Tag Archives: Xbox One

Mortal Kombat 11 (Switch) Review

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A few days ago the highly anticipated Mortal Kombat 11 came out, and has mostly gotten praise. But the Nintendo Switch version is often left out of the conversation. Like many people I was curious about how the game was going to work out on the console. So I picked it up after work on its launch, and I’ve been playing it after hours since. This is what I’ve found about the game on Switch, and the game in general. Much of this will likely apply to the other three versions out there as well.

PROS: Everything in the other versions is here. Plays great.

CONS: The visuals are downgraded. Crashes. Issues with the Krypt, and Towers.

WB: Still pulling pre-order shenanigans with Mortal Kombat.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room right away. The graphics. Between the trailer we saw at the Game Awards 2017, and subsequent footage, everybody was wowed. NetherRealm studios did a terrific job building some of the most beautiful backdrops, and character designs in a Mortal Kombat game yet. They didn’t do this alone though. The level of graphics, and animation work in this game is staggering. So it should be no surprise upon seeing the end credits you’ll notice over 20 software developers, and animation studios were paid to help the game along. You can tell a lot of hard work went into the visual aspect of the game alone.

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So how does the Nintendo Switch version of this massive, illustrious fighting game fare? A small developer out of Miami, Florida called Shiver was contracted to port the game to Nintendo’s gaming tablet, and they did a fantastic job. While none of the consoles have bleeding edge tech in them at this point, there is a gap between a Tegra II tablet chip, and the AMD processors, and graphics chips in the Microsoft, and Sony boxes. As such there wasn’t much of a question that Unreal Engine 4 (the software that powers the game) would work well on those. It was possible to use on tablets, but how well was in question for the average player.

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Shiver has gotten the game running insanely well on the Nintendo Switch. It has all of the content the other versions have, and it looks pretty good too. It even runs at a high frame rate like the other versions. It just comes unsurprisingly, at a price. The best way I can describe it, is that fights look like you’re playing the PC version on just above the lowest settings. Which tells me that Shiver had the option to either make the game look like the other versions, but have a lower frame rate. Or they could have gone the route they did. And if I’m right about that, frankly, everyone should be happy they took that route. Mortal Kombat 11, much like previous games, requires very fast movement in order to pull off some of its best combos, and other moves. Frame rate doesn’t just effect what your eyes are seeing. It can often make a game feel more responsive. Something you need to have in order for a fighting game to work. Especially at a high level of play.

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And the end result still doesn’t look bad. You’ll notice the game changes visual quality at times too. During the pre fight banter the game looks like it runs at the lowest settings possible, and then ticks up to the lower, or medium settings when the fights begin, and stays there during them. The most noticeable downgrade is that the UE4 lighting effects have mostly been toned down or turned off. You won’t see a lot of reflections, or sheen on costumes, or metal objects in most of the game. Antialiasing effects are lowered, or off so you’ll see “Jaggies” as we used to know them. Most of the textures are still rendered at the standards of the other versions. But some of the background objects aren’t so they won’t look as crisp. Rather they’ll have a slightly blurred quality to them.

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And on some stages very little of these downgrades are that noticeable right away. It’s only going to be the absolute worst nitpickers among us who this will be a problem for. And at that level one could begin to nitpick the other versions too. Mortal Kombat 11 on the Switch may not look as nice as it does on the PS4 or XB1. But it doesn’t look bad either. If I had any issues with the graphics its that during the story mode it can be a little jarring to have the cut scenes running at their higher settings, then going to the lower settings for fights, and back to higher settings for more cinematic story.

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That said, Mortal Kombat 11 has a lot of content in it. As I’ve said before, the Switch version has everything the other versions have. The main single player mode on display is the Story mode, which has been an expected feature since Mortal Kombat 9. I didn’t play the tenth game, so I can’t really compare the story in this one to that game’s. But I did play through MK9, and I can say it is a substantially better storyline here. I don’t want to go too in depth here as a lot of folks still have yet to experience it. But the game introduces a new villain. A Goddess known as Kronika. She looks suspiciously like Sinead O’Connor, and can control time, and space with a magic hourglass. She sets up a plan to wipe out the realms, and so our heroes, and villains in the roster set out to stop or help her. There are plenty of moments that will make you laugh, surprise you, and the story even tries to make you cry a few times. It doesn’t really earn that much from you, but you will be entertained. Thanks to some terrific voice acting performances, top-notch animation, and pretty good writing it does feel like one of the old 80’s action movies that inspired a lot of the classic Mortal Kombat games.

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Like I said before, the Switch version can feel a little jarring as you go through it, because the game switches graphics settings on the fly between fights, and cinematics. There was a rare moment in my playthrough where the game hiccupped doing this near the final chapter. It didn’t effect the game or story, but goes to show there’s a glitch or two that may require a bug fix in the near future. Beyond that though, I enjoyed playing through the story mode. It held my attention, and a few times in it, you’ll get the option to control one character or another. So you do get some replay value by going back, and playing with different characters.

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Beyond the story mode, there is the classic arcade ladder mode you can play. Doing this more or less is what you’d expect. You play a gauntlet of opponents the way you have since the original Mortal Kombat. As has been the case since Mortal Kombat 3, you can choose longer, and more difficult arcade ladders as well. Clearing these with each character gets you those classic arcade style endings. Each told from the perspective of the character had they been the canon protagonist.

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Spinning off of the arcade ladder is something called Towers Of Time, where you play a similar series of arcade ladders. But the difference is the fact that each match has conditions in them. Such as “Don’t touch acid, or your opponent gets health back.”. These can be a lot of fun, and can even help you get better at avoiding certain attacks. The mode is also tied to the game’s returning Krypt mode. Winning in these towers, will give you a lot of the green coins, and other currency you’ll need to spend in the Krypt. It can be fun to go in to these fights to grind for money. But there’s one major problem with it. It takes forever. The rewards you gain, for some of these brutal fights can be miniscule. Plus on top of the main currency, hearts are another currency. Hearts are needed in the Krypt to unlock some of the biggest stuff in the game. And you can only get those by getting fatalities, and brutalities while playing.

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And before you spout off about Warner Bros. doing to Mortal Kombat 11 what they’ve done in their other games by closing stuff off with microtransactions, that isn’t the case here. Yes, there is a store. Yes, you can pay for easy fatalities. Yes you can pay to unlock Frost instead of just playing the story mode, and using her for free. You can spend money on a virtual currency it calls Time Crystals. But aside from a few skins, and one button fatalities for each character there isn’t much you can buy that would affect gameplay. So when it comes to the stuff in the Krypt, you really can’t. You can pretty much skip the store in this one. The one thing you can levy at WB is the fact that Shao Kahn was hidden behind a six dollar pay wall in order to encourage people to buy the game before it came out, or at least pre order it. If you didn’t put your trust in the game before having picked it up, it costs you another six bucks to play as the character. He isn’t in the DLC bundle pack either. So that is the one blemish here as far as microtransactions go.

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Be that as it may, grinding away the coins, green gems, and hearts for the Krypt can take a long, long time. Supposedly NetherRealm has addressed this on a recent video update, and will be putting out a patch soon as of this writing. This should make things feel a bit more manageable for players who don’t want to devote all of their game time to Mortal Kombat 11.

As for the Krypt itself, it feels somewhere between the ones in Deadly Alliance, and Deception. It isn’t a simple grid done in a graveyard style. But it isn’t a full-fledged adventure game involving NPCs either. You go around Shang Tsung’s island finding boxes. But there are some hidden walls you can break open to get to new areas, as well as puzzles to solve to gain access to certain chests. There are even a few booby traps. You can die in the Krypt.

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Opening the chests gets you anything from concept art to stuff you can use in the game. There are a few extra costumes, second fatalities, and augmentation parts you can use to enhance how your characters will play. This is a system that has been carried over from Injustice 2, and refined for this game. It’s a neat system because it adds an RPG like element to the fighting genre. One that might entice someone whom may not play many fighting games to give it a look. Of course, when it comes to the game’s online play there are modes where you can or can’t use them. Once you eventually open everything in the Krypt there is a building early on, with a round lever on it. If you have enough coins you can press it to close all of the chests in the Krypt, and fill them with different things. The other interesting thing about the Krypt is that every player will have a different experience. Because while everyone will have the same key items, the chests they are in, are in different locations. So you can’t simply try to look at a walkthrough on YouTube. The skin they found in a particular chest, may be in that chest. But in your playthrough that chest will be in a different place.

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The Augmentation system also ties many of the modes together by requiring you to play everything the game has on offer. If you want a certain hat for Raiden for example, you’ll have to unlock it by going to a certain mode, or completing a certain challenge. Some of these items will be in the Krypt of course, but many will not. So you’ll have to go down the list, read the description, and then try to unlock it by playing that mode. You can also create custom move lists here too. You may want to use a version of Liu Kang where you use a different attack in lieu of the bicycle kick for instance. You can have different profiles of each character with different move sets, different gear to buff said move sets, and an overall customized look. It’s honestly pretty cool. But again, when talking about the competitive side of fighting games, you’ll want to play without these things, as these things can affect the balance of the game.

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The game also gives you a Kombat Kard which gives you your stats, as well as a custom banner when playing online. It’s pretty much in line with other modern fighters like Street Fighter V, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, and others. It’s nice that you can personalize your online avatar somewhat, and it makes it easy to look at your Win/Loss record, most used characters, and other information.

So the fighting is fast, and responsive on the TV against a friend, but what about online? Honestly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the game’s net code on the Switch. You can choose to display the ping while playing which is going to give you a good indication of how well it’s going to hold up in a match. If you see an opponent in the 100ms – 150ms range, as I’ve had most of the time, it’s pretty solid. I haven’t felt like too many button presses haven’t registered or that there’s been a notable amount of lag. Somebody who is a contender at EVO or other tournaments may have a different opinion, but I think for most people it is pretty good. Obviously, if you connect to an opponent with a 300ms time you’ll want to decline the fight to avoid warping, moves not working as intended, and the other signs of a lag ridden match.

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That is one feature I really appreciate. It’s not one you see outside of multiplayer PC games very often, and it can give players a much better idea of how the experience is going to be than the usual red, yellow, or green bars found in many other online fighters. There are also a few ways you can play online too. You can do casual matches with other people. Here you can choose to play with or without the augmentations on. They’ll force the competitive move sets, and options the developers intended to be set on. You can play matches, enter a king of the hill mini tournament, or have A.I. characters battle it out.

If you choose to play the competitive mode the augments never come into play. Also the competition is fierce. As good as you may be, this is the place where people who love fighting games will be found most of the time. But it’s also the best way to learn the game. Really. If you’re new or lapsed the prospect of losing a lot may sound scary, but it’s where you’re going to learn the nuances much better. Yes there is a training mode in the game, and it will get you set up with the basics, as well as let you practice the game’s combos. But going up against other people is where you’re going to really learn things like zoning, looking for openings, and how to get around something you might initially find insurmountable. Even if you’re not looking to be the best in the world, it is a great way to pick up some new things to take with you against your local friends, and family. Rounding out the online mode, are areas where you can do private matches, and lobbies. So if you just want to play with friends online, or a place where your groups can meet up, it’s convenient.

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All in all I really like Mortal Kombat 11, and the Switch version is a very viable version. If you’re somebody who only has a Switch it is very easy to recommend in general. I can also say if you’re someone who has multiple consoles, and already bought it for your PS4, you might at some point want it on the Switch for the portability factor. The graphics downgrade is less noticeable on the smaller screen, and the fact you’re getting something that plays just as well is something to marvel at. Shiver should really be commended on what they’ve accomplished. One small thing to note however is that also like every other version this one does have some infrequent crashes. You’ll be going along, playing a ladder or going through the story, or exploring the Krypt, and see an error message that will be burned into your brain. It hasn’t been a frequent occurrence for me. But it is something I hope they’ll be able to figure out soon. Also the game does play better with a Pro Controller, or equivalent or Arcade stick on Switch. The C buttons just don’t feel as familiar as a true D-pad does.

Still, with the refined fighting system, wealth of content, solid net code, and a meaty story mode, the good outweighs the bad.  If you have a Switch, Mortal Kombat 11 is definitely worth looking into. It’s an experience that will raise eyebrows at the local Starbucks, as well as play exceptionally well on the big screen. The downgrade in visuals isn’t enough to make the game any less fun, and they still bring the buckets of blood, and guts you would expect from the series. I didn’t even talk about just how over-the-top, yet somehow unsettling some of this iteration’s finishing moves can really be. Whether you’re a long time fan or newcomer, MK11 will impress you on any of the platforms it has landed on.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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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

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

Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon Review

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Ah, Konami. These days it’s become fashionable to belittle their games with good reason. But that’s partly because they used to be one of the kings of game publishing. From Pooyan to Gyruss. From Gradius to Contra. From Crime Fighters to Metal Gear. From Quarth to Super Cobra, this giant has scores of legendary games under its umbrella. But over the last decade there has been a shift in its focus. One that has led many of its best known talent to leave the company. Most know about Hideo Kojima’s departure. But less known is Koji Igarashi, the man behind many of Konami’s better Castlevania games. In 2014 however he would leave the company as he felt his console roots weren’t a good fit for the company’s shift toward mobile phone, and tablet games.

Taking some inspiration from what Keji Inafune had done after leaving Capcom, Igarashi, also took to Kickstarter to raise money for a new project. Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night. This was a successful enough endeavor that today’s game, Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon came out of it as a stretch goal for backers. For the rest of us, it’s an indie game inspired by the classic game series its producer worked on. It may sound like a familiar story. But is it one of the ones that ends as a success?

PROS: A nearly 1:1 representation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse’s look, and feel.

CONS: It’s almost too similar. Minor bugs.

CASTLEVANIA VETERANS: Will wish you could start with Miriam.

Bloodstained, truly does take many of Castlevania’s mechanics, tone, and visual flair to heart. In fact, this game plays nearly identically to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. That game had you playing as the protagonists ancestor, with the mechanics set up in the original NES version of Castlevania as a baseline. From there it added other characters you could choose to join you, and depending on which path you took through the game each had specific roles. This was to give you an incentive to go back through it multiple times.

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This game is very similar in its approach. Except that to set itself apart, you aren’t a vampire slayer. You’re a demon hunter named Zangetsu. You’ve been cursed by a powerful demon, and so you’re on a mission to find, and kill him in order to break the curse over you. You also don’t use a whip. Zangetsu is armed with a sword. So unlike Castlevania, you won’t have the range you’re likely accustomed to. What you will have however is the same walking speed, and knock back from the NES Trilogy of old. You’ll also find yourself facing very similar attack patterns as in those old games. Sure, the bats, and Gorgon heads may have been replaced with new faces. But you can still expect those wavy patterns over pits, and other traps that will make traversing a trial.

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You may not see two dragon heads stacked, spitting fire. But there will be an equivalent. There may not be a chain of skeleton bones, and a lizard skull coming out from a wall. But here will be something similar. The list goes on, and on, and on. As the story, and stages progress you’ll meet other characters whom you can choose to add to your party. Miriam is the Simon Belmont clone you’ll wish you started the game with. She has a whip that works very much the same way, as Simon’s. This gives you that sweet balance of ranged, and melee attack power, and familiar gravity when jumping or walking off of ledges.

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Later on you’ll meet Gebel, this game’s take on Alucard. He’s also a vampire, and you can also turn into a bat as him. Finally, there’s Alfred who is a magician. He’s also elderly, slow, and has a fairly small health meter. He attacks with a small cane at essentially point-blank range. As in the Castlevania games, there are candles, and other hanging objects you can destroy for items. Some of these are ammo for special weapons, while others are weapons themselves. What sets this one apart a little bit is just how different each character’s weapons are. No special weapon is represented twice. There are a set exclusive to each character. For instance, Miriam can have a spinning disc attack that goes back, and forth. Alfred on the other hand can get a weapon that lets him turn enemies into ice blocks he can then jump on, or have another character jump on.

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There are all sorts of possibilities. The other thing is that each stage, even the earliest ones all have branching paths in them that only specific characters can go to. You may need to switch to Gebel so you can turn into a bat, and fly through a small gap for one path. You may need to slide under something for another, and so you’ll have to switch to Miriam. This sort of mechanic gives the game a lot of replay value, as in order to see everything each stage has to offer you’ll need to try each of them with the applicable characters.

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The thing is you have more options with them than you do with the ones in Castlevania III. What I mean by that is, you don’t drop one when you meet the next. If you choose to take one along for the ride, they stay with you the entire game. The game can be quite a challenge too, especially near the end of the game. So having all of the characters working together makes defeating Gremory, the leader of the Demons, more manageable. However, what makes the game worth playing over again even more are the multiple endings. Depending on which characters you take along, or leave behind you’ll get different outcomes if you clear the game.

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And beyond that there are a few difficulty settings. You can play the easiest setting if you just want to go through the game at your leisure. It reduces the knock back so it isn’t as cruel as the NES Castlevania trilogy could be. It also gives you unlimited lives, so you also won’t see the continue screen. But the veteran mode is the hardcore NES game difficulty you remember. Or if you’re too young to remember, but want to experience anyway. Getting knocked back into pits, crumbling bricks, rotating trap floor tiles. It’s all here. Clearing this will unlock an even harder mode though. So the absolute biggest Castlevania transplants will want to check it out, as it makes an already tough job more challenging.

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Visually the game also follows the Castlevania III mold. It has a very similar color palette, and a very similar pixel art style. This isn’t to say everything is exactly the same. There are background animations, and graphics based puzzles the old Konami games don’t have, and a slew of special effects the old 8-bit 6502 chip variants, and accompanying graphics chips simply can not do on display. The music in it, and synchronization with the cinema screen animations are spot on too. It sounds very much like a Famicom console game through, and through. Inti Creates has done a phenomenal job in the graphics, and sound department with this game.

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But all of this success might be a little too successful. In being so close to the Castlevania NES fill in so many wanted, it doesn’t retain its own identity as much as it needs to. Other than Alfred, the main characters are very much your Simon, Sypha, and Alucard stand-ins. As detailed, and beautifully laid out as the stages are, they could easily be mistaken for an NES Castlevania outing. The mini bosses, and bosses are where the game really begins to turn the tide on this a bit though. These are great multi part affairs that don’t look they would necessarily be in one of Konami’s games, but fit this spiritual successor at the same time. The game also has a handful of minor bugs in it. Mostly collision based bugs. There were a few sections with crumbling blocks designed to make you lose a life if you fail at navigation. At one point I fell, but landed safely in an area where I had to jump to my doom anyway. There was nowhere else to go. Some of these seem to be helping in speed runs. But for the rest of us, they’re the rare inconvenience.

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Still, beyond these observations I really enjoyed playing through the game’s many stages. Anybody who loves the old school Castlevania games probably owns this by now. But if for some reason you don’t, it’s an absolute blast. It’s a truly great action-platformer with some great obstacles to overcome, and some of the best boss fights I’ve been in. I only wish the game did a little bit more to make it feel unique. Sure the main protagonist doesn’t use a whip, but before long another character does. Sure, you’re fighting an army led by a demon, rather than Dracula. But that army still has a lot of skeletons, and zombies in it. Hopefully the upcoming Ritual Of The Night will address this while continuing to do everything else as well as this game does. Be that as it may, Curse Of The Moon is still a keeper.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Battle Princess Madelyn Review

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Ghosts N’ Goblins is one of the classics that is often imitated these days. It isn’t hard to see why, as it’s pretty much a winning formula. A hero that can only take two points of damage before dying, must go on an action platforming adventure of quarter-munching proportions. Some of these games simply take that essence, and try to provide a carbon copy. Others take the idea, and try to build upon it.

PROS: The brutal, unforgiving, and yet somehow addictive fun you love.

CONS: Bugs, minor collision detection issues. Inconsistencies.

GHOST PUPPIES: May haunt your dreams, but they can also help you.

Battle Princess Madelyn is one such game. It uses the combat of Capcom’s classic series as a foundation, and puts a large skyscraper of ideas upon it. For the most part it works because it does something substantial. It has not one, but two campaigns to play through. The first of which combines the tried, and true combat with adventure game, and JRPG conventions.

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The primary campaign is a Story mode. It opens with a little girl named Madelyn lying in bed playing a Minecraft clone on her tablet. Her Grandfather comes in, and in true The Princess Bride fashion proceeds to read her a bedtime story. He tells her the tale of a warrior, coincidentally also named Madelyn in a European kingdom in what is presumably during the Medieval period. This Madelyn has a tiny lap dog named Fritzy. With the castle overrun by monsters, the little canine sacrifices his life to save the Royal Guard.

After some dialogue with her Grandfather, it turns out that Fritzy’s soul isn’t content to go to the afterlife just yet. As a spirit, he decides to follow Madelyn into glorious battle. Over the course of the game Fritzy goes from being a merely cute avatar that follows you around, to being a very useful back up character that will help you immensely. While the initial area looks like it will be another Ghosts N’ Goblins clone, (Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts to be specific), That is quickly proven not to be the case, as a fellow warrior sends you into town.

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Once in the town you begin to do things that are more akin to an Adventure or JRPG. You have to talk to townspeople, whom give you vague clues, or demand you go on fetch quests. You eventually find your way to the castle where key members will send you on the adventure. The castle is also home to two major spots. A toy room, and another room that becomes important much later.

Over the course of the game you’ll find dolls of low-level enemies, major characters, and bosses. Collecting every one of these gets you the best possible outcome, so its something you just might want to invest in. The other room becomes important later in the storyline, and involves warping you around to various areas.

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The game’s many stages are interconnected though not as intricately as something like Metroid. Be that as it may, you’ll still want to map it out, because you’re going to spend a large part of the campaign going sector to sector on foot. Why? Well remember the villagers I mentioned before? Many of the fetch quests they send you upon involve finding, and rescuing their friends from zombies. Aside from that there are also ghosts that can lead you to other secrets. And there are many hidden paths, shortcuts, and items that you’ll have to destroy parts of environments to even find. Basically, if you want to get the best possible finish you’ll need to do a lot of rescuing, and a lot of discovering. The rewards for many (but not nearly all) of these feats are the aforementioned dolls. Each of these dolls gets you one step closer to unlocking the door in the toy room, and the resulting end game.

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Not only that, but the only way to open up the game’s shop to buy power ups is tied to one of these fetch quests. Many of the villagers throughout the game want you to find one of the items they’ve foolishly lost. Each of the game’s areas has a village of their own, and many of their citizens lost these items in other areas. So you’ll be warping around a lot too.

Throughout it all though, the game has that classic Capcom arcade game play down to a science. Well mostly. The majority of the time you’ll feel like you’re playing the unofficial sequel to Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. Zombies rise from the Earth in much the same way. There are all sorts of monsters, and demons that show up out of nowhere, and you’ll have to master your jumping, and shooting pretty quickly. Where things falter a bit is in the hit detection.

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Unfortunately, there will be a few times where you’ll have your foot stand near, but not on a hazard. But the game will say “Nope. You touched it.” which leads to a cheap death. Other times you’ll suffer cheap deaths when enemies spawn on you, or shoot a projectile that gets stuck in a part of the environment. Thus making hitting it unavoidable. These aren’t heavily widespread moments, but it can be enough to get frustrating. In the case of the story mode, this is mitigated by having pretty decent checkpoints, you’ll automatically start in when you run out of lives. When you die, you’ll start right where you died too, so at least you won’t have to start an entire section over.

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Eventually you’ll find your way to boss rooms. Throughout the game you’ll need to find keys to the boss rooms, so again, keep exploring. Boss fights are quite frankly the highlight of the game. All of them can hang with the best fights in some of the best Super NES, and Sega Genesis games of yesteryear. They’re very inventive. Even when one of them might seem generic, like the Spider bosses, or the Skeleton, they do things that throw that impression out the window. Either through the environments they take place in, or through their attack patterns, or even character mannerisms.

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When you defeat a boss, and move to the next area you’ll almost always find yourself near a town, and in that town you’ll find a fast travel artifact. Late in the game you’ll need to collect items to be reassembled in that second room I mentioned earlier. Here you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end. But you’re still far from it. It opens up all new areas that can only be accessed in the room, and you’ll also find your dog’s soul will now become even more useful. Over the course of the game you’ll acquire the expected knives, spears, lances, and such. All of which you can cycle through using the left shoulder button. But you’ll also start finding puppy soul powers you can use. These can help immensely, especially on bosses. Do keep in mind however, that these have limited supplies shared with your lives. So you’ll want to save these for key moments.

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Upon beating the story mode, you’ll find you won’t be done. You can go back, and find all of the dolls you missed. But beyond that you can play the Arcade mode. This mode is very much a Ghosts N’ Goblins experience with stages feeling more linear, and with the brutal challenge fans of that series would expect. You’ll have to start a stage over when you’re out of lives. Lives are really tied to Fritzy’s meter more so here, as when it becomes depleted completely you know you’re going to start the level over. Thankfully, you’ll still start where you last died. At least until the meter is depleted. You also get to use Fritzy’s powers in this mode as you find them by holding the attack button until it’s charged. Keep in mind as in the Story mode this will deplete the meter, so it reduces the number of lives you can use. Over time you can refill the meter the better you do. Getting to the end is a lot more streamlined as a result. Stages don’t feel exactly the same, as large chunks are completely different. Though you’ll still go up against the same bosses. Be that as it may, it’s still quite a tough game that will take all but the most devoted players a while to get through. Mostly due to the overall challenge of it. But some of the problems from the Story mode do rear their head here. So while the stages are shorter, and in a specific order, they add their own challenges, and sometimes the technical issues can make them even tougher. You can basically keep continuing, but each time means you’ll start the current stage over again, through all of its phases.

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The most striking thing about the game is just how good it looks, and sounds. This game is a wonderful send up of Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. It has an amazing portfolio of sprite graphics, and animation that look like it could have appeared on Nintendo’s 16-bit juggernaut or even Commodore’s Amiga line of computers. The game even has a soundtrack that will evoke memories of the Commodore Amiga, early MS-DOS Adlib sound, and even a dash of the Sega Genesis for good measure. But even beyond that, you can have a more modern, CD quality orchestrated soundtrack if you choose. The game also has an optional scan line filter if you prefer a slightly blurred look to everything rather than have everything looking crisp.

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Still, on the whole it’s hard not to recommend this one. There may be some inconsistency in the FMV sequences, and the rest of the graphics. There may be some hit detection issues, and you’ll suffer a few cheap deaths here or there. But when the game is at its best it works so well it just has to be experienced. With two primary modes to play, it’s almost like having two games in one. Of course the main attraction is the Story mode. The variety of missions, and side quests while similar, will appeal to a lot of people who might normally skip it out of fears of the high difficulty, as it is a bit more forgiving. Be that as it may, the Arcade mode is something any fan of Capcom’s classic arcade game might want to play. The combat, while not perfect, is noticeably better than many of its peers. If not for the handful of technical issues you’ll likely run into, this would be a must own. But just because it falls a few notches away from perfection doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be played. It is true that it can feel, cheap, relentless, and unfair at times. But it’s also a lot of fun the other 90% of the time, with its solid action, loveable characters, and the fact it makes you want to spite it by beating it. It isn’t going to be for everyone. But for fans of adventure games with an old school twist, or Ghosts N’ Goblins fans yearning for the day when Capcom will finally take their money, it’s worth recommending. If this sounds like you Battle Princess Madelyn is still worth firing up on your computer, Xbox One, Switch, or PlayStation 4.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Insurgency Sandstorm Review

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Wow, two reviews this week? I really had to crunch to get this one done. It’s worth it though because like DUSK, this is a new FPS release that really ought to be on your radar. Insurgency Sandstorm, like its predecessor is here to give you a blend of arcade run speed, with late 90’s tactical subgenre features. But does it reach the lofty goals set forth by the original?

PROS: It’s an Insurgency sequel on a much newer engine!

CONS: Not every promised feature is here (yet.) Minor issues.

GIBS: A common 90’s FPS feature returns.

The original Insurgency set that bar rather high. What had started out as a mod became a full-fledged game that pushed Valve’s Source engine to its limit. It bridged the gap between Tactical FPS games like Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, and large-scale objective Military Team FPS games like Battlefield. In doing so, it offered a great alternative to some of the titles in the AAA space. While it didn’t run on the latest tech, it did give players a unique experience. Insurgency did well for itself, cutting out a nice niche for itself, and becoming one of the most beloved competitive games on Steam for some time.

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So what does this newer version bring to the table? Does it improve on the foundation set by the original? Should you play this over something else in the subgenre? All of these are questions you might have going into this one, and they’re all valid ones to ask. When the game was announced it was touting a robust single-player campaign in addition to the multiplayer goodness fans of the first game came for. It showed off some vehicle play, and all in a vast uptick in visual fidelity.

Well let’s get the one major point of contention some will have out-of-the-way. There is no one-player campaign. At least not yet. Now to be fair, those who followed the news around this game during its development, or played it while it was in Early Access were told it wasn’t going to make it in by launch. So a big chunk of the potential audience who were excited upon seeing it during E3 2017 already know this. But if you were one of those interested who saw the early trailers, put it on your “Look forward to seeing it when it comes out” list, and are just now looking at it? You’re going to be disappointed.

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But this is also not an “All is lost” moment, the studio has said it should be coming later, and that it should be included along with the other DLC. And that’s where the barometer may swing from disappointed to optimistic. Because the folks at New World Interactive will not be charging for DLC, nor implementing micro transactions or loot boxes. So everything that comes out for this game in the future will cost you nothing extra. New maps will be included. New weapons they decide to add will be included. Any new modes they cook up will also be included. So the lack of the campaign might sting, but they haven’t outright cancelled it either. If you only come to your army shooters for a campaign, and touch nothing else, you may want to wait. Or not, because there are things here you might still enjoy.

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Of course Insurgency, became a cult hit for a number of reasons. Its various modes. Its unique blend of styles. And that it pushed an aging technology pretty far in the process of delivering its fun. It didn’t look as good as the games EA, and Activision were putting out, but it stood in the same league when it came to game play. And that trend does indeed continue in Insurgency Sandstorm.

Think of Insurgency Sandstorm as an experiment in combining the best elements of various military themed shooters you’ve played over the years. All while implementing its own ideas into the monster before releasing it upon the world. What does it borrow? Well it gives you the vast conquest maps Battlefield fans would love. It also uses point capture as the primary goal of its competitive modes. Insurgency Sandstorm has three of them. (Though like the campaign, more may follow.)

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PUSH: This is the mode most like the Rush mode in the Battlefield games. It places one army as defenders, and one army as attackers. Attackers have a miniscule number of lives spread across its combatants. While Defenders have a much larger pool. However, if the attackers manage to take the first point on the map, they will gain more lives. They will also force the defensive team to fall back to their next point. This continues until either the defenders are made to fight their last stand, with no remaining lives to defend a cache. If the attackers blow it up, the defenders are defeated. The defenders will also be defeated if all of their lives are lost.

What makes this mode compelling is that there are a number of ways each side can approach their situation. When playing defense, you can do what I like to do. You can literally lie down on the objective (represented by a room with a giant flashing letter.), and attempt to kill any intruders. If enough of your team follows suit, it becomes nearly impossible to take the point. However, I said “nearly”. That’s because there are any number of ways a skilled attacking team can crack this. They can employ explosives to spook people to leave the point or die. They can send in their best stealth players to get inside. They can try to flank spawning defenders rushing to get back to the point. These are just some of the strategies you’ll see employed.

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FIREFIGHT: Is the next mode, and here all of the points on the map are preset with both armies having to take an attack position. One point is predetermined to be for one side. The second for the other side, and the third being unclaimed. The first team to capture all three of these wins. However, it isn’t easy because each player has only one life. The only way you get to come back into the battle is if your team captures a point while you’re dead. What people love about this mode is that there’s a tug of war going on with it. If you’ve got two points, but not the third, you’ll have to send people to take the third. But that means the opposing team will find less resistance, at one of your two points. If they take one, you’re at a disadvantage, and have to figure out which of their now two points is easier to take.

SKIRMISH: Takes the game play of Firefight, and adds the caches from the Push mode which gives each team multiple lives. So you’ll be going along in your back, and forth. But the twist comes when one of the caches is destroyed. Without a cache, your team will fall back to the stock Firefight rules, which makes it easier to become overrun. So you have to decide as a team whether you want to go all out, and take points. Or do you designate a few of your combatants to defend the cache while others go for points? Insurgency Sandstorm involves its own strategies into proven concepts.

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This is where the implementation of other ideas, along with NWI’s modern twists, and original features really begins to take shape. Insurgency Sandstorm may use some ideas you’ve seen elsewhere, but it isn’t a knock off. It isn’t just reskinning a popular game, and shouting “Ta-da!”. It’s transformative. It retools these ideas to work in ways that weren’t expected before. It again, also has original ideas too. That’s what made the first game so great, and that continues here in the combat system.

 

Like the original, it takes a page from the original Rainbow Six games, and goes for far more realistic damage. If you play Rainbow Six Siege, as fun as it is, you can still survive firefights if you get shot. Even if you go down a friend can revive you. But if you go way back, and play Rainbow Six 1,2, or 3, that is rarely the case. In those games a single hit was usually lethal. If you were hit in a limb, maybe you could take a second bullet to go down. Insurgency Sandstorm is tough like that. If you get shot, you’re probably dead. If you’re hit in the arm, perhaps you’ll find some cover to survive a little bit longer. But another hit, and you’re toast. Because while your vision comes back, your health does not.

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But Insurgency Sandstorm goes further. Because it eschews plenty of other ideas its competitors love. For instance, there is no mini map. There are no little lights on a square in the corner telling you where to go. You’ll see a flashing letter in the distance. But that’s it. Insurgency Sandstorm has no kill cam. You may be able to have the run speed of a soldier (provided you have no body armor) of a Call Of Duty entry. But when you get sniped running onto the point, and die you will not be watching the person who killed you as you wait to spawn. You can see your teammates, and communicate with them if you see a threat near them. But that is it.

Insurgency Sandstorm also adds a bit of realism in its movement. When you sprint you may not tire. However, you also can not shoot. You have to think about that when going about. If you think you can blast a nest of enemies while charging into a room, think again. At best you can kick doors down while running, and if it hits an enemy in the process you can kill them with the door. But you’ll also be wide open when the other campers see it. On the flip side, if you’re trying to snipe, and you’re too close to the banister, your arm will simply bend back toward you, as you struggle to find a spot where your gun isn’t going to go up against an object. It’s a small thing, but it adds a lot to the environment.

 

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Insurgency Sandstorm borrows an element from Arena shooters of yesteryear too: Gibs. In this game, getting hit in key parts of the body will cause limbs to fly off, heads to explode, and bodies to disintegrate. Since this game is going for a little bit more realism it doesn’t come off like it would in The Expendables. It comes off a little bit more like Glory. Rather it tries to. It doesn’t quite make that emotional transition, but it doesn’t elicit that same joyous surprise as it did back in DOOM, Duke 3D, or QUAKE. At least not for me. The point is, there is an element of its use in a contemporary setting that might remind some players of how horrific wars can be. Whether or not this is intentional is solely up to the artists to decide. They may have been going for the action movie vibe more so than the dramatic movie vibe. In which case I think it fell somewhere in between. But they do come off as impressive. The first time you see it, you really won’t be expecting it, and it honestly might just shock you even knowing about it going in.

The move to Unreal Engine 4 also means a big uptick in visual fidelity, and a jump in system requirements. However, New World Interactive deserves some praise in just how much they’ve done to ensure those like me, with aging video cards can still play their game with great performance. If you do happen to have the hardware that can run this at or near maximum settings, you’ll be pretty pleased with the end result. There are some very impressive lighting effects, Anti-Aliasing effects, Bump mapping effects, among others that UE4 can support. However, if you have a machine that’s five years old, you’re probably not going to be playing any game maxed out. The scalability this game provides is great, as are its customization options.

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All of the shots you’re seeing in this review were taken at the lowest settings. These can hang with a lot of other games despite the reduced image quality. Granted, you can’t expect miracles either. If you’ve got a ten-year old computer with barely any RAM to speak of by today’s standards,  you probably cannot run it. But If you have at least a fourth generation Intel i5 or AMD FX 6330 (around 5 years old now), a NVIDIA GTX 760 or AMD Radeon 7970 in there (also around 5 years old as of this writing), and a good 16GB of RAM in your system you likely can. And at better performance than you might expect. At the lowest settings, I’ve been able to play between 70, and 90 frames per second resulting in a relatively smooth, and responsive experience.

And with the game slated to hit the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 next year, it does give those who prefer a console experience something to look forward to. As for the artistic side of the visuals, they’ve really gone out of their way here as well. Textures on buildings, look sharp, the costumes of the characters all fit the motif the game tries to present. Even on the lowest details, the backgrounds all still look great with some nice lights, and shadow effects going on.

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As in the original game, one side of the roster is composed of security forces. So when playing  as a security force member you’ll have a military themed character. The other side is composed of insurgents where you’re basically playing as a terrorist group of villains. One thing this game introduces over its predecessor is a cosmetic customization option. As you play the game you’ll earn in game currency. Much like Nintendo’s Splatoon series, you cannot buy this currency. These are points you use exclusively for this feature. Unlike Splatoon, these clothing options do nothing else. It’s strictly just to personalize your characters when playing online. No perk slots, no RPG elements, that is it. That being said, a lot of the costume selections are quite good, and go for something grounded. You won’t be running around on the security side wearing only pants, and bandoliers or rocking a Cobra Commander costume on the insurgent forces.

As in the first game, there are no unlockable weapons. When you start the game every one of your classes is given a certain number of points. Which you can use on your load out. So you have to use tactics even when deciding what to go onto the front lines in. You may not have to grind your way to that powerful machine gun you want to use. But if it costs a lot of points that doesn’t leave you a lot left over for attachments, or defensive items or a secondary item. Similarly, you can choose to go for a lot of body armor, and items. But this will actually affect your run speed by making you slower. You might be able to take a third or fourth bullet before dying though. So you need to approach every class situation differently.

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Also new to this game are new Commander, and Observer classes. These classes have to work together, and stay within a certain proximity to one another. Because these classes can work to call in air support. They can call in helicopters, or mortar storms to help them push when attacking, or to defend their position when being pressured. Every one of the classes is viable though, and if you couldn’t already tell, the best way to play is with friends who communicate. Insurgency Sandstorm is very much designed around teamwork. It has built-in chat, so you can easily talk to your team on the fly. For those who don’t have a headset, or a microphone, you can still type to your team members.

On the other hand, when playing with random strangers, there is always going to be a troll or two. It’s just the reality of online gaming. Fortunately this time around you can mute everybody wholesale if you have the misfortune of dropping to a match where everyone annoys you. Still, when playing with friends, the voice chat can be an accommodating feature. Especially for those with friends who don’t know how to set up their own chat alternatives like Discord.

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And if all of the heated PvP stuff sounds too tough for you, the cooperative mode included is something you may gravitate toward. Similar to the Terrorist Hunt mode of the Rainbow Six series, Insurgency Sandstorm’s cooperative experience pits you, and others up against a team of NPC bots. With frequently changing objectives. It basically blends some of its competitive elements into the mode. So at first you, and the other humans may be taking points. But then the game will decide you have to defend the one you just claimed against an onslaught, or destroy a cache. But all of it is done in, a fun, and entertaining way.  You’ll get a variety of enemy bot skill levels. Some will be pretty good at movement, others will be marksmen. But you’ll occasionally get that idiotic bot that just stands there after missing. Still, they employ some tactics one might not expect, making for some surprises. And of course for those who only want to go up against the best, Insurgency Sandstorm features a competitive option where you’ll be placed with other people on ranked servers, and modes to keep up your street cred.

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For those who absolutely must have something here for playing alone, there are a couple of minor options though. There are a couple of short tutorials that get you used to the game’s mechanics, and modes. These aren’t really necessary for those who have played FPS titles for years, though it can catch you up on the nuances here. The aforementioned cooperative mode is here however again as a single player option. Sadly this just isn’t going to be as fun as the cooperative experience. That’s because you’re paired with bots who aren’t as adept as the bots you’ll go up against, and you’re only given one life per objective. So if you die trying to get the first objective, the round ends, and you’ll move onto the next. This makes the one player option a lot more challenging too because without some competent bots, you’re basically going up against an entire army alone. Still you get five attempts, and winning alone is doable.

But there are also a load of options for you to tinker with. Not just the aforementioned graphics settings, and performance settings. Not just the look of your hero or villain. You can even tweak some of the marker settings, like changing the colors of the letter markers,  and names to something clearer to you than the default. You can also put on displays to show you the current frame rate, and ping. Things that have been in Unreal Engine games for years, but are often closed off in newer releases. It’s nice to see it here so that you can see the math when turning something on or off.

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There are a few problems I do have to point out though. While I imagine most people will get pretty good performance out of this game, there are a number of small visual glitches I’ve stumbled upon. In one game I noticed somebody’s weapon just flickering in the sky before the round began. Another round I noticed player models that hadn’t completely loaded in. So they were shooting at me, but the weapon they were using couldn’t be seen. These are rare occurrences. But the common issue I run into is texture pop in. Again, it loads in fast enough. It doesn’t affect the game play. But the 2 seconds between seeing a blue wall, and seeing a blue wall, with dents in it, and other details can sometimes distract from the experience. I suspect it could be an issue with older cards, that will eventually be fixed with patches, and drivers. But it is a minor problem.

When playing the cooperative mode, alone or with other players, there are a few minor nitpicks. Mainly with the inconsistent A.I. as I mentioned earlier, the bots you face can have a fair amount of variety in skill which is nice. But when you have to rely on them in your team, and a few decide to be idiots, you almost wish they weren’t there. The enemy bot spawns could have been obfuscated a little bit better too, as there were a couple of times in the single player cooperative I could go out a door of a point I had to defend, and see the game drop them in.

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In the grand scheme of things these issues don’t really amount to much of anything. The A.I. is still better than in many of the bots in other titles. The game rarely looks anything less than great aside from the 2-4 seconds of pop in you may experience. Leaving the bot spawn issues, which really breaks the immersion more than anything else. Back on the pvp end of things, there is far less to pick apart. The net code is generally very good. Unless you’re connecting to a server half the world away, you don’t see a lot of rubber banding, or players warping around like Mr. Game & Watch.

All of the online modes are generally quite fun. The studio kept them to the best maintained modes of the first game to ensure that you can always find someone to play against, and this strategy has worked. Yes, you can get into situations where there are people trying to spawn camp, or situations where you’ll have people on your team who refuse to run to the giant flashing “A” along with everyone else. But these aren’t issues with the game, these are the same issues you’ll run into with certain individuals in any multiplayer game. Fortunately, the game does offer the ability for you to mute individual people, or even everyone wholesale.

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The gun play is fantastic. Every weapon has a nice heft to it, and there are options here for every type of player. If you prefer to cover your team, there are many sniping options. If you want to go stealth, there are a slew of close range rifles, shotguns, SMGs, and other options, and attachments. The sounds of gunfire, and explosions are phenomenal too, which adds to that feeling of weight. You also have to hold your breath to steady your aim. Not only with the long-range weapons, but every weapon. Hip firing will just go wherever the gun is aimed. So panic shooting is going to be a crap shoot. These are all seemingly tiny things. But they add so much depth to the combat.

The maps are also mostly really good. Save for an exception or two, just about every map is built around each mode, and objectives are set that put either an attacker or defender into a tough situation at any given time. There are choke points defenders can use to their advantage. There are multiple paths attackers can take at any given time. The inclusion of vehicles in the Push mode also adds a new dynamic. I would have liked to have seen more of them. But between the drivable trucks with mounted guns, and the air strikes the two new classes can call in, there are new strategies that have to be employed to deal with them. And some maps actually make using these things harder. On the refinery stage enemies can just go inside buildings to escape the wrath of a Blackhawk helicopter. Similarly someone can put out roadside bombs in key locations that might deter someone from racing to the point in a pickup.

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In spite of its faults, Insurgency Sandstorm is a phenomenal game. It offers a real alternative to those who have felt disenfranchised with Electronic Arts’, and Activision’s annualized offerings. While it might not have quite the same level of visual fidelity of Battlefield or Call Of Duty, it also doesn’t require the purchase of season passes or micro transactions to have access to everything included in it down the line. The game play in it is also unique thanks to reintroducing an audience to hardcore simulation elements while retaining the run speed of something more twitchy. Absolute simulation purists may still want to go to the excellent ARMA games. And while this game may not be as recognized by the wider audience, the potential is there for that to change.  Especially if the game’s smaller issues are cleared, and the promised campaign shows up before it sees a port to consoles next year.

Whether you loved the original Insurgency, and poured hundreds of hours into it, or you’re a military FPS veteran looking for something new, this is pretty much a game you’ll enjoy diving into. This is also an excellent option for those who want something competitive to play, but without the pressure to spend more money. It’s also a great game for the casual military FPS fan who doesn’t have thousands of hours to devote to unlocking things. Insurgency was also supported for many years after it came out, and there’s no indication New World Interactive won’t do the same for the sequel. People who were interested solely in a campaign story mode will want to wait for its arrival. But for anyone looking for a unique take on the modern military multiplayer shooter? Insurgency Sandstorm should be on their wish list.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mega Man 11 Review

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After Mega Man 10 came out nearly a decade ago, Capcom slowly went silent on the Blue Bomber. One of their most prolific franchises, Mega Man has always been known for its excellent action platforming, wonderful characters, and excellent soundtracks. Other than perhaps Street Fighter,  the series is synonymous with the company name. After Keiji Inafune (the most recognized name attached to the character) left Capcom, however We rarely ever saw a mention of Capcom’s most recognizable series, or any of its spinoffs. For years many wondered why. Leading up to the release of Mega Man 11 here, the game’s director Kazuhiro Tsuchiya was interviewed by Game Informer. He reasoned that after Inafune left Capcom, the company wasn’t certain they could do an entry on the same level of the previous ten games.

PROS: Great visuals. Level design. Gear System is an excellent new mechanic.

CONS: The soundtrack, while good, doesn’t reach the lofty heights of older games.

NICE: The little touches you’ll notice throughout the adventure.

Well thank God the people behind this iteration decided to step up, and take a risk. Because Mega Man 11 is pretty great. It gives long time fans the challenging action-platforming they’ve come to expect. But it also builds upon the foundation that was solidified way back in 1987. In a way, they could have come out screaming “THIS AIN’T YOUR DADDY’S MEGA MAN!”, and they would be accurate. But before some of you worry, that proverbial Father will still find a lot to love about Mega Man 11.

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The storyline is tied to the game’s fancy new mechanic; The Double Gear System. Basically, Mega Man has two new powers he can use temporarily for a few seconds by pressing the corresponding shoulder button. Pressing the left shoulder button increases his attack power immensely. Pressing the right shoulder button temporarily allows Mega Man to go into a bullet time state like in the Max Payne games. Everything will go into slow motion, allowing you to quickly move around obstacles, and attacks.

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The emphasis however is on that word; temporary. You’ll only have a few seconds to use these powers. If you go beyond that, you’ll overcharge the move, and you won’t be able to use it again for several moments. So you really can’t rely solely on this feature to get through the entire game. But throughout the many stages you will reach sections where you may just find them helpful enough that you don’t lose a life.  In any event when you start the game you’ll find like most of the series, there’s an opening run of cinema screens that set up the arc. This time around Dr. Wily remembers back in his youth he created the Double Gear System. A device that accelerates the speed, and power of robots. But his research was barred when most of the other scientists in the community including Dr. Light feared (with good reason) the horrors that could arise from its abuse. Being the quintessential evil mad scientist, he decides all of these decades later to implement it. He kidnaps the latest run of Dr. Light’s robots, programs them for evil purposes, and installs the tech in them.

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Par the course, Rock begs Dr. Light to install the technology in himself when it is brought to his attention that he likely wouldn’t be able to stop Dr. Wily without it. So Dr. Light reluctantly does so, thus setting up the campaign’s backdrop. As is the case with the rest of the series, you’re going to go up against each of the Robot Masters. Then move onto Dr. Wily’s latest castle stronghold. Unlike some of the older games like Mega Man 3,4,5, or 6 Capcom doesn’t try to fake you out here. There are no Wily stand in castles to go through before Dr. Wily’s inevitable castle run. However that doesn’t mean that Mega Man 11 is particularly short. Even though it is one of the cut, and dry entries (think Mega Man, Mega Man 2, or Mega Man 7) the stages here are quite long. Every stage in the game now has three checkpoint rooms, and have a fair amount of obstacles to get through. Many of the Robot Masters employ mini boss rooms along the way as well. Sometimes twice.

 

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For those who have not played a classic Mega Man game before, you’re able to choose to play the stages in whichever order you choose. The hook is the Rock/Paper/Scissors mechanic that pertains to the Robot Masters you face at the end of every stage. When you defeat the Robot Master, you acquire their signature attack. Each one of the Robot Masters is weak against one of the other Robot Masters’ attacks. Not only do you need to beat all of the stages, but figuring out which boss is weakest against which attacks makes them more manageable. It’s also useful in determining which order will get you through the game the fastest.

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But even if you don’t figure that out on your initial run there are tools to help you. Returning is Auto’s shop. He’s the giant green robot who crafts items for you to buy with screws. As you collect them from fallen enemies, you can spend them on extra tanks to replenish your weapon ammo, and health meter. You can buy upgrades to your primary weapon, and even some items to negate some of the environmental hazards.  And even seasoned veterans may find themselves picking up lives, and E-Tanks because Mega Man 11 can get pretty difficult at times. Not only are there the expected Mega Man tropes, like robots jumping out of pits you’re trying to jump across, or crumbling structures you’re going across, but many new pitfalls too.

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Mega Man 11 is also very creative. Every Robot Master has a terrific design, and like all Mega Man games, their stages are built around their themes. Acid Man’s stage has many pools in which enemies will throw in chemicals. Each of which makes the pH level more lethal. Torch Man’s stage sends a column of fire after you, disintegrating everything in its path. Bounce Man’s has a deceptively deadly layout. It’s layered with cute looking enemies, bright pastels, and more. But upon further analysis you’ll find it one of the most challenging stages in the entire game. Block Man’s stage has a lot of falling boulders, and even some maze structures you need to get through as quickly as possible. Tundra Man’s stage is the quintessential ice level. But with plenty of wind gusts to make things difficult. Impact Man reminds me a lot of Optimus Prime. But with blades. But his stage feels like a continuation of the Guts Man stage in the original Mega Man. Of course with far more trick jumping, and a dash of Quick Man’s Mega Man II stage. Then there is Fuse Man’s stage. One of the highlights of the game, it involves a lot of puzzles centered around time. Rounding things out is Blast Man’s stage, which involves an evil theme park motif. You could almost place it in a Batman match against the Joker. The little henchmen robots throughout the level are cool because while they’re a nuisance, they’re also necessary. It’s a lot of fun.

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But as hard as the game may be, Mega Man 11 is always fair. When you fail you’ll know the onus is on you. Maybe you panicked, and jumped into something. Maybe you were hit by a laser, and fell down a chasm. Maybe the Robot Master shattered your dreams when you got to them on your last life. In all of these cases you won’t be able to blame anybody else. And yet, there’s something compelling about that. The sort of thing that always makes you want to attempt it again, and chip away until you come out on top.

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But Capcom has also put in multiple difficulty settings this time. The original NES outings usually had but one setting. Mega Man 10 had an easy, and hard setting. Mega Man 11 has four of them. Newcomer sets things up for those of you who have never played a Mega Man title before. Up from that is the Casual setting, which is geared for those who may be lapsed Mega Man fans. Then there’s the Normal setting which is the one geared toward seasoned veterans. But the game also has a Super Hero setting. This setting goes beyond the Normal setting by removing most of the pickups in every level, and increasing the damage enemy attacks do to you. Honestly, the four settings are pretty close to reaching about each player type. If you honestly have never touched a Mega Man game, you may want to get your feet wet with the first one.  Veterans may want to just dive into the Normal setting. But whichever way you decide to go, you’ll have a pretty good time with it. Although there is a sense of pride if you can clear it on one of the higher settings.

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With the well crafted level designs, and bright, colorful visuals that bring it all together one has to wonder if there’s anything wrong with this one. And to be honest, not that much. Again, the characters look like the evolution of Mega Man 8 (PS1/Saturn). The game looks beautiful. The backdrops are high quality, crisp blends of 2D art, and 3D models. Everything looks like it belongs in the Classic series though which is one that mostly appeared on the NES. Even 9, and 10 recreated that 8-bit aesthetic, and sound. But Mega Man 7 (Super NES), and Mega Man 8 took that same style, but updated it for their 16-bit, and 32-bit platforms. So this looks like an extension of those styles. If you ever wished more of the games looked like the artwork in the manuals, and other media you’ll be more than pleased here.

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And again, it isn’t just about how good it looks. It’s that the great visuals fit the narrative of each of the Robot Masters the way it has in all of the mainline games. This is also the first game in the classic series since Mega Man 8 to involve voice acting. It isn’t bad, but your mileage will vary. Some of it veers toward what was done in the PS1/Saturn classic. Bounce Man seems to really elicit memories of fighting Clown Man as the voice work goes for the high-pitched cuteness of an anime archetype. Some of the other actors went in other directions with their respective characters. And all of it works. But you’ll probably enjoy some more than others. As for Mega Man himself, again, he sounds perfectly fine. But if you’re coming into it after Mega Man 8, it’s a completely different take, and delivery. So how much you’ll like it may depend on whether or not you love the way he was portrayed in the eighth installment. As far as the soundtrack goes, it isn’t bad by any means. The electronica goes well with the action, and there are distinctive themes for each of the stages. However, it doesn’t stand out the way the rocking chip tunes of 1-6, 7, 9,and 10 do. The songs in Mega Man 8 also felt more memorable than these do. Be that as it may, I really wouldn’t call any of it bad. Just different, and depending on what you prefer, you may agree or disagree. Which is fine.

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Once you do complete the game though there are a few things here to make you want to play it again. The first being the challenges. As in the last two games, you can try to run a battery of missions with the goal of reaching achievements. Some of these can be done in the main game, but the majority are found here. You can also go to a gallery where you can read bios of all of the major, and minor enemies in the game. They even have the voice samples here so you can listen to them all. There’s not too much else in the way of extras, though on the Switch there is a surprise if you play the demo before playing the full game.

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Overall, I quite liked Mega Man 11. I played through it on Normal, and found that this time out the Robot Masters’ respective stages were as challenging as Dr. Wily’s Castle stages, which isn’t always the case in these games. Even still, I had a fun time. I yelled at myself for messing up at times. But I had fun rising to the challenge, and overcoming the obstacles it threw in my way. Which is the joy that all of these games deliver. All while delivering a new tool for you to use. Which you don’t have to. It is possible to get through the game without touching the Double Gear System. Though you’ll probably want to. At least on some of the tougher bosses. Still, this is a great entry in the long running series, and I can easily recommend it to not only fans, but to almost anyone who is remotely interested in it. It won’t be a cakewalk. But it does have that addictive “One more match.” feeling the series is known for. Don the mantle of the Blue Bomber, and save the world. If only the music could have been *that* much better it would have been perfect. As it stands, it’s still a highly recommended Mega Man game. Or Rock Man if you prefer.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Raging Justice Review

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Double Dragon. Streets Of Rage. Final Fight. Crime Fighters. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Battletoads. Ninja Combat. Sengoku. PIT-FIGHTER. The list goes, on, and on. The 1980’s, and 1990’s were filled with many entertaining games in which you took control of characters out to rid the world of criminals one by one. Armed with your fists, and the occasional melee weapon. Beat ’em ups were a big deal, and while some of them ran together, most of them were a lot of fun. They were about as close to an action movie a game could be at the time. While they haven’t had the resurgence other genres have had, they still sprout up from time to time. And when they’re done as well as this game is, you really ought to pay attention.

PROS: Unique art style. B+ Movie action. Good Cop/Bad Cop mechanics.

CONS: Tacky title screen. Some choppy animations. Minor bugs.

WWE: There’s a moment that seems like it was placed by wrestling show bookers.

Raging Justice is a title that elicits thoughts of a 1990’s Direct-To-Video B Action movie starring Dolph Lundgren. Which is actually pretty fitting because this game is a complete homage to many of the aforementioned games of old. The storyline is about as easy to follow as one of those old movies. The Mayor of your city has been abducted by violent street gangs, and our heroes have to rescue him. When you fire up the game you’ll have a handful of options on hand. There’s the primary campaign, a survival mode, an options menu, and the credits.  The credits are pretty self-explanatory, and the options menu is rather anemic. You can change volume levels, and you can turn friendly fire on or off.

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So you’re more than likely going to begin by playing through the campaign. When you begin you’ll be able to select one of three characters to choose from. This follows the character archetypes set up in Final Fight, and Streets Of Rage. Rick Justice is the loose cannon of the force who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s basically the power class of the three. He moves slower, but his attacks do a lot of damage. Then there’s Nikki Rage who is the opposite of Rick. She prefers to properly get arrests, and warrants. She is the more well-rounded class. She moves faster than Rick does, and can attack faster while doing a little bit less damage to opponents. Finally there’s Ashley King. A teenage explorer with the fastest, and flashiest style. Ashley is by far the fastest all around character, but does the least damage so you really need to master getting combos to use them.

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Once you’ve selected your character it’s onto the cut scenes that set up the plot of the game, before thrusting you into the action. Immediately Raging Justice begins showing you how it sets itself apart from the games that inspired it. You’re greeted with a screen overlay with some important information. Each stage features certain enemies who have a warrant out for their arrest. If you manage to arrest them you’ll get a health bonus, and if you manage to arrest all of them you can get 1-Ups too. There are also secondary objectives you can shoot for. If you’re successful you’ll score big points, and garner achievements.

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As you play you’ll notice certain enemies will have a red outline around them. These are the criminals with a warrant out for their arrest. This is also where the game begins to implement a virtue system not typically seen in games like this. If you do the right thing consistently (arresting perps rather than killing them), you’ll get the aforementioned perks. If you go the bad cop route, and knock their teeth in you don’t. However, if you’re enough of a loose cannon DTV character you can get help in other ways. Arresting people sounds easy enough. You fill up their dizzy meter by slamming them to the ground or using particular attacks. Then when it’s full, they will be dazed in one spot allowing you to grab them, and cuff them. But this is also much easier said, than done. Because they’ll never be alone. Raging Justice sends hordes of criminal waves at you. So it’s going to be tough isolating them long enough to pull this off. Even when you do, another bad guy can interrupt the process by knocking you down, or even knocking them down. Thus resulting in a resist of arrest. Sometimes you’ll be able to arrest someone. Other times you may find it safer to simply take them out.

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It’s a pleasant surprise to see a mechanic like this in Raging Justice, as it makes the game feel a little bit more unique. Few arcade genre entries have done this, the most notable one being classic Run n’ Gun NARC. For the most part it is implemented fairly well, though there are a few times when a warrant will be dazed next to a weapon or other item, and the game makes you grab the item rather than cuff the criminal at hand. Still, it’s pretty neat, and you can actually arrest most characters. Not just the ones with a warrant out for their arrest.

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The one thing in the game that may be a little bit divisive is the style of the artwork. The backgrounds are honestly quite good by any measure. They have a wonderful mix between pre-rendered models, and airbrushed matte paintings. At least that’s how they appear. The texture quality on all of it is very nice. There are also a host of homages you can spot throughout the game’s backgrounds to other games. Particularly to the original Final Fight’s latter stages. But there are others like Sega’s Streets Of Rage series, and Atari’s PIT-FIGHTER. One especially can’t help of think of that game near the end of the second stage where you’re met by a crowd of enemies in very much the same way that game set up bouts. The comparison continues with the character sprites, and this is why I think some will love the look, while others may not get behind it as much.

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The characters seem to have a similar style. The difference being they aren’t motion captured actors. Instead they appear to be pre-rendered models that were condensed down to sprites. Similar to how the characters in Donkey Kong Country, and Killer Instinct were created. However, the animation quality, while fairly good sometimes results in things looking a little choppy due to some of the wild movements in the characters’ positions in some sprites. Granted this is speculation on my part as I was never in the studio where this was made. But the end result resembles something to that effect.

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Nevertheless, it runs fairly brisk, and I can’t say I’ve even seen much in the way of slowdown in my playtime with it. It’s generally responsive, and there’s little to really complain about here. That said, if you’re not into the art style they were going for, that may disappoint you a little bit. One thing that I think should have been improved is the title screen. Mainly because it is used to sell the game on every digital store it’s stocked on, and sadly it looks woefully generic. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but it gives the impression the title is something you’d find on the rack of shovelware at an office supply store. Not the incredibly fun, if silly homage to B movies, and brawlers that it is.

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And Raging Justice is incredibly fun. There are a wide variety of criminals to take down in the brawls. You have the archetypical street punks, gang members, street-walker, morbidly obese guys who stampede you, and knife throwers you’d expect. There are also 80’s movie drug dealers who throw dynamite from their trench coats, bikers, Rottweilers, and more. There are a lot of weapons, and background details that can be destroyed on display here as well. Barbed wire bats, knives, swords, clubs, hammers, crates, phone booths, and a slew of other things I’m likely forgetting. All of which can take down some of these enemies with ease. There’s even drivable vehicles at a few key points!

The bosses are also a lot of fun due to a combination of silliness, and nostalgia. There’s the typical brute characters, but then the game decides to have you fight a 10 foot super pimp. There’s a security guard who looks suspiciously close to Final Fight’s Edi. E. But not long after that fight you’ll be facing an abomination that may just remind you of PIT-FIGHTER’s Chainman Eddie. I won’t spoil every boss for you, but suffice it to say, you’ll come away from them both challenged, and entertained.

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Throughout all of it, the audio keeps up with everything. The clanging of knives, screaming of enemies, the bold announcements, all sync up. The ambient synth-pop goes along with the action well, again, bringing along memories of those obscure films you may have rented from the video store back in the day. Or perhaps one of the more recent ones you caught at 2am on HBO or saw in a Red box at the local grocery store. In any event, it’s pretty good. Musically, it might not be something you’d want to hear on the morning commute, but it does get the job done. The sound effects however, are superb.

There are a couple of things that hinder the fun. Namely a few small bugs. There were a couple of times the game hanged after I got a “Game Over”, and so I had to exit to my main menu on my Switch to close the game, and then reopen it. This wasn’t horrible, or something game-breaking. But it was annoying, as minimal as the occurrence was. Another weird bug I experienced, was upon losing my last life as I killed the third boss. Unfortunately, because of this it wouldn’t let me continue. The counter just kept going down regardless of my jamming on the “YES! I want to continue!” button. So I had to restart the stage.

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I will say one other novel thing about Raging Justice is its continue system. You get three lives, and a set number of continues. when you run out of continues, the game ends. Par for the course, right? Well, the cool thing the game does is allow you to select any stage played up to that point. The flip side of this is you’ll start in the condition you did when you initially played it. So if you make it to the final stage with one continue left, and lose when you select it later, you’ll begin with however many lives you had, and the one continue. You won’t start with a full set of continues. This really gives you incentive to go back, and do better at the earlier stages so that you’ll have enough continues to clear the game.

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Finally, there is the survival mode I mentioned earlier. There really isn’t too much to write about here. It’s what it sounds like. You start the game with the character, and difficulty setting of your choosing. Then you try to beat up as many waves of enemies as you can until you lose your sole life. It can be fun in short bursts but the main course is where you’ll get the most fun in my opinion.

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Raging Justice may not be the best game you’ll play all year. But it just might be one of the more fun ones. It’s silly. It’s over the top. It doesn’t have a deep narrative. But it has a lot of personality. It also does what a beat ’em up game should: make you feel like a bad ass. Between the moves, weapons, and everything else, you’ll honestly feel like you’re playing a Dolph Lundgren or Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle. It’s just a fun game. And in the end isn’t that why most of us play games? Don’t let the tacky title card fool you. Raging Justice is a pretty awesome (if sometimes cheesy) brawler.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Most anticipated titles shown at E3

Man, what a hectic last few weeks, with more to come. It’s kept me away from time to do much. Though at least I was able to get a couple of streaming nights in. Still, I missed most of the E3 conferences, and I’ve been playing catch up. All three of the platform holders had pretty average events this year. Bethesda did a 180 from last year, even if none of the people in attendance seemed to know who Andrew W.K. is.

Ubisoft seemed bog standard. I didn’t see EA’s though the reception doesn’t appear to have been too warm. But beyond the big conferences there were a lot of trailers, and announcements of smaller titles. And I tend to like to pay attention to those, because they can often turn out to be as exciting as the hyped stuff. So these are some of the titles I saw that caught my attention. Hopefully they’ll turn out to be great games we want in our computer, and console game libraries.

Daemon X Machina

Nintendo’s Direct was the first time I’d heard anything about this game. But a trailer’s job is to generate interest in the subject matter. So mission accomplished. It appears to be some kind of action game involving mechs. But what sets this apart (at least in the trailer) is the No More Heroes unsaturated art style, and a rocking industrial metal soundtrack. It goes really well with the depictions of exploding robots, and bloody skies. I want to hear more about this one. If you’re a fan of Voltron, MechWarrior, Metal Storm, Transformers, Gundam, or giant killer death bots in general, you may want to too.

Insurgency: Sandstorm

I’ve been looking forward to seeing more about this once since it was announced. The original game is a wonderful blend of tactical shooter, and team shooter. There isn’t much of a HUD if any. There aren’t any kill cams. Most of the weapons will kill you in one or two hits. If you have body armor, maybe three. There aren’t any unlockable items that require grinding. If your class can use a weapon, you can use it. They balance this with a point system that forces trade offs. And it has all of the modes a Battlefield player might want. This sequel hopes to bring that experience to consoles next year after it launches in September on computers. Without the focus on loot boxes or battle royal modes this could be something Battlefield, and Call Of Duty veterans may want to check out. For those who don’t like to deal with sore sports online, it also offers a robust one player campaign. To sweeten the deal NWI is bringing it out at less than half the cost of a AAA release, and giving customers who bought the old game 10% off. They’re giving an additional 10% off to people who preorder.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Frankly, I don’t know how you don’t get at least a little bit excited for this one. Even if you’re a staunch fan of traditional fighters like Street Fighter, or 3D fighters like Soul Calibur or Tekken, this one should still impress you. Maybe just a tiny bit, but still. They’ve reworked the damage for 1 on 1 fights, heavily nerfed repeated dodges, and made short hop attacking a little bit easier. This is going to make the competitive end of the audience intrigued, and in some cases happy. For the rest of us, this is giving a lot of great stuff too. If you bought the figures, and adapters for your Gamecube controllers, they’ll all work on it. Every character from every previous Smash game is in here. Plus there is bunch of new assist trophies, items, and even some new characters.  This one comes out later this year, and I can already sense many will fire up the older games to practice up.

Serious Sam 4

Serious Sam may not have the star power he did back in the early 2000’s. But you’re always guaranteed a fun time filled with mindless action. For those who don’t know, this long running series by Croteam puts you in a large campaign of stages that have you constantly shooting, and managing resources. Some compare it to stuff like the original Doom. But that’s actually a long way off. The level designs are often interlocked arenas. So you’ll enter a room, destroy a wave of enemies, get an item, and destroy another. The thing is each room potentially has hundreds of enemies to contend with at a time. It’s more accurate to compare it to old Midway games like Robotron 2084, Smash TV, and Total Carnage. But the constant introduction of new enemy types, weapons, and the vast number of Easter Eggs to find keeps them fresh. This time they got the writer of The Talos Principle to write the story for Serious Sam 4. So who knows if Serious Sam will be Serious? Either way, I find these games fun so I hope to check this one out as well.

RAGE 2

Yes I know, there are a lot of shooters on here. But I did enjoy the original Rage when it came out. Abrupt ending aside, it was pretty cool. The desert was a hub world with towns in it. It had a pretty entertaining Mad Max inspired story, and it had the shooting you’d expect an iD game to have. So this sequel has me intrigued. The desert is more than a hub world supposedly, and there are a larger multitude of factions. The action looked good, and so I’m hoping for the best. The original didn’t sell horribly but it didn’t sell Doom, or Wolfenstein numbers either. So I was honestly surprised this sequel was green lit. Still, I liked the old one, and this one looks like it could be an improvement.

Tunic

I know there are a ton of Legend Of Zelda clones out there. But this one stood out to me during the Microsoft conference. It doesn’t look like it does a ton of new things with the gameplay, but at the same time it has an inviting art style, and I loved seeing some of the character designs. Hopefully it turns out really well. It displayed a fairly large map so there will be a lot of ground to cover.

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Similarly, at the Sony show there were a lot of big, anticipated games. But once again, something smaller showed up in the line of trailers. This one is by Remedy who invented the Max Payne franchise years ago. They also did the Alan Wake, and Quantum Break. While Quantum Break was derided for making people watch long, episodic cut scenes, this seems to have eschewed that experiment. The protagonist has this telekinetic ability allowing her to pick things up remotely, and use them as weapons. Sure it’s not the most original idea. But it looks cool in this one. When you’re done with The Last Of Us 2 you might want to pop this in. It looks fun.

Super Mario Party

I rarely get excited about a Mario Party game. Don’t get me wrong. I have most of them. Even the least exciting iterations are still a hit during holidays, and get together moments. But Super Mario Party is the first one in a long time that I kind of really want to play. For starters the frame rate (at least in the trailer) seems like it will be 60 fps on most modern HD TVs which will be pure glory for some of those mini games. Second of all, they seem to be doing interesting things with it if you network two Switches together. On the flip side, my nieces only continue to learn games in 8 seconds. So when I visit my Sister I’m likely leaving with the least amount of stars. They’re pretty good at Smash, and Kart too. But I suppose it happens to even the best of us. We get old, and our siblings’ progeny dethrone us eventually. Still, Super Mario Party looks pretty great even if it will leave me with zero stars.

Ninjala

I really want to see more about this one. Ninja kids Nerf sword fighting while doing parkour, and Baby metal is rocking out in the background? It looks like there is a big reliance on bubblegum. Not sure what that’s about, but it also looks like there is co-op, and versus modes in it. The trailer doesn’t go into much detail, but like Daemon X Machina, I am intrigued.

Ghost of Tsushima

This game looked really cool. The trailer didn’t show off much of what the objective or story was. But the combat, the environments, and characters looked really compelling. I would have liked them to have spent a little bit more time on it. But in any case, Sucker Punch got me talking about this game, and if you missed it or forgot about it, you may want to follow this one. Again, hoping it turns out great. But it looked really good, and like something those with a PS4 ought to look into.

Octopath Traveler

Even though I veer more toward the instant gratification of action genres, I do like a good RPG now, and again. This game has me interested for a few reasons. One is the look of everything. It reminds me a bit of the Ys remasters with its blend of 3D models, and 2D sprites. The filters on everything makes it look unique too. Another reason is that it’s giving players eight different characters to play with, each with their own career paths, and storylines. So it looks like it can be something a die-hard RPG fan can marathon for days. But also something someone with limited time can span out over a year by playing through one story, taking a break, then going back to it.

Mega Man 11

I’m a huge fan of the Classic Mega Man series. I’ve played through all of them. 1-10, as well as the GB line, and the side game Mega Man & Bass. This one looks like they’re trying to make it accessible to newcomers with a bullet time mechanic. But they’re leaving it optional so veterans can play completely old-school. They’re also returning to a more modern 2.5D look. It’ll be interesting to see how they do without Inafune at the helm. But the trailer does look decidedly Mega Man.

Cyberpunk 2077

CD Projekt Red always seems to deliver solid RPGs. (A few of which I still need to finish.) But this one looks like a big departure from what we normally see. It’s Sci-Fi instead of Fantasy. It’s taking inspiration from a pen, and paper series, and yet also seems to have action elements.  I do want to see where they take the not too distant future theme compared to some of the others that have ventured there.

The Messenger

They showed off a little more of this one in some interviews, and I’m even more excited about it than when I saw the initial trailer two months ago or so. It’s a love letter to both the NES Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, as well as action platformers on the Super NES. It’s fast, frantic, and being built with speedrunners in mind. The visual changes are tied to the game’s story, and it’s been confirmed to not only release on the Switch, but on PC as well. As someone who loves action platformers, I’m really looking forward to this one.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD

Originally released on the inaugural Xbox, most have never played this one. Because it was exclusive to the Japanese market at the time. These days, finding an original copy for your Xbox is an expensive endeavor. It’s a mech action game with the premise of a DTV B Movie.  By From Software no less. Devolver Digital is re-releasing this game with some updated visual options on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. It’s completely silly, and over the top. If the high aftermarket prices online have kept you from getting this already, this is one remaster you might not want to miss.

 

So there you go. This year’s show might not have had the hype, and power of last year, but there was still plenty to look forward to. Whether you looked for grandiose blockbusters, or indie games, or somewhere in between. These were some of mine, and I hope you enjoyed this run down. Hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing some of these as much as I did. What were some of your E3 announcements? Feel free to comment below.

Sine Mora EX Review

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The Shmup (short for Shoot ’em up) is the one old genre that hasn’t reclaimed its popularity. At one time the likes of Space Invaders, Galaxian, and Phoenix ruled the roost. Then when platformers became big, the genre gave us 1942, Dragon Spirit, and Xevious. Then the Beat ’em ups, and Fighting games all but conquered the arcades. But the genre had continued popularity with the likes of R-Type, U.N. Squadron, and Truxton.

After this period though, the genre began to slowly fade into obscurity. It never truly went away. It still gave the occasional notable game like Giga Wing, or Ikaruga that became darlings. Today, the genre is still around, and there are countless great games in it. It even has a devoted, hardcore fan base. But where Street Fighter IV, and Mortal Kombat 2011 brought traditional fighting games back into the limelight, the same hasn’t been the same for old-school Shoot ’em ups.  Sine Mora EX has that potential.

PROS: Beautiful visuals. Great music. Refined mechanics. Fun.

CONS: Story can be hard to follow. Mini games don’t add very much to the experience.

4K: PC, and PS4 PRO versions support it.

Originally released in 2012 as Sine Mora, Sine Mora EX is a refined version that fixes bugs, updates the graphics, and expands content. It elevates a pretty good game, to a pretty great one. The game has a minimalistic menu. You have a Story mode, which is honestly a great way to play it when you start out. Then Arcade mode, which is going to be the option for advanced players who don’t want to bother with the lore. Score Attack, for mastering levels. There is also a challenge mode which gives you 15 endurance rounds. Then there is a boss rush mode, which lets you practice boss fights. But you have to unlock them by getting to them in the storyline first. So this is really going to be for those who are interested in speed running the game upon beating it.

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Rounding things out is a Versus mode. This is a small assortment of mini games. In most of them, you’ll pick a single screen arena, and battle a friend as little robotic orbs. Some of the stages have other hazards, or obstacles to maneuver around or destroy. But it’s pretty much kill or be killed. There is one interesting mini game that is different. Here, you each shoot at ships, but if you accidentally destroy a ship that resembles yours, the game ends. They’re a fun little diversion. But really, you won’t be coming to this game for it, and you’ll want to play the main game instead.

Sine Mora EX’s main campaign is awesome. Whether you play it in Story mode or Arcade mode, you’ll be thrust into a shmup that embodies elements of every subgenre. A lot of people have called this a Bullet Hell shooter. While there are moments where the entire screen is filled with bullets, that isn’t really the case. Some boss fights employ this, but you’ll find a lot of the missions themselves do not. Instead they take the movement of something like R-Type, or Gradius, and give you the challenge of avoiding walls, while shooting down enemies, and threats.

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But there are many things that make this game stand out on its own. The most obvious one being how it handles lives, and scoring. In a lot of challenging shooters over the years, games had either a scenario where a single hit on your ship killed you, or you had a small life bar allowing for a few hits before you would be destroyed. Sine Mora EX throws those mechanics out the window, and instead puts the onus on time limit. You have to beat the clock in order to win. “Great! I can get hit as many times as need be! This game is going to be easy!” you might be exclaiming to yourself.

Well get that thought out of your head immediately. Because your life bar is the time clock. If you make a mistake, and crash into something the game shaves off a second or two. If you get shot you’ll lose a few seconds. Suddenly that game has gone from being insanely easy, to pretty challenging. Moreover, they’ve made another swerve. Getting hit makes you drop power ups! So you’ll have to pick them up immediately.  But if all of this sounds too complicated, don’t lose heart. There are a number of tools to help.

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First off, and most importantly, you’ll gain time for every bad guy you destroy. You’ll want to crush as many of them as possible because time is life in this game. Keep adding to the timer, and you’ll see it to the end. The stages also have checkpoints. When you reach one it resets the timer. So if you’re low on seconds, and you reach one you’ll be in the clear for a moment. The game also gives you a wealth of power ups, smart bombs, coins, and even bullet time to use.

That’s right. Bullet time. Now it isn’t infinite. There is a meter that lets you see how much you have, and it drains when you use it. But during those Bullet Hell moments it can be a Godsend. Particularly when you just can’t seem to figure out the spread pattern. As you play through the game you’ll be going through different periods, and characters in the story. So there are a number of different ships you’ll pilot. They’re all designed to look more like planes, but considering the different settings the stages take place in, you’d assume they have features of a star or sea ship. But I digress.

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Each of the different space planes has a unique smart bomb that can be fired. Some of them shoot a super laser, others drop a ton of grenades, some shoot a plethora of missiles. You’ll want to know the nuanced differences though because they won’t work the same way in every situation. There’s also the risk, versus reward aspect here that can be really fun. Do you try to save up your smart bombs for the bosses or do you use them now while the screen is cluttered with grunts? There are also your firepower upgrades to grab, as they make your primary fire more effective. If you can get nine of them, and not crash or get shot you’ll chew through enemies. And then there are the time bonuses, and bullet time bonuses to nab. You’ll find the bullet time works wonders.

They also added a cooperative feature to the story as a friend can play as a gunner. It isn’t quite the same has having a second ship altogether, but it does give you some reprieve. They control a satellite which acts like one of the options from the shooters of old. This allows the first player to take on primary targets while they clean up small annoyances. Handy for boss battles.

Another thing you’ll appreciate is how the game puts in some challenges that have nothing to do with shooting weak points, or avoiding a hail of bullets. In one stage you’ll come across a section filled with sensors that, should you be detected knocks off all of your time. After exploding through all of my continues, and restarting, imagine my surprise when I found I had to fly in sync with piles of garbage coming from the background to avoid detection. It’s just a small thing, but it’s different from what many might expect.

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If you play through the Story mode, you’ll get voice overs that are in line with a Star Fox game. Just with more curse words. There is however, zero percent Slippy Toad in the list of ingredients. Kidding aside, you’ll also get some monologues between stages that try to set up motivations of pilots, and give you a little bit of narrative between stages. It helps explain why you have completely different vehicles, and settings every stage. Unfortunately it doesn’t always make the most sense if you’re only passively seeing it. Because of how everything jumps around. The story is a bit more cohesive if you pay attention to every last bit of dialogue, and you re-read every word of every monologue. But even if you’re invested in the story, you’re going to miss some of it as you’ll forget some of the chatter you just heard when it becomes time to blow away enemy targets again.

That said, the story itself is actually pretty cool. It centers around characters facing an iron-fisted Empire on a planet called Seol. It declares war on an opposing nation of inhabitants called Enkie. Both of the factions master time travel. One of the characters is out for revenge when the Empire kills his son for not wiping out the Enkie. So in a number of missions, you’ll follow his story arc. But the Enkie also want revenge on the Empire for driving them toward extinction. So in other stages you’ll be playing Enkie characters.  The story is an interesting one, and it even has a pro wrestling grade swerve in it that honestly surprised me. The problem with it, is the execution. If the game had done just a tiny bit better with the cut scenes, and shown more of it, instead of having you read it, it would have been a bit easier to follow. Still, if you take the time to pay more attention on subsequent play through attempts it gets a bit more enjoyable.

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Repeatedly playing in the Arcade mode is also where you’ll notice this game’s use of difficulty scaling. The game starts you at rank C here, and if you’re not doing so hot this is about where you’ll stay. By contrast, if you’re blowing through sections with ease you can expect the game to rank you up to B or even an A! Then it will punish the crap out of you. Enemies take more hits, shoot more lasers, and things get more hectic.  If you can’t hang, the game will knock you back down a peg or two. This is also where the game has a real chance of reinvigorating the genre for those who don’t come to it as often. At the same time it gives enthusiasts something they can really sink their teeth into.  Arcade mode also lets you select different planes to start with, so you may find some work better in some missions than the ones you have to use during the Story mode. Back to Story mode a second. In that mode you’ll have eight continues (though there is a slightly harder variant of Story mode) to complete the game. If you don’t get through the entire Story campaign  You can start on a higher stage when you come back to it later. Though you’ll start the way you did at the beginning which means you’ll be outclassed.

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Arcade mode eschews all of the story elements, reduces the number of continues, and exclaims “Come and get some!” You’ll be seeing all of the same levels, and bosses but with none of the narration. This mode is also a bit harder from the outset. But if you’ve plowed through the story, and want to go back to the game again, it’s a great way to experience it again. There are even a couple of power ups you won’t see in the Story mode. The game is gorgeous enough you may just want to replay it anyway. For a small game, it boasts some pretty great production values. Mind you it isn’t going to be quite the same as something from a AAA vendor. But it does so much with so little.  Though I suppose a big part of this is the involvement of Mahiro Maeda. When one of the people behind The Animatrix is designing bosses in your game, it’s going to show.

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The Nintendo Switch version of the game (which you’re seeing in this review) looks great. It has crisp textures, nice lighting, wonderful color depth, and detailed models. All running at a full 1080p with a fast frame rate. The Xbox One port is just as good-looking, and the PS4 version will even support 4K provided of course you’re using the PS4 PRO model of the console. The PC version of course will support it as well if you have the 4K monitor or TV to display it on, and hardware in the machine to run it that high. Which shouldn’t be much, as the system requirements aren’t very high for the PC version. As far as I could tell in my time on the Switch, I saw no real issues with slowdown, stuttering, or other performance problems. The PC version also gave me no real issues.

The audio is pretty good too. Grasshopper brought in Akria Yamaoka who did the sound direction on Silent Hill. Silent Hill made great use of ambient sounds for the horror vibe. Here he combines that ambience with an electronica sound. So it gives this a cyber thriller kind of score. Which you might not think much of at first. But when the bosses show up to crush you into dust, does it ever fit the theme. It may not have the same effect as it did in Silent Hill, where the discomfort melded with the fear. But it does make the encounters even more imposing. You might not worry about monsters getting you. But you’ll probably take the giant robot spider a bit more seriously.

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While by no means an expert on the genre, I do feel like this is the most accessible shmup to come out in years. It may technically be a re-master of sorts. But the game’s attention on the Switch has been getting people talking about them again. Oddly enough if you want a physical copy of the Switch version you’ll likely have to go online, as few retailers appear to have gotten it when it came out last year. At least Stateside. Target, and Wal-Mart have it on their online sites, but not at their stores. GameStop, Best Buy, and others don’t (of this writing) seem to have it at all. But you can find it through smaller businesses usually on Amazon. There’s also the option to import the European release. If you don’t care about physical media you can download it from Nintendo’s e-shop. The Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 versions however, seem to be everywhere. You can download those on their respective stores too. The PC version is available on Steam as well.

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Ultimately though, Grasshopper has put out a game that can be enjoyed by veterans, and newcomers alike. The easier Story mode (of which you can go with a harder version) does make things a bit more inviting for newbies. Even if the story could be executed a little bit better, it’s still pretty good for what it is. The Arcade mode is something longtime enthusiasts will more than likely love. Especially for those who may not have played the original Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Vita, and PC release. The scaling is also nice for those who are competent, but not masterful. If you love shmups, but somehow haven’t played this, pick it up. If you’ve never played a shmup, this is a great jumping on point to see if you’ll enjoy them. Hopefully we’ll see more Sine Mora in the future.

Final Score: 8 out of 10