Tag Archives: gaming

10 Sodas that pair well with video games

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Last time we looked at beer. This time it’s all about the soda. As someone who has far too much of it in his short run, I think I can pick out a few good ones. And I have. Just don’t house more than a couple of these. You’ll probably be up all night, long after your marathon of every mainline Super Mario Bros. game has ended.

What makes soda such a great companion to games, is also its greatest curse. The copious amounts of caffeine, and sugar. It’s wonderful while you’re playing. Keeping you alert, and being delicious. But man, the crash. I’ve had jobs where I’m embarrassed to say I’ve put away more than 2 liters by myself on a few shifts. And STILL made a trip to Starbucks on the way home. The lessons? 1.) This will get you through overnight inventory, and any tournament with ease. 2.) You’re not going to wake up on time the next day, and will be draaaaaaaaagging.

So while too many beers, may kill your kidney, liver, and give you alcohol poisoning, too many sodas can kill your kidney, pancreas, and probably activate diabetes. The point is too much of anything is not a good thing for us. Come to think of it, after this is written, I should probably go for a jog to burn off the Venti Vanilla Latte I just gulped down.

With that morbid thought out-of-the-way, here are 10 tasty combinations of carbonated water, and high fructose corn syrup for that next afternoon of Street Fighter II. Again, this is not a *TOP* ten. Just ten that I can highly recommend. All of them are pretty good, and you can probably get most of them. Soda is a little bit less regional. Though there are still some that are.

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10. RC Cola

Forget Pepsi, and Coke for a minute. They’re the Mario, and Sonic of soda. Everybody knows, and adores them. How about rolling with the Alex Kidd of soda? RC is somewhere between the sweet Pepsi, and more bubbly Coke. It’s also a bit cheaper (around here it’s always in 2 liters for 99 cents.), and has a taste a cut above all of the other budget colas. It may have gotten a funny mirage joke in Family Guy, but that doesn’t make it bad at all. It’s nothing crazy, or over the top. But if you want something simple to drink while playing in the Miracle World, this one will suffice.

09. SURGE

Coke recently brought this one back to the States. In their never-ending quest to dethrone Mountain Dew, they’ve tried many formulas. This one is honestly their best attempt. It’s a bit more citrusy than Pepsi’s juggernaut. It also has the edge when it comes to warming up. Let’s face it. As much as we all like Dew, it gets gross if you don’t finish it while it’s cold. That doesn’t make warm Surge good. But it isn’t as bad. Plus it still has all of the 1990’s ad campaign art on the can. Making it go along with any EXTREME game or franchise. NBA Jam, Smash T.V., Mortal Kombat II, and Killer Instinct all pair well with this one. This may be another one of those limited time comebacks though, so get it if you see it.

08. Virgil’s Root Beer

This one is going to seem like it doesn’t belong. It doesn’t have the artificial flavors, and colors of mass market cola. It won’t keep you awake as there isn’t much in the way of anything of caffeine in it. It DOES have a lot of sugar though. So you’ll still get that burst of a sugar high. But it is one of the few craft sodas that nails it in flavor. Forget IBC. Forget A&W. Virgil’s is going to be your go to soda for Tapper. It is really awesome root beer. Definitely not cheap compared to some of the other sodas here. But it is worth the extra couple of bucks if you can swing it. Virgil’s is insanely good at what it does.

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07. Freaky Dog Barkin’ Birch Soda

Freaky Dog is a regional soda, so you may have trouble finding it locally. But if you can find some online, or you visit Connecticut, stock up. Freaky Dog makes a lot of pretty good soda. But the Barkin’ Birch is one of the best. It’s so good, that even an area bar in town serves it to designated drivers. So what makes this one so good? It gets the Birch flavor down perfectly, and balances it with just the right amount of  cane sugar, and carbonation. There is nothing quite like old-school hand crafted soda. Plus Birch beer goes well with anything full of fast action. I find it’s something I roll with during shmups. In fact, if you’re firing up some Giga Wing, Ikaruga, or Deathsmiles, you’re going to break a sweat. Cool down with Barkin’ Birch. You won’t regret it.

06. Mountain Dew Dewshine

Even Pepsi is trying to mix things up with premium soda. So they introduced Dewshine. Honestly, it’s worth the extra money. What you lose in yellow color, you make up for in flavor. Dewshine is sweet. Dewshine is citrusy. Dewshine tastes better than any of the other versions of Mountain Dew, and I’ve had far too many of all of them.  It also goes for pure cane sugar over other sweeteners.  This one goes great with many games, but I’ve probably had it mostly in competitive multiplayer. Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, and Overwatch matches have been washed down with Pepsi’s moonshine themed soda. Check it out if you haven’t already. It’s pretty great.

07. Mountain Dew DEW S.A.

We all loved Mountain Dew Voltage when it came out. Code Red, some loved. Some were lukewarm on. White Out quickly became the soda for the Smirnoff Ice fan. (Seriously they taste very similar.) So now someone at Pepsi got the bright idea of mixing the three of them. The end result is delicious. One wonders why they didn’t think of this sooner. It kind of tastes like letting your favorite stick of Flavor-Ice melt, and then carbonating it in a Sodastream. Pairs really well with Rocket League. Which just beckons a soda that will make you alert. I’ve been enjoying this one a lot over the past couple of days. I’ll miss it when I go back to drinking water after it’s gone.

06. Flathead Lake Gourmet Green Apple Soda

I hesitate to call this one “Gourmet”. One look at the ingredients made me wonder why on Earth the folks at the grocery store put this in the health food aisle. Really. They did. But the peculiar art still grabbed me, and I gave this stuff a shot. The folks at Flathead Lake, do know confectionery flavor. Because upon sipping this, you will immediately remember what a sour green apple Jolly Rancher tastes like. That’s what this is. Jolly Rancher, as a soda. Which is pretty awesome. I proceeded to drink two bottles during some Toxikk matches. This was after drinking the first two at work. I had a sugar crash. But Flathead Lake is pretty damn delicious.

05. Trader Joe’s Vintage Soda

This is another one for folks that want just a great all around cola when playing through Shovel Knight, or classics like Mega Man II. It’s light, tastes sweet, but not too sweet, and has the body one would expect a standard cola to have. They’re a little bit more expensive than a mass market soda, but they also undercut sodas from healthier alternative brands. If you live near a Trader Joe’s, stop in, and try this one. It’s pretty good.

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04. Red Rain Energy Soda

This is made by an outfit out of Canada. I can’t speak for other countries, but here in the US, I’ve only ever found it in dollar discount stores. But when you only cost a dollar, AND you taste better than Red Bull, AND you’re just as effective, well it’s worth the run-on sentence. It’s got the tartness most energy drinks I’ve tried also have. But where things like Monster feel like a golf ball in my stomach, Red Rain doesn’t. So if you’re going to try to play through a 40 hour JRPG in a couple of sittings, check it out. It’s sure to keep you awake through your favorite Final Fantasy, or your Chrono Trigger speed run.

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03. Shasta Orange Soda

There’s a reason this one was referenced in Futurama. It’s timeless. It’s also inexpensive which is why it’s found seated alongside Red Rain around here. Plus who doesn’t like a good orange soda? This one goes great with all of the classics. Space Invaders, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Asteroids, Centipede, and Berzerk! Just don’t forget that all Rush mix tape.

02. Virgil’s Cream Soda

Virgil’s makes it on the list a second time with its excellent cream soda. Honestly, this one is as enjoyable as their Root Beer. It’s light bodied, has mild sweet notes of vanilla, and is refreshing. When you’re firing up some Forza, Gran Turismo, or Assetto Corsa, it’s a nice way to celebrate your big win.

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01. BAWLS

This stuff is one of the best energy sodas of all time. It’s made with guarana, which has caffeine in it. It’s delicious.  It also doesn’t feel heavy. You can drink a couple of them (though you really shouldn’t), and not feel sick. It has enough of a kick to keep you awake for hours. After having just one of these, it’s easy to see why it was so popular at LAN parties, and tournaments. Ask any veteran of Quake III Arena, or Unreal Tournament, and they’ll attest to how tasty, and effective Bawls is. Within the last decade though, the company behind Bawls has had its ups, and downs. As such, you can’t find it in every 7 Eleven anymore. These days you almost only ever find it online by the case. But if you haven’t had Bawls, it’s worth ordering one for the experience.  Pairs well with just about any competitive arena shooter where reflexes are key. It also goes nicely with any RTS. Warcraft, StarCraft, Dawn Of War II, you name it.

So that’s my soda list! Again, not a top ten, just some really good stuff I’ve had gaming over the years. I hope you’ve enjoyed the list, and my sad attempts at advertisement parody. Is there something from your neck of the woods we should chug down? Talk about it in the comments below! Next time we’ll be back with a proper review!

10 Beers that pair well with video games

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This time around I wanted to do something a little bit different. Every now, and again Mark over at Classic Game Room has reviewed beer in between some of his regular episodes.  This gave me an idea a while ago. Since I work with beer, and I review video games on this blog I’ve thought about the kinds I’ve tried over the years, and which ones really seemed to hit the spot during a gaming session. Don’t worry, I’m not transitioning the blog into a weird Cracked clone, that nobody will read. Rather, this is a part one, of a two-part one-off project. I haven’t abandoned reviews. So you can calm down, and breathe a sigh of relief. After this article, I’ll go down a list of sodas. Because not everybody enjoys beer, and even those who do like to switch it up from time to time. Obviously this entry is geared to those who are over 21, so if you’re underage you should skip this article, and check out the list of sodas when that comes out instead.

Keep in mind this is not a *TOP* ten. These are just ten that I happen to really like. There are a TON of really good ones not on this list that are just as good. Again there are also a ton I’ve never had. Also, not all of these will be available in your area. Many breweries are regional. So unless you’re able to go all over the world all of the time, you won’t see some of them. But hey, the inverse is also true. There are thousands of beers I’ll never see in my lifetime. I also apologize in advance, I don’t have photos for every entry on the list. Be that as it may, I’m going to kick things off.

10. Ballast Point Commodore Stout

Seeing how I’m a big Commodore fan (I mean come on, my blog title is a C64 reference!) The name automatically drew me to the bottle. But the art will show you that the brewery was referencing the Naval rank, as evidenced by the skeleton sailing a ship. Be that as it may, this stout really does go nicely with a play through of The Great Giana Sisters, or a few games of Mail Order Monsters with a friend. It’s got the heft you would expect the texture of a stout to have. Plus it has a delicious roast coffee aftertaste. There are some vanilla notes in there too, but not enough to overpower the flavor of the beer. It’s also around 6.5% ABV, so while it’s above the 5% ABV of a typical beer, you aren’t going to be unable to function after one. It’s not one of the cheaper options here, as Ballast Point tends to command a premium. But it is pretty nice to break out once in a while.

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09. New Holland Hoptronix Double IPA

They should have called this Hop Invaders. Because the first thing you will see on the box is a love letter to Space Invaders. It features some really fun pixel art, with hops replacing the aliens, and an 8-bit beer bottle in lieu of a cannon.  As for the beer itself, this is a Double IPA. As such there will be some bitterness as that is indicative of the style. However, this goes neither the ultra-bitter route nor does it go the dry, yet juicy route. Instead, as the description on the box says, it goes for a dank approach. It has elements of bitterness, and dryness. It stands out for being different. At 9% ABV it’s a bit more potent than some of the other ones in the list. But still complements Atari 2600 night wonderfully. Grab the paddles, and that copy of Warlords!

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08. City Steam Naughty Nurse Amber Ale

Here we go. Sometimes you want a great all around beer. A big cut above the mass market stuff you can have any time. But also not something overly complicated. Naughty Nurse fits that bill perfectly. It’s an amber-colored ale, giving you a rich flavor thanks to the combination of English hops, and crystal malt. It has a very distinct aftertaste, and it is neither too heavy or light feeling. It’s just good. Sometimes good is all you need. And, at 5.5% ABV you can have a couple of them whether you’re going for the high score on Centipede, or exploring the countryside in The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.

07. Lagunitas The Waldos Ale

This one is kind of cheating because you can’t get it all of the time. Lagunitas puts this one out under their One Hitter series which means they make one small run, and then they don’t make it again until the following year. It’s out now of this writing, but since it’s a small run, you may have to check a few places before finding it. Assuming you can find it. If you do though, it’s worth picking up. It has a fruity quality to it, and tastes like nothing else. At least nothing I’ve tried. There is also a very mild burn to it which may sound weird until you realize it has an 11.9% ABV. Suffice it to say, you’ll really only want to have one of these on game night. But you’ll enjoy nursing it along to many rounds of the re-release of Street Fighter II on the Switch on game night in a few weeks. That is if you don’t drink them all before then.

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06. Bear Republic Racer #5 IPA

This is one of the ones Mark Bussler reviewed, and it isn’t something distributed in my area. But luckily for me, going over the State line brings me to an area where it is. Upon having some, I have to say Mark was spot on in his review. It is light, crisp, and delicious. it’s got a nice balance of bitterness, and citrus notes. It isn’t potent. It is a good, reliable Californian IPA that goes very well with a game of Ribbit King against your friends. Distribution for this one is spotty, (unless you’re on the west coast) but if you do see it in your area, check it out.

05. Thomas Hooker #NoFilter IPA

This. This is something you’ll want to check out if you’re in CT, MA, or PA (They’re small, and don’t have a massive distribution right now) but the hashtag beer is splendid. It has a very citrus fruit flavor profile thanks to the fact it isn’t filtered. It’s very cloudy. If you pour it in a pint glass you won’t see through it. It’s really good, and punches you with its juicy flavor. It’s also the perfect thing to break out when you have your next BYOB LAN party for hours of Unreal Tournament, Quake 3 Arena, death matches, and Serious Sam in 16 player co-op. Unfortunately, it’s short packed. So  a store might only get 1 case of the #NoFilter. But if you can find a six-pack, check it out. It’s pretty great.

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04. Alpine Maharaja Double IPA

Here’s another rare one on the list. But it’s one of the few unicorns worthy of the hype. At 10% ABV The King will probably get you drunk pretty fast. But it tastes great doing it. It takes a similar route the Hoptronix does, being neither too bitter or too citrusy. But between the unique blend of hops, and spices it comes off as completely different. The higher ABV does make it a tad hefty. But not enough to ruin it.  This one could potentially be popular with Entropist mains in the upcoming Mirage: Arcane Warfare. Assuming the final game is as fun, and addictive as Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was when it came out.

03. Pipeworks Blood Of The Unicorn Hoppy Red Ale

Pipeworks is a great outfit out of Chicago, and pretty much everything they make is pretty good. This one stands out though because it has elements of both a red amber ale, and an IPA. As such you’ll get some bitterness, as well as some nice malty flavor. it’s also around 6% ABV so this is something you can have a couple of without knocking yourself out or making yourself sick. The package art is also really cool. Perfect beer for a summer day on the deck trying to get that high score in Robot Unicorn Attack.

02. Relic Dreamrise Double IPA

Relic is a very small outfit out of Plainville CT, and not every beer they make is always available. They change-up the line up every few months, presumably to not over produce any one beverage. That said, most of them are pretty good like their Dreamrise Double IPA. It veers more toward the citrus end of IPAs, with a very rich taste without feeling too heavy. At 8% ABV it isn’t overly powerful, allowing you to enjoy it while playing through the classic Mega Man game of your choice.

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01. City Steam Naughty Nurse IPA

This one is my current favorite beer, and has held that title almost as long as it’s been out. It is a terrific IPA. It has just the right amount of bitterness. It has some crystal malt like its amber sister. It has a citrusy aroma, and after taste on the back-end. Similar to the Racer #5, it too, has a light body. It’s a refreshing IPA. It won’t be everyone’s favorite. I’ve shared it with some who feel it’s good, but not great. But I’ve also shared it with many who loved it as much as I do. It’s around 6.5% ABV too, so it strikes a nice balance of profile, and potency. If you come out here for Retro World Expo be sure to visit City Steam’s brewery pub, and have some. It pairs well with everything from Berzerk to Super Mario World to The Wonderful 101. It’s also a nice companion to any party game. Like Dokapon Kingdom or Wario Ware Smooth Moves.

So there you go! Again, half of these you may not be able to find in your area, but if you do see any of these, give them a spin. And if there’s a beer you really enjoy cracking open during a marathon of Overwatch matches, let the world know below! Next time, we’ll go over some really good colas!

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U Review

I know I’m late to the party with this one, and everyone has told you that this game is worth picking up 1,000 times over. Is this game good? There’s no question. Is this game overhyped? Possibly. Can this game do any wrong? Absolutely, though not what you might expect. This game addresses the concerns fans had with the previous game, while bringing along a couple of new decisions fans might fret over. But no game is flawless right?

PROS: Improved visuals, features, online experience, and a lot of content.

CONS: The campaign feature in Brawl, and Melee is gone. Some character cuts.

AMIIBO: While you don’t need one, the game may make you want to own a few.

Super Smash Bros. is now around 15 years old. Where has the time gone? With every iteration over that time span, each brought something new. Obviously the core concept for the series came with the first one. While things have changed, that set of fundamental design has not. Melee made things faster. A lot faster, and a large number of fans quickly realized that it could hang with the likes of Street Fighter even though it was a wildly different game. It’s sequel Brawl, tried to make things more accessible. After all, by the time it came out, many people were talking about insane techniques needed to win against professional players. Melee was showing up in tournaments, and developed a hardcore cult following in the fighting game community. A following that has only grown over the last decade. Brawl ran much slower, allowing people new to the series to be able to pick it up, and learn the mechanics. It had its own level of challenge, and was a very good game in its own right. It introduced online play, even if it wasn’t always the smoothest or most responsive game online. It expanded the roster even further, and even tried to add a bit more pizzaz to its single player campaign.

But a rivalry broke out in the fan community that lasts to this day, with many screaming the praises of one game, while disdaining the other. Super Smash Bros.for Wii U does a number of things to alleviate that, and bridge a gap between the two flavors of game play. For the handful of you who may not be familiar with Super Smash Bros., or at least those who have seen it, but never really understood it, it’s a fighting game. It’s a very unconventional fighting game that celebrates the last fifty years of Nintendo’s intellectual properties. There are characters, and worlds from Nintendo’s greatest franchises, and products. Super Mario Bros. Donkey Kong. The Legend of Zelda. Metroid. Pokémon. Even many of their lesser known titles end up represented somehow.

Where SSB really differentiates itself from other fighting games is how you defeat opponents. In most fighters, each player has a life bar. The goal is to deplete your opponents’ life bar two out of three rounds. In SSB however, the goal is to be king of the mountain, or a proverbial Sumo wrestler. Ring outs are the key to victory.  What makes the game addicting, and challenging however is that players have the ability to get back in the ring if they are knocked out. Each stage has an invisible border around it. Knocking a player beyond that point gets you a victory. As you attack other players, their damage percentage goes higher. As they take more punishment, each attack knocks them back farther. This goes on until someone can’t make it back.

Each game has had two major ways to play it. Stock rules or Time rules. Stock rules gives each player a decided upon number of lives. Each ring out, costs a life until there is only one person standing. Time rules, gives everyone unlimited lives, and everyone plays until the clock hits zero. At the end of the game a winner is chosen by the number of times they knocked out other players. If there’s a draw the game goes to Sudden Death, where everyone has high damage percentage, and even a minimal attack can knock you out. The last player standing then wins.

Each game also allowed players to play with or without items. These would show up, at random to give whoever picked them up an advantage. Baseball bats, guns, bombs, Super Mushrooms, and more would show up. Some of the items, called Assist Trophies, would summon NPC characters to attack other players. When Brawl came around, it brought a new item called the Smash Ball. Getting one of these meant your character could perform a finishing move, much like Street Fighter’s Ultras, or Mortal Kombat’s Fatalities. Except of course they would usually result in a knock out.

Finally, the biggest departure from other fighting games is the insistence upon simple inputs. Most fighting games involve learning complex button combinations to do anything from a special move to a combination attack. SSB is much simpler. You have four directions, a jump button, an attack button, and a special move button. Pressing a direction with either button performs a move. One can also press the attack button, and a direction at the exact same time for what the game calls “Smash Attacks” these are usually the most powerful moves the game has to offer, as they can also be charged. However that simplicity only goes so far, as you still need the zoning, and unpredictability you use in other fighting games to win. Players have a shield button, as well as a grab button. Shielding is essentially a block button. But to prevent people from playing too defensively or turtling, the block will explode if you hold it too long. Shielding allows you to dodge, and parry too by combining it with a direction. Finally, the grab button will allow you to perform holds, where you can add damage, as well as using it with a direction to throw an opponent. Something that can be handy as you can then attack their airborne character with follow ups. All of these moves can have different results in the air, and most of the characters can add a third jump (you can jump twice with the jump button) by using their up, and special move button after jumping.

There are plenty of other in-depth mechanics between the games that I really won’t delve into here. But know that Super Smash Bros. For Wii U keeps all of these core rules in place. What it does differently from previous games is moves the speed somewhere between SSBM, and SSBB’s. Something that makes it accessible to both groups of dedicated players. The roster has been updated again. Some of the characters that didn’t return in Brawl have returned here. Others are entirely new, while some haven’t returned at all. Many will be happy to know that in addition to the better run speed, a lot of rebalancing has also occurred, and while not perfect, everyone is pretty viable. For most players there won’t be a vast gap between character match ups. For the hardest of the hardcore? Well it’s still going to be awhile before we start seeing consistent tier lists, but there is still plenty to love. Cross ups, two in ones, and advanced combos are all here, and some astute diehards have already discovered a handy technique they call perfect pivoting. I’m certain some may still prefer the old Gamecube version, but this Wii U iteration is certainly deep enough to sate most any fan.

If the tweaks to the core formula weren’t enough to get you to check this out yet, some of the other new features just might. For starters, the internet play is much, improved over Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While I’ve still had my share of disconnects, or a lag ridden match on occasion, that frequency has been greatly reduced. It is irritating when it does happen, as you will see the wrong move pop out as the game isn’t sure what you’ve pressed. Or to see things creep down to five miles an hour. But thankfully those moments have been pretty rare. At least in my case, most rounds go pretty smoothly. Those with wired connections may see even fewer instances of hiccups, as there might be interference in some homes that conflict with a wireless signal. While no means flawless, it is a vast improvement over the last game’s internet performance.

Online mode also has been split up into two modes. For Fun, and For Glory. The former is designed for those who love the random craziness Super Smash Bros. is known for. Items are in full bloom, no holds are barred, and records aren’t kept. Some may have a small nitpick with this mode though. That is the game’s over reach on stopping griefers. In order to keep things civil, the game will disconnect, and put an hour-long ban on you if you target one specific player, over, and over again. While it is commendable that there is a game that really takes this sort of behavior seriously, it can be a little overzealous for some. Sometimes if one player consistently attacks, another, and also consistently fails at it the defender may suffer the consequences. To be fair it seems to be a rarity, and most of the time one has to actively work to make it happen. But there could have been a better concept implemented here. That said, it is generally the zany fun you are accustomed to.

The second mode sets things up similarly to what you might find in a regional tournament. Super Smash Bros. Wii U adds a new map feature called Omega Mode, where maps are converted to a similar layout to the Final Destination stage every game in the series has had. That is, there is but one platform in the center of your screen. For Glory mode also means that no items are in play. Not even the Smash Ball. Games are timed to 2 minutes, and you play for the most knock outs possible. This is easily the most popular mode for people who want a challenge. The mode can also be played in a 4 player mode, a 2 on 2 team mode or a 1 on 1 mode. SSBWU also has an online stat tracker for anybody obsessed with wins, losses, and character stats.

There are also challenges you can take part in by choosing certain characters. Nintendo updates them under a section called Conquest. Going under here simply notifies you of what characters are in play. Using them in For Glory modes, will add points to the character’s team. It doesn’t seem to reward you with anything, but it is something you might have a passing interest in. You can also spectate matches. Going here, and picking a character will find games where the character is being used, and then broadcasting the match to you. If you are the sort who enjoys watching streams of high level play, or any sort of competition, it’s another avenue for you.

You can also play online with friends, which allows you to play up to four players on any given stage, with or without items, in stock or time rule matches. One of the cool things about playing online is that you can have a player, and his or her friend as a guest play online simultaneously. It’s great for anyone who has a roommate, spouse or sibling, who share the same console.

If all of that were it, it would be enough for some, but it isn’t all there is. Players who have local parties with friends can play 8 player battles. This is in addition to the regular 4 player battles. The only drawback here is that not every map in the game was designed with 8 people in mind, so some of the maps are not useable in this mode. Using Omega mode opens up more, but the inability to play on every stage is a minor disappointment. Still, it is a blast if you can get 7 other people to visit or if you’re bringing the system, the game, and some controllers to a party.

On the subject of controllers, the game allows for several kinds of controller options. Obviously you can use the Game Pad, or the Classic Controller Pro. Both of these controllers work great, giving you the versatility of using a second stick for quick Smash Attacks. You can also use the Wiimote on its side, with a Nunchuck, or with the Wii Classic Controller. Using the latter is pretty much like the Classic Controller Pro. Using the Wiimote by itself, or with a Nunchuck isn’t the most ideal way to play as you lose some of the benefits of having analog movement, and easier to pull off smashes. That being said, if you are really good at knowing the precise timing to pull off smashes, then it’s less of an issue. Nevertheless, having some Classic Controller Pros, or Classic Controllers for Wiimotes are going to be a more ideal solution. The game is also compatible with the Nintendo Gamecube Controller. Which is what the absolute purists will insist upon. It isn’t an insurmountable advantage over the Classic Controller, or Classic Controller Pro. But it will feel more familiar to anyone who played an awful lot of Super Smash Bros. Melee. How exactly do you use a GCN controller with this game? Nintendo released a USB adapter that four controllers can plug into, and even supports using two adapters for eight controllers. The only problem? Not very many were produced, and most of them were bought up upon release. If you are fortunate enough to find one at retail, or a copy of the game bundled with one, it is a nice option. Particularly if you have old controllers knocking around. Barring that, the Wiimote, and Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro are your most ideal options. There is another option for those who own the 3DS version of the game, and that is using the portable as a controller, so long as they have the game plugged in. You can also transfer some character data with it as well.

Smash Tour replaces the single player campaign, and it combines the arbitrary rules of Mario Party, with the challenge of Super Smash Bros. You can play this against the CPU, or against three other people. It’s a board game that allows you a set number of turns (15 being the lowest number), in which you’ll move across spaces upon every turn. As you play you’ll collect characters to use in combat, as well as items, and assist trophies to help you in battle while levelling up. Bumping into other players, will often times start a round of Super Smash Bros., with the winner gaining items, and costing the other players items. At the end of the board game there is a final battle with everyone using the characters they’ve collected. As in the Mario Party games, there are also random items generated for players depending on certain events. The object is to try to have the most stuff going into the final round, as it devolves into a handicap match. Someone will almost always have far less characters to use than the others. So skill building from the main game is still paramount.

Another new duo of modes are Master Orders, and Crazy Orders. Master Orders will give you the opportunity to spend gold to enter special challenges. Winning them gives you rewards for your Mii fighter creation, and Amiibos. Crazy Orders is similar but you can use tickets or gold. The difference is Crazy Orders will give you better prizes the longer you can go without losing. Once you lose, you gain nothing. Some of the challenges in the game require you to accomplish certain feats in these modes so you may want to play them. Another key thing in Crazy Orders is that once you’ve beaten as many challenges as you think you can handle you fight Crazy Hand. If you manage to win that battle you’ll retain all of the prizes you’ve claimed thus far.

The game still has the less touted single player modes of previous Smash games however. There is the Classic mode, in which you’ll have to go through a gauntlet of matches, until you meet the final boss. There is a really challenging spin on the mode here however. When starting the game, you’ll be able to choose a difficulty setting, and the higher you choose, the better the rewards for winning. You’ll also need coins to choose the higher settings. You earn these in all of the various modes, along with other items. If you can get to the end of the game on the highest setting, it not only puts you against both the Master Hand, and Crazy Hand (which turns into a number of different forms depending on difficulty level), but puts you into a side scrolling secret stage similar to the end of the original Contra. You’ll have to destroy 3 hearts while hordes of minions try to stop you.

Here’s the thing that makes this an even bigger challenge than in previous games. Even using a single continue will lower the difficulty setting. So you cannot get the highest possible win if you continue. Each consecutive continue lowers the difficulty further. All Star mode also returns, which is essentially a gauntlet through the entire roster. You’ll have to beat every character in a row, on one life. If you can manage to do that, you’ll be rewarded with items, and trophies of each character’s Final Smash.

Also returning are the event stages, which task you with objectives during matches, like beating a character in under 30 seconds, or not letting an enemy touch the stage floor during a 2 minute match. Clearing these can result in some harder to find items, and unlockable stages. Other returning modes are the Home Run bag mode (where you send a sandbag flying for a high score), the multi man NPC smash battles (Beat a number of computer controlled enemies), and target (Break round targets in the shortest time possible)challenges.

But wait! There’s more! Mii’s have become the series’ create a wrestler mode. You can take any given Mii on your system, or  a new Mii, and customize them to create new characters. You can choose from three attack types, a projectile heavy character, a speedy character,  or a brawler. From there you can change around their move sets, costume designs, and more. You can also take an existing character such as Mario, and retool their move sets for interesting results.

Super Smash Bros Wii U also is the first Nintendo game to make significant use of their Amiibo toy line. Instead of unlocking weapons, or skins, they become sparring NPC partners. After setting them on the Game Pad, the character can be renamed, and given custom move sets. Once that is done, playing against it will level it up. As it levels up, it will actually analyze the way you play, and find workarounds for many of your tactics. It quickly goes from being easily squashed to impossible to defeat. What is pretty cool about this is that it will help you learn your weaknesses in a way that a level 9 CPU character simply can’t. The toys can be levelled up to a rank of 50, although they’ll continue to evolve their tactics around your improved tactics. Moreover you can give your Amiibo many of the items you’ll find playing the various modes.

These influence its strengths, and weaknesses. Depending on what you give it, it will veer toward a fast, projectile, or brawler character much like the Miis. You can also only give the Amiibo so many items at a time, before the game will tell you it is full, and has to fight in more matches. In between fights it can be given more items.

In terms of unlockables, the game also has them in spades. The most important ones, are the characters, and stages which can be unlocked by playing enough matches or by meeting certain conditions. Such as beating classic mode, clearing a certain event, and so on, and so forth. But the game also has a lot of trophies for you to collect as well. Hundreds of them. Also carried over from Brawl, are the Nintendo demos for the old games the characters come from, as well as the stage creator, and snapshot features.

Stage creator is a great feature for anybody who likes to create mods. It isn’t going to be the deepest tool. But it does allow you to pick textured block designs, create a nice layout, and even add hazards like lava, or spikes. These can be saved to an SD card along with screenshots you take. Screenshots can be taken like most Wii U games, by pressing Home, and then posting on MiiVerse or a Website. But you can also use the game’s pause menu to save photos to the earlier mentioned SD card.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U really does succeed in many ways at bridging the gap between Melee, and Brawl. But it isn’t quite flawless. While most won’t be bothered by the omission of a campaign, some may be saddened that Solid Snake doesn’t return, nor do the Ice Climbers. Rosalina shares some of their tactics as she has a Luma as her proverbial tag team partner, but still plays wildly differently. The Pokémon Trainer is also gone. Instead, Charizard comes on his own, GreNinja enters as a newcomer, and Pokémon fans still get to play with Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Lucario. (Mewtwo is also going to return down the line as DLC) Despite these, and other roster changes (Zelda, and Sheik are no longer tied to each other, as is the case with Samus, and Zero Suit Samus) things still seem much better here. Mega Man functions nearly identically to his 8-bit NES counterpart, Pac-Man is a lot of fun to use, and you’ll also see some other classic, and contemporary Nintendo characters showing up here. There is a lot to love here, and few games of any genre give you this much content these days.

If all of the modes weren’t enough, you have the aforementioned trophy hunting,  as well as an album function for your photos. The game also has a wonderful soundtrack. All of your favorite series’ songs are represented here. There are symphonic renditions, the original chip tunes,  Rock n’ Roll, Electronica, and so on. You can even set the frequency of each song’s playback for all of the game’s stages.  At the end of the day, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a must for anyone with the system.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL Review

Say that title five times fast!

Anyway, as we all know, knockoffs are nothing new. We see them in everything. Everyday household items. Appliances, and of course creative media. Including obviously, video games. Over the last thirty or more years we’ve seen Pac-Man clones. Space Invaders clones. Super Mario Brothers clones. Street Fighter clones. Doom clones. Basically, one could spend a lifetime talking about the concept alone before even getting to the examples. Some of which I’ve already reviewed. Many knockoffs aren’t worth a second thought. But as Mortal Kombat, Saints Row, and others have taught us, sometimes they are. Taking a proven formula, and putting their own spin on it.

PROS: Nice graphics. Decent mechanics. Controls well.

CONS: Saves can’t be brought to another system. Unbalanced.

CAPTAIN PLANET: He’s our hero! Going to take pollution, down to zero!

Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL does just that. This time the target is Super Smash Bros. The SSB series looks like it can easily be copied at face value. The core concept of keeping combatants off of your hill or out of your ring seems simple. You have a cast of characters who are unique, yet share a simplified movement set.

Moving beyond that, Smash has also employed campaigns in past games. Such as Melee’s Adventure Mode, or Brawl’s Subspace Emissary Mode. Smash has a ton of different items you could add in for random fun. Or assist trophies, that enable NPCs to help you win. Nintendo’s series even has a lot of individual mini game challenges throughout the series from target smashing, to sandbag beating. All with mechanics that hyper-competitive players find quite deep. Today, the series has hardcore fans, and countless tournaments where the best players win enough cash to live on. It’s one of the most watched series on Twitch. Its reputation has reached the heights of games like Street Fighter, and Tekken.

To say that CNPTEXL has some lofty goals is an understatement. Does it get anywhere near the pedigree of Nintendo’s mascot party fighter? No. But is it a bad game? Shockingly, the answer is also no. This game takes Nintendo’s approach to mascots, and applies it to Time Warner’s Cartoon Network. The game was published  a bit before the channel’s power houses Adventure Time, and Regular Show. So you won’t be playing as Benson or throwing down with Finn. However the game’s roster does go pretty far back to the channels early days. Dexter’s Lab, The Power Puff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Johnny Bravo all make appearances with many of their characters. Some of the later hits like Ben 10 & The Grim Adventures of Billy, and Mandy are here. And even some of the lesser known shows are represented.

The game has a campaign mode in the vein of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary mode. The story is told by a narrator (Voiced by Space Ghost’s George Lowe), which follows the convergence of all of Cartoon Network’s shows. This follows a formula similar to Brawl’s. You will go through side scrolling platformer stages with brawler elements. Depending on the stage, you can use a certain number of characters. When you get to the end of the campaign it is revealed that the narrator’s TV remote has gone rogue, and is responsible for the merging of the realities. Of course, this remote is the final boss.

Along the way you’ll also unlock characters for you to use in the other mode. Again, much like the Subspace Emissary. The difference is that you use currency to do it. CNPTEXL has a Store option where you will find not only the bonus characters, but stages, alternate costumes, and clips from the various Cartoon Network shows. Clearing the game or playing enough in the other modes will give you points that can be used to unlock them. Once unlocked, the characters, and stages can be used in the Story mode or the Battle mode. There is a vault where the unlocked clips can be viewed, along with the character models. It works kind of like a cut down version of Smash’s trophy room. You can get info on the characters, what shows they belong to, and their original appearances. It isn’t nearly as deep as what you will find in Nintendo’s games, but it still gives you something to look forward to if you are a fan of the CN shows. The clips are DVD quality, and most of the clips are from some of the better shows’ moments.

 

The meat of the game is in its multiplayer. Battle mode is up to four players, and also allows you to use a variety of controllers. If you’re playing the Wii version you can use the Wiimote, and Nunchuck. Or you can opt for either a Classic Controller or a Gamecube Controller. As I’ve mentioned before, the core concept of CNPTEXL is the same as the Nintendo franchise it cribs from. Each of the game’s 26 stages will see players trying to keep each other off of the arena. You do this by attacking one another, to build up damage. The more damage you take, the farther you are knocked back with each successful hit. Each stage has a knockout zone around it. Going beyond it, or being unable to otherwise make it back to the arena results in a death.

The object of course is to be the last one with any lives left. The game plays as one would expect. There is a primary attack button, a special move button, a shield button, and a button for your finishers. Each of the main three buttons can be combined with directions. So as in Smash, you can get different moves based upon what direction is used with each. It also has smash attacks of its own. So pressing a direction with the attack button at the same time will dish out more knock back. The shield also allows you to roll out-of-the-way, and perform parries as in Smash. Many of the tactics employed in Smash like edge guarding can also work here. Even holding the shield for too long will break it, leaving you open to punishment. The finisher button is novel too in that you don’t have to chase down a smash ball. The one thing this game does to carve itself out a niche is  the use of a gem system. Beating up on your opponent will cause them to drop gems. Collect enough of them, and you can use your finisher. Most of the finishers are pretty cool, and have anime inspired animations leading up to the attack.

In addition to the primary battle mode, there are a handful of variants. Choosing a custom match is similar to the way custom matches in Smash games work. You can turn assist trophies on or off, set the frequency of items, and set the time limit or number of lives. It does not let you go over each individual item however.  Beyond the custom mode, there is a mode called Drones where the game will throw a bunch of NPC enemies into the match. Instead of scoring you on stock or knockouts, it instead scores you on whoever defeated the most computer controlled combatants.

There is also a variant called PTE mode, where you collect energy orbs. Think of it like the coin mode in the Smash series. Finally, there’s the arcade mode. This plays like the arcade mode in Smash. The game puts you in a ladder, against other combatants, and you’ll get a different ending for each character you beat the mode with.

As far as the look, and sound of the game go, the visuals are pretty nice, while the sound isn’t. All of the characters models look pretty good considering Papaya’s probable budget constraints. Backgrounds aren’t very detailed. Muddy textures cover most of the background objects, and small details are lost in the shuffle. Although one has to be impressed with some of the destruction, and transition that goes on in certain stages. Again, the finishing moves are actually pretty impressive. Especially if you’re a fan of some of these old shows. Audio is lackluster however. Aside from the voice samples, and quality during the unlockable clips, there isn’t much to recommend. Music isn’t all that memorable, and none of the effects will really wow you.

Despite all of the similarities with Nintendo’s games it still doesn’t hold a candle to Super Smash Bros. That’s the biggest trouble with Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL. The roster isn’t as large, and as great as many of these shows were, it simply isn’t as fun to pick up Johnny Bravo, as it is to pick up Donkey Kong. What’s worse is that the roster you do get isn’t really all that balanced. There are a handful of characters you’ll stick with if you do decide to play this with friends even remotely regularly. While every fighting game ends up with one or two characters that have more versatility, the best fighters still make everyone viable. This game really doesn’t. It was clearly made to be a Smash clone for people on a budget. Or at least for Cartoon Network fans who couldn’t get enough Smash-like experiences. Unfortunately while it does succeed on those merits, it won’t succeed in keeping you away from Nintendo’s franchise for very long. The fact you can’t unlock everything on your own, and bring it to a friend’s is disheartening too. Especially since, at least on the Wii, you can back up your save file to an SD card.

Still, if you do like some of these classic cartoons, you might want to check the game out anyway. It is by no means a terrible game, and it is a fun ride as far as licensed games go. But you aren’t going to drop Super Smash Bros. for this. Nor are you going to fool yourself into thinking you’re playing Super Smash Bros. if you pick it up on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.  It’s average. But sometimes that’s enough.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

 

Conduit Retrospective Part Two: Conduit 2 Review

The Wrath Of Kahn. Empire Strikes Back. Judgment Day. Sequels sometimes do surpass their precursor stories in every way possible. All while continuing the overall arc. Other times not so much. Conduit 2 is a lot closer to the former. At least for most of the ride.

PROS: Improved graphics. More controller options. Split Screen Multiplayer.

CONS: Voice actors from the first game have been replaced.

HA, HA, HA: The ending is out of left field, and unintentionally hilarious.

When you first start up Conduit 2 you will be thrown into a brief montage of the end events of the first game then find yourself on an Oil Rig near the Bermuda Triangle. Right away you’ll notice that HVS significantly upped the ante on their Quantum 3 engine. Bump mapped water, reflections, and other lighting effects give the game some of the highest visual effects seen in a Wii game.  Player models, and environments are still low detail, and even drab in some spots, but the texture work is vastly improved which hides away some of these imperfections.

Environments are also much more varied in their settings this go around. This is due to the storyline that takes you all over the world. No longer confined to Washington, you’ll be in snow-capped mountains, jungles, the ocean, and more.

The control options are just as customizable as in the last game allowing for players to find the right feel for themselves. Once again you can reconfigure the look of the Heads Up Display, the sensitivity of the pointer controls, and remap the button layout. The game also takes full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus accessory. Enabling it in the options makes the pointer much more accurate, improving its tracking. For those who could never get behind the idea of using a pointer in a shooter, Conduit 2 does allow them to use a classic controller. People used to playing on twin stick controllers may feel a bit more at home. This is also fairly customizable allowing those players to remap the button layout in addition to the sensitivity of the thumb sticks.

This review is also going to be a bit spoiler heavy. Mainly because there is an aspect of the campaign that cannot be ignored. That aspect is the ending. Which we will get to. Of course in order to show you just how far the beyond the shark it is, we will need to talk about the storyline.

At the end of The Conduit  Michael Ford escaped John Adams’ secret bunker through a conduit portal with the ASE. Prometheus absorbed his consciousness  into the ASE beforehand. During the rolling credits we find out that Adams is actually a shape shifting alien Reptoid. He was sent by his race to take over the world, and some of the Drudge were beings based off of Prometheus’ alien DNA structure but intertwined with human DNA.

Right out of the gate, the game begins at the end of an exit conduit. You come out of the conduit to find yourself on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. After you fight your way through hordes of hired mercenaries the oil rig is attacked by a Leviathan. This is one of the moments when Conduit 2 really shines. This boss fight is everything a boss fight should be. It involves running around the top of the oil rig, and manning turret cannons to bring it down. While this is going on however, small grunt enemies will come out to attack you. So you will be bouncing between avoiding the Leviathan’s attacks, and dispatching grunts before going back to fighting the boss.

As you go through the rest of the campaign you’ll travel the globe. This begins when you stumble upon Atlantis, which turns out isn’t a sunken city, but an ancient extraterrestrial  war ship. The ship’s defenses come on while you are inside, so you will have to defend yourself against them. As you fight your way through it you have to find a woman named Andromeda, and take her out of cryogenic sleep. It turns out she was led to believe Prometheus betrayed her eons ago, and you convince her over time otherwise. When you free her you are given a special battle suit in the vein of Metroid heroine Samus Aran.

Andromeda also pilots Atlantis which has the ability to open up Conduits of its own. This turns the ship into a hub level where you will return between stages. It also allows you revisit past stages, and bonus training stages. At one point you return to Washington DC to find the Drudge are in a civil war.  Some of the creatures are liberating themselves from the group, while the rest swear their allegiances to the Trust. You’ll end up saving one of the free Drudge named Thex. He then helps later in the mission, by bringing in his forces to help you in one of the larger scale fights the game has to offer. Prometheus also gives exposition about other aliens, called Progenitors. These beings are involved in secret societies around the globe who must also be convinced Adams needs to be stopped.

It is revealed that Adams intends to murder all of the Progenitors, and consume their souls.  In doing so, he can take their powers, and add them to his own. So your job is to find each of the Progenitors, and warn them of Adams’ plot to kill them for their power which he will use to enslave the Earth.

You will then go to China to confront another alien named Li who doesn’t believe Adams is much of a threat nor does he believe you are the true bearer of the exosuit. The China stage has some of the cooler moments in this game. Statues come to life, and attack with powerful melee moves, while other enemies try to gun you down. Li is also another huge boss with an old school pattern you have to discover to take him down. He can also recharge his life bar.  While it is an overused, game convention, it is implemented at a level that doesn’t make him impossible to beat either. When you do defeat him you absorb his consciousness into the ASE. You’ll find this becomes a running theme.

The trail then leads to Siberia where you travel through mountainous terrain, discovering hidden military bases, and labs. It is here you will have to free another alien leader named Katarina. Things become really dicey however. So she will sacrifice herself in order to keep you alive. Like previous alien leaders she too sends her consciousness into the ASE. The trail then leads to Central America where you’ll discover the Lost City of Z. While there you’ll find another top ranking alien has died, and again absorb them into the ASE.

The last mission takes Ford back to the Atlantis where John Adams invades in his human form with a small army. This results in a huge horde battle, and Ford quickly dives into a conduit after Adams who tries to escape in the classic movie villain trope. In classic video game fashion however, this really leads to a second boss fight against Adams who shifts into his true form. This fight is actually a bit of a let down, as it’s not one of the more strategic gun battles as you’ve had thus far. There’s not much of a puzzle element, just one of those fights where you hope for the best. Like in the original Doom when you first found the Cyberdemon. Be prepared to empty whatever rounds you have, and hope it is enough.

Once you do defeat Adams though you find you can also absorb his consciousness into the ASE. This leads to one of the most over the top endings in any game you’ve ever, ever, (and I mean ever) played through. It turns out that the reason Thex had you absorb all of these beings into the ASE is so you could beat Adams with their combined might. However absorbing Adams into the ASE causes it to overload, and send an emergency beacon into space, where a Borg inspired spherical planet begins to travel toward Earth. No sooner does Ford find himself completely perplexed when some people pass through a Conduit to tell him they’re here to help.

Those people aren’t another group of aliens, an extraterrestrial task force, or an as of yet introduced government agency. It’s our first President George Washington, and our sixteenth President Abraham Lincoln. Both of whom are dressed like space marines. Other former Presidents, and historical figures then come piling out of the Conduit. All of whom are sporting the biggest armor this side of Warhammer 40,000.  The Conduit 2 logo then flashes in front of an outer space backdrop, and the credits begin to roll.

Now the storyline involves on an alien plot to take over the world, and the antagonist is one who shares a name with our second president. Plus it’s hinted he may have been one in the same. It’s silly, and a bit campy. But it’s still presented seriously enough where the suspension of disbelief allows most people to get invested. At least enough to want to see the story through. There have been movies, and TV shows with less plausible ideas, that many of us have been invested in. Here is the thing though. Are we supposed to buy that all of our Presidents have known about this plot, and are also hundreds if not thousands of years old? Why would all of them be dressed like Captain Titus? How did the Presidents fake their deaths so well? A little bit of camp in a story that centers around conspiracy theories can be a nice dose of comic relief. But this ending is  so over the top, and so campy, that most anyone playing it will either: A.) Laugh. B.) Ask “What the hell?” or any number of variations on the question. Or C.) Both.

Bad ending aside, the campaign really is a good time. Certainly if you love exploration in your First Person Shooters. Especially if you are the type who loves to read up on conspiracy theories. Not only do secret messages return from The Conduit, but High Voltage Software went through hours of researching conspiracy theories to implement a ton of objects referencing them. There are secret plans for H.A.A.R.P., evidence that the Dropa Stones were of extraterrestrial origin, and touch on many other conspiracies.

The artifacts you discover from these conspiracies are a really nice touch. They add more to the narrative than the campaigns script does at times. Sci-Fi fans of shows like X-Files, Alien Nation, and V will find themselves enjoying the references. After you beat the game you can go back to any stage to find any secrets you may have missed, and even play through bonus stages you may have unlocked by finding hidden coordinates. Stages are a lot more open than other shooters that have come out over the last few years. Some have branching paths, and the freedom is an appreciated touch, after the me too linearity seen in the original game, and so many other games this generation.

The role of the ASE was also expanded in this game. The last game limited it to being a key for weapon closets, a graffiti translator, and cloaked bomb detector. This time, it is used to find artifacts which, as described earlier, tell more of the story. It also finds coordinates, and weapons. The ping system has also been changed from an automatic ping to a manual one. So it won’t be going off on its own whenever you stand near a possible cloaked threat or a secret. It’s a small change, but it does make hunting for secrets something you’ll want to do.

One thing that may disappoint you (aside from the ending) in Conduit 2, is the voice acting. The entire cast was changed. Most notably Mark Sheppard was replaced with Jon St. John, while Max McGill, and Sam Mowry were cast in place of Kevin Sorbo, and William Morgan Sheppard. The new cast isn’t bad. But they bring very different portrayals of Michael Ford, John Adams, and Prometheus to the series. Jon St. John brings a vocal flair similar to his Duke Nukem performance to Michael Ford. It isn’t exactly like Duke Nukem, as it isn’t as deep. There also aren’t a lot of witty or crude one liners in the script. But the character still has a lot more bravado in this installment as a result. It certainly isn’t a terrible performance by any means. But because it so different from what was presented in the first game, it can come off as jarring.

McGill, and Mowry don’t fare quite as well. Prometheus ends up sounding a lot more mechanical here. Adams is a little bit closer in terms of the character’s over confidence. But the delivery still ends up being a far cry from what we saw in the original game. Again none of the performances are absolutely dreadful. There were certainly well-intentioned efforts put into them. But because the new cast are different people who had different ideas on how to portray these characters, obviously the result is different, and different enough to turn some people off.

By contrast, the biggest improvement to Conduit 2 has to be its multiplayer. Once again, seeing how the game’s online multiplayer is no longer functional, you won’t be playing it. Over the course of the three years it was playable over the internet, the game  received several patches. The developers made a commitment to reduce cheating, implemented a customizable system for players to have specialized load outs, and even costume designs. The game also has a Call Of Duty inspired levelling system allowing the truly devoted to unlock, and level up weapons. There was again an achievement system, and the game allowed you to pick friends, and rivals through your non private games which allowed you to essentially friend them without having to get their friend code. Sadly you didn’t get as much in the way of game type tweaking in non private games. You could only pick from a few grab bag modes.

The modes that were present were the typical Free For All Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Last Man Standing modes. ASE Football returned, along with a horde mode, where players tried to survive waves of enemies. All stuff you’ve seen before. But it was really well crafted. Map designs were built around the modes. There weren’t nearly as many lag, or performance issues as in other Wii online multiplayer titles.

Fortunately, Conduit 2 added in 2 to 4 player split screen multiplayer. So all of the mayhem you could experience online, can at least be played locally with friends, and relatives. Some of the multiplayer maps are truly great romps. My favorite being the crash site where you can climb into the crashed space craft, and turn on its afterburners. Anyone foolish enough to stand behind it is burned to death pretty much instantly. Some of the new weapons in Conduit 2 are also really cool. One of the best is the mobile turret, where you can place the turret, then through secondary fire go to a completely different area with a tablet, then use the tablet to remotely fire upon enemies through a camera app.

Conduit 2 is one of the best games you haven’t played, and one of the better games to come out near the end of the Wii’s run. If you own a Wii or a Wii-U you owe it to yourself to check this game out. If you are a multi platform owner who likes shooters  it’s worth a look. If you love stories about conspiracy theories, and Sci-Fi themed B-Movies it’s probably also something up your alley. Provided of course, you can deal with such an out of place ending.

Still, one can’t help but wonder if High Voltage Software will ever be allowed to show us where the Conduit could go from here.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

A Steam walkthrough for newcomers

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(I originally wrote this for the defunct Retro Retreat. It’s been edited, and updated.)

Since it’s inception in 2003, Valve’s Steam service has come a long way. Starting out as an inconvenient, buggy, necessary evil for Hal-Life 2, it grew into a huge storefront, and destination for the biggest PC games. It adapted to the concerns, and needs of a community going so far as to create it’s own. Eventually dwarfing online store services in the console market in terms of members. It became famous for week-long door buster deals during the summer, and winter months igniting sales on existing games during what have always been lull periods for releases. How many times have you been on a video game message board to see threads of boasting huge sales? How many times have you heard friends talk about getting some of your favorite games on their computer for a lot less than $60, and legitimately?

 Yet for a variety of reasons good, or bad many out there still haven’t forayed into the world of Steam. This article is going to cover creating an account, utilizing the client, and showing a few things that some who have used the service may not yet know about. I chose to put out a Steam article because of the fact not a lot of blogs or outlets have really talked about it much other than mentioning when a major AAA release is coming to it or an indie darling is coming about. Despite having millions of subscribers, when I’m in public I  still meet a lot of gamers who have yet to try Valve’s service out. I will be going through the service on a Windows machine, but the service is available to those on Apple Macintosh or any of the Linux distributions.

The first step to setting up a Steam account is really simple. From any computer with an internet connection go to the Steam website (Steampowered.com), and click Install Steam at the top right corner. A box will ask you if you want to save or open the installer. Click save, and once it’s downloaded then you can proceed to run the installer. Once you have Steam installed, you can run the client by clicking the shortcut if you chose to have it on your desktop or start screen (If you are on Windows 8). Otherwise simply go with the standard Start->All Programs->Steam->Steam path from your Start button.

When you first fire up the client it’s going to take you through a sign up process. This is generally straightforward, asking for typical info for business or security reasons most websites you use every day have probably asked for. All of this will be tied to an email address of your choosing.

The reason for this is so that you can get security checks, lost password information or email alerts from Valve should you ever need it. Once you have an email address selected, it will also ask you for an account name (Which will be different from your online name), and a password for you to log onto Steam. Some people like to check mark the software to remember their password. But generally this isn’t recommended, especially if you are using a laptop at a public hotspot. Remember that all of your game, and content purchases will be tied to your Steam account. So if the password is stolen, the thief has access to your digital library. Steam does have some safeguards in place in case this ever happens. But to better avoid such a scenario it’s recommended you memorize, and type in your password when you want to log onto the service.

You can also access your account from any computer with an internet connection, so do feel free to do so. For instance, if you are on a netbook in a coffee shop (or other place with a hotspot), and have the sudden urge to play Peggle, you can log on to Steam from there as well. Steam will build a list of trusted devices for your account with it’s Steam Guard feature. You will be emailed a code with every device that tries to log on, so if someone tries to do it on a system you don’t own they will be denied unless they also have access to your email account to get the specific code.

With all of that out-of-the-way, it’s time to customize your account. Here you can choose a screen name for your friends, and opponents in games to see you under. You can also upload a photo or other picture to your account to use as an avatar. You can also change this at any time. So if you become bored, or begin to worry it may offend someone it can be swapped. You can also post a website under your info so if you want someone to be able to visit it you can do so. Then when people see your profile they can visit your site if they wish.

Many people like to put a description or a list of likes, and dislikes here while others like to leave them blank. Just like Facebook, it’s entirely up to you how open or private you would like to be. Please use proper judgment though, as you don’t want to have your private phone number, or company secrets, or social security numbers or other stuff that should remain private floating around the internet. Once you have a profile set up it’s time to start adding friends if you have any, who are already on the service. Simply go to the top of the screen, and click the Friends tab. Under that, click Add Friend, and you will be able to search by screen name or email. Once you find them, click Add Friend, and an invitation will be sent to them. Once they get it, they can confirm they know you, and will be on your friends list. The friends list client is a lot more than just a, well list of people.

The friends list works much like your list on Xbox Live, Playstation Network, or (For us old timers) X-Fire. You can talk to them via typing, or by talking on a headset. Right clicking on their names allows you to invite them to join a chat, or a group. Groups are nice for fans of certain games, or other fandoms to get together on Steam. You will find Steam groups for just about anything within reason. Groups will allow you to make other friends or at least players you can get along with.

Now that you have an account, and a friends list it’s time to navigate your layout. Steam has four main areas noted at the top: STORE. LIBRARY. COMMUNITY. followed by whatever screen name you went with. The store is usually the default screen for most people who sign into Steam. It is here you are greeted with a scrolling pane of the latest releases. Sometimes you may also get pop ups of the latest releases, or sales. You can either click next on each one if you’re interested or simply click close, and it won’t bother you again. The store tab allows you to shop for games. You can use the search function to find a particular title, or you can sort by price, or genre. You can even look by developer or publisher. On the side panel you can also find a button to sort for games under $10 or under $5 for those times when you want something new to play, but don’t have a lot of disposable income. Valve will often times do a special mid-week deal on Wednesdays to pique interest, and many times on Weekends have special two-day deals where you can play a full priced game for free, and then buy it at a discounted rate if you really enjoy it.

But the biggest hype in the Steam community is during the summer, and leading up to early winter a second time when Valve runs annual season sales. Particularly the summer sale. During this sale each day games will be slashed 50%-90% off. Before you go thinking it’s just to unload unwanted keys for drivel nobody wants to play there are a lot of great deals every year. Blockbuster games, indie games, and everything in between. Sometimes during these runs you will see publisher packs discounted too. These packs generally include every game the publisher has released on Steam. Other packs will be multiplayer packs, where a single user can buy a bundle of keys to be given away to friends. Games like Payday 2 really benefit from this as the discounted rate gets a sale from fans. But also legally, and affordably gets their on the fence friends to check out a game they might not normally buy on their own.

Season sales also involve the community by raffling off content for hitting metrics. Get an achievement in one title, get a card. Get a friend to play Co-Op with you, get a card. Write a comment or recommendation or commendation of a title you played, get a card. Collect so many cards, get a badge that boosts your Steam profile rating. These contests make an already great sale into something fun, and community driven. Plus a lot of the community driven things that occur during these periods don’t require buying things. So it’s just more of an incentive to log in, and play with your friends.

Buying games is pretty easy. Once you go to a game’s page you click on Add To Cart. Clicking on your cart then takes you to the checkout. Here you can choose to buy the title for yourself, or to gift the title to someone else. Electing to gift the title will let you either email a notification to someone, or you can simply pick someone from your friends list. You can also add the gift to your inventory to hang onto to be gifted later. This is a wonderful way to buy for birthdays or holidays that are a ways off.

 Steam will even let you know if a friend already owns the title so you can back out of the transaction, and choose something else to gift. At this point whether you’re buying for yourself or someone else, Steam will ask for your billing information. Here is where you enter your address, and credit card information. Steam will then let you save the information  for future purchases, or like your password, you can leave the box un-ticked.

It should also be noted that Steam features a buying option for those without a credit card: The Steam Wallet. Steam Wallet allows you to purchase gift cards at physical brick, and mortar stores to be used on Steam. They can be found at Best Buy, Target, 7 Eleven or GameStop, and they may turn up at other retailers as well. All of the cards have a code (Except at GameStop which we’ll get to in a moment.) that can be redeemed. Simply click under the Games tab, pick Redeem Steam Wallet Code, and type it in. In the case of GameStop, rather than print the code on the actual cards, wallet codes are printed on the receipt. Adding the wallet code works the same way. If you have any money in your Steam wallet, it becomes your default payment. So game purchases will come out of the wallet until empty. Once empty, Steam will then ask for credit card information again.

Video games, and other content purchased from Steam are forever tied to your account. As mentioned earlier, you can access your content from any system Steam is installed on. Steam also has an offline mode. So if you have a spotty connection, or simply want to play a single player game on your laptop while camping you can choose to. All you have to do is click Go Offline under the Steam tab before going out, and about. It should also be noted that any physical retail disc version of a game also sold on Steam will be added to your account. Simply choose Activate A Product On Steam, punch in the Key, and the service will authenticate it. Once authenticated you can either download the title or install it from your physical disc.

Now that you have some titles under your belt it’s time to customize your library. When you click your Library tab you will notice a few symbols toward the upper right. These allow you to change the layout of your library. You can choose (Left to right) a simplified list version (With descriptions on the right for each title), a modified list version, or Steam Grid version. (Pictured). Going with Steam Grid gives your library a look similar to those found on Xbox Live, or Apple iTunes. This layout is by far the most popular one, and is recommended for anyone other than those running on fairly underpowered computers. There is also a fourth layout called Big Picture mode.

Steam Big Picture mode is intended for gamers using a Home Theatre PC. What’s a Home Theatre PC some of you may ask? A HTPC is a computer used in lieu of typical media players, and set-top boxes with a TV set. Not only are they popular with some of the do it yourself crowd, who like to buy parts, and assemble their own computer. But some manufacturers actually sell pre built ones along with their regular desktop lines. HTPC’s typically have midrange to top-tier hardware. Great processors, graphics cards, and fast storage. Some even include Blu-Ray drives. HTPC’s also come mostly in cases that resemble rack mount stereo equipment, or set-top boxes. Some of the Steam boxes take this route as well. With a HTPC hooked up to a HDTV, Big Picture mode allows players to navigate Steam with an Xbox 360 (or comparable) gamepad.

Steam Big Picture mode changes the entire look of Steam. You can browse not only the store or your library or friends list with the twin sticks, but the mode also features a web browser too. The web browser controls well, and displays most websites with little to no trouble. Typing in web addresses or chatting with friends is also seamless. Rather than pull up an onscreen keyboard the way every console since the NES has, Steam Big Picture has a wheel like display. It can look daunting at first, but the color coded letters are fairly easy to follow, especially if using an Xbox 360 pad. To exit the mode, Steam entirely, or even restart or shut off your computer, you can highlight the power button, and pull up a shutdown menu.

Steam also allows gamers to run titles not originally intended for release on Steam. Doing this is very simple. Under the Games tab select Add Non Steam Game To My Library. From here you will see a list box of everything installed on your computer, much like the one featured in Windows’ Add Or Remove Programs option under it’s control panel. Once you check mark, and apply the title you want to add it will appear on your list or grid of titles. But it doesn’t end there! If you are using the Grid mode, you can then right-click on the new, but bland icon, and pick your own custom artwork for the button! All you have to do is make sure you have the custom button made up to be applied. Simply pick Set Custom Image after right clicking the icon, and then browse for your custom button. JPEG, PNG, or TGA formats can be used at a resolution of 460×215.

The other major area of Steam of importance is the Steam Community tab. This is where you can visit the latest news that outlets are bringing up, as well as game hubs. Game hubs allow users to share screenshots, files, and discuss the titles they love. Every title available for download on Steam has it’s own community hub. There is also a Steam Community Market where users can trade custom content for Steam Wallet credit. It’s an entire sub economy for enthusiasts. Many games support this area most notably Team Fortress 2, and it’s hat crafting. The most successful people in the community have actually been able to make a living at it.

Steam Trading Cards are also a big component of the market. Most of the new releases on the service over the last two years support them. As you play these titles, over time they drop cards you can use for profile or community uses. Each card belongs to a set. Half of which are generally dropped off to you by playing the game they are associated with. To get the remaining cards in the set you can trade with friends, or buy them in the Steam Marketplace. Completing sets allows you to craft badges, that in turn boost your Steam Level which is kind of like Xbox Gamerscore. It gives you bragging rights amongst your friends. But it can also get you custom game themed backgrounds for your profile, along with emoticons for use while instant messaging friends.

However, if you’re a player who doesn’t care about that aspect of the service, you can sell your cards on the marketplace. Most of the cards will be nickel, and dime pricing. But occasionally you may get a rarer foil version of a card that goes for more. Sale events can also drop special cards. Selling these on the marketplace for change adds up. So many players will sell the cards for wallet credit, and use the money on new games instead of crafting badges with the trading cards.

t your thing, you may want to look at Steam Greenlight. Greenlight is something everyone should look at once in a while, because it allows community input as to what titles may eventually find their way to the Steam store for actual purchase. One of the best examples of Greenlight bringing a wonderful title to Steam is Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. This excellent platformer was green lit after a very successful Kickstarter. Steam users can vote on what upcoming titles they want to see hit the store. There are thousands of titles to vote for, from independent creators to studios with a product publishers may have rejected. If enough folks vote for a title, Valve puts it into their pipeline, and begins the process of working with the creators on how to get it on the Steam store.

Eventually this portion of Steam is supposed to be retired. But for now players can use it to try to keep good games in the store, and bad games out. Sadly, it’s really about the only thing you can do aside from posting reviews. Fortunately, Steam does allow you to do so on every game’s store page. So if you have played a title you loved, and want to implore people to buy it you can do that. You can also tell people to stay away from stinkers you’ve played as well.

Finally, it’s time to go back to the first option a second. Click on Steam, and pick Settings.

This will bring up a box with several tabs. We’ll briefly cover each of these. The first tab is called Account. This is where you should go if your email address ever needs to change or you want to change your password. You can also manage Steam Guard protection as well as choose any Beta participation with the Steam client. If you choose to opt in, you will get any updates to the client that aren’t finalized. You can always change this on or off, but participating in betas does let you get a peek at what may be coming down the pike.

The second tab is the Friends tab. This tab goes further than the friend option on the top of the mainline Steam screen. It gives you the option to change sound tones, let you know if someone logs on,  lets you post time stamps during conversations, as well as notifications, and sounds options.

Third on the list is the Interface tab. This tab lets you change language settings in addition to whether or not you want Steam in your startup menu, what custom skins (If any) you would like to use with the client, and what screen you see first upon logging on. You can even choose to default into Big Picture mode if you wish.

The In-Game tab features options for the Steam overlay. The overlay is a feature all of the Steam purchased software titles, and some non Steam titles allow players to use. Basically, it covers the game or program being used for quick access to the Steam community, or friends tabs. It’s handy when you’re gaming, and a friend needs to talk to you at the same time. You can also choose a Steam Browser homepage here.

The Downloads + Cloud tab is where your bandwidth options go. Here you can change the speed if you ever upgrade/downgrade your internet service, and you can also alter where your Steam games are installed. Honestly it’s best if you use the default locations for your Steam installs as to keep everything running smoothly. But if you ever do change from Cable service to DSL service for instance, changing that here can better optimize Steam.

The final tab is the Voice tab. This controls the Voice over IP settings in Steam. If you find yourself playing a lot of games with friends, and don’t  want to go through the setup process of third-party VOIP clients like Ventrillo, Mumble, or C3 it’s a great feature. For non Steam games however you still may want to use one of those third-party clients, as not every non Steam title works with the Steam VOIP or overlay.

So that’s the basics for Steam. Feel free to tweak, or poke deeper into the service. Some of the things covered here may change in later updates, but not so much it renders this guide unusable. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading through this, and found it a great resource for your first foray into the #1 digital storefront in PC gaming. Keep an eye out for the mega bargains during the seasonal sales, make some friends, and enjoy all of the great stuff Valve’s service has to offer.

I now have a Twitch channel

Just to give everyone a nice heads up, I now have a Twitch channel. I know. I know. Late to the party. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you won’t see written reviews anymore. It isn’t the end of my love of writing. But broadcasting my own gameplay seemed interesting, and so I finally took the belated plunge. What kinds of titles will you see me play? Well for now they’ll predominantly be PC games. The reason being, I do not presently have a capture card for my PC. As such I don’t have the ability to get my console games streamed. Eventually, I’d like to but at least for the time being the games will be on my PC. I started out with Chivalry, and I’ll probably play that one a bit more in the future. But I’ll have other games going too. Some will be games I’ve reviewed for the blog, others will just be games I may be playing with friends. Many of them will probably be games that are fun, and under the radar. I enjoy introducing people to new stuff. Everyone knows about the latest blockbuster, but not everyone knows about some of the other great stuff out there.

In terms of content this week, I’ll be reposting some more of my old reviews I’ve done for defunct or lapsed sites so that they’re available for visitors to see. The day may come where those other sites go down completely, and should that happen they’ll be lost. I hope you’ll check them out once they’re reposted. I’ll be playing some stuff I’ve picked up recently too, so if I do get through any of those titles I’ll try to get a review in there for any of those too.

As always, I thank, and appreciate everyone who reads my material. I also thank, and appreciate everyone who watched my opening stream last night, or will watch future broadcasts.  If you want to see me win or fail miserably you can do so at http://www.twitch.tv/thedeviot

Rise Of The Triad Review

The reboot of the late 90’s many shooter fans have prayed for is out now. It delivers the fast paced carnage, and exploration of the original game. But along the way are a few caveats.

PROS: Wonderful retelling of the original 1995 2.5D First Person Shooter.

CONS: Bugs, micro stuttering, and a lack of optimization.

WOW! THEY PULLED A DOOM II:  Four super secret retro stages!

To say there is a new Rise Of The Triad is nothing short of a miracle. Only a handful of people thought there could ever be another one. Especially seeing how Apogee/3DRealms was barely on life support after losing millions on Duke Nukem Forever, and then selling the rights to Gearbox who merely got it functional enough to sell to the unsuspecting public.  Many of us, if not all of us, figured Apogee was all but gone, and their backlog lost to history.

Enter Interceptor Entertainment, who managed to get Apogee’s blessing to reboot one of their more obscure releases. I’ve reviewed the original game so I won’t go gravely into it again here. But Rise Of The Triad was a really good game that did a lot with dated technology. So much so, that for awhile it actually hung with the big boys of the time.

Born of an abandoned sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, it brought jump pads, destructable environments,  and multiplayer staples like CTF to the table. It did a lot of amazing things with a then five year old engine. Things some newer releases hadn’t done. In short it was awesome. It grew a devoted cult following over the years. Ironic, seeing how ROTT’s villians are helmed by a murderous cult.

Interceptor is a small team spread out over the globe. The creation of the reboot is an interesting one because it is such an unorthodox one. Developers created the game through nearly two years of internet conferencing, uploading, assets, and involving community feedback. It’s something you rarely see in the creation of any sort of ambitious project by such a small team.

Overall, this did work to their advantage. Rise Of The Triad is crafted with love for the IP, and it shows. Stages are built with the spirit of the original in mind at every turn. But entirely on an Unreal 3 engine. No longer restricted to 90 degree tile set design, the developers built stages with more of a building block approach. The stages are almost entirely open to you. With the exception of searching for keys for certain areas, and stage outskirts you can pretty much go anywhere.

With the advent of the popularity of Half-Life, Call Of Duty, and other contemporary big games, campaigns became more of a linear, cinematic experience. One of going on rail like segments where you can see things happening, but can’t explore them. ROTT throws this out the window,  embracing it’s 1995 era fully.

Exploration is one of the best things about the game too, because it will lead to a lot of power ups, secrets, and in four cases, retro levels themed on the 1995 original’s graphics. You will want these power ups too because ROTT is challenging. Even on lower difficulty settings, you will find yourself realizing the odds are against you. Gone are the regenerating health bars of modern design, and returning are the bowls of priest porridge  from the old game.

Managing health, and ammo is a staple of arcade shooters. There is little difference here. Although the bullet weapons like the handgun or MP40 supply unlimited ammuntion, going up against tougher enemies proves that they’re not ideal. ROTT’s meatier weapons are all variants on the rocket launcher. On top of the stock one, classic favorites return like the Flame Wall, Split Missile, Drunk Missile,and Firebomb. Each has a secondary function now to put another spin on the classic gameplay.

These weapons are a must against bosses, or heavy enemies. Also returning to help you out, are the powerups. There’s the wings to allow you to fly for a short time, dog mode which helps you find certain secrets, bite bad guys, and barkblast an entire room of badguys into paste. Also returning is the classic  god powerup giving you the familiar yawning sound, invulnerability, and force lightning balls of the original.

Interceptor also brought back the joke powerups. Shroom mode impedes your movement, and Ball mode makes you ricochet off walls. Finally, the excalibat, an enchanted baseball bat that shoots baseballs, and the magic wand that shoots force lighning.

ROTT’s story is told through comic book panels at the beginning of the game, and through radio chatter between levels. The game is broken up into 5 levels across 4 episodes. At the end of each episode you’ll face a reimagined version of a boss from ROTT 1995. Most of these will be multipart affairs with multiple forms. It’s another way the game attempts to bridge the gap between old, and new conventions.

Multiplayer is also a very fun return to form for the arena shooter. Not since Unreal Tournament 3 has there been a deathmatch focused arcade style game where twitch skills are key. Of course there is some luck involved as the stock pistols don’t get you far, and starting near a pickup is ideal. But at the end of the match it’s those with the best hand, and eye cooirdination who can claim success. That is if they can stave off anyone who picked up god or wing powerups. This is Rise Of The Triad after all.

ROTT also includes an editor which is great news for those who wistfully remember making their own stages to share with friends, and other fans in this era of paid DLC maps, and micro transactions.

The original game was also heralded for it’s over the top, goofy violence. ROTT also doles this out in spades. Enemies spin around in flames. Enemies lose limbs or heads. In many cases they’ll explode. When this happens you’ll find the developers were so devoted to recreating gibs that they modelled individual organs. It never gets to the clown shoes level of Mortal Kombat 3’s fatalities. But it will certainly wow anybody who has fond memories of the original game.

Fond memories of the original’s soundtrack can be found with most of the fandom. This was another thing that was celebrated in the reboot. All of Lee Jackson’s classic chiptunes have been painstakingly covered in heavy metal. But the game also gives players the option to hear the original Jackson soundtrack instead. To their credit, the covers are awesome. Any hard rock fan who plays the game will find themselves jamming to the tunes inbetween waves of Triad soldiers. But those who aren’t big on loud guitar work will love turning on the original tunes.

ROTT isn’t a visual powerhouse, but it does have a lot of special effects, and graphics options for players to tweak. It goes out of it’s way to allow you to setup all of the various settings you’re accustomed to, and then some. Unfortunately it’s here where some of the game’s problems begin to come through.

As fun, exciting, and all around awesome as Rise Of The Triad is, the lack of optimization is disheartening. If you are on anything other than mid tier or higher intel, or nVidia hardware, expect to run into some micro stuttering. Setting the graphics options lower, honestly doesn’t help much unless your computer is honestly that old or running onboard video rather than a discrete card.

To it’s credit, Interceptor has been much better about fixing these issues than even many AAA developers. Since launch they have been working with community feedback on patching the game starting with it’s editor for mod makers. They’ve committed to releasing a stream of small patches, and updates to get the game working right for their customers.

But with that said, ROTT is still a product, and as such customers expect a game to work when they get it home, or get it installed on their computer.  Even if it is only $15.  If you are a die hard ROTT fan who still doesn’t have this game, you will probably be able to grin while bearing the periodic performance hitches. For those curious or on the fence, while the game is nowhere near as glitch filled or broken as something like Brink was in it’s launch you still may want to wait for a patch or two.

One can only hope the hitches are hashed out soon because the multiplayer has the potential to bring back UT or Quake style arena shooting to a new generation. The campaign is a fun, engaging affair that is one part Quake II, and two parts Return To Castle Wolfenstein.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (When the problems are solved make it a 9)

Reposted Review: Rise Of The Triad

Rise Of The Triad

August 15th, 2012 TheDeviot

 

(Originally posted on Blistered Thumbs forums, then Retro Retreat)

Released as I was escaping High school through graduation, Rise Of The Triad (Or ROTT as it would be referenced for short) was one of the coolest under the radar releases of all time.

PROS: Wildly inventive weapons, cool environments, fast multiplayer, awesome chiptunes.

CONS: Dated engine, came out a little too late, buggy at times.

WTF?: The disembodied head of Apogee bigwig Scott Miller

Rise Of The Triad was one of the last First Person Shooters to be released before fully polygonal 3D engines would take shape. It ran on a heavily tweaked, and modified Wolfenstein 3D engine. In fact it’s legend is that it was born out of a rejected Wolfenstein 3D sequel. The engine tweaks allowed for things not seen until Duke Nukem 3D, and Shadow Warrior would come into being. Even years later, Quake III Arena would borrow one of it’s greatest elements.

The additions allowed ROTT to have shattering glass, destructible sprites, skyboxes, and sector tag switches allowing for new ways for the push wall concept to work. Back when Wolf 3D was king of the shooters, players would jam on the spacebar across entire segments of wall hoping to find new areas, secret ammo, secret jewels, or secret exits. ROTT continued this trend, but with sector tagging, players needed to shoot a certain object, step on a certain tile, or reach another benchmark to make certain walls move.

 

ROTT continued the tradition of keycards too, as it forced exploration of the stages to find the keys to get to other inaccessible areas. It also featured secret levels much like Wolfenstein 3D had. On the subject of levels ROTT featured 32 levels. Some of which can take over an hour for the average player to get through. The game had a handy overhead feature similar to DOOM where pressing TAB would show where the player was standing, and he or she could plot their course. Players also had the option of choosing through four characters, each with their own minor tweaks to health, speed, recovery, and so on.

 

The game also featured some really over the top, and fun powerups. Some of them necessary to be able to progress further. One of them was a pair of wings. Running over these allowed players to temporarily use the look up, and look down keys to float over obstacles in the map. (More on those in a minute). Other power ups included the bouncing ball mode, (Which forced players to ricochet off of walls), and ‘shrooms mode, (Which made players movement go awry, while echoing any sounds in the environment.). This mode did however highlight any threats or movable objects in the field by making them flash all sorts of colors. There was also a GOD powerup. This was the game’s wisecrack at other games’ invincibility cheat codes of the time. Not only did this power up cause one to be invulnerable to almost any threat in the game until it wore off, it also added a lot of humor.

 

Your guns were replaced with a giant hand, while an ominous voice yawned loudly into a microphone, and subsequently through your speakers. Running into a room full of enemies, players could press fire, and the hand would cast an electrical orb that would mow through all of them, and vaporize them in the process. Finally, there was DOG mode (A play on GOD as it’s the spelling of DOG backwards). This mode turned players into a small dog, who could bite people to death, and increased movement speed.

ROTT featured a fun arsenal that mimicked the endlessly grand weapons of other games, but also implemented the idea of only carrying so much at once. The first player slot featured the standard pistol implemented in every shooter of the genres earliest days. Players could pick up a second one to dual wield, and they could find the MP40 upon killing the right guard or through exploring secret areas. These ballistic weapons had limitless ammo. This meant you would never have to worry about running off to find more bullets when outnumbered. But the real meat, and potatoes of the game were the rocket launchers. Players could only hold one of these at a time, but there were a lot of fun ones. There was the classic launcher seen in countless games, but from there it expanded to heat seeking rockets, to the drunk rockets that fired them in a haphazard fashion. Probably the most amazing of these was the flamewall. Firing one of these created an unavoidable wall of fire that turned any unfortunate enough to be in it’s path into a skeleton which would fall apart into dust shortly thereafter.

 

In addition to that gory scenario, many launchers caused enemies to gib (From the word giblets). Gibbing left piles of gory guts strewn throughout the field. Not too many games outside of Quake kept that feature going, but it was very popular in the 90′s, and something ROTT did really well. Late in the game some mystical weapons showed up including the hilarious excalibat (An enchanted Louisville Slugger baseball bat), and a wand that fired GOD bolts.

Enemies not only included hordes of Nazi soldiers, crazed cult members, and cult clergy but stage hazards as well. Whereas DOOM would feature acid pits, and lava floors, ROTT included fire walls that moved, spikes coming up from floors, and down from ceilings. It featured flamethrowers protruding from floors. There were fire cannons on walls. There were moving columns of blades. ROTT also had floating discs players could use to get to inaccessible areas, or bounce pads to nab floating coins. Collecting enough of these would net extra lives. It also brought along the ability to fall out of a map and die, as some parts of some levels had ledges that ended near areas without walls.
Texture work, and features aside, one of the greatest things about ROTT has to be the music. Most of the chiptunes in Rise Of The Triad are catchy, capturing the action movie feel of the game. The best of these is easily Going Down The Fast Way.

 

ROTT also added a pretty comprehensive multiplayer package into the mix. Called Comm-Bat (A play on the fact most games of the time had over the phone multiplayer) ROTT supported the typical deathmatch. But it also had a tag mode, where the tagged player was “It”. A coin collection mode, and even supported a Capture The Flag mode. Players could go in using any of the four main characters, and between the supplied maps, and community maps made by countless fans ROTT was a multiplayer winner. It never reached the numbers of DOOM or Duke 3D or Quake but it did have a small dedicated following.

 

“So if Rise Of The Triad is the awesome game you’ve been gushing over, why have I never heard of it?” you may be asking yourself. There are several reasons. The first reason is if you’re under the age of 25 you likely wouldn’t have been around during it’s heyday. Rise Of The Triad came out in 1995. But to be fair even older folks didn’t catch on, and again it has to do almost entirely with it’s time of release. DOOM, which had a fresher, more advanced engine had been out for three years. DOOM was also being shopped around for console porting, and it’s sequel was about to hit stores if it hadn’t already. On top of that, Duke Nukem 3D was going to follow in just under a year. Compounding that was that iD had licensed out the DOOM engine. A lot of other great games built on it were coming out. ROTT was simply lost in the shuffle. Even if it hadn’t been, DOOM was rereleased several times over since it launched way back when.

 

ROTT isn’t a perfect game, and it certainly hasn’t aged as well as other shooters of the 90′s. While map design is pretty extensive, and well made some levels do begin to drag somewhat. People who are new to this antiquated style of 2.5D first person shooter may find themselves tiresome after being used to games made during this, and last decade. Because everything was on a tile based layout, pushing on walls to find hidden keys, shortcuts, and exits may grate for some players.

But don’t let that turn you off from wanting to play it. The fact that ROTT did so much with a dated engine, and managed to be better than some of the Doom clones coming out back then is a testament to just how great it truly was. In fact, there are too few modern first person shooters that still implore players to search out every nook, and cranny of a stage for secrets, items, shortcuts, or even Easter eggs. It’s almost strange how in an age of graphically advanced game engines, and increasing photorealism Rise Of The Triad for all of it’s faults can still manage to feel fresh to anyone tired of today’s hall, and cutscene design.
For anyone curious about the beginnings of a modern genre, looking for goofy fun, or preparing for the recently announced reboot, ROTT is worth a look.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 (Try it out!)

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare Review

One thing you can always count on in the summer is Valve’s week long summer deals.  This summer I picked up a little something I had heard mixed reaction to, and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would.

That game, is Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. A play on the famous Call of Duty 4 subtitle,  Chivalry takes things back to an era where Monarchies were the norm, and wars were settled with swords.  Started as a Half-Life 2 mod,  Chivalry is one of a small number of games of it’s type. It takes the concept of DICE’s long running Battlefield series, objective based team warfare, and putting it in a Medieval setting. Unlike Battlefield it isn’t set on any actual historical conflict though. So the setting, and weapons scream “Realistic” but the battles themselves are fictional.  Chivalry also merges some of the FPS genres other trends into it’s fold.

PROS: Melee system. Atmosphere. First or third person perspective options. Fatalities!

CONS: Dated graphics in some areas. Texture load times.

WAIT WHAT?: You can get drunk on mead.

As in a lot of other team focused games in addition to Battlefield like Team Fortress 2, or Call of Duty’s multiplayer the game has several classes. Each with it’s own strengths, weaknesses, and different purposes in modes of play.  Archers have the ability to use  projectile attacks with various bows, crossbows, and even a slingshot. They are light on their feet, and can provide cover for their teammates who move toward objectives or enemy lines. Vanguards, are big, powerful brutes who can use two handed weapons to break through defenses. Man-At-Arms can use firebombs, to dispel or burn clusters of enemies. They can dodge in a similar fashion to the characters of  Unreal Tournament. Handy for charging enemies or projectiles. Knights have thick armor, can take punishment with their big shields, and slay enemies with powerful swords.

 

But these classes all have their downsides too.  So choosing the right class for the right mission is crucial.

Modes are actually pretty well varied. Objective mode is the one most similar to Battlefield insofar as it’s closest to it’s Rush game mode. In Objective mode the game will give the attacking team certain tasks like destroying a structure, and the defending team has to stop them from doing so. Some of the things you do in this mode can get pretty nefarious if you are on the attacking team. For instance one mission has you burning down wheat fields so that the citizens of the opposing side’s kingdom will starve. Another mission has you dropping corpses into the opposing side’s water supply to poison them.

Of course the game also has your classic game types too. Free For All is the standard Deathmatch.  Team Deathmatch is also here as a variant.  There are also Last Man Standing modes that give every player one life, and literally the one player left, or team who has  survivors wins. But one mode that is here has rarely been seen since Raven’s Jedi Academy, and that’s Duel mode. Duel mode sets up a tournament on the server where two players face off against each other, and the winner advances. This mode will please anyone who loves one on one competition. Battles in all modes get very gristly. Limbs, heads, and more go flying after many critical hits causing gibs, and blood fountains to flow.

 

Chivalry also takes a page from modern shooters, and institutes a progression system. Every class starts out with stock level weaponry, and as they improve, better weapons unlock. Fortunately the  bar to do so is fairly low, so even if you’re as bad as I am at the game you will be able to still get that sword, axe, hammer or bow you long for. The game has a fair number of maps to go along with the action. There may not be as many as in other games, but the ones that are here are well designed, and fun to play on.

Many of the maps have interactive objects that can be used during battle. Catapults, Battering Rams, Boiling pots of oil are just a few of the things you will find yourself using. Visually the game looks a little dated, but considering it’s history it’s understandable. Models aren’t the same grade as the ones found in newer AAA shooters, and textures aren’t as detailed as the ones you’ll find in most releases. But it does use the Unreal 3 engine’s lighting effects fairly well, and is such an engaging game, that like Counter-Strike: GO it  is still fun to look at. It’s also easy to forget about these nitpicks when you experience the game’s dismemberments, as limbs, and body parts lie strewn about.

 

The score is also fairly impressive, fitting the theme of it’s world, and leaving the impression you’re watching a really old castle siege movie.  Sound effects are well done, from the screams of the crowd in a coliseum, to the war cries of the soldiers, to weapons clashing. All go a long way into making it feel like a legitimate re-enactment of a battle taking place in the middle ages.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare’s melee system is a step above the handful of other games of it’s ilk, and is what will make you want to keep playing it. All classes will have it at the forefront of their arsenal, except for the archers. But even archers will need to master it, as once combatants get within range they won’t be able to shoot them in time. Chivalry features three main melee attacks. An overhead swing, a side swing, and a stab attack. these are done by scrolling the mouse wheel down, clicking the left mouse button, and scrolling the wheel up. Players can duck by pressing the left CTRL button, can feign an attack by pressing Q, at just the right time, and combo swings by getting timing down. Players  can use the right mouse button to block.

 

The game not only gives players a health bar, but a stamina bar they have to manage. Every swing, block or other attack will drain it. Some more than others. If it empties players are essentially defenseless until it starts to refill. This keeps people from simply mashing their mouse buttons, and instead forces players to master aiming their melee weapons properly, blocking when needed, and planning on their feet.  For those who think “Oh I’ll just play an archer, and shoot people to win!” Don’t think you’ll have it easy either. Archers are the weakest of the classes, and have to have impeccable leading skills. Chivalry is not a hitscan shooter. Like Battlefield, one has to be able to shoot where one is going, not where they are. Moreover, one has to account for distance, and the drop speed of the projectile. “Bang bang! I killed you!” This is not.

 

Torn Banner studios really outdid themselves with their first commercial product. For such a small company to be able to make a full game based upon a mod in a different engine, AND have it be able to hang with AAA contemporaries is a pretty amazing feat. It may not be perfect, nor blow you away with Hollywood visuals. But it will be one of the best multiplayer games you’ll experience this generation. ONWARD BROTHERS, TO GLORY!

Final Score: 9 out of 10