March 2011

Fans of Magicka will soon have more to play, as Paradox Interactive has announced the release date for the first expansion, Magicka: Vietnam as April 12, 2011. Priced at $4.99, players will be able to step into the shoes of a wizard GI and attempt to rescue POWs with up to three other players. READ MORE

Hard Corps: Uprising

March 31, 2011

Hard Corps: Uprising is the spiritual successor to the Genesis’ Contra: Hard Corps. Contra: Hard Corps is true to its name, and is the most difficult Contra title ever made. Hard Corps: Uprising takes the essence of Contra: Hard Corps, gives it a flashy new paint job and a thrash metal soundtrack, and unleashes it upon the unsuspecting masses. 

Hard Corps: Uprising is not merely difficult. Shank is difficult until you get a feel for the combo system and what weapons work against which enemies. Hard Corps: Uprising, in the vein of all Contra titles before it, has only one weapon that you actually want to use – the spread gun. Everything else pales in comparison, and once you pick it up you manage to get hit, drop the gun, curse loudly, and then curse some more as you try in vain to make it to another spread gun while using the standard rifle.

The game is developed by the fine folks at Arc System Works, who are best known for Guilty Gear games and the recent BlazBlue. Whether you like 2D fighting games or not, there is no denying that the sprite work in both is exquisite. Hard Corps: Uprising is no different. Gone are the days of blocky sprites held back by the platform they appear on. Hard Corps‘ sprites are beautiful, lovingly hand-drawn, and you will marvel at them until you get shot by an enemy and drop your treasured spread gun.

Hard Corps: Uprising is for the same set of people that bought and love Bionic Commando: ReArmed and Capcom’s Mega Man retro revivals. It takes a long time to make it through any given level, but just like the Contra games of yesterday, there are few things that can’t be overcome with a little memorization and a spread gun. Hard Corps: Uprising isn’t for everybody, but for those who love hard retro shooters and playing through them with a friend, Hard Corps: Uprising is not to be missed. It’s hard, it’s gorgeous, it’s cheap, and it’s been far too long since I played Contra with a friend, and now I can do so over PSN or in the same room.

Pros: beautiful sprites, cooperative multiplayer always makes Contra better

Cons: Too difficult for most of today’s gamers

 

At first glance, Post Apocalyptic Mayhem looks like one takes a racing game like Ridge Racer and fills it with a healthy dose of Twisted Metal. You know, brutal racing where you’ll spend as much time burning enemy rubber as you will your own. But before you even wade out of the shallow end, you’ll find yourself at the end of the pool wondering why you chose to swim in the first place. 

The basic premise behind PAM is to place as high as you can by accumulating points. Two things gain you points: destroying your five enemies and completing laps around the large tracks in the game. You destroy enemies by using your vehicle’s three unique power-ups that can be acquired by grabbing the matching barrel, much in the vein of any Mario Kart game.

That’s where the gameplay and depth flatlines. While large and detailed, PAM contains only three tracks. Three. A far cry from the “numerous compelling and completely unique” tracks the developers claim the game has. They do look nice and are filled with variety in design, but even that doesn’t redeem the fact that you have one less track than a single Mario Kart circuit. And the “unique and powerful” abilities each vehicle has? While different in visual style, many tend to emulate one another, and all follow a major pattern in terms of usefulness: the rear weapons are the ones you would want to spam, the others are more debatable in usefulness.

The biggest offense comes in the game’s “various intense race modes”. Either Arcade Mode, where you race one track, or Apocalyptic Challenge, racing all three tracks back-to-back, are all you get for single-player. Multiplayer expands this a bit with different race criteria to choose from: reach a kill quota, be the first to make a lap, or get as many kills as possible during a normal race. Shallow and simple, this is further confounding when you discover that the goal is not racing, but kill acquisition that determines whether you win. What separates this game from the many Twisted Metal games is that you’re forced into the facade of racing while still focusing on killing your opponents. Combat or not, no racing game should force the player to hover around their enemies for the sake of more points and a higher place.

The visuals of the game do look good, and the music is much what you’d expect from a game in this style: gritty and guitar-laden. It does handle well and carries with it potential. But where all the content in the game can be conquered in an hour, with multiplayer extending this lifespan by a few more potential hours, it begs the question: why bother?

From looking at the achievements, you can assume that more tracks and vehicles are on the way in DLC form. But where the racing portion of PAM seems tacked on to the vehicle combat, it remains flawed and shallow in a position where a Twisted Metal game and a racing game like Ridge Racer could both give what PAM attempts to give a lot better.

Pros: Looks and sounds good, carries a flawed but interesting premise

Cons: Shallow and short gameplay, lacks substantial content, racing seems superfluous

 

Ridge Racer 3D

March 30, 2011

Anyone who has tried out a 3DS quickly realizes that the system’s particular brand of 3D lends itself well to a few specific genres. Flight games? Oh yeah. Augmented reality? That too. Most especially, though, three dimensions make a racing game really shine. That depth perception, while making most games immersive, actually helps the control of the game itself in racing titles, as you see the walls coming at you and the cars zip past. Why? We’ve been training ourselves all our lives to judge that stuff. 

So to Ridge Racer 3D, one of two racing games available at the 3DS launch, and one with an impressive-if-infamous pedigree. Lately, the series is always found revving its engines at the starting line of a system’s lifespan, and the focus on pure speed often means it’s obscured a bit by the time the next launch rolls around.

We think people should stop forgetting the game’s really quite good.

Ridge Racer‘s brand of pure drift-and-draft speed may not be as exciting as a Burnout-style or Blur-esque action-racer, and it doesn’t have the authenticity of a sim like Gran Turismo. The result is the game equivalent of an electable candidate: not the favorite of many, but most can agree it’s fun and worth your time. 

In the weeks leading to the game’s release, Ridge Racer 3D has gotten knocks for how it looks in screenshots, and we don’t blame the critics. In motion, though, the game is nice and smooth. The low polygon count allows for lots of on-screen action and interesting lighting effects, and what those don’t make up are compensated for by the fact that the screen’s still not that large.

The car mix is a little more friendly to the average person this time. Namco has thrown in a lot more American muscle cars, and there are some interesting choices for those who like a bit of quirk in their rides. Each car has a ton of color choices and paint jobs, so it’s easy to make your car your own.

There are a few things that hold Ridge Racer back. For one thing, that announcer is, put as nicely as we can, an obnoxious presence that we want to strangle. If we hear one more thing about our slipstream or our opponent’s slipstream or how well we’re using a slipstream, we’ll flip. (Thankfully for the safety of the Namco Bandai voice acting talent, you can turn the volume of the announcer all the way down. And you should do it immediately upon inserting the card.)  Besides that, we really wish Namco could have stepped up to the plate with an online multiplayer option. The game’s engine seems like it would have held up fine, and the system’s launch strategy means many are, for a bit, almost alone in their device ownership. Still, local multiplayer is handled well, and in what has become a launch game caveat, what did get put into the game is handled well.

The 3DS is good at racers. That inevitably means there will be a better game than this eventually. It may be a while though, and if Ridge Racer lasts you even halfway to that other game’s release, it will be well worth your money.

Pros: Smooth racing, interesting customization options

Cons: There’s an announcer? We have no idea what you’re talking about. We especially didn’t hear anything about a slipstream.

 

Gods Eater Burst

March 30, 2011

The Japanese and American PSP communities are different. It’s just how it is. While they’re almost everywhere there, making multiplayer-heavy experiences a blast, it’s hard to get people together for sessions over here. It’s that one factor that holds back a solid Gods Eater Burst experience, and it’s important to understand that from the start, because it affects everything else. 

For those familiar with the Monster Hunter series, Gods Eater will be a similar experience. You take on quests and attack monsters, gain money, equipment and strength. The environment is a bit different; Gods Eater is clearly based on anime style, and it’s set in an intensely-desolate post-apocalyptic world that creates an interesting atmosphere for the battles. 

To attack, you use a weapon called a God Arc. It’s a living thing attached to your arm, and it can transform to a gun or a sword. (Which, as a concept, is really quite cool.) There are so many options with bullets, attacks, shields and such, that it’s intimidating but deep. Oh, and in case you were wondering about the name: your God Arc eats things. The enemy is called the Aragami, essentially “demon god,” and you eat them to get stat boosts and harvest items. It’s weird.

Anyway, the gameplay is solid, and there are a lot of things to do crammed into the PSP’s buttons. Gun aiming would benefit from another analog stick, since controlling your character and aiming with the D-pad can be a bit cumbersome. As a result, most will use it for sniping or run-aim-run-aim tactics.

The quests are fairly straightforward: kill this monster, acquire this thing, with the occasional special mission here and there. Everything is playable with up to three friends locally, and that’s where it really shines. Team tactics and camaraderie make things a lot more fun, and the game scales the difficulty well with more help. It’s when you don’t have friends to play when it gets a bit tough. The structure of the game accommodates all these people, and you lose a bit of engine curation and flash when you let things like that be possible. There are computer-controlled teammates who can join at times, but there’s no coordination and their actions are as straightforward as the enemies’ ones. 

With such a lush world (and it is rather impressive), it would have been nice to have an epic story, but it’s your standard quest-based game, and that means lifeless characters, awkward localization and a hub world that’s more utilitarian than thematic. Which is fine, because that’s not what these games are about, but it’s another thing that doesn’t translate as well to the American PSP experience.

So that’s basically it. If you can get two or three friends to also buy Gods Eater Burst, it’s totally worth it and you’ll have a blast. If you’re alone, it’s not quite the experience it should be. It’s just the nature of the genre, though online play or crafted story modes could help overcome it. 

Pros: Imaginative post-apocalyptic world, tons of gameplay options

Cons: Without multiplayer, it can lose some of its appeal