Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review

The original Epic Mickey, released in 2010, was a surprise hit for a lot of people, it put an interesting twist on the character of Mickey by putting him in a land filled with long forgotten relics of Disney's past.  Not only that, but the game re-introduced a character not many people knew about, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and the gameplay featured an interesting concept involving paint and thinner, and the effects it could have on both the world and how characters viewed Mickey.  Despite having interest in the title, I never got the chance to play the first game when it came out, but I did manage to play the game's sequel.  This is unfortunate because Epic Mickey 2 isn't that good.
The story picks up some time after the events of the first game, the citizens of Wasteland, a world inhabited by characters forgotten by Disney, are repairing the place when earthquakes suddenly start happening.  The Mad Doctor, the main antagonist of the first game, shows up telling the citizens that he is a changed man and he wants to help the citizens repair Wasteland.  However, Gus the Gremlin and Oswald's girlfriend Ortensia doubt the believability of his statements, and they decide to summon Mickey back to the Wasteland to make sure the Mad Doctor isn't lying.
From there the story never really takes off, most of the time the story is pretty non-existent as a large portion focuses on Mickey and Oswald checking up on the different worlds within Wasteland, with the story occasionally popping up once in a while.  There a couple of plot twists that do happen, but they're pretty obvious, though I do like the plot twist revealing the Mad Doctor's real plan, it's interesting and he's also the best character in the game, as the other characters are bland and forgettable.  The problem with the revelation of the Mad Doctor's real scheme is that by the time his motivations are revealed, the game is over and the credits are rolling.  Not helping things is that even though things are wrapped up at the end of the game, there's some pointless sequel baiting in the form of an after-credits cliffhanger that felt highly unnecessary.
If you were someone who played the first game, then the gameplay will feel familiar to those players, but for someone like me, the gameplay has its share of good concepts, but they're flawed in execution.  The strongest point is the paint and thinner concept, by using Mickey's paintbrush, you can use thinner to erase environmental objects and enemies, but with paint, you can fill back in the missing spaces and make enemies friendly.  Not only that, but there are also some morality choices that come into play in certain parts of the game.  One example is when you come across an area filled with creatures called Blotlings, the person who runs this particular area wants you to use paint to make all of the creatures friendly, and by doing so, he opens up a shortcut that Mickey and Oswald can use.  Should you use thinner to erase the Blotlings, though, he'll criticize the two and won't open up the shortcut.  This is a unique concept that is executed well, though sometimes trying to take the "good" path for completing an objective can be tricky.
This is one of Epic Mickey 2's strong points, but where it falters is in its forced co-op and lazy quest structure.  If you play the game solo, the AI controls Oswald, the problem is that he is a complete idiot when playing single player.  At first, his AI seemed decent enough, but as I made my way through the game, Oswald started to become a hassle.  Often, Oswald will fail to keep up with you, barely help you during combat, or he won't respond to the button prompt that makes him perform a certain function to help you.
Instead of wielding a paintbrush, Oswald uses an electrical remote that can activate panels and be used to stun enemies, but as I just stated, most of the time he doesn't follow through with the command you issue him.  He is easily one of the dumbest AI partners I've worked with in a game, right up with O'Neal from Aliens: Colonial Marines.  If you're able to, play the game with a friend via the game's split-screen co-op as it makes things more manageable.
The other main problem is that the main and side quests are pretty generic in terms of structure.  Most of the main quests involve collecting or finding items in order to progress to the next area, the side quests are similar in that you're collecting items located in one of the various worlds to bring back to the quest giver.  Yet, the payoff for completing side-quests is rather lackluster and most of the items you do need to find are located in different, far off areas, and by the time you do find them, you'll have progressed so far in the story that there really isn't a point to returning to the quest giver for a reward.  As such, I ignored most of the side-quests and by doing so; it decreases the amount of time it takes to beat the game.  Epic Mickey 2 is a short game, because of the paper-thin story the game can fly by rather quickly, and it took me about five hours to beat the game.
While the gameplay is really flawed, there is another aspect to the gameplay besides the paint and thinner mechanic that I liked.  When traveling to another world, Mickey and Oswald have to jump into a film projector that transports them into a side-scrolling level based off an old Disney cartoon.  These parts of the game are quite fun as the inventive level design makes traversing these levels an enjoyable experience, and the way they handle key moments from these shorts by turning them into platforming sections was also very unique.
Visually, the game looks good and aesthetically it does a good job of making the world carry the feeling and vibes of Walt Disney animation, but also giving some of the worlds and a few of the characters a slight offbeat vibe to them.  The first game didn't feature any voice acting, instead characters spoke in grunts and mumbles, much like the acting in LEGO games before Lego Batman 2 came out.  In the sequel, characters are now fully voiced and the actors do a good job, though Frank Welker, who voices Oswald, makes him sound a lot like Fred from Scooby-Doo.  Previews for this game said that there would be full-on musical numbers in certain cutscenes, yet in the final product, the only character that actually sings is the Mad Doctor, none of the other characters break out into song during the cutscenes.
It really disappoints me that I haven't played the first game yet, considering the sequel is a lackluster follow-up.  The game has some good ideas and visually the game nails the Disney vibe, but a lazy story, a frustrating AI partner, and a lazy quest structure bog it all down.  If you are interested in playing this game, make sure that you've played the first one before this game.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Satoru Iwata Has Passed Away (1960-2015)

For those of you who don't know, the President and CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, passed away yesterday at the age of 55 as a result of an unexpected bile duct growth.  When I first learned about this last night, I was genuinely shocked because I wasn't aware of this condition he had, as he looked perfectly fine to me whenever he appeared on something such as the Nintendo Direct videos.  Still, this is an unfortunate loss in the gaming industry.  Currently, there has been no announcement made as to who will succeed Iwata as the new President of Nintendo.  Mr. Iwata, you shall not be forgotten.

Link to article:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gears of War: Judgment Review

In the world of entertainment, prequels have the opportunity to go back before the events of a main storyline to offer some insight on how certain characters got their start as well as to show the events that led up to the main storyline in a given series.  The results can be good, but sometimes the tale that is told isn't as interesting as it should have been.  Gears of War: Judgment is one of those examples, it's set before the events of the first game and it focuses on one of the other members of Delta Squad, Damon Baird, but as we find out, his tale isn't that interesting.

Set before the events of the first Gears of War, Judgment follows Damon Baird, who was originally a lieutenant and in charge of his own squad known as Kilo Squad, which includes Augustus Cole, who would later be part of Delta Squad, Garron Paduk, and Sofia Hendricks.  They are standing trial before Colonel Loomis after performing an unauthorized launch of a lightmass missile to try and kill a Locust general named Karn.  From there, the events that led up to the launching of the missile and the squad getting arrested is shown in flashback and it's where the majority of the game is set.  Besides the main story, there's also a bonus section called Aftermath that can be unlocked and it shows how Baird and Cole got their hands on a ship during the events of Gears of War 3.

Despite having an interesting narrative setup, Judgment's story never really takes full advantage of the narrative.  Not a single moment in the main campaign was memorable or interesting, and the main bad guy of the story, General Karn, is one of the most forgettable villains I have encountered in a video game.  The Aftermath section is also forgettable as well, unless you're familiar with the story of Gears of War 3, you may find yourself not that interested in the events that are happening, even though Aftermath does have some connections to Gears of War: Judgment.  A former Kilo Squad member joining Baird, Cole, and the third Carmine brother, Clayton Carmine, as they try to find a ship, and we learn what happened to certain other characters from Judgment as well.

The third person shooting is largely unchanged in this installment, but some changes have been made to both the controls and gameplay.  Swapping weapons is now handled by pressing the Y button and grenades are now thrown by pressing the left bumper, these controller changes aren't significant, but it does make the controls much more smoother.  The larger changes have been made to gameplay with the introduction of a ranking system and special modifiers called Declassified Testimonies.  At the beginning of a level, there will be glowing Gears symbol presenting an optional modifier that has varying conditions.  Choosing to accept it will result in one of many different modifications to the current level, including additional special enemies, being only allowed to use certain weapons, or having to beat the level before a time limit expires.

Accepting the challenge will also increase the rate at which you can earn stars, of which there are three to earn, and you can fill up the star meter by also killing enemies or for eliminating them in certain ways.  At the end of a level, everything gets tallied up and you earn stars, but you will get penalized if you went down and needed to be revived during the level.  This concept works and it provides a good incentive to replay levels.

Most of the enemy types and weapons are pulled from other games in the series, the only new enemy type introduced is a Locust soldier that transforms into a violent, rampaging beast once it is shot up enough.  Weapons-wise, there's a sniper rifle that has a large magazine clip and a grenade launcher that fires bouncing projectiles.

The gameplay is still enjoyable but where it falters is in the lack of variety during the main campaign.  Almost every level in this game is just one shoot-out after the other, outside of one level where you take control of a suit of armor that can easily lay waste to enemies, there are no other vehicle sections or anything else to keep the game varied.  In contrast to some of the changes mentioned to the gameplay, the Aftermath section does not feature a ranking system or use of the Declassified Testimonies, but it is still decently enjoyable.

As expected, the visuals of Gears of War: Judgment look really good, with no real problems at all.  A nice touch is that since the game is set only a few weeks into the war with the Locust, the world of Sera doesn't look entirely decimated, and some areas have noticeable bright colors to them.  Additionally, the voice acting is also good, and you can expect some fun one-liners to be spouted off by the members of Kilo Squad.

While Gears of War: Judgment  is still a good game, some certain aspects of the game, including the wasted potential of the story and lack of gameplay variety, make it feel like a step backwards when compared to the other games in the series.

Final Score: 7/10

Gears of War 2 Review

The Gears of War series is one of the most popular franchises to have debuted during the last generation of gaming.  A lot of people like the games for various reasons, including the gameplay, characters, and the fact that you get to use a gun that has a chainsaw attached to it for melee purposes.  In September last year, I picked up Gears of War 2 and Gears of War: Judgment, and with the recent unveiling of the next official installment in the series, Gears of War 4, I figure it would be a good time to take a look at these two games, starting with Gears of War 2.
The story of Gears of War 2 is set after the events of the first game, despite the apparent destruction of the Locust after the detonation of a lightmass bomb, war still continues on the planet Sera, not only that, but the COG army gets word that many cities scattered across Sera are disappearing.  A huge army of COG  soldiers gets sent out to fight the Locust army and to find an explanation for the unexplained disappearances of these cities.  One of the squads that is sent out is Delta Squad, led by Marcus Fenix, his squad discovers that the cities are being devoured by a giant worm the Locust are using, and their next target is the supposedly unsinkable city of Jacinto, which also serves as the COG army's primary base of operations.
The game's story is enjoyable and it does a good job at explaining the events of the first game and what led up to this huge war that is being fought, which is good for some people like myself, that haven't played the first game.  The story is a large-scale journey that sends Delta Squad to a variety of different locations around Sera, but it's also a personal journey for one of the members of Delta Squad, a man named Dom.  At a certain point in the story, Delta Squad learns that the Locust have been capturing humans for use in slavery, and Dom believes that one of those prisoners is his wife, who he hasn't seen since the Locust first showed up.  I won't spoil what happens when Dom does manage to find her, but it's a surprisingly strong emotional moment that is handled well.  All of the members of Delta Squad are likeable and they have their moments during the game, but there was one member of the squad, a rookie soldier named Benjamin Carmine, that annoyed me as it was made pretty obvious from the get-go that at a certain point in the story, something bad was going to happen to him.
The Gears of War games are best known for their third person, cover based shooting gameplay, and there's not denying that it is well done and fun.  Taking cover behind walls and pillars is crucial if you want to avoid being shot at and killed, but you won't always stay behind cover, as the various enemy types in the game will have you shifting your tactics around, depending on who you're currently fighting.  Enemies in this game include standard Locust soldiers, monkey-like Locust called Wretches, and more deadlier enemies such as the Kantus, who can move quickly and also revive any Locust soldiers that are near dead, or heavy Locust armed with gatling guns or shields and flails.  Sometimes you may even have to take down giant Locust creatures including Brumaks, which are the Locusts' version of a tank, or colossal, crab-like Corpsers.
Fortunately there's a solid variety of weapons to use and you'll generally want to try out the different weapons available.  Besides the always-reliable Lancer assault rifle, complete with a chainsaw attachment for finishing off Locust soldiers, other weapons include a single shot-firing weapon called the Hammerburst, a bow and arrow that shoots detonating rounds, and a grenade launcher called the Boomshot. 
The game does a good job at keeping things varied, so you aren't always just shooting enemies throughout the game.  At certain points, you'll take control of different vehicles, one of which looks like a monster truck and a tank combined into one vehicle, and there are some branching paths in a few of the levels.  Choosing one path will result in Delta Squad splitting up, with one half accomplishing a different objective and the other half of the squad their own objective.  The levels themselves can also shake things up as well.  One level involves Marcus and Delta Squad finding a way out of the giant worm after they are inadvertently trapped inside it, and inside the creature they need to dodge the creature's intestinal teeth, avoid drowning in the creature's blood, and do some heart surgery with the Lancer to kill the creature.
The game's visuals look great, and the game does a good job at showing off the large scale of the war between the humans and Locust in certain parts of the game, plus some of the environments are quite massive as well, such as the levels set underground.  Equally good is the voice acting and music, there's a lot of entertaining banter between the members of Delta Squad, and some of the squad members spout off some funny one liners during combat.
Gears of War 2 is a well made and enjoyable third person shooter thanks to its fun and varied gameplay, as well as the story, which shifts between focusing on the journey to put an end to a deadly enemy, but also serving as a personal journey for one of the members of Delta Squad.
Final Score: 8.5/10