Tag Archives: Beat ’em up

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Review

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Ah, No More Heroes. It quickly became a cult classic on the Nintendo Wii. At the time, some didn’t think M rated romps were a good fit for Nintendo’s EDTV console. Not when most of them were coming out in HDTV resolutions on its competition. But a few games tried to prove that line of thinking wrong. Some were very successful. Some were spectacular failures. But others, like No More Heroes would be successful enough to make due, but not successful enough to be the next big thing either. Still for those who gave it a shot, there was little else like it. Suda 51’s action game had his trademark art style, dark sense of humor, and even a bit of self-depreciating charm. Backed by a surprisingly deep, if twisted storyline with some art house, and anime trappings.

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The action in it was a lot of fun, made proper use of Nintendo’s motion controls in its gestures, and had variety. It had fun mini games too. It was a fun game bogged down by an uninteresting sandbox that tied the stages together. The game still did well enough to warrant a sequel which streamlined things for the better. It also expanded the storyline, involved new characters, and enhanced the combat. Around this time the original game even saw a PS3 port that utilized the Move controller. No More Heroes became a series known for its cult film trappings, and solid action. The two games followed the exploits of Travis Touchdown, an assassin tasked with a number of hit jobs that would also uncover some deep, dark secrets of his own life.

PROS: Retains the mainline games’ style, humor, and storytelling. Shout outs to indies.

CONS: The combat can feel threadbare.

DLC: Will hopefully fill out the gaps.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes should not be approached as a No More Heroes game however. Admittedly, leading up to the release the developers had said as much. But even so, this game sadly doesn’t live up to the bar set by the two major releases back on the Nintendo Wii. This one is a mixed bag. It absolutely does have some entertaining things about it. It retains a bunch of the humor the series is known for. You’ll be laughing at some of Travis’ wisecracks. You’ll enjoy a bunch of the reference jokes the game throws in too.

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You’ll also enjoy an entertaining story. In this adventure, Travis Touchdown has had a break, and run away. He’s left everyone behind, except for his cat, and gone into hiding. Unfortunately for our assassin, he has been tracked down by the parent of one of his numerous victims. In the ensuing fight for revenge, the rivals get sucked into our hero’s Death Drive MK-II console. A demonic version of the Sega SG-1000 (Sega Mark II), where they find at the end of the game cartridge, an epic boss fight of sorts. The story then leads them to track down other cartridges to get to the bottom of the mystery.

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After the initial stages, and ensuing boss fight you’re taken to a hub in the vein of a standard No More Heroes title. You can save your game by going to the bathroom. But you can also do some other things. Hopping on your desktop computer, you can shop for T-shirts. You can buy them using the coins, and tokens you find in the various stages, and then go to the bathroom to change into them. One thing I will commend the game for here is that it gives a lot of independent small business studios some credit by including many shirts tied to their indie games. There are shirts for The Messenger, Hotline Miami, and Hatoful Boyfriend to name a few. Beyond that there are name drops throughout the campaign. This is a game that celebrates the creativity of smaller studios.

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Between cartridge games you’ll return to the real world where you’ll go back to the hub area where you’ll have to get on your motorcycle to further the story. These sections generally don’t have much of any interaction, but they do use the opportunity to reference the old days of text adventures, and early CRPGs. You’ll get to see 8-bit era cinema screens in a familiar two-tone green. At least it will be familiar if you grew up in a time when most Elementary school libraries had an Apple II where you would play MECC’s The Oregon Trail, and Infocom’s ZORK. These sections do continue the narrative nicely, and again, do include a lot of terrific, and funny dialogue. If you’ve been invested in either of the mainline No More Heroes games, you’ll find a lot to like here.

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At the end of these sections you’ll get the next cartridge for your Death Drive MK-II, and continue on. The general flow of the game will involve you playing through a cartridge level, saving your progress, reading a text adventure section, and then playing the next cartridge level. And that would all be fine. As I’ve said, the game has a great sense of humor, an interesting story, and Suda 51’s trademark art style. The game looks cool. The game sounds cool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t play as cool.

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The problem with Travis Strikes Again, is that it can feel monotonous. Since Hack n’ Slash games, and Beat ’em ups are mainly about slamming around bad guys, or cutting them into confetti they have to do something to stand out. Travis Strikes Again may look like a No More Heroes game, and it even retains the fact you have to recharge your beam katana battery. But it doesn’t have the variety in combat that No More Heroes had. You can jump. You can dodge. You can do a couple of fancy air moves. You still have a light, and heavy swing. But the game feels slower. You don’t get the wide variety of combat animations. You don’t get a rewarding combo system. Yes, you can see you’ve hit enemies so many times without getting hit. But it doesn’t feel right. There’s just something a little bit off. It’s also shorter than the mainline games. Which in this case is probably for the best.

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In its defense, it does offer an upgrade system that allows you to add some special power moves to the repertoire. As you take down enemies you can go into a sub menu after pausing the game. Here you can add these moves to the A,B,X,Y buttons. You can then hold the L button while pressing them, and you’ll fire it off in whatever direction you’re facing. And there are a number of them that you’ll discover over the course of the game. You can even save different load outs, and then swap them out. Which admittedly is handy for certain bosses or middle tier enemies. You can also use your experience to level up, which lets your basic attacks do a little bit more damage.

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The thing is, that due to the sluggish combat, a lot of your super attacks will count as a miss when you get hit trying to use them. They also have a massive cool down period. So there will be times when you’re just getting trampled, unable to fire them off. They also don’t chain with your regular moves very easily. When you do get them to work they are pretty effective though, and they look really cool. When things go your way you can clear a mob of enemies or at least buy yourself a bit of time. There are a lot of power ups for you to choose from. There are some that work as a Star Wars Force Push. You can knock back an opponent or a few low-level enemies. Another one summons a giant laser blast from the heavens. Another one will daze your opponents so you can get in a few hits.

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It’s very unlikely you’ll get to use all of them in an initial play through. But you’ll have to be good at keeping just enough distance away from your enemies to use them effectively. It leads to a lot of simply mashing X. And while many hack n’ slashers may indeed involve mashing X, the fluid animation, and combos hide that fact well. Unfortunately this game doesn’t quite pull it off.

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As a result, this one isn’t something you’ll want to spend every waking hour playing until the very end. Which is sad, because the other stuff surrounding the game is pretty interesting. One thing this game does do that is nice is it allows a second player to play as Travis’ rival Bad Man. And so you can have a friend join in which makes up for some of the average combat. The game does try to break things up a little bit by putting in a few different genre missions. For instance one stage sees you playing a drag racer with Vectrex styled graphics in between brawler sections. Another one looks, and plays like a fancier version of Mine Storm. All of these moments are incredibly fun, and look great. But it doesn’t make up for the ho-hum fights. Where this one does excel in gameplay are the boss encounters. All of the boss fights are really well put together, with multiple forms, and involve mastering some intricate attack patterns. And they feel satisfying when you do finish them off.

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Of course if you buy the game on cartridge it includes download keys for the season pass which will get you the DLC for the game. The DLC gets you new campaigns starring other characters from the No More Heroes franchise. Hopefully these additions will have the interesting combat features the base game lacks. However you should know that the downloadable version is ten dollars less, and doesn’t include the DLC. Buying the pass is ten dollars. So when taking that into account there really isn’t any difference other than the physical release is basically forcing you to buy the Season pass by bundling it with a key. I normally don’t talk about pricing in my articles because I don’t always get games in their release window. But in this case I have, and it seems a little disingenuous for them not to point this out on the box. You’re not getting the key for free, you’re paying the same. If you’re a collector, and want your Switch games on cartridge that’s something to be aware of here. If you’re more a wait, and see type when it comes to digital expansions, you may just want to get this digitally.

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Overall, I wouldn’t call this one a bad game. It plays fine, doesn’t seem to have much in the way of technical faults or major bugs hobbling performance. And again, it does have a pretty surreal, and interesting storyline. It’s funny. It has a great style. It’s just too bad the combat doesn’t keep pace with everything else because it takes up most of what you’ll be doing outside of the text adventure story sections. Die-Hard fans will want to jump in on this one. But if you’re a newcomer to this franchise, and you have a Wii knocking around, check out the mainline games before getting into this side game. I really wanted to love this one. The original two games were some of my favorite hack n’ slash titles. But as much as I love those cult classics this one simply isn’t as much fun.

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Hopefully, a third mainline No More Heroes game will learn from this side outing’s missteps, and return the franchise to its former glory. Travis Strikes Again isn’t a bad game by any means. But it isn’t a great game. It’s average. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are better games of its ilk to choose from. If you eat, sleep, and breathe anything Suda 51 does, you probably own this already. But if you’ve been on the fence, you might want to wait before jumping in. They did recently update the game with an opening cinematic tying the series to Killer 7. There are also ties to Shadows Of The Damned in the campaign. So perhaps in time they’ll improve the combat. With two upcoming episodes there is the possibility that DLC will do that. But that also rides on the number of people who will want to return to this one after playing the base game.

Final Score: 6.5 out of 10 (Better luck next time!)

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River City Ransom Underground Review

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Back in 1989 those of us with an NES likely had a copy of River City Ransom. It was a landmark game in that it was one of the earliest games to meld the Beat ’em Up genre with RPG elements. It was made by Technos Japan, who were mainly known for the Double Dragon games by that point Stateside. But RCR was a port of the third game in their Kunio-Kun series. In Japan the main character appeared in several games. Many of which would appear in the USA but with many alterations.

River City Ransom was pretty popular in its heyday. While it was never as beloved as Technos’ Double Dragon games, it was a game that had a Nintendo Power feature back in the day. It was a game many people fondly remember playing, and its one you should have in your collection if you don’t already. For those with a Switch, it’s included in the NES game bundle you get when you buy the online service.

PROS: Everything great about the NES original, and then some!

CONS: Confusing quest routes. Cheap segment.

ABOBO: Bridges the worlds of Double Dragon, and River City Ransom.

A while ago, Arc System Works acquired the Technos Japan assets, and began making games in these classic series. They made Double Dragon IV, and here we have a new entry in the River City Ransom series. Created by Conatus Creative, and published by Arc System Works, River City Ransom Underground continues the saga. All with the same blend of Beat ’em Up, and RPG conventions the original was known for, and lauded for.

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It’s also a direct sequel. Taking place nearly 40 years after the NES game, River City Ransom Underground begins with a prologue mission where Alex, and Ryan have to once again defeat Slick. The leader of the most ruthless gang in River City. Shortly after this epic battle Slick goes to prison, and River City High School explodes. After this mission ends the game fast forwards to present day, and we are introduced to some new characters in the process.

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It seems that while life might have improved for the characters at the end of the original game, it didn’t stay that way. With a new River City High School, came a plethora of new gangs, and the resurrection of the original games’ gangs. And with that, River City Ransom Underground truly begins. This is a modern continuation of a game, that really understands what made the original so great, while also building upon it.

As I mentioned before, what really set the original RCR apart from other games of its ilk, was the inclusion of RPG elements. Not only did you have to beat the snot out of people to survive an area, you had to do it to level up. It wasn’t enough to level up either. You had to find dojos where you could buy new moves, or shops where you could buy food. This game continues that tradition. You can fully expect to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars you steal from fallen enemies on this stuff. And spend it you should, because learning advanced techniques, and stocking up on cheeseburgers is the key to victory. When you first start out of course you’ll be relatively weak, and you can expect to die quickly. But over time, as you put muggers, bullies, and nearly every High School student stereotype in the hospital, you’ll grow stronger.

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And you’ll be backtracking to earlier areas for new items, or new paths that open up later. Again, an element that feels very much out of a Role Playing Game. This entry also adds a number of things to the formula. For starters, there are a large selection of playable characters. Many of these are new to the series, as this story introduces the next generation of descendants to us. So you’ll find many new teenagers out to rid the city of evildoers. But throughout the story you’ll also meet characters from the original game like Alex, and Ryan. There are also other characters old, and new who will join the roster if you defeat them in glorious battle. This adds a bunch of replay value to the game too, because of how differently each of these characters plays. Some of them are slower characters that rely on grapples, and holds. Some of them are ranged attackers. Others are brawlers that retain that old-school play style you expect from a Beat ’em Up genre title.

 

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On top of this, the game allows for up to four players to go through the campaign together. So now you can add an even bigger sense of frustration if one of you in your circle of friends is worse than everyone else. Or a sense of camaraderie if you’re all fine with each other’s level of ability. But to be honest even when playing with less skilled friends, this game is still a lot of fun. Between the action packed brawling, there are stretches of time where you’ll be exploring for new story missions, or events.

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The game also has a day, and night cycle in it. So some of these only happen at specific times. If a certain boss you need to kill only shows up at night, you can’t really head to fight them during the daylight. You’ll have to spend the daylight hours doing something else entirely. But this works to your advantage, as it gives you time to check out shops, restaurants, and dojos. Keep in mind however that even these are built around the game’s clock. Stores have their own hours. So if it’s 10pm in the game time, you’ll have to skip that trip to the game store. Hit up the burger joint instead.

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Of course as alluded to, you get money by fighting bad guys. When you knock their teeth in, they drop cash you can then pick up, and hoard. You can also get money by punching parking meters, or certain vending machines. Be careful though. Because another new feature in this one is borrowed from a place you wouldn’t expect: Grand Theft Auto. If you should accidentally injure an innocent bystander in your pursuit of street justice, they will call the cops on you. If this happens you’ll see a badge show up with a timer, and you’ll be facing the cops until it gets down to zero. Not only that, but if you resist arrest instead of running away, and lying low they send tougher officers after you. Beating up the police also gets you news coverage, which also beefs up the calls for backup.

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Over the course of your adventure you’ll also find hideouts. In these secret (and not so secret) areas you can manage inventory, change between characters, look at achievements, and save your game. It’s also useful for getting a more detailed description of your current objective, as you can read the last bit of dialogue without it going by too quickly to be able to finish it. The game also ties the worlds of Technos Japan’s big two franchises River City Ransom, and Double Dragon together. How? By featuring copious amounts of Abobo. Double Dragon’s epic villain shows up a number of times throughout the campaign, and even plays a role in the story arc I won’t delve into here.

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Another aspect of the game that you’ll love is just how funny it is. Whether it’s a well-placed reference joke, or genuinely funny dialogue the game will make you laugh. And it isn’t really self-parody most of the time. Although there are a number of times where the storyline in the game involves gags that are over the top, they still fit the world. They’re still in line with the humor found in the original NES game. The aesthetics of the game also play into this too. the pixel art is an obvious homage to its 8-bit era origins. But it’s also retained the humor. Characters have exaggerated expressions. They have animations that follow along with the theme. They look like they belong on the NES. But the advanced number of frames, and level of detail in the background animations obviously couldn’t be done on the little toaster that could. There are also a bounty of Easter Eggs, and appearances from characters in indie games.

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The soundtrack is very good. While not every song can live up to the lofty bar of the original game, there are plenty of them that do. Expect to hear some great up tempo chip tunes, with many catchy hooks. There are also slower, ambient songs in areas that call for it. There’s enough variety here for everyone though you’re going to be so busy you may not have time to truly appreciate it.

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There are a couple of minor issues with this game to be aware of. The PC game has one technical issue in that initially only the Xbox 360 controller is seen by the game. If you set the controller options in Steam to whichever controller you want to use however, then the Steam client will override the game allowing it to be played with whichever controller you’ve selected. The only other issue is that near the end of the game you’ll have to go through a massive gauntlet with no major save point in between. The game isn’t impossible by any means mind you. But this artificially increases the difficulty in the last act as a result. Be sure to stock up on items before tackling it.  The saving grace is that some previously locked doors stay open if you fail. There’s a couple of annoyances during missions where the map doesn’t always make what you’re supposed to do clear. There’s the fact that you lose half your money when you die. But in all fairness the old game did this to you too. And if a quest ends with a boss fight grin, and bear it. Because if you go back to a hideout to save you’ll have to do it all over again anyway.

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Beyond that, though this is a very entertaining, and interesting sequel of sorts. At first things may seem insurmountable, but after a few deaths, you’ll eventually begin to level up your characters. Then sections that were once almost impossible will suddenly be fairly easy. Allowing for four players makes the game even more fun than it already is, and the solid game play solidifies it. The wide variety of playable characters also adds a lot of replay value as you’ll have to approach each wave of enemies very differently. In short River City Ransom Underground is a wonderful game even if it can be a little rough around the edges. Surprisingly it’s the only River City game not on consoles as of now. But there are ports for Apple, and Linux available for those with computers that aren’t running Windows. The game can also be found on GoG. as well as Steam.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Raging Justice Review

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Double Dragon. Streets Of Rage. Final Fight. Crime Fighters. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Battletoads. Ninja Combat. Sengoku. PIT-FIGHTER. The list goes, on, and on. The 1980’s, and 1990’s were filled with many entertaining games in which you took control of characters out to rid the world of criminals one by one. Armed with your fists, and the occasional melee weapon. Beat ’em ups were a big deal, and while some of them ran together, most of them were a lot of fun. They were about as close to an action movie a game could be at the time. While they haven’t had the resurgence other genres have had, they still sprout up from time to time. And when they’re done as well as this game is, you really ought to pay attention.

PROS: Unique art style. B+ Movie action. Good Cop/Bad Cop mechanics.

CONS: Tacky title screen. Some choppy animations. Minor bugs.

WWE: There’s a moment that seems like it was placed by wrestling show bookers.

Raging Justice is a title that elicits thoughts of a 1990’s Direct-To-Video B Action movie starring Dolph Lundgren. Which is actually pretty fitting because this game is a complete homage to many of the aforementioned games of old. The storyline is about as easy to follow as one of those old movies. The Mayor of your city has been abducted by violent street gangs, and our heroes have to rescue him. When you fire up the game you’ll have a handful of options on hand. There’s the primary campaign, a survival mode, an options menu, and the credits.  The credits are pretty self-explanatory, and the options menu is rather anemic. You can change volume levels, and you can turn friendly fire on or off.

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So you’re more than likely going to begin by playing through the campaign. When you begin you’ll be able to select one of three characters to choose from. This follows the character archetypes set up in Final Fight, and Streets Of Rage. Rick Justice is the loose cannon of the force who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s basically the power class of the three. He moves slower, but his attacks do a lot of damage. Then there’s Nikki Rage who is the opposite of Rick. She prefers to properly get arrests, and warrants. She is the more well-rounded class. She moves faster than Rick does, and can attack faster while doing a little bit less damage to opponents. Finally there’s Ashley King. A teenage explorer with the fastest, and flashiest style. Ashley is by far the fastest all around character, but does the least damage so you really need to master getting combos to use them.

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Once you’ve selected your character it’s onto the cut scenes that set up the plot of the game, before thrusting you into the action. Immediately Raging Justice begins showing you how it sets itself apart from the games that inspired it. You’re greeted with a screen overlay with some important information. Each stage features certain enemies who have a warrant out for their arrest. If you manage to arrest them you’ll get a health bonus, and if you manage to arrest all of them you can get 1-Ups too. There are also secondary objectives you can shoot for. If you’re successful you’ll score big points, and garner achievements.

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As you play you’ll notice certain enemies will have a red outline around them. These are the criminals with a warrant out for their arrest. This is also where the game begins to implement a virtue system not typically seen in games like this. If you do the right thing consistently (arresting perps rather than killing them), you’ll get the aforementioned perks. If you go the bad cop route, and knock their teeth in you don’t. However, if you’re enough of a loose cannon DTV character you can get help in other ways. Arresting people sounds easy enough. You fill up their dizzy meter by slamming them to the ground or using particular attacks. Then when it’s full, they will be dazed in one spot allowing you to grab them, and cuff them. But this is also much easier said, than done. Because they’ll never be alone. Raging Justice sends hordes of criminal waves at you. So it’s going to be tough isolating them long enough to pull this off. Even when you do, another bad guy can interrupt the process by knocking you down, or even knocking them down. Thus resulting in a resist of arrest. Sometimes you’ll be able to arrest someone. Other times you may find it safer to simply take them out.

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It’s a pleasant surprise to see a mechanic like this in Raging Justice, as it makes the game feel a little bit more unique. Few arcade genre entries have done this, the most notable one being classic Run n’ Gun NARC. For the most part it is implemented fairly well, though there are a few times when a warrant will be dazed next to a weapon or other item, and the game makes you grab the item rather than cuff the criminal at hand. Still, it’s pretty neat, and you can actually arrest most characters. Not just the ones with a warrant out for their arrest.

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The one thing in the game that may be a little bit divisive is the style of the artwork. The backgrounds are honestly quite good by any measure. They have a wonderful mix between pre-rendered models, and airbrushed matte paintings. At least that’s how they appear. The texture quality on all of it is very nice. There are also a host of homages you can spot throughout the game’s backgrounds to other games. Particularly to the original Final Fight’s latter stages. But there are others like Sega’s Streets Of Rage series, and Atari’s PIT-FIGHTER. One especially can’t help of think of that game near the end of the second stage where you’re met by a crowd of enemies in very much the same way that game set up bouts. The comparison continues with the character sprites, and this is why I think some will love the look, while others may not get behind it as much.

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The characters seem to have a similar style. The difference being they aren’t motion captured actors. Instead they appear to be pre-rendered models that were condensed down to sprites. Similar to how the characters in Donkey Kong Country, and Killer Instinct were created. However, the animation quality, while fairly good sometimes results in things looking a little choppy due to some of the wild movements in the characters’ positions in some sprites. Granted this is speculation on my part as I was never in the studio where this was made. But the end result resembles something to that effect.

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Nevertheless, it runs fairly brisk, and I can’t say I’ve even seen much in the way of slowdown in my playtime with it. It’s generally responsive, and there’s little to really complain about here. That said, if you’re not into the art style they were going for, that may disappoint you a little bit. One thing that I think should have been improved is the title screen. Mainly because it is used to sell the game on every digital store it’s stocked on, and sadly it looks woefully generic. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but it gives the impression the title is something you’d find on the rack of shovelware at an office supply store. Not the incredibly fun, if silly homage to B movies, and brawlers that it is.

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And Raging Justice is incredibly fun. There are a wide variety of criminals to take down in the brawls. You have the archetypical street punks, gang members, street-walker, morbidly obese guys who stampede you, and knife throwers you’d expect. There are also 80’s movie drug dealers who throw dynamite from their trench coats, bikers, Rottweilers, and more. There are a lot of weapons, and background details that can be destroyed on display here as well. Barbed wire bats, knives, swords, clubs, hammers, crates, phone booths, and a slew of other things I’m likely forgetting. All of which can take down some of these enemies with ease. There’s even drivable vehicles at a few key points!

The bosses are also a lot of fun due to a combination of silliness, and nostalgia. There’s the typical brute characters, but then the game decides to have you fight a 10 foot super pimp. There’s a security guard who looks suspiciously close to Final Fight’s Edi. E. But not long after that fight you’ll be facing an abomination that may just remind you of PIT-FIGHTER’s Chainman Eddie. I won’t spoil every boss for you, but suffice it to say, you’ll come away from them both challenged, and entertained.

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Throughout all of it, the audio keeps up with everything. The clanging of knives, screaming of enemies, the bold announcements, all sync up. The ambient synth-pop goes along with the action well, again, bringing along memories of those obscure films you may have rented from the video store back in the day. Or perhaps one of the more recent ones you caught at 2am on HBO or saw in a Red box at the local grocery store. In any event, it’s pretty good. Musically, it might not be something you’d want to hear on the morning commute, but it does get the job done. The sound effects however, are superb.

There are a couple of things that hinder the fun. Namely a few small bugs. There were a couple of times the game hanged after I got a “Game Over”, and so I had to exit to my main menu on my Switch to close the game, and then reopen it. This wasn’t horrible, or something game-breaking. But it was annoying, as minimal as the occurrence was. Another weird bug I experienced, was upon losing my last life as I killed the third boss. Unfortunately, because of this it wouldn’t let me continue. The counter just kept going down regardless of my jamming on the “YES! I want to continue!” button. So I had to restart the stage.

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I will say one other novel thing about Raging Justice is its continue system. You get three lives, and a set number of continues. when you run out of continues, the game ends. Par for the course, right? Well, the cool thing the game does is allow you to select any stage played up to that point. The flip side of this is you’ll start in the condition you did when you initially played it. So if you make it to the final stage with one continue left, and lose when you select it later, you’ll begin with however many lives you had, and the one continue. You won’t start with a full set of continues. This really gives you incentive to go back, and do better at the earlier stages so that you’ll have enough continues to clear the game.

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Finally, there is the survival mode I mentioned earlier. There really isn’t too much to write about here. It’s what it sounds like. You start the game with the character, and difficulty setting of your choosing. Then you try to beat up as many waves of enemies as you can until you lose your sole life. It can be fun in short bursts but the main course is where you’ll get the most fun in my opinion.

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Raging Justice may not be the best game you’ll play all year. But it just might be one of the more fun ones. It’s silly. It’s over the top. It doesn’t have a deep narrative. But it has a lot of personality. It also does what a beat ’em up game should: make you feel like a bad ass. Between the moves, weapons, and everything else, you’ll honestly feel like you’re playing a Dolph Lundgren or Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle. It’s just a fun game. And in the end isn’t that why most of us play games? Don’t let the tacky title card fool you. Raging Justice is a pretty awesome (if sometimes cheesy) brawler.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Super Double Dragon Review

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Every so often a series will take a different direction, and as a result it will get a lot of flack for it. Sometimes this can seem justified, being so different it may as well be something else entirely. In these cases sometimes that may be a creative decision, or it may be a business decision. In the world of games, sometimes it may even be technical as new hardware isn’t necessarily built off of the previous standard. But sometimes these changes aren’t all bad. In the case of Super Double Dragon we have a mixed bag of changes.

PROS: Countering system. Soundtrack. Animations. Fun.

CONS: Slower movement. Sluggish platforming. Missing characters. Nonexistent story.

CHARGE: The meter comes in handier than you think.

Super Double Dragon was released in 1992 Stateside ahead of the Japanese version. As with the NES versions of the previous three Double Dragon games, Tradewest would publish the game in North America. You’ll find upon popping the game into your Super NES, and turning it on that there is nothing in the way of options. You’re given a single player option, and two player option with or without friendly fire. That’s it. Unless you count choosing stereo or monaural music. No options. No difficulty settings. Nothing.

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Starting the game doesn’t even set the pace with a cinema screen or an animation the way the older entries did. No Marion getting punched in the ribs, or getting killed by Black Shadow Warriors. No old lady sending you around the globe. You’re just going to start the game. Upon starting the game, you’ll find things do look a cut above the NES games as you’d expect. However your characters don’t move as briskly as they did in the NES Trilogy, or the arcade games they were based upon. Super Double Dragon does feel a bit slower than what you may be used to.

And the other major issue you’ll often hear brought up is that not every member of the Black Shadow Warriors makes an appearance here. Linda, who is basically the Evil-Lyn to the Shadow Boss’ Skeletor is notably absent, as is he. Also missing are major baddies like Burnov, and fan favorite henchman Abobo. But there are a number of fresh faces joining the Williams, and Ropers as they come out of the woodwork to kick your ass.

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This is where things start to improve. The soundtrack is definitely one of the strongest points in the game. While you’re not going to hold the melodies in the same regard as the first game, they are all quite good. All of the tracks make full use of the Super Nintendo’s sound chip, and you’ll hear a lot of that familiar orchestrated sound. The bass in many of the songs really accent things with some funk-inspired licks.

The sound effects are pretty good too with the crashes, thuds, and cries of pain. Though often times bad guys will sound like they’re vomiting when they finally go down for the count. It does a great job of enhancing the action. The action, while at a slower pace is pretty good as far as beat ’em ups go. New to the series is a new counter system. So in addition to the punch, and kick button you get a jump button, and a block button. If you time your button presses right, the block button will let you do reversals, and counter into combos. You can catch a fist, then launch a flurry of elbows into your attacker’s face, and send them flying.

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Of course being a Double Dragon game, you can also grab people, throw them into each other, or pits. There is even a charge attack you can use by holding down the right or left shoulder button. On the HUD it will show this grow the longer you hold it down. You can press the punch or kick during this process to do a powered up attack that does a lot of damage. Unfortunately a lot of these additions come at a cost. Unlike the older games, you can’t climb on people after you’ve knocked them down to slam their heads into the pavement, or punch them to death. These guys will be getting up again to come after you. But there are also a wealth of weapons that can be picked up again. Oil drums, Bo staffs, bats, nunchaku, and boulders are some of the more common ones you’ll find.

But again, changes bring good along with the bad. While you won’t be seeing certain enemies, some of the newer bad guys are pretty nuts. There’s an obese clown who has a flaming spin attack that is reminiscent of Blanka’s roll in Street Fighter II. There are guys in suits that give the game an almost Scarface flair. There’s even a guy wearing a pleather trench coat with Magnum P.I. mustache, and shades. Many of the enemy designs are still decidedly late 80’s even though this is a 1992 release. So it still manages to feel like part of the series even though so many elements feel like a departure from the norm.

 

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The stages aren’t quite as exotic as they were in the second or third game. You’re not going to fight any evil doppelgänger, modern magic warlords, or ancient Egyptians. Things feel a bit more grounded like the original game did. And by original I mean the arcade version. Stages nearly run into each other. Nearly. You’ll still have a brief cut between them, but you won’t have those entrance title cards like in the NES games either. And you’ll have bad guys swarming you this time out.  You’ll start out in what appears to be a Vegas strip fighting in front of casinos. But after making your way through one such casino, you’ll fight through an airport, city streets, the top of a moving truck, rooftops, a secret base, and an evil lair. There isn’t much of that tricky, sluggish platforming here either, although there is one pesky section near the end.

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The Japanese version (called Return Of Double Dragon) does address some of the shortcomings. The songs are all arranged to play on different levels than they do in Super Double Dragon, and it has an options menu. So you’ll be able to choose a difficulty setting, as well as the number of continues allowed. It doesn’t do much to resolve the lack of a story though. Which is a weird complaint to have considering how little of a story was in previous games. But that said, the first two games had a simple, if over the top storyline. This one has basically nothing. You’ll see the final boss without even realizing that they’re the final boss. When you manage to finally take him out, the game just abruptly ends. Things go to black, and you’ll be rewarded with a brief paragraph telling you that the Lee brothers disappear after finishing off the Black Shadow Warriors. Then the credits roll. It isn’t much of a spoiler because there isn’t any real story to spoil.

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Despite the issues, this is one of the best Double Dragon games you can find. Arguably the NES version of the second game could be considered the best one for its variety, and expanded story context. Or the first one for kick starting the series, and getting the spotlight on the beat ’em up genre. But the good parts that are here, are quite fun. In fact, I have an absolute blast playing through it every time I revisit it. The music is great, the animations are terrific, and the added mechanics keep things from getting monotonous. As great as Final Fight, Turtles In Time, and other beat ’em ups on the Super Nintendo are, a lot of the more generic ones can boil down to trapping bad guys off-screen. Then punching them in groups until you can move forward. Those games may have larger sprites, with more details, but this still looks pretty good. The new features set it apart, and make it worth looking into. It really can be a lot of fun.

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Really if this had more cinema screens, Abobo, Linda, and a faster walk speed, there wouldn’t be much to complain about. And according to an interview on a Double Dragon fan site, some of these things may have been included. But the game had a locked down release date, and so things had to be cut. As such, this is why some folks may consider this one merely average. Personally, I think it’s one of the more underrated games in the series. It isn’t one of the cheaper Game Paks on the system these days, but is still worth looking into if you enjoy a good beat ’em up. If you can find the Japanese version, you’ll get a couple of extra perks to boot. If you want a vintage game that will bring back the feelings of your favorite classic B action movies, pick this one up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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

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