Tag Archives: Beat ’em up

Black Belt Review

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Throughout the history of video games, we’ve seen many cases where the same game can look markedly different between regions of the world. Probotector is one of the most memorable of these, as censorship in Germany saw Konami replace the soldiers in Contra with robots. Other than that, same game. Probotector was released in its robot, and non robot state throughout Europe on many computers as Gryzor.  But there are countless other examples. Today’s game was originally an anime tie-in.

PROS: Cool sprite effects. Solid controls.

CONS: Strange changes.  Poorer artwork than the alternate game.

LAZY: The box art. At least draw an entire character!

Hokuto No Ken, (more famously known as Fist Of The North Star) is one of the most recognized anime franchises of all time. But it wasn’t always so. Centering around a warrior in a post-apocalyptic future, it was widely known in Japan. It started life as a manga, and was later adapted into an anime. When anime became huge in the US in the 90’s it was one of the most popular shows newcomers gravitated to.  But in the early 1980’s it never officially came stateside. Only the most die-hard American anime fans knew about importing shows. Beyond that, the handful of shows we did get, were heavily cut, edited, or combined with other shows to make new shows.

Anyway, in Japan Fist Of The North Star would see a few releases across multiple platforms. It wasn’t until 1989 when we would see an official game by Taxan on the NES. But, believe it or not, we did see one before 1989. We would see Sega bring us a Fist Of The North Star game in 1986 on the Sega Master System. Albeit without the license intact.  In Japan it would retain all of the likenesses to the show it was based on. But since we wouldn’t get the show until 1989, Sega reasoned we wouldn’t know what was going on. Which is weird considering we got Zillion in all of its anime glory a year later.

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Be that as it may, they gave us the game under the alternate title Black Belt. Black Belt is the exact same game, except that nearly every piece of artwork has been altered, or replaced. Enemies. Background art. Our main character. The bosses. Everything. But this is still something you may want to check out. Whether you’re a fan of Hokuto No Ken or not.

Black Belt is a lot like early beat ’em ups like Irem’s Kung Fu Master. You’ll move in one direction killing, or avoiding enemies until you get to the end. What makes the game a bit different is the addition of mini bosses, bosses, and some violent imagery to boot. Granted, the original version is darker. But Black Belt’s grunts still explode when punched in the face, or kicked in the stomach.

So you’ll continue along blowing people up, and occasionally super jumping into the air to catch sushi, and kanji symbols for health. Every so often you’ll come across a mini boss. These guys are 1 on 1 match ups, that rely on memorizing patterns to win. Start going at them all fists blazing, and you’ll probably lose a life. But taking some time to learn when to strike will make these fights more manageable. A couple of stages have several mini boss fights in them. After defeating them, you will continue fighting waves of  grunts until you reach the boss.

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Boss fights change the game play a bit. The perspective in these matches is zoomed in, so the action resembles a tournament fighting game rather than a brawler. Just like the mini boss fights, each of these has a bit of a pattern to figure out. Boss fights are a bit harder though, because they won’t always use the same attacks in the same sequence. So there is a bigger importance on patience. Some runs through the game, you may take down a boss quickly, but other times you’ll be doing a lot of hit, and run tactics. Keep in mind that you’re also on a time limit too, so you’ll have to work smart.

Visually Black Belt isn’t half bad most of the time. Backgrounds are bright, colorful, and detailed. Most of the standard enemy characters have really cool designs too. The mini bosses are pretty awesome most of the time, with only a couple of them getting rather silly. The Bosses are a different matter. All of them pale in comparison to their Japanese counterparts. Garish, and corny these guys are some of the silliest bad guys you’ll ever see in a game. Things fare better on the musical front with some honestly catchy chip tune melodies in the soundtrack. Not all of it is great, some of it is banal background noise. But when the music is good, it’s good.

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It’s a short 5 stage run, but it controls well through it all. I still recommend using a Genesis pad or the Sega Control Stick over the stock Control Pad. Everything feels pretty solid, and responsive. The stock controller will sometimes have you going in the wrong direction or crouching when you don’t want to due to the mushy directional pad. But not often enough to ruin the experience either.

Even though the shift to generic characters, and backgrounds makes for a less exciting environment, Black Belt is still one of the better early brawlers. It manages to be interesting even though it looks uninspired. There isn’t much of a story outside of rescuing your girlfriend from a street gang. The usual B movie plot device of most brawlers. Be that as it may, if you’re collecting for the Master System, pick it up. It’s inexpensive, and has an interesting history behind it. Especially if you’re a fan of the anime that inspired its original Japanese release.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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Double Dragon IV Review

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Double Dragon. It was one of the most successful franchises Technos Japan ever put out. In 1987 this series began life as an arcade game, where it kick started the Beat ’em up genre as we know it today. It was so popular, it was ported to nearly every platform imaginable, including the Atari 2600, and the Commodore 64 would see TWO versions. The most popular of the ports was the NES version, which played differently, and expanded the stages. This trend of expanded, and added levels would continue with Double Dragon II, and become one of the best games in the NES library. Even though Double Dragon games would continue to appear on everything, the NES versions would always stand out. This new game is an homage to that fact.

PROS: Looks, feels, and plays like an NES Double Dragon sequel. New content.

CONS: Severe lack of basic options. Background graphics don’t always jibe with sprites.

GEARS: If you thought Double Dragon II had tough platforming sections……….

Technos Japan has been sold around a few times over the last decade, and with every sale something has been attempted with Double Dragon. The GBA’s Double Dragon Advance came out to some acclaim remaking the original on the handheld. Double Dragon Trilogy gave us the three Arcade versions, but with some nagging issues. Way Forward’s Double Dragon Neon came out to some mixed reception. Some thought it was good, others not so good. But all agreed it was a bit of a parody of the series, and the time it came out in.

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Arc System Works has instead played Double Dragon straight. Double Dragon IV takes place in the series’ continuity, placing it after the events of Double Dragon II, and before the events of Double Dragon III. The story here is that after the defeat of the Black Shadow Boss, there was a worldwide Armageddon. The breakdown of society led to rival street gangs gaining more notoriety. The Lee Brothers end up fighting a new threat along with the old ones. The story even works in Technos Japan’s other game, Renegade. The Renegade gang here are actually very close designs to the bikers, and martial arts masters introduced in that series. Which is clever as it cements the notion that all of these games are part of the same universe. Double Dragon, Renegade, and maybe even River City Ransom.

Unfortunately, the Cinema screen texts don’t always explain everything very well. So if you don’t take the extra few minutes to play it out in your head before starting the next stage, you can get confused. Of course being a Double Dragon game, at some point Marian gets taken hostage again, and you have to get her. But rescuing her isn’t the main objective in this iteration of the series.

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The game itself reminded me an awful lot of Capcom’s Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10. Arc System Works has taken essentially the same approach here. Many of the character sprites you went up against in the NES versions of Double Dragon I, and II are all here. The Renegade characters have been redone in a way that fit the style of those games as well. But Double Dragon IV also gives us a number of entirely new characters to fight too.

As Mega Man 9 brought back the familiar movements, and play control of Mega Man 2, Double Dragon IV looks, plays, and feels like Double Dragon II. Except it doesn’t retain the arcade version’s punch, and kick mirroring. In that game facing right or left would remap the attack buttons. In this game the punch button is always the punch button, and the kick button is always the kick button. If you loved playing the first three NES Double Dragon ports, you’ll absolutely love playing through this.

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Making the game feel even sweeter, are the new moves they’ve added. You can do a few new standing, and wake up attacks including this M.Bison\Vega\Dictator torpedo move. But your enemies have also been given a lot of new moves. Abobo has a new bad ass dragon punch. Burnov has an upgraded back drop. Linda has a crippling new back elbow. That’s on top of the super moves the new cast has. Expect a lot of out of nowhere RKO levels of shock on your first time play through.

Double Dragon IV is also one of the longest games in the series. It’s almost as long as Super Double Dragon/Return Of Double Dragon on the Super NES. Most of the stages go on for at least as long as a typical NES entry’s stage does. But there are some that are shockingly short, and others that are mystifying long levels. Some of these also see the return of Double Dragon II’s platform jumping death traps. Others also see the return of mazes. So choose the right doors! These sections can frustrate you if you don’t get them right. Not just because losing tends to do that, but because you have three lives, and five continues to beat the entire game. Most screw ups in these areas cost an entire life bar.

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But if you keep playing, and slowly mastering the super moves like the Jean-Claude Van Damme Cyclone Kick, Dolph Lundgren Jugular Uppercut, and Chuck Norris Kneecap to the face of body launching, you can win. Like the NES forebears, it’s all about learning the timing of these moves, and on what frames to break them out on. Really, other than the cruelty of some of the jumping puzzles, and some backgrounds not meshing well with the sprites (Some of the backgrounds look like the digitized photo backgrounds on Super NES, and Genesis games) fans will like it. If you’ve never played a Double Dragon game it’s still a fun time, though they geared things toward those who have been fans since the late ’80s. The soundtrack is also very good, both reprising series’ mainstays, and bringing new songs. You can choose to play with an all new up tempo synth rock inspired soundtrack, or you can play the game with the soundtrack done entirely in chip tunes. Either is great!

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As a game, it’s easy to recommend Double Dragon IV. It’s fun to play, and again feeling like they took the lessons of Capcom’s Blue Bomber retro comeback to heart. They even went as far as updating Double Dragon’s NES fighting game mode. That’s right, as you play you can unlock the game’s characters for a 1-on-1 street fight. And it’s as fun as you remember. It won’t be a replacement for your Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, or Guilty Gear fix. But it is a nice distraction from the main game. If you beat the game there’s also a survival mode called Tower you can play. Basically, you survive enemy waves for as long as possible.

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Sadly, I can’t whole heartedly tell you to rush out, and buy this. Because there are a couple of major problems with it. None of them stem from the game play, but they are all bothersome. The first problem is the lack of options. There are none. At all. You can remap your controller, or keyboard. That is it. No video modes. No rendering multiple resolutions. No filters. Nothing. The second issue is that the game has no in-game full screen ticker. Those with minimal computer knowledge will be completely bewildered that they have to play the game in a window. A window that you can’t even resize. Those who do know a little something will be pressing ALT+ Enter to force it into full screen. The third problem is, that even though you can force the game into full screen, you can’t do anything about the aspect ratio. You can’t choose between 4:3 or 16:9 or 16:10. In short, you’re stuck playing windowed unless you know to press ALT + Enter on your keyboard. With zero options.

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I don’t think anyone expected a smorgasbord of PC options. But most games at the very least give a few filter options, and some resolution options. This game is also locked to 30 fps, and you can’t even turn off V-sync. Most PC players want the option as it frees up performance, even if it means seeing some screen tearing. It’s unfortunate that Double Dragon IV is this devoid of any performance options, or options for visual flair.

Overall, Arc System Works has given us an excellent Double Dragon sequel. But it has been marred by a terrible menu, and menu U.I. I can’t speak to the console version of the release in this regard, having only played it on the computer. Even still, for console players, the lack of any filter effects may be a turn off. At least it may for those who prefer to simulate the color blending look of an old CRT with their retro themed games. Or digital retro re-releases for that matter. If you can deal with the anemic menu options, and missing features you’ll still have a fun time with Double Dragon IV. If you can’t, then you may want to see if Arc System Works patches in some menu fixes first.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson Review

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As a game collector, I occasionally stumble into titles. Games I have no prior knowledge of. Or very little knowledge of. Like some of you this will begin online, and end in a storefront. Earlier this year, Mark Bussler over at Classic Game Room did an episode on Senran Kagura: Estival Versus for the PlayStation 4. A very bizarre, over the top hack n’ slash action game with an emphasis on endowed characters. I like to think I know a bit about esoteric games. But I had no idea that this was actually a series.

Imagine my surprise one day when I saw this sequel for the 3DS sitting on a store shelf. “They put a sequel out, on Nintendo’s handheld?” I thought. Well yes. Except this ISN’T the sequel to the PlayStation 4 game. After some research I discovered that the series oddly enough, started on the 3DS in Japan. So this game is the sequel to THAT game, and the one Mark reviewed on his show is actually a spin-off.

PROS: Great graphics, responsive controls, a simple combo system that isn’t mundane.

CONS: Some of the content isn’t for everybody. Can get a bit lowbrow.

COLLECTIBLE: Apparently the print run for this game wasn’t very high in the USA.

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is an arcade style hack n’ slash game. You’ll go through a variety of stages fighting hordes, and hordes of enemies. There are also, of course, bosses. As you play through the campaign you’ll be introduced to a wide variety of characters. Many of whom you will be able to take control of throughout the game.

The controversial gimmick in this series is where some folks may have some reservations about picking one of these games up. When you’re fighting enemies, you’ll find your attacks will rip their clothes to shreds. When they’re just about dead, they’ll be down to their undergarments. Your characters are subject to these rules as well. Take enough damage from opponents, and your clothes will be ripped to pieces. When you’re completely out of health you’ll be down to your underwear as well.

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The game plays the gimmick more for laughs, and less for eroticism. Even if the camera angles during transformations are peculiar. But like an R Rated B movie comedy on Cinemax in 1995, it can come off as kind of crass. Of course humor is subjective. Some are going to laugh at how over the top it is. Others are going to be totally confused. While some may even feel a little offended. The game is absolutely unabashed in its presentation. So again, this game is most certainly not for everyone.

Fortunately, there are enough good things about Senran Kagura 2 that action game fans may want to check it out. The fighting system isn’t the most technical, it’s actually fairly simple. But not so simple that things feel mundane. It feels a bit like the Rocksteady Batman Arkham games. You mix up attacks with a weak, and strong button which result in some really awesome combos. They aren’t deep, but the animations are brisk, and smooth. There’s also a nice variety of moves during these sequences as well.

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You can also jump, and do air attacks using the jump button with the attack buttons. There’s also a dash you can use. Finally, there’s a transformation sequence you can perform once you earn enough scrolls while playing. These are reminiscent of the transformation scenes from the old Sailor Moon anime. The off-putting difference being where the characters place their scrolls during these sequences. Once transformed you can then perform a super when you have enough of a meter filled. You use these by pressing the L button along with other buttons which do a variety of crazy animations. These are normally the kinds of things you can see in fighting games like Street Fighter V or Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.  There are even tag team combos you can do in some levels where you’re forced to toggle between multiple characters.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a couple of camera options when playing. By default the camera will stay fixed, and you can target enemies with the D-pad if you feel more comfortable locking on to them. If you’re playing on a 3DS (Sorry 2DS or 3DS XL owners) you can also use the optional Circle Pad Pro. This lets you run the camera freeform like a mouse, or a second thumb stick. The newest 3DS can also do this with its built-in Circle Pad Pro replacement. As I own the 2DS I really couldn’t test this option out, but I was able to play fine with the fixed camera.

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All of this makes for a hack n’ slash beat ’em up game that feels really good. Again, everything flows smoothly, and quickly. You quickly find yourself going from enemy to enemy seamlessly, and racking up crazy combos. Whether you come from classics like Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage, and Final Fight or modern games like God Of War, Devil May Cry, or Dynasty Warriors you’ll likely enjoy the fighting system here. Tamsoft were also the developers behind Onechanbara. But where that series can sometimes feel mundane, and repetitive this game doesn’t.

I think a major reason it doesn’t is because there is a wide variety of enemies on display, each with a different set of strategies needed to defeat them. There are various monsters, ninjas, soldiers, other students, and storyline characters to go up against. The vast number of playable characters also helps. Each character plays completely different from the rest of the cast. Some characters are faster, with attacks that do minimal damage, but also stun enemies so you can get in more hits. Others are slower with far more powerful attacks. Then you have others that fall somewhere in between. It can again, feel like a fighting game in that regard. You can try using the entire cast, or you can settle on one character you feel most comfortable with. Of course the campaign will make you play with each character as there are scenes that require particular characters for the storyline.

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The game has a fairly extensive campaign where you’ll follow the adventures of several stables. These are good, and evil students of Shinobi who rival one another. But as the story goes on you’ll discover that they also have common enemies. I don’t really want to give anything away, but it’s a halfway decent romp. It isn’t the most original story, and there are a lot of events you’ve seen dozens of times in other games. But I will give it credit for at least attempting to give each of the characters some personality beyond being simple eye candy. There are actual motivations, cares, fears, and some moments of genuinely funny dialogue. It has its share of common archetypes mind you. There’s the super serious personality, the hyperactive personality, the one that second guesses themselves constantly, the brash personality. But there are some original takes on them here.

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Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to hold up the storytelling in Senran Kagura 2 alongside revered tales told in Portal, Half-Life, Deus EX, or System Shock 2. This is still a very silly, over the top game. But it does at least try to be more than a soft core button masher. That said, some of the extras don’t, like the  game’s costume decorator where you can pick the two outfits for any given character. You get to unlock new ones as you play the game. Some of them are actually pretty cool looking, while others are right out of Bikini Car Wash Company. Rounding out the extra features is the AR photo mode. This mode lets you take any of the player models, and super impose them over a photo you take with the 3DS camera.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a Co-Op mode, where you, and a friend can sync up your 3DS systems, and play the campaign together, or replay individual missions together. Back on the single-player  front, you can go back, and play any previous stage with any character to level them up. At the end of every stage you’re also given a rating. The better you do, the higher your score, and the more unlocks you’ll receive. Senran Kagura 2’s difficulty does start to really ramp up around halfway through the game. So going back, and replaying earlier levels with some of the newer characters you unlock isn’t the worst idea.

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In between levels you can also go back to a hub level, which changes between chapters. There are 5 chapters, each with several missions. Senran Kagura 2 is a pretty long game all things considered. The hub level lets you communicate with the characters for some back story dialogue. You can also choose to enter one room to go on missions, one for each of the various modes, as well as the options menu. Here you can change audio, and visual settings. You can also turn off the clothes tearing sequences if you want. You can also use the sub-menu on the touch screen to jump to any of these rather than walk around the hub.

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All in all, Senran Kagura 2 is actually a pretty fun, and challenging game if you can get past the exploitation B movie vibe of everything. There’s no full frontal nudity or intercourse on display so this doesn’t get into anything overtly pornographic. But it isn’t embarrassed about its suggestive camera angles, or dirty jokes either. Which is why  it still isn’t something for everyone. If, however you can look past the risqué elements you’ll find a pretty good action game, and R rated comedy underneath it all.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mighty Final Fight Review

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Toward the end of the original Nintendo Entertainment System’s run there were a number of great (and not so great) titles that came out as the Super NES was coming into its own. Capcom put out a number of these games as the console began to fall by the wayside in the last few years. Mega Man 6, Rescue Rangers 2, Duck Tales 2, and of course Mighty Final Fight.

PROS: All of the protagonists are here. Action translates well.

CONS: Short. A sharp difficulty spike near the end.

LEVEL UP: There is an NES Double Dragon style EXP system.

Mighty Final Fight came out at a time when the Super NES was seeing a number of arcade beat ’em up, and tournament fighter ports. Capcom had already ported the Final Fight arcade game to the console albeit with a number of things removed to be able to fit onto the cartridge.

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Knowing that the NES couldn’t handle the game, Capcom made this an entirely new game set in the same universe. Even though it is technically far less capable as the cut down Super NES port of Final Fight, in many ways it is a much better game.

Mighty Final Fight has an almost identical storyline. Mayor Mike Haggar’s daughter Jessica is kidnapped by the Mad Gear street gang. So he decides to take matters into his own hands, beating the crap out of every last criminal he sees. Until he gets to the boss of the entire Mad Gear operation. Joining him again is Jessica’s boyfriend Cody, and Cody’s friend Guy who was absent in the initial Super NES arcade port.

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So the NES game already has one leg up on its younger brother here. Game play is also pretty close to the Super NES. Characters can be grappled by approaching them diagonally, then they can be dispatched by any number of moves. All of the throws, pile drivers, and special moves are back.

Once, again pressing the attack, and jump buttons at the same time will execute a special move. Using these moves also takes away some of your life bar just like it does in other versions of Final Fight. But here is where the game begins to veer off into spin off territory. Mighty Final Fight takes a page from the NES port of Technos’ Double Dragon. You will see a meter on the lower right section of your HUD. Next to that is an experience counter.

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As you pummel bad guys you will raise the number of experience points. When you get to the maximum number, the bar will fill up further. Each bar within the bar you fill increases your health meter, your damage output, and decreases the amount of punishment you take upon being hit. Using grapple moves will give you more points. So playing as Haggar means you’ll want to be using pile drivers. Using Cody or Guy you’ll probably be doing a lot of throws. Interestingly enough, choosing Haggar starts you out with three full bars of experience, while choosing either Cody or Guy will start you out with one.

Leveling up to a certain point will also unlock an additional move for you to use. Unlike the arcade version of Final Fight or its ports, the weapons you can find in oil drums are character specific. Haggar will always have a hammer. Cody will always have a knife, and Guy will always have shurikens.

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Of course Mighty Final Fight also differs in the actual stage layouts. They keep the general theme of the arcade machine’s stages. The game even has a map similar to the arcade game’s in between levels. But you’re getting an entirely different run of levels. In the first stage you’re fighting through the streets, then a rooftop. Stage two you’re fighting your way to an area that resembles the next to last stage in the arcade version. Stage three is a section called Old Town which has some minor similarities to the arcade’s West Side stage.

At least in terms of style. Here there are sections with giant pits in the road, and the action leads to wrestling arena like the arcade machine’s second stage finale. Stage four feels entirely like an alien experience. It is supposed to be the factory district, but instead has a warehouse area. You also end up on an elevator leading to a bar. This brought me back to The Simpsons Arcade game moment near the end of that game’s graveyard level. The final stage is called the Bay Area but has little to do with the arcade game’s. Instead, it’s a hodgepodge of the arcade’s Uptown, and other parts of the game.

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Mighty Final Fight also rearranges the order of the bosses, and even replaces a couple of them. You’ll still fight Damnd at the end of the first stage. But after that you’ll see Abigail, then Sodom, then a palette swap of Sodom who is supposed to be his relative. You’ll still fight the same final boss in Belger, except this time he is a cyborg. Mighty Final Fight also makes you rematch two of the bosses on the way.

The game has a super deformed look, and goes for a bit more humor. Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the nicest looking games Capcom put out on the NES. But it might throw you off coming into it from any of the other Final Fight games. Everything looks like it was inspired from the Technos Double Dragon NES ports. Big heads with detailed, yet tiny bodies rule the character designs, and stages are incredibly short, yet filled with challenges. Many key enemies return for this installment, though not all of them. You’ll see Poison (who was edited in the Super NES port of Final Fight), Andore, J, among others. As I said before, the game play is almost identical, though you’ll only ever see two enemies at a time. That doesn’t make them any less cheap though. They’ll still try to sandwich you, and force you to memorize exactly when to throw an attack at them.

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The music in the game is pretty good. None of the arcade game songs show up, but the original songs here fit the action very well. Unfortunately they aren’t very memorable or iconic the way the mainline game’s soundtrack is. Sound effects are about what you would expect. Similar smacks, and smashes you’d hear in River City Ransom, Double Dragon, or Bayou Billy are here, and sound great.

There isn’t too much to complain about with Mighty Final Fight. Some might feel it could be a little bit longer.  It is also fairly challenging if you don’t remember exactly how to read enemy patterns in the series. Enemy attacks tend to hurt you a lot, and they’ll even use the environments to their advantage, kicking you into pits, or off of ledges. They’ll also sandwich you, forcing you to use your desperation moves.

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But over time you can become acclimated to these patterns, and once you start decimating them with enough of your grapple moves the game becomes a lot easier. Still, some may balk at the initial difficulty. The other thing to keep in mind is the cost if you’re a purist. In most cases an NES Game Pak will cost you at least $150. That’s just the cartridge. Expect to pay several hundred dollars if you find it with a box, and manual.

Fortunately there are other legitimate ways to play this. The Capcom Classics Mini Mix compilation on Game Boy Advance included it. This can be had for around $7. Or if you have the 3DS or the Wii U, the ROM is on the eshop as a download for a mere  $5.

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Mighty Final Fight is easily worth a recommendation for any fan of Beat ’em ups. It controls well. It retains the game play of the arcade cabinet it is loosely based off of. It’s one of the nicest looking games in the NES library. It also happens to be as fun, and interesting as later Final Fight games.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Bayonetta 1&2 Review

Hideki Kayima has a number of traditions present in his games. Viewtiful Joe,  The Wonderful 101, even Devil May Cry share many of them. Bayonetta, and it’s sequel, both recently released on the Wii U continue many of them, and then some.

Bayonetta is probably his most refined series. At least on a technical level. The games run brisk, have very responsive controls (except on the PlayStation 3 which was ported by a completely different set of developers), and look great. Bayonetta, and Bayonetta 2 are action games, through, and through. They celebrate all of action’s subgenre’s and various styles. You’ll spend most of your time in them brawling through hack, and slash gameplay. But you can also expect to have your share of on rails, arcade shooting, and of course, over the top bosses.

Originally , on the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, Bayonetta hit the Wii U as a pack in with Bayonetta 2.

PROS: Both games for the price of one. Increased performance/features in the sequel.

CONS: Bayonetta 1 may drag for some.

MUSIC: Someone at Platinum Games has great taste in it. Climax & Moon River anyone?

In the game you play the role of Bayonetta. A powerful witch, she can use her hair to conjure up all sorts of monsters, and other abilities. She befriends a demon named Rodin, who also happens to own a bar called the Gates Of Hell. There is also her comic relief friend Enzo, who is for all intents, and purposes a parody of Joe Pesci’s Mafioso characters. After a group of monstrous looking angels get into a firefight with her, Bayonetta embarks on a long journey when Enzo informs her of an artifact of interest on the other side of the world. She travels to a city called Vigrid, and along her journey encounters a mysterious witch named Jeanne. Who she ends up fighting several times. As more of the story is uncovered we learn of two ancient factions of Witches, the Umbra, who follow a darker path, and the Lumen Sages who are said to follow a light path, are warring over two artifacts called “The eyes of the world”. Bayonetta is caught in the middle of this war as she slowly gets her memory back as the story progresses.

As I’ve said before the game is a sheer action game. Building on features found in Devil May Cry, and Viewtiful Joe, the game runs the gamut of spectacle fighting. Bayonetta has punch, and kick attacks in addition to a jump, a dodge, and the ability to use a gun. As in many other games of its ilk, Bayonetta allows you to do combination attacks. Players can mix up the various attacks to witness some very powerful, and flashy action. Topping off the action are her climax attacks, which can be executed by pressing punch, and kick buttons simultaneously once, one has built up enough of a meter. These allow for some visceral, and gristly finishing moves to be performed via quick time events. She may kick an enemy into a spiked coffin, or crank the wheel of a medieval torture rack, or any other number of gruesome finishers.

The game follows the pattern many of the other spectacle fighters you may have played set up. You’ll go through a small section, talk to an NPC or go mildly off of the beaten path to find a secret chest with an item in it. Walking into the next area will spawn in a bunch of new enemies for you to do battle with.  This is one of the things that sets Bayonetta apart from other action games. The characters not only have a distinct look that really helps set the atmosphere of the game’s world, but their introductions seamlessly flow into the combat.  As you’d expect, there is also a dossier book with entries for each of the enemies, and other characters you come into contact with. Other times, you’ll find pages strewn about the stages, which allow you to add them to the dossier to be read later.

Keeping with the witch theme, the game also allows you to create potions with many of the items you find. Crafting potions results in these lollipops that you can assign to the D pad on your controller. Holding the assigned direction buttons during gameplay will allow you to use them. Some of these restore health, while others boost attack power, or give you temporary invulnerability.

Levels are broken up into sections. Like Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry you will be rated at the end of each depending on how many continues you used, how fast you defeated swarms of enemies, and so on. Around mid way through the stages you will also find circular patterns on the floor that take you to Rodin’s bar which acts as a shop. Here you can add new moves to Bayonetta’s arsenal, buy lollipop spells, new weapons, and upgrades that you can later assign to Bayonetta’s hands, and feet. The game lets you put in two load outs that you can switch between on the fly. There are guns, swords, and more. Some of the weapon upgrades can be unlocked by finding albums in levels that can be then given to Rodin in the shop. In the Wii U version you can also sport Nintendo themed outfits based on Nintendo characters. The most fun being the Samus Aran costume which replaces Bayonetta’s handgun attack with an arm cannon attack that can be charged.

While you don’t need every possible move, or item to beat the game, getting as many as possible is recommended. Especially for boss fights which can be insanely hard at times. It’s also recommended you try to master the game’s witch time mechanic. Right out of Viewtiful Joe, and The Matrix, dodging an attack at just the right time puts everything into a slow motion state, where you can land huge combos on temporarily defenseless bad guys. This comes in especially handy during the boss fights. Bosses will deal huge damage to you if their attacks land, and the higher a difficulty level you select, the harder they are to anticipate.

The game also breaks up the hack, and slash brawler levels with some really fun rail shooter stages. In between the levels there is also a mini game called Angel Attack where you can shoot at bad guys with secret bullets found in levels to win points. The points can be converted into Halos to be spent in Rodin’s store.

Visually Bayonetta is pretty great. Admittedly, the backgrounds don’t quite hold up as well as some of the other games from 2010, but the character models certainly hold their own. The Wii U re-release looks slightly better, certainly nothing that will make you need it if you have already played it before.  Audio is a huge win, as the music, the sound effects, and voice acting come together very well.

There isn’t really much to be upset with in Bayonetta. While some may decry the innuendo it’s actually pretty tame in the grand scheme of things, and the character has a personality of bravado. There’s a sense of cockiness that says ” I kick ass, and look good doing so.” In reality the main problem the game has is that it’s almost too long. Players who easily tire of formulas may find they feel they’re slogging through the last few stages instead of enjoying them. People who enjoy action movie stories in games, might also find that this game’s gets a bit convoluted at times, with blink, and you’ll miss it details that are needed to understand everything. The PlayStation 3 version does have some technical problems that hinder the performance of the game. Slowdown, a lower frame rate, are commonly reported problems with it. Overall though, the game is crafted well, and is a fun ride.

Bayonetta 2 starts off with a bang, as you’ll actually play the game during the opening cinematic. In this scene you even get to pilot a pretty cool looking mech. There’s a grand stage feeling to the whole thing with suspenseful music, imposing enemies, and awesome design. Upon completing this section the game picks up right where the first game leaves off. Time has passed, and we are reunited with our heroine while she is shopping for some new clothes, and some presents. But a few minutes in the angels show up, and the game begins.

Right away you will notice a significant graphical leap from the first game into this sequel. Bayonetta 2 looks beautiful. Improved lighting effects, textures, character models, and nearly everything else look amazing. The game has a much grander sense of scale even though the game play isn’t much of a stretch from the original. You’ll find yourself in the air battling hordes of enemies, then immediately fighting off a huge dragon. This is right out of the proverbial gate.

Once again Bayonetta finds herself caught between light, and dark forces but this time not only are there angelic themed baddies, but demonic themed enemies as well. This time around Bayonetta meets a mysterious boy named Loki, who also has an axe to grind. With a familiar masked character from the first game.  The story fills in a lot of the details you might have possibly missed in the original game, as well as attempts to fill in some holes. By the end of the story things come full circle, and everything is wrapped up pretty nicely.

Hellena Taylor reprises her role as Bayonetta, and once again brings depth to the character, nailing the biting sarcasm, and confidence that makes Bayonetta compelling.  Likewise, most of the rest of the cast returns to play key characters. Some major shifts come into play with the storyline presented here as well. Some enemies become friends, while major events are revealed to the cast, and they have to adapt. All while you go about slashing, slaying, and shooting.

Bayonetta 2 gives you more of what you loved about Bayonetta, while streamlining or repairing things you might not have. Combat is even more fluid, if you can believe it. It runs smooth, with very rare instances of any slowdown. Animations stream into one another near flawlessly, with pretty great hit detection. It’s uncommon to get hit by something in the game, and not know exactly why. Difficulty has been culled a little bit, in that there are three difficulty levels rather than five.

The game’s formula is pretty much untouched here. Brawler stages will have you exploring for a few secrets, and items. You’ll then fight a bunch of enemies, and upon doing so will be graded based upon your speed, and performance. Enter the next section, and so on. Once again, around half way through any given level you’ll find Rodin’s store. Rodin’s store section is pretty much identical to the one found in Bayonetta. The difference other than the slicker textures, and lighting is that some of the stuff you had access to in the first game, now have to be purchased. Most notably the Nintendo themed costumes. Each of these will set you back around a hundred thousand halos. So if you want to don the mantle of Samus Aran, you had better start saving.

Speaking of saving, you will once again be collecting components for magical lollipops, along with some records, and other items. New to the bevy of potential collectibles are pieces of hearts that can extend your life bar, and moon orbs that can extend your magic casting abilities. Eventually you’ll be running into some mid level challenges that task you with collecting a certain number of pieces under a certain amount of time. If you succeed in these endeavors you’ll find super secret chests that have some of the rarer items in the game.

In addition to the brawler sections, the game brings back rail shooting sections. These have also been refined, so already impressive twitch shooting is even more responsive. Again, you’ll have a healthy mix of attack options here, with punch, kick, jump, dodge, and load out buttons ready to go. You can perform all kinds of crazy, over the top attacks, as well as hitting up Rodin’s store for new weapons, new moves, and item upgrades.

Again, you’ll be able to read the journal entries you find throughout the campaign, as well as logs on every kind of enemy, and character in the game. Creating lollipops is also easier, and less of a hassle as now you only need to rotate a thumb stick. Bayonetta 2 also implements two new things. Crows, and cards. These are pretty much what they sound like. Throughout the game, hidden in backgrounds are small crows. If you see one, and you have enough dexterity you can catch them. Catching them opens up stamps you can use for posting messages in the Bayonetta 2 community on Miiverse. It’s not a big deal, but some of the stamp art is pretty impressive, and you may find you enjoy tracking all of it down. Cards are a little bit different. Depending on how well you do, at the end of a level the game will grant them to you. These can be used in the game’s online multiplayer mode which we’ll get to later.

Bayonetta 2 also allows you to use the tilt controls, and touch screen controls in the Game Pad. The first game also does this on Wii U. To be honest, this is about the only thing in the game that isn’t well implemented. It does work, but nowhere near as well as the control stick. If you do choose to use it, it lets you steer Bayonetta around during brawler sections, while during rail sections, you can use the tilt controls to steer her. The problem here is it seems to be a bit too sensitive, like having too high a mouse sensitivity setting in a PC game. So she may run when you want her to walk, or go too far to the left or right in a rail level causing you to hit an obstacle. Unless you’re adamant about using the motion controls, I would stick to the traditional layout for this game.

Once again, bosses are grand affairs. They’re mostly, big, and imposing with huge health bars. Don’t be surprised in the least if you have to use a lot of continues on your first play through. Some of these can feel impossible when you first encounter them. Thankfully, they take the old school approach of having a pattern, so if you can memorize the patterns, and train your reflexes to react with witch time at just the right moment, you can master them. But even if you don’t you can change the difficulty during a play through, so if things seem too hard, you can make things a little easier if need be. Equally grand are Bayonetta’s climax attacks which result in even bigger, eerie, gruesome finishers.

There are a lot of little Easter eggs, and references to other Platinum, Sega, and Nintendo titles peppered throughout the campaign as well.  Star Fox, The Wonderful 101, and more await you if you know where to look, or make the right decisions. Ultimately by the end credits you’ll be glad you played this one.

But when you’ve beaten the game it doesn’t end. Completing the campaign unlocks a really cool bonus content section. Not only does it give you the typical concept art many bonus content sections do, but it lets you listen to the records you’ve collected, and analyze all of the character models a la Batman Arkham City. It’s a really nice touch considering what a throwaway gesture many other games make such modes.

Bayonetta 2 also has cooperative multiplayer. Using the cards you collect during the campaign you can unlock different stages,  characters, and settings for it. Basically there are six stages. Each of them change a little bit depending on which cards you’ve used. For the most part these are horde modes. You go online with a friend, and fight off waves of enemies. Sometimes instead of fighting off grunts it will have you fight a mini boss or a boss. During these rounds you do have the ability to revive one another. So if someone is getting their clock cleaned the other player can help them. You can use a few of the campaign’s side characters in addition to Bayonetta in this mode. Each with his or her own advantages or disadvantages.

It’s not going to be the main reason you play this, but you might want to pop it in for co-op those times when you’re looking for something a little bit different. One of the nice things it does, is let you spend halos you’ve won in the single player mode. So basically, if you trounce your friends, you can spend the points you win on things to make the game easier, or on higher priced items. Wagering more halos will make the enemies more difficult too. But if you can defeat the harder enemies, you’ll actually win even more halos for the shop. So it does try to incentivize the difficulty spikes in an almost gambling sort of fashion.

Bayonetta 2 is certainly worthy of some of the hype, and praise heaped upon it. What could have been a generic hack, and slash ends up being a lot of fun thanks to the insane number of different enemies, potential weapon combinations, and a storyline that is a step above other ones of its type. Combos feel fun, and rewarding. Bosses are soul crushingly difficult, but fair so long as you’re willing to learn their patterns, and how to use your tools. The game will make you cheer, and laugh for the right reasons. The visuals will wow all but the biggest of nitpickers. Plus, at least for now, it includes the original game.

That isn’t to say these games are for everyone. If you prefer more cerebral games, or more competitive ones it isn’t going to tear you away. But if you love action games with an old school flair Bayonetta 2 is a really great game you should add to your Wii U library. Especially if you’re someone who longs for more traditional action experiences on the system. It looks great, it’s challenging, and it’s fun.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Marlow Briggs And The Mask Of Death Review

It’s almost guaranteed that if you come up with something wonderful, many will try to copy it, or improve upon it. Sometimes this leads to some really heated, and awesome competition. Other times, we see a laughable attempt at coat-tail surfing, and in the worst cases we end up with flat-out plagiarism. Today’s game really leans toward the former. It takes the base functionality of a modern classic, but changes nearly everything else. It even takes a few of its own chances. It results in something you’ll really want to check out even though it won’t become as memorable as the mold it was born from.

PROS: Controls. Tongue in cheek humour. Variety. Fun!

CONS: Low rent graphics in spots.

WAIT WHAT?: The conversations Marlow has with a mask.

Marlow Briggs, And The Mask Of Death is very much indeed; a God Of War clone. Like the Sony flagship spectacle fighter you go through hacking up thousands of enemies. There are various weapons wholly inspired by those of Kratos. The dual blades are here, the chain whip is here. Even some of the magic spells of doom are here. But that’s really where the similarities end. Because the other 85% of Marlow Briggs is a late 80’s direct to video action film.

Things kick off briskly, as Marlow Briggs meets up with his girlfriend, Eva Torres in a South American jungle. She works for a business doing research on ancient codex wheels, and artifacts. When she feels uneasy about continuing to do translation work for Heng Long,  she tries to quit. This only serves to enrage her boss who has Marlow Briggs killed on the spot.

His girlfriend is then taken hostage, and forced to continue her work. Why? Because her evil employer wants to uncover the steps to an ancient ritual. What is the ritual? A means for him to become a dark godlike creature who can take over the world.

Fortunately for Marlow Briggs, it turns out that the weapon he was killed with was magical. It resurrects him as a super powered warrior.

So like any direct to video action star, he sets out to free his girlfriend, kill the bad guy, and save the world.

When I say direct to video action movie, I mean it too. Marlow Briggs is a game that relishes the bit. It doesn’t hide from the cheesy story, or over the top action at all whatsoever. It lives, and breathes everything from Dolph Lundgren to Jean-Claude Van Damme, and never apologizes for it. It just expects you to go with it, and you will.

Because Marlow Briggs, And The Mask Of Death is fun. A lot of fun. Upon closer examination you may notice that the game is not a visual powerhouse. Characters are lower on the geometry, some of the textures are decidedly lower quality, and models lack some detail. But things also look good enough that it won’t bother you.  There are some nice bloom effects, here, and there. And the game runs at a pretty smooth frame rate, with little to no hiccups along the way.

It really isn’t going to matter to you anyway. Because the game is going to keep you busy with a lot of things going on. You won’t have much time to be counting the number of shadows on a minion’s costume because you’ll have to defeat him, and around ten of his buddies.

Voice acting is full of the wooden dialogue, and cheese in DTV, and made for TV movies. But in the context of this game it is a very good thing. Everything comes together, and the game’s amazing score complements the action really, really well. It truly does feel like the most epic B-movie turned video game.

Unlike most clones of God Of War, Devil May Cry, or other popular hack, and slashers this game gets something right. The play control. Many smaller developers, and even some larger ones tend to make entries in the genre that never seem to get the feel just right. Either there are noticeable breaks in the action, or a combo will feel sluggish. Other times timing or hit detection will be bad, or just off enough to make for slow, plodding, and unfair moments.

Marlow Briggs doesn’t fail here. Combos flow very nicely, with some smooth animations going along with them. Like the recent run of Batman games, there is a large enough enemy variety, and pizzaz during fights to make mashing X worthwhile. As in the games it cribs from, you can also upgrade your attack power, and spell power by collecting yellow orbs for point values. When these become high enough in number you can go into a pause menu to do this.

Pausing the game will bring up a screen where you can spend your yellow orb experience points to perform your upgrades. Often times you will actually be directed to go into this screen the moment you have enough of them. Each weapon, and spell can be upgraded up to three levels. Doing this buffs the damage output in your attacks.

You can also access a trainer from the pause menu. This lets you practice the various combos with each of the game’s weapons. It isn’t something you need to really do if playing on a lower difficulty setting. But if you are playing on one of the harder settings you may want to learn some of them to keep the waves of bad guys from hitting you.

As you go through the game, you will eventually stumble onto the various weapons, and spells by beating stages. Once you have them you can switch between them on the fly. The scythe is two ended, and is the first one you’ll receive. It does medium speed combos, and is the one that gets you started. The dual blades are a lot faster, and work great when you are being mobbed by waves of enemies.

The chain whip is pretty cool, allowing you to get combos that do hundreds of hits. It doesn’t do as much damage, but it has an insane range. There is also a hammer which is slow, but has a fairly high damage output. In my experience I found the dual blades worked out the best, though other players may prefer one of the other weapons more.

Spells include one that brings about meteor showers. One that brings about hurricanes, and tornadoes. Another one blasts the ground hard enough to pull up rock from underneath enemies. The last one does more with water, and ice. All of these can be upgraded, and they all do fairly large damage on the lowest grade enemies. Larger enemies seem to take different damage levels based on the spell.

You can also possess certain enemies after you do enough damage which makes them either help you out as an NPC or turns them into a vehicle you can control. The latter is especially fun as you can control giant scorpions. Enemy variety is also impressive. You will fight everything from mercenaries, to bird people, to wizards, to killer beetles. The list goes on, and on.

Using spells, and throwing knives also costs mana. This is measured by a blue bar on the HUD, while your health is measured by a red bar. There are red, and blue masks you can collect to refill these bars in the field. Game play is broken up between sections, and eventually becomes a formula countless games already use. First you will have a wave section where you have to beat down waves of enemies.

Completing these sections will lead into some platforming areas where you will climb walls, swing from cables, jump from place to place, and so on. These are pretty fun, and challenging sections in their own right. Many times these areas will task you with some puzzle solving. Again, it isn’t something tossed in “Because game X happened to have it.” Most of the puzzles actually take some thought to work through. They tow the seemingly fine line between “Why bother if they’re going to be this easy?”, and “Why is this so impossible?”.

There are also mini boss encounters, and boss encounters near the middle of stages, as well as at the end of stages. As in God Of War there are also some QTEs you will be tasked with. Thankfully, these aren’t over done in the game, used only during boss battles, or gaining entrance to certain areas.

The game also attempts to keep things from devolving into monotony with a variety of time trial sections where you have to get from place to place as fast as possible, while avoiding traps or other dangers.

It attempts to further mix things up with on rails sections. Some of them  involve collecting orbs, as you slide down an obstacle course, while others are turret sections. The turret sections work more in line with games like Sin & Punishment or Star Fox.

There are even two shoot ’em up stages near the third act that while not original, (Think 1942, Sky Shark, or Twin Cobra) are still pretty fun to play. These can also be played independently of the main game once you encounter them during your initial play through. Completing the game also reveals an end credits clone of Gravitar.

Marlow Briggs is also not a very long game either. Which is actually more of a help than a hindrance. Many spectacle fighters, and beat ’em ups can go on far too long for games of their type. In spite of this there is still a surprisingly varied number of settings. Jungles, caverns, industrial foundries, even an icy mountain stage.

A really good player can clear it in a few hours while the rest of us will probably do it in around 8. But what a fun 8 hours it will be. It has cheesy dialogue, one-dimensional villains, and a lot of over the top “Oh come on!” moments. It won’t wow you with its graphics. But it is a lot more fun than you might think it has any right to be. It is every definition of the phrase “Sleeper hit”, and one I highly recommend fans of hack and slash titles look into.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Ben 10 Omniverse Review

You might be wondering why I would choose to feature a game aimed at the younger set on this blog. Or why I would review this one, when it’s sequel just came out. If you must know, it was gifted to me this past holiday season. Having finally completed a bunch of other games, and it being a slow period for game releases I figured I’d play it. Besides, someone has to play these types of games too from time to time.

PROS: Nice visuals. A lot of cool alien forms to use. Can be played with a friend.

CONS: Boring, and very repetitive. Bugs. Glitches.

REALLY: Malware? That’s what they decided to name the bad guy?

Anyway, I’m not a big Ben 10 fan. Most who probably read this blog, or game sites probably aren’t. But I’m willing to bet some of you have children who are. Or were, at some point. Or were when it first came out, then moved on, and are now nostalgic about it.

For those not in the know, I’ve done some research for some context. Ben 10 started out almost 10 years ago on Cartoon Network. It’s gone through a couple of iterations since then. In all of the versions of the show the story focuses on the adventures of Ben Tennyson. A child who is granted a special bracelet called the Omnitrix. With it he can turn into a variety of different extraterrestrial beings, each with its own super powers.

Over the course of each series, different alien threats loom over the Earth, and it’s up to Ben to stop them. In the original series the worst of these was Vilgax a warlord who originally fought Ben’s Grandfather, and wanted to use Ben’s bracelet to create his own army to conquer the universe with.

Despite, some of the craziness  one would expect from a show of its nature, it actually isn’t half bad. It has an interesting cast of characters, and story arcs that have some character development in them.  It was also very popular for a considerable amount of time spawning action figures, comic books, and a number of video games.

But what about this game? Does it measure up to the cartoon it’s based upon? Is it any good? Does it do anything cool with the source material? Is a kid going to stick with it to the very end? These are all questions you might ask yourself if you’re ever looking at the plethora of licensed games on the shelf in your local game store/game section.

Sadly the answers to most of these questions range from “No” to “Sort of. Maybe.” Ben 10 Omniverse is based on the latest run of the franchise, and is a spectacle fighter in the vein of God Of War. Which is a popular blueprint for action games right now. Some games manage to do it very well like God Of War, Warhammer: Space Marine, Devil May Cry, and so on. Other games do it very poorly. Others like this one feel rather middling.

The problems with a lot of these games are that they’ll either get the combat wrong, won’t have enough variety, or have technical problems. Spectacle fighters are all about having fun to play combat that looks, and feels great. The best ones will be so fun to play you won’t even think about formulas. The best ones also have stories you’ll become at least a little bit invested in. Caring about what is going on will keep you captivated long enough to keep playing. Variety can also spice things up. If done right a player can go from beating down 900 bad guys to solving a fun puzzle, to a completely different experience altogether.

Ben 10 Omniverse starts out promising enough. The game’s story centers around a villain named Malware (I know, I know, I rolled my eyes too.) who can assimilate technology. He’s sort of like the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. When he assimilates it he gains its most powerful attributes, and begins finding immunities. Malware cons scientists into letting him have access to generators that can merge actual matter with computer software, and hardware in the future. So Ben 10, has to stop him. Because it’s a time travel story you will  bounce back, and forth. Between present, and future.

Rook Blonko is a space cop of sorts who goes forward, and backward through time. Relaying the events of the story to present, and future Ben 10. As you play through the campaign the game slowly unravels Malware’s plot, and it starts to tie everything together in the last two or three stages.

Ben 10 Omniverse can be played by one or two players. The first player being Ben, and the second player being Rook. Stages are set up in the same spectacle fighter formula you’ve played in countless games. First you will fight a wave of enemies, then have a reprieve where you’ll get some more story exposition, maybe a power up or item, and back to brawling. Sometimes Omniverse will toss in a puzzle or two as well. The entire game will run you between six to eight hours to complete.

Unfortunately some of the common problems in other games mentioned earlier rear their ugly heads here. To its credit, Ben 10 Omniverse does try to implement some of its source material into the gameplay. Ben can switch into a huge roster of alien types as he unlocks them in the story. Each with its own special abilities.  Some can throw projectiles, some can see hidden items, or hints. Some can freeze certain objects in place. There are plenty of other examples.

Many of these alien forms actually look pretty good, matching the look of their cartoon counterparts. Many of the moves do indeed showcase cool visuals fans will probably like.  The game also has a leveling system, allowing players to upgrade the various alien forms for more attack power or abilities. Rook can also be leveled up. While he can’t shift into alien forms he can get various weapon upgrades. The problem is in the execution. Much of the time the animations of the combinations don’t flow very well, feeling sluggish.

This leads to the main problem with the game: Monotony. Because of the sluggish combat taking down waves takes a long time. This is compounded when you find out that after using up an alien form’s super power meter you have to revert to being Ben. Ben’s moves do so little damage you will have to wait for his meter to refill so that you can get back to using one of the alien forms. All of this takes you out of the action, and makes what should be a flashy Saturday morning beat ’em up into a bore.

The game does have a few non combat segments in it, but these mostly boil down to some very mundane switch puzzles. These sections almost always require you to switch between a few alien types in order to solve. They are also almost always used to open a door to progress, the few other times being used to hide a special item or a power up.

Other times the game will introduce a platforming section. These are easily the worst parts of this game. Jumps are imprecise, often times leading to an accidental death. Worse yet some of these require certain alien forms to clear out an obstacle before jumping, only to miss, and have to restart from the last checkpoint. It is also here where the fixed camera (You can never adjust it on your own)  becomes a pain, obscuring certain items or even platforms you need to see to be able to progress.

Bosses in this game do in fact, look pretty cool. However, they mostly break down to a single attack pattern. After defeating a boss the game will make you play a Quick Time Event to finish it off. If you fail the QTE, the game then gives the boss  some of its health back, forcing you to re-defeat it, and then re-do the QTE section.

As with the characters mentioned earlier, graphics as a whole, are the one part of the game that actually shines. It goes with a cel shaded look, with colors, textures, and backgrounds that will remind you of Borderlands. Many of the stages take place in caverns, old towns, and installations with a very similar aesthetic.  Enemy variety is honestly pretty respectable here, featuring a decent number of grunts to defeat, along with the recognizable characters the fan base will like.

In the end I really wanted to like Ben 10 Omniverse. The cartoon is one of the better kids shows on TV, it has a nice look to it, and it even has a few nice features. But while it is not as bland, or as bad as so many other TV or Film tie ins, it still isn’t particularly good. The monotonous feeling will probably get to even the most devoted kid who plays it. Its camera problems, and technical hitches (In one instance I was clipped underneath the stage during the final boss fight forcing a restart) certainly won’t help. The terrible ending is also salt on the proverbial wound. Playing with a friend probably makes it slightly less of a chore, but there are far better games one can play with a friend than this one.

Even if you or your child are big fans of the source material I’d skip this one.

Final Score: 4 out of 10

Double Dragon Neon Review

It’s really late to the party, but Double Dragon Neon finally makes its PC gaming debut.

PROS: A pretty faithful port from the Xbox 360 with Online Cooperative play added in.

CONS: Frustratingly high difficulty may scare off some. Co-Op isn’t perfect either.

NO SHADOW BOSS: The top villain has been replaced by a Skeletor/Shredder hybrid.

If you were a gamer in the 1980’s you likely played Double Dragon. It set the standard for the Beat ‘Em Up genre of action games, paving the way for Capcom, and Konami to flood arcades with their own entries. Technos Japan created an awesome game in Double Dragon. It was the video game version of everybody’s favorite action films. Two brothers are tasked with saving one of the brother’s girlfriend from a dangerously malicious street gang called the Black Shadow Warriors.  Throughout the game players beat up thousands of thugs with a myriad of martial arts moves, even disarming gang members, and using their own weapons against them.

Double Dragon was a smash hit, and saw ports to nearly every console, and home computer format around at the time. Even the Atari 2600 had a version. From there Technos gave us Double Dragon 2, Double Dragon 3 (which wasn’t all that great), and Super Double Dragon (which was all that great) before sadly going out of business. Some years later a company called Million picked up the rights, and made a Gameboy Advance game before finally bringing us an entirely new game on the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

Double Dragon Neon was generally well received on the 360, and PS3. So what does the PC version do that those versions don’t? The biggest difference is the inclusion of online multiplayer. Playing the game on the PC gives you the ability to play with a friend over the internet, trying to beat it together. In addition to this feature it allows players to change screen resolution, along with a few other effects, and converts its achievements to Steam.

If you missed Neon when it originally came out, it goes a long way in attempting to revive the Double Dragon gameplay, and the pop culture that was around in the original game’s heyday. The actual gameplay is similar though not the same. If you loved playing the original games in the arcade or on your NES don’t expect the mechanics to translate flawlessly. The game does give you a lot of different moves to use, and many of your favorite characters return.

However, rather than have the hard-hitting impact they had back in the originals, this game instead implements a new cassette tape system. Throughout the game as you defeat enemies, some of them will drop cassette tapes that can be used to unlock or even upgrade the various moves. These moves can be classics like the Cyclone Kick from Double Dragon 2, to newer moves like the ability to throw fireballs. There are also gems you can collect. These allow you to visit shops in certain levels where you can use the gems to buy moves you may not have unlocked yet. It tries to add a little bit of RPG like depth to the game, similar to another Technos game, River City Ransom which was almost as popular as Double Dragon was.

Visually, the game tries to recreate the Post Punk/New Wave subculture of the early 1980’s, hence the Neon subtitle. Everything has a fluorescent look to it with neon shades throughout all of its color palette. Backgrounds include remixed areas from previous Double Dragon games to entirely new ones. In between levels is a map screen that uses the NES sprites of the Lee brothers from Double Dragon 2. WayForward (The guys that made the DuckTales: Remastered game) really went out of their way to pay homage to Technos.

Even the sounds of the game attempt to do the same. From the voices, and sounds of punches, kicks, and weapons, to the music. Tracks include remixes of your favorite Double Dragon tunes to the themes of the cassette tape moves you find. Going into the move selection menu will net you a different song for each move. Some of these will be New Wave, Punk Rock, Hair Metal, Power Pop, Synth Pop, Post Punk, and other big genres of the decade.

However there is one major change that will both please, and upset some players. That is the new villain. The original games featured bosses that fit the serious, dark tone of the series. In Double Dragon, Williams was a high-ranking lieutenant in the gang armed with a machine gun. In Double Dragon 2 the Shadow Boss revealed himself in a hard-fought test of martial arts prowess. In this game we find the Lee brothers fighting a new villain called Skullmageddon, a strange hybrid of pantomime enemies from Masters Of The Universe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Skullmageddon is heavily influenced by Skeletor, and The Shredder. So much so that his voice is clearly paying tribute to the former, and the dialogue to the latter.

Skullmageddon is an entertaining character, so it is hard not to like him. But at the same time it puts Double Dragon Neon into zany territory, which inhibits it from truly feeling like a Double Dragon game, and instead makes it feel like a fun lampoon of thirty year old pop culture.

As fun as Neon might be, players should know it’s a very difficult game. Like a lot of other games in the genre be prepared to be sandwiched in between enemies, and put into situations where you will take a lot of punishment. You will not get through this game without replaying certain levels several times over. When you finally do see the end it will unlock even harder modes you can play through.

Fortunately the game does feature cooperative gameplay for two players. The game also gives you the option to turn off friendly fire so you won’t have to worry about accidentally killing each other. Playing with a friend does make the game a little bit easier, but not by much. You will still have a difficult time trying to clear stages as enemies double team you, or use other cheap tactics.

Despite the difficulty of cheap A.I., there is a lot of fun to be had here. The inclusion of online multiplayer in the belated PC port is also a welcome feature, as in this day, and age it’s how most people play with friends. However there are presently some netcode issues with the game that will limit some players. One look at Steam’s forums will show you how many players are vocally pointing out time outs, lag, and disconnects. Hopefully Midnight City, the developer behind the port can iron out these issues soon.

Overall, Double Dragon Neon is still a good game. If you love beating up waves of thugs as you have in the days of the original, Final Fight, and Streets Of Rage, you’ll be pretty happy with your ten dollar purchase. Just be cautioned one shouldn’t come into it expecting a carbon copy of the old Technos Japan formula. While WayForward has done a commendable job in making a beat ’em up game in Double Dragon trappings, it still doesn’t have the same feel of the originals. Nevertheless, good entries in the genre are a rarity these days, and it’s still a good beat ’em up in the grand scheme of things.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

The Wonderful 101 Review

Many people thought many different things about this game before it came out. Some people thought to themselves: “It’s by Platinum! They can do no wrong!”. Others thought to themselves: “It’s going to be the killer app for the Wii U.”. Still others thought to themselves: “Wow! A Pikmin clone with superheroes!”.

The wonderful: Fast action, with visual flair. Comic relief done right.

The not so wonderful: Technical hitches. A few cheap enemies in Geathjerk’s ranks.

It looks so viewtiful: Ex-Viewtiful Joe developers built W101 including Hideki Kamiya.

The game is actually none of those things. It isn’t perfect. It is very good. Although certainly not mainstream enough for the average person. The game plays very little like Pikmin. While it has an isometric view, and some interactivity within the stages, this game is not a strategy game whatsoever. This game is an action game through, and through. Not only that, but it brings in all kinds of action subgenres together. Beat ’em up, Shmup, Action Platforming, Rail Shooters, all combine to make a wonderful send-up of the era of arcades, as well as 80’s, and 90’s console games.

The story centers around a group of super heroes known as the Wonderful 100. These people are called together to defend the Earth in perilous times. The Earth is under assault from a race of extraterrestrials known as GeathJerk. As the story progresses you’ll find parodies of action movie tropes, as it introduces more plots, characters,  subplots, and background stories to the main story. It all comes together nicely in the end.

The Wonderful 101 is 25 stages or so long.  Most of these are the isometric action stages you’ve likely seen online if you haven’t played it yet. As you play through the stages, areas will close off, and force you to fight a certain number of enemies. The twist it has over most spectacle fighters like Devil May Cry, or God Of War is that you can recruit civilians to your cause. Using the R stick on the gamepad, or drawing with the touch screen allows you to turn civilians into temporary heroes to help you, as well as find hidden items, and most importantly, morph into different shapes to solve puzzles or fight enemies. Sometimes you’ll need to use a specific shape for a certain enemy. For instance, once you’ve gotten in far enough you’ll encounter spiked enemies that require you to use a whip to break off the spikes to make the enemy vulnerable. As the game goes on, other characters join you, allowing you to draw new morph attacks.

There are also a number of times when you will enter Quick Time Events as in Bayonetta. These can be for cinematic scenes against bosses, opening certain sections of a level, or something else entirely. One especially novel thing the game does with the Gamepad’s tablet, is make certain sections of the game interiors, where you have to guide your team through a ship, building or other location on the pad screen. Meanwhile you still have to pay attention to what is happening outside on your TV screen. To keep the game from getting too monotonous it also throws in some Rail Shooter moments, Shoot ’em Up moments, and even two Punch-Out!! styled bosses. As I mentioned earlier, these are all fairly well crafted sections of the game.

At the end of every stage you are graded on how fast you completed it, how much damage you did, how much damage you took, what items you used, and how many continues you used. During the stages you can also be graded in individual sections on the same criteria. In between stages you can enter a Wonderful Mart, where you can spend collected gears on items. Some of these items will allow you to make new morphs or upgrade current ones. Others replenish health, or your battery meter (which is going to give your morphs more size, and power when you draw them.). While there are also some that will drop smart bombs on enemies, give you a fake member to take damage from (essentially being a 1-Up), or generally ease the game.

Don’t let the cartoony look fool you either. This game is HARD. You do get unlimited continues, but nevertheless it is difficult. Especially some of the later bosses. If you manage to complete it on Normal (already a pretty hard game) you will unlock Hard mode. Making an already pretty challenging game even harder.

The game also has tons of unlockable artwork, player models, and battle arenas that you can find in the main campaign. The battle arenas can actually be played separately as a minigame with other players on the same Wii U. The other unlockable items in the game are collected in the form of books, figurines, and coins. There are also bottle caps you can collect by replaying multiple times, and hitting certain achievements. These range from simply beating a level, to performing a morph at a specific time, or recruiting a certain number of civilians.

Voice acting is pretty superb. It goes along with whatever happens on-screen well, and it really reminds you of the various things the designers are lampooning. This game will make you laugh with its joke delivery, gags, and even music. The very first stage features a song that praises, and insults its protagonists in a very humorous way.  It pokes fun at everything from action films, to anime, to comics, to manga, to other games. Couple it all with some pretty nice visuals, and you have an entertaining action game that can hang with the studios’ previous games.  The cute, yet chiseled, super deformed characters look great. The simplistic pop art design is bright, and colorful.

However, there are some problems with the game I ran into during my play through. The biggest problem was a crash on the third stage. A crash so bad, that I had to reboot the Wii U three times, and reload my save file, each at the same point, before I could continue on. The screen would freeze up, and the console would issue one long, never-ending beep. Researching the internet, and Nintendo’s own MiiVerse I found that it’s a common problem.

The rest of the problems are anywhere from minor to infuriating. Toward the latter end of the scale are some issues getting your morphs drawn when things are frantic. Sometimes the gamepad won’t be able to detect the line, question mark, or circle you are attempting to draw in the heat of battle. This will cause you to be taken down by an enemy, or form the wrong morph. Sometimes entering the little booths to collect items is a problem. The game doesn’t always register when you’ve moved all of your heroes into it to unlock it.

None of these problems are commonplace enough to ruin the game. But they are enough to take you out of the experience. There are smaller things one can harp on like the occasional lower resolution texture. But at that point it becomes almost trivial since almost everything else is so good. One complaint I’ve seen in other reviews is that the reviewers in question thought the game is too short. I have to disagree a bit with this. While a really good player could blow through the game in a weekend, it is still fairly long as far as campaigns go. There is more meat to this than in many other spectacle fighters.

The Wonderful 101 is a great title. It isn’t the killer app some may have wanted it to be as it won’t appeal to everyone. But for anyone who loves action games, especially those who loved Platinum Games’ other titles it’s a solid purchase. It’s just a shame a few technical issues bog it down.

Final Score: 8 out of 10