November 2009

SB Asks: Gaming thanks

November 24, 2009

So it’s the time of year when people give thanks for things.  That got us thinking: as much as we criticize and scrutinize every move developers and publishers make, we don’t take much time to appreciate when they do things right.  So now’s the time: what have they done that you’re thankful for this year?  We want to know!

NBA Unrivaled

November 24, 2009

This was a remake no one was expecting.

Though there has been nothing official from Tecmo, NBA Unrivaled is obviously a remake of the company’s vintage basketball title.  Tecmo NBA Basketball was once a genre leader, but I mean once literally, and it was in 1991.  Since then it’s been outclassed by the Jam, Live and 2K series, among others.

Regardless, the NES title’s gameplay is what you’re getting here.  Simple movement and shots are combined with short cutscenes for flashy shots and fouls.  Everything else has been updated, including rosters and graphics. Unfortunately, everything else has been updated.  The nostalgia factor is gone, and seeing really repetitive cheerleader animations and really glitchy movement in HD is just painful.  What’s left is the gameplay, and it doesn’t hold up: shooting doesn’t correlate with skills, backcourt violations and undetected 3-pointers are all too common and even small guys can trigger super dunks.  The original used cutscenes to show dunks in detail, and it was an interesting way around a hardware limitations.  Unrivaled certainly doesn’t push the PS3.

Of course, this isn’t to say the game’s horrible.  Playing with a friend is somewhat entertaining, but the single player mode, in which you play every team with every team, is just not worth the time commitment.

A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games (you have to give them credit for the name) made a fun game to try out.  There’s just not enough replay value to justify investing in the full version. (Especially while it’s still $15.)

Pros: Faithful gameplay recreation
Cons: No nostalgia factor, gameplay doesn’t hold up

Demon’s Souls

November 24, 2009

Can a brutally hard game that relies upon nuance capture the attention of the average gamer? Demon’s Souls asks this question by presenting a visually stunning game that is unforgiving but fair, while putting the sense of accomplishment back into video games.

In the kingdom of Boletaria an ancient evil has been awakened by a greedy king. The Old One has returned bringing a dense fog full of demons bent on harvesting the souls of the living. As an adventurer you journey to this cursed land, attempting to take these souls back; working with the powers in the Nexus you attempt to reseal the evil and bring peace to the land.

The story behind Demon’s Souls is really a façade to present a remarkable game. It may not sound like much but in the game it feels grander due to the set pieces and presentation of the levels. It brings to mind Shadow of the Colossus, which had a brief story but was presented with such style you forgave it. Voice acting is hit-or-miss and does become cliché at times, but overall it helps fill out the overarching world.

The true brunt of the game lies in its amazing gameplay that is extremely tough at the same time. Not just tough, but frustratingly hard, especially for the average gamer. Hearkening back to the old side scrollers where you died and had to start the entire level over, this game is brutal in that you eventually memorize complete levels and enemy locations as you are constantly are forced to replay them. Every enemy presents a challenge until you fully explore how they act and figure out the trick to getting past them. And while this may sound relentless and not fun, the game kills you because you deserved it; death is really treated like a learning experience, at first you may feel cheated but soon you realize you died because you did something stupid or just plain let your guard down. But the closer you get to the end of a level the more of a sense of accomplishment you get, similar to finally figuring out one of the Colossus’s weakness in the already mentioned Shadow of the Colossus.

The real time action fighting varies because of so many characteristics; are you using your sword two handed or one handed? Are you using a piercing attack or a slashing motion? How much does your weapon weigh, and how is your agility compared to it? For each of these scenarios just swinging a weapon has different results, and to truly take out an enemy you need to use all of the tools available to you to accomplish it. Can you dodge in enough time? Or is your armor making you slower? Can you time their attack so you can parry it? Unfortunately the fighting is hampered by a lackluster lock-on system that has a short reach and is down-right frustrating in confined spaces; many times I died strictly because of this feature not being as responsive as I would have liked.

Luckily by killing demons you can harvest souls to improve your character and buy better weapons or magic. These souls are a valuable commodity since you lose them if you die during a level. When you start the level over all enemies respawn and you can attempt to make it back to your blood stain to regain these lost souls, but if you don’t make it they are gone permanently. The customization of your character is a very nice system as you choose specific stats to improve with souls, making initial classes superfluous as you build your character the way you feel is best. In addition if you don’t like the investment in a particular stat you can refund it to try another.

Usually for an action RPG multiplayer isn’t an option, but Atlus threw in a very interesting attempt to link gamers together. When you play a level, you see the silhouettes and blood stains of other players as well as read messages left by them. For a noble concept, the actual implementation is either hit-or-miss; by touching their blood stains you can be clued in to enemy locations or see what not to do in an encounter, but as mentioned earlier, you probably have already been around that corner at least once. Similarly messages left by other players are meant to be helpful, such as warnings or tips, but the more I played the more I got bad advice and messages begging for help. Each message can be rated, and if it gets a positive response then the person who left it gets a health bonus; so I ended up seeing too many “recommend my message” messages, which defeated the point. It is possible to invite gamers into your session and fight together, besides gaining possible help this doesn’t offer much more of a benefit. Once you get to higher levels, other players can forcibly enter your world and attack you. This proves to be one of the best implementations of the multiplayer as you are constantly on the lookout for real world enemies.

Put frankly, Demon’s Souls is not a game for everyone. It is as difficult as it is rewarding, but only for those who are willing to devote time in acknowledging their mistakes and pushing on. It is a beautiful game that is unique in so many regards, but it probably is not accessible to the average gamer looking to play a straight-forward RPG. For all others the nuances, presentation, and customizable gameplay will be a welcome breath of fresh air… when they aren’t screaming at the screen.

: M for disturbing visuals and visceral action

Plays Like: Action RPGs

Pros: Beautiful, rewarding gameplay for dedicated players

Cons: Tough

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky is the latest in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. However, it is more like an expansion to Explorers of Darkness and Time than it is a new entry in the series. It adds a few extras to the mix, but not enough to justify a second purchase if you’ve already played through Explorers of Darkness or Time.

Explorers of Sky is played the same way as the previous games in the series. You’ll take on jobs from Wigglytuff’s Guild, and then while exploring ‘mystery dungeons’ you will attempt to complete the missions. A mystery dungeon is a dungeon that is randomly generated each time you enter one. This lends itself to the possibility of easier travel than a man-made dungeon because you’ll often descend a floor and find you don’t need to search for the stairs to the next floor- they’re in the same room as you. However, it does add replayability since the dungeons will be different every time you go into them. In the end, this is a good thing because you will be repeatedly descending into every single dungeon in the game numerous times.

You will control one Pokémon. This Pokémon is chosen for you from a group of 19 based on how you answer a short personality test when you begin the game. After a Pokémon has been selected, you’ll get to pick a partner from the remaining starting Pokémon. You and your partner will be inseparable through the rest of the game, and if either of you get knocked out in a dungeon you’ll be penalized half of your items and money. Eventually you’ll also be able to recruit various other Pokémon you defeat in the dungeons. You can have up to two recruits join you and your partner in the dungeons. Unfortunately, the dungeon designs and the AI of the Pokémon tend to work against having a team of any size larger than two; in the majority of fights you’ll only need two Pokémon, and in the ones that you do need more teammates, the extras will invariably get stuck in a corridor and be useless in the fight anyway.

You can choose to simply follow the storyline of the game or take on jobs, collect items, and grind your Pokémon to higher and higher levels before continuing the story. No matter how urgent the next story mission seems, you can always put it off to explore a random dungeon or rescue a lost Pokémon.

The biggest addition to Explorers of Sky is the inclusion of a series of five special episodes that you can play through in addition to the main story. Each special episode places you in the shoes of another member of Wigglytuff’s Guild and allows you to participate in an important period of their lives. This gives you more insight into the personality of each guild member as well as showing more of the history of the Guild featured in the main story.

A couple new Pokémon are added to Explorers of Sky, increasing its Pokémon count to 492. Some new optional dungeons have been added as well, giving you more of a challenge at higher levels. The last addition to Explorers of Sky is Spinda’s Café, an underground area in Treasure Town that you can go to and receive new jobs, take part in some prize drawings for new items, and also increase the potency of the many gummies (items that increase the intelligence of your teammates) you’ll collect throughout your adventures.

While there are quite a few additions to Explorers of Sky, unless you are a hardcore fan of Pokémon or mystery dungeon games, it just isn’t enough to justify another purchase before the price drops. If you never played Explorers of Darkness or Time, but were thinking of getting one of them, it may be worth getting Explorers of Sky instead for the extra content. Explorers of Sky feels like a premium version of Explorers of Darkness and Time. It’s just a shame that over a year after the release of Explorers of Darkness and Time we get a retread of the same story with a few bonuses added instead of a completely new game.

ESRB: E for Everyone- If you can play Pokémon, you can play this.

Plays Like: Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Dungeon; Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness; Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time

Pros: Special episodes are enjoyable glimpses into the main NPCs; Music is better than standard Pokémon games

Cons: Same story as previous Mystery Dungeon games; Pokémon are very similar in use and stats; hard for a team of more than two to actually be used

Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is not a bad game. It is a horrible game. It’s also not a buggy or incomplete game. It feels like it was finished about 13 years ago–for the Playstation 1. Valhalla Knights wouldn’t even have been a good game on the Playstation, but it would have been more tolerable on it. On the Wii, it is simply an unforgivable game.

Valhalla Knights doesn’t really explain its story very well, so I’ll explain it better for you here. A thousand years ago civilization was almost destroyed by a war between monsters and the four races of Eldar- human, dwarf, elf, and halfling. An alliance of the four races managed to drive off the hordes of monsters. Soon after, however, conflicts between the races soon ended the alliance and they all secluded themselves from each other. Now, one thousand years later, the monsters are returning to finish what they started. This story isn’t that intriguing to begin with, but the fact that it is never really explained very well in the game makes it even worse.

Your part in the story is to reunite the four races to combat this returning menace. However, the character you create and customize, the character you’ll spend hours building up, will disappear halfway through the game. Once you unite the races, you’ll be told to pick a wife from one of them. This choice will influence the entirety of the rest of the game for you because once you reach this point decades will suddenly pass and you’ll continue playing as the child of your character. The abilities and stats for your child are directly dependent upon what race they are, be it human/elf, human/dwarf, human/halfling, or full human. The problem is you are never told this, so you won’t find out until it is too late to change anything.

There is no tutorial to speak of in Valhalla Knights, and there is absolutely no direction given in the game. You will be told to do something and thereafter will be expected to remember exactly what it is and exactly where you need to go to do it. No hints, no reminders, no breadcrumb trail. There is also no map to speak of, other than a minimap showing vague outlines of the current area you are located in. Additionally, when you die, and you will die…repeatedly…because the difficulty ramps up insanely fast, you are sent back to the last town you visited. You will then have to traverse the entirety of the world back to where you were trying to go. And it will be a long journey back because the distances you have to travel in this game are vast.

The controls are awful and laggy. If you push the attack button three or four times while attempting to attack an enemy, you will slowly perform those attacks in the direction you were facing when you hit them, regardless of where the enemy has moved and with no option to stop the attacks. There is a lock-on option, but it makes you so slow and vulnerable to attack that it’s almost worthless.

The graphics are bad…real bad. They look as if they were made for the original Playstation, but even then they wouldn’t look good because of how bland everything is. The landscapes are uniformly grey, the buildings are grey, the trees are dead and grey, and the enemies are grey.

The soundtrack is the best part of the game simply because it isn’t grating or annoying; however, it is still subpar compared to the soundtracks of other RPGs. The voice acting is appalling; luckily there isn’t much of it. The worst part of the sound design is definitely the sound effects. Nothing sounds remotely close to what it should sound like. Dragons roar like squealing pigs (seriously); death screams sound like laughter; running people thud like horses galloping across stone; and birds flapping their wings sound like plastic bags rustling. Yes, the sound effects are that horrific.

Finally we come to the multiplayer. You can link up with a friend to play Valhalla Knights co-op by using friend codes, though why you would want to subject a friend to this kind of misery remains to be seen.

There are surprisingly few RPGs on the Wii, but despite this, no one should ever consider this a game worth playing. The entire thing is ugly and confusing, and there are absolutely no redeeming qualities about it.

ESRB: T for Alcohol, blood, and fantasy violence- if you can play any kind of action RPG fare, you can play this

Pros: With the right mindset, the sound effects are hilarious; You aren’t forced to play this game

Cons: Everything