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Rogue Legacy Review

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I’m really late to the party with this one, as it’s been in the backlog for quite some time. But after seeing fellow blogger Esperdreams (whose stuff you should also check out) live stream the PlayStation 4 version a while ago, I fired it up. I’m pretty glad I did. Rogue Legacy is another game that mixes Rogue elements with bits of other genres.

PROS: Great character designs. Humor.

CONS: Minor hit detection issues.

WOW: Some of the randomness is worth checking out alone.

In the case of Rogue Legacy, the Rogue elements are blended with Metroidvania game play. But beyond that, there is a very creative twist that sets the game apart from other Rogue like/lite style titles. In pretty much every game of this style, if your character dies, even once, for any reason the game is over. You’ll get to keep some of the items you ground for. But you’ll be starting the game over again.

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In Rogue Legacy this is still the case. However, upon your next play through, you’ll get to play as one of that characters next of kin. So that means, a son or daughter of the previous combatant. It gets better though, because there are pros, and cons each child inherits. Some children will have vision problems. Some children will be easily confused. Or see everything in a mirrored perspective. There are a lot of these traits, and each one of them effects how the game is played.

Another common trait among this style of game is procedural generated stages. This idea is used in Rogue Legacy as well. Like Rogue Stormers, this game rearranges pre-designed rooms in new patterns to create new maps. One pretty cool thing the game does with this is self-referential humor. Often times you’ll find journal entries where the fighters will get information about the current castle layout from their ancestors. There is also a room with a jukebox you’ll randomly find where you can change the background music. Kind of like the record room you see in VVVVVV.

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There are other cool in-jokes like the clown target test. The obituaries when you lose. There are many, moments that will make you laugh. In spite of the fact that this game shares many of the same tropes seen in the trilogy of NES Castlevania games. Or the original three Metroid games. As you go throughout the map each time, you’ll find new areas upon every play through. Dark, demonic cavern areas. Giant haunted forest sections. Haunted towers. You name it.

Of course, once you die, the castle will look completely different. But you can use the gold you’ve earned during the last play through on upgrades for your progeny. You can upgrade your life bar, the amount of mana for using special weapons (a la Castlevania), as well as getting other things. You can unlock a bunch of possible classes for your future generations. Ninjas, Miners, and more. You can also upgrade the damage level you dish out, the amount of gold you can collect, and even get shops that come up before you go to the castle.

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These shops will let you bulk up your armor,  and add new abilities like dash attacks to your characters. Eventually you’ll find a third shop where you can exchange your gold collecting percentage for the option to lock the castle map in place so it repeats the exact same layout. Every time you explore the castle not only can you collect gold, but you can find chests with blueprints that can be used in shops for more armor, and weapon types. Some chests will only open if you complete a small mission like clearing the room of enemies, or getting to the chest without getting hurt. And while these aren’t long affairs, many of them can be quite the challenge. Others can’t be done until you have the right item or power ups.

Of course once you start getting the hang of the game, you’ll find boss rooms. These fights can be insanely hard. Not so much because of the bosses themselves. Though they are a challenge. But getting to them with a full bar of health, and a full bar of mana is a challenge in of itself.  Over time you’ll figure out that combat is mastered through timing. Timing not only when it’s safe to swing, but when to jump to avoid something. When to back away. The time in between any given enemy’s attack.

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But even when you learn this it isn’t a cinch to win. Because any given random layout can place you in a room with 50 different bad guys. Plus death-traps, spike pits, and other nefarious things in the environment. This is the kind of game that relishes high difficulty, and requires the patience to learn how everything works. Some have compared it to Dark Souls in that regard. And that’s fair. Mind you they’re two completely different games, with different rules. But both do require some patience to learn those rules.

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Over time, of keeping with it, you’ll begin to improve, and find yourself enjoying  yourself more. Even when you lose, there is enough humor, and charm to keep you coming back. Plus you’ll spend your gold, bulk up some stats, and items making enemies easier to slay. There is a point though, where the game decides just how easy might be too easy. So after a while you’ll notice beefier versions of enemies, or even find harder enemies showing up in the castle sooner. So most players will not be blowing through this one in a few minutes. It can be a grind. But the game obsfucates it pretty well most of the time. It also doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of the base formula. There is a wide variety of enemies, and the jokes can be really funny at times.

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The only big issue I have is that in some spots the collision detection is off just enough to make those sections feel cheap. You’ll take spike pit damage, but your character might not look like they actually touched the spikes. Some times you’ll swear you did a downward stab on a switch in time, but it doesn’t count as so. So these few moments can be a bit frustrating. The rest of the challenge comes from having the right tools for the right job, and the right amount of hand, eye coordination. Which is fine, this is a game that is about a challenge after all. When you do accomplish something in it, it just feels wonderful. You’ll scream “I FINALLY DID IT!” only to then realize you’ve got a long way to go yet. But it’s still satisfying.

Also satisfying are the chip tunes throughout the game. Each area has its own background song. Like I mentioned before, if you’re lucky you can find the jukebox room to change the current song, but each sector does have its own theme. Which gives it some of that Metroid vibe. It isn’t quite the same, since almost every time you play, the layout is different. But it does at least help make each background feel different from the last.

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Rogue Legacy also has a very crisp look reminiscent of old flash animation. Sprites have some bright colors, and nice details. There are cool visual touches on everything as well. The game even has an element of Paper Mario, as you watch your character flip over like a card whenever you turn them around.

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Overall, this is a really inventive take on a popular idea. If you enjoy challenging adventure games, or you can’t get enough of games with rogue elements Rogue Legacy should be on your list. Just make sure you pay close attention around switches, and spikes.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Rivals Of Aether Review

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Super Smash Bros. It’s arguably one of the most popular Nintendo franchises. Some may even say the most popular Nintendo franchise. From the original Nintendo 64 game all the way up to the Wii U iteration, it’s an iconic game. But fans will constantly debate what version is best. A passionate group of Smash fans would tell you it is the Gamecube version. And whether you agree with that or not, you have to admire that level of dedication. Not only have they gotten it recognition in the fighting game community as a competitive game, they’ve gotten it featured in tournaments.

So of course it was only a matter of time before companies would try to make their own platformer fighting game hybrids. Some of them terrible, some of them just okay, and some of them pretty damn good.

PROS: Super Smash Bros. Melee pacing. Unique features. Great character designs.

CONS: Relatively small roster compared to other fighters. Not a lot of single-player stuff.

WHAT?: Is what you’ll ask confusedly upon seeing some opponents’ recoveries online.

It would be easy to dismiss Rivals Of Aether as another Smash pretender. It has a similar 4-player party fighter feel. It has the same general goal; knock everyone off of the stage, and be the last one standing. It has a cast of characters with nowhere near the recognition of Nintendo’s major IP. Some of you may even ask “Why bother playing this over any of the Super Smash Bros. games?” But before you sigh, click on a different site, and prepare to see if Mr. Game & Watch has finally made it to S-Tier thanks to a professional player’s new discovery hold on.

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Because Rivals Of Aether is actually quite good. The game may not have the high production values, marketable Nintendo mascots, and blockbuster score. But it’s probably the best of any attempt to compete with Nintendo’s formula yet. Yes. Better than Sony’s attempt. And better than Papaya’s Cartoon Network themed clone. Both of which were solid efforts.

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Right from the get go, this game makes no qualms about who it targets. If you’re one of the die-hard Super Smash Bros. Melee fans out there, Rivals Of Aether is hoping you’re going to pick it up. Assuming you haven’t already. But if you’re not, and you enjoy the Smash games, you may just enjoy this as well. This game embraces the competitive end of the Smash fandom. You’ll find no items, or power ups. Not even for simple fun. What you will find, are some really cool looking stages, and characters. All of the characters make a great first impression here. They’re fairly unique (Except for maybe Wrastor who is clearly a Falco Lombardi stand in.), and have designs that stand out.

Upon getting into a match, you’ll find it plays very much like Smash. You’ll want to be the last one standing, as I mentioned earlier. It has similar play mechanics under the hood. Directional Influence is a major part of defensive play, affecting the angle of knock back when you’re sent flying. There are tilts, specials, and meteor attacks to boot. Enthusiasts will feel right at home here.

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But it isn’t a carbon copy of Super Smash Bros. either. Rivals Of Aether makes some enhancements that make it feel different enough to justify looking into it. It adds a second set of regular attacks it calls Strong Attacks. Where the Smash games have a button for regular moves, a button for special moves, and then different attacks based upon whether or not the stick was moved simultaneously with a button press this one adds a third button. It’s a small thing, but it also means another few moves per character.

The game also has a bigger emphasis on parrying. If you can time the block button perfectly, it grants you a brief moment of reprieve by putting an opponent in stun for a second. It also brings in advanced tech techniques by timing movement just before hitting surfaces. Rivals, also puts in a wall jump technique which can be really helpful when recovering from a strong knock back.

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One thing everyone will love is the sprite work on display. The pixel art is really, really nice stuff that hearkens back to the 16-bit console era. This game oozes Super NES, and Sega Genesis in terms of motif. The chip tunes aren’t half bad either.  Every stage has its own thumping songs that fit its visual flair. Interestingly, some stages will favor certain characters. To balance this out, at least in multiplayer, players can vote on what stages to disallow for a conflict. So if you see your opponent has chosen Orcane, you can put a giant red X on his stage so he can’t make easy saves by swimming.

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The game also has a pretty robust tutorial in it. Honestly it gives the level of care, and attention some of the better Street Fighter, and Tekken tutorials have had in recent outings. If you’re a newcomer it’s honestly worth checking out, and if you’re a Super Smash veteran you should at least look at it, as it can go over some of the differences nicely for you. It covers the absolute basics, but then covers combos, cancels, and the advanced wall jumping mechanics as well.

 

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Rivals has both offline, and online matches where you can play against random players, or friends. It’s, pretty fun. It doesn’t usually lag that badly unless the opposing player is on the other side of the country or world. And even then I’ve still had some matches that were playable. Not great by any stretch, but at least I could move without having to expect to wait 30 seconds to see Zetterburn take a step. Be that as it may, I still don’t recommend veering too far outside the realm of low ping opponents.There are also tag battle modes which can be fun to play, though I suspect most will play the Free For All mode the most. I was also impressed with the character creation tools. Like the ones found in King Of Fighters XIII, and Capcom Vs. SNK 2 you can change the color palette of the characters to use as a custom appearance for yourself. So if you want to make Wrastor green, you can do so.

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Where the game falters a bit is when it comes to one player modes. Aside from the excellent tutorial, the only real thing it has is the Story mode. Here, you take each of the characters, and play through their part of the game’s lore. Like most fighting games this is told by picking a character, playing through computer opponents in a 1v1 match, until you reach the final boss. After defeating the boss, you’ll get a bit more backstory, and credits. Once you beat the game with every character though, there isn’t much left for you to do. You can take the points you earn for playing, to unlock the secret characters. But beyond that there really isn’t much else. When considering the small roster, it doesn’t translate into much single-player time. Sure, one could point to the Abyss mode where you try to exceed goals the game sets with enemies, and items to beat. But for a game that wants to tear you away from Smash, that isn’t much.

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Don’t misunderstand me though, Dan Fornace, and his small team have done a terrific job in making a Smash-like fighter. If you don’t presently have a Nintendo console, and played a lot of Super Smash Bros. in the past, Rivals of Aether is a no brainer. If you do have a Gamecube, Wii, or Wii U, and love Super Smash Bros., you still may want to give this game a shot. Because it’s going to be more of what you love. As long as what you love is playing against other people in person, or online. This game has the competitive end set. But if your favorite parts of Smash have been breaking targets, Adventure modes, and Subspace Emissaries, Rivals may feel a little bit anemic. That said, if you’re a big fan of fighting games put this one on your radar.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

100 Foot Robot Golf Review

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Not too long ago, I discovered a game called Mecarobot Golf. A Super NES game by TOHO where the primary golfer was replaced with a giant golfing robot. It’s a great simulation for its time. But I was left wondering how much more fun it could have been with multiplayer, and a roster of movie monsters, and robots. Well, it turns out late last year a company decided to answer that question.

PROS: Humor. Large Roster. (Mostly) Pick up & play mechanics.

CONS: Wonky animations. Audio clips repeat too often.

VOLTRON: The classic bot is piloted by a pack of Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Games made as a joke don’t always have much in the way of staying power. For every Shower With Your Dad Simulator, we get 15 games like Who Wants To Beat Up A Millionaire? But considering the game’s premise, and its similarity to the Super NES Game Pak I mentioned earlier I gave it a chance. Frankly, I’m glad I did. Make no mistake, 100 Ft. Robot Golf isn’t going to make your top arcade sports game of all time lists. But it does manage to do just enough right to make for a compelling party game.

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The game has a nice amount of content. I was surprised to find that there is a full-fledged campaign included along the usual practice, and exhibition matchups. The campaign takes you through a story mode, that more or less lampoons 80’s anime. An obviously suspicious TV host decides to try to get a bunch of Robot Golf pilots to come out of retirement for a new show. But as the story unfolds, a few mysterious clues art thrown out about a cataclysmic event on the moon. Throughout the story of course, there are a ton of jokes. A lot of which is reference humor. Quite honestly you don’t need to know about or understand anime to get a lot of the humor. The game enlists the voice talents of the McEllroy Bros.  who are known for their comedic podcasts.

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Here, they usually are heard as the Sportscasters during match ups. Although they’re in a few of the cut scenes as well. The rest of the cast does a pretty good job of mocking some of the bad dubbing found in some early anime. All in all, it’s funny enough to hold your attention for a play through. Beyond that, you’ll more than likely want to mainly play multiplayer. However, there are a number of custom skins you can unlock for each of the robot golfers. The way you do this is by scoring medals in the campaign’s chapters. You can then go to medal shops during the campaign to spend them on the unlockable items. So there are incentives for going back, and replaying chapters. One of the shops also features a crossover! There is a Saints Row themed shop buried in the campaign, and even a secret guest character I won’t spoil here.

So how is the actual golfing? Well, it’s a mixed bag. While you can play the standard golf rules pretty much every other golf game follows, this is not a simulator grade game. If you’re the type who watches the sport on TV, and plays a lot of EA’s Tiger, and PGA games, you’re probably not going to come back to this much. It doesn’t have a wide variety of clubs, or weather scenarios for you. Each golfer gets a driver, a wedge, and a putter. That’s it. There are some things to be aware of though. You still take into account the wind, and there are obstacles to be aware of.

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That being said, the game is actually a lot of fun because of the lack of realism. The swinging mechanics differ for many of the robots. Some of them require timing a press on several gauges to be pixel perfect. Others have gas gauges you have to pay attention to. Others have a two pilot scenario where the gauges have to be synchronized. So in spite of the simplicity there are a few things to keep it from feeling too simple. Each robot also has a special ability they can use on the course.

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Now where the game becomes really interesting is during multiplayer. Not only can you play a traditional set of rules, you can also play custom rule games. You can play the game where the first person to get the ball in the cup wins, regardless of attempts. You don’t have to alternate turns. Players can go full on swinging whenever they want. Moreover, you can do things to screw over your friends. If they hit a nice long drive you can jump in the way of the ball, and cause it to bounce off of your robot, and into a ditch. If you’re trying to get the ball through a narrow gap between two buildings you can destroy the buildings, and then take your shot. Players can attack one another. There are all kinds of crazy, over the top, ways to play golf.

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But not everything about the game will make you smile. Visually, the game looks fairly dated, with low-detailed backgrounds, and models that could have been done on the PlayStation 2. There are some questionable physics when it comes to destroying buildings, and other scenery. The giant edifices sometimes won’t tip over, instead sliding across the map like a bar of wet soap. The low gravity moon stages, and aqua stages may anger hyper-competitive players as it becomes easy for opponents to interfere with a long drive. The most annoying thing is probably the fact that audio quips begin repeating way too soon. So while you will laugh your ass off the first time you hear them, you may just turn off the audio upon the four hundredth time.

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Be that as it may, I really enjoyed the underlying game. The campaign was an entertaining play through, and you don’t have to be any good at the game to complete it. Of course, getting better at the title will get you the medals I mentioned earlier for those unlockable items. But the real star of the show is the multiplayer. This game is a wonderful option for game night, as it supports split-screen gaming on your TV. It also supports matches over the internet, though even that is going to be something you’ll want to do with friends. There doesn’t seem to be a large pool of random competitors playing regularly.

 

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Still, if you’re looking for something different to play when friends or relatives come over you’ll all have a pretty fun time. It isn’t going to outdo more serious sims for golf enthusiasts. But if you grew up with Voltron, or Gundam, and regularly marathon shows produced by Seth MacFarlane, you’ll probably really enjoy 100 Foot Robot Golf.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Choplifter HD Review

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Released in 2012, Choplifter HD is another modern update of a classic game. But is this something you should download to your trusty computer, Xbox 360 or PS3? Or should you go back, and free your Apple II from storage?

PROS: Classic gameplay with a few novel conventions

CONS: Graphics snobs may turn their noses up at the 1997 era visuals

REALLY?: Scoop Sanderson? You couldn’t create a better Anderson Cooper parody?

In 1982 Dan Gorlin coded what would be a classic computer game. Choplifter was published by Broderbund Software. First on the Apple II, and was then ported to other 8-bit computer platforms like the Commodore 64, and Atari 800. It proved so popular that eventually Sega would pay Broderbund for the rights to port it to arcades, where it became even more popular. Choplifter exploded onto 8-bit consoles after that, including the Atari 7800, Nintendo Entertainment System, and Sega’s Master System. But in order to fully explain the good, and bad about today’s game I have to first talk about what made the original so great.

Choplifter was novel at the time because it wasn’t the typical arcade blaster most games of its ilk were. True, you did shoot down infantry, bomb tanks, and avoided being shot down. But most important was the fact that you had to rescue prisoners of war. In the game you flew out of your base over a side scrolling battlefield much in the same vein as Midway’s Defender. The difference being that you had to land over prison camps, and wait for the prisoners to board your helicopter, then hightail it to the beginning of the level to drop them off before heading out to get more. With every trip, the enemies became more relentless. They would employ more, and more manpower to stop you. Every wave graded you on how many prisoners you could rescue. The more lives you saved, the higher your score.

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Choplifter was also notable because of how you controlled your helicopter. You could have a left profile to fire at left targets, a right profile to go to the right targets, or face the foreground to attack foreground targets. By the time it hit arcades the game also had a fuel meter which added a little more strategy because it forced players to estimate if they could risk getting more prisoners or if they would have to go back for them later.

So here we are 30+ years later with Choplifter HD, a remake available through digital distribution channels like Steam, and it’s still on PSN for PlayStation 3, as well as XBL for Xbox 360. How does it stack up?

Well for the most part it plays pretty much exactly the same as the original game, and its variants. Most of the game will have you looking out for prisoners to pick up, and bring back to base. It also carries over the fuel system from Sega’s revised arcade port. As a result, Choplifter will really feel to familiar to anyone who grew up playing the original game. But by today’s standards some may feel the formula could become monotonous after a while. This is where developer inXile really took me by surprise. This new version adds a few new mission types to the mix. In some stages you will be tasked to instead take out certain targets rather than save people. In others you will have to prioritize saving injured prisoners on death’s door over other prisoners. Still in other missions you will merely have to get from one side of a map to the other without getting shot down.

To keep things fresh they also added a few hidden secrets, and objectives. The most common one being the rescue of ever annoying news anchor Scoop Sanderson. Making a name only a few letters away from the real person is both hilarious, and pretty stupid. But to be fair, the characters do have some funny one liners even if they are repeated fairly often. For the truly devoted, there are also loads of video game cameos to be found here. Not the least of which involve Super Meat Boy, Duke Nukem, and Minecraft.

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As in the original, expect later levels to be very difficult even on easier difficulty settings. The game begins to really throw everything including the kitchen sink at you. Tanks, Fighter planes, EMP bombs, Snipers who have pin point accuracy, and hordes of zombies (Yes they even made a few George Romero stages for you) all come gunning for your chopper.

Another cool feature of this remake is the fact that you can unlock more powerful or more interesting helicopters to replay earlier stages with. Some will make some levels easier, others will make them more challenging. It isn’t much, but it does give players a reason to go back, and revisit it. Of course, like many games these days you can pony up real world money to buy DLC. Namely more choppers. You really don’t need to do this, as the DLC doesn’t make the core game feel any more or less complete. There are also a host of achievements players can go after if they are really dedicated to do so. Plus, the game doesn’t go on forever like other updates of classic games sometimes do. There are just enough stages to get your fill without it getting too old too soon.

Visually the game is far from ugly, but it’s also nothing special. Characters are low poly count, and low detailed. Textures are fairly crisp, but also not overtly detailed. There are some mild lighting effects but again nothing that will wow you. But if you look a little closer you will find some details to appreciate. Shooting infantry will result in some 80’s action film cliché’s like oversold falls, or giblet showers, or in some cases flailing around while they burn to death. Explosions look the part, and the sound effects are mostly pretty good. As I mentioned before some of the dialogue is pretty funny. But the main voice of your helicopter pilot can grate at times. It also becomes obvious through longer play sessions that they have the same actor doing several parts. But in the end it’s a pretty minor quibble for a game like this.

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Choplifter HD is one of those fun diversionary games that is perfect for the digital download environment. It’s something you can play in short bursts, or for hours on end. It’s inexpensive so you really aren’t out a lot if you don’t enjoy it. But for those who do there is a lot to like. It’s too bad the graphics couldn’t have been just a tiny bit better because at first glance they may remind you of some of those cheap shovelware games you find in supermarket discount bins during the holidays.

That’s not to say graphics make a game good. But in a case like this with a game with little fanfare, the casual observer may make the mistake of passing it up. Even for an equally priced download that truly is shovelware in sheep’s clothing. Honestly there are far worse things you can spend money on than Choplifter HD. If you’re even the slightest bit curious about it do give the game an honest shot. It’s a fun update of a vintage game. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, nor does it do too little. It isn’t the prettiest update around, but it is a pretty fun break from everything else.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Rise and Shine Review

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Duos can be very effective in storytelling. Sherlock Holmes had Watson. Batman brought on Robin. He-Man had many allies, but usually rode into skirmishes on Battle Cat. Ren, and Stimpy. The list goes on. There’s a strength in a duo’s ability to give subtext to a story or a series of stories. Their relationships grow as time goes on, and what each of them bring to the table can be as engrossing as what happens around them. It has even been effective in video games. Rise, and Shine is another game that uses the duo very well.

PROS: Beautiful art. Interesting characters. Reference humor.

CONS: Fairly short experience for some. High difficulty for others.

CAMEOS: Far too many to note, and not in ways you’d expect.

Rise, and Shine takes place in a world called Gamearth, a planet under assault from Space Marines. Everything is laid to waste as the invaders kill all of the inhabitants, or turn them into monsters. As Rise, you’re given a magical revolver named Shine, when you see a Hyrulean gunned down in front of you. Before dying, he gives you Shine, and you move onto a quest to get to the Odyssey Temple.

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The setup immediately throws you into the action, and introduces new mechanics as the story moves along. Rise, and Shine is advertised as a twin stick, run, and gun game. But it really isn’t. There are elements of that to be sure, namely in the combat sections. But the reality is that the game shares a lot more in common with old cinematic adventure-platform hybrids. You’ll enter sections, and have to solve a puzzle to move forward, in every room. Even many of the fights you’ll end up in, are won by solving a puzzle.

In many ways it reminded me of Another World, a game that influenced many, many games after it came out. Games like Flashback,  Fade To Black, and the Oddworld games all had elements of Out Of This World. Rise, and Shine does as well. But the twin stick combat does make it considerably different. The game also throws in a number of challenging puzzles that take advantage of combat mechanics. Again, you’ll move with one stick, while aiming with the other. On PC you can move with the WASD, keys, and use a mouse to aim, or you can use a game pad with twin stick controls. But also remember, the game will transition from these brief Metal Slug meets Robotron moments, into the aforementioned Another World meets Max Payne moments.

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At one point in the game you’ll be given different ammunition types. Electrical bullets, as well as normal ones. The electrical bullets can be used on certain enemies, or switches. Other times you’ll need to use the normal bullets. In battles you’ll often switch between the ammo types, as some enemies, and even bosses will require hot swapping between them.

Eventually you’ll have two other mechanics to master. Exploding bullets that act as remote mines, and bullet time zones. Many of the game’s puzzles will require you to learn them in order to get switches, doors, or other paths to open up to you. There are also a few times where you’ll need to be perceptive, or go off of the beaten path to find secrets, items, and other assorted Easter Eggs.

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Rise, and Shine also has a very captivating style to it. It has a crisp, computer animated 2D look to everything. But unlike some other games that have gone for a similar style, this doesn’t feel like a Flash cartoon. The attention to detail alone makes it highly worth looking at. The color gradients, the outlines, and lighting make characters, and backgrounds pop. It really does feel like a child’s pop up book come to life. Albeit, with a gory M rating. Rise, and Shine has some absolutely nightmarish imagery.

Heads roll. Bodies get crushed. Entrails, and limbs are strewn about the streets. Pools of red splash with every kill. Plus with the high difficulty, you’ll likely witness your own demise hundreds of times. As a matter of fact, the high body count, and number of your own deaths are worked into the story. On top of that, the game is loaded with all kinds of game references going back to the industry’s infancy. Be that as it may, you’re going to see a lot of Nintendo references compared to most others. Still, it’s a fun ride, through, and through.

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One complaint some will have is the length of the game. One of the things the game seems to take away from Another World is a focus on telling its story in a highly stylized way, with as few technical problems as possible. Another World is quite the challenge on the first run through, but once you memorize its puzzles it can be cleared quickly. The same goes for Rise, and Shine. As of this writing I’m on the game’s final boss, and I’ve spent a good 4 hours of play time getting here. Most people seem to be in the 5-8 hour range, but for those who pick up things faster, they may clear it in 2 to 4 hours. That said, the final stage has an obscene level of difficulty, I haven’t been able to clear.

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This is something the individual potential player will have to take into consideration when thinking about picking it up. But if you do, you’ll find just that. A highly detailed, fun experience with a lot of challenge, and a very clear focus. Outside of a shorter experience, there isn’t very much to complain about other than the difficulty spike in the last stage. In my time with it I’ve yet to find any major bugs, or crashes. Everything performs well, and it is just as responsive on a controller or with the keyboard. Though I personally had an easier time aiming with a mouse, than a thumb stick.

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In the end, Rise, and Shine is a pretty good game. One that gives fans of adventure-platform computer games, and fans of brutally hard games a great time. But if you’re somebody who is wary of shorter games, or you’re easily frustrated by difficult games, you might want to wait on this one for a while.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

 

 

Slain: Back From Hell Review

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Generally I don’t do end of year lists, because I simply don’t have the resources to play everything. But sometimes that can be a good thing as this year proved that many games have been, and will be taken out of the oven too early. Slain is one such game. At least it was initially according to most who looked at it.

PROS: Everything you love about Castlevania 1, Golden Axe, and Heavy Metal!

CONS: The insane difficulty of NES Castlevanias.

DIE: Everything will kill you in this game. Usually in horrific, and gory ways.

When Slain was released, the initial reception wasn’t very good. Performance was terrible on many computers, it had bugs, crashes, and other problems. But things didn’t stay that way for very long. Where other developers may have spent eons trickling out patches to try to get things working, made excuses, or worse, given up entirely, these guys didn’t. The people behind Slain put out major overhauls for a few months. Once the game was in the state it should have launched in, it was given a subtitle to reflect it, and relaunched.

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So this revamped version I received for Christmas is really good! It has brisk action. It has a blend of fighting, and puzzles. It has really inventive character designs, and a head banging soundtrack. What it doesn’t have is a ton of exploration, a deep story, or a wide cast of playable characters.

You see, at first glance many people will think Slain is going to be a Castlevania clone, and they would be partially right. But these folks aren’t thinking of the  right Castlevania games. These days a lot of people are wistful for the entries like Symphony Of The Night, or Aria Of Sorrow. Versions of the formula that mixed in the exploration of Metroid into the series. Leading to the term Metroidvania. But Slain follows more closely to the first Castlevania most people who owned an NES played. Castlevania.

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So what you’ll be doing here is going through linear stages. At the end of each stage you’ll fight a horror themed boss, and then move on. After you complete the first stage, you do get to go to a hub level, where you can choose the order you want to play the stages in. Well, partly. Because two of them are locked until the second, and third, are completed. You can also replay any stage you’ve previously beaten. But no matter what order you choose there aren’t any changes. Each of the six stages does give you a pretty wide variety of settings. The entire game is oozing in Heavy Metal. The style of the characters, and even the pixel art itself, is right out of album covers. Old school fans will immediately think of the art on albums by Iron Maiden, early Metallica, Sepultura, Dio, Thor, and Iced Earth.

You’ll be fighting in old burned out towers, desolate plains, ethereal worlds, and blood soaked towers. There are also booby traps everywhere. Trap doors that will have you falling on spikes. Blood puddles that pull you down, and drown you. Background statues that attack you, ceilings that crush you, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The enemies will take you back to times of playing Castlevania. Albeit with a dash of Golden Axe. Instead of fighting one or two enemies at once, you’ll often be swarmed with five or six. All of the enemies look gorgeous. As far as monsters can. The details in the sprites are just as impressive, and imposing as the backgrounds. Plus, every character has a ton of animated detail. If you take five seconds to analyze something as simple as a skeleton walking toward you you’ll notice it instantly. He’ll then hack you to death with a machete because you weren’t paying attention.

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Which brings me to the death animations of your character. Because it goes along with everything else. You’ll see your organs fall out after a monster has you disemboweled. You’ll see the flesh fall off of your bones when you fall in an acid pool. You’ll see your head get severed by an enemy knight. or your character become paste when he gets crushed. The ways you go down in this game can give Mortal Kombat a run for its money.

So how do you survive? Well the game does take a few cues from Castlevania in that you’ll have to plod through areas, avoiding traps, killing enemies, and trying to make jumps without bats or Medusa heads knocking you into pits. The game also has both a health, and power up bar. But the similarities begin to end there. For starters, instead of picking up random secondary weapons from candles, you have a charge attack. The longer you hold the charge, the more powerful a burst of fire you can throw.

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But I can already hear you asking where to find mana to replenish your secondary ammunition. You find it in battle. Slain, has a pretty respectable fighting system. True, you can hack n’ slash your way through via Golden Axe inspired brute force. But you’ll actually have an easier time once you discover that timing is everything. Slain gives you an attack button, a jump button, a secondary attack button, and a block button. Holding the block button can , well, block attacks from enemies. The thing is blocking too many attacks will actually cause you to go into a hit stun, where enemies will finish you off.

However, if you time your block perfectly, the enemy gets hit stunned, allowing you to get off a critical hit. Many enemies will die after one or two of these, and it is here you get mana. But it goes further. Some bad guys will shoot projectiles at you. Instead of blocking these attacks, you can time your primary attack. Hitting the projectile at just the right time will knock it back, like a baseball. This is crucial to master, because for some of the larger enemies, mini bosses, and bosses you can’t survive without it.

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And before you go thinking you can instantly make the game go from difficult to easy by doing this, every enemy type has a different timing requirement. In the case of boss fights, you’ll also need to learn their patterns. Attack at the wrong time, you’re dead. Go on a flurry of hits blindly, and you’ll soon be on the business end of a super move that will one shot you. Even if you have full health at the time.

Still, you’ll need to master every trick at your disposal, because much like the early Konami, and Sega games that inspired it, it is difficult. But difficult in a good way. You’ll die 20 million times. But every time you’ll still want to play again. It gets you hooked on perseverance. That constant feeling of just one more try. You will give it one more try, and another, and another. Because every stage has a hidden piece of a talisman you’ll need to find. There are also elemental versions of standard swords, and axes. But the way they’re implemented is really cool. Again, the amazing sprite work, and animation is on display. These weapons aren’t just recolored, and buffed versions. The wild designs make each of these feel unique. Like the embers of fire trailing off of your flame sword. Or the water, and ice dripping off of your axe. Slain always has some new detail you’ll be discovering.

The soundtrack also takes inspiration from vintage metal, though it has elements of subgenres. There are moments where it feels symphonic, other times there’s a sense of power. Often times it will evoke crunchy, speedy licks, and solos. Curt Victor Bryant (of Celtic Frost) did a wonderful job giving players a soundtrack that matches the imagery in Slain. Again, it will remind you of early metal albums. If you grew up in the 70’s or 80’s listening to a lot of the heavier, darker albums, you’re going to love the music in this game.

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Unfortunately, the story we’re given isn’t nearly as interesting as the world it takes place in. You play Bathoryn. An old, expired warrior who is resurrected, and commanded to liberate six realms from monsters. There are some dialogue boxes between Bathoryn, and some of the characters, like the being who wakes you from your slumber. Or the banter with boss characters before, and after fights. But the exposition doesn’t show you the story, it just tells you what is happening. You go tracking down a villain named Vroll. He shows up from time to time to taunt you on your quest, and sometimes just before a boss fight. Throughout the game you also run into a mysterious mystic, who grants you the aforementioned weapons, as well as introduce some of the new enemies. The final confrontation does fill in some of the blanks, and there is an interesting twist at the end. I just wish the narrative could have been as interesting as everything else.

Be that is it may, Slain: Back From Hell is an excellent game overall. It is true, that it has a very high difficulty, but then so do many good games. If you’re someone who is willing to press on, there is a lot to like. Even if you’re not a big fan of Heavy Metal, the game’s horror elements, and atmosphere will still keep you entertained for hours. It isn’t a very long game at just six stages. But the challenge will have most people playing it for a long time. Even if you do become good enough to master it, you’ll likely come back to it for replays, or speed runs.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

DOOM (2016) Review

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Alas, I am late once again. But perhaps I can still bring something new to the table. A lot of people jumped into the new game almost instantaneously. Many claiming it was a full on return to form. Open, vast stages. Swarms of bad guys. All of the stuff Doom 3 was missing. Others claimed it did none of those things. That it was blasé. After spending some time playing through it, I don’t think either camp is entirely accurate.

PROS: Fun, arcade gameplay. Atmosphere. A wealth of performance options.

CONS: Still not quite the DOOM you remember. Creator tools lacking.

ROTT: They took a page from Interceptor’s Rise Of The Triad reboot, adding to the fun.

This version of DOOM went through a very long development hell period. It started. Then restarted. Then id software was bought out by Zenimax. Then John Carmack left the studio to go do Oculus Rift. The game restarted again, then focus veering more old-school. It came out a few months ago, and here we are.

DOOM gives us the two modes we’ve come to expect. A one player campaign, and a multiplayer game. It also has some tools for players to make their own stages. As well, as a host of performance options for those playing on a computer. Though, it goes further than most games in this regard on game systems as well. For those of you who do pick this up for your computer, you’ll find a wealth of settings to play with. The one I saw the biggest difference with, was the rendering selection. You can use the long running OpenGL renderer, or you can use the newer Vulkan renderer.

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From what I understand the Vulkan renderer uses far fewer resources than OpenGL does. It shows. Just to see how hard the game could push my middle-aged GTX 760 I tried the game on maxed settings using both renderers. On the tried, and true OpenGL it was an absolute slide show. Single digits the entire time, and going to a huge battle was too much for the card to handle. Trying that out on the Vulkan renderer got me into the high teens in fire fights, and the low twenties when I didn’t have much of anything going on.

Mind you, I still couldn’t play through the entire game maxed. But it goes to show what an improvement this was on my configuration. So if you do buy this for a computer with an older CPU, and GPU You can probably run with higher settings on the Vulkan, and have it look closer to what consoles see, rather than running with everything set minimally on OpenGL trying to break the 30 fps or 60 fps standards.

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With the firefights as frantic as they are in this game, you’re really going to want to get the frame rate as high as possible. You can see, and feel a difference as things are not only smoother looking, but more responsive feeling too. Some other settings you can take a hard look at are the lighting effects, and the resolution scale. DOOM seems to be a big fan of video card memory. So if you have an older card like mine with less than 4GB VRAM on it, you’ll have to turn some of these off or down a bit.

Fortunately, at everything aside from the absolute rock bottom settings, DOOM looks spectacular. At medium details it looks about on par with what you might see on the consoles, at high, slightly better. nearly night, and day, maxed out. You don’t have to have the latest, and greatest to run it on Ultra. But you also can’t do it effectively on a card that was midrange 5 years ago. Again, if you have a really old card, you’ll probably want to eschew the nice visuals in favor of a higher frame rate. The shootouts in this game really do benefit greatly from performance. If that means some jaggy lines, or blurry textures it’s worth the hit in visuals.

Whatever settings you ultimately go with, One of the things this game does well is the atmosphere. The stages all look creepy, whether you’re on a base on Mars, or in a chasm in Hell. The texture work is phenomenal. The character models are terrifyingly beautiful. All of the bad guys from the old games have been translated very well. Better than you could imagine. As great as these characters looked in DOOM, and DOOM II, they were still a little bit cartoonish. Here, most of them retain their designs while somehow coming off as a lot more fearsome. Some of the DOOM 3 style even makes its way in, particularly with the Hell Knights.

While I think the claustrophobic nature of DOOM 3 leads it to being the creepier game, this one still has plenty of moments where you may find yourself uncomfortable or disturbed. Again, doing this almost entirely using its environments. It also has a pretty great ambient industrial metal soundtrack that fits the action fairly well. It will intensify as battles become more difficult, and then subside when things calm down a bit.

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This version of DOOM tells its story pretty much the way DOOM 3 did. You’ll get cut scenes involving the main three characters. Samuel Hayden, one of the heads of the UAC, Olivia Pierce its top researcher, and the flagship DOOM GUY, you play as. If you only follow these cut scenes you’ll find a similar retelling of the story told in DOOM 1, and then again in DOOM 3. Once again, an experiment on Mars has created a portal to Hell allowing monsters to kill everyone. This time though, the UAC is shown as complicit in knowing about it, and justifying it by pointing to the technology they’ve created because of it. But when they realize they can’t control the situation, you get to show up.

Of course you’re having none of it, and you run off to stop a mad scientist blood cult leader through a 13 stage campaign. Like DOOM 3, along the way you can find logs that fill in back story, and if you find enough of them, you’ll discover that this game tries to tie all of the DOOM games together. Beyond that, there are a lot of Easter eggs to be found, giving nods to the old games. The most impressive of them are hidden retro stages. Just like Interceptor did with their Rise Of The Triad reboot, and Flying Wild Hog did with Shadow Warrior’s. You can enter these old levels from 1993 if you find a hidden lever in every stage. Each stage has a corresponding retro level hidden within.

But there are other eggs. Like DOOM 3’s Soul cube, DOOM 2’s Icon of sin, and even a DOOM 1 themed clone of Bejeweled. This game has a lot of love for fans of the original games on display. But they rarely get in the way of the current story on display. The game also is the first in the series to really give your character personality. The most you saw in previous games was an end game screen, or a cutaway. Here, you punch things. You kick things. In doing so, you point out the wrongs of the UAC without saying a single word. It’s pretty effective in spite of the silence.

Speaking of breaking things, the combat, and mechanics really shine here. They’re a lot of fun, and this game is all the better for having them. Every weapon in the game has weight to it, and destroys enemies in the most visceral ways. Your hand gun is the pea shooter you had in the original, except now it has unlimited bullets, and a charge shot. All of the other guns from DOOM 2 come back, including the Super shotgun. They all dole out a similar level of damage, and the zippy movement makes the battles feel very much closer to the old games than other action games have.

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DOOM also expands things a bit with its Glory kill system. Once you deal enough damage to a monster, it will flash. Press the melee button within a specific window of time, and you’ll get a gristly canned animation. During these, you kill monsters with your bare hands in savage ways to get health replenishments. You can turn them off, but honestly they don’t break up the flow of combat at all. On paper it sounds like something that would. But in practice it really doesn’t. Plus the game brings back the power ups from the old games. So you can walk in sludge, max health, and kill monsters in one punch.

The new movement system almost feels like Metroid Prime at times. You can jump up, climb onto ledges, and eventually double jump. Unfortunately, there are a couple of minor problems I had with the campaign. First of all, as wonderful as the environments are, they still aren’t as open as the original games’ were. True, this game is still a far cry from the hallway, cut scene, shoot out, hallway, cut scene routine many games have. But it isn’t as open. In the old games you could spend three hours on a single stage exploring it. While it’s also true that the key card system added some linearity to them in the sense you needed to go in a door order, it’s less here. There may be a side path you discover, only to find it leads to the same place the main path does. There are still colored doors that require a key, but things just don’t feel nearly as labyrinthine. It’s pretty obvious where you need to go. You won’t need to find the auto map, or a specific path because everything is laid out. I will give a couple of the levels a lot of credit though for their excellent verticality. These stages involve a lot of climbing, and require players to really pay attention. They also feature that excellent platforming I mentioned above.

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The other issue I had with the campaign is that things can feel a bit formulaic a couple of stages in. Throughout the game there are these monster teleporters called Gore nests. You have to destroy them, then fight a bunch of monsters in a quasi-horde mode. The thing is they place these several times over in a few of them. So you’ll pretty much figure out that you’ll go to a key area, maybe find a weapon. Then go to a room with a Gore nest, break it, and fight a horde. Then two rooms later, find another Gore nest, break it, and fight a horde.

Fortunately, everything about the combat is very fun, and the campaign doesn’t over stay its welcome either. So you likely won’t mind. At least not enough where you won’t finish it. Plus with all of the secrets hidden in the game, you may even replay it several times over to find everything. These two issues don’t ruin the experience by any means. But if you come into this game expecting THE ULTIMATE DOOM with prettier graphics, you aren’t quite going to get that.

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Still, it’s also much better than some people give it credit for. Even with its levelling system, it still delivers a challenging action game. Yes, this iteration of DOOM has a levelling system. You get two types of points. Points for your Samus Aran-esque  suit, and points for killing bad guys. Praetor suit points are usually found on fallen guards throughout the game. You take flash drives off of their bodies, and plug them into yourself. There are also energy balls you can find in giant tanks. between them you can beef yourself up over time, either by expanding health, armor, or ammo bars.

The other points you earn while playing can be used to put upgrades onto your different weapons. You can add rockets to your assault rifle, or a lock on to your rocket launcher, and so on, and so forth. You don’t have to use any of this stuff if you want to get closer to the old days, but there is a lot of challenge even if you do choose to use them. One other thing this game does well, is making health, and ammo scarce to pick up. Using your chainsaw (which only has so much gasoline) on monsters can often get you more ammo but you must have a certain amount of gas for each enemy type. There’s also a robot merchant hidden about in stages where you can buy secondary fire modes for you arsenal by spending your weapon points.

You can also find hidden runes in stages that send you to these challenge rooms. Completing these will unlock other tasks you can perform during your play through. Completing those can get you achievements, and other bonus perks. On the lower difficulty settings you probably don’t need to find all of these things. But on the harder ones you’ll probably need to. Because the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly.

All of this, again makes the combat a nice balance of risk, and reward. DOOM is a very fun campaign to play through.

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After you play through the campaign, you’ll probably want to check out the multiplayer. What you’re given here is also pretty good. Mostly. On the plus side, the modes all take full advantage of the mechanics. You can climb, double jump, and move the way you do in single-player. You can customize your player model the way you can in some other games, putting preset textures on your model, changing colors, choosing armor parts.  It plays with the pace, and frantic nature an arena shooter should.

What is going to turn many people off though, is that it uses a lot of modern-day features. There is a ranking system, and so weapons, and other items are locked off until you can grind away long enough to use them. You have a class system, with three classes. Beyond that you can choose a load out like in many modern games.These kinds of design decisions take away from the arena shooter vibe many people wanted.

The original game’s multiplayer threw you into a Death match, or Team Death match. Everyone had to scurry to find whatever weapon they could, and there were no restrictions. Once they had a weapon it was about map control. Finding a path that took them to each of the power ups, and keeping opponents from ever getting them. That was part of the strategy. If an opponent got wise, they changed their strategy, to find their own path, and that’s where the skirmishes would happen. Everyone had access to everything in the map, the challenge was keeping everyone else from having things. It’s what arena shooters, as a genre were built on. Games like Quake 3 Arena, and Unreal Tournament took that ball from the original DOOM, and ran with it.

So for those looking to relive the feel of the old DOOM Death match in an updated setting, this is going to be disappointing. It isn’t terrible. It uses the assets well, it runs fairly briskly. But the modern conventions do hinder more than help. Why? Because it doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from other modern games. There’s a cool rune you can pick up to turn into a demon, getting you some easy frags. But beyond that it doesn’t do anything all that different from other games. Going back to the original’s simple, but effective multiplayer oddly enough, would have made it stand out a bit more.

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Still, if you want to check it out, there are a fair number of people still playing it, and you can get some new content for it if you don’t mind buying some DLC. Again, it isn’t a bad mode by any means. But it likely won’t be the go to multiplayer shooter for most people with so many better options out there.

One area DOOM does try to stand out a bit is with its Snap map feature. Here, you get a utility that will let you take a number of pre-made rooms, and put them in whatever order you wish. It reminds me a lot of the level editor in Timesplitters 2. You can quickly make a map, and you can even sector tag sections of it. So you can plot how enemies behave or  tweak the store mechanics for the aforementioned point systems within your map. You can also choose to make a map a single player map, or a map for multiplayer.

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But, like the multiplayer mode, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Especially since DOOM games all had countless mods, and maps made for them in the past. There are still custom maps, and other content being done for the original game. All with their own textures, sound effects,  music, and even features. Creative types, especially on PC are so used to doing full-blown mods that Snap map is going to be a huge step backwards. On consoles, it may fare a little bit better where it was probably focusing on to begin with. Again, it isn’t a bad feature. But it could have been much more attractive had it been a more fully realized set of mod tools.

Overall, I still recommend DOOM to any fan of the series. It does a lot to tie the games together. It gives you a fun, and challenging campaign with a lot of fan service. There’s a fair amount of replay value for those who want to find every last secret or get every last achievement. The other attractions are fun, but for most, they’re not going to hold one’s attention for very long. But for anybody who loves DOOM, or action games in general, check it out.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

 

Overwatch Review

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I know. Once again, I’m super late to the proverbial party. You’ve probably made up your mind to buy this game a long time ago, or not. At this point reviewing it might seem like a pointless endeavor. But after receiving the game as a birthday gift recently, I may be able to come up with something new to say about it. Or not. You can decide.

PROS: Blizzard does it again. Fun times, with surprisingly low requirements.

CONS: There really isn’t that much for you if you like to play alone.

TURRET NOOB: Is what I was called after getting a kill streak with a gnome.

I saw all of the pre release hype for Overwatch, but never found myself as pumped to play it as everyone else seemed to be. That isn’t to say I thought from the outset it would be terrible. Just that it might not be my cup of tea. Blizzard has a long history of putting out great material. Most notably the Warcraft, and StarCraft games. They made the greatest MMO of all time too. No other MMORPG has come close to capturing players’ imaginations the way World Of Warcraft, and its expansion packs have. Before WOW, the biggest three MMOs anyone remembers are Ultima Online, Everquest, and Asheron’s Call. A few others might make the pre- Blizzard cut. But the point is, in the eyes of many, they essentially claimed an entire genre for themselves. At least on the monthly payment model. It’s a game that has been going for 12 years strong. Blizzard even had noteworthy titles before Warcraft was a behemoth. They even made the excellent Death, And Return Of Superman beat ’em up for the Super NES, and Sega Genesis.

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The point is I had no doubts Blizzard would do a good job in any genre. They could release an Overwatch shmup tomorrow, and it would probably be very good. Overwatch is very good. My reservations were really less about it being sub par, and more about it not being something I could get into. I love playing First-Person Shooters. Many of my most played games fall into the category. But some of the most revered games in the genre haven’t always gripped me. A lot of people have sunk years into Team Fortress 2 for example. I played that game. I enjoyed it for what it was. But never found myself engrossed in it. Overwatch, at least on the surface can appear to be a Team Fortress 2 competitor.

It shares many of the same modes. It goes for an animated look rather than a gritty or realistic one. It has a bunch of cosmetic unlockable stuff, and even the potential for an in-game economy. But yet, there are a number of differences, that not only give the game its own identity, but make it more compelling to play.

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One of those differences is the cast. The characters in Overwatch are far more interesting. not only from an aesthetic perspective, but because of how each one plays. The game has four classes, and several characters within each. In the Attacker class you have well-rounded, jack-of-all-trades types. They can be good to some degree in most situations. Then you have Support class healer characters. These characters can boost the health of their teammates,  and fill support roles. There are Tank class characters that can take more damage, and defend other players or objectives in key times. Finally, there are the Defensive class characters. These tend to have more ranged attacks to cover the other classes as they push on.

But each character within those parameters is still different from each other. No two tanks are alike. No two defenders are alike. There are different abilities, and perks that change the dynamics of how your team gets the job done. You may have two friends who enjoy playing  ranged attackers. But Hanzo’s long-range archery feels very different from Widowmaker’s sniping. Over time you’ll find it pays to try out every one of the twenty available characters. Not just because you’ll likely find the one you feel best fits your play style. But because each of the game’s maps, and modes require different strategies. Just because you can hold down an objective on Route 66 with Bastion’s gatling gun, doesn’t mean he is a good fit for you when you have to capture a point in the Temple of Anubis in the following game.

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The makeup of your team is also important. You can compose your team with whatever characters you choose. But each map is designed in a way where having every player choose a designated role is beneficial. Odds are that if you have a team with equal number of defenders, attackers, supporters, and tanks you’re better positioned to win. Each character has a distinct load out, and perk to accomplish that victory. You’ll have a primary attack, a secondary attack, and a special ability. Some characters will have other optional moves to beef up their special ability. For instance, when playing as Torbjörn one can set down a turret to target the enemy team. But you can also bang a hammer against it several times to upgrade it. Every character also has a super move you can use after filling up another meter. Most of these are really impressive looking, and powerful.

That doesn’t mean you can’t win with an odd number of each mind you, but it can prove to be that much more difficult. Because if you don’t have enough healers, you’re going down quickly. If you don’t have enough defenders, you’re likely to lose an objective. If you don’t have enough tanks or attackers you can find yourself overrun. Still, there is a fair amount of skill to be found. So truly great players can still overcome the odds if their team is staffed with more of any given class over another. Not easy by any means. But not impossible.

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This leads to an issue some potential players might have. There isn’t much here for you if you’re a solo player. This game is built almost exclusively for team play. If you’re someone who loves campaigns, competitive death matches, or one on one modes they’re not here. You can train against bots to improve. You can play with random players as well. But where the game really shines is when you have at least another three friends to play with. Because the game really values cohesion. You can sometimes find strangers online who will want to organize. But that isn’t going to be the case a lot of the time. Playing with friends means you’re more likely to want to co-operate, and communicate strategies.

There aren’t any innovative new modes here. But there are really well made, well-balanced renditions of proven modes. There is the Escort mode, which is a spin on Team Fortress 2’s cart pushing. One team attempts to move an object from one side of the map to the other with checkpoints solidifying ground gained. The defending team of course, tries to stop them by impeding their progress, and winding down the clock.

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There’s the Control mode, which works kind of like a King Of The Hill mode. A point unlocks on the map, and both sides try to lay claim to it, and hold it for as long as possible. The round is over once one side can hold the point long enough to fill a meter. The team to win two out of three or three out of five rounds wins.

The Assault mode is a variation that involves multiple control points. This plays closer to something like the Rush mode in the Battlefield games. Attackers try to take points, and push the defenders back. If the defenders get pushed all the way back to the last point they lose. The difference here is that there are no objectives at the end of the game, or between points. It’s still a lot of fun to play though, and is probably the best of the various game modes.There is also a Hybrid mode  which blends the three modes between rounds.

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Beyond all of this is the ability to have custom game lists with your friends privately, and a competitive mode which adds a couple of minor provisions to each of the three main modes for the tournament level players like number of rounds. There was also a recent update that added a soccer mode called Lucio Ball. In it you use your characters’ weapons, and move sets in order to shoot the ball across the field. It can break up some of the action of the regular modes, and is a genuinely fun update.

The game also has a season feature, where ranked competitors can try to earn exclusive skins, and bonuses for being near the top. These go on for a couple of months, with breaks in between so Blizzard can make tweaks, and updates. This is in addition to the regular loot boxes you can receive for levelling up over time. Even the standard stuff can be pretty neat, unlocking skins, spray tags, and other cosmetic stuff. Much like Team Fortress 2’s hat crafting, these are purely cosmetic things that don’t change the flow of the game. There is nothing like a more powerful weapon, or super secret character to unbalance things in your favor. However with the inclusion of seasons, there are some cool trinkets you can get for trying to claw your way to the top. Which does give players an incentive to play the game more often. It is true you CAN spend money on lootboxes for a chance to possibly get the cosmetic stuff earlier. But there’s no incentive to do so. Unless you simply cannot wait to unlock all of the skins, spray tags, and taunts.

One thing Blizzard has always done well with in its time making computer games is scalability. All of their games have historically had pretty low minimum system requirements. This has widened the appeal of their games since you could still play their games on fairly old hardware, and still have things look decent. Overwatch continues the trend. It looks splendid at max settings. But it also looks perfectly fine on lower settings. Awhile ago YouTuber LowSpecGamer did a nice video on getting the game running on old computers. While much has changed with recent patches, and things might not be as efficient as when he first made his episode, it’s still pretty good. There’s a fair amount of options you can turn on or off in the game’s own settings menu. So if you don’t have a midrange GPU, and you’re on an old CPU, you may still be able to enjoy Overwatch. Of course, this is all moot if you choose to play this on the Xbox One, or PlayStation 4 instead.

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Whatever platform you decide to play on, you’ll have a pretty good time with Overwatch. It could stand to have a few more modes, like a more robust Team Objective mode, and it isn’t made for lone wolves. But not every game needs to be a one player affair. Hopefully Blizzard will add a deeper Team Objective mode in the future, seeing how it’s something a lot of really good competing games have over Overwatch. Beyond this one sticking point though, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves team games.

The net code seems consistent in my time with it, so it’s been rare I’ve suffered any lag. The VOIP options are fairly good. You may still prefer a different option to communicate to your team. But what your given works well. Classes, and characters seem fairly balanced too. No one character really seems to overpower anybody outside of a skill gap between players. Make no mistake, I was obliterated many, many times, and I’m still getting my ass handed to me pretty regularly. But I never feel like it’s the fault of the character I’m using at any given time. It’s pretty clear to me in these times that I still need to better learn a character’s feature, or that the opponent was simply much better than I was. If I had any other complaints it’s mainly with my glitch afflicted experience with the Battle Net app. The game itself seems to run fine.

If you’ve been on the fence with this one, it’s a pretty safe bet so long as you have some friends to play it with. What it lacks in modes, it makes up with its great characters, balanced gameplay, and competitive depth. The audio is pretty great too. The thumping tunes, wonderful voice acting, and some really great sound effects accent everything nicely. Overwatch may not be the best game Blizzard has done, but it’s still pretty great.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Super Cyborg Review

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Man, I have been finding a number of spiritual successors lately. Last time around we saw an excellent Metroid clone with a number of cool tweaks, and spins on the idea. This time I’m reviewing a really good Contra clone. With elements of Probotector. Because that game is the same game as Contra, just with the human characters replaced with robots.

In this game you play as a robot. Well, at first. More on that later. Super Cyborg nails down everything about the NES version of Contra, its sequels, and the rest of the series with pinpoint accuracy. If you’ve been stewing because of how Konami has been letting all of their franchises lie dormant, this is a game you’re going to adore.

PROS: Feels exactly like NES Contra. Added customization.

CONS: Limited number of controllers supported. May feel too derivative to some.

KONAMI CODE: Not here. Bur there is a NOT KONAMI code most of you will NEED.

I’m glad I found Super Cyborg. I stumbled upon it during the recent Steam Summer Sale. I had no prior knowledge of its existence. No buzz. No info on a board. Nothing. At least for me, this was a diamond in the rough. Upon looking at the quick little trailer, I thought it looked like an interesting Contra inspired game. I picked it up.

Well it isn’t just interesting. It’s phenomenal. In terms of how close the game play is to NES Contra it’s almost 1:1. You play a robot out to save the world from an alien invasion. Like the game it is cribbing from. You get three lives, and sent on an overwhelming seven stage mission of mayhem. The first stage has a few visual nods to Contra. It starts in the jungle, and though the stage layout is completely different the theme is there. It ends at a fortress as well. But with a completely different, and original boss.

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From there, the game goes through different themed areas, and this is where it makes an attempt to differentiate itself from its inspiration. The inside of the base has its own distinct style. The third stage has more of a late game Ninja Gaiden look. There is a spider filled cavern stage. Throughout the campaign, the game does try to retain its own identity. In spite of just how much it feels like Contra. Of course, even some of that goes out the window when you get to the Super C inspired top down stage, and the final stage.

It really does feel like Contra too. As I said before, it feels almost 1:1. The movement is almost identical. The somersault jumping is almost identical. The shooting feels nearly identical. You can fire up. You can fire ahead, or at a diagonal slant. You can fire straight down so long as you’re in the air. One key difference is there is a “Lock” feature, where you can press a button to disable walking. In theory, some sections may be more manageable with it enabled. You can stay just outside the hit box of a projectile spewed out by a boss. Or you can keep yourself from walking off of a ledge. In practice, you’ll almost never use it because of just how much stuff is hitting you at any given moment. Super Cyborg also adds a secondary charge shot to every gun in the game. It does more damage. But because it’s so slow; again you’ll rarely use it with all of the chaos.

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Because just like Contra, the attackers never cease. They keep re-spawning, charging, and coming from all directions. Sit in one place too long, they’ll appear from behind. Or jump from above. Or crop up from the background scenery when you least expect it. Even Contra’s weapons are heavily referenced here. Barrels float through the sky in weird patterns. Shooting them drops a letter. Each letter is a different weapon. The letters may be different in some cases, but the projectiles have the same properties. The machine gun bullets are here. The laser gun is here. The coveted spread gun is here. The clear screen is here. Even the rapid fire is here.

And like Probotector, you’ll play as a robot. At first. You see, once you complete the game you’ll be able to play as a Rambo knock off, giving the game an even closer resemblance to Contra. One cool thing here is you can customize the colors on your character sprites when you start the game. The enemies are pretty varied throughout the campaign with all sorts of aliens, mutants, and strange creatures. All of them share attack patterns with Contra’s many soldiers, and creatures.

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Boss characters are original creations, and yet they could probably fit into a Contra game. There are some standouts here like the giant heart boss, the mechanical bee, and the game’s final boss. This thing has seven forms, and only gets more difficult as each form is introduced. Frankly, it goes from being a very difficult Run n’ Gun to a very difficult Bullet Hell. Think Toaplan difficult.

Honestly, the whole game is pretty difficult for many of the reasons outlined earlier. But again, so was Contra. It also has the simultaneous two player mode you know, and love. The game is fun, and hectic enough with one player. Two player mode makes this even more fun. On top of that, Super Cyborg includes Peer to Peer internet play. You can host a game, and let a friend or stranger connect through Steam, and away you go. Basically, it’s the same thing as the standard two player campaign. But now you don’t have to worry about your friend actually driving to your house.

Of course no NES Contra experience would be complete without the Konami code. Because, for the majority of us, getting through the game was almost impossible on three lives. Super Cyborg doesn’t have the Konami code, but it does have its own extra lives code that you’ll also have to input quickly on the title screen. It will give you 40 lives, and because the game has user files, you can actually save your progress between levels. Which is nice in case you find yourself getting too frustrated in your attempt to win. You can come back to where you left off. Moreover, Super Cyborg has three difficulty levels; Easy, Normal, and Hard which is unlocked after you complete the game once. Easy is about as hard as NES Contra. Until the last boss where it gets pretty difficult. Normal adds more enemies, and projectiles. The final boss gets much more health here. Hard difficulty is so over the top, it’s really recommended for those who love an almost masochistic challenge.

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Super Cyborg isn’t terribly long, and it needn’t be. It isn’t very original. But that isn’t what it was going for. It’s a game trying to fill a void Konami left, by letting its franchise lie dormant. As a spiritual successor to that franchise Super Cyborg truly succeeds. It is a great game for anybody who loves Contra, as the entire game is a love letter to Contra. It’s also a pretty fun action game in its own right.  Super Cyborg might not look quite as good as Contra. Some of the sprites can look a little rough around the edges. But it still manages to get a pretty good NES inspired look all around. You can also toggle a CRT blur effect, and sprite transparency effects on or off depending on how you like your retro-inspired games to look. The music is pretty great. Stage three’s up tempo chip tunes really stand out. But overall the music, and sound is really good.

Where the game falls short is in the options menu, and controller settings. First off, the options navigation takes some getting used to, as it isn’t mouse driven. It has a weird lay out, with pull-down menus. It isn’t difficult to use, but it isn’t very intuitive. But the biggest problem is that it doesn’t support a very large variety of controllers. You can play with the keyboard. You can play with the Xbox 360, or Xbox One controllers pretty seamlessly. Even third-party versions, as they use the same driver in Windows. But beyond that, it’s tough to say. My Steam controller didn’t work right away. After a day or two, it miraculously decided to. So I don’t know if that was just an issue with my configuration, or if it was a Steam client issue an update fixed. Chances are if you’re using a Steam controller you’re probably going to be able to play the game just fine.

But for some of the other controllers out there you’ll have to use a third-party program like Xpadder if you want to get them working with the game. Other than that speed bump though, it’s a pretty great game I can still highly recommend. It can be pretty difficult, and it might tread a little too closely to Contra for some. But it is also a lot of fun. I know I’ve repeated myself a lot in this review. But if you’ve longed for a proper Contra game for a while, you just might want to check this one out.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Axiom Verge Review

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Wow. Just wow. This is one of the most impressive games I’ve played through in a while. It would be easy to write Axiom Verge off as a Metroid clone. Because when you get down to brass tacks, it is. It drops you in a map, and forces you to explore. Forces you to find the exit, only to tell you you’ll have to go back to that area to get something later on. The thing is there are but a mere handful of examples of games that tried to do something a Nintendo game did, and did it well. There are even fewer that have managed to do it as well. Especially this well.

Axiom Verge has. This game feels like it could actually fit in the Metroid universe somehow, or that you could call it Super Duper Metroid, and that it is the successor to Metroid fusion. Metroid fans would be completely okay with that. That isn’t an exaggeration or hyperbole here. It is seriously THAT good.

PROS: Spot on labyrinthine level design. Pixel Art. Chip tunes.

CONS: Not the most original story. (But still good!)

SECRETS: Who knew nostalgia could be so trippy?

I could end the review with that introduction. It really does live up to the hype it has had for almost a year. But a lot of you who missed it, or have been on the fence, or for those who are skeptical you might need more. Axiom Verge is the tale of a scientist who is transported to another world when his experiment goes awry, and his lab explodes. If that sounds a bit familiar it’s because that is also the setup to Eric Chahi’s Another World (a.k.a. Out Of This World). But beyond the initial intro, it is a completely different narrative than that game’s. You’ll meet other characters while heading back, and forth through areas who give you a little bit of back story. But they also don’t spell everything out for you either. Your character asks questions, tries to figure out where he is, and in the process some key things are revealed. But the details are kept vague. Not everything is revealed, even when you finish the game.  But the characters do get enough development that you can at least get behind them, and they are memorable. Notably the giant mechanical beings you’re introduced to. All of them become more important toward the end of the final act.

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That said, the story isn’t the strongest part of the game.  Although it is told better than many game stories. Still, you’ll see a lot of inspiration from stories you’ve seen in other mediums. But like the game it writes a love letter to, it lets the gameplay tell the bulk of the story, and it’s better for it. You can take your time, and try to really find every possible item, or secret. You can try to rush through to the end as fast as possible. In fact, Axiom Verge even has a speed run mode. Of course, choosing it shuts off one of the really cool features in the game.

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The boss fights are another area where the game really excels The sprite scaling does a wonderful job of showing you the scope of any given battle, while throwing you into a situation where you have to act fast. But in doing so you have to analyze the situation. “Do I have the right tools for this fight?” “Is there a discernible pattern?” “Is there something in the background I should be paying attention to?” You’ll have a limited amount of time to ponder these questions because once you’re in a boss chamber it’s sink or swim.

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Not only does the game have a large number of areas to explore, there are secret areas beyond those. These areas actually kind of screw with your mind a bit, because of a really cool set of visual effects. When you get near one of these areas, the game’s graphics will suddenly add scan lines much like you’d find playing old games on a 30-year-old standard definition television set. Get a little closer to find the brightness, and contrast will change. Actually go into one of these areas, and things can even become a bit surreal. Moreover going into these areas usually hides an item or a power up you’ll probably want.

 

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Interestingly, the game will  increase the number of these secret areas depending on the difficulty you choose to play, with the easiest setting giving you the fewest, and the hardest setting giving you the most. Do note if you play the speed run mode you can’t get into any of these areas when playing that mode. Speaking of the graphics, these are some of the nicest retro-themed visuals of their type. They’re on par with games like Shovel Knight most of the time, and sometimes even exceeds them. But where it really stands out, are some of the eerie character, and object designs. They both clash, and fit in with the rest of the game’s art style. It looks really good.

The visual cues of the secret areas, also tie into the game’s story somewhat. Over the course of the game these  secret areas, and even some normal areas will be blocked by garbled graphics. These look comparable to what you’d see on your television if you put in a dirty cartridge into an old game system. At some point you can find a power up that lets you clean up these graphics, in order to enter these areas. it ties into one of the details of the story too. If you do find yourself really invested in the storyline, there are also a number of journal entries, and logs hidden throughout the game as well.

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The game also has an amazing soundtrack, with a lot of different influences felt throughout the game. Like Metroid, each of the areas in Axiom Verge have their own particular background music. You’ll hear Industrial Synth in one section. New Wave in another, Electronic Tribal in yet another, Synth Pop in yet another, and so on. Most of this music is very memorable too. Even though much of it is ambient, fitting the scope of the game’s world, you may find yourself hearing it hours later. In your mind, as an ear worm on loop. If you find you really enjoy the music, you can purchase the soundtrack as well.

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There is an immense level of replay value here. With over 20 weapons, items, data logs, you’re probably not going to see everything on your first play through. Between these, and the secret areas in the game you can easily spend days playing it before finding everything. Then factor in the speed run challenge, and that’s even more play time.

But the most impressive thing about the game is that it was all made by one person in their spare time. Thomas Happ deserves all of the praise he has received for this game. It is an amazing feat when one considers how much is crammed into this 175 megabyte folder. To put that into perspective, Super Metroid had at least ten people working on it. Sure, one could argue it’s easier now to make a game like this than it was in 1994, But the amount of effort, and care put into this title really shows.

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I really couldn’t find much fault with anything during my play through. Sure the story borrows from other tales a bit. But it isn’t a bad story. It might be a Metroid clone, but it’s a damn good Metroid clone.  One that frankly still does plenty enough to set itself apart from Metroid. Functionally, I never had a crash, everything performed well, and I never saw a glitch in nearly 16 hours of play time. The PC version also has some basic options that can be toggled if you have a fairly old computer.

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Axiom Verge really does live up to the lofty praise it has gotten. It’s simply a must play game whether you choose to play it on a PlayStation 4 or a computer. The game is also coming soon to the Wii U with some enhancements for the game pad. This is a game that I highly recommend you pick up. It’s interesting, fun, and will keep you busy for a while.

Final Score: 10/10