Elaine Garbarine


January 31, 2010


Bayonetta has become the topic of so much attention due to its over-sexualized, sassy main character.  Regardless, Bayonetta is an incredibly well-crafted action game with technical combat, responsive controls, and a memorable main character oozing with personality.  Director Hideki Kamiya has successfully created a game so fluid and subtly complex that it will channel memories not only of great action games but also of the most technical fighting games.

Bayonetta’s story is based around the idea of two clans, the Umbra Witches (dark clan) and the Lumen Sages (light clan).  There was a big war and all the Umbra Witches were killed off, except for Bayonetta herself.  The story is so insane and ridiculous I almost can’t explain it with real human words.  Absurd story aside, the characters inside it are wonderful, most especially Bayonetta herself who has a never-ending supply of personality and fantastic on liners. 

Honestly, you aren’t going to sit down and play this game for its deep and interesting story.  Instead, the reason this game needs to be experienced is a deep and satisfying combat system that feels really refreshing for the third-person action game genre. The action is fast, constant and satisfying, making the story a means to transition the action from one interesting environment to another.  The game is simultaneously simple to pick up and start playing and complex to really master.  It makes the combat in games like Devil May Cry and God of War seem boring and trivial by comparison.  Combos and dodging are among your most important initial concerns with more advanced techniques like interrupting a combo to dodge and moving back into that combo (dodge offsetting) offering a higher level of complexity for the dedicated player. 

Dedication is key here, because this game is not meant to simply be played once and set aside.  Your first trip through Bayonetta’s world will be difficult and filled with terrible scores at the end of each chapter.  The game is begging you to play it again for better times and higher scores.  It gives the player that old arcade feeling of wanting to get in and play a chapter again and again to increase that final score.  With a sentiment of “on to the next one” in games now it feels good to be presented with a title that screams to be played over and over again.  At first the game feels a bit punishing (even on normal difficulty), but as you spend time with Bayonetta, you quickly realize the adjustments you need to make to perform better.  The action never feels unfair and offers a slew of difficulty levels to allow the player to adjust the experience. 

It has been quite some time since I’ve felt this much satisfaction completing a game.  Not since Devil May Cry 3 has an action game brought a smile to my face like Bayonetta has.  The story may be a throwaway but the action and main character more than make up for a subpar narrative experience.  If you enjoy action games you owe it to yourself to spend some time with my favorite hair witch.

Pros: Satisfying, complex combat system, fun and witty main character.

Cons: The narrative is terrible. You won’t like this if you already hate action games.



[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/fightingevolution/cover.jpg[/floatleft]I’ve been a 2D fighting fan for as long as I can remember. Some of my fondest arcade and home console moments have come in the form of one 2D fighter or another in the last 17 years that I’ve been gaming. When I heard that Capcom was making a game that featured a collection of characters across five games, I was truly floored. I had played the [i]Marvel vs. Capcom[/i] and [i]Capcom vs. SNK[/i] series into the ground, and I was really looking for a different kind of collectionA

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/residentevil4/cover.jpg[/floatleft]Capcom’s [i]Resident Evil[/i] series dates back to 1996 with the original release of [i]Resident Evil[/i] on the PlayStation. Since then, the series has expanded to include 11 games (spanning six consoles)-as well as two movies-and has helped to shape the survival horror genre as gamers know it. [i]Resident Evil 4[/i] is the latest installment in a franchise that borders on epic.

[i]RE4[/i] has the player assuming the role of Leon Kennedy (remember him from [i]Resident Evil 2[/i]?), who has been sent to Spain to rescue the president’s daughter, Ashley. Little does Leon know, this is hardly an in-and-out sort of job. He finds himself caught in the middle of some very strange happenings as he travels through an expansive game world. It needs to be said that the plot of [i]RE4[/i] is enjoyable and well-told with cut scenes (rendered with the in-game engine), letters, and notes to help drive the story. I refuse to spoil any of the game, so you’ll have to play through and discover for yourself. Happily playing through the game to unravel the plot is as enjoyable as the story itself.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/residentevil4/ss16_thumb.jpg[/floatright][i]Resident Evil[/i] games have become notorious for their controls and gameplay. Past games in the series have made use of a fixed-camera system which created a frustrating experience in character movement. In addition, the character would only run when a button was pressed and had to stop moving to wield a weapon. The control scheme in [i]RE4[/i] remains unchanged-what has changed is the camera position. The camera now moves dynamically with Leon, always positioning itself behind him. Changing the camera makes the controls become intuitive and easy to adjust to. Beyond the camera change, combat has also evolved. Instead of the clichA

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/otogi2/cover.jpg[/floatleft]Artistic is not a word often used to describe a video game experience. Most people see games as simply entertainment and not art, but [i]Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors[/i] refutes that point. [i]Otogi 2[/i] is visually stunning, audibly incredible, and as entertaining as any other game currently on the market. The first [i]Otogi[/i] is best described as a sleeper hit. It was unexpectedly excellent and was met with exceptional reviews and a great deal of praise. Otogi 2 is no different from its predecessor.

The story presented in the original game is continued in [i]Otogi 2[/i]-simply put, demons are trying to take over the world. Raikoh (the hero of [i]Otogi[/i]) has again been asked to help vanquish them, and he is now met with the help of five other warriors. Each of the six characters in [i]Otogi 2[/i] has different strengths and weaknesses, adding a certain depth of strategy that was not available in the first game. There are 29 stages, grouped into sets of three or four “phases.” The player can only choose each character once per phase, so it becomes important to select characters who are the most suited to tackle the tasks of each stage. Each of the 29 stages also has the added benefit of being nearly completely destructible. At the end of each stage, you are given a rating for how much havoc you can inflict in each stage. Destroying everything in site is an amazingly satisfying gaming experience.

The weapons and upgrade system has also been updated. Each character now has a specific set of weapons at their disposal instead of the great plethora of different weapons that were available to Raikoh in the first [i]Otogi[/i]. Different spells are available to each character, upgrade orbs can be found scattered around the stages, and gold (which is earned in the stages) can be used to purchase weapons and other upgrades to increase strength, agility, and other character attributes. All of the different weapons, spells, and attribute upgrades really provide an expansive RPG feeling, which strongly complements a very fast action game.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/otogi2/ss05_thumb.jpg[/floatright]The gameplay in [i]Otogi 2[/i] is frantic and fast with minimal amounts of frame rate slowdown even with huge numbers of enemies on the screen. The particle effects are amazing. Petals falling from trees look incredibly real, ice and water are cool and smooth-looking, and the ripple effects on the surface of water are incredibly well done. The lighting and destructive effects are perfect, and the spell effects are mesmerizing. The game supports HDTV 480p, and on top of that Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is fully supported. The surround sound is amazing, and the soundtrack is rich and mythical. All of the effects are clean and interesting. It is amazing how well both the visuals and the soundtrack complement the spirit and the bravado of an amazing game play experience.

After all is said and done, [i]Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors[/i] is an incredible game that should not be overlooked. [i]Otogi 2[/i] is the epitome of art with amazing visuals and an engrossing soundtrack. If you like hack-and-slash games, enjoy a fast-paced experience, or simply like art, drop the $40 dollars on this game-and do it quickly. Due to disappointing sales, it has become hard to find and is no longer being stocked by EBGames or Gamestop*. If you can find [i]Otogi 2[/i], you need to snatch it up and bask in its beauty.

*[i]As of publishing this I know Huebner Oaks and a few other stores still have new and used copies of this game. You can check availability on the EBGames.com website.[/i]

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/metroidprime2/cover.jpg[/floatleft]With the amazing success of [i]Metroid Prime[/i] upon its release in 2002, it seemed natural that Retro Studios and Nintendo would develop a sequel. What gamers got was a sequel to end all sequels. [i]Metroid Prime 2: Echoes[/i] takes everything amazing about [i]Metroid Prime[/i] and expands it to make it better. [i]Echoes[/i] is bigger and better in every single way, proving definitively that Retro Studios and Nintendo do not disappoint.

The story is simple: you play a bounty hunter named Samus Aran who is regularly contracted to do various missions around the galaxy. Samus has been asked to locate and assist a group of Federation Troopers who have chased a group of Space Pirates to the planet Aether. As Samus enters the planet’s atmosphere, her ship is damaged. As she begins to explore Aether, she uncovers information about the Federation Troopers and ultimately finds that the planet is split into two dimensions, the Light World and the Dark World. These two dimensions are also caught in a constant state of war. Samus is asked by the Luminoth (creatures inhabiting the Light World) to help vanquish the evil Ing (Dark World creatures) and restore peace to Aether. This all seems simple enough until you realize that in order to go about helping the Luminoth,, Samus must travel back and forth between the Light and Dark Worlds.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/metroidprime2/ss13_thumb.jpg[/floatright]Firstly, this game is aesthetically gorgeous. Instead of simply updating the graphics engine used in [i]Metroid Prime[/i], Retro Studios made the decision to build a new engine from the ground up. The particle effects are better, lighting is exceptional, and character and environment animations are smooth and clean. Cut scenes are rendered using the in-game engine and are simply awe-inspiring. The Light World is lush and diverse with swamps, sandy desert areas, and a very high-tech fortress. All of these different areas are pulled together so well that it really drives home the point that this is a beautiful and diverse planet. The Dark World is caustic and unfriendly and contrasts the Light World so completely. The game runs in Progressive Scan mode, and it is really an amazing visual experience.

The graphics are not the only thing that got a facelift-the sound was also updated. Effects down to the sound of Samus’s power blaster have all been redone, along with a slew of new enemy sounds and a brilliant new soundtrack. I was a bit disappointed that there was no 5.1 surround sound, but the Dolby Pro Logic II still sounds quite impressive.

As we all know, graphics and sound will not a game make. Luckily, the gameplay in [i]Echoes[/i] is just as fantastic as the scenery. The player guides Samus from behind the visor in her power suite, which creates a standard first-person perspective. The controls are exactly the same as those in the first [i]Prime[/i], and the major complaint about them has always been the inability to free look while moving. The controls are tight, responsive, and well-suited for the game despite the need to stand still to free look. The core of the gameplay revolves around exploring this new planet to collect various power-ups for Samus.

The game has a number of new beams, suits, visors, and missile/beam combos to collect as well as some returning favorites. [i]Metroid[/i] veterans may be sad to hear that the Wave beam and the Ice beam have been left out of [i]Echoes[/i] in favor of two new beams. These new beams, properly called the Light and Dark beams, add a very interesting dynamic to the game. Apart from allowing the player to open certain doors, these beams help to open portals so that Samus can move back and forth between the Light and Dark Worlds. In addition, most creatures have a weakness to one beam or the other, which adds yet another level of strategy to the gameplay. My only gripe is that the beams now come with an ammo limit, which has never been done previously in a [i]Metroid[/i] game. I found that I would often forget about the ammo restriction and fire away finding myself out of Light ammo in the worst possible moment. Once you adjust, the ammo limit isn’t really all that big of a problem, and ammo upgrades can be found hidden around the planet.

I would like to avoid spoiling the joy of uncovering new power-ups, so I will avoid disclosing any of the other additions to which Samus will have access. I will say that the new suits are incredible to look at, and the new missile/beam combo attacks are amazing. The number of new items and updated classic items really create a drive to play this game and find that next cool thing that Samus can use. The other driving factor is the abundance of cut scenes that Retro has added. These cut scenes are beautifully rendered using the in game graphics engine, and they are so incredible to watch. They really help to tie the game together nicely.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/metroidprime2/ss06_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]Beyond new power-ups, a new story, and gorgeous graphics and sound, [i]Echoes[/i] also boasts significantly more play time than [i]Prime[/i]. A first play-through of [i]Echoes[/i] will take anywhere from 18 to 20 hours without the use of a guide-possibly less if you are a [i]Metroid[/i] veteran. Even veterans should be warned, though, that this game is significantly harder than [i]Prime[/i]. The best way to describe the ramped-up difficulty is to say that the beginning of [i]Echoes[/i] is about as hard as halfway through [i]Prime[/i]. That is not to say that this game is impossible, but if you really hate playing the same boss over and over again, then you may want to reconsider this game.

There is one final thing to discuss concerning [i]Echoes[/i]: multiplayer. Retro Studios originally intended to include a multiplayer experience in the original [i]Prime[/i], but because of the time factor it was excluded. [i]Echoes[/i] now has a multiplayer mode which boasts the traditional Death Match as well as Bounty mode which entails stealing coins from another player every time you shoot them. Both of these modes are surprisingly fun to play, and using all of your [i]Metroid[/i] power-ups on human opponents is priceless. I found the multiplayer in Echoes to be a very refreshing change from the ridiculous amounts of [i]Halo[/i] that I’ve been playing recently.

The final verdict on this game is simple: buy it now. [i]Metroid Prime 2: Echoes[/i] is easily the best on the Gamecube to date. Every part of [i]Echoes[/i] is polished, beautiful, and engrossing. I was hooked from beginning to end despite the number of horrible deaths that Samus endured due to my inability to destroy certain boss characters. My recommendation is to grab this game, turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and prepare for and amazing experience.