Tag Archives: Xbox 360

U Youse Gaming Headset Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Elgato HD60 PRO PCI Express Capture Card Review

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Maybe you’ve decided you want to migrate old home video footage to your computer through a daisy chain of adapters. Or maybe you’ve decided you want to dip your toes in the waters of video production. Or perhaps, (more likely) you’ve decided you want to capture video game footage for your fledgling YouTube channel. Or maybe you’ve decided you want to try your hand at streaming video games on Twitch. Whatever the reason, you’re going to need to find a way to get that content to the intended audience through the use of your computer.

PROS: Excellent build quality. Small enough to fit any case type. Intuitive software.

CONS: Drivers are tied to software utilities.

LTTP: Retro Speed Run streamers will need to find a good scaler to use with it.

Enter the Elgato HD60 PRO. You can find this in either a PCI Express card for your desktop computer, or you can find an external version that connects to your machine with a USB 3.0 cable. We’ll be taking a look at the internal card version here, as that’s the version I bought after getting a better than expected tax return this year.

The Elgato HD60 PRO comes in an attractive package. There’s a sleek slip cover over a gate fold box. Upon opening that box, you’ll be greeted with the card itself, a booklet, a HDMI cable, and a handy low profile bracket for those with a flex case. You’ll know if you have a flex case, they tend to be used on computer models that go for the small, sleek, and rectangular look. Often times these cases do not have the height needed for expansion cards. Yet, they’re often built using motherboards that do allow for some expansion. Unfortunately, this usually means hunting for specialty “Half-Height” or “Low Profile” cards. So it is nice that this card comes with that low profile bracket. If you have such a computer, and want to stream your PlayStation 4 games through it, this card makes that possible.

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Once you have the card installed, you may or may not be surprised to find no CD or Flash Drive in the box. Elgato doesn’t include drivers in the box. Instead, you have to go directly to their site to get them. And they don’t simply give you the drivers, they include them in their software utilities. This is the first of the two grievances I have with the product. In the grand scheme of things both are fairly small. But they do make things needlessly complicated. The software itself is actually quite intuitive. But it is broken up across a few different utilities depending on what you want to do with it. There is an audio utility for those who only want to capture sound. The Game Capture HD utility which records video, as well as streams video. The Control Center for managing accessories. Finally, there’s the Stream Deck which is for the optional Stream Deck device. You don’t have to download the latter two, but you may just want to get them, and install them anyway in case the need should arise.

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The main one you’ll really need is the Game Capture HD utility. As I mentioned before, this is a great piece of software. But even if you’ve decided to use something else, you’ll need to install it because it contains the drivers for Windows 10. Without those, your computer won’t know what you’ve installed into the motherboard. If you do decide to use the Game Capture HD though, you’ll be surprised at how simple it is to navigate.

There’s a clearly marked button for the capture settings you want to use. You can go with standard resolutions like 480, 720p, or 1080p, and you can set the frame rate to record at 30 or 60 Frames per second (FPS). If your computer is newer, you shouldn’t have any problem running things on higher settings with newer consoles. If your system is older though, you can tinker with the settings until your happier with the performance. Do make sure your system is above the minimum requirements before you buy this or any expansion for your computer though. If you don’t have compatible hardware, you’re not going to have a great experience. Still, my machine is getting long in the tooth, (i7 4770k, 16GB RAM, a 250GB SSD, 1TB SSD, and an Nvidia GTX760) yet had zero issues using this card.

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The software also has an easy to spot recording button, and streaming button. Once you tie the software to your appropriate account (Twitch, YouTube, etc.) it easily syncs up with your settings there, and just seems to work. At least it did for me. There are also a host of preset overlays you can choose to use, all of which can also be customized. You can import your own art, websites, banners, and more. You can put in a webcam PIP. You can run a green screen. The software is an amazing little utility. Especially if you’re not familiar with video production, or you’re new to streaming. When you are streaming you can easily move back and forth between full screen gameplay or windowed with your various settings around it.

Other easy to tweak settings are sounds like your microphone, and game audio levels. You can have the software lower game audio while you’re talking for example. You can also tinker with your bit rate settings so you can try to find a balance between performance, and clarity for your stream as well. It doesn’t however have a lot of options for specific plug-ins. You can work around this by adding website links to things that will behave like a plug-in. Like a chat box for example. But there aren’t a slew of dedicated Elgato software plug-ins.

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That said, other utilities like OBS, and XSplit give you a lot more freedom if you’re willing to take the time to learn how to use their features properly, and experiment. If you want to really do more unique things with your channel, and you’re looking to be a more professional looking personality on a streaming or video site you’ll want to either master using one of those, or buy a more feature-rich suite that the card is compatible with.

I’ve really liked using this card thus far. It has an excellent build quality, and it outputs as well as inputs. That means you can take the feed from your Nintendo Switch dock for example, and bring it into the card to be processed. But you can also run a second HDMI cable out to a TV or Monitor. This makes it especially nice if you’re looking to multitask on a computer screen, while you’re playing a game on the second one. Those who want to have Twitch opened in one window, their utility of choice (Elgato, OBS, XSplit, etc) in another don’t have to worry about having to play the game windowed, or continually have to Alt+Tab between things constantly.

Of course, it isn’t going to be perfect for everyone. The other minor issue for me is this card doesn’t have legacy inputs on it like Composite, or S-Video. So if you want to use it to stream things like NES games you’ll need to get an adapter or scaler to convert the signal. For merely capturing footage this is fine, but for streaming speed runs, keep in mind this will induce a little bit of input lag. A really high-end scaler like the hallowed Framemeister will be a safe bet for reducing it to a minimum, but if you don’t have that kind of money there are a wide variety of options. But you’ll have to do a fair amount of research to see what device in your budget will give you the best results.

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The other thing to consider are the number of other cards that do include legacy support. If you’re planning on mostly recording from legacy consoles, or want to digitize old analog VHS or Beta tapes from elder family members, you may not need to get a separate scaler with one of those other cards. However, not all of those other products are built as nicely, and few have a utility as seamless, and easy to figure out as Elgato’s downloadable one. Really you’ll have to decide on your own which route is the way to go.

That being said, I’m actually quite pleased with this card. The performance has been excellent, it has a great build quality, as well as fit, and finish. The software utility while, broken up across two programs, and two optional ones, is intuitive. It’s very easy to use, especially for someone like myself who isn’t as familiar with customizing things in OBS as many streamers, and YouTube personalities are. If you’re just starting out, and want something you can get into using right away, this is an excellent card. It might cost more, but the convenience, and quality are worth it. Just remember if you’re looking to broadcast speed runs of games on consoles of old with it you’ll want to find a scaler that can mitigate some of the inevitable input lag to go along with it. For anything current though, the Elgato HD60 PRO is a winner.

(Minimum Requirements: OS: Windows 10 64-Bit. CPU: Intel Core i5 series 4 or newer. Graphics: Intel HD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 600 series or better. Expansion slot: A free PCIe x1/x4/x6/x16 slot on your motherboard.)

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Time Pilot Review

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Time Travel. It is a widely used theme in fiction, and video games have been no exception. It was a plot device in Chrono Trigger. It was used it Timesplitters. It was used in Time Slip. It has even been used in multiple Final Fantasy games, including the first one. So it should be no surprise that even in the golden age of arcade machines, developers would take a crack at the idea. Today’s game was one of Konami’s efforts. Before Contra, and Castlevania there was Frogger. Somewhere in between these franchises came Time Pilot.

PROS: Tight controls. Nice visual details.

CONS: Cheap A.I.. Home versions missing features.

GREAT SCOTT: There are no DeLorean cars, but there are space ships.

Released in 1982, with ports following a year later, Time Pilot is both original, and derivative. It came at a time when many games were about blowing up ships, for big points, and the high score. However it is also a game where the enemies change vastly between waves. Something that, while simple, seems to add some variety.

So what do you do in Time Pilot? You destroy enemies for points. But there are some nuances about it. Each wave of enemies takes place in a different era. When you first begin the game, you’ll be in the year 1910. So you’ll be smack dab in the middle of early biplanes. Upon seeing you, they’ll swarm you, and do their best to shoot you down. So you’ll go along, blowing up planes. Once you’ve destroyed enough of them, a boss will appear. The first boss is a giant zeppelin. If you can manage to take it down, your ship will flash, and warp ahead in time.

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Wave two takes place in the year 1940. So you’ll be taking down biplanes in the midst of World War II dogfights. These planes also drop bombs in addition to shooting bullets at you. So the game’s difficulty inches upward as a result. If you can survive long enough, and destroy enough planes you’ll be attacked by the boss: a bomber. Manage to shoot it down, and you’ll again warp ahead.

Wave three gets you to 1970, and you’ll be going up against a ton of helicopters. These have much wilder flight patterns than the planes you were going up against, and so you can again expect things to get a bit tougher. You’ll face an even bigger helicopter in a boss fight. If you can defeat the boss you jump ahead again.

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Wave four jumps ahead twelve years to 1982, and so the enemies change to what was contemporary. Fighter jets. The jets are faster than anything you’ve faced at this point, and like the helicopters, have heat seeking missiles! If somehow you can take down enough of these you’ll go up against a B-52 bomber. If by some miracle you survive all of this, you’ll jump ahead.

The final wave takes you to 2001. So naturally you’ll be going up against extraterrestrial U.F.O.s. This stage has so much random craziness in its attack patterns. You’ll fight a mothership of course, and taking it down is quite the challenge. If you manage to do so the game starts over, and each wave the difficulty amps up even more. You can also get big points by rescuing other pilots in each era who can be found parachuting. Just fly over them, and nab the bonuses.

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Time Pilot had a few official ports although there were unofficial clones on home computers like the Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. As far as the officially licensed ones go, they appeared on the MSX computer in Japan, and in North America on the Atari 2600, and Colecovision. The 2600, and Colecovision versions were published by Coleco. The game has been included in several compilations, and services for the PlayStation, Xbox 360, Gameboy Advance, and Nintendo DS.

Visually, Time Pilot is pretty nice, and the 8-bit sprites hold up pretty well. the clouds , planes, and bosses all scroll around smoothly, and the performance is pretty good. Every version looks pretty good, with the Colecovision running neck, and neck with the MSX version. The Colecovision includes most of the features found in the arcade version albeit with less detailed sprites, and animation. The paratroopers are there, the erratic patterns of enemy waves, and all of the firepower. However, it is missing the 2001 UFO wave which seems to be a glaring oversight.

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The 2600 version looks better than you might expect, however there aren’t multiple flight paths for the enemies. So every enemy wave member flies in the same pattern. The enemies also don’t have any secondary weapons, and the bosses can be taken out in a single hit, making this the easiest of the home versions. It also doesn’t have the paratroopers. It’s still a pretty solid effort though, and even includes the 2001 wave the Colecovision version omits. It’s also an uncommon game on the Atari 2600 so it’s one of a handful of VCS games you’ll pay more than the usual $5 for.

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The compilation on the PlayStation, and the Xbox 360 probably have the best way to play the original game, as the arcade ROM displays nicely on a TV. The Gameboy Advance port on the Konami Collector’s Series: Arcade Advanced , is also worth looking into though. Because although it switches around the orientation for its smaller screen, it also includes a prehistoric stage not seen in any other version of Time Pilot. If you have a way to play it on a TV through a Gamecube GBA player or the Retrobit GBA Adapter cartridge console for the Super NES, you may just want to track it down. The DS Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits compilation is also a nice option if you like to play old school games on the go. The 3DS family also plays the DS games so it’s another option if you have the newer handheld.

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All in all, this is a wonderful game that often gets overlooked in the realm of classics. It’s arguably deeper than other Konami classics like Scramble, or Super Cobra, and yet it doesn’t seem as fondly remembered as either of those classic games. It’s a shame because Time Pilot really is an addictive action game that will please anyone who enjoys high-score challenges, or any form of shoot ’em ups. Whether you play the original arcade version or any of the ports, Time Pilot shouldn’t be missed. It can be short, and one could argue repetitive. But the change in time periods, enemies, and strategies go a long way in keeping things fun, and interesting. Which is probably why the idea was revisited in Time Ace.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Boulder Dash XL 3D Review

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Way back in 1984 came an excellent platform puzzle game called Boulder Dash. It was a big hit on home computers of the time. The Atari 400/800 version came first, but the game made its way to the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and some of the consoles like the Colecovision. There was even an NES port. Over the years it has seen newer versions. Some by First Star Software, the company who created it. Others by different developers who were licensed to do so.

PROS: A really great take on Boulder Dash with some refinements.

CONS: Some of the tweaks aren’t intuitive.

ROBOTS: Your quasi-human miners have been replaced by automatons.

In 2012, a small outfit called Catnip made a new version for the Xbox Live service, and computers called Boulder Dash XL. It replaced the main characters with robot interpretations, but it retained the spirit of the original game fairly well. It also added a few new spins on the game which I’ll get to in a bit. Boulder Dash XL 3D is a port of that game to the 3DS. This port was done by the folks at Ludosity who went on to make the well received Princess Remedy games on Steam.

For the uninitiated, Boulder Dash is a series where you collect diamonds while mining. You’re given a few minutes to get a certain number of diamonds, and then make your way to the exit. You do this, by moving around the stages, digging dirt, and picking them up. The challenge of course is trying to get these without getting crushed. Much like the rocks in Dig Dug, digging out the dirt from beneath the boulders will cause them to fall. You can also be crushed by the very diamonds you collect.

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But where Dig Dug focused more on defeating all of the bad guys in the stage to advance, Boulder Dash does a lot more with the boulders (hence the name.). Boulders, and diamonds will shift to the left or the right as they fall on top of one another.  When you first start out, the earliest levels are pretty easy to figure out. You’ll find you can get the required number of diamonds, and get to the exit. There’s a bit of risk/reward too in that you can also try to get all of the diamonds for bonus points rather than just the required number to exit. Of course, getting all of the diamonds requires nearly flawless puzzle solving skills. Often times making a mistake will not only keep you from getting that last diamond, but may get you trapped between boulders, forcing you to restart.

But its a very engrossing formula, and this version adds a host of new mechanics to an already fun game. There are transporters, there are boxes that turn boulders into diamonds, and vice versa. They even added a few power ups on some levels that are used in a number of puzzles. That’s in addition to some of the newer takes on enemy types featured here. There is a large wealth of content here too. There are around 100 stages or more for you to play through. This edition also has several modes in it.

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The primary mode is the Arcade mode, where the game puts you through the 100 stages in a row. This mode works with the traditional Boulder Dash rules. You’re given a time limit, and you have to get the qualifying number of diamonds to make the exit appear so you can escape as quickly as possible for the most time points. Again, getting every diamond is worth a huge bonus, but you risk running out of time, or trapping yourself if you don’t get them just right.

Next up is Puzzle mode, which gives you a 25 stage gauntlet. Every stage you complete can be replayed at any time, but you’ll have to beat them all in a row in order to see them all. This mode eschews the time limit, giving you more time to experiment, and figure out exactly how the level designers wanted you to find your way out of the mazes.

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Zen mode is essentially the Arcade mode but without the time limit. So in a way it feels like a giant practice mode where you can try to fine tune your techniques on each of the stages to minimize the amount of time it takes you to clear them. It’s pretty neat from that particular perspective, but most will likely prefer the Arcade mode over it since it’s a lot more high stakes, which feels more rewarding when you succeed.

 

Score mode features four stages where you can either try to go for the time bonus or you can try to get every last diamond possible. To get the best scores, you’ll likely have to skip a number of diamonds as it’s a balance of knowing how many diamonds, and how many seconds left on the clock will get you in terms of points. It’s an interesting concept some players may enjoy. To me it isn’t as interesting as the Puzzle mode, or as fun as the Arcade mode. But still fun to check out.

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Retro mode is one of the coolest inclusions in this game. It’s a combination of stages from the original game, as well as all new stages specific to this iteration. The interesting thing it does is replace all of the textures with the original 8-bit tile sprites from the Commodore 64 version of the first Boulder Dash. There are 25 stages in this set, and for older people like me who pick this up, the nostalgia it conjures up is great. But for people who never played the original, the newer stages are still a nice challenge. So even if you pick this up having never played the original, this mode gives you more content to enjoy.

 

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Visually, the main game on display here is pretty nice. The blocks, boulders, and diamonds all look pretty good, and the monsters all have pretty interesting takes on their original designs. There’s also a pretty good use of lighting considering the obviously smaller budget when compared to a lot of the big hits on the 3DS. Be that as it may, the change from the humanoid miners to robots is a bit weird. It by no means hampers the game. It isn’t going to make any old timers scream “Sacrilege!” to the heavens. It’s just a small change that doesn’t make any sense. As for the 3D, I couldn’t really test that out, as I own a 2DS which doesn’t have the 3D functionality. But honestly this isn’t the kind of game that requires 3D to enjoy. In terms of performance, I didn’t run into any major issues, though there was some minor slowdown when I caused a slew of boulders to fall at once. Still, it didn’t get in the way of the actual game play.

There isn’t much in the way of good audio here though. The soundtrack doesn’t have the up tempo, frazzled chip tune theme of the original. It has a mostly forgettable set list, with one or two songs that can even annoy a bit. Some of you may disagree, but honestly I think you’ll enjoy it more without the music playing. The sound effects themselves are fine. You can hear the falling boulders, and explosions perfectly well, and they fit the game as intended.

 

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Boulder Dash is one classic game that is perfectly suited to a portable platform. It’s the kind of game you can attempt to clear a map or two in during a lunch break, or commute. But you can also spend a weekend away, putting in a few hours into going for a high score, or solving puzzles. It’s also just a great game in its own right. This version on the 3DS is a pretty fun, and convenient iteration of the game. It’s probably not going to live up to the lofty heights of the original versions for those who grew up with them. But be that as it may this is (as Metal Jesus Rocks might say) a hidden gem in the 3DS library. It’s addictive. It’s fun. It’s Boulder Dash.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Alien Syndrome Review

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Throughout the 1980’s Sega was making its mark in arcades. It pushed what was possible in racing games, and rail shooters with Outrun, Space Harrier, and After Burner. It gave us the awesome Golden Axe, and the visually impressive Altered Beast. Unsurprisingly many of these games were ported to its own consoles, the Master System, and the Genesis. But there is one of their IPs that came, and went in this period. Something so familiar, and so different. Something so difficult, and yet addictive. I’m talking about Alien Syndrome.

PROS: Great visuals, atmosphere, music, and control (most versions).

CONS: Obscenely difficult. Dark Souls difficult. In deep space.

ALIENS: One of many blockbuster influences that can be seen here.

At its core, Alien Syndrome seems like a typical overhead shooter. You move either Ricky or Mary, depending on which player you are. As you go along, you kill various creatures for big points. But it isn’t so simple. Where previous overhead run n’ guns like Commando, or Ikari Warriors had you kill enemies, and charge to the end of a linear level, this doesn’t. Alien Syndrome is unrelenting about its premise. Your mission isn’t a simple matter of killing things, and getting to the end. Each stage is a ship, and on each of these ships are a number of survivors you have to rescue. Not only do you have to rescue these survivors, (who are stuck in cocoons the way the ones in Aliens were portrayed) you’re timed. Because each ship has initiated a self-destruct sequence a la Captain Kirk.

 

This is to ensure that the menacing invaders cannot make it to Earth in the event you fail your mission. Also because each stage is a ship, there are no straight runs to the north. Instead, each of the stages is a maze, with its own distinct layout. So you have to explore every last nook, and cranny looking for survivors. The survivors are represented by a row of heads. As you rescue them, they’re depleted from the bar. If things get tough, or confusing (which they will) each of the ships have a few maps. Finding these on the wall will pull up a map on  the screen. On the map are flashing pixels, that represent the survivors.

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Once you find all of the hostages, the game will prompt you to get to the exit so you can escape. But in each of the airlocks is a boss alien. These are large, and diverse. Each of them is imposing. Each of them has a powerful attack, and the later bosses employ some very tricky patterns. The bosses all look really cool too. For a title that has fallen into obscurity, it has some of the most memorable bosses in arcade game history. Even the very first boss, is the sort of thing you’ll wish were made into an action figure or statue. These designs are that good.

But, run n’ gun games are often only as exciting as their weaponry, and enemies. Alien Syndrome has a great many of each. Again, taking influence from the Alien movies, there are flame throwers, fire-ball guns, and grenade launchers. But there are others, like the blaster that shoots laser beams like the Imperial blasters in Star Wars. There are also temporary shields, and chess pieces you can find for points.

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How do you get these things? There are cubby holes on walls, marked with the appropriate letter for the weapon. For example L is the laser. The enemies are also varied throughout the game. In earlier stages you’ll fight brain slug creatures, but you’ll see everything from aliens to creatures that shoot their eyes as projectiles. Quite honestly, everything on display is really cool. Every ship has its own decor. So you won’t see a lot of the same tiles in subsequent levels. Some of the ships are what you would expect to see in a space-themed game. Steel floors, technical circuitry patterns for walls, and other touches. But other stages are completely alien (no pun intended.). Some ships seem like they’re made of flesh, others are like stone. Many of the stages have some really cool parallax scrolling effects on floors to represent pits or other pitfalls. And fall you will if you walk over them.

Alien Syndrome is quite the challenge too, because there isn’t a single moment where you aren’t attacked by a horde of aliens. You have to be quick on the draw, as well as quick to react. Dodging projectiles, enemy creatures, while trying to rescue people at the same time. The difficulty especially ramps up after the first stage, and the bosses will often hand you your own behind on a silver platter. There are also no continues, making your performance all the more important. It really does give you the visceral action of the genre, while providing other challenges.

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There are many ways to play Alien Syndrome as it was ported to a lot of platforms. Interestingly enough, the ports to Sega’s own Master System, and Game Gear resulted to almost entirely new games. The scrolling is gone. Instead things work on an almost flip-screen mechanic, only scrolling when reaching the end of the screen in a Castlevania door style transition. The other major changes are almost entirely different maps, and new bosses. The core concept is the same, and it retains the songs from the arcade machine. But these changes make for arguably the worst version of the game. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t play Alien Syndrome on the Master System. It is still a pretty good iteration. It’s brisk. It gives you the same style of gameplay in a new, and unexpected way. Rather, it isn’t the best option for those looking for a replicated experience on a retro console. If you do pick this one up though, you’ll want something other than the Master System Control Pad, because the sometimes mushy d-pad will have you accidentally walking into an alien, or projectile. I recommend the Sega Control Stick. It just seems more responsive in this game. For whatever reason, this game won’t see a Genesis controller properly, so the Sega Control Stick is the next best thing.

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The other two major versions I happen to own ate the Unlicensed Tengen NES port, and the Commodore 64 port. Both of these are pretty good, getting the stage layouts, enemy types, and overall feel pretty nicely. The Commodore 64 version fares especially well though, as it’s the most responsive version I own. Everything is fast, and smooth most of the time. While there can be a bit of slowdown when an awful lot is going on, it still performs better than the NES version overall. The C64 doesn’t have as large a color palette as the NES, but it somehow gets closer to the arcade experience in terms of visuals. The C64 also has the arcade cabinet’s animated attract mode, and a really good original soundtrack. It’s another example of the staying power of the computer’s SID sound chip.

But Tengen’s NES port is no slouch either. It still looks pretty good most of the time, and even manages to add some pretty cool cinema screens to amp up the experience. I should also note that while the C64 has the better soundtrack, the NES version also tries to replicate the arcade’s songs rather than experiment with them, or add new ones. While it isn’t as responsive or quite as fluid as the C64 version, it is the only one of the three to offer continues. On the C64, and SMS you’ll need to clear the game on a handful of lives. For those out there who don’t own a vintage computer, but you have an NES, and a SMS it’s a pretty close race. For authenticity the NES port wins, but the SMS version looks a bit nicer.

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Of course, all of this is moot if you have Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 or PS3 though. Because the arcade ROM was included in the compilation. You’ll have a nearly 1:1 experience at that point. Be that as it may, most of the home ports all offer a pretty great send up of the original. Alien Syndrome also appeared on the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Sharp X68000, MSX computers as well as MS-DOS.

It’s a shame this IP has lied so dormant over the years, aside from a brief, largely ignored game on the PSP, and Wii that played nothing like the original. Alien Syndrome is a fun, if difficult run n’ gun. If you have any of the platforms it appeared on, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. If you’re blessed to live near an arcade that has a working cabinet, do yourself a service, and put in a few quarters. With its challenge, memorable characters, and insane bosses, Alien Syndrome is one arcade classic you’ll never want to forget.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Choplifter HD Review

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

PROS: Classic gameplay with a few novel conventions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

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

Blood & Bacon Review

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Has there ever been a good horde game? I know there are good games with horde modes, to give you a break from the main game. I know you fight hordes in some really good FPS games like Serious Sam, Painkiller, Doom, Bulletstorm, or Shadow Warrior. But I wouldn’t call those horde games. More like FPS games where you have to fight a lot of baddies. But I’m talking games where you’re stuck in one tiny room, and fighting endless waves.

I honestly can’t think of one.  They claim to give you the fun, challenge, and high-score thrills of a twin stick shooter but they don’t. God Mode gave us monotony, R.I.P.D. re-skinned that monotony, and this game brings that same monotony with terrible jokes, and visuals your old PS1 could poop out in its sleep.

PROS: You can shoot the farmer in the dick.

CONS: Boring. So very boring.

PIGS: You’ll spend 99.9% of the time shooting them.

There really isn’t much to say about Blood & Bacon. It tries piling in new things every wave or two, yet you really see all there is to see in about five minutes. You choose from a handful of characters, and are thrust onto a farm where you must defend a farmer on his deathbed. By deathbed I mean barn wall. He’s impaled on a pitchfork, missing a leg, and coughing up blood. He is voiced terribly. No proper inflection on any of his lines. But you have to put up with him in order to start any given wave. The sole moment of actual fun in this game is shooting him in the genitals. That is it.

The rest of the game is spent running around the farm (which is around the size of the average front yard in my town. Ergo; not very big.) shooting pigs. Yep. That’s the game. Run around, and shoot pigs. I can hear the cries now. “But you like arcade games of the early 80’s. They’re repetitive! Why is this a problem?” Here’s the thing. Old games like Space Invaders are timeless. They have spot on control. They have a charm. Even in their simplicity you have an addictive set of rules, and gameplay that make you want to keep putting in quarters to be the leader on the board. They’re a lot of fun. Blood & Bacon isn’t.

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Oh the game certainly tries to make you think it is. Every few rounds, you get to try a new weapon. Every few rounds they introduce new kinds of pigs to shoot. There is even one round where they introduce pig skeletons. There are a couple of terrible physics devices you can use in the game, that seem like they’re better suited to something like Goat Simulator. Like a giant meat grinder you can kick dead pieces of pig into to get ammo crates. Or the electric fence you can turn on to fry pigs.

It even tries to go the zany route by having you juggle pieces of flesh in the air with successive shots. Bounce it enough times, and you get to see a fireworks display. Sounds like fun right? Well it isn’t.  With all of its feeble attempts at  silliness falling flat, it does try one last hurrah, by having the farmer spewing jokes. But between the bad voice acting, bad writing, and sheer lameness it does nothing to even begin to crack a smile.

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Gameplay is functional. There aren’t any crashes, at least it didn’t crash on me. Pigs take shots, and the mechanics seem random. One time you’ll shoot a pig in the face, and he’ll go down. Other times the same thing will blow its face off, and it will keep coming for you. Other pigs are bullet sponges. You’ll fire, fire, fire, and fire, only to realize you’re out of bullets after it’s been vanquished.

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After several rounds of this monotony, you’ll face a boss pig that sounds suspiciously like the farmer. At this point you’ll finally be facing something that can actually kill you, but you’ll be so bored to tears you won’t care. Every ten stages or so you’ll get a new boss, each as boring as the rest of the game. One of them will literally defecate on you. Being lowbrow didn’t save other titles, and it doesn’t save this one either. The game isn’t a looker by any stretch either. I wasn’t kidding when I said it can pass for a PlayStation game. It can. Blocky models, low resolution textures, and fuzzy audio all around. But again, you can have some fun with some of the sub par stuff on an old PS1. Blood & Bacon makes something like Mortal Kombat Special Forces seem interesting.

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Blood & Bacon gives you multiplayer, but it really isn’t any more fun with a friend. It’s still bland, boring, and banal. It is bad. It is very bad. Awful. But it isn’t the worst game you’ll ever play. Most of the time it’s just kind of there. In a way that can almost be worse than being completely horrible. In spite of the terrible graphics, and sound it’s a game that will leave no impact on you whatsoever. Really. In five minutes or less you’ll see all there is to see. Just skip it. There are plenty of good experiences for those on a shoe string budget elsewhere.

Final Score: 3 out of 10

King Of Fighters XIII Steam Edition Review

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Many people don’t realize this, but fighting games have made their way to computers for years. From Karate Champ, to Street Fighter, tournament fighters have been around on computers almost as long as consoles. There have even been some exclusives, like Body Blows, One Must Fall, and FX Fighter. Some of these were wonderful games, while others were pretty bad. In terms of arcade ports, there were highs, and lows. There was a period of course where the genre almost completely disappeared from personal computers.

That changed when Capcom’s Street Fighter IV made its way to computers. Not only was it an excellent version that took advantage of beefy hardware, it opened the floodgates bringing the genre back to a level on PCs unseen since the late 1990’s. SNK has been one of the major fighting game developers to follow Capcom’s lead. In some ways the Steam Edition of King Of Fighters XIII goes above, and beyond.

PROS: Everything from the console editions of the game. Performance options.

CONS: Buying it now means there isn’t a lot of online competition for you.

RUGAL: Is reduced to a cameo. But the game’s final boss also has SNK Boss Syndrome.

KOF 13 was in arcades back in 2010, and was ported to the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 a year later. The series goes all the way back to 1994, when SNK combined several of its fighting game franchises including Fatal Fury, and Art Of Fighting. Over the years it has added other SNK characters from a multitude of games spanning genres. Even the Ikari Warriors have found their way onto the roster.

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As is the case with Capcom’s Street Fighter, and Warner Bros’ Mortal Kombat the KOF games have a storyline. In most of them, there is an annual tournament in which the world’s greatest fighters come together to fight for supremacy. Usually as this is going on, there is an evil plot of sorts set in motion by a boss character. In the earlier games Rugal Bernstein was that boss character. In recent games he’s been replaced. Rugal was a character who was notoriously brutal. Players could easily spend ten dollars in quarters in arcade versions trying to beat him. On home editions over the years they could spend hours. Rugal’s insane difficulty led to the phrase “SNK Boss Syndrome”. To this day it’s parroted around whenever a boss in a game seems impossible to defeat.

Anyway, in this game a character named Ash takes Rugal’s spot, and continues the trend of SNK Boss Syndrome. But before you get to Ash you’ll go through several battles through either a traditional arcade ladder, or a story driven mode. Either one will have similar dialogue bubbles between fights, and cut scenes. The difference is that story mode ends the moment you lose a fight. So you’ll find yourself going back through the list of movies, finding the last one you watched, and restarting at that point. Arcade mode lets you continue on the spot. Story mode also opens up different paths through the short films depending on your character selection, and generated choices.

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What sets KOF apart from other fighting games is that you aren’t only choosing one character or a tag team. You choose a three member team. In Arcade mode you can choose any three people on the roster. In Story mode you’ll choose a predetermined team based on one of SNK’s many games. Most of them have a pretty healthy mix of styles, though some go more for grappling, ranged attacks, or speed. Instead of going 2 out of 3 rounds every fight you pick the order you will use your team mates. You go until either you defeat all of the opposing team, or until all of your characters are knocked out.  KOF XIII has a pretty deep fighting system as well. There are ways to have 1v1 fights too if so inclined, but really 3v3 is the standard in King Of Fighters.

You can set up all kinds of links, and combos in the game, and even use EX moves. This works similarly to Street Fighter, where you can do more powerful versions of special moves with your gauge. But beyond that is a robust cancel system, where advanced players can easily stop out of one move to combo into another, also at the cost of a meter. There is a Hyper Drive mode of this that has unlimited cancelling. Ironically within a time limit. Besides all of that, KOF XIII has finishers called Neo Max desperation moves. You can pull these off when you’ve completely maxed out your meters. Much like Street Fighter’s Supers, these will display quite the spectacle if you knock out all of an opponent’s energy when using one. The game also takes a page from Street Fighter III, and has a blocking meter. If you block too much, eventually it will deplete, and cause you to become stunned.

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KOF XIII also gives players a lot of content for their money. Besides the arcade mode, and its story mode variant you can play online or offline Vs. mode. Playing online gives you some nice filters. You can choose ranked or player matches. In the player matches you can choose regions, and preferred experience of opponents. You can also set up games with your friends, or allow people to challenge you in the middle of playing one of the single player modes. Ranked play lets you select a region for the game to pool opponents from. You can also choose quick matches where it will just pair you with the first available player.

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The game generally feels lag free online, and fairly smooth. At this point though, you might find it takes a while to find an opponent. That’s because the game is a couple of years old, and didn’t put up the numbers more popular fighting games had. That said, it isn’t a completely barren wasteland either, as a considerable number of people are still playing it. Most of them are going to be very formidable, since the bulk of the players are going to be made up of the core audience. Still, if you have a few friends with a copy you can enjoy the low latency in private matches.

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Obviously offline play will give you the best performance. KOF XIII supports multiple controllers, and is pretty accepting of most of the mainline ones. Fight sticks, 360 pads, and the Steam Controller all seem to work without a hitch. The game has a decent options menu where you can rebind keys, and choose a resolution. But it still doesn’t give you the performance options PC gamers expect. You can’t really tweak the level of AA, or texture quality, or sharpness of the sprites. You’re getting the minimum in those terms. Which is a bit disappointing considering how good the underlying gameplay is.

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But there are still plenty of things the game does right. You get the typical art galleries, where you can look at concept art, game assets, and movies. But beyond that you’ll get a pretty nice color customization option. Much like the one in Capcom Vs. SNK 2, you can change the palettes, and colors of every character in the game to make your own custom look. This is pretty cool because if you main a certain character, you can add a flair of personality to them. It would have been nice to see a full blown creator like the ones in pro wrestling games. But considering the large roster of hand drawn sprite characters, this is still pretty good.

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SNK also gets credit here for a pretty nice tutorial mode. One that almost forces you to learn the different nuances of the cancels, combos, and EX moves. It will keep re testing you until you get it right. Even during the main game it will throw little challenges at you. “Roll dodge three times” “Cancel a move” “Land a three hit combo using normal moves.” KOF XIII feels like it wants you to be good. Even if it does sometimes also feel like you should pick up the complexity fairly quickly. You’ll need to be at least competent to complete the arcade ladder or story mode, even on easy. You don’t have to be a tournament level player. But you’ll need to be competent at the basics. Because the final boss once again brings the SNK Boss Syndrome as I mentioned before. Knowing some of the advanced tactics helps a lot in this battle, because the game throws everything at you. Seemingly instantly.

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If you have trouble even after the tutorial, you are given a nice practice mode. In it you can select behaviors for the A.I. practice dummy, and spend time trying to make sure you’ve mastered a special move. Or experiment with trying to discover new combos. Or trying to practice how to perform many of the game’s cancels, and other advanced maneuvers. Beyond that, if you really want more practice you can try your hand at Mission mode. This mode lets you either take on the roster with one character until you beat them all or lose. You can play it timed, or not timed. Aside from that, you can also take a single character through a number of challenge lessons. Some of them are for learning certain combos. Others are different feats. Mastering some of them will be pretty frustrating for beginners since they’re very dependent on exact timing. But if you have the patience, you’ll find that learning a lot of the stuff here can be handy when playing with other people.

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Getting back to the boss fight a moment, you can’t really mash your way to victory during it. Because you can’t jump in, and mount an offense. Even if you are pretty good at the game, this fight is going to give you a lot of trouble. But whether you can win on your 3rd attempt or 475th attempt beating the boss will feel like an accomplishment. If you find yourself invested in the characters, and lore, you’ll want to at least play enough to see the different character paths, and scenes. Of which there are many. KOF XIII has 36 characters in it when all is said, and done. Some of these you’ll have to unlock, while the others are DLC characters that are hidden behind others. You select the DLC characters by pressing Select when choosing Iori, Kyo, or Takuma.

Most importantly though the game manages to be engaging enough for both the devoted series’ veterans, and the casual player who may only break it out when friends come over. Even if some of the advanced stuff may be intimidating to a newcomer. Plus the game gives you more content than a lot of other fighting games. Some late comers may even want to pick it up now to practice up for the upcoming KOF XIV, though there will undoubtedly be changes to the fighting system. This special Steam edition not only gives you everything from the console releases, but incorporates Steam cards as well. Not something that screams “BUY ME” but they are there for the Steam card fans out there.

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Overall, KOF XIII is a great game to pick up if you want a really good fighter you may have missed. If you already have it on a console, I don’t know that you need to double dip for this re-release. But if you’re new to the series, lapsed, or never got around to it on your game system of choice, picking up the definitive version on your computer is a great way to go. Especially with its low system requirements. One final caveat is that despite the similarity with some of Street Fighter’s features over the years, you should not try to play it like Street Fighter. King Of Fighters is a different beast altogether. Which is why it is a series that has endured for nearly as long. Some of its biggest fans may not rate it as high as some of the earlier games in the series. But it’s also one of the nicer fighting games you can play on your personal computer in recent years.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine Review

Relic has for the better part of a decade, made some really interesting RTS games based off of Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise. Each of these games has translated much of the tabletop board game to the world of video games. But in 2011, Warhammer would be thrown into the world of action games. Space Marine brought the lore of Warhammer to a slew of players who may have never touched an RTS or a tabletop game.

PROS: Beautiful graphics, and atmosphere. Solid performance. Multiplayer.

CONS: The game can be repetitive. Limited customization options Multiplayer lowly populated.

WHAT?: You have to unlock classes, and customization options.

For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40K is a decades long running tabletop board game. Featuring figurines for players to customize, Warhammer is about strategy. Battles play out with dice rolls while players keep stats of their armies’ strengths, weaknesses, and supplies. This is admittedly a gross oversimplification of a deep strategy game. But it gives you an idea of what one can expect. Warhammer has such a cult following that it actually spawned several computer RTS games. When Relic took the reigns we saw titles that captured the spirit of the board game version with all off the micromanagement computer strategy gamers love. But with Space Marine, Relic attempted to bring the property to action gamers who may have loved the character design, but for whatever reason couldn’t get into strategy games. As well as the Warhammer buff who also happens to like a variety of action games.

Space Marine follows a single player story campaign in which players take on the role of Captain Titus. Titus is on a mission to save a planet from an impending Ork invasion. Throughout the campaign you will fight quite literally hundreds of enemies in huge firefights. Often reminiscent of games like Serious Sam, Painkiller, and Bulletstorm. However, the game also features a melee combat system. As you play through the missions you will find yourself constantly switching between various guns, and hand to hand armaments. Space Marine does this seamlessly, allowing you to dispatch four or five enemies at a time. With swords, knives, axes, or hammers while shooting other enemies. Shootouts also showcase some of the grittiest visuals the Xbox 360, and PS3 can muster.Enemies will lose limbs from taking a chainsword to the shoulder. Or a torso will explode in a shower of gibs in a hail of gunfire.

The game feels like a really well put together cross between aforementioned arcade shooters, and third person action slashers like Devil May Cry. There is also a health system that is neither quite the widely accepted “Hide behind a wall to regain health” or the classic “Find, and manage stimpacks wisely” systems of yesteryear. Instead, while you can hide behind walls for cover (and stop yourself from losing more health), the way you regain it is through killing. Sometimes this means stunning an enemy to perform a gruesome killing blow. Other times it means using the game’s fury meter. Similar to Alice: Madness Returns’ mechanic, Fury is a meter that will fill your health bar, while allowing for less damage to be taken. You fill the meter as you play. Once you activate it you have a limited time of reprieve before you need to start filling it again.

As the game progresses, you will find upgrades for your weapons, and watch in-game theatrics that further the story. I can’t compliment the graphics enough. Space Marine still looks beautiful, and runs at a smooth frame rate. Nowhere is this showcased better than in the real-time cut scenes. These scenes are accompanied by some really impressive performances. The game’s story goes for the same sort of action movie clichés a lot of other action games have over the past decade. But it still manages to engross you into the world of its source material. It manages to give off some background to newcomers without a lot of speeches. It follows the rule of “Show. Not say.” pretty decently. Even if it does use the tired method of finding audio logs to fill in some of the gaps. While the story is predictable at times, it is entertaining, and the final boss battle features just the right amount of challenge. That said, once you beat the campaign there is little reason to go back. The campaign does have a few drawbacks, that a handful of people will absolutely abhor. First off, the maps are VERY LINEAR. Aside from the rare alcove with a recorded message, levels are rife with models of rubble. These are placed in a way that blocks your every incentive to want to explore. This complaint can hardly be levied only at this game. Most of the single player action games over the last decade have gone down this path. But it would have been nice if Space Marine could have been one of the games to buck the trend. Especially since everything looks so good, and does capture the aesthetic of the board games so well.

The other issue some may have is how the game is structured. Most of the levels in the game follow a formula. You’ll find an ammo dump room, which leads to a skirmish room where you will fight hundreds of enemies. Then you will wander into another ammo dump room leading into a cut scene or story exposition. Then you will fight another 400 enemies before exiting the level. Now if you love old school arcade games, horde modes that force you to micromanage your ammunition, or games like Serious Sam you might not see this as a negative thing. But if you don’t, this can become tiresome. Especially since Space Marine’s campaign is 16 stages long. Some of which can take up to an hour to complete. To be fair the game does try to mix it up with an on rails shooter section or a boss segment. But some may find it isn’t enough to keep them wanting to play through it in one sitting.

Thankfully, the one place where Space Marine truly shines is in its multiplayer mode. Which is also sad because it isn’t populated much these days. The main two modes are a Team Deathmatch mode, and a Team Objective mode. But these are done very well. As in many other games there is a class system:

Tactical Marine: This is the most well-rounded class between speed, shooting, and melee.

Assault: This class allows for jump packs (Jet packs you can fly around with) and has an increased melee range for people who love knives, and chainswords.

Devastator: This is the tank class where you have reduced speed, but can take more damage, and have access to the more powerful guns, and explosives.

One novel feature is the ability to copy load outs. This is a great way for new players to close the gap on higher rank players. Because it lets you respawn with the weapons they killed you with. Do well enough with these, and you’ll level up even faster. Speaking of levelling up, the game also doesn’t dole out XP based only on kills. If you used two weapons on someone there’s a bonus. If you assisted someone else, there’s a bonus.

There is one gripe with the multiplayer, and that’s the fact that classes, and character customization have to be unlocked. You have to grind your way to level 3 to use the classes, and to level 4 to tweak your player model. It doesn’t take eons to do, but it is a nuisance. Also, it would have been nice if Orks, Eldar, and other franchise races were playable factions for multiplayer. There is DLC you can still find for the game that adds in a 4 player cooperative mode where you get to be the Chaos Space Marines. But that’s not really the same thing. But even in its basic state, multiplayer can be a fun alternative to the real world themed shooters out there. The major drawback to all of this however is the age of the game, coupled with the ownership of the developer changing hands. Unfortunately the multiplayer isn’t populated with a lot of random players these days. Many people moved on to newer games so you would mainly have to play the multiplayer option with friends. Things fare slightly better on the PC version but not by very much. The game also isn’t getting the support it once had. That’s because after the game came out, publisher THQ folded up, and the studio making the game was acquired by SEGA.

Should you buy Space Marine? That depends on your taste in games. For anyone looking for a frantic “Kill anything that moves” action game, you’ll have a lot of fun playing through the campaign. It certainly hits all of those notes. But if that isn’t your preferred gaming experience you’ll want to play it in bursts. The formula can become repetitive for those who don’t eat, sleep, and breathe spectacle fighters. Even if it does blend that style, with shooting really well. Multiplayer is going to be a crap shoot at this point. It’s one of the better takes on the competitive team shooters to have come out over the last five years. But it’s also old hat at this point, and people have moved onto other games. If you can still find nine people who are willing to play it with you, it is a lot of fun. But that’s probably a big “if” at this point. Still, it can be found fairly inexpensively, and is a great title for those who are curious about the Warhammer universe.

Final Score: 7 out of 10