and setting very well. The sound effects are top-notch, with every audio clip perfectly matching the skateboarding and boarder perfectly. Whether you ollie, grind, land, trick, bail, or collect an item, it all sounds precisely like it should.

Port Crooked Grind

OlliOlli may be the PlayStation Vita’s first skateboarding game, but it’s one of the best games to grace the console since launch. Roll7 has delivered an amazingly rewarding and addictive skateboarding title that truly should not be missed. In the way Tony Hawk Pro Skater kept me coming back for more back in the day, OlliOlli achieves the same feel and experience that’s very much needed. Here’s hoping we see an OlliOlli sequel in the near future. Until then, back to perfecting lines I go.

Overall Score: 9.5 out of 10 = MUST BUY!

A special thank you to Roll7 for providing us the review copy for “OlliOlli”! Copy tested on the PS Vita.

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Atomic Ninjas Review (PS3/Vita): “Radiates Fun”

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You usually know what you’re getting when you go for a downloadable title, no matter the platform – bite-sized games with appropriately reduced prices. This isn’t to say that the downloadable market is bad in any way – it really stands in a league of its own right alongside the triple-A console market. However, you get what you pay for, and even the best gameplay experiences to be found in downloadable titles can be a bit light on content.

At least, that’s usually the case – unless you give Atomic Ninjas a try.  Developer (and publisher) Grip Games has come up with an engaging, exciting, and surprisingly bang-for-your-buck-worthy competitive multiplayer title. The game pits you (and your tiny acrobatic avatar) against up to three opponents, be they human or AI, in a race to complete a variety of objectives in a smattering of 2.5D arenas. Combat is a central part of the game, but rather than outright killing foes, your ninja makes use of a variety of weapons and gadgets to maneuver around the arena and knock opponents off the stage or into environmental hazards. Weapons and items are varied, from hard-hitting boxing gloves to swift and deadly shuriken, and grappling hooks to climbing claws and more. Killing an enemy gives you the chance to swap your hapless opponent’s weapon with your own, adding insult to injury while switching up your tactics in the process.

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It’s this randomness that stands as a core strength for the game’s fun factor, as so many elements of the game are switched from one round to the next, making it near-impossible to get bored. Games consist of a large variety of objectives, including Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Domination, and Treasure Hunt (a deadly take on keep-away), with free-for-all and team varieties of each present, sometimes within the same match! It’s really disorienting in the best way when you’re spending a few minutes trying to kill one player, only to be paired up with them the next. Toss-ups like this keep the gameplay extremely fresh and lend tremendous replay value to a genre that relies so heavily on it. Several game-changers come into play at the most appropriate times as well, such as entering an unstoppable “Noob Rage” mode when you’ve died several times in succession, and a “Power Play” state where for a limited time, everyone respawns instantly after death.

While these random tweaks will keep you engaged in every match, it’s the advancement options that will keep you coming back for more. Players initially start with a single character and power, but can unlock more by leveling up (with experience earned through play). Powers can be strengthened by completing Ninja Challenges, which require you to fulfill certain conditions within a game, like killing 5 opponents in a round or earning 250 points from flag captures. Combining the correct powers with the right weapons and items can really boost your effectiveness, and are great no matter what your play style is.

There’s several ways to get into the fight; Both platforms support online play with up to four players, as well as offline bot-matches, but the PS3 has the edge in its ability to field up to four players in split-screen competitive play. If a Wi-Fi connection isn’t available on your Vita, you’re stuck with bot-matches. This isn’t to say they aren’t fun, though – bots put up a good enough fight to keep things interesting, but sooner or later you’ll want to go head-to-head with other human opponents. Connecting to other players is currently a bit tricky, but will get better as the Atomic Ninjas player base grows.

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It really needs to be said that while Atomic Ninjas is light on story, its whimsical writing and hilarious presentation really make for an extremely enjoyable and light-hearted experience. I was laughing out loud during the majority of the tutorial level as the NPC instructed me in the basics of Atomic Ninjas play while pelting me with outrageous criticisms and deadpan deliveries. As for the ninjas themselves, Players can choose from a quirky cast of them, from the familiar silent-but-deadly shadow warriors to a brave, stoic samurai, a wise (but senile) Kung-Fu monk, and even a zombie ninja. Each character is fully voiced and features his own unique personality quirks. Each ninja will loose his own quips during a match when killing opponents, getting hit, or meeting an early (but brief) demise. However, nothing is quite as laughable as when a player enters “Noob Rage” mode, letting loose sounds more violent and gibbering than a Call of Duty player on a death streak (sorry guys – you know who you are). Character choices aren’t just important for presentation, though – each one starts with their own weapon and item, lending to a unique gameplay style right out of the gate. These aren’t set in stone, though, and your weapons and items can be swapped on-the-fly by finding item crates in the arena and killing opponents to steal their stuff.

Atomic Ninjas features a simple but pleasant cartoon style, with bright, vibrant colors and tiny, whimsical proportions. It’s a visual treat the whole time, but at the same time, isn’t particularly jaw-dropping. That’s fine, though – less to distract you from the action. The sound is another seesaw too – the voice work, sound effects, and music are all great and really lend to the atmosphere of the game, but a couple of technical problems keep them just shy of a perfect score. While playing on the Vita, there were rare occasions where music would lose its fidelity and static would become audible, which isn’t pleasant by any means, but is thankfully rare enough, seemingly only happening at the end of a match. This seems like an issue that Grip Games can squash with a future patch. Otherwise, there really isn’t much to complain about – the game is very well-balanced, but there were a couple of occasions where a really devious player could pin me in one spot with very little I could do to retaliate. This was especially bad when an opponent caught me in a corner while in Noob Rage – I was powerless to do anything to escape until the mode wore off, and it was extremely frustrating. However, it takes a lot to get into this sort of situation, and it taught me to stay away from dead ends when an opponent starts slavering.

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Atomic Ninjas stands out as one of the most addicting, engaging, and just plain fun downloadable titles of this year. The bite-sized game sessions lend themselves perfectly to the Vita’s pick-up-and-go nature, while the randomness of each moment will hook you for hours on end. Multiplayer is this game’s watchword, and it creates an extremely fun and competitive arena for players to duke it out with each other. A couple of technical issues mar Atomic Ninjas from a perfect score, but between the solid gameplay, hilarious presentation, and pleasant visuals, Atomic Ninjas is a game you won’t want to put down.

Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Atomic Ninjas!

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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Real Boxing Review (PS Vita): “Real Boring”

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The PlayStation Vita has been graced with many fighting games over the course of its lifecycle. However, the one type of fighting/sports game that hasn’t hit the platform is a boxing game. Developer Vivid Games has taken up the task of bringing the very first boxing game to the Vita titled “Real Boxing”. Is the game a knockout or has it been TKO’d in the first round?

We’ve seen some pretty stellar boxing titles from Nintendo’s iconic Punch-Out!! series to EA’s successful Fight Night series. Punch-Out!! brought about a level of memorization and strategy in fights against zany characters that few games can even replicate, while Fight Night brought out a more realistic fight for boxing fans to relate to. With Real Boxing, boxing fans will get a mixture of an arcade-like experience with a realistic approach. When starting off the game, you’ll create the boxer of your choice. You’ll be able to choose the nationality your boxer represents, the pants color, gloves color, shoes color, tattoo on your back, chest and shoulders, the hair, mustache and lastly, beard. Each field has a decent amount of choices to choose between, but the main problem is you can’t alter the actual fighter’s face. No matter how much you customize your character, they will all look incredibly similar, making it seem like you’re fighting clones with variations. After creating and naming your boxer, you’ll be able to either take on the following: Quick Match, Career, Gym, or Multiplayer.

Real Boxing Gameplay 1

Quick Match is what you’d expect, just choose your opponent and dive straight into a match. However, Career is the game’s main event. There are three events to tackle: Roosters’ Tournament, Night of the Champions, and Boxing Legends. Each event contains 9 fights, with each fight progressively ramping up in difficulty as you’ll notice your opponent’s stats exceeding yours. When the match starts, you’ll watch your fighter’s intro before entering the ring. Once in there, the camera will be over-the-shoulder, but more on an angle than directly behind you (i.e. Punch-Out!!). There are several ways to control your punches in this game. The first is the standard face buttons. If you want more precision, you’ll use the right analog stick, which allows you to throw right punches with the right half of the stick, while throwing left punches with the left half of the stick. You’ll be able to throw jabs, hooks and uppercuts fairly easy and combo between your arms quicker. The third method is full touch control, which works very well. You’ll tap the screen for jabs (left half for left arm, right half for right arm), swipe across the screen for hooks and swipe upwards for uppercuts. You’ll tap and hold the bottom left icon to block, while tapping the bottom right icon to dodge attacks. More interestingly, the movement is controlled automatically when playing with touch controls. Unlike Fight Night, you and your opponent will have health bars to deplete, but like any boxing game, you have a stamina meter to keep an eye on. You can’t keep swinging away at your opponent and expect to not get tired out, so learning how to pace yourself is key. One of the more satisfying elements is the dodging mechanic. When you dodge a hit at the right time, the game will go into slow-motion, giving you an opportunity to dish out some heavy damage with a counterattack. If you or your opponent gets low on health, you’ll be able to enter a Clinch. This will require you to balance your Vita back and forth and maintain balance within the ever shrinking green meter. If your opponent clinches with you and you lose the clinch, they’ll gain some health back and vice versa if you initiate and win. The problem with this though is the sensitivity for tilting the Vita is incredibly high and makes this mini-game a serious chore and often frustration when initiated. The mechanics are all functional but playing against the AI rarely gets you engaged. Multiplayer fares a bit better though, which can be accessed both online or locally. You can choose between Single Fight and Tournament, and allows for you to invite a friend to match up against. There’s Leaderboard support as well. When playing online, I can say that the lag wasn’t too apparent and playing against an online opponent definitely makes for a more exciting experience.

That shoulder animates very oddly.

That shoulder animates very oddly.

Gym will allow you to train your fighter and upgrade his stats. You can upgrade the Strength, Stamina, and Speed attributes with the money you’ll earn from fights. Each category will start at 60% and as you upgrade, will cost more money to increase each attribute. Additionally, you can practice with four events: Heavy Bag Training, Jump Rope Training, Speed Bag Training, and traditional sparring. The purpose of these training events are to build up your perk meter so that you can unlock a new perk to attach to your fighter. You can choose from perks that allow you to drain less stamina from jabs or uppercuts, successfully winning a Clinch mini-game easier, getting up faster from a K.O., etc. The training mini-games all play a bit different. Heavy Bag and Speed Bag training will have you slapping the right analog stick in a specific direction at the right time. Successfully hitting it will build up your perk unlock meter and the better you time it (Perfect, Great, or Good ratings), the quicker the meter will fill. Jump Rope will have you pressing the L and R buttons at the proper time, with basically the same premise as the other two training sessions. These are decent mini-games to pass time for earning perks but there are a few issues. First off, you can only do a training session once until you complete an actual career event. Secondly, the Heavy Bag and Speed Bag training require you to push the right analog stick diagonally quite often…and it registers quite inaccurately. There were several times where I’d push the analog diagonally in the same direction twice in a row and it’d register one of them perfectly, while the other not at all. For the record, my Vita is in perfect condition and works flawlessly with any other game that uses the right analog stick, so I know this is a mechanical issue in the game.

Not only is she super anorexic...she bit part of her wrist off as a meal.

Not only is she super anorexic…she bit part of her wrist off as a meal.

Real Boxing is powered by Unreal 3 Engine and looks pretty nice texture-wise. However, character models are very generic and have incredibly stiff animations. As I stated earlier, every character will look like clones of each other with only slight variations to them. Animations are ok, but when throwing hooks you’ll notice a jarring shoulder animation where it looks like the shoulder is made out of rubber and twists. It’s just weird looking. Additionally, the girl that shows the Round card before getting back into the fight looks more anorexic than the Olsen twins and this is the only girl that shows off what round you’re in…no matter the country you fight in. The crowd around the ring looks good, as well as the ring itself. The audio does a serviceable job of capturing the sound of the ring, with punches sounding appropriate and the crowd roaring in the background. The announcer on the other hand is just plain irritating. When counting down for the opponent to be down for good, you’ll hear a very nasally and squeaky voice counting and you just can’t help but question, “Really? That’s the best voice they could go with?”

Real Boxing Gameplay 4

Real Boxing may be the very first boxing title on the PlayStation Vita but that doesn’t mean it’s good. While it’s a serviceable game that is occasionally enjoyable, it’s ultimately a very forgettable experience that won’t have you coming back for much. If you plan on playing online, you’ll definitely get more enjoyment that route but don’t expect a big community for it. What’s here is decent but it’s just hard for me to recommend, even at the budget asking price of $9.99. Only die-hard boxing fans need apply here…otherwise, move on.

Overall Score: 6.0 out of 10 = Proceed with caution…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Real Boxing!

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Killzone: Mercenary Review (PS Vita): “Money Talks, and You Should Listen”

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Set in a futuristic, war-torn world, Killzone: Mercenary thrives off of the steam from the past 2 major entries in the series. With KZM exclusive to the PlayStation Vita, there are some expected differences that one would expect to notice. Do those differences boost the effectiveness of a First Person Shooter on a handheld device? Or do they hold the title back, ultimately placing it with other failed attempts at creating an FPS on the go?

Story: 4/5

Guerilla Cambridge’s Killzone: Mercenary takes an interesting look at the events that have already perspired in both Killzone and Killzone 2. While it never directly impacts the events that have already taken place, it does help explain how some feats could have happened – that is, all along there was this small force of Mercenaries which helped turn the war one way or another, regardless if we had no idea at the time.

You play as Arran Danner, a mercenary who lends his particular skillset out to whoever pays the most. Through contracts via either the ISA or Helghast, Danner sets out to accomplish a variety of different tasks which all help turn the tides of the ongoing war between the two major forces. To really understand what is going on, Cambridge sets up a beautifully narrated and quick-to-the-point recap of what has happened up to this point – that is, up to the time of Killzone. Two political parties get into a feud on the planet Vekta, a futuristic Earth-like planet. When a civil war breaks out, the dominant party (the ISA) kicks out the Helghast, banishing them to the poor and desolate mining planet of Helghan. The environment on this planet is so harsh that many of the people die, yet those who survive become stronger, both physically and mentally. In order to endure the planet’s harsh environment, the Helghast develop certain equipment which fends off the radiation, heat and other elements. This gives the Helghast their well-known look of always wearing gas masks of some sort. Although the Helghast were banished from Vetka, they didn’t give up on their right to live there and therefore, through the climb to power by ruthless dictator Visari, planned a surprise attack on Vetka.

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This is where the game starts. The ISA are in dire trouble, being caught off guard and overwhelmed by the Helghast’s superior technology. One of the ISA’s main commanders is held captive, and in order to win the war, they need her alive and by their side. By sending in Danner to rescue her, the ISA realizes that they can use Mercenaries to help in the more pertinent missions while the main forces defend the front lines.

Move ahead 2 years. The rest of the game takes place within the time frame of Killzone 2. The ISA, with the help of Danner and his crew, have repelled the Helghast back to their home planet. The ISA needs to retaliate to finish this war that the Helghast have started, yet they are still no match for the Helghast’s superior weaponry. However, an opportunity opens up for the ISA to seize control of the situation. A Helghan scientist is willing to defect, providing all sorts of knowledge for the ISA, as well as holding the knowledge of a secret weapon the Helghast intend to use. Danner’s main mission henceforth is to intercept the scientist and bring him to the ISA for questioning. However, some interesting information comes to light when Danner is turned upon, thus forcing him to aid the Helghast military leader at the time, Kratek. What happens next in the war between the ISA and Helghast is up to one man.

Killzone: Mercenary is set up across 9 missions, and much to my surprise, each mission flowed together quite well. There was never any time where I felt I had missed something, despite the game being segmented. KZM had a very interesting and catchy theory: take something that’s already happened and throw a twist on it all to show how it could have turned out. By tying the story into previous titles it was easy to follow along (so long as you have played Killzone and Killzone 2) but not necessary to the plot. I took a special amount pleasure in seeing key events that took place in the past entries reappear in this side-title, such as when Visari nuked his own city. Overall, I felt that the story, while well thought-out and entirely believable in the previously established events, lacked a certain amount of pull on the player. I wouldn’t say the story did well on its own, but with the knowledge of everything else that is going on (carefully detailed before each mission) it adds a certain richness to the entire series.

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Gameplay: 5/5

There have been a few attempts at releasing a First Person Shooter on the Vita, or any handheld gaming device for that matter, and none have really made it to the acceptable mark. Yet, what most have tried to do, Guerrilla Cambridge has succeeded in doing. Utilizing the dual analog sticks along with minor touch screen/pad function and staying true to the feel of a Killzone game has surprisingly worked on the Vita, and all of us who still have a Vita are thrilled!

While I do recommend turning up the sensitivity, KZM feels incredibly natural. The physics and inertia are all reminiscent of past entries in the series, which really helps the veteran jump right in. Cambridge has brought back several guns and equipment, as well as added quite a few alterations of certain weapons to create the largest armory in the Killzone series yet. In addition to your primary, secondary and equipment, you can also change out your armor to fit your specific needs, and there is an entirely new system titled VAN-Guards, which are essentially killstreaks that can be used in both multiplayer and single player. All of the equipment and weapons you acquire can be purchased through a mysterious seller who thrives off of conflict, Black Jack. Throughout the game you’ll find supply caches where you can change out your gear or resupply, which you will desperately need as ammo reserves are low throughout the story.

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Killzone: Mercenary tries something that not many FPS have. KZM allows you to play through the entire game stealthily. Whenever you enter a new area in the story, (with the exception of a few laid out circumstances) enemies are unaware of your existence. By playing it low, you can avoid a large amount of reinforcements in every scenario, thus making your job a whole lot easier. While this is a great and challenging idea, it isn’t perfectly executed. There were many times when enemies would spot something a downed enemy who happened to be laying behind cover 200 yards away, thus blowing my covert op. At the same time, I was able to clearly walk past an enemy without him noticing, so I suppose there was some give and take there.

While playing it low and slow can make the entire experience smoother (albeit still very, VERY challenging), there is some gratification in large massacres as a one man army. Luckily, KZM still allows you to play this way as well! In fact, there are 4 specific ways to play, which become unlocked upon one completion of the story. You can play it normally (however you want, no rules), stealth, precision or demolition. Each of the 3 additional ‘modes’ have specific goals you need to meet in a mission- i.e.: get 50 headshots, get 30 kills from behind, destroy a tank with a VAN-Guard.

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Even though there are many different ways to progress through the story, easily seen by marvelously designed levels fitted with multiple paths (quite possibly the best I have ever seen in a shooter), I still felt as though I was doing the same thing every mission. Stealth for a little while, get caught, fight off hoards upon hoards of enemies, get to objective, initiate hack/demolition, fight off more hoards of enemies, barely escape on a cruiser, repeat 8 more times. The overall experience is however broken up by a clever puzzle “hacking” system in which you can gain access to intel, open locked doors, etc. In this sequence, you utilize the touch screen by matching certain shapes to a pad. Match all the shapes in the time allotted and you’ve won the small gratification that comes with completing such a simple, yet often adrenaline pumping puzzle.

All in all, the gameplay is reliably fun and enticing. It truly feels like an FPS and though there are a few issues, such as the cover system not cooperating when you really need it to, you’ll never sit back after a death and have to blame awkward controls.

One thing that the Vita really needs is a game that will hold you for a while – after all, we’re not getting many (if any) system sellers (MH plug) to keep you interested in using your Vita. Thankfully, Guerrilla Cambridge answered our prayers with Killzone: Mercenary. Every part about this game screams “play me some more!” The best part about KZM is that, at its heart, it is a mobile game. The missions are set up to be played quickly, and online matches can take anywhere from a very short 5 minutes to a riveting 20 minutes!

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As mentioned earlier, there are 4 ways to go through the story; and with the objectives that go with each play style you could be playing for a while just trying to complete one mission. Even though the story isn’t long by any means, (I completed it on veteran difficulty in about 5 hours, and I took my damn time retrying levels and exploring) this push to play the story different ways makes the game already quadruple in replay value.

Of course, there is also the fact that Killzone: Mercenary has a fully functional multiplayer, albeit a few bugs here and there (which hopefully will get worked on very soon). KZM’s multiplayer takes a step to the side from past Killzone entries, which at first disturbed me, until I kept playing and found that I was loving, and dominating, the online!

KZM does away with the previous class system, and instead implements a more general system of creating a loadout. You unlock 5 loadouts as you rank up, each can be equipped with a primary, secondary, armor, equipment and VAN-Guard via Black Jack’s armory. The wonderful thing about KZM is that Black Jack’s armory carries over between single player and multiplayer; meaning that anything you buy in one game mode will transfer to the other, including money earned! This really helps new players jump into the online without a worry as to being under-equipped.

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The general gameplay of the multiplayer has stayed the same however. There are 3 modes to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Warzone. Warzone is a collaboration of different game modes bundled into one match; performing objectives will earn your team points, the team with the most point at the end wins. Modes range from standard team deathmatch, a stealthy interrogation mode, to a capture the VAN-Guard mode. VAN-Guards are present in two ways in multiplayer. The first is simply a random drop and accessing it gives you a random VAN-Guard to use. The second is through a game mode in warzone, as mentioned, where you need to hack the VAN-Guard using the shape matching sequence found in single player to earn you and your team points.

Each match will pit 8 players against one another, and thankfully the beautifully designed maps are the perfect size for these skirmishes. During any online gameplay, a kill will reward you with a dropped valor card which you can pick up. These valor cards are a representation of the skill of the player you just killed. They are categorized by weapon type, and range from 2 to Ace. For instance, if someone were a top notch sniper, they would have an Ace of Spades card; if they are a very poor assault rifle user they would have a 2 of clubs. Collecting these cards will net you XP/cash, but more importantly, collecting an entire deck will net you a large boost of cash! The little details like this really add to the overall experience and make for an enjoyable and lengthy career online.

While there are some issues that need to be worked out, such as parties being able to join together, or some lag and awful respawns, the multiplayer truly gives you your $40 worth alone. That, combined with the daunting task of going for platinum, will really give you your money’s worth.

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Graphics: 5/5

Killzone has been known for its impeccable graphical quality. While using what is essentially the KZ3 engine, one would expect KZM to deliver the same quality on the powerful Vita. To no one’s surprise, Cambridge was able to do just that. The lighting and shadow effects are glorious in each mission, and the attention to detail is a force to be reckoned with. Multiple times throughout the story, there are cinematic-appearing cutscenes in which you can actually look around, and I strongly encourage that everyone does so to get a feel for how wonderful this game looks. In the first mission alone, you glide through the Vetka skyline and you can feel the weight of the war just by what you see.

Throughout gunfire from dozens of enemies and a vast section of area, there are no frame rate drops; though at many times there were what appeared to be slight pauses where the game needed to catch up – primarily in between sections and/or when exiting Black Jack’s supply caches. (After the infrequently frequent occurrences, I deduced that this was not a general frame rate drop but merely issues jumping from small amounts of detail to very large due to the fact that I never encountered it when I would have thought)

At one point in the story, I was actually blinded by the light cast between an enemy’s legs, I had to stop for a second not only to figure out what to do to see, but to admire how well the effects represented themselves. While some particle effects could have been a little cleaner, such as dust clouds in the distance, I can honestly say that this is one of the best looking Vita games out there.

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Sound: 4/5

There is nothing more satisfying than the kill chirp that emits upon finishing and enemy, except of course the over gratifying melon-pop noise that comes with a sniper headshot. Thankfully, Guerilla Cambridge made sure to include all of the traditional Killzone sound effects into this latest installment, and for that I couldn’t be happier.

Seeing as a large part of the game is based around stealth, it also makes sense to really showcase some essential noises into the environment as you’re traversing through the story. Being able to hear your own footsteps as you approach an enemy helps you learn that you need to take it slow, or risk being noticed. Other cues such as character dialogue between AI in the middle of a mission help key you in to what they’re thinking. While some of the voice acting is a little over the top (I’m looking at you Russian Vampire Lord Black Jack), you rarely find yourself believing the characters aren’t invested in what is going on.

The only noticeable setback is the soundtrack to the game. Killzone 2 had an iconic menu song, and Killzone 3 made its best attempt, and coming close, at one as well. However, not once did I really find myself getting engrossed in a musical score. While this is quite a disappointment to me, it doesn’t deter from the overall gameplay experience as you have other things to worry about.

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Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

In the end, Killzone: Mercenary truly provides an amazing experience on the PlayStation Vita. It feels like a shooter you’d play on a console, and with a multiplayer to match, it is a force to be reckoned with. I can safely say that the quality and quantity holds up well to its predecessors and should be in every person’s Vita library.

PROS:

+ Incredible graphics, especially for a handheld

+ Great controls and feel

+ Addictive multiplayer

+ Lots of ways to progress through the story

CONS:

-Some bugs with the cover system

-Story progression can get repetitive when not going for a specific play-style

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

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Stealth Inc. – A Clone in the Dark Review (PS3/Vita): “A Crafty Puzzler That Just May Sneak Its Way Into Your Hands”

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Lately it seems as if stealth themed games are attempting to make as much of a presence with gamers as vampire movies make with teenage girls; the only issue is that sometimes they sneak by without being noticed. “Stealth Inc. – A Clone in the Dark” was almost one of those titles. If it wasn’t for PlayStation’s “Play” program, largely promoting the game and offering a discount, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. Luckily however, I did pick up Stealth Inc. and found it to be an enjoyable puzzler that quenched my thirst for a challenge.

Stealth Inc. has you play as an adorable little clone just trying to escape from its manufacturing facility in a 2D side-scrolling puzzler. As you outsmart and utilize other clones, you run across a number of different obstacles ranging from simple unlockable doors, to motion-activated lasers, to scanning little destroyer bugs. The game progresses nicely and at a great pace for those who haven’t tackled many puzzlers before. There are 8 stages, with each stage containing 8 levels, the last of which always contains an all-powerful and all-seeing boss! At the start of each stage, something new is introduced and you learn to conquer it within the next few stages; ultimately proving your newly found skills to use against the boss at the end.

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You are graded after each level based on a few simple and obvious factors: Did you die? Were you spotted? And how long did you take? While the comprehension is simple enough, the execution is not always as easy and the ever present leaderboards will kindly remind you of how stealthy you truly are. But never fear, if you’re struggling with a level, all it takes a little effort to reach a high enough rank and unlock a gadget for that level, allowing you to further improve your efforts. Ranging from an invisible suit to a decoy of yourself, these gadgets will require some skill to unlock for each level, but will push you higher on the leaderboards with ease.

While Stealth Inc. doesn’t have a strong (or even minuscule) story, it does contain some cleverly hilarious ridicule by the game devs sprinkled throughout each level, which helps you feel as if what you’re doing (escaping) is really your plan or… theirs. Once completed, Stealth Inc. offers a satisfying amount of replay value for the price of $10, but nothing that makes it stand apart from a common mobile game. You can replay all the levels you’ve completed with upgraded gadgets and knowledge of how to improve your score; you can go back and attempt to gather the collectible within a level; or you can try your hand at the custom level creator. While at first a little difficult to grasp, the level creator is simple and rewarding. You can make an entire level from the ground up to puzzle anyone who wishes to take on your devious plots – that is, of course, being that you can’t actually upload your level anywhere – making “anyone” turn in to you… and your brother. The single most disappointing aspect of Stealth Inc. is the lack of any sort of online functionality beyond the leaderboards. While most games allow you to share your created content, Stealth Inc. offers no such thing, essentially making the level creator useless beyond a certain point.

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Nonetheless, for a small amount of money you get a large entertainment value that is sure to force you to stop and think a few times. The soundtrack, while small, is addictive and fitting – putting you instantly into a Mission: Impossible mindset, and the vibrant and crisp, yet pixelated at times, art style is refreshing and helpful when looking for paths or clues to your escape. Stealth Inc. is a much better play on the Playstation Vita compared to the PS3, as it really fits into a quick, yet addictive time killer on the go. Either way, you can’t go wrong with this game if you’re looking for a little something to keep you busy in between some larger titles.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Copy purchased by author for review purposes. Game tested on both the PS3 and PS Vita.

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