Sunday, January 31, 2016

Special Announcement

A couple of days ago I logged onto my Gamefaqs account, which I hadn't been on in a couple of months, and discovered I had an email.  At first, I assumed it was from Gamefaqs, but as it turned out, it was actually an e-mail from an associate editor at Cubed3, a site that focuses on gaming and the like.  Anyhow, in the e-mail the editor had asked me if I was interested in writing for their site; it would be freelance but nevertheless it was an opportunity I had hoped was still possible, which it was.

After receiving another e-mail containing more information regarding how things would happen as well as documents that explained their review etiquette, I told my father about this and after some discussion he decided that it was okay for me to take this opportunity.

People, this is an exciting event, it really is, in a way, this will act as practice, experience, a taste of what I can expect in my future career as a gaming journalist; although there are some things I need to mention.  For starters, the reviews that I write for their site CANNOT be used on the blog or on Gamefaqs, I can post a link to the reviews that I write for them, but that's the extent they allow.  Secondly, they're based in the UK, meaning I have to use the British variations of words us Americans use (i.e. color [U.S.]- colour [U.K.]).

Like I said before, this is an exciting opportunity and I thank the Lord that he allowed me this once in a lifetime chance.  Again, it's freelance, nothing permeanent, meaning you'll still see the regular reviews that I publish on this blog, in addition to the links for the Cubed3 exclusive reviews.

2016, this is going to be a great year.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Score: A Breakdown of my Review Scoring System

For two years now, I have been reviewing video games, movies, and eventually television shows.  When the time comes for my next review I write down various notes that act as a guide for what the review will look like.  At the end of the notes, I write a number, a number which reflects my opinion on the title.  As someone who follows various reviewers and sites that cover different branches of media and entertainment, I've noticed that each of the sites and critics use their own scoring systems when rating titles or products.  Many gaming journalistic sites such as IGN, Gamespot, and Game Informer, among others, use a ten point rating scale when providing their final verdicts.  The late Roger Ebert used a four star rating system when he reviewed movies.  As a reviewer myself, one question that can pop up in a conversation with someone is why I use a ten point scale when reviewing different titles.

With a ten point rating scale, it allows for a simple, but effective means of providing a final verdict on the title I'm reviewing.  If you are a seasoned veteran of reviewing or someone who is just starting out, it's important to remember that the rating you give a title or product should not be the driving force of your review, it's your opinion that is the most significant part.  When you give the title a score, whether it be a number or letter, the score should be a reflection of the opinion you wrote, and not the other way around.  In the following piece, I will break down my scoring system and provide an explanation for each rating.

1- Awful, Not worth your time now or later
In my time as a writer, I have no given a title this rating and I do not plan to do so any time soon.  This score is only given to titles so bad that any possible redeeming qualities are scant and not too many.  An example of such a low rating would be a game I mentioned once before, Kawasaki Snowmobiles.  The game is pure junk, featuring poor controls which won't ensure success in a race but instead constant failure; subpar graphics that don't belong on the system it was released on, and AI opponents that are somehow perfect racing specimens compared to you, this is a game that taught my young self that yes, bad games do exist.  This is why I choose to primarily focus on titles that are good rather than those that are bad because it's much better to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

2- Terrible, Nearly Irredeemable
Any title that were to receive this rating would have to be bad in all areas, but if you look in the right spots, there are brief glimmers of promise amidst the sea of failure.  The best example of a title that would deserve the score is Burn-Up Scramble; this is a bad anime, yes, and one that gave the writer a raging headache once it was over due to the terribleness of it.  This is a title suffering from subpar writing, characters, and story, among other issues; yet, in rare cases there were moments in the show that weren't too bad and in those moments I thought the show could get better, but that wasn't the case.  Either way, a title that receives this score is not worth your time whatsoever.

3- Bad, Unrefined and Unfinished
Any title that receives this score is not worth your time; in fact, a title that receives a four or below is one I would not recommend picking up.  The only difference between this rating and the other two below it is that it is possible to finish the game or movie, albeit knowing that it could have been much worse, and at the very least there were moments that stood out, either because they were interesting or because they were so bad that they went around and came back out as good.

4- Subpar but Functioning
A title that receives this score means that the experience is riddled with various problems, but at the same time, however, it was still watchable or playable.  Aliens: Colonial Marines is a prime example; although the game is riddled with various flaws in its story, gameplay, and visual polish, it was still a game I managed to make it through because it functioned and there were some aspects of the game that weren't too bad.  Does this mean you should still play this game?  Not really, but you can take comfort in the fact that the game isn't an entirely terrible experience.

5- Average, Mediocre
Although some reviewers consider a seven to be average, I think five is the more acceptable number.  While the overall title is somewhat competent in its design, it is still filled with various issues.  Games such as Epic Mickey 2 and The Conduit received this score because they did function properly, most of the time, and there were moments where you could tell that the game could have been truly good.  Unfortunately, this was not the case due to various issues that plagued these titles, resulting in the final rating they received.  A game or movie that receives this score is one you should only try is you can find it a very cheap price or possibly rent.

6- Decent and Somewhat Enjoyable
This score is interesting; what it means is that the title has flaws, yes, but there is still fun and moments of entertainment to be found in it.  While it is the weakest entry in the series due to a number of issues, Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed had some entertainment value and other redeeming factors that made it a game you could still enjoy.  Could the movie or game that receives this score been better?  Certainly, but you can take solace knowing that there is entertainment to be found from the title and you're not going to feel any buyer's remorse about picking up the title.

7- Good
When a title receives this score, it means the experience is enjoyable and for the most part, solid; there are issues, maybe even major ones, but you still realize that this is something you would recommend to others.  Red Faction Guerrilla and Dead Island are interesting cases, as these are games that have problems, but I was able to overlook the flaws during my time with these games and enjoy them.  In short, a title that receives this score is good, fun, and a relatively enjoyable experience.

8- Very Good and Well Made
This is where it gets good; any title that receives this score is one that is certainly worth picking up.  It's a very enjoyable experience and one that is worth recommendation.  There are some problems with the title, but such issues are outweighed by the positives.  Call of Duty: Black Ops, while largely familiar territory in its gameplay design, is still a compelling game due to its intriguing story and characters of the story mode, fun set-piece moments during the campaign, and the highly replayable zombies' mode.

9- Great, Thoroughly Entertaining
A title that receives this score is fantastic experience from beginning to end; nearly every aspect, whether it be story, gameplay, visuals, or effects if it's a movie, is well polished, resulting in a compelling experience.  Some flaws do hold this game back from receiving a ten, but that does not stop me from encouraging readers to definitely pick this title up when they have the chance.

10- Excellent, A Top Notch Title
This number is the last one on the rating scale and the only number that is rarely seen.  This score is only given to titles that deliver a great experience from beginning to end; any possible flaws the title may have are minor ones that can be easily overlooked.  So far, only three titles have received this score, two of which were already reviewed, while the third one, Batman: Arkham City, was reviewed back in February of last year, but the review has not been published due to reasons I don't know why.  It's not that the review was poorly written, but the reason the game received this score was because it raised the bar set by its predecessor, Batman: Arkham Asylum, by not only having an open world for Batman to explore, but for also having great combat and stealth mechanics, a compelling story, and visuals that made you feel like you were in a rundown city.  In 2016, you'll have to wait and see if any more games or movies will be receiving this score.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame (Wii) Review

When it comes to comics, one of the most iconic figures in the medium has to be Batman.  As the son of wealthy parents who were murdered right before his eyes, Bruce Wayne decided to commit the remainder of his life to fighting crime on the streets of Gotham City.  Although a majority of the comics, film, and television interpretations have portrayed him in a serious matter, there have been times where he was portrayed in a more light-hearted manner.  There is, of course, the 1960's TV show but a more recent example would be the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, in which the Caped Crusader teams up with various heroes from different DC Comics properties in order to take down the villain of the current episode.  In 2010, developer Wayforward Studios, the same studio responsible for Aliens: Infestation, created a game based off of the show that was released for the Wii and DS.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold's story follows the format of the TV show by having four episodes, each with their own, individual storyline.  The first episode follows Batman and Robin as they try to track down Catman and Catwoman, who have teamed up to find and steal an ancient jewel that can transform people into cats.  The next episode involves Batman and the new Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, travelling to Science Island, which was founded by the original Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, to stop Gorilla Grodd, who has made his way to the island to try and secure control of the technology being developed on the island.  The third episode has Batman working with Hawkman to track down Gentleman Ghost and the last episode is Batman and recent Green Lantern member Guy Gardner tracking down Starro and Mongul after the two were accidentally released by Guy after hearing taunting from a captured Mongul.

As a whole, the different stories of the episodes are compelling and the scenarios and writing make these episodes feel like ones you would see in the show.  The show's best aspect is how it uses different heroes and villains a lot of people haven't even heard of, which is utilized well in this game.  Some of the heroes and villains are recognizable like Robin, Hawkman, and Two Face, and Catwoman, but there are also a share of heroes and villains that are a bit more obscure, such as Blue Beetle, Catman, and Starro.  Additionally, two of the episodes share similar subject matter about how the particular partner doesn't feel like they can't live up to the namesake of the role they have take up.  The heroes, in question, are Blue Beetle and Guy Gardner and over the course of these episodes, and through Batman's conversations with them, they learn to be confident and do their best, knowing that it's up to them to decide who they are.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-em up.  For a majority of the game, Batman and whoever he is teamed up with will make their way through the episode's levels, beating up various thugs along the way.  Before each level, you can choose either Batman or the current episode's hero, and you'll want to try out the other heroes besides Batman as each one has their own moves and gadgets they an use during fights.  Batman has access to various gadgets including batarangs, explosive charges, and gauntlets that increase his damage if you hold down the z button; he can also purchase new gadgets as well as upgrade ones he already has in between levels.  The different allies that help Batman also have their own gadgets; Blue Beetle can utilize his suit for different purposes, Robin carries similar gadgets to Batman's, Hawkman's gadgets, with the exception of his spear, act as either health or combat boosts, and Guy Gardner can summon different objects using his Green Lantern ring.  Like with Batman's gadgets, all of the respective heroes' gadgets can be upgraded using coins obtained from either defeating enemies or by finding money bonuses hidden in every level.

Regardless of who you choose to play as, Batman and his current ally face a limited variety of enemies which include standard thugs, thugs armed with a weapon such as a machine gun or a sword, floating mines, and a special enemy type every so often.  At the end of an episode, there is a fight with the villain of that episode, and these fights are fun as each boss has their own tactics and requires different attacks in order to defeat them.  One of my favorite fights in the game is the fight with Starro, as the fight plays out like a 2D shooter a' la Gradius.  Although during the fight against Mongul I encountered a bizarre glitch in which he got frozen in the middle of a transition to his next attack, and my partner and I just punched him repeatedly until the fight was over.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame is fun to play, but there are a couple of issues.  The biggest issue is the game's repetitive nature; since you spend a large part of the game beating up thugs and other enemy types, monotony will sink in.  There are moments here and there in which you do something else besides beat up goons, like the boss fights, but such moments are few and far between.  Also, while the AI for your ally is alright during fights, in the platforming parts of a level, the AI can get incompetent.  Frequently, they will fail to keep up with you or they will get stuck on a platform, and when the platform is over lava, it means they're going to die and respawn.  Speaking of which, dying in this game isn't much of an issue since the only penalty is losing one hundred coins and you respawn near where you died.

From a visual standpoint, Wayforward Studios did a great job at capturing the look and animation style of the show.  Characters and environments have a 2D look while the backgrounds are in 3D, and it looks solid.  One minor complaint I do have with the graphics are the stiff looking models used in the dialogue exchanges, which can look laughable due to the stilted facial movements.  The voice acting is good; nearly every actor from the animated show reprises their role, including Diedrich Bader, who voices Batman, Grey DeLisle, Will Friedle, and John DiMaggio, among others.  Equally good is the music, which is very energetic and a majority of the music has a jazzy feel to it.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame is a solid beat-em up that fans of the show will enjoy since this game successfully emulates the writing, storytelling, and animation the show utilizes.  For those that aren't fans of the show, the game is still enjoyable thanks to combat that is fun due to the different characters to play as and the various gadgets that they can use.

Final Score: 7/10

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Epic Mickey Review

Last year, I reviewed Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, a game that may have nailed the look and feel of Disney animation, but suffered from a paper-thin story and gameplay that could be fun on occasion but was largely tedious due to forced co-operation with an AI partner that was dumb and quests that were too reliant on finding items for someone.  In late July of last year I picked up a few Wii games, one of which was the first Epic Mickey.  Since I never had the chance to play the game when it first came out I was excited by the fact that I finally owned this game; although I still had some skepticism about whether the game would be good or not after playing the lackluster sequel.

Epic Mickey followed Mickey Mouse, who notices something strange going on with his mirror.  When investigating the mirror he notices another room on the other side, and he steps through the mirror to find a workshop occupied by the wizard from the Sorcerer's Apprentice section of the movie Fantasia.  Mickey notices a map the wizard is applying pain to, and when the wizard leaves the room, Mickey sneaks in and starts to apply paint to the map before accidentally spilling the entire canister of paint, which causes an ink monster to start forming that tries to grab Mickey, but he manages to escape.  Sometime after this event, the monster returns and manages to find and capture Mickey, taking him into the map, which is actually a world called Wasteland.  Mickey finds out that the creature he created is called the Phantom Blot and that it is working together with the Mad Doctor and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who is helping the two due to the jealousy he has regarding Mickey.  After escaping captivity, Mickey escapes and learns that the paint he spilled all over Wasteland has caused massive damage to the land.  Knowing that he is the one responsible for this mess, Mickey sets out on a quest to find Oswald and try to convince him to help find and stop the Mad Doctor and the Phantom Blot from carrying out their evil plans.

While it takes a couple of hours for events to kick into gear, Epic Mickey's story is nevertheless a moderately compelling tale with different themes, one of which is the theme of learning to stop being jealous of those more successful than you and learning to work with this person, regardless of their stance in society.  This theme ties directly to Oswald; in reality, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was Walt Disney's first creation, but due to rights issues, Walt lost the rights to Oswald and he ended up creating Mickey Mouse, who became an icon of animation while Oswald faded into obscurity.  This game reintroduced Oswald into today's society and since then he has been considered part of the Disney franchise.  This is good because Oswald is the most memorable part of the entire game, you understand why he feels jealous about Mickey as well as his decision to help the bad guys at the beginning of the game.

Although the story is enjoyable and one could see it working as an animated, feature length Disney film; the one disappointing aspect of Epic Mickey's story is the Mad Doctor.  His potential as an interesting bad guy is wasted as he is absent for a large portion of the game and his eventual defeat later on is anticlimactic.

Since Epic Mickey 2's gameplay was of the same style of this game, then it means that similarities between the two installments are present.  The gameplay is a mixture of platforming, puzzle solving, combat, and exploration with a bit of morality choice mixed in.  Throughout the game, Mickey will travel to various worlds inspired by the films, cartoons, and theme park attractions of Disney, and each of these worlds has quests to complete, puzzles to solve, and bad guys to defeat.  Yet, in certain regards, Epic Mickey's gameplay is better than the sequel's, and it's not because there isn't a moronic AI partner Mickey is partnered up with; rather, it's in quest progression that the game fares better than the follow-up.  In Epic Mickey 2, there was no real purpose to completing the side quests as the rewards were meager and the items you were required to find were normally in a different world that you wouldn't reach for a while.  Fortunately, this game's side quests have a purpose since the rewards are helpful and the items needed by the quest giver can normally found within the current level.  Even though the side quests are still reliant on having you find a certain number of items, main quests not as much, I didn't mind doing these tasks most of the time.

When Mickey has to travel to another world, he jumps into a film projector that drops him into a side-scrolling level based off of a segment from an old Disney cartoon.  Although most of the levels are short they are nevertheless fun to navigate, especially when jumping through or over sections based off of a particular moment in the cartoon.

One of Epic Mickey 2's positives was the emphasis the game put on the decisions you made when confronting enemies and bosses or when helping people out, all of which still holds true in the game.  Like in the sequel, Mickey wields a paintbrush that sprays paint and thinner, depending on what button you push.  Paint restores missing sections of the environment and it can make foes friendly, while thinner dissolves environmental objects and enemies.  Depending on how you use paint and thinner and also how you decide to help the various characters you meet in Wasteland, Mickey will either be viewed in either a positive or negative light.  It's an interesting concept that helps give the gameplay a sense of uniqueness, and for a large portion of the time, the choices you make can have a significant effect, but not always.  There are certain times when choosing to do things the right way is quite simple and not entirely fulfilling, and then there are times when it can be exploitable.

Hidden within most levels, particularly the puzzle areas, are creatures called Gremlins (no, not those Gremlins) that can help Mickey by fixing up various contraptions or completing puzzles for him after they have been freed from the cage they are being held in.  Because of how easy these guys can be easy to find and free, it removes a lot of the complexity some of the puzzles offer since you know that somewhere in the room of the puzzle there may be a Gremlin to free.

If there's one positive aspect that both of the Epic Mickey games share, it's their visual style.  Epic Mickey's graphics do a great job at capturing the look and feel of a Disney cartoon, but some of the game's levels do have a mildly dark and twisted vibe to them that are slightly reminiscent of Tim Burton's visual style seen in most of his movies. When it comes to voice acting, it's an interesting scenario; instead of using spoken dialogue, all of the characters, save for the narrator, speak in grunts and mumbles.  This direction in voice work is one I don't mind as it further carries the feeling of an old cartoon that the game's visual style emulates.  The music is very good and it fits the respective tone of each level.

Epic Mickey does have issues; the story has a rocky start and the Mad Doctor's potential villainy is wasted due to a lack of significant screentime.  The gameplay, for the most part, is a lot more fun in execution than the sequel's since it lacks the forced co-op and it's also not as tedious as Epic Mickey 2.  Although the game's morality system, while fairly developed, can sometimes come across as not entirely fulfilling or in certain cases, it can feel like cheating.  Nevertheless, this was a game I still enjoyed, despite the flaws present.

Final Score: 7/10

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings Review

Indiana Jones is a series of films centered on protagonist Indiana Jones and his quests to find mysterious artifacts that the various antagonists of the films are also looking for.  In these films, Indiana Jones travels to different locations around the world, fights bad guys, escapes perilous situations, and encounters women who end up becoming his love interest during the films.  With a set-up like that, it should come as no surprise that there have been multiple games made based off of the film series, dating far back to the era of the Atari 2600.  This game has an interesting history; initially, the game was planned to be an Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 release, but development issues led to the game being shelved by its original developer, LucasArts.  Sometime after the game had been shelved, it was picked up developer A2M (Artificial Mind and Movement), who reworked the game into a title that would be released on the Wii and PlayStation 2 in 2009.

Staff of Kings follows series protagonist Indiana Jones, who is looking for the Staff of Moses before Magnus Voller, a former friend of Indy's, can get his hands on the staff and allow the Nazis to use it for their sinister plans.  Indiana's quest to find the staff takes him to different locations around the world, including San Francisco, Panama, and Nepal.  Along the way, he encounters a photojournalist named Maggie O' Mally, who gets involved in Indiana's quest to find the staff.

If this story summarization sounds too brief, it's because the game's plot is quite simplistic.  The plot points and character motivations feel like the story writers are just filling in the checkmarks of an Indiana Jones plot without taking the time to flesh out to develop these story events and characters.  To the game's credit, it does have the feeling of an Indiana Jones movie as Indiana does travel around the world and a couple of moments in the game are fairly interesting, and while the secondary characters are forgettable, Indiana Jones is the same character he was in the films, a charming, likeable person who likes the thrill of adventure.

As Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is a title that was released for the Wii, there are motion controls involved, and they're hit or miss, mostly miss.  There's a large selection of different motions that involve the Wii remote and nunchuck.  Some of these are cool, such as using Indy's whip by holding the B button and flicking the remote and at the end of one level you fly a plane by holding the Wii remote like a joystick and steer the plane by tilting the remote.  Certain sections of the game's levels require Indy's gun to be used in similar fashion to a light gun in on rails shooters, but aside from these actions the remainder of the motion control usages come off as gimmicky and unnecessary.  Punching, for example, is handled by thrusting the remote and nunchuck in different directions, which sounds fun, but most of the time when you throw a punch the game may not read your motions or it will misinterpret one of your swipes as a different swipe than the one you intended to pull off.  Yet, the worst implementation comes from the game's multiple quick time events in which you have to flail the nunchuck and remote like a heavy metal drummer in order to ensure Indiana Jones doesn't get crushed by falling debris.

Staff of Kings' gameplay is a mixture of platforming, puzzle solving, punching and shooting, and while this does ensure that the gameplay is varied, nearly every aspect has their own varying degrees of issues.  To begin with, some of the levels suffer from an overreliance on linear hallways and corridors that only act as a means to guide Indy to the next combat or puzzle area.  Certain sections of the game will require the usage of platforming, which works fine and maneuvering Indiana across ledges that may or may not be over bottomless pits can be somewhat tense at times; although the camera can be finicky in these parts, and this can potentially cause Indiana to fall and die due to the lack of a good perspective.  Then there's combat, which is the weakest part of the gameplay due to not just the finicky motion controls, but also the poor enemy AI.  In most fights, enemies stand around and wait for you to start fighting with one of them and even after the fighting starts enemies will just circle around you as you're beating up one of their men.  Enemies will try to attack you or throw an object at you from time to time, but otherwise, they're dumb thugs.  Additionally, the subpar AI carries over into the shooter segments, with enemies using predictable attack patterns and regularly taking cover next to something combustible that Indiana can shoot to quickly dispatch nearby goons.  The one positive aspect of combat is being able to use objects strewn about a room to dispose of thugs.

While the gameplay has its share of issues, one aspect that doesn't have as many problems as the other parts of the gameplay is the puzzle solving.  Throughout the game, Indiana Jones will have to solve a variety of puzzles in order to obtain something or get himself out of a room.  Some of these puzzles are very simplistic, but every other puzzle is fun and those puzzles feel like ones Indiana Jones would encounter in a temple and have to solve.

Besides having flawed gameplay, the Staff of Kings also has a short length; beating the game can take around five to six hours; though there is an incentive to replaying previous levels.  Hidden in most levels are collectibles that can unlock a slew of extra content including trailers for the Indiana Jones films, concept art, alternate skins, and an old point and click game called Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis; surprisingly, this bonus game is a lot more fun to play than the main game.  Besides the various unlocks there's also a co-op mode in which Indiana Jones teams up with his father, Henry Jones, and various competitive multiplayer options as well.

Visually, the game is rather bland; it looks and feels less like a Wii game and more like a mid-cycle PS2 game with its average looking environments and low-res character models; though the game does an adequate job at capturing the scale and size of certain levels and situations in the game.  In terms of voice acting, the actor who voices Indiana Jones does a good job sounding like Harrison Ford, the actor who plays Indiana Jones in the movies, and the remainder of the voice cast does a decent job with their characters.  While the music is lifted from the films, it's still good and it fits the tone of the game.

To conclude, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is fairly mediocre.  The story is nothing special, the controls are too reliant on gimmicks, and though the gameplay had the potential to be good, it falls short due to a number of different issues.  While the game does have its moments and the unlockable Fate of Atlantis is fun, this isn't enough to warrant the recommendation of a purchase.

Final Score: 5/10