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ASTRAL CHAIN Review

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PlatinumGames has always been known for its fast-paced action games. MadWorld took the brawler in an interesting comic book meets film noir direction while implementing a scoring system based on how brutal you could be. (A location People Can Fly arrived in when they made Bulletstorm as well it would seem.) Bayonetta made for a great action hack n’ slash game that implemented guns, swords, and interdimensional mechanics as well as themes. The sequel improved upon all of that stuff. Vanquish was a terrific third-person combat game with great cover shooting mechanics. The Wonderful 101 was a quirky action game that had elements of all of these all while doing things on the Wii U gamepad that couldn’t be done on other consoles of the time.

In short, this is a studio that has always had a knack for making fun, action games that seem to go a step beyond similar ones. It’s rare they put out something nobody likes. Every project also seems to have something special about it. Even if there are a million other games of a similar vein, there’s something that stands out about it.

PROS: Brisk, rewarding gameplay. Replayability. Storyline & characters. Co-op.

CONS: Menus lag. Inconsistency reading chain jumps.

COPS: Fighting crime in a future time.

Astral Chain continues that trend of great action gaming with visual flair. When you start the game you’re dropped into a character creation menu where you choose to either play through the game as a male or female police officer. Once you choose one and customize them the game begins. Whichever you didn’t choose appears in the storyline as your twin. Once the game starts it immediately begins to feel like a big-budget action movie in the vein of Timecop or Robocop.  You’ll find yourself riding a motorcycle in a tunnel when you answer a call. This immediately transitions to a rail shooter filled with the kinds of stuff you’d see in a Dolph Lundgren vehicle.

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When you get through it you’re off to fight off a tough challenge, and this is when the game’s storyline picks up. As new recruits, you and your twin sibling have been sent to fight crime for NEURON the police force for the bustling city of Ark. Without giving away too much, the gist is these aliens from another dimension begin crossing the Astral Plane and kidnapping people, giving them diseases or both it’s time for our heroes to investigate.

 

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And investigate you will. Because even though this game is in many ways the action game you’d expect from the people who brought out those other games it is also a police serial. Over time you’ll begin to see the pattern the game has to offer. You’ll have a combat section, and that will be followed many times by a detective section. In these parts of the game, you’ll have a primary objective to perform or complete, but before you can do so, you’ll need to interrogate people to get information.

You don’t need *all* of the information to move on, but if you do go ahead and get everything there are bonuses to be had. During any of the sections, there are also side missions you can do. Sometimes these will get you items like medicine to heal with or a booster to increase your attack damage. Other times they will be things that can actually affect the storyline to some degree.

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Another cool thing they’ve done in these investigative sections is sprinkling a dash of Batman: Arkham Asylum in here. In its own way of course. You’ll have some sections where you’ll have futuristic recordings of events where, much like Batman, you have to deduce what happened to get more evidence or track a character down.

And throughout the game, you’ll have side missions that take you into the Astral Plane for some enemy closets to open up on you. Surviving these, as with other side missions, can net you some bonuses. Some of these aren’t just out in the open you’ll need to find them. How do you find them? In many cases, you’ll have to employ the use of a Legion. What are Legions? Well, you’ll discover through the storyline that the aliens from the Astral Plane are known as Chimeras. Among these Chimeras are Legions. These are more powerful aliens that have specific abilities. In fact, NEURON uses them as Police animals after taking control of them and using them to fight crime, there is a point where they get loose and go rogue.

 

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Of course, yours (a Legion with swords for arms) doesn’t escape. So this leads back to the structure. You’ll do detective work, then go hacking n’ slashing. Eventually, you’ll get to a fantastic boss, and upon defeating it you’ll go to the police station. The police station is a preparatory area where you’ll talk to colleagues, use a training room, buy or upgrade weapons, maintain your Legions, buy medical supplies and even use the bathroom.

It is also where you’ll be introduced to the game’s comic relief character; Lappy. Lappy is a giant mascot meant to keep youngsters on the straight and narrow. But they also show you around the station through a series of jump scares. They also narrate the training exercises as well as become a part of the storyline.

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You’ll want to listen to Lappy though. While they sound suspiciously like Sandy Cheeks they do cover some of the more advanced techniques for solving puzzles and getting around traps. All while getting accustomed to using the various Legions. After you leave the police station you’ll continue the cycle of missions. But the thing is the game is so engrossing with its story, characters and combat you will barely notice it. Even if you do notice it you won’t care.

Throughout the campaign, you’ll come across the other Legions. When you do you’ll have a bit of a fight on your hands because you also have to take control of them again. When you do, you’ll be using them not only in a combative role, but to solve puzzles too. They also add a bunch of replay value, because you can go back to previous areas with them to find secrets or side missions you might not have been able to before. You’ll also find items over the course of the game that you can add RPG like buffs to each of your captured Legions. You can add moves, or unlock new abilities or simply make them deal out more damage.

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You also can’t leave out the Legion all game long. They have a meter that empties, and if it does there’s a cooldown period before you can use them again. There are of course items you can find to reduce the consumption but make a good habit of putting them away for a little bit mid-battle for a few seconds. In each stage, you can also try to collect a bunch of the red matter poisoning the world to make your way toward other goals.

As for the combat itself, it feels classic PlatinumGames. There is a slew of elements that you may have seen in other games they made. Notably Bayonetta. The RPG elements can also feel a little like the ones implemented in Bayonetta, although I’m reminded more of The Wonderful 101. Be that as it may, they are expanded here. On top of that, the use of the Legions really makes this game stand out a lot. You’re essentially controlling two characters. One hand is your Timecop and the other is your Legion. You can do a bunch of different attacks between both of the characters. Plus you’ll eventually reclaim all of the missing Legions. You can switch between them on the fly, which you’ll need to do as some enemies are weaker to certain Legions. Plus as I alluded to before, some Legions can access some areas when exploring the others can’t. Or in some battles, you might need to switch between them depending on the form a certain boss may take.

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Among them is the Sword Legion you start with which fights with rather brisk sword swings, and can also be used for recon moments. There’s also the Arrow Legion which is a great option for airborne enemies or getting the jump on distant ones. The Armor Legion is basically a hulking beast of armor you can wear or send out to beat the tar out of bad guys. It can also be used to move things. Then there’s the K9 Legion which behaves like a dog. You can have it dig through things to find items or have it chase a scent. You can also ride it like a horse! And finally, the Axe Legion which can put out a forcefield, destroy key objects, or attack things with an ax.

If all of that wasn’t enough, you’ll want to use the IRIS system the game implements. This puts the visuals into a sort of wireframe mode which allows you to spot some objectives, items, or weak points easier. It’s also a handy way for you to use stealth tactics when necessary. It’s also a must if you want to measure that boss health. And it does all of this under some of the most appealing visuals on the Nintendo Switch. PlatinumGames has always had good looking games but they really push some great details in this highly stylized action game. There are some terrific vistas you’ll see. Some wonderful skylines. Some abstract art, and some unsettling yet minimalist sections as you visit parts of the city and Astral Plane.

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The characters are also splendid with a nice blend of modern, and futuristic themes. It shouldn’t be a surprise as they brought in Masakazu Katsura who is famous in Anime and Manga circles. He’s best known for Tiger & Bunny, but he’s been in those worlds for years. His character designs pop off of the screen here. And that isn’t to say everything in the game is top tier visually. There are some things in the background that are clearly enabling lower textures or details. Sometimes you may notice a certain wall or floor looks a little flat. But overall these decreases in visual fidelity are minor in the grand scheme of things. You’ll likely be too busy being mesmerized by flashy finishing moves, and trying to survive waves upon waves of enemies.

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And all of this is married to a storyline that is honestly quite good. It has characters you’ll get attached to. It has some swerves. Some you’ll see coming. Some you won’t. It has some terrific performances by the voice actors involved. And while the story does have some of the tropes you may expect to see in a tale like this, it still earns some genuine emotional responses. Going back and analyzing things in it is something you’ll likely find some depth in. It isn’t going to be as profound, and thought-provoking as some of the films or novels you’ve read. But it does go deeper than a simple “This is the antagonist. This is what they did. Stop them.” you might expect to get from most action games. And the fact your decisions impact how things play out a bit means you’ll want to go back to it for a second or third playthrough. And before I forget, the soundtrack is great too. There are some insanely good heavy metal tracks when the action heats up, and a few electronic pop tracks that fit the theme well when exploring, or sleuthing.

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There are a couple of problems I did have while playing the game though. Mainly with the chain jump mechanic, you’ll get to use at some point in the game. The problem with it is that in a couple of situations it isn’t clear where you’re going to land. Unfortunately, this means you may lose a ton of energy or even a life missing a jump that you (at least in your mind) should have made with no problems. These aren’t frequent moments. At least they weren’t when I played through it. But it is something to make a mental note of. The other thing is the game sometimes has inconsistent load times between areas. Again, nothing that makes you crazy, it’s just a strange minor annoyance.

Still, it’s a fantastic game overall. One I highly recommend picking up even if you think it might not be your cup of tea. There is a bevy of difficulty settings as well. There are your usual Easiest, Easy, Normal, Hard, scale. But there is also a separate option for using the Legions. You can either control them manually, or you can have the A.I. control them. Frankly, even though it might take you a level or two to get used to them (there’s a lot of functions you can do with any given one of them),  it’s far better than relying on the computer to do things. That said, it is a nice option for those who feel they need more time to figure out how their main character works.

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And if all of that isn’t enough for you it has a cooperative mode where one player controls the police officer and the second player controls the Legion whenever they’re needed. In an age where most any multiplayer option is online-focused, it’s nice to see a console game take the classic couch approach. That said, be prepared to have some classic arguments with your pals if they can’t keep up with you. Even on lower difficulty settings, Astral Chain is quite the challenge.

Ultimately though, Astral Chain is a must-play release. It’s classic PlatinumGames through and through. But it also improves on many of the features introduced in earlier games while giving you a bunch of new features and a wealth of content. This is a game you’ll complete and then want to replay to either find things you missed before or to see how different choices affect the story. There’s also the fun of turning up the difficulty as you replay it for an even bigger challenge. As contemporary action games go, Astral Chain is a keeper.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

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Earth Defense Force 4.1 Review

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Sometimes you have a rather hectic day. When you get home you want to play a game. But you want to play a game that doesn’t require a lot of detective work or puzzle solving. You just want something fun. In many ways, that’s what this series really is. Starting way back on the PlayStation 2 with Monster Attack, and Global Defense Force this is a line of games that sees you shooting waves of creatures.

PROS: A lot of old-school arcade action. Camp.

CONS: It could become monotonous for some players.

EDF!: You will hear this war cry constantly.

Originally released as Earth Defense Force 2025 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360,  4.1 is an updated re-release for the PlayStation 4 that later came to Microsoft Windows via storefronts like Steam. It has everything EDF 2025 did, plus some bonus content. And on top of that, there were some DLC missions released one can buy if they wish. But there are a lot of stages in the base game to cut your teeth on.

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So what is the objective in EDF 4.1? As is the case in the rest of the series, you’ll be tasked with entering large maps and killing waves of monsters. Frankly, the game controls like a champ. Everything is pretty brisk, smooth, and responsive to boot. Especially on the Windows version which allows you to play it with a keyboard and mouse.

Over the course of 89 missions or so you’ll be tasked with gunning down, incinerating, and destroying thousands of giant insects, robots, and more. Generally, that’s what each mission boils down to. Going into one of the game’s 16 maps, and killing the biggest hordes you’ve seen this side of Serious Sam. But where Serious Sam has a path in each level with a horde/power-ups/horde cycle it also lets you spend hours hunting for secrets in any given level. EDF veers even more toward classic golden age arcade games in its play. It’s fast, and constantly throwing things at you like Robotron 2084, but then has a bunch of Role-Playing elements to keep things fresh.

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For instance, the game has three classes from the outset with one appearing later. You can be a Ranger, which plays a lot like the characters in most First, and Third-Person Shooters. On foot, blowing away monsters. There’s also the Wing Diver who gets a jetpack, and laser weapons. She can be very effective. However, it takes some time getting used to dashing around. She also has limited time she can fly around with the jetpack before having to land and recharge it.

From there you have the Fencer who is a heavy weapons expert. This class has a risk/reward element due to the expanded might, but complexity, and slower speed. Finally, you have the Air Raider who can call in pilotable vehicles, forcefields, and healing stations.

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Each class has several weapons to choose from in the fight against the threats. But here is where the game sinks its claws into you: You have to get the new weapons by finding them as drops when killing monsters. Moreover, the best weapons are more commonplace on higher difficulty settings. So to get the best gear for later missions you’ll want to play the first few on tougher settings. This way you have a leg up on the tougher ones.

But where the game really shines is in the multiplayer options. You can play the game in split-screen, or you can play the game online. The game was clearly meant for multiplayer as the different classes can complement each other when coming up with a strategy in any given level. The Wing Diver can be useful against the areal enemies while the other classes can deal with ground threats. It’s much easier to coordinate battle plans with friends than it is trying to get the NPC Allies to do their jobs.

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While EDF isn’t the best looking game out there, it does look really nice. The maps are large and relatively expansive. The textures are fairly sharp, and while the geometry may not match that of other contemporary titles it does allow for better performance. Even my aging computer ran the game maxed out, at a relatively high frame rate. The audio department is more of a mixed bag. Most of the music is standard fare, but the sound effects and voice samples are quite good. Some of it comes off a little hokey at times, but that just plays into the Kaiju theme.

Really this game can be quite a lot of fun. Especially when you have a few friends to play it with. It might not be the deepest experience as you’re going to do variations of the same thing most of the time. But it does mix it up quite a bit with the focus on multiple enemy types, and grinding away to better gear. That said, it isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea because it can get a little repetitive. Especially for those who choose to go it alone. Still, it is fun enough to recommend. If you’re easily distracted you’ll want to play it in short bursts. Nevertheless, as time goes on and you open up more content you’ll likely find yourself going back to it, shouting your war cry with your fellow brethren.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

GATO ROBOTO Review

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Like the term or not, Metroidvania games have seen something of a resurgence in the world of independently made games. Large maps where you have to slowly discover and uncover areas through exploration have been around for years. But the best games with this design philosophy have had their own little hooks that make them stand out from the crowd. Axiom Verge, VVVVVV, and The Messenger all had unique takes on the idea. And Gato Roboto also has its own things it brings to the table.

PROS: It’s Metroid, The Nodes Of Yesod, Blaster Master, and Mega Man. With KITTIES!

CONS: Short. Veterans may find their way through even faster.

HUMOR: This game will get some laughs out of you.

Let’s get this out of the way. Gato Roboto is an excellent game. I think most people who buy it will enjoy it immensely. You’ll enjoy the gameplay, laugh at the jokes, and the Undertale inspired character designs are pretty good too. Aesthetically, Gato Roboto also wears the clothes of games played on our IBM PC Compatibles, Apple II’s, Commodore 64’s, Atari 800’s, and ZX Spectrums back in 1984. Outside of a handful of other mentions, most games that take the retro look take inspiration from the NES. So Gato Roboto stands out from the crowd a tad bit more in this regard.

It also helps that everything about this game is so darn cute. It’s like the folks at Doinksoft pretty much knew this was going to have to resonate with the Hallmark Card crowd, and it really does. You play the role of a cat who is on a military vessel with its owner. You, being a seemingly oblivious pet step on a keyboard which causes the navigation system to go off course. This results in a crash getting you and your owner marooned on an alien world. Your owner can’t escape the wrecked ship, so you agree to go do the job they cannot. Fortunately, they know a little bit about the planet and give you some clues.

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Before long, you’ll discover a lab that looks suspiciously like the save stations in Super Metroid. You’ll also find a vehicle that looks suspiciously like the vehicle from Blaster Master. And like the latter, throughout your adventure, there will be times you’ll need to get out of it. The difference is in Gato Roboto you’re entirely defenseless when roaming on foot. These moments have an element of stealth gameplay, where you have to sneak around or approach a situation like a puzzle. When riding around in your vehicle you convert into a tiny kitten themed mech. And much like the Metroid games, you’ll have to find items to give you more powerful weapons, longer health bars, and the ability to go places you previously could not.

It also has a bit of the pre-Metroid exploration games like The Nodes Of Yesod, and The Arc Of Yesod. Those games also had you rolling around a large map for items. But they didn’t scroll. Gato Roboto has some areas like this, where the screen just flips to the next one. And with the art style used, it really fits the motif. Even if it can be jarring with the spots that do have four-way scrolling.

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If Undertale made you laugh, it will be apparent to you that Toby Fox was an inspiration here. There is a lot of similar humor here. Characters balk at certain interactions. They’ll make references that are just vague enough that the intended audience gets them. And there are a few spots where they go the opposite direction with reference humor to make sure everyone gets the gag. They also throw in some stuff that only pet owners or the friends or relatives of pet owners will get.

Through it all, everything feels pretty tight. There aren’t too many moments where you’ll die and wonder why. That said, things do feel different when exploring the world on foot than they do when you’re piloting a vehicle. You have a little bit more momentum when scrambling around on four legs. You have a different arc and sense of gravity when jumping. There are also places you can go on foot that you can’t when piloting your mech. It all feels really good.

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Boss fights usually feel right out of the Metroid games. Though there are a few that will hearken back to the NES Mega Man games. One fight, in particular, reminded me of a very specific Sonic The Hedgehog fight. While another reminded me of playing Super R-Type. So there are a number of old-school references geezers like me can enjoy along with the contemporary ones those I have a decade on will love as well.

Throughout it all, the audio soundtrack complements it well. If I had any complaints about it, there isn’t any particular tune that really stood out to me. Nothing that I know will make me go “I know this was from Gato Roboto!” years from now. But there’s nothing here that will feel out of place.

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The only thing I feel that some people won’t like is just how short it can feel. My first playthrough was done in less than four hours. I found nearly 75% of all of the items in the process. By contrast, I probably put a good 20 hours into The Messenger, and Axiom Verge each. Be that as it may, Gato Roboto’s vehicle mechanic and collectibles do feel unique from other exploration games. It’s also a good candidate for speed running. In fact, one of its achievements on Steam is centered around it. As for the collectibles, you can find up to 14 hidden cartridges in the game’s map. If you manage to get them, they’ll allow you to change the color scheme from black and white graphics to other two-toned visual solutions. But more importantly, finding them all will allow an NPC to give you better equipment. If you go for a 100% completion run this might extend that playtime a bit. Especially if you decide to do that before trying to speed run the game or getting through it without going for the better items.

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In conclusion, Gato Roboto does do enough to set itself apart from other Metroidvania style games. It’s very funny, has some challenging bosses, and some of the items can be pretty tough to get. I just wish it could have been just a little bit longer. On the other hand, a good game should leave you wanting more. Gato Roboto is a good game. One you ought to check out. Especially if you’ve already played some of its acclaimed contemporaries. And even if you haven’t, you’ll still likely enjoy it a lot. Especially if you like to get legitimate moments of comic relief in your games. Gato Roboto is one stray worth taking in.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

GUNLORD X Review

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Turrican. It was one of the most beloved games to come out of the European home computer scene. Created and published by Rainbow Arts, the game would go onto see a multitude of sequels across many computer platforms. Most popularly on the Commodore 64, and Commodore Amiga. Future games would be made by Factor 5. Yes, *that* Factor 5. The series would eventually make its way to North America where it would gain most of its prominence on the Sega Genesis, and then the Super NES.

But whether you prefer one of the home computer versions or one of the console entries Turrican is an all-time classic for a reason. It blended action-platforming, and run n’ gun gameplay very well. Plus it encouraged exploration over simply running in any given direction. There’s a good chance if you pick up any one of the games in the series, you’ll want to spend a considerable amount of time trying to complete it.

PROS: A wonderful send-up of Turrican. Fantastic Soundtrack.

CONS: Some enemies blend into backgrounds. Small bugs.

X: Features some modern tweaks.

GUNLORD X is a love letter to the Turrican series. It is also a modern update to a 2012 release on the Sega Dreamcast which in turn was previously a game on the Neo Geo. Previously, I had only heard of the Dreamcast game but never played it. Largely because of the fact that it wasn’t a wide release, and became pretty collectible fairly quickly. I was informed by Mike of DYHPTG and XVGM Radio about the Neo Geo original, which as it turns out is also quite expensive these days.

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In any case, the folks at NGDEV have made a fantastic send-up of Turrican. GUNLORD X plays very similarly to the old Rainbow Arts and Factor 5 games. Throughout the game’s 11 stages you’ll find yourself trying to get to the end of each, blowing away hundreds of threatening enemies in the process. However, the game only becomes that much tougher if you treat it as a typical 2D action game.

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While the game does have a more standard stage progression, each of these puts a huge emphasis on exploration. As was the case in the Turrican games, you’ll need to go off the beaten path looking for secrets, 1-Ups, and items if you want any hope of having enough in reserve to make it to the end. The game also has a gem system similar to that of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. Except that instead of giving you a star rating to unlock stages, these are needed to earn continues. So you’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get to those giant pink gems that seem just out of reach.

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This is where GUNLORD X can even feel a lot like a Metroidvania. While there is no massive overarching map that you’re trying to navigate, the stages do have branching paths. There are also plenty of secret rooms, and areas that are hidden behind walls that must be clipped through. One of the key moves in the game even takes a page from Nintendo’s adventure series. You’ll need to turn into a ball to get into crevasses, tunnels, or discover certain tiles you can pass through. You’ll have to spend a considerable amount of time finding hidden platforms or ledges to reach other spots or in order to solve puzzles.

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As a result, you can’t really approach the game like a Metroid game or a traditional action game. The combat is far more hectic and fast-paced than in Nintendo’s acclaimed series. The platforming is very much an homage to the home computer games of the 1980s and 1990s. There is a very European computer platforming feel in this game. You’ll have to make very calculated jumps that require you to be right on the very edge of a platform in order to make it to the next. Again, like Turrican. Floaty, meticulous jumps. On paper, when combined with some of the firefights you’ll get into it might sound like an insurmountable amount of chaos. But with the brilliant level design on display, it really isn’t. This is an action game that doesn’t rely solely on your reflexes. Instead, you’ll need to be very focused on everything else going on around you. If you pay too much attention to enemies, you may not notice a trap. If you pay too much attention to a trap, you might not see that one tiny enemy hiding on a ledge.

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There’s a little bit of give and take. You don’t necessarily have to be the fastest shot or the absolute best jumper. But you do need to be aware of what is going on around you at all times. You have to give yourself some time to plan. But you also need to think on your feet sometimes. Instinctively you might want to blast everything in sight. But sometimes that might end up destroying your only path to a gem that might have netted you another continue in a particularly tough section.

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But it isn’t all branching paths, secret rooms, and hordes. GUNLORD X breaks up things with shoot ’em up sections and some auto scroll stages for good measure. Be that as it may, even in these stages you’re going to want to keep an eye out for those hidden gems. Sometimes that means looking for any kind of variance at the risk of potentially becoming crushed. The shoot ’em up sections are shorter stages than the rest of the stages, but they’re still challenging in their own right. While I wouldn’t call these Bullet Hell sections, there is still a ton of stuff to avoid and shoot down.

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GUNLORD X is by no means an easy game. but it isn’t an insurmountable one. There are plenty of tools the game gives you to get through even the most troublesome areas. For one thing, there are a wide variety of guns you can pick up. You’ll start with a standard issue gun, but upon shooting your first invisible platform you’ll find little cards jettison. If you pick one up you’ll change guns. There are all types, and as you play through sections multiple times (which you probably will because you likely won’t get through it on an initial playthrough) you’ll learn what weapon suits the predicament the best. There’s a spread gun that isn’t that powerful but can clear waves of low-level enemies and projectiles. There’s a flame thrower that takes down targets fast at the cost of not covering every angle. There’s a green laser that has a high fire rate. There are also rocket launchers, a blue beam, and more. You can also drop bombs when you’re in your *Not* Samus ball mode. There are also some generous health pickups and shield pickups. Be that as it may, you can’t afford to get careless. Three hits and you’re dead.

 

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The arsenal also includes a laser beam that can clear enemy projectiles, and destroy enemies themselves. Over time during continuous use, it becomes weaker though. There is a meter at the bottom of the screen that depletes as you use it. When you stop using it, it will slowly recharge. You use it by moving the right thumbstick in whatever direction you want. You’ll find many times you’ll have to stop firing your main weapon to use it, and then go back to using your main weapon. It’s a very handy tool in that you can go through most walls with it, which lets you get a jump on some of the tougher regular enemies.

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Of course, the major stars of the show are the enormous bosses. Some stages have one, others have multiple bosses, and others do not have a boss at all. Still, when you do go up against one it won’t be enough to simply memorize an attack pattern. Certain weapons do a better job against certain bosses. This gives the game a dash of Mega Man, and Contra spices into the proverbial brew. Fortunately, you won’t have to defeat the entire gauntlet of a game in a single sitting. The game has limited continues, but it does let you start on the last stage you’ve reached. This is something of a Godsend when you’ve made it to the end of the game only to reach a fail state.

Completing the game will unlock a speed run mode where you’ll try to complete the game again, as fast as humanly possible for your personal best record. I’m sure that this mode will attract a lot of hardcore fans, and runners since everything else in the game is just so good. The game also offers a couple of visual options one can tweak if they wish. It has a scanline filter you can turn on or off. If you leave it on, you can also fine-tune the look of the scanlines so that you can make them as authentic looking as you want. You can also render the game in 4:3 or a 16:9 aspect ratio and the game will let you put borders on or off when using 4:3. Generally, I found I left the scanlines off as I like the crispness of the pixel art. I also played in the classic 4:3 aspect ratio since that would have been what the original versions ran under.

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So other than the added letter to its name and some visual options what does this offer over the Dreamcast or Neo Geo versions? Well as far as I can tell after seeing footage from the original some of the stages have been reworked. Some of these are longer stages than they were before and the game appears to have more bosses to contend with. There are also a few minor aesthetic changes too. A background scene or two have seen some edits, along with some grammatical errors seeing a correction. One disappointing change is a slightly toned down introduction cinema. Where an enemy was previously gunned down, they now narrowly escape. It’s baffling since the Nintendo of today allows for things like Mortal Kombat 11 to appear unaltered.

Violence reduction aside, things look absolutely terrific in this game. The pixel art is breathtaking, allowing for a lot of details even the old Amiga computers would have had to have been really pushed to pull off without losing a steady frame rate. The 16-bit palettes are only one aspect of this one. Everything just has an awe-inspiring look to it. The character designs, backdrops, enemy designs, and bosses look fantastic. And while the story is very much a simple B+ Action film staple of a hero rescuing their spouse, the world building is intriguing. By the end of the campaign, you’re going to want to see more of GUNLORD X. The game’s soundtrack is equally great, taking a lot of inspiration from the Amiga 500’s sound chip, and the Sega Genesis’ sound chip. Rafael Dyll‘s soundtrack takes a cue from Chris Huelsbeck‘s fine work on Turrican too. As with a lot of the other Turrican homages, this one features a really nice New Wave synthesized sound that fits the cold, harsh, dystopian world of GUNLORD X. Not only has this wonderful OST carried over from the original version of the game, but the added trailer tune by Fabian Del Priore fits right in with it perfectly. This is a soundtrack that is very memorable in its own right, and while inspired by Turrican, sets it apart from Turrican.

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Frankly, GUNLORD X is an essential download for any Switch owner who loves Metroidvanias, Run N’ Guns, or Eurocentric computer platformer games of the action variety. It’s a cut above many of the other retro-inspired indie games you can find on the Nintendo e-shop. Those who absolutely demand a physical cartridge might be disappointed that (as of now) this is a digital only release. Be that as it may, you get more than your money’s worth in terms of content, and challenge. Plus there are just enough additions to make it worth nabbing even if you decide to splurge hundreds of dollars on one of the original Dreamcast or Neo Geo releases.

There really isn’t all that much to complain about here either. As far as gameplay issues go, some enemies blend a little too well into the backgrounds. So sometimes you may take damage, or lose a life to something a couple of times before realizing why. Annoying, yes. But far too rare to dilute the overall experience. On the technical side, there are a couple of bosses that don’t seem to load in until you move to a very specific place in their arenas. Most notably the dragon, and the initial henchmen of the final battle. Weird, but it doesn’t really affect the game much at all. But it is something to be aware of if you’re going to attempt speed runs as you’re not going to want to lose five seconds because you stood on the wrong brick.

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Beyond these two complaints which could very likely find themselves fixed in a patch should the developers discover them I can’t complain. GUNLORD X is one of the best games on the Nintendo e-shop. It combines action, adventure, and platforming elements in a way that the average player will love. Turrican fans will especially love it as the best elements have all carried over. But it still retains its own identity thanks to the excellent visual and sound design. As well as the excellent level design. This game is awesome.

In short: GUNLORD X is a really cool game you really ought to check out.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

PowerA Enhanced Wireless Controller for Nintendo Switch Review

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The Third-Party Controller. It’s been a mainstay since the days of the Atari 2600. For over a generation, one of gaming’s running jokes has been this familiar scene. You’ve invited someone over for a night of video games. You want them to play with you, but you don’t have the cash for a second controller. They’re expensive. You need an alternative that isn’t as costly. So you pick up a compatible controller for a third of the price and force the guest to use it. Why is this a joke? Because for over 40 years, there have been countless controllers made by companies other than the platform holders. Controllers that have often been shoddy, made from cheap, brittle plastics. Controllers that often wear out fast, or simply aren’t as responsive as the stock controller that came with the console.

In short: Third-Party controllers have often been largely inferior to their First-Party counterparts. But, over the years there have been exceptions. The long-defunct Suncom often made controllers on par with the likes of Atari, and Coleco. ASCII made a couple of terrific pads for the NES, Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo. But, by and large, these were never the rule.

PROS: Feature rich. Build quality. Affordable.

CONS: No NFC chipset for Amiibo figures. No Lithium-Ion battery.

NOW: You’re playing with PowerA.

In recent years a newer name has come into view. PowerA. This company has controllers you’ll see sprinkled along with First-Party controllers on pegs in Walmart, Target, and Gamestop stores all across the USA. They started out making some inexpensive wired controllers, and have slowly introduced some wireless alternatives. This is especially true in the Nintendo Switch sections. Near the end of 2018, their wireless offering began showing up, and initially, it might seem easy to write it off like another bad knockoff. But quite honestly, you might just want to consider this one.

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With Nintendo’s own Pro Switch Controllers costing nearly $80, you may not be prepared to get one on a whim. A set of Joy Cons and another grip is also not an inexpensive endeavor. PowerA’s offering is almost less than half the price of Nintendo’s and is as responsive in its reaction time. I’m serious. You can approach any game you own on the console with it, and it performs wonderfully. The thumbsticks have a very nice grip along their circular rims and feel great. It also has a sturdy, yet light feel. Enough heft without weighing down your wrists during long play sessions.

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There’s also a nice bonus in that there are two programmable buttons they’ve added to the underside. If there’s a game that has a sequence you want to assign to either of them, you can press the center button on the other side, and then program the sequence to either side button. This can be handy in some games where you don’t want to deal with a combination of simultaneous movement. Maybe you have a game that requires you to press Y, and X at the same time for certain tasks. And for whatever reason, you can’t get a handle on it. Now you can make that a single button press. Or maybe there’s a game that makes pressing a weird, unintuitive combination mandatory. Now, you can skip that.

PowerA also made a controller that pairs with the Switch fairly easily. All you have to do is go under the grip order menu and press the sync button along the top. It may take a moment longer on an initial synchronization but after that, it’s pretty quick. The controller also features some really well-made face buttons. the A, B, X, Y buttons have a nice feel, and the D-pad feels terrific. The shoulder buttons and triggers also have a great feel to them. The +, -, Camera, and Home buttons feel a little bit brittle and cheap. But they’re also not the most essential ones either. Unless you just have to take 30-second clips of everything, it probably won’t matter much to you.

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The controller also includes a gyroscopic movement! Until recently, most Third-Party offerings omitted this to get to a lower price. The thing is, there are a handful of games that really do play better with motion controls enabled. Super Mario Sunshine’s Cappy trick jumping, and Splatoon 2’s smooth, quick aiming go much, much better with motion controls. In the case of the latter, the difference between using the right thumbstick, and tilting the controller is night and day. So having that feature in a controller is a must for some players. Some who enjoy Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might enjoy motion steering.

But, there are a few concessions here to be aware of. First, the battery. The PowerA solution does not have a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery like the Pro Controller does. Instead, the company went with traditional AA batteries. There is a plus, and a minus to this. On the minus side, you’ll have the expense of buying AA batteries in bulk or rechargeable AA batteries, and a AA battery wall charger. You won’t have the same battery life Nintendo’s solution gives you either. But on the plus side, if you’re still playing games on the Switch in 15 years, you’ll still be able to find batteries. And you won’t have to take the controller apart to replace them.

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Sadly, this controller also eschews the NFC chipset the Pro Controller has. So you can’t use Amiibo figures or cards with this. You’ll still need to use your Joy-Con controller to scan in the collectibles if you want to use their features. It isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it is inconvenient if you want to play Smash Bros with this controller while also training Figure Players.

Considering the cost of the controller (at the time of this writing) though, these omissions may or may not bother you too much. It manages to come through on all of the most important fronts. It also performs as well as the Nintendo options in your games save for the cut feature or two. If you’re in the market for a second controller for your Nintendo Switch, this is definitely one worth considering. Just keep in mind you’ll need a stash of batteries, and Amiibo Figures aren’t compatible with it. You can also find it in a variety of different colors or screen prints. Sadly none of these feature the Squid Sisters or Inklings. Despite there being a non-motion controlled wired Splatoon themed controller by PowerA. Hopefully, future revisions will include other Nintendo themed screen prints.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

 

Mortal Kombat 11 (Switch) Review

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A few days ago the highly anticipated Mortal Kombat 11 came out, and has mostly gotten praise. But the Nintendo Switch version is often left out of the conversation. Like many people I was curious about how the game was going to work out on the console. So I picked it up after work on its launch, and I’ve been playing it after hours since. This is what I’ve found about the game on Switch, and the game in general. Much of this will likely apply to the other three versions out there as well.

PROS: Everything in the other versions is here. Plays great.

CONS: The visuals are downgraded. Crashes. Issues with the Krypt, and Towers.

WB: Still pulling pre-order shenanigans with Mortal Kombat.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room right away. The graphics. Between the trailer we saw at the Game Awards 2017, and subsequent footage, everybody was wowed. NetherRealm studios did a terrific job building some of the most beautiful backdrops, and character designs in a Mortal Kombat game yet. They didn’t do this alone though. The level of graphics, and animation work in this game is staggering. So it should be no surprise upon seeing the end credits you’ll notice over 20 software developers, and animation studios were paid to help the game along. You can tell a lot of hard work went into the visual aspect of the game alone.

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So how does the Nintendo Switch version of this massive, illustrious fighting game fare? A small developer out of Miami, Florida called Shiver was contracted to port the game to Nintendo’s gaming tablet, and they did a fantastic job. While none of the consoles have bleeding edge tech in them at this point, there is a gap between a Tegra II tablet chip, and the AMD processors, and graphics chips in the Microsoft, and Sony boxes. As such there wasn’t much of a question that Unreal Engine 4 (the software that powers the game) would work well on those. It was possible to use on tablets, but how well was in question for the average player.

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Shiver has gotten the game running insanely well on the Nintendo Switch. It has all of the content the other versions have, and it looks pretty good too. It even runs at a high frame rate like the other versions. It just comes unsurprisingly, at a price. The best way I can describe it, is that fights look like you’re playing the PC version on just above the lowest settings. Which tells me that Shiver had the option to either make the game look like the other versions, but have a lower frame rate. Or they could have gone the route they did. And if I’m right about that, frankly, everyone should be happy they took that route. Mortal Kombat 11, much like previous games, requires very fast movement in order to pull off some of its best combos, and other moves. Frame rate doesn’t just effect what your eyes are seeing. It can often make a game feel more responsive. Something you need to have in order for a fighting game to work. Especially at a high level of play.

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And the end result still doesn’t look bad. You’ll notice the game changes visual quality at times too. During the pre fight banter the game looks like it runs at the lowest settings possible, and then ticks up to the lower, or medium settings when the fights begin, and stays there during them. The most noticeable downgrade is that the UE4 lighting effects have mostly been toned down or turned off. You won’t see a lot of reflections, or sheen on costumes, or metal objects in most of the game. Antialiasing effects are lowered, or off so you’ll see “Jaggies” as we used to know them. Most of the textures are still rendered at the standards of the other versions. But some of the background objects aren’t so they won’t look as crisp. Rather they’ll have a slightly blurred quality to them.

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And on some stages very little of these downgrades are that noticeable right away. It’s only going to be the absolute worst nitpickers among us who this will be a problem for. And at that level one could begin to nitpick the other versions too. Mortal Kombat 11 on the Switch may not look as nice as it does on the PS4 or XB1. But it doesn’t look bad either. If I had any issues with the graphics its that during the story mode it can be a little jarring to have the cut scenes running at their higher settings, then going to the lower settings for fights, and back to higher settings for more cinematic story.

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That said, Mortal Kombat 11 has a lot of content in it. As I’ve said before, the Switch version has everything the other versions have. The main single player mode on display is the Story mode, which has been an expected feature since Mortal Kombat 9. I didn’t play the tenth game, so I can’t really compare the story in this one to that game’s. But I did play through MK9, and I can say it is a substantially better storyline here. I don’t want to go too in depth here as a lot of folks still have yet to experience it. But the game introduces a new villain. A Goddess known as Kronika. She looks suspiciously like Sinead O’Connor, and can control time, and space with a magic hourglass. She sets up a plan to wipe out the realms, and so our heroes, and villains in the roster set out to stop or help her. There are plenty of moments that will make you laugh, surprise you, and the story even tries to make you cry a few times. It doesn’t really earn that much from you, but you will be entertained. Thanks to some terrific voice acting performances, top-notch animation, and pretty good writing it does feel like one of the old 80’s action movies that inspired a lot of the classic Mortal Kombat games.

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Like I said before, the Switch version can feel a little jarring as you go through it, because the game switches graphics settings on the fly between fights, and cinematics. There was a rare moment in my playthrough where the game hiccupped doing this near the final chapter. It didn’t effect the game or story, but goes to show there’s a glitch or two that may require a bug fix in the near future. Beyond that though, I enjoyed playing through the story mode. It held my attention, and a few times in it, you’ll get the option to control one character or another. So you do get some replay value by going back, and playing with different characters.

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Beyond the story mode, there is the classic arcade ladder mode you can play. Doing this more or less is what you’d expect. You play a gauntlet of opponents the way you have since the original Mortal Kombat. As has been the case since Mortal Kombat 3, you can choose longer, and more difficult arcade ladders as well. Clearing these with each character gets you those classic arcade style endings. Each told from the perspective of the character had they been the canon protagonist.

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Spinning off of the arcade ladder is something called Towers Of Time, where you play a similar series of arcade ladders. But the difference is the fact that each match has conditions in them. Such as “Don’t touch acid, or your opponent gets health back.”. These can be a lot of fun, and can even help you get better at avoiding certain attacks. The mode is also tied to the game’s returning Krypt mode. Winning in these towers, will give you a lot of the green coins, and other currency you’ll need to spend in the Krypt. It can be fun to go in to these fights to grind for money. But there’s one major problem with it. It takes forever. The rewards you gain, for some of these brutal fights can be miniscule. Plus on top of the main currency, hearts are another currency. Hearts are needed in the Krypt to unlock some of the biggest stuff in the game. And you can only get those by getting fatalities, and brutalities while playing.

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And before you spout off about Warner Bros. doing to Mortal Kombat 11 what they’ve done in their other games by closing stuff off with microtransactions, that isn’t the case here. Yes, there is a store. Yes, you can pay for easy fatalities. Yes you can pay to unlock Frost instead of just playing the story mode, and using her for free. You can spend money on a virtual currency it calls Time Crystals. But aside from a few skins, and one button fatalities for each character there isn’t much you can buy that would affect gameplay. So when it comes to the stuff in the Krypt, you really can’t. You can pretty much skip the store in this one. The one thing you can levy at WB is the fact that Shao Kahn was hidden behind a six dollar pay wall in order to encourage people to buy the game before it came out, or at least pre order it. If you didn’t put your trust in the game before having picked it up, it costs you another six bucks to play as the character. He isn’t in the DLC bundle pack either. So that is the one blemish here as far as microtransactions go.

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Be that as it may, grinding away the coins, green gems, and hearts for the Krypt can take a long, long time. Supposedly NetherRealm has addressed this on a recent video update, and will be putting out a patch soon as of this writing. This should make things feel a bit more manageable for players who don’t want to devote all of their game time to Mortal Kombat 11.

As for the Krypt itself, it feels somewhere between the ones in Deadly Alliance, and Deception. It isn’t a simple grid done in a graveyard style. But it isn’t a full-fledged adventure game involving NPCs either. You go around Shang Tsung’s island finding boxes. But there are some hidden walls you can break open to get to new areas, as well as puzzles to solve to gain access to certain chests. There are even a few booby traps. You can die in the Krypt.

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Opening the chests gets you anything from concept art to stuff you can use in the game. There are a few extra costumes, second fatalities, and augmentation parts you can use to enhance how your characters will play. This is a system that has been carried over from Injustice 2, and refined for this game. It’s a neat system because it adds an RPG like element to the fighting genre. One that might entice someone whom may not play many fighting games to give it a look. Of course, when it comes to the game’s online play there are modes where you can or can’t use them. Once you eventually open everything in the Krypt there is a building early on, with a round lever on it. If you have enough coins you can press it to close all of the chests in the Krypt, and fill them with different things. The other interesting thing about the Krypt is that every player will have a different experience. Because while everyone will have the same key items, the chests they are in, are in different locations. So you can’t simply try to look at a walkthrough on YouTube. The skin they found in a particular chest, may be in that chest. But in your playthrough that chest will be in a different place.

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The Augmentation system also ties many of the modes together by requiring you to play everything the game has on offer. If you want a certain hat for Raiden for example, you’ll have to unlock it by going to a certain mode, or completing a certain challenge. Some of these items will be in the Krypt of course, but many will not. So you’ll have to go down the list, read the description, and then try to unlock it by playing that mode. You can also create custom move lists here too. You may want to use a version of Liu Kang where you use a different attack in lieu of the bicycle kick for instance. You can have different profiles of each character with different move sets, different gear to buff said move sets, and an overall customized look. It’s honestly pretty cool. But again, when talking about the competitive side of fighting games, you’ll want to play without these things, as these things can affect the balance of the game.

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The game also gives you a Kombat Kard which gives you your stats, as well as a custom banner when playing online. It’s pretty much in line with other modern fighters like Street Fighter V, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, and others. It’s nice that you can personalize your online avatar somewhat, and it makes it easy to look at your Win/Loss record, most used characters, and other information.

So the fighting is fast, and responsive on the TV against a friend, but what about online? Honestly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the game’s net code on the Switch. You can choose to display the ping while playing which is going to give you a good indication of how well it’s going to hold up in a match. If you see an opponent in the 100ms – 150ms range, as I’ve had most of the time, it’s pretty solid. I haven’t felt like too many button presses haven’t registered or that there’s been a notable amount of lag. Somebody who is a contender at EVO or other tournaments may have a different opinion, but I think for most people it is pretty good. Obviously, if you connect to an opponent with a 300ms time you’ll want to decline the fight to avoid warping, moves not working as intended, and the other signs of a lag ridden match.

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That is one feature I really appreciate. It’s not one you see outside of multiplayer PC games very often, and it can give players a much better idea of how the experience is going to be than the usual red, yellow, or green bars found in many other online fighters. There are also a few ways you can play online too. You can do casual matches with other people. Here you can choose to play with or without the augmentations on. They’ll force the competitive move sets, and options the developers intended to be set on. You can play matches, enter a king of the hill mini tournament, or have A.I. characters battle it out.

If you choose to play the competitive mode the augments never come into play. Also the competition is fierce. As good as you may be, this is the place where people who love fighting games will be found most of the time. But it’s also the best way to learn the game. Really. If you’re new or lapsed the prospect of losing a lot may sound scary, but it’s where you’re going to learn the nuances much better. Yes there is a training mode in the game, and it will get you set up with the basics, as well as let you practice the game’s combos. But going up against other people is where you’re going to really learn things like zoning, looking for openings, and how to get around something you might initially find insurmountable. Even if you’re not looking to be the best in the world, it is a great way to pick up some new things to take with you against your local friends, and family. Rounding out the online mode, are areas where you can do private matches, and lobbies. So if you just want to play with friends online, or a place where your groups can meet up, it’s convenient.

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All in all I really like Mortal Kombat 11, and the Switch version is a very viable version. If you’re somebody who only has a Switch it is very easy to recommend in general. I can also say if you’re someone who has multiple consoles, and already bought it for your PS4, you might at some point want it on the Switch for the portability factor. The graphics downgrade is less noticeable on the smaller screen, and the fact you’re getting something that plays just as well is something to marvel at. Shiver should really be commended on what they’ve accomplished. One small thing to note however is that also like every other version this one does have some infrequent crashes. You’ll be going along, playing a ladder or going through the story, or exploring the Krypt, and see an error message that will be burned into your brain. It hasn’t been a frequent occurrence for me. But it is something I hope they’ll be able to figure out soon. Also the game does play better with a Pro Controller, or equivalent or Arcade stick on Switch. The C buttons just don’t feel as familiar as a true D-pad does.

Still, with the refined fighting system, wealth of content, solid net code, and a meaty story mode, the good outweighs the bad.  If you have a Switch, Mortal Kombat 11 is definitely worth looking into. It’s an experience that will raise eyebrows at the local Starbucks, as well as play exceptionally well on the big screen. The downgrade in visuals isn’t enough to make the game any less fun, and they still bring the buckets of blood, and guts you would expect from the series. I didn’t even talk about just how over-the-top, yet somehow unsettling some of this iteration’s finishing moves can really be. Whether you’re a long time fan or newcomer, MK11 will impress you on any of the platforms it has landed on.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

U Youse Gaming Headset Review

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So you’ve managed to pony up $700 for that new killer rig, or for that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo console trifecta. Between that, and a few games to go along with the hardware, you suddenly realize something: You’re going to need a headset for those multiplayer games, or for streaming games on your Twitch or YouTube channel. But with the huge investment you’ve made, there isn’t enough left over to splurge on that awesome Sennheiser pair you’ve been eyeing. Hell, you don’t even have $40 for one of those respectable Turtle Beach sets you saw when you last visited a GameStop. What can you possibly do now?

PROS: It’s dirt cheap! It sounds good!

CONS: The build is also cheap. No Microphone volume dial.

MULTI-PLATFORM: The included Y cable means you can use it on computers too.

Well you can decide to dig through the garage for an old pair of tinny monaural headphones, and one of those old crusty wire microphones. But that’s probably not what you had in mind. There are also a slew of crappy, dollar store monaural headsets out there too. Heck, even some respectable ones exist, but they’ll often cost you $20-$30 at most big box stores. Not much less than a decent stereo headset.

But enter discount store Five Below. Everything the chain sells is five bucks or less, including headphones. And while you’d be right to be skeptical about the performance of any headset that a store charges so little for, The U Youse has some good things going for it. I know I’m going to sound crazy, but this is a viable option for anybody on an absolute shoestring budget.

For starters, it has some comfortable padded cups around the speakers. It’s adjustable. For such a budget device, it’s honestly on par with some of the stuff you’d pay four times as much for in a big box retailer. The speakers are actually pretty respectable. I’ve been able to hear game sound effects, and music clearly, and cleanly. When gaming, I’ve been able to hear other players fine through Discord, Steam Chat, and the in-game chat functions in many, many games. The microphone on it is halfway decent too. Other people can hear me fine, and I’ve even been able to stream with it.

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Of course, the old saying goes “You get what you pay for”, and that still holds true with this peripheral. You can’t come into this expecting miracles. The included Y cable is made very cheaply, and so you’ll have to be careful when attaching it to the headset. Depending on your computer, you may have to fidget with the jacks to get it to connect just right. Once you do, everything will be fine. But it is something to be mindful of.

Other things to be aware of is the fact that there is no volume dial for the microphone on the cord, nor is there a mute button. You’ll have to adjust the microphone volume through your computer or console’s sound settings. And while the headphones actually sound pretty good considering the low-cost, they don’t have a lot of bass. Or much in the way of treble. Again, don’t expect these things to hang with those Beats, or  Bose headphones you saw the last time you were in Best Buy. The plastic around the cups is also brittle. So be gentle when putting these on or taking them off.

But until you can save up some money for one of those higher tier solutions this can get you through. It’s also a terrific option for parents who can’t afford to drop a lot of money on a headset for their kids. Especially if they’re children susceptible to breaking headphones regularly. You can buy a few of them, and open one when someone trips over the cord or steps on one when it has been carelessly left on the floor. For those of us whom treat their electronics well, this is also a nice backup option. When your “Good” headset wears out, this is something you can use until you can afford to get a replacement set of equal performance.

While it might not be a terrific headset, it’s a cut above the cheap stuff you usually see in discount dollar stores. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well it’s performed for me over the past month, and I can recommend it. Again, it isn’t going to set your world on fire, but if you find yourself in need of a new headset at a time where you have to be especially frugal the U Youse is a viable option. You can easily do worse. If you have a Five Below store in your area, you may want to pick one up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Another 10 great beers to pair with games

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I apologize for the lack of updates last week. When you crash your car, you tend to do a lot of phone tag on the free days until it’s time to get the thing into the body shop. And no before you ask, what I’m going to talk about in a paragraph was not a factor. It wasn’t a horrible accident, and everyone walked away fine. But now I’m paying the price for not paying enough attention. Also to rent this Nissan while my Dodge is in the shop.

Anyway, a while ago for something a bit different I combined my interest in gaming, with my interest in beer. It went over fairly well, though some pointed out I could have had a wider variety of genres. India Pale Ale was, and still is the king of the hill these days. But there are plenty of great Stouts, Porters, Lagers, Pilsners, Ales, out there too. For a while I’ve been thinking about taking another crack at this idea so here we go. Another ten great beers to check out. Again, I have to preface this  with the fact that not all of these will be available to you. Unfortunately the world of distribution is rather convoluted between contracts, and each State’s regulations. Still, if you do see one of these, pick it up!

10.) Armada brewing – Liberty Abandoned Stout

Armada is a small but growing outfit out of New Haven, and could easily take half the slots in this feature. They make a lot of great stuff in any style you can think of. One of their best is also one of the best stouts I can recommend. It’s thick, rich, with notes of chocolate, and coffee. It’s also 10% ABV which packs a wallop. But it packs that wallop without tasting boozy. It’s the perfect kind of wallop to nurse through long sessions of a JRPG. Perhaps one of the longer Final Fantasy games, or something in the Xenoverse.

09.) Sloop brewing – Sloop Juice Bomb IPA

Based out of Hopewell Junction, NY. Sloop has two major locations, one of which is built upon the former IBM semiconductor plant in Fishkill, NY. So right away there’s a hint of PC Gaming potential. All of their beers are pretty great, but their attempt at a New England style India Pale Ale is a nearly flawless performance. The hazy textured beer doesn’t lie. You do get a figurative bomb of juicy taste in every gulp. And it transitions to a hoppy bitterness at just the right level. Their Brew Master must be some kind of evil genius. Which makes this a wonderful pairing for some vintage DOOM, and Quake. At 6.5% ABV it’s not so heavy you’ll be too slow to react, but also strong enough for fighting imps, pink demons, and cacodemons.

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08.) Clown Shoes – Octofest Oktoberfest Lager

Clown Shoes has a long storied history of marrying pretty great brews, with over the top label art. In the fall, they make their own North American take on the German staple. This one has just the right amount of spice, and sweetness atop the light, delicious lager you would expect such a brewery to make. In my opinion, it’s a good step or two up from many of the other North American takes on the style, many of which are also quite nice. But this one is just that much better. And it has a giant Octopus on it drinking eight pints of it. This was the obvious pairing for me last fall when playing in the Halloween Splatfest for Splatoon 2. With another coming up this weekend I wish I had some left. That said, if you’re an Inkling, or Octoling looking for something in six months, make like Marie, and DRINK FRESH! While staying fresh of course.

07.) Weyerbacher – Sunday Mole Stout

Here we go, another crazy, high-octane stout on the list. This one from Weyerbacher, a Pennsylvanian brewery known for crazy, high-octane beer in general. Based off of their already solid Sunday Morning Stout, this variant adds a spicy kick, and subtracts the barrel aging. The result is something less syrupy, but equally potent, and spicier. So it brings the heat. Not too much though, where other beers go overkill on spicy peppers, or barely bring any to the table this one finds a great balance. You’ll get the chocolate notes you love, a bit of spicy kick, and a bit of roasted aftertaste. At basically 12% ABV it isn’t something for fast paced NES Batman. But it is something you can take your time with as you take your time with the Batman Arkham games you have in your backlog. Plus it also has an evil clown on the cover waiting to be served Bruce Wayne on a silver platter.

06.) Narragansett – Lager

Not every beer needs to be eccentric. But for many people the mass market stuff everyone sees on TV just won’t do. It’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But we’ve been spoiled by the independent brewing revolution. Still, sometimes you’re in the mood for something that isn’t complicated, but want something better than the bog standard too. Enter Rhode Island legends Narragansett. Their Lager is just that. A great Lager. No gimmicks, just succinctness in beer form. Which makes this the perfect beer to buy for get together events where you’ll be playing Warlords, Mario Kart, Mario Party, You Don’t Know Jack, Wii Sports, or Monster Prom. (And yes, you DO want to have 4-player Warlords at a party.)

05.) Victory – Golden Monkey

Belgian style ales may not have the popularity of other genres these days (at least not in my area), but that doesn’t mean one should rule them out. Another Pennsylvanian brewery Victory, makes one such beer. This one has a terrific hint of sweetness on the backend of a light, and crisp texture. At 9.5% ABV it isn’t quite the wrecking ball some of the other entries are, but it does give a nice punch, while being relaxing. It’s pretty versatile in terms of game selection too. Whatever game you’re in the mood to play, it’ll probably go along with it. So I’m rolling with the obvious  pairing: Golden Monkey, and Golden Axe. Plus it’s by Victory, and you’ll want to wash down Death Adder with it. That was a terrible joke. But the beer isn’t.

04.) Collective Arts – Stranger Than Fiction

Deep within Ontario Canada, lies a brewery that often seeks out artists from all over the world to find art work for its decorative labels. They don’t look to get it Scott-Free either. They buy it, and promote it. But they don’t just sell fancy cans, with art by really talented people. They fill those cans with delicious beer. One of those beers is a really nice North American porter, a dark beer with a nice aroma, and notes of chocolate balanced by a nice hop composition. It’s a nice one to have when playing some classic shmups like Gradius, R-Type, or even Zaxxon!

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03.) City Steam – Starlit

City Steam Brewery is in the heart of downtown Hartford where they make some of my favorite brews. One of their newer ones is this experimental New England style Pale Ale made with wheat, and oats, while having citrus, and mango notes at the same time. And at only 5.5% ABV it’s not a weak session beer, it still has a nice kick, but it also isn’t a double-digit monster you’ll only want one of.  It’s got a great all around balance of all of its elements. Making it great for fighting games. You may want to have some around when Mortal Kombat 11 comes out, or when those Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters hit.

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02.) Bad Sons Brewing (Featuring Armada) – Candy Castle

Bad Sons Brewing is an upstart in Derby, CT that has quickly gained popularity. Not only do they have a bitching logo (A skull with a hop growing out of it), but their beer is fantastic to boot. This entry is a collaboration they’ve done with Armada. Candy Castle takes the IPA tinkering to the point where you’ll wonder if it’s something else entirely. But if it is that something else, it’s a damn good something else. It’s a Milkshake IPA, a style where they use lactose milk sugars in the process. This adds to the texture. But they also throw a slew of candy into the brew.  This gives it the properties of getting a mystery flavored carnival drink. All while retaining the properties of a beer. It still tastes like a high-profile IPA, and yet something different at the same time. Trust me, it’s way better than it sounds. Easily something you’ll want to have on hand when attempting to beat Cuphead again.

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01.) Thimble Island – Mutually Assured Destruction 

I have to close this out with one of the best pairings of all. This is a beer that goes perfectly with Atari’s classic: Missile Command. It’s a rich, thick Russian styled stout with some coffee, and chocolate notes. But it doesn’t end there because there are several versions of M.A.D. that you can find in the wild. The standard one is delicious, and potent enough. But the more expensive barrel aged version is even better, as it takes on some of the properties of the barrel. Then they also make a variety pack of experimental flavored versions, a Cherry one which is the weakest, but still good. Also a Smores one which is quite nice. A peanut butter, and chocolate one that gives some of the more well-known PB beers a run for their money. Finally, there’s the Chipolte Ginger version that you’ll have to taste to believe. All of these are 10% ABV or more, but all work well in any game where geothermal nuclear disaster is in the backdrop. Missile Command, Metal Gear, Countdown To Shutdown, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., you name it.

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Many of these are in New England, and East Coast territory, but some do make their way outside of the area. And with things growing in the craft scene you never know how distribution will change. Still, take note in the event you ever come into the region. Also, over the past few months I haven’t always remembered to take a photo of whatever beer I’ve purchased. So I apologize for some missing photos. But rest assured all of these are pretty great releases. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through this list! Thank you for checking it out, and feel free to post your own beer, and game pairings below!

 

Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon Review

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Ah, Konami. These days it’s become fashionable to belittle their games with good reason. But that’s partly because they used to be one of the kings of game publishing. From Pooyan to Gyruss. From Gradius to Contra. From Crime Fighters to Metal Gear. From Quarth to Super Cobra, this giant has scores of legendary games under its umbrella. But over the last decade there has been a shift in its focus. One that has led many of its best known talent to leave the company. Most know about Hideo Kojima’s departure. But less known is Koji Igarashi, the man behind many of Konami’s better Castlevania games. In 2014 however he would leave the company as he felt his console roots weren’t a good fit for the company’s shift toward mobile phone, and tablet games.

Taking some inspiration from what Keji Inafune had done after leaving Capcom, Igarashi, also took to Kickstarter to raise money for a new project. Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night. This was a successful enough endeavor that today’s game, Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon came out of it as a stretch goal for backers. For the rest of us, it’s an indie game inspired by the classic game series its producer worked on. It may sound like a familiar story. But is it one of the ones that ends as a success?

PROS: A nearly 1:1 representation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse’s look, and feel.

CONS: It’s almost too similar. Minor bugs.

CASTLEVANIA VETERANS: Will wish you could start with Miriam.

Bloodstained, truly does take many of Castlevania’s mechanics, tone, and visual flair to heart. In fact, this game plays nearly identically to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. That game had you playing as the protagonists ancestor, with the mechanics set up in the original NES version of Castlevania as a baseline. From there it added other characters you could choose to join you, and depending on which path you took through the game each had specific roles. This was to give you an incentive to go back through it multiple times.

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This game is very similar in its approach. Except that to set itself apart, you aren’t a vampire slayer. You’re a demon hunter named Zangetsu. You’ve been cursed by a powerful demon, and so you’re on a mission to find, and kill him in order to break the curse over you. You also don’t use a whip. Zangetsu is armed with a sword. So unlike Castlevania, you won’t have the range you’re likely accustomed to. What you will have however is the same walking speed, and knock back from the NES Trilogy of old. You’ll also find yourself facing very similar attack patterns as in those old games. Sure, the bats, and Gorgon heads may have been replaced with new faces. But you can still expect those wavy patterns over pits, and other traps that will make traversing a trial.

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You may not see two dragon heads stacked, spitting fire. But there will be an equivalent. There may not be a chain of skeleton bones, and a lizard skull coming out from a wall. But here will be something similar. The list goes on, and on, and on. As the story, and stages progress you’ll meet other characters whom you can choose to add to your party. Miriam is the Simon Belmont clone you’ll wish you started the game with. She has a whip that works very much the same way, as Simon’s. This gives you that sweet balance of ranged, and melee attack power, and familiar gravity when jumping or walking off of ledges.

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Later on you’ll meet Gebel, this game’s take on Alucard. He’s also a vampire, and you can also turn into a bat as him. Finally, there’s Alfred who is a magician. He’s also elderly, slow, and has a fairly small health meter. He attacks with a small cane at essentially point-blank range. As in the Castlevania games, there are candles, and other hanging objects you can destroy for items. Some of these are ammo for special weapons, while others are weapons themselves. What sets this one apart a little bit is just how different each character’s weapons are. No special weapon is represented twice. There are a set exclusive to each character. For instance, Miriam can have a spinning disc attack that goes back, and forth. Alfred on the other hand can get a weapon that lets him turn enemies into ice blocks he can then jump on, or have another character jump on.

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There are all sorts of possibilities. The other thing is that each stage, even the earliest ones all have branching paths in them that only specific characters can go to. You may need to switch to Gebel so you can turn into a bat, and fly through a small gap for one path. You may need to slide under something for another, and so you’ll have to switch to Miriam. This sort of mechanic gives the game a lot of replay value, as in order to see everything each stage has to offer you’ll need to try each of them with the applicable characters.

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The thing is you have more options with them than you do with the ones in Castlevania III. What I mean by that is, you don’t drop one when you meet the next. If you choose to take one along for the ride, they stay with you the entire game. The game can be quite a challenge too, especially near the end of the game. So having all of the characters working together makes defeating Gremory, the leader of the Demons, more manageable. However, what makes the game worth playing over again even more are the multiple endings. Depending on which characters you take along, or leave behind you’ll get different outcomes if you clear the game.

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And beyond that there are a few difficulty settings. You can play the easiest setting if you just want to go through the game at your leisure. It reduces the knock back so it isn’t as cruel as the NES Castlevania trilogy could be. It also gives you unlimited lives, so you also won’t see the continue screen. But the veteran mode is the hardcore NES game difficulty you remember. Or if you’re too young to remember, but want to experience anyway. Getting knocked back into pits, crumbling bricks, rotating trap floor tiles. It’s all here. Clearing this will unlock an even harder mode though. So the absolute biggest Castlevania transplants will want to check it out, as it makes an already tough job more challenging.

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Visually the game also follows the Castlevania III mold. It has a very similar color palette, and a very similar pixel art style. This isn’t to say everything is exactly the same. There are background animations, and graphics based puzzles the old Konami games don’t have, and a slew of special effects the old 8-bit 6502 chip variants, and accompanying graphics chips simply can not do on display. The music in it, and synchronization with the cinema screen animations are spot on too. It sounds very much like a Famicom console game through, and through. Inti Creates has done a phenomenal job in the graphics, and sound department with this game.

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But all of this success might be a little too successful. In being so close to the Castlevania NES fill in so many wanted, it doesn’t retain its own identity as much as it needs to. Other than Alfred, the main characters are very much your Simon, Sypha, and Alucard stand-ins. As detailed, and beautifully laid out as the stages are, they could easily be mistaken for an NES Castlevania outing. The mini bosses, and bosses are where the game really begins to turn the tide on this a bit though. These are great multi part affairs that don’t look they would necessarily be in one of Konami’s games, but fit this spiritual successor at the same time. The game also has a handful of minor bugs in it. Mostly collision based bugs. There were a few sections with crumbling blocks designed to make you lose a life if you fail at navigation. At one point I fell, but landed safely in an area where I had to jump to my doom anyway. There was nowhere else to go. Some of these seem to be helping in speed runs. But for the rest of us, they’re the rare inconvenience.

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Still, beyond these observations I really enjoyed playing through the game’s many stages. Anybody who loves the old school Castlevania games probably owns this by now. But if for some reason you don’t, it’s an absolute blast. It’s a truly great action-platformer with some great obstacles to overcome, and some of the best boss fights I’ve been in. I only wish the game did a little bit more to make it feel unique. Sure the main protagonist doesn’t use a whip, but before long another character does. Sure, you’re fighting an army led by a demon, rather than Dracula. But that army still has a lot of skeletons, and zombies in it. Hopefully the upcoming Ritual Of The Night will address this while continuing to do everything else as well as this game does. Be that as it may, Curse Of The Moon is still a keeper.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

One Strike Review

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Every now, and again a game comes along with the idea of simplifying things. Many look to the Super Smash Bros. games, Nidhogg, and even Divekick as primary examples. All of which take different approaches to doing so. Smash simplifies inputs, and goes for ring outs. Nidhogg goes for a fencing theme, while Divekick reduces everything down to one button. One Strike doesn’t quite go that far, but it does try to be interesting in its mission.

PROS: An interesting take on simplifying the fighter.

CONS: It doesn’t take long to notice a formula.

CLASH: Of the art styles.

One Strike is a one on one fighter that tries to be different by living up to its namesake. You simply lose a round (or a match!) by suffering one hit. It takes a page from Soul Calibur by making each character a master of a specific weapon. There are sword masters. Dagger masters. Staff masters. They have you covered. And controlling your fighter is pretty straightforward. You can move left or right, block, strike, or dodge. That’s pretty much it.

The game has a really nice art style considering that it’s a bite-sized fighter. There are really great painted portraits of each of the fighters. But the characters themselves are done in a sprite art style somewhere between the look of an Atari 800 computer, and an NES. This isn’t bad by any means. There are all kinds of cool, little details in the backgrounds, as well as animations in them you wouldn’t likely see on these retro platforms. The drawback of course is that these art styles clash somewhat. Seeing the 8-bit inspired sprites represented by icons that could have made it into a late 90’s arcade cabinet can be a little bit jarring.

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Still, while that may be jarring, and the character select screen is a little anemic, One Strike has a really cool look to it. Unfortunately there’s one major thing that kills the whole game that I’ll get to shortly. One Strike gives you an arcade ladder for some single player content. You can choose to play it on a five lives per match setting, or you can play it as a gauntlet match that provides you but one life. And these modes aren’t too bad. They’ll take the average person a fair number of attempts to clear. The concept is simple. Stab the other person once to win the round or match. Kill everybody, and you win the entire tournament. There is also a Team Battle where you can pick three characters, each with one life, and go on either an arcade ladder by yourself, or you can play in a head to head versus battle. One nice feature the game also has is the ability to set up a tournament bracket. It’s something small, but it is nice for any venue looking to have another tournament for, as your brackets are already set up in it.

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But like all fighting games, the head to head fighting is what keeps you coming back. The challenge of trying to outwit, or outmaneuver them. Or to learn how to properly defend yourself. There are no combos here because it’s a one hit, and you’re dead affair. But you can still overpower your opponent in theory. Unfortunately, there is one tactic that most will discover in a couple of hours, and that is how to utilize hit stun. All fighting games have a tiny window of time when you can make an opponent unable to react. Usually a second or less. In this game you can do this with a successful block. Blocking at just the right time will employ hit stun on your opponent. They’ll have a split second where they can’t block in time or move backward. So if you’re the least bit quick enough you can bait them into swinging, you can get the block, and immediately stab them for the win. And the reverse is true.

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So matches often boil down to a Swing/Block/Stab/Match Over formula. Which can get really tiresome really quick. Now to alleviate this to some degree, block windows are very small. You can’t sit in a blocking position forever. After a moment your character will go back to their standard animation. Some characters also have the ability to cancel a move by creating stances. For instance, Oni requires you to press attack twice. Pressing it the first time gets you into a combat stance. Pressing it again swings his club. So you can dodge backward after the first button press if you don’t think it’s safe. With advanced strategies like this, the aforementioned formula isn’t always going to be the way a match goes down. Be that as it may, it does happen often enough that many people may grow bored with things quickly.

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It’s a shame because this hinders strategies. I’m sure someone far better at One Strike may see this, and have a difference of opinion. But as far as my experience has been playing with both people who are adept at competitive games, and others who are not, matches often result in either predictable fast matches, or (once both players have become more adept at blocking) drawn out matches reliant on turtling, or being overly defensive. All in all, One Strike isn’t a terrible game though. It functions very well, it has likable characters, and a really cool concept. But in practice, there isn’t enough here to keep most fighting fans playing it days on end. Nor are there enough characters to draw more average players into playing it for long. You could easily play this over some of the other stuff out there it’s true. But then you could also go back, and play the classics. In spite of its shortcomings I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel though. There’s a decent foundation here. You’ll likely really enjoy it initially. But after some time with it, that excitement may wane. If it had a couple of other options in the combat to keep things interesting, a few more characters, and internet matches it would be a better game worth checking out. If you don’t mind a fighting game you’ll play for an hour at a party with friends every few months you’ll have some fun with it. But for others, unless you’re really starved for newer fighting game concepts you might just want to go back to something else. Your mileage may vary with this one.

Final Score: 6 out of 10