Monday, May 30, 2016

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes Review

Over the span of the previous two console generations, the nature of the hack and slash genre has substantially evolved; today, two different breeds of hack and slash titles exist.  On one side, there are the "smart" titles, which refers to games such as the God of War or Devil May Cry series; these put an emphasis on skillful, fast-paced combat, requiring players to memorize attacks, and how to approach enemy encounters with the selection of weapons and techniques available.  However, on the other side of the spectrum, there are "chaotic" hack and slashes, which are all about slaughtering massive hordes of enemies using a multitude of moves, weapons, and rapid button mashing against the opposition.  Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, the third but only second game in the Sengoku Basara series to be released in the United States, falls into the latter category.

Set during the 16th century, Sengoku Basara's story mode chronicles the efforts of various characters and their attempts at taking over the country of Japan.  Each character's story highlights the alliances, betrayals, and twists involved as he or she gradually spreads their empire all across the land.  Unfortunately, with all of the characters available to choose from, seventeen in total, it quickly becomes challenging to keep track of all of the story arcs going on.  As such, the story becomes a background note, and something to not pay attention to.  Yet, one narrative aspect I do appreciate is the world this game establishes.  Although the game may be set in what is considered to be a historically significant time period in Japanese history, many facets and people of the era have been significantly exaggerated for video game purposes.  A prime example is the character Magoichi Saika; in reality, this person was a male general, but in this game, he is a she and her primary method of attack involves different firearms including pistols, shotguns, and rocket launchers, even though such weapons did not exist at the time.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes utilizes a similar gameplay structure found in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games.  Most of the levels in the story mode involve guiding your currently selected character through different battlefields as he or she takes over enemy bases and defeats enemy officers and the presiding general of the area, all the while slaughtering thousands upon thousands of enemy troops using weapons and a slew of combo attacks.  Each character has two different energy gauges in addition to their health bar.  One is devoted special energy; when filled up entirely, a devastating attack can be performed, which if timed correctly, can be used to gain the upper hand against bosses.  The other meter is for an ability called Hero Time; when activated, time slows down for a brief period, allowing players to deal tons of damage before things speed back up.

Every level has their own primary and secondary objectives, and the goal of the main objective is to eliminate the head general of the current stage, but different factors, such as shifts in the enemy attacks or other generals showing up to assist the head one, can alter the focus of the current order.  Taking over enemy camps and eliminating officers acts as the secondary objective, but some levels make it a requirement to complete.  Conquering camps increases the strength of your army, and if the conditions are right, bonus rewards can be granted as well.  Eliminating bad guys and completing goals earns the player XP, and when a character levels up, new moves are unlocked, or the size of their health and energy gauges are extended.  Besides earning XP, characters can also acquire money, armor, and weapons by opening up crates or by defeating officers and generals.  Money is used to buy special attributes that can benefit the player in multiple ways, but only two can be selected at a time, meaning choosing the right ones is a must.

All of these ingredients would suggest that the game is fun to play.  At first, it's entertaining to slice and shoot through a sea of troops in order to see the combo multiplier get higher and higher; in fact, if one is skilled enough, it's possible to raise the multiplier up into the thousands.  However, as you progress through the game with the different characters, one realizes that there's not much variation in the grand scheme of things.  Nearly every level involves accomplishing the tasks mentioned prior, and when the formula is shook up, it's only for the part of the story where the tide of war has reached a critical turning point.  As a result, the feeling of repetition becomes larger the more one spends time with the game.  With these types of titles, its best recommended to play them in short bursts, rather than in long play sessions.

Another recurring issue regards both the partner and enemy AI; simply put, your large squad of troops and fellow comrades are a fairly inept group, which can get annoying when you're getting beat up by the boss of the stage and your partner stands there doing nothing to help.  The enemy generals can be somewhat aggressive, but even then, they go down with ease since rapidly alternating between the two attack buttons generally guarantees victory.

Though lacking the visual sharpness of the PlayStation 3 version, Sengoku Basara on the Wii still looks fine with colorful and flash visual effects and decent character models and environments, plus the framerate never chugs, even when there are hundreds of enemies onscreen.  Voice acting is quite campy and ridiculous, which fits with the over the top tone of the game, but the music, aside from a couple of tracks, is forgettable.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is one of those titles you'll either like or not, depending on how much you enjoy these type of games.  From a gameplay perspective, Sengoku Basara does not deviate greatly from the formula set in stone by the Dynasty/Samurai Warriors series, which means that the game is initially fun and quite chaotic, but the entertainment factor starts to wear off once the feeling of tedium starts to kick in.  Though fans of this style of hack and slash will certainly get the most entertainment out of this game, for everyone else, it's a competent but moderately enjoyable time.

Final Score: 6/10

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cubed3 Exclusive Review: Life Goes On: Done to Death (PS4)

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, and in the latest review on Cubed3, it's of a game which pushed me both mentally and physically known as Life Goes On.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Revisited: Batman: Arkham Origins

Batman: Arkham Origins is a game that holds some personal significance to me, as it was the first game I reviewed back when I started writing in 2014.  At the time, I was fresh and learning the ropes, but we know what happened and it doesn't need to be repeated again.  I knew what style of reviewing I was aiming for, which was the straight-man style; keep it honest, straight to the point, and don't take on an exaggerated version of yourself when reviewing titles.  Personally, I don't consider my first three reviews of this game, Saints Row: The Third, and Saints Row IV to be bad, but instead, mediocre.  Yet, nearly two years after initially reviewing this game, as well as coming a long way since the early days, how does the game hold up from the perspective of a stronger critic?

(WARNING: MILD SPOILERS ARE AHEAD) As the name implies, Batman: Arkham Origins is a prequel, set two years into Bruce Wayne's career as Batman; he's still learning the ropes of the mantle he has taken up, but on Christmas Eve, Bruce Wayne faces his biggest challenge yet.  A mobster by the name of Black Mask has put a fifty million dollar on Batman's head; in turn, eight assassins have to try and claim the bounty, including Killer Croc, Copperhead, Lady Shiva, Bane, Deadshot, Deathstroke, the Electrocutioner, and Firefly.  Not only that, but the police do not trust the Dark Knight and view him as a menace, making Bruce Wayne hesitant to try and work with them to stop the criminals of Gotham.

This is how the story initially starts, but as it progresses, the plot point about the assassins coming after Batman becomes a faded memory as multiple plot twists take place; while they do appear throughout the story, none of them contribute anything significant to the narrative, with the exception of Bane.  Ultimately, the concept of Bruce Wayne taking on eight assassins in his early years as Batman is an underwhelming event; fortunately, this major narrative stumble is made up by the rest of the story, which does a solid job at showcasing and developing Bruce Wayne as he comes to grips with the role he has pursued.  Most importantly, he learns that he can't handle everything by himself, and he must come to rely on the GCPD as things heat up later on.  Although the assassins don't have much room to shine, one villain who does is the Joker; halfway through the game, it's revealed that the man behind the black mask, Roman Sionis, didn't send out the bounty; rather, the Joker was responsible.  When he's first introduced, the Joker is simply looking to cause anarchy in Gotham, but after Batman firsts meets him and through additional encounters, he realizes that him and the Caped Crusader represent two sides of the same coin, with Batman representing truth and justice, and the Joker standing for mayhem and evil.

From a gameplay perspective, Batman: Arkham Origins takes a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to its mechanics and style, practically replicating Arkham City in everything from the open world to the side content to the fighting and stealth mechanics; the result is something that is still very enjoyable, but lacking in inspiration and creativity.  Combat is still top-notch, featuring a wide variety of attacks, counters, and combos to unleash on the criminals of Gotham City; on the flip side, stealth is equally intense and fun to utilize.  One new aspect introduced in this game is the grading system; at the end of every encounter, players receive an overall ranking based on how well they performed in either combat or stealth.  Though there were a few times in which I got a lower grade than I should have, despite not taking any damage and keeping a high combo, this system is fairly consistent.

Enemy intelligence is about on par with the competence of foes in the previous Arkham games, and nearly every enemy type from the first two entries returns here. Besides punching, bad guys can wield knives, stun batons, guns, and riot shields, plus there are heavily armored variants which require extra punishment before they can go down.  The only new enemy types are large, brute enemies, martial artists who can disrupt your current combo, and thugs juiced up on the chemicals Bane uses.  Unfortunately, the fun of combat is significantly diminished by way of a new gadget Batman obtains, but more on it later.  Enemies also rely on many of the same tactics used in the stealth sections; foes armed with thermal goggles can scan for Batman's presence in vents or on the vantage points, as well as use jammers to block up the frequencies of Batman's detective vision.

To help fight off the scum of Gotham City, Batman has his gadgets, most of which are taken from the previous installments, and the new ones, such as the glue grenade, and remote claw, are slight alterations of the ice grenade from Arkham City and the line launcher from the first two games, except for the shock gloves.  These gloves, acquired from a deceased Electrocutioner, are loosely based off of the B.A.T. mode from the Wii U port of Arkham City.  When charged up and activated, the shock gloves remove the strategy of combat and replace it with mindless button mashing, and any enemies, regardless it they are equipped or not equipped with a form of defense, can be harmed when they are in use.  Though the shock gloves are also used for solving puzzles and are featured heavily in boss fights, the shock gloves nevertheless double as an easy mode modifier.

In between the story missions, players can explore Gotham City and complete side quests and other diversions located within.  Don't expect to encounter any civilians, though, as they are all indoors due to a snowstorm that has swept the town, but in spite of all the thugs running loose, there's a feeling of emptiness to the city, but the Christmas d├ęcor propped up all over Gotham does give the area a false sense of security.  Side missions in this game involve disabling weapon caches the Penguin has, destroying Roman Sionis' drug canisters, and solving various crimes using Batman's detective vision, which now has the ability to fast-forward and rewind assembled footage in order to obtain additional clues, among others.  Riddler is also in this game, yet instead of tracking down trophies this time, he has data files scattered about because this is before Edward Nigma became the man who had a habit of scattering a million green collectibles around.  He's also taken control of different radio towers, and by freeing the towers of his grasp, this opens up fast travel points for Batman to use.

Graphically, the game looks good but lacks the visual polish found in prior entries.  From the buildings to the people, everything looks softer, and though the cutscenes look excellent, the in-game conversations have some stiff facial and body movements; additionally, the framerate occasionally hiccups during heated conflicts.  Voice acting and music are well-done; however, Batman and Joker are voiced by Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker in this game instead of veteran performers Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, who would both return to play their respective characters in Batman: Arkham Knight.  Roger Craig Smith does a fine impersonation of Conroy's Batman, even if the Caped Crusader sometimes sounds like Chris Redfield, but Troy Baker does a near spot-on impersonation of Hamill's Joker.

Though it doesn't break away from the established formula of prior entries and instead offers more of the same, Batman: Arkham Origins is still a solid title.  The story is compelling, despite having a missed out on an opportunity for an interesting plot point, and the gameplay, while playing off of familiar beats, still manages to be fun.

Revisited Score: 8/10
Original Score: 8.5/10

Friday, May 13, 2016

The "School's Out" Update

Cue the Alice Cooper, because my first year of college is finished with and summer break has started.

Greetings, as of May 13, 2016; things are going strong for the blog, all of my scheduled reviews are getting released on time and the Cubed3 partnership is going well also.  As the title implies, I am out of school, or junior college, for summer break, so I'm going to be doing a couple of things different.

To begin with, instead of the usual three game reviews a month, the number is being lowered to two for June and July; don't worry, though, because during those two months there will be one movie review and one anime review, in addition to the Cubed3 review links.  I can't say what the titles are, but the movie being reviewed in June is a recent science fiction movie while the anime is also a science fiction title, but from the mid to late 90's.  As for July, the subject of the film review will involve a giant monster movie, and the anime is a mixture of science fiction and western elements, and is from the mid-2000's.

The reason for this change-up is to provide variety and to increase my experience with reviewing other things besides games.  Additionally, during the month of July, readers can also expect to see an interview, if everything works out with the person, who runs a Youtube channel dedicated to producing short films, film reviews, and other videos.

That's all for this update, I thank those who read my work and I encourage readers to help spread the word regarding my blog by sharing the posts with others.  Till then, vista la hasta.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures Review

Back in January, I wrote a review for Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, and mentioned that it initially started life as a title for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 before briefly spending some time in development hell until the game was eventually released in 2009.  While fans waited to see Indiana's debut on next generation consoles, they got their fill of the character through the 2008 film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and to coincide with the release of the movie, developer Traveler's Tales and publisher LucasArts released Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, a game showcasing the prior adventures of Indiana Jones in blocky form.

As the name implies, this title takes the first three Indiana Jones films: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and condenses the plots, moments from the films, and characters into Lego form, with some changes made in order to retain the family-friendly nature of the games.  For the uninitiated here's a brief plot summary of each of the three films; in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones travels the globe in search of the fabled Ark of the Covenant, which the Nazis are also looking for in order to use the Ark's fabled power to change the tide of World War II.  In Temple of Doom, Mr. Jones, accompanied by the mildly annoying Willie Scott and the awesome sidekick Short Round, tries to recover sacred stones for a local village after they were stolen by the Thuggee cult, led by Mola Rahm.  Finally, The Last Crusade sees Indiana teaming up with his father, Henry Jones, as they are on a race against the Nazis to find the Holy Grail, which is said to grant a person immortality if one drinks from the cup.

In regards to sticking with the source material, the Original Adventures does a competent job at presenting the stories of the films in abridged form.  Certain alterations have been made to the source material though; most notably, Nazis are never directly referenced in the game, and instead a generic enemy faction; this also means that certain moments have been altered to remove any implications of the horrible deeds they were known for, including the scene where Indiana Jones and his father infiltrate a Nazi-held book burning session to retrieve Henry's journal from villainess Elsa.  Additionally, these reworkings and changes apply to the more shocking moments the films are known for; the opening of the Ark, for instance, is more comedic than frightening, and instead of Indy, Willie, and Short Round witnessing a heart extraction and sacrifice in Temple of Doom, the victim is dropped down into the lava and pulled back up to reveal he's perfectly fine, but lacking clothes except for his underwear.

As for the gameplay, Lego Indiana Jones follows the formula that has become the norm for Lego games almost to a tee.  Each of the films is split up into six levels filled with combat, puzzle solving, light platforming, and a slew of collectibles and other assorted knick-knacks to find.  In contrast to other games in the series such as Lego Star Wars and Lego Batman, which were more combat-focused, this title puts more of an emphasis on puzzle solving than on combat.  Every character has their own special ability or tool  which is used as means to solve puzzles or acquire objects used to build a device that can allow players to continue onward in a level.  For example, Indiana Jones can use his whip to not only disarm enemies or grab them, but to also quickly grab tools and other objects.  Meanwhile, small characters such as Short Round can crawl through pathways that normal characters can't, and characters armed with a blue book can decipher wall puzzles to retrieve something.  There's also a disguise mechanic in which characters can wear hats retrieved from fallen enemies in order to open up inaccessible rooms, but this concept, though interesting, is rarely utilized during the game.

Puzzles themselves are fairly simple to complete and never too complicated, which also applies to combat as well.  Defeating enemies is as simple as mashing the attack button, and should players die at any point in the game, they respawn albeit with a loss in studs, the game's currency.  Though lacking in challenge, the fighting mechanics do have some depth to them; at any point, characters can pick up and in certain cases, throw objects at enemies, which is fun, but trying to get rid of items currently equipped is a cumbersome process.  Besides using tools and other objects, firearms can also be pick up and used; however, unless it's a character that primarily uses a gun as a means of attack, ammunition is severely limited, and when a weapon runs dry, it can no longer be used.

While the game may be easy, there's enough content to keep players busy.  Hidden in every level are minikits, parcels, this game's version of red bricks, and a bajillion studs to pick up from exploring levels or destroying objects, and even though a majority of these collectibles are easy to obtain, some of them require a particular character that may not be available currently, which is where Free Play mode comes in.  Additionally, collected studs can be used to purchase characters and cheats at the college Indiana Jones works at; however, the selection of characters is rather forgettable due to the lack of variety.  For every Indiana Jones, Marion, or enemy soldier, you can expect to buy an alternate costumed version of these characters at least five or seven times.

Besides replicating the stories of each film, Lego Indiana Jones also recreates moments and set-pieces as major parts of the levels; unfortunately, the results are hit and miss.  For every fun section based off of the likes of the boulder chase from Raiders or the climatic encounters with the main bad guy of the current movie, there's a tedious or stretched out section such as the levels replicating the motorcycle chase from the Last Crusade or the mine cart scene from Temple of Doom.  Occasionally, certain sections of the films are left out entirely, resulting in missed opportunities for interesting levels; in particular, the opening sequence of the Last Crusade as well as the plane fight that happens later on would have made for fun stages.

Lego Indiana Jones isn't anything to write home about visually, but the graphics get the job done, with an art style that mixes Lego characters and objects with realistic environments.  The audio is decent, with amusing grunts and mumbles that are used for the peoples' voices during the generally humorous cutscenes, and the music, ripped straight from the films, is fine, but tracks are repeated frequently.

Though it is largely the same old song and dance, Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures is still an enjoyable experience.  While the combat and puzzle solving are simplistic and lacking in difficulty, it's still mildly fun due to the subject matter of the game.  However, some of your enjoyment does stem from how much you like the films and the Lego games in general, as the game sticks very closely to the mechanics the series is known for.

Final Score: 6/10

Friday, May 6, 2016

Cubed3 Exclusive Review: Coffin Dodgers (PS4)

Nanu, Nanu, in this thrilling fifth installment of "The Chronicles of Cubed3", I review Coffin Dodgers, a.k.a., "Cool Concept, Half Baked Execution."