Tag Archives: Hack n’ Slash

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Review

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

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

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

CONS: The combat can feel threadbare.

DLC: Will hopefully fill out the gaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Devil’s Third Review

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I know. I know. I’m late on this one. But I have a really good reason. I only recently managed to secure a copy. The game initially showed up stateside, where GameStop had a mere 420 copies nationwide. To say that the speculator market went insane over this is an understatement. For at least two months the game went for as much as $300 in online auctions. Nintendo quietly released more into retailers hands. The aftermarket price did fall a lot, but you can still pay as much as $80 for one. I lucked out, finding mine at retail last week, and it was likely the only new copy in my State.

The game has been a bit of a pariah since its release. Not only was there an initial speculator craze, that made a handful of second-hand sellers a considerable chunk of change, there was negative reception. There was a lot of negative reception. From other reviewers who hated it, to average players who hated it, the word of mouth got around fast. But is it really that terrible? Is it deserving of the ire not seen since the likes of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie?

PROS: Fun mechanics. Large weapon assortments.

CONS: Technical issues. Dumb A.I.. Microtransactions negatively impact multiplayer.

DTV: The action, and cheese are right out of a B-Movie.

Before I get into just why Devil’s Third is so reviled, I have to give a little bit of background. Way back in 2008, Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo, along with several Team Ninja members. He had announced he was leaving because he hadn’t been paid what he felt the company had promised him. He also announced he was suing them. Shortly thereafter he, and the others would form a new studio Valhalla Game Studios.

Valhalla would immediately begin work on Devil’s Third. In 2010 it was showed off at E3 for the first time. There wasn’t much focus on it compared with all of the other stuff at the show, but that wasn’t where the bad news would begin. During development, the game switched engines a number of times. The initial engine they started on had to be scrapped when the company they licensed it from went belly up. The game was then restarted on Relic’s Darksiders II engine. After awhile the team ran into other problems, and they moved the project to the Unreal 3 Engine.

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Things became worse for Valhalla in 2013 when THQ went out of business. During the sale of THQ’s assets the IP for Devil’s Third was given back to Valhalla. But they now had no cash flow to finish their game. Itagaki spent a year trying to find another publisher. Eventually Nintendo would pick it up. Nintendo would also dictate that Devil’s Third would be a Wii U exclusive.

Upon firing up the game you’ll go through the typical credit screens. One for Valhalla, one for Epic’s Unreal 3 Engine, and you’ll finally end up at a calibration screen. Before you can even get to the title screen you’ll be asked to move the screen borders to your TV’s actual borders. After that you’ll make your way to the title screen.

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The title screen has three menus. A single player mode, a multiplayer mode, and an options menu. In the options menu you can choose preset button configurations for the game pad. You can also revisit your border settings, volume, and contrast settings. One nice thing is the ability to tweak the sensitivity of the thumb sticks. It isn’t going to make it anywhere near as seamless as mouse look in a PC game. But it does give you a leg up on a couple of other games.

The single player campaign is a mixed bag. The story is right out of a direct-to-video action movie you’d find in a Best Buy bargain bin. In a war torn future, the global landscape has changed. The US was broken up into different territories, most of the world is in ruins, and an old cold war era terrorist has destroyed satellites. This has resulted in much of the world’s economies wiped out, as the decimation of the satellites has caused an EMP-like situation. Many computer systems are out, modern vehicles don’t work. Everything is in ruin.

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A US Official goes to Guantanamo Bay to release one old prisoner named Ivan who was involved with this old threat in a past life. So as Ivan you have to escape the prison (where your cell is a lavish apartment replete with guitars, and a drum kit for some reason), meet up with an old war hero, and fight your former allies for revenge. You go to all different kinds of locales in the campaign. Panama, Japan, a shipyard, are but a handful of them.

The game plays like a combination of Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden games from Tecmo, Call Of Duty, and a hint of Max Payne for good measure. You can go into firefights using both melee weapons, as well as an assortment of guns, grenades, rockets, and other projectile weapons. You can actually do some pretty cool things with the system. Like Ninja Gaiden, enemies can be dismembered in various violent ways. Some of the projectile weapons cause them to explode into giblets. Swords, axes, knives, and pipes will often crush skulls, and chop off limbs. There are even a lot of cool canned animations for the melee attacks that make it feel even more like a fun Dolph Lundgren B-movie.

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Using the melee attacks will eventually fill a meter. Once full, you can activate a melee buff, that makes your attacks much more potent while your tattoos flash. There are some sections where you’ll have no choice but to use this mechanic as the game throws  you up against mini bosses that can withstand a lot of gunfire. The unfortunate thing if you come into this as a fan of modern hack n’ slash titles is that there isn’t much of a combo system.

Devil’s Third has two melee attacks. You can do light, or hard swings. Light swings do less damage, but you can get a few of them in in a short amount of time. Hard swings do a ton of damage, but have cool down periods between swings. These are only around a second, but in many situations that can feel like too long. You can also block incoming melee attacks. After you get two or three swings in, the aforementioned canned animations occur, usually killing an enemy. The problem is that there aren’t any of the intricate challenging combos you’re probably used to. Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, and God Of War, all let you do some pretty deep combos. Many of which could even help you those times where you found yourself completely surrounded. Not so, here. You can get a few light swings in, maybe combine them with a hard swing, and that’s about it. You do have the ability to throw your melee weapon as well, which can sometimes be beneficial.

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There’s also a pretty good dodge system in place, so you can dive out of the way of firepower,  peek out behind cover, and toggle a run command. The run command can also be used to parkour on certain surfaces to get to higher ground. You can also combine the movement commands with melee to perform an instant takedown that can be really handy in certain situations. Finally, you can slide to cover while running which is cool.

The shooting mechanics fare considerably better. Most of the guns, have a nice punch to them, and work the way you’d expect. Machine guns, sub machine guns, being best at medium range, shotguns being great at point blank, and everything being decent at a range. Explosives also have splash damage, so you have to be careful about shooting them too close. Devil’s Third also tries to keep itself from becoming monotonous by adding some turret sections, and a few sections where you use your X-Ray glasses to find traps, or to lock onto targets for air strikes. Some of these succeed in what they’re trying to do, others feel like busywork. None of them go on too long though.

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If there are any complaints to be had with the shooting, it’s that the right thumb stick’s responsiveness isn’t quite as smooth as in other games. It takes a little while to get used to. But while you’re acclimating yourself you can expect to miss a few shots, and get beat up by an enemy that probably seemed like easy pickings.

Speaking of enemies, there is a surprisingly large variety here. You’ll see your usual video game mercenaries. But there are Predator stand-ins, Resident Evil monster stand-ins, mech like super soldiers, enemy vehicles, and many more. Again, there is an issue that rears its head here, and that is the inconsistent A.I.. Sometimes you will find enemies have the most dead on aim in the game, or the best possible blocking times when you go to swing that emergency fire axe. But then you’ll get to the next section of the level to find the next run of henchmen are complete idiots. They will stand in the open practically asking you to shoot them in the face. Even when there may be a ton of optional scenery to duck behind.

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This can even affect the bosses sometimes. You could fight a boss in ten long battles, all of which you narrowly lose, only for them to become a pushover in fight eleven. It takes you out of the moment, especially after having to pull out all of the stops so many times. It’s almost as if the game just decides to randomly put you over for no apparent reason. But the inconsistent A.I. really isn’t the biggest problem with the game.

Those would be the technical issues. The game will randomly suffer from frame drops, and micro stuttering. Make no mistake, it’s infrequent. It isn’t a constant problem while you play through the campaign. But it can happen at the worst possible time, and get you killed. Even on the easiest difficulty setting. It doesn’t matter if there are 2 enemies, 60 enemies, or even no enemies. Your frame rate will go from an acceptable 30 frames per second down to 5 frames per second for around fifteen seconds. The conditions are arbitrary. It isn’t something where it happens when too much is going on for the Wii U to handle. It will randomly drop. In my play through I had it happen around ten times during the campaign. The campaign will get you between six to eight hours of play time depending on how fast you pick up the nuances. Difficulty settings honestly don’t impact the game much. In my case going from the easiest setting to the hardest one, I only noticed that enemies did more damage. The A.I. didn’t improve much, and they seemed to take only slightly more damage when I hit them.

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Some have really given the game’s graphics a hard time. To their credit, it does look like some of the earliest textures, and models were carried over from older builds to the final build on Unreal 3 Engine. You can probably notice it in the screen shots in this article. I won’t sugarcoat it. The visuals are pretty inconsistent. Ivan looks pretty amazing. There are a lot of little details on the model, and in some parts of the game you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at an Xbox One game. But then you have structures, and other models that have the complexity of a very early Xbox 360 game. Some of the textures aren’t as good as other textures. That is until you realize that the game has another technical issue. It seems like there is an issue loading textures. Go into one of these bland areas, and hold still for a moment. Eventually, things begin to look considerably better as details begin to show up on brick walls, marble floors, or painted surfaces.

While I don’t think it looks as bad, or plays as bad as some of the criticism would have you believe, you can’t entirely dismiss it. Devil’s Third does have some issues that really bring it down a lot. Having said that, I still had a pretty fair amount of fun playing through the campaign. It has a lot of problems yes, but they aren’t so bad that they make the game completely unplayable. It’s very simplistic fun, and that’s okay. If you can forgive the inconsistent graphics, and occasional frame drop, you can honestly find a fair amount of enjoyment in the campaign. Even if the A.I. goes from Einstein to dumbass out of nowhere.

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You can also find enjoyment in the multiplayer portion of the game. It has the typical modes you’ve likely come to expect. There’s a standard death match, and team death match mode. There is also a capture the flag mode, a bomb mode similar to the one found in Counter-Strike, as well as a fruit mode. This makes teams compete to capture fruit, and put it in a device for points. Finally, there is a Siege mode. This reminds me a lot of Sanctum, where you defend or attack structures in a map depending on your team. Moreover, Siege actually encourages players to form clans, as you can place structures in maps, and compete for territory.

Siege will give you the option to join a clan, or be a mercenary. If you join a clan you get the perks of having your base placements effect matches, as well as having a neat little icon next to your name. If you would rather play with your friends, you can also form your own clan, and invite them into it. When people ask you to join their clan, you’ll get an in-game email notification that you can accept or deny. If you opt out of being in a clan, and play lone wolf, you can still play Siege. But you will mainly be there to help whichever team you’re assigned to. You will get rewards for playing the mode however.

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Before you can play Siege you’ll have to get set up with gear, take a brief tutorial, and then fight through the other modes of your choosing until you reach level 5. But of course, this is where once again, there has to be a problem getting in the way of what could have been an excellent game. Microtransactions. I hesitate to say that the ones in Devil’s Third are as nefarious as the ones in a lot of free to play games. They aren’t. But by God are they still pretty dubious. The game has two forms of currency. In game cash you can use, and golden eggs. Golden eggs can be used to buy some items, while the cash is for others. You can also convert the eggs into cash. Beating the campaign gives you a lot of eggs, and winning or placing in matches gives you one to a few.  Finding all of the trophies in the campaign adds more. Thankfully, the weapons in multiplayer are all purchased with in game cash. So beating the game will essentially give you enough eggs to turn to credits to unlock every gun in the multiplayer.

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However, some things like multiple load outs for you to preset weapon combinations with, and costume pieces need to be purchased with eggs. Many of them require fifty eggs to unlock. The costume pieces also have negligible buffs, and nerfs on them. One shirt might take one less damage point from bullets while reducing you one speed point. The differences are so miniscule they rarely have any impact in combat whatsoever. They seem pointless to even be there. Really, they serve a mainly cosmetic purpose. But it doesn’t feel any better. Especially since you can pay real world money for eggs if you don’t want to grind out battles for eons. Siege mode also gives you a finite number of ammunition, so you’ll use the in game currency to replenish it. Again, another example of microtransactions  running amok. Thankfully, you’re still given plenty, and the rewards you get for playing generally cover you well enough. So you really shouldn’t have to buy any eggs to convert to cash to resupply with.

Prices for eggs will make you laugh your ass off, and ask the game if it’s serious. One hundred eggs will cost you $20. Go back to what I said a moment ago about how many eggs you need for a costume part. This means if you don’t want to grind your way to costumes you can easily spend a few hundred dollars. On nonsense. This is almost as bad as the technical issues, and for some players it might actually be worse.

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This is all disappointing because the underlying multiplayer game play is actually quite good. It makes effective use of the mechanics from the campaign, allowing you to use the same melee, movement, and gunplay. The maps are well designed for the different playable modes. I’ll go out on a limb, and say if not for the microtransactions this could have given some other online shooters on the Wii U some competition. It feels a lot like the multiplayer from Max Payne 3, minus the bullet time. In place of that are super weapons you can use for a short period of time after filling a meter. These do feel pretty beefy, and will have you cheering when you take people down with them. But they’re not win buttons either. You can still be taken out pretty easily when using them. Be it a shot from afar, or a sword from behind.

The technical issues from the main game do sometimes crop up here. Sometimes just before a round starts there might be a hiccup, and you’ll notice texture pop in. But outside of that, the death matches run really well. Interestingly, you can also plug in a USB keyboard to use in the chat room before matches. You cannot play the game with it though, so don’t expect to have a PC experience here. The game doesn’t support headsets or microphones though. Peculiar seeing how they went to the trouble of adding keyboard support. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter much since the most played mode is death match. The goal of which is to be a loner who racks up the most frags.

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Overall, I wouldn’t call Devil’s Third a completely terrible game. There are many issues that keep it from being an exceptional single player game. The microtransactions really hinder the online experience much more than help it. In spite of all of these problems though, I can say there is fun to be had here. The story, while full of plot holes, and clichés does live up the B-movie vibe it goes for. It’s still a riot to cut down waves of low level grunts with a shotgun, or an iron pipe. You’ll still feel an enjoyably surprising shock when a boss knocks a weapon out of your hands. The 75% of the time that the A.I. is smarter than a box of rocks it can be an exciting challenge. Especially when there are new tools given to you to try out. None of this is going to blow you away, but you’ll likely enjoy playing through it over a weekend.

Multiplayer actually is a blast though, which is why it is so disappointing to see it marred by a microtransaction system. The weapons, and mechanics are so enjoyable. Some of the extra costumes you can customize your character with do look cool. But they’re nothing anybody should spend real world money on. It’s the type of thing that should have been a  DLC pack you would find in a Call Of Duty game. If it had to be sold as an extra at all. The system here just nickel, and dimes you. It isn’t quite the level of a free to start game, since again, you can at least get all of the weapons by playing the campaign. But man, does it come ever so close to it. Beat the game, use the credits on the weapons, and enjoy the multiplayer that way.

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If after all of that you want to jump in, you can try to hunt down a copy like I did. But you can also buy it on the Nintendo eshop. In the end though, you’re getting into an average game. Nothing revolutionary. Nothing you haven’t seen elsewhere. But you’ve also played far worse. Although being average isn’t bad, there are many better games to choose from. If you do decide to play it anyway, you’ll have some fun. If you temper your expectations.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Bayonetta 1&2 Review

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

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

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

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

CONS: Bayonetta 1 may drag for some.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Killer Is Dead Review

Suda51 has become one of those popular, yet niche developers over the years. His games have a unique art direction to them. All blending the cel shaded look of an anime with the gritty, dreary look of 1940’s film noir. At the same time his stories are filled with bizarre moments, weird plot points, and over the top characters. Yet somehow he manages to keep many people invested long enough to see the end. He also seems to really love dark humor. Many of his stories, and characters feature jokes that revolve around themes that would otherwise be depressing. There’s also off-color humor thrown into his games.

PROS: Really cool art direction. Responsive controls. Boss fights!

CONS: Terrible, horrible, stupid, insulting, dating simulators.

REALLY?: KFC was founded by an extraterrestrial being.

Killer Is Dead is no exception to this. The first of his games to see release on PC, Killer Is Dead plays almost exactly like No More Heroes, No More Heroes 2, and Lollipop Chainsaw. Stages are linear hack n’ slash fare. You will be taking upon waves, and waves of crazy looking enemies. Slaughtering them by the hundreds as you try to get to the end of the level to face a boss. But Killer Is Dead doesn’t simply end there. It follows the trend set by Suda51’s earlier games by implementing some over the top finishers.

Performing the finishers gives you more currency you can use to upgrade your weapons, and more. You can also find items by smashing crates throughout the stages. The game also gives you two meters to keep tabs on during game play. One is a meter made of diamonds which is essentially your health. The other is a blood meter. This is signified by roses. Killing bad guys keeps this up, which you will need to do. You can sacrifice some of your blood to restore health. The meter also determines how much firepower your arm cannon can use.

Some of the aforementioned finishers also let you determine what rewards you will receive. Based on the Xbox 360 pad layout, you can choose X,Y,B, or A. Each of the four results in a different bonus. Some of the stages also break up the hack n’ slash action with some on-rails moments or turret gun sections. In these sections your character’s allies show up with heavy back up. One of them is a motorcycle chase section, while the others are turret horde mode sections. They aren’t as varied as they could be. But they do work for what they are.

Stages also do give you a pretty nice range of locales. Army bases. Castles. Dungeons. Inner city streets. A mansion. All of them with a really nice aesthetic that fits the game very, very well.  The soundtrack, and audio effects go along with them fairly well. While there aren’t any songs that will thump around in your head, they fit the theme of the stages. Interestingly enough the art style does change during certain cinema screens. These panels are very well done, and look beautiful. Sadly, they seem to clash with the rest of the game’s aesthetic. But that is only a minor nitpick.

Bosses are one of the biggest reasons to play a Suda51 game, and Killer is Dead is no exception. Bosses are as over the top, as ever featuring an American McGee’s Alice inspired monster. A giant monster inspired by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, along with several others I won’t really ruin for you here. Character designs are decidedly Suda51. Featuring some really cool concepts that are twists on androids, vampires, and even mercenaries. Then there are the hyper-sexualized characters.

This is where I have to address the elephant in the room. The dating games. Running alongside the main game’s quests are dating mini games. Along the storyline you will meet some female characters. In the main game they have character. They have a modicum of personality. In these dating simulators (If you can even call them simulators) all of that is thrown out the window. The object of the gigolo missions is to get the various women to go home with you. There are a number of problems with these missions. First off, the way you win these missions involves using X-ray specs to look at their underwear when they look away from you. Yes, you read that right. You put on X-ray vision sunglasses so that you can look at your date’s underwear. If you can consistently do this you can fill up a meter. If you manage to fill that meter before time runs out you can give your date a present. Give them enough presents before time runs out, and you win.

Now the women don’t just hop into bed with you if you win. You actually have to win several times for that to happen. And while it never gets to the level of a pornographic movie or even an R rated movie, the entire thing feels out of place. Moreover, it ends up sending out a message that women can be bribed into dating or sleeping with somebody.  I am not saying people who play this game, are going to be vapid enough to believe that. But it isn’t a theme many people will be comfortable with. Regardless of their political or ethical leanings.

It also, feels out of place because it doesn’t tie into the storyline at all, save for the rare cell phone voice mail you might hear in a mission. Some might bring up  Travis Touchdown’s attitude in No More Heroes. In that game the attitude made more sense because we were laughing at him. The joke was that Travis was immature, and didn’t have a grasp on reality.  Here, Mondo (Yes that’s the name of the main character) ends up looking like an unfunny jerk who juggles people around.

Not much, if any, of the rest of the game sets this up. In fact, a lot of it tries to make him more of a sympathetic loner. He rescues a kidnapped girl named Mika. He fights a crazed disc jockey because the DJ cut off a woman’s ears. He has flashbacks to witnessing someone drowning, and being unable to save them. There is a moment near the beginning where Mondo has to leave a night with his girlfriend early. But there is little to lead into the gigolo missions.

Fortunately, if you don’t want to play the gigolo missions you don’t have to. They are optional. You can clear the entire main game without playing it a single time. Unfortunately, it makes the game harder because the rewards for winning the mini games enough times are major upgrades for your arm cannon. And while you don’t need them to win the game, there are secrets in stages requiring their use.

Some of those secrets are another character named Scarlett. Dressed in a pin-up nurse costume, finding her unlocks training missions. Again, you don’t need to do these to win the game, but things are easier on you if you do. Completing these missions will give you items, and currency as well.

That isn’t to say I think it should be censored or banned. Games, like everything else should be able to say pretty much what they want. But I also needed to bring this up.  For many people it’s going to be off-putting. Which is a shame because everything else in Killer Is Dead is honestly pretty good. The combat is flashy, play control feels fast, responsive, and fun.

The story while not as memorable as the ones in Suda51’s other games, will likely hold your interest. At least long enough to see it through. Mondo is part of a government agency that works almost like a Private Assassination firm. Clients come to the firm asking them to go after dangerous criminals. Some of these are revenge missions. Some of these are pleas to save a city or town. As the firm sends Mondo on these quests, over time he begins to ponder why he lost his arm, and tries  to remember his past.  Many of the answers are entwined between the different missions. Clues are uncovered. Rivalries answer questions while bringing up new ones. Mondo has to figure out how to beat the threats, and what the moon has to do with all of it. All with the odd stuff you would expect.

 

There are also a few genuinely funny moments that do show up from time to time. They don’t happen as often as they did in Lollipop Chainsaw or No More Heroes. But when they do happen they tend to hit their target. I did find myself chuckling at a few of these gags. I only wish there could have been a few more effective ones.

Missions are set up in an almost Mega Man fashion. Sometimes the game will let you pick the order of stages as you progress. It also gives you the opportunity to do the aforementioned gigolo missions, training missions, or other bonus sections. You can also exit out of the mission map screen to buy gifts for the gigolo missions (should you decide to play them), put unlockable skins on NPC’s, and upgrade your arsenal. Completing the game also gives you the option to replay missions, and getting whatever you weren’t able to buy or unlock before.

The PC version of Killer Is Dead is branded as a director’s cut called Nightmare Edition. It’s essentially the exact same game that appeared on the PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The difference is that PC gamers get an extra difficulty mode that allows for only a miniscule number of attacks to take down enemies. It also makes boss fights harder. On top of the extra difficulty level, The Windows release has a couple of PC features included. Do note that they are pretty bare bone though. You can change the resolution of the graphics. You can change your key binds. There is a very limited quality selector for graphics too. But it won’t go into many deep options. Those are about the only additions. It runs on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. But unfortunately blocks access to the console. So you really can’t do much else to the game for performance. That said, if you meet the requirements for the game it will run fairly brisk, and smooth. It isn’t a very demanding title for most machines built over the last 5 years.

Overall, I would say that Killer Is Dead is certainly worth looking into if you enjoyed previous Suda51 games. It has all of the same hallmarks, and tropes his games generally have. It’s a well made game, and has some of the coolest art direction yet. It’s unfortunate then, that a bad, and out of place dating sim has to bring the package down.  It is also fairly shorter than previous games made by his studio. Hopefully future titles will remedy these issues.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Marlow Briggs And The Mask Of Death Review

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

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

CONS: Low rent graphics in spots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge Review

The director’s cut of Ninja Gaiden 3 attempts to rectify some of the criticism levied at the original release. Does it succeed? In some ways yes, in others not so much.

PROS: Fluid animation. Takes strides in connecting the series to the NES Trilogy.

CONS: Streamlined gameplay means some will find it repetitive after a while.

WHY: Do the villains send out so many German Shepherds to be slain?

Ninja Gaiden 3 saw a mixed reception upon its release. The director of the first two games left Tecmo after a heated dispute, and the person with the porting duties was given the reigns for part 3. The resulting game had the flashy, animation, and gory fights of the first 2. But it was more linear, and easier. So what is different about Razor’s Edge?

For starters, Razor’s Edge started out as a launch window title for the Wii U. So it features some touch screen functionality like changing weapons on the fly, casting Ninpo arts, or seeing your current unlocked combination attacks. It also tries to rectify the difficulty situation. One of the reasons the game is easier than Ninja Gaiden, or Ninja Gaiden 2 is due to its karma system.

Ninja Gaiden 3’s karma system grants players points for killing enemies. Long chain combos, or flashy executions grant more of these points than base moves. There are also a fair number of weapons one can use throughout the game, and some of these will display even more gruesome deaths. Limbs are torn off, heads are decapitated. Curse words are shouted as the score rolls up. When one gets to a section that isn’t wrought with enemies they can enter an in menu shop to spend the points on upgrades. Some of these extend the life bar, while others give you advanced moves, weapons, or arts (some of which are only in Razor’s Edge) to use in battle.

The problem is that the game doles out points like water, so hoarding points early on makes getting the more powerful moves easier than it should be. This in turn makes many of the lower level enemies a breeze to blow through. Block, dodge, and button mash them to death. The game attempts to remedy this by adding a higher difficulty level that artificially makes the campaign harder. On its highest difficulty setting enemy health, and attack power is doubled or tripled. The number of enemies at any given time is also doubled or tripled. Karma points are also reduced. So instead of being more challenging, it’s simply being a lot less fair.

Razor’s Edge is essentially NG3 as far as the base game goes. The campaign is an 8 stage run with in engine cinema sections. The main storyline is actually a pretty good one as far as Ninja Gaiden games go, and even makes more attempts to bridge the current series with the original trilogy from the NES. Ryu Hayabusa is contacted by the Japanese government to investigate a terrorist event in London. Led by a mysterious man known as The Regent Of The Mask, the Lords Of Alchemy threaten the end of the world to the world’s leaders if they fail to comply in giving them Ryu. When Ryu meets the Regent, a battle ensues, and at the end he is left cursed with a disease that feeds on blood lust. Ryu must then find a way to stop the terrorists, and find a cure before he is killed by the curse that plagues him.

Along the way the plot throws out swerves, double crosses, and surprises in the same vein as the NES games. The reason for this is due to it being written by Masato Kato, the man who wrote the original series’ story. This game also brings along some cameos from Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos, as well as ties to that game’s story.

For some players, the story will be the reason to play through the campaign. Because Ninja Gaiden, or Ninja Gaiden 2 on the Xbox, and Playstation consoles over the last two generations were different experiences. The first two games had a little bit more variety in gameplay. There was a little bit more exploration, or sections you could tackle  a little bit differently. Ninja Gaiden 3 instead opted to go for a purely linear spectacle brawler. Much like Devil May Cry, or God Of War. Ryu will enter a section, kill everything the game throws at him, then go into an area with no enemies or pitfalls. Sometimes the game may throw a platforming area where a wall run or wall jump has to be done. But even those are on a path from A to B.

This is indicative of many single player action games in many genres over the past few years. But here it feels like a departure after having played the first two games. For what it is, and on its own merits it isn’t a bad game. Combat is very smooth, and fast. Animations are brisk, and fluid. Some of the carnage is really fun, yet gristly to see, and the length is about right for a game of its type. Enemy variety for the most part is very good, with several kinds of enemy soldiers, monsters, robots, and even terrorist cult members. Character designs are detailed, with a lot of nice touches. Many of them look flat-out cool.

One odd decision many will notice however (or at least I did) is the abnormally high number of guard dogs that have to be dispatched. This game throws a ton of them at you. Pretty much every game in this, and the original series has had them. But this one really loves to use them. It is definitely a very small thing to obsess over, and it is in the grand scheme of things a game set in a fictional world. But one example of what I’m talking about happens in a lab themed stage. There is a long hallway filled with glass case displays with dogs in each. (Spoiler Alert: all of the dogs are real dogs, and will try to maul you to death.) The ratio of dogs to other enemies seems a little off.

Bosses are most certainly designed with an old school focus, involving patterns that have to be memorized, and then solved like a puzzle. These are also accompanied by Quick Time Events. Again like many, many games over the past seven years, QTEs feel thrown in for the sake of being a modern mechanic. While they do add to some of the visual presentation here, they don’t do much for depth in a game that needs a little more variety. However there are sections where the QTEs are welcome like scaling certain walls, or reversing certain enemy attacks.

The game does try to break things up by adding a rail shooter segment,  and Razor’s Edge even adds a couple of sections where you get to use Ayane from Dead Or Alive. She controls different enough from Ryu where this does work somewhat, but the gameplay follows the same structure. As far as her involvement in the campaign story it’s hinted that she is working for Irene Lew. Completing the entire campaign unlocks  other playable characters, as well as another difficulty setting. This one makes the game down right cruel.

Razor’s Edge also tries to give players an incentive to play on higher difficulty settings through its secret areas. Many stages have small rooms off of the beaten path where one can find skulls that open up battle arenas. Touching one of these on the easiest setting will bring up a message telling players they need to play on a higher difficulty setting to see the arena.

Razor’s Edge also adds in online modes. The primary mode allows players to play a co-operative game where two people work together to clear a level of enemies. It essentially works like the horde mode of many other games. There is also a clan battle mode for several players to face off against each other. This mode works like a variant of team death match. The other options don’t really do anything other than compare your stats against other players. So it’s only going to appeal to a small number of people hopelessly devoted to it.

Team Ninja’s engine for the series also seems to show its age here. While characters look rich, vibrant, with really great assets, backgrounds don’t always hold up. Some of the textures on floors or walls are muddy or grainy. There also doesn’t appear to be much in the way of AA or other filtering as jagged lines can be noticed. Not every stage has this level of contrast between the detailed models, and less detailed environments. But when it happens it can be jarring.

Audio is actually one of the high points in this game. Explosions, clashing swords, and other sounds of combat sound really nice. Voice acting is also superb. The cast features many notable voice actors who give some wonderful performances here. The soundtrack compliments the action rather well. It helps give the game have the interactive action movie feel it shoots for.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is better than the original release of Ninja Gaiden 3. It has since been ported from the Wii U to the PS3, and Xbox 360 extending the number of potential audience members. The added content is welcome, and the co-operative mode does make for a fun time with a second person. On its own though once you finish it there isn’t much to make one want to go back to it. That is unless, you are a die-hard fan of spectacle fighters. In that case the bonus characters, and unlockable weapons may really cater to you. It also has an enjoyable storyline for long time Ninja Gaiden fans. It’s certainly a fun game, and an improvement over the initial version. But it’s still a little too streamlined for its own good.

Final Score: 6 out of 10 (Good but not great)