Tag Archives: Playstation 4

Kero Blaster Review

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I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago. It was an inconvenient time to hang out or grab a few beers with anyone. I was working, everyone I know was busy with their own work, and life stuff going on. Plus as you get older birthdays tend to become less, and less of a big deal anyway. But one of my friends from an old job was kind enough to send me a couple of games on Steam anyhow. One of these was Kero Blaster.

PROS: Great music, pixel art, and mechanics.

CONS: Minor technical hitches.

MASH UPS: It feels both very NES, and C64. That’s a winning combination.

I’d never heard of Kero Blaster. Despite the fact that it’s made by the creator of Cave Story. The little Steam tile didn’t look so hot when I opened my email. But I installed it, and after a title screen crash, the game started working properly. Fortunately, once I got my Steam Controller working I was pleasantly surprised. Kero Blaster does an ingenious thing by showing you controls right on the Title Screen. You have to clear the little blobs off of the screen, and you then answer a phone to start the game.

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From here you choose the save file you want to load, and the game starts. Upon playing for the first time, you’ll see a cut scene where a cat calls you into the office to bark at you. After the reprimand you go to an elevator where two scientist cats send you on missions. As you play through the game, you’ll get more cut scenes between stages that explain more of the storyline.

Honestly, the storyline is pretty good. It doesn’t make much sense at first, but over time the pieces are filled in, and you’ll find it’s quite funny. You play a frog who works at a company called the Cat, and Frog Company. Where the owner, a cat, progressively gets less, and less healthy looking. There is a bunch of workplace humor peppered in there over the game’s several missions. There aren’t too many games that make me legitimately laugh out loud. But this game has its moments. I think fans of comedic anime, and manga will laugh a few times playing this as well.

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Once the initial cut scene ends, you’re sent off on your action platform adventuring. The game seems to take influences from games that made the NES, and Commodore 64 platforms famous. Kero Blaster’s jumping mechanics remind me very much of Turrican. Jumping has a similar slow, yet precise feel to it. Also like Turrican, is the jet pack you’ll eventually get, allowing you to do double jumps to get to higher ledges. However the stages themselves are structured more like the ones in a lauded NES action game. Some stages have a Mega Man feel, others seem like something out of Castlevania. On paper, these are three series that have little in common. Yet the elements of each that were borrowed, and tweaked work really well together.

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Much like Mega Man, and Turrican, you’ll be doing a lot of shooting. Killing low-level enemies, medium enemies, and then fighting a giant boss monster at the end of every stage. Boss fights usually result in you finding a new weapon to use. Each of these is handy in specific situations, but they can all be used on the overwhelming majority of enemies. Unlike the Mega Man games, you play the game in a linear fashion, and there’s no real boss order as a result. But the boss fights do involve looking for patterns to mitigate damage taken. Again, it hearkens back to many C64, NES, and SMS games. Like a lot of other platformers out there, there are mid level shops in every level. Here you can spend coins dropped by defeated enemies. Doing so lets you level up your weapons, health meter, and buy help items. Kero Blaster has a pretty high level of challenge. But to make things a bit easier you get to keep your upgrades when you run out of lives. You also have unlimited continues, so if you persevere, you can eventually beat the campaign. When you do finish it, you’ll unlock a hard mode. So if you’re the type who loves old school difficulty, there’s something more for you to shoot for.

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The game has a wonderful aesthetic, that again, reminds me of Commodore 64 platformers. It’s displayed in a letterbox aspect ratio, with a limited color palette. Sprites are large, and backgrounds feature some nice detailing. I also really love the character designs in this game. There is a lot of variety in the enemy types here. Some are hilarious references to other games like crabs that behave like the Sidesteppers in Mario Bros. Then there are the aforementioned blob creatures which begin showing up in a number of ways. There are even Mega Man X style mid bosses here. While the graphics remind me of the C64, the audio very clearly hearkens back memories of NES soundtracks. The NES APU had a pretty distinct sound, and Kero Blaster does a pretty good job emulating it. Many indie games do so as well, but the compositions here are what set it apart from the pack. Many of the songs in this game are on par with those in titles like Shovel Knight. They are quite honestly that good. Very addictive, catchy songs that fit the action nicely. In addition to those though, there are some lilting, atmospheric chip tunes for accompanying environments too.

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That isn’t to say I didn’t have any issues with Kero Blaster. The .exe randomly crashes on my set up. Rarely when I’m playing the game, it usually happens when launching or exiting. Still, it has been often enough that it’s worth bringing up. Playing the PC version I have no idea if this is the case on IOS, or PlayStation 4. But at least on PC, expect to see a crash to the desktop once in a while.

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The default button layout is also not ideal. I was constantly pulling up the menu when I didn’t want to, or pressing shoot, when I meant to press jump. Fortunately the game does let you remap buttons on your controller, and keyboard. So you’ll certainly want to do that. Once you’ve done that, there isn’t much to complain about. Of course, some may be fine with the default controls. This may be different on the other releases too, as I have not played either of those versions.

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There are also a couple of areas I felt the collision detection could have been just a tiny bit better, as certain projectiles wouldn’t seem to hit the character, and would still net damage. It never felt the game was too hampered by this, but you may feel some of your deaths are cheap. These moments were rare in my play through, but still felt annoying when they did occur.

Finally, the game does not allow you to move your character’s stance while firing. If you’re walking right, mowing down waves of baddies, and suddenly get attacked from above you have to stop firing, then aim up, and begin firing. Again, not something that breaks the game, but if you don’t know this going in, you’re going to be upset.

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Ultimately though, I really do recommend this one. It isn’t drawn out with padding, nor is it something you’ll likely blow through in an hour. At least not on the first play through for most. The problems it does have aren’t so bad that they make things feel unplayable. It has likable characters, a fun story, and some genuinely good stage design. It’s a fun to play action platformer for your computer, IOS device, or PS4. And you get to torch monsters with a flamethrower as a frog. Slippy wishes he could be even one tenth of that level of bad ass.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Carmageddon: Max Damage Review

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Ah Carmageddon. It probably seems esoteric now, but twenty years ago (man time files, and boy am I old.) it was a pretty big deal. It was a racer that involved wrecking other cars, wanton destruction, and the wholesale vehicular manslaughter of pedestrians. It caught the ire of the same people upset about the absurd violence of games like DOOM, and Mortal Kombat. So when it was ported to consoles, in some regions it was heavily censored. The game led to two sequels. One was a pretty decent one. The other not so much. So here we are with the fourth game all of these years later. How does it fare?

PROS: Still has gory comedic violence. Fun tracks, and vehicles.

CONS: Not a big visual leap over the old games. No improvements to handling.

WHAT?: Power ups are crazy.

I enjoyed the original Carmageddon back in the day. The sequel was also pretty fun. It was juvenile. It was full of stupid humor. But there was a certain amount of charm in it all. Running over pedestrians for time bonuses, destroying opponents to steal their car, all on dangerous, and silly themed races. There were issues with the games like the inconsistent enemy A.I., and the bad handling causing you to spin out fairly easily. But the underlying game under it all was still goofy fun. Visually these games weren’t much to look at, the car models were blocky, and the pedestrians were even more lo-fi. But that made the mayhem more comedic so you didn’t mind so much.

And the audio, man, was it good. The voice samples, and dialogue went along with it fantastically. Plus it had a pretty cool soundtrack. It was pretty good. But the third game changed things up a bit too much for some, and not nearly enough for others. Plus it didn’t come out in the best state from what I remember. It kind of came, and quietly went. Carmageddon went dormant for a long time.

Over that time,  Interplay, the game’s publisher went into all kinds of financial woes, and the IP ended up at Square Enix. Stainless Games would finally get the IP back in their hands, and upon doing so, brought out the fourth game in the series. First as Carmageddon: Reincarnation, and now that it’s got a console port it’s been retitled Carmageddon: Max Damage. So after all of these years, and all of this time, how does this new game hold up?

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It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Visually, the game does look better than the first three games. But not by very much. This version has some advanced lighting effects, and some other visual cues. But the vehicles themselves are still fairly low on the details, and the pedestrians are still blocky people you’ve been smearing over the pavement since Carmageddon II.  The PC version does feature a robust set of options, so if it taxes your hardware, you can lower some settings. The sound is the same sort of scenario. The sound quality is a bit better than the old games. It doesn’t sound as compressed, and there’s still a hard rock soundtrack to jam along to while destroying other drivers.

Carmageddon: Max Damage also follows the same rules as the second game. You start out picking one of two vehicles, and racing sets of events to unlock new ones. Each set generally has three or more events you need to win in order to get a stamp of approval. Win enough of them, and you’ll unlock the next set of events. You don’t have to play every event to unlock the next set, though it is recommended because you’re more likely to unlock every set that way.

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During the events you can also find tokens that can be spent on upgrades for your vehicle. You definitely need to upgrade your vehicle because later races feature more aggressive opponents who will destroy you pretty quickly if you’re unprepared. To keep yourself from being destroyed, you must keep up scoring points. You get points (and time) for running over people, doing crazy stunts, and blowing up racers.

There are several event types in each set. Some of these are a traditional race, where you need to place first to advance. Others are challenges where you have to get to a certain number of checkpoints first, or kill a number of specific people first. Often times there will be a specific opponent for you to destroy, and in doing so you get to keep their vehicle for your garage. And then the best are the classic events where you can go for whichever goal you want. Killing racers, running over people, or winning the race.

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During the events as you’re earning points doing all of those over-the-top things you’ll start getting rear ended. Or jammed into a wall. Or knocked off of a cliff. All of which start to severely damage your vehicle. The damages will affect how your car handles too. So if you get T-boned you may end up only being able to take left turns. Or you could bang up the front end to the point the car barely runs. You can even get into situations where the car’s engine is shot, and you have no tires.

This is why you need to earn points. You can use the points to fix your car on the fly, or recover your vehicle if it falls into a chasm. Now if you rack up an insane score, you can spend a large chunk of it to constantly keep your car in pristine condition. This makes the game considerably easier. But it still isn’t a cakewalk. Especially as you progress, and begin dealing with more, and more aggressive A.I. There are also Mario Kart styled power ups you can find by driving into oil drums. Some of these are useful, like the Sith Lord Force lightning that you can use to electrocute opponents. Others are just silly, and ultimately useless, like the one that makes you wobble.  Still there are others that are there to troll you, like the power up that blows your car in half, and could lead to a loss if an enemy hits you afterward.

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In between events you can spend the tokens you find on upgrades for your vehicles. These are drip fed to you through the game though because certain upgrades are only purchasable at certain levels. This gives the game some replay value as you can go back with a beefier car to play older events you’ve skipped. But at the same time it can be annoying when you’ve found 7 tokens, and can’t spend them on what you want even though you have enough currency.

The main problem with this one though, is the fact that it hasn’t improved the driving physics over the old games very much. Far too often you’ll find yourself spinning out after attempting to make a hard corner. Or you’ll find the rag doll physics when trying to roll your car over either don’t move enough, or move too much making getting yourself re-oriented an annoyance. It doesn’t make the game a bad one, but it is a big enough annoyance to take you out of the experience. It’s enough of a distraction, you may find yourself playing it in short bursts rather than several hours.

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This isn’t to say Carmageddon: Max Damage isn’t fun. As long as you enjoy dark humor, and cartoon violence it’s got a lot under the hood you’ll enjoy. One of the really cool things I’m glad to see has been retained is the replay feature. When you finish any event in the game you can go back, and re-watch it. As you’re watching it again, you can experiment with a ton of different camera settings. You can change the point of view, for different parts of the play back, you can fast forward, rewind or pause video. You can even take the HUD off if you want. This is also where you can get some laughs, as this is where you’re most likely to listen for the voice samples, and pay attention to the gore. Because when you’re trying to actually win a race you’re probably most focused on driving or other goals.

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The game also supports Mods you can get in the Steam Workshop on PC, and the game supports multiplayer. There isn’t much of an online play community here, but the ability to play the game with a friend does add some fun to the package. I like that this is a game that supports LAN though, so if you do have a few people coming over with laptops, you can do classic multiplayer through your home network.

Overall, Carmageddon Max Damage isn’t a bad game. But it isn’t something I’d tell you is a must-buy either. A big chunk of the package depends on your sense of humor. If you like dark, and violent comedy then you’ll get some laughs out of it, and it is competent in its modes. The thing is, it doesn’t excel at any one racing mode. If the mechanics had been vastly improved over the old games it would be worth a recommendation. But it really hasn’t. If you’re looking to add a technically sound arcade racer to your game collection, there are better options. But if you want something to make you laugh at a preposterous send-up of Death Race, you could easily do worse.

Final Score: 6 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

Freedom Planet Review

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Sonic The Hedgehog. He’s seen a number of ups, and downs over the years. The consensus seems to be his earliest adventures on the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, and Game Gear were his greatest glory days. Fast, frantic, platforming action that involved any number of paths to victory. But after the Dreamcast faded into obscurity Sonic went in all kinds of directions. Many of them terrible. A few of them average, and a few that were pretty good. But I’m not here to talk about Sonic this time.

PROS: Really amazing pixel art, chip tunes, and the game play you remember.

CONS: The shortcomings you remember. Padding.

BIKES: If running fast isn’t enough you can speed around like Chris Pine in Star Trek.

When Sonic The Hedgehog was released it was only a matter of time before the imitators would come about. People dump on Bubsy, but that game was far from the worst clone. Awesome Possum, Aero The Acrobat, even The Road Runner had a Sonic inspired game. So with so many others that didn’t hit the mark, what makes this game stand out in the sea of Sonic contenders?

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For starters, Freedom Planet absolutely nails the feeling of Sonic The Hedgehog. The physics, the sense of speed, all of it. If you’re a big Sonic fan who longs for a return to the 16-bit glory days of yesteryear, buy it. I could end it there. I’m serious. This is bar none, one of the best Sonic clones you can get. But there are a lot of things that set it apart from its biggest inspiration.

Freedom Planet has a deeper, darker, storyline than the Sonic games. Most of the Sonic games feature Dr. Robotnik/Eggman imprisoning animals, stealing emeralds, and holding the world hostage. Freedom Planet instead involves a much more detailed plot. It opens up with a King being killed by a despot in cold blood in front of his son. Who is then taken hostage, and forced to fight for the despot. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this. But it got my attention for sure.  From there you discover that there is an all-powerful stone that three kingdoms on the planet safeguard, and of course the despot wants it for himself.

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From here the game opens up, and you can choose to play either an adventure mode or a standard mode. Playing the adventure mode, will let you experience cut scenes, and the stages are played in different orders depending on which of the three characters you choose. Going with the standard mode eschews the cut scenes, and you play every stage in order. Like a traditional platformer from the era the game pays homage to.

The interesting thing with the adventure mode is that you’ll get a slightly different experience each time you play through it. That’s because the game is played through the eyes of each character. The three characters are: Carol, a green wild cat. Lilac, a purple dragon, and Milla (an unlockable character), a dog. Each of the characters has their own attacks, and abilities making each play through a little bit different. Carol has some speedy punches, and kicks. She can also ride a motorcycle if you find gas can power ups. Lilac has a useful double jump. Milla has a shield, and can throw cubes.

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Once you start playing though you will immediately be reminded of Sega’s most popular mascot platformer. The same sense of speed. The same loops, twirls, and crazy tracks fill the game’s 14 stages. With all of the collectibles, 1-Ups, power ups, and health items in each of them you can opt to try to find everything, or you can try to clear everything as fast as possible. I know I’ve waxed on about how many Sonic influences there are, but the game also has a surprising number of similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man X series too. This becomes apparent in the game’s combat, and enemy designs. Instead of jumping on bad guys to defeat them, you’ll punch, kick, or hit them several times to take them out. Freedom Planet is also a big fan of putting in multipart stages, and mini-bosses. Some of these are really imposing, and lead you to believe you’re at the end of a stage. Only to discover you still have a way to go.

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Boss fights themselves are grandiose in Freedom Planet. These moments feel more like playing an arcade beat ’em up than they do a platformer. Although you’ll discover they have attack patterns, again in the vein of a Mega Man X title. But some of these, especially toward the end of the game can be really impressive in both challenge, and visual flair.

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Freedom Planet also has the courtesy to grant players four different difficulty levels. If you’re absolutely horrible at this sort of platformer, or even platformers in general the Casual setting is for you. It is nearly impossible to lose a life if you’re even remotely good at these kinds of games. But from there you have Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulty settings. With the latter going very much into the “Get good!” end of things. Aesthetically, everything in the game is beautiful. Galaxy Trail’s pixel artists should be commended for just how well they’ve recreated the look of games of the early 90’s. As you play through this one, you’ll be constantly reminded of those days on the Genesis, and Super NES. It really is a beautiful game to look at. The soundtrack is just as good, going for the twinge lo-fi synth of the Sega Genesis, and early computer sound cards like the AdLib. The tunes themselves are filled with hooks, and melodies you’ll want to hum along to. If you want a game that will satisfy your nostalgia, while giving you something new, this fits the bill.

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There are also some other small galleries you can visit when not playing the main game. Throughout the main game are cards you can find, and these will unlock sound files, songs from the soundtrack, and concept art in these galleries. Not something that the average player might get into. But for players who become big fans of the story, characters, and lore, it gives an incentive to replay the game a few times.

Of course, I did have a few minor complaints with this one that may be bigger concerns for someone else. First off, because it adheres so closely to many of Sonic The Hedgehog’s rules it has some of the annoyances. There are times you’ll have to make blind jumps, only to land on an enemy or a hazard. This can lead to some moments of trial, and error. While not a major problem that ruins the game, Some might feel it detracts from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

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Another issue is near the end of the game there is a shoot ’em up stage, and it doesn’t feel up to the same standard as the rest of the game. The bigger issue is there is no checkpoint after completing it. It is considered a part of the following stage, which is a pretty long one. So if you run out of lives, shut off the game, and come back to it later you’ll have to play the entire shmup part again. So unfortunately, instead of feeling like some variety, it ends up feeling like padding. Again, not a problem that makes the game unplayable by any means. But it really could have used a checkpoint at the end.

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Overall though, Freedom Planet is a wonderful platformer. It feels like an homage to Sonic, and Mega Man X while also being unique enough to stand on its own. It has some of those mechanics, but it adds enough of its own original ideas, and tweaks thus avoiding becoming a forgettable wannabe. In fact, the game did well enough when it launched three years ago that a sequel is around the corner. So whether you play it on the Wii U, PC, or the recent release on the PS4 you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Double Dragon IV Review

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Double Dragon. It was one of the most successful franchises Technos Japan ever put out. In 1987 this series began life as an arcade game, where it kick started the Beat ’em up genre as we know it today. It was so popular, it was ported to nearly every platform imaginable, including the Atari 2600, and the Commodore 64 would see TWO versions. The most popular of the ports was the NES version, which played differently, and expanded the stages. This trend of expanded, and added levels would continue with Double Dragon II, and become one of the best games in the NES library. Even though Double Dragon games would continue to appear on everything, the NES versions would always stand out. This new game is an homage to that fact.

PROS: Looks, feels, and plays like an NES Double Dragon sequel. New content.

CONS: Severe lack of basic options. Background graphics don’t always jibe with sprites.

GEARS: If you thought Double Dragon II had tough platforming sections……….

Technos Japan has been sold around a few times over the last decade, and with every sale something has been attempted with Double Dragon. The GBA’s Double Dragon Advance came out to some acclaim remaking the original on the handheld. Double Dragon Trilogy gave us the three Arcade versions, but with some nagging issues. Way Forward’s Double Dragon Neon came out to some mixed reception. Some thought it was good, others not so good. But all agreed it was a bit of a parody of the series, and the time it came out in.

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Arc System Works has instead played Double Dragon straight. Double Dragon IV takes place in the series’ continuity, placing it after the events of Double Dragon II, and before the events of Double Dragon III. The story here is that after the defeat of the Black Shadow Boss, there was a worldwide Armageddon. The breakdown of society led to rival street gangs gaining more notoriety. The Lee Brothers end up fighting a new threat along with the old ones. The story even works in Technos Japan’s other game, Renegade. The Renegade gang here are actually very close designs to the bikers, and martial arts masters introduced in that series. Which is clever as it cements the notion that all of these games are part of the same universe. Double Dragon, Renegade, and maybe even River City Ransom.

Unfortunately, the Cinema screen texts don’t always explain everything very well. So if you don’t take the extra few minutes to play it out in your head before starting the next stage, you can get confused. Of course being a Double Dragon game, at some point Marian gets taken hostage again, and you have to get her. But rescuing her isn’t the main objective in this iteration of the series.

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The game itself reminded me an awful lot of Capcom’s Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10. Arc System Works has taken essentially the same approach here. Many of the character sprites you went up against in the NES versions of Double Dragon I, and II are all here. The Renegade characters have been redone in a way that fit the style of those games as well. But Double Dragon IV also gives us a number of entirely new characters to fight too.

As Mega Man 9 brought back the familiar movements, and play control of Mega Man 2, Double Dragon IV looks, plays, and feels like Double Dragon II. Except it doesn’t retain the arcade version’s punch, and kick mirroring. In that game facing right or left would remap the attack buttons. In this game the punch button is always the punch button, and the kick button is always the kick button. If you loved playing the first three NES Double Dragon ports, you’ll absolutely love playing through this.

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Making the game feel even sweeter, are the new moves they’ve added. You can do a few new standing, and wake up attacks including this M.Bison\Vega\Dictator torpedo move. But your enemies have also been given a lot of new moves. Abobo has a new bad ass dragon punch. Burnov has an upgraded back drop. Linda has a crippling new back elbow. That’s on top of the super moves the new cast has. Expect a lot of out of nowhere RKO levels of shock on your first time play through.

Double Dragon IV is also one of the longest games in the series. It’s almost as long as Super Double Dragon/Return Of Double Dragon on the Super NES. Most of the stages go on for at least as long as a typical NES entry’s stage does. But there are some that are shockingly short, and others that are mystifying long levels. Some of these also see the return of Double Dragon II’s platform jumping death traps. Others also see the return of mazes. So choose the right doors! These sections can frustrate you if you don’t get them right. Not just because losing tends to do that, but because you have three lives, and five continues to beat the entire game. Most screw ups in these areas cost an entire life bar.

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But if you keep playing, and slowly mastering the super moves like the Jean-Claude Van Damme Cyclone Kick, Dolph Lundgren Jugular Uppercut, and Chuck Norris Kneecap to the face of body launching, you can win. Like the NES forebears, it’s all about learning the timing of these moves, and on what frames to break them out on. Really, other than the cruelty of some of the jumping puzzles, and some backgrounds not meshing well with the sprites (Some of the backgrounds look like the digitized photo backgrounds on Super NES, and Genesis games) fans will like it. If you’ve never played a Double Dragon game it’s still a fun time, though they geared things toward those who have been fans since the late ’80s. The soundtrack is also very good, both reprising series’ mainstays, and bringing new songs. You can choose to play with an all new up tempo synth rock inspired soundtrack, or you can play the game with the soundtrack done entirely in chip tunes. Either is great!

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As a game, it’s easy to recommend Double Dragon IV. It’s fun to play, and again feeling like they took the lessons of Capcom’s Blue Bomber retro comeback to heart. They even went as far as updating Double Dragon’s NES fighting game mode. That’s right, as you play you can unlock the game’s characters for a 1-on-1 street fight. And it’s as fun as you remember. It won’t be a replacement for your Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, or Guilty Gear fix. But it is a nice distraction from the main game. If you beat the game there’s also a survival mode called Tower you can play. Basically, you survive enemy waves for as long as possible.

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Sadly, I can’t whole heartedly tell you to rush out, and buy this. Because there are a couple of major problems with it. None of them stem from the game play, but they are all bothersome. The first problem is the lack of options. There are none. At all. You can remap your controller, or keyboard. That is it. No video modes. No rendering multiple resolutions. No filters. Nothing. The second issue is that the game has no in-game full screen ticker. Those with minimal computer knowledge will be completely bewildered that they have to play the game in a window. A window that you can’t even resize. Those who do know a little something will be pressing ALT+ Enter to force it into full screen. The third problem is, that even though you can force the game into full screen, you can’t do anything about the aspect ratio. You can’t choose between 4:3 or 16:9 or 16:10. In short, you’re stuck playing windowed unless you know to press ALT + Enter on your keyboard. With zero options.

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I don’t think anyone expected a smorgasbord of PC options. But most games at the very least give a few filter options, and some resolution options. This game is also locked to 30 fps, and you can’t even turn off V-sync. Most PC players want the option as it frees up performance, even if it means seeing some screen tearing. It’s unfortunate that Double Dragon IV is this devoid of any performance options, or options for visual flair.

Overall, Arc System Works has given us an excellent Double Dragon sequel. But it has been marred by a terrible menu, and menu U.I. I can’t speak to the console version of the release in this regard, having only played it on the computer. Even still, for console players, the lack of any filter effects may be a turn off. At least it may for those who prefer to simulate the color blending look of an old CRT with their retro themed games. Or digital retro re-releases for that matter. If you can deal with the anemic menu options, and missing features you’ll still have a fun time with Double Dragon IV. If you can’t, then you may want to see if Arc System Works patches in some menu fixes first.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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.

 

 

Mighty No. 9 Review

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Released last year under a mountain of controversy, Comcept’s, and Inti Creates’ spiritual successor to Mega Man was met with reactions from reviled to merely tepid. Suffice it to say, people didn’t like it. This didn’t come without good reason. But now that the dust has begun to settle, there’s a question left over. Is Mighty No. 9 really that bad?

PROS: Voice acting, character designs, a few inventive moments.

CONS: Unbalanced stages, poor graphics, technical issues, dash mechanic.

LUCK: You’ll need a lot of it in key areas.

In some ways, yes Mighty No. 9 is that bad. I listed many of the reasons under the cons. Graphics are the first thing we notice when firing up any game. In this game your first thought is going to be “Oh no.” Remember the later Mega Man X games on the PlayStation 2? Mighty No. 9 has a very similar look. 2.5D with low quality textures, and simple geometry. In this game everything renders at 1080 p so it looks a lot sharper. But it also makes many of the games sprites look grainy, as they don’t appear to have been made in HD. So the higher resolution actually makes some parts look worse.

This is especially true of explosions, bullets from your arm cannon, menu items, and background touches. This results in some really jarring moments. On the plus side, the character designs are pretty cool. Especially when you meet the other bosses. These are the moments that remind you of classic Mega Man games, fighting robot masters in confined spaces.

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Gameplay is about what you’d expect. Like the Mega Man, and Mega Man X series you choose the order of stages in the hopes of finding the best route through the game. Every boss has a weapon you can assimilate, and you have to figure out which weapon defeats which boss. Unfortunately, even this aspect of the game isn’t nearly as good as it is in the games it borrows from.

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious being technical issues. For whatever reason, Mighty No. 9 suffers from terrible slowdown in certain spots. Reportedly, some versions are far worse than others. I played the PC version, so I can’t comment on any of the console versions. But I think it’s safe to say no matter what version you play, you’re going to get frustrated. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why the slowdown occurs. I tried lowering the settings to rock bottom, it still happens. And there are a fair number of options you can change in the PC version. You can also play it with a keyboard, but you really do want to use a game pad. Especially with some of the problems here.

These issues don’t make the game impossible, but they immediately begin to sour you on things. Lowering the fun factor further is the unbalanced nature of stages. When playing any given level you’ll often find a spot that has over the top difficulty in it. Usually involving enemies that swarm you, a pixel perfect jumping section surrounded by traps that kill you instantly, or both.

Now, the Mega Man series has sections filled with death traps that require pixel perfect jumps, and maneuvers. The differences are that 1.) in most cases they don’t come out of nowhere, and 2.) the controls are tighter. In Mega Man, these areas often come up after you’ve been eased in. A room will introduce you to something new to learn. You’ll use that in subsequent rooms, each gradually adding onto the challenge until you learn well enough to feel comfortable taking on that giant trap. Case in point, the infamous death beams way back in the Quick Man stage in Mega Man 2. You got a taste early, but after figuring it out quickly, you played through the stage, and when it brought it up again, only harder, it was a challenge. But it didn’t feel insurmountable. You got a feeling of persistence.

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In Mighty No. 9 these sections seem to just come out of the blue. Moreover, you don’t have quite the same level of control. So you’ll get into an area, have no idea what to do, and just be plunged into it. No teaser, no taste, no feeling of “Oh THAT’S what I need to do.” When you finally do figure it out, it won’t be a sense of discovery, it will be a sense of dismay. “Are you kidding me?” is probably the most common question you’ll scream aloud. Your fun will be decreased even more when you discover that instead of refining things, the game brute forces you through by giving you random power ups as you near the end of your lives. As if to say “Here, take a lot of damage, but scrape by with some beefed up power, and E-Tanks.” That doesn’t make it more fun, that just cements the fact that the designers realized they’ve created a chore rather than a challenge. There are also a few gameplay moments that get repeated throughout stages, the biggest being what I call swarm rooms, where you have to clear a wave of enemies before you can continue.

Another difference between this, and Mega Man are how you find replenishments. In the Mega Man games, you gain health, and ammunition two ways. Finding them drop out of robots when you kill them, or else in the play field. Sometimes you might have to solve a puzzle or have a certain robot master’s weapon to get them. But pretty straightforward. In Mighty No. 9 you have to use the game’s dash mechanic. This works like the one in Mega Man X. You can press the shoulder button, or double tap. When you shoot low-level bad guys enough times, they’ll glow blue, red, green, or yellow. Then you have to dash into them. The blue ones fill your E-Tank (of which you can have two), the green ones speed you up, and the red ones make your arm cannon more potent. Yellow reduces the damage you take from getting hit. You’ll also have to use the dash to get over a lot of the game’s pitfalls.  The thing is, the dash is also a tad bit slippery here. So you’ll sometimes hit spikes you wouldn’t have in Mega Man X, or fall into pits you wouldn’t have in Mega Man. This makes those aforementioned death sections all the more infuriating. So again, it’s no wonder this game has the bad reputation it does.

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But I will say it isn’t all bad. The bosses, and subsequent fights are generally pretty cool. These are the parts of the game where it starts to feel a little bit more like a good Mega Man game again. There are some interesting patterns to learn, and the designs of the bosses are honestly pretty awesome. They also make some of the death sections moot if you play them in the correct order. This is because they come back to help you in the story, which clears out some of the hazards. In these moments, Mighty No. 9 becomes pretty fun, and entertaining. This is in part because of some wonderful performances from the actors. All of the characters have personality, and flair because of them. Even Steven Blum shows up in it, as a boss!  That boss fight is also interesting because they do something original with it. You have to explore the level, and find him three times before it unlocks the boss room for you to face him. It’s a genuinely fun moment. Of course, the discovery of boss order is also ruined when you realize that the correct stage to play adds a second advice tab on its description. If you click said tab, you’ll hear the boss you defeated last, give dialogue. At this point, you just look for whichever level has the extra audio log displayed before entering.

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Another fun moment, (aside from an infuriating death trap section) is when you get to take control of the Roll stand-in, and infiltrate a base. It’s a Metal Gear themed stealth mission. But it’s done well, and shows off a completely different play style rather than just slap Mighty No. 9’s mechanics onto a different model. Even the boss in the level takes advantage of that. The final stage is a hodgepodge of everything you force yourself to learn throughout the game, and without giving too much away, the final encounter both requires you to know the mechanics, as well as getting lucky with item drops. At least in an initial play through. I will also give the soundtrack a nod in that the end credits feature a really cool performance from Mega Ran, as well as a chip tune OST you can turn on in the options. None of them are as memorable as the ones in early Mega Man games, but they aren’t half bad, and fit the action well.

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Mighty No. 9’s story isn’t too much different from the original Mega Man’s either. All of the robots in America go haywire, and Mighty No. 9 has to go save the day. The alterations here are that the enemy robots aren’t destroyed. Instead, their defeat somehow removes the computer virus making them go awry, and they grant Mighty No. 9 their weapon program afterwards. There’s even a Dr. Wily stand-in, although they throw in a twist you can see coming from a mile away.

If you do happen to become a super fan somehow, Mighty No.9 does have other modes that unlock as you play. These are a combination of timed challenges, co-operative challenges, and then some competitive internet speed runs. The trouble is, that with the lack of online players you’ll likely never play the speed runs, or co-op challenges.

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Mighty No. 9 made a lot of Worst Of 2016 lists. Really, the game itself probably isn’t the worst released last year. It has numerous problems, no doubt. But it’s still functional enough to play through. There are bright spots in it where it becomes fun as well. If not for the technical issues, and design flaws, this could have been above average. And you can see while playing where whatever happened behind the scenes during development killed potential. If the game looked as good in those early teasers, and played as well as the NES Mega Man games like it was supposed to, we’d be looking at a really good game. Instead, we’re looking at a barely average game marred further by a controversial development cycle. We’ll probably never learn what went wrong, or why it took so much money to give us something this ugly, unbalanced, and hobbled. If you’re morbidly curious about it, you could do worse. But you should probably invest in that Mega Man 2 Game Pak  for your NES instead. Or any of the Mega Man collections. Really any Classic Mega Man game will do.

Final Score: 5 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